Isaac at The Wall

"Sacrifice of Isaac" (1635) by Rembrandt.

“Sacrifice of Isaac” (1635) by Rembrandt.

The story is briefly told in the King James Bible (Genesis 22: 1-18):  God “did tempt” Abraham by commanding him to take his only son to the Land of Moriah to be sacrificed as a burnt offering. On the third day of travel, Abraham “lifted up his eyes” and saw the mountain. He laid the wood for the pyre on Isaac’s back, and with fire in one hand and a knife in the other, he climbed up the mountain with his son. The text records only a single utterance by Isaac to his father:  “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” To which Abraham replied: “God will provide himself a lamb.”

Abraham built an altar, prepared the wood, and bound Isaac on the altar. When he reached for the sacrificial knife for the slaughter, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven:  “Lay not thy hand upon the lad.” Once again Abraham “lifted up his eyes,” and saw a ram ensnared in a thicket. He caught the ram and offered it “in the stead of his son.” God blessed Abraham:

“Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

In 1969, the great Puerto Rican playwright René Marqués published an allegory of the Vietnam War based on the tale of Abraham and Isaac (Sacrificio en el Monte Moriah, Editorial Antillana). Marqués credited a conversation with his son about the “concept of anguish” in Kierkegaard as the inspiration for the play. He cited a relevant quote as an epigraph:

“Not a word about this has been spoken in the world, and Isaac never spoke about what he had seen, and Abraham never suspected that anyone saw him.”

(Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling)

Marqués dedicated the play to his son Raúl with this inscription:

“To … my firstborn, who has refused, following the dictates of his conscience, to join the U.S. Military Service, and whom I would never sacrifice on the altar of a bloody and bellicose entity, I dedicate, with admiration as a Puerto Rican and a father’s deep love and pride, Sacrificio en el Monte Moriah.”

One of three young boys over-layered on an image of the Vietnam Memorial, better known as "The Wall." (Photo by Hank Miller)

Photo overlay of three young boys on an image of the Vietnam Memorial, better known as “The Wall.” (Photo by Hank Miller)

Kierkegaard’s “silence” is best explained by a note left by a son to his father at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:


It’s nearly impossible to write what I feel today. I may never know why things happened the way they did. I wish to hell I did.

Someday you may come home and I’ll know then the truth. I wish you could reach me and tell me what happened….

I love and miss you,


(Sal Lopes, ed., The Wall, 1987)

Who has been a father and not caught himself on the verge of slaying his son? And who has been a son and not consented to sacrifice at the hand of the father, or rebelled against it?


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