Abraham

Abraham and the Three Angels

Rembrandt_Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels

“Abraham Serving the Three Angels” by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1646. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Abram went forth with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, following his Lord’s command, into the land of Canaan. He was 75 years old. Abram’s wife was barren, therefore Lot was to Abraham as if he were the son of the old chieftain. There was a famine on the land, and for a time Abram dwelt in Egypt and became rich. Returning from Egypt, Abram and Lot separated: Abram raised his tent in the plain of Mamre in Hebron; Lot went to dwell on the plain of Jordan, next to the city of Sodom.

When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to him and ratified their covenant, changing Abram’s name to Abraham, and that of his wife to Sarah.

In the desert, during the worst time of the day, heat seeps through your pores, dries up the organs of the body and distempers the rational mind creating a blur of vision, which gives way to mirages. (more…)

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Myths and the Empire

Lincoln_Speaks_to_Freedmen_on_the_Steps_of_the_Capital_at_Richmond

“Lincoln Speaks to Freedmen on the Steps of the Capital at Richmond,” oil on canvas, by Gus Nall, 1963. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Traditionally myths are considered stories about the gods. But more accurately, myths are stories from the gods. Perhaps it is more comfortable to consider them, according to the less beautiful terminology of our times, stories from the unconscious. In Jungian terms, myths are archetypal manifestations that take the form of narratives.

Ritual is the enactment of a myth (this is Joseph Campbell’s definition). Ritual performance brings myths into our reality, and according to Black Elk, spread their sacred power among the tribe, thus making the world “greener and happier.”

An angel can turn into a devil before our eyes: Lucifer becomes Satan. The reverse can also be true: Joan of Arc, burned as a witch, becomes saint. A myth can be perceived as containing a hero (George Armstrong Custer) engaged in mortal struggle with an antagonist (Sitting Bull), and a moral that legitimizes Custer as representing the forces of good and Sitting Bull as an evil avatar. But then times change, our hopes and fears transform, and reason—ever a servant to our formulations—re-casts Sitting Bull as a patriot warrior and Custer as a fool. (more…)

Indian Ruins

Palenque (Chiapas). Temple of inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

Palenque archeological site (Chiapas, Mexico). Temple of Inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

In the 19th century, José Martí warned that no empire is innocent of what Kenneth Burke called the “exaltation” of sacrificial human offerings: (more…)

Angel of Abraham

"The Angel of the Lord Preventing Abraham from Sacrificing his Son Isaac" (1616) by Pieter Lastman.

“The Angel of the Lord Preventing Abraham from Sacrificing his Son Isaac” (1616) by Pieter Lastman.

In the (Brome) Abraham and Isaac play (15th century) of the English Religious Theater, Isaac exclaims when confronted with Abraham’s purpose:

“Now I would my mother were here on this hill!

She would kneel for me on both her knees

To save my life.”

Like Iphigeneia at Aulis, Isaac eventually consents to the sacrifice. But when Abraham raises his hand to strike his son, an Angel appears and takes “the sword in his hand suddenly” (A.C. Cawley, ed., Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays, 1967).  In René Marqués’ allegorical play Sacrificio en el Monte Moriah (1969), Sara (Isaac’s mother) masquerades as the Angel, tricking Abraham into believing that God wants him to substitute a ram as a burnt offering for the boy. (more…)

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: (more…)