Goodman (History and Nonfiction Writing/Rutgers Univ.; Blackout, 2003, etc.) recounts the body of knowledge gleaned from his obsession with the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (the Akedah).
Rather than focusing solely on the story in Genesis, the author progresses well beyond biblical criticism to engage the myriad of interpretations about the Akedah that appear in Jewish, Christian and Islamic exegetical literature. In each tradition, Goodman is struck by certain interpretive peculiarities. For example, in Judaism, he comes across rabbinic accounts where Isaac is, in fact, sacrificed. In Christianity, the author takes issue with how the actual sacrifice of Jesus supersedes the near-sacrifice of Isaac and is used to invalidate central tenets of Judaism through a technique that he calls “supersessionism.” Goodman spends much less time with the Islamic interpretive history, but he mentions the ambiguity surrounding which son of Abraham’s was intended for sacrifice and the implicit argument for the favored status of Ishmael (and his ancestors) when many Islamic accounts mention him as the intended victim. This is also an interesting study on the ways in which the Akedah has appeared in works of art and poetry, and the author considers how Jewish communities used the sacrifice story to contextualize themselves during periods of intense persecution. Although the book may be difficult for a complete neophyte to the world of comparative religion, it is a fast-moving account of a wide-ranging and deeply penetrating religious topic, and Goodman closes with an important reminder on how the subject of sacrifice for religious obedience is relevant to the contemporary issue of religious extremism.
A well-researched and stirring account of how various communities, scholars and artists interpret the willingness to sacrifice life for God.