Chapter 22, in which Isaac nearly gets sacrificed. Given this rather unpleasant and bloody scene (at least for the Ram, and probably fairly traumatic for the kid too), it seems somewhat appropriate that at least some Jewish and Muslim traditions place the situation of the near-sacrifice as the top of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem and therefore one of the sites within the much-disputed Temple Mount. It seems a fitting start for this extraordinarily beautiful and disturbed city.
Other scholars put the site of the sacrifice at Moreh, near Nablus (Biblical Shechem), another beautiful and bloody city where the Israeli army spends a fair amount of its time executing people and stifling the economy with checkpoints, when they’re not committing mass butchery in Gaza.
A brief outline of the reasons behind the various theories can be found here.
Immediately following God’s intervention in the sacrifice of Issac, Sarah dies. It’s not made clear if the two incidents are related… but she is buried in Hebron, at what becomes the Tomb of the Patriarchs or the Cave of the Double Tombs. This is said to be the site of the burials of Adam and Eve (although some traditions put Adam in Jerusalem, under the site of Golgotha), Abraham alongside Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah. It is, like so many of the ancient sites in Palestine, Israel and surrounding countries, tremendously sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and has therefore of course been the object of innumerable battles for ownership, including capture by Saladin from the Crusaders and a massacre of 67 members of the local Jewish community in 1929. The current uneasy situation is that the building is divided into two, one section each for Jews and Muslims. All visitors, including the very, very occasional tourist, have to pass through a number of security gates and checks, staffed by Israeli military.
In February 1994 the Tomb was the site of a massacre by a right-wing Zionist settler from the (frankly rabid) community which has established itself in Hebron, where local Palestinians are regularly physically attacked and have rubbish and toilet water poured onto them and their market by settlers who have occupied the upper floors of their buildings. Baruch Goldstein, an off-duty Israeli army reservist from Brooklyn, entered the mosque side of the Tomb during Friday prayers and shot dead between 29 (from Israeli accounts) and 52 Palestinians, wounding 150 more. He is now venerated by some right-wing Israeli settler groups and political parties as a hero.
In chapter 25 Abraham orders Isaac to find a wife from outside the land of Canaan; this is ringing major bells from the compulsory course on kinship I had to do as part of my social anthropology degree. This is exogamy, marriage outside the group, a practice which is attributed to many needs from the genetic (bringing new genes to maintain diversity and prevent hereditary diseases) to the political (marrying into new families, dynasties etc to form alliances which might be useful in power struggles, times of economic need and so on. Early Twentieth century anthropologists used to spend entire careers drawing complicated diagrams and classifying entire societies according to who they allowed to marry whom.
In pleasant contrast to much of Genesis so far, the resulting bride, Rebekah, is selected on the basis of her kindness and generosity, qualities notably lacking in some of the family she’s marrying into. Although maybe it’s only the ladies who are supposed to be nice to people. In any case, much of Chapter 25 (perhaps verses 8-32 and 43-46), though repetitive, has a serenely poetic quality, talking about the camels which the messenger of Abraham brings with him and the water which Rebekah fetches for them – a reminder of the complete necessity of water to the desert and arid-country societies amongst which the Bible is set.
Interestingly, given the alarm which Muslim veiling seems to inspire in the modern age, Rebekah’s response to seeing the man she is going to marry is:
“she took a vail, and covered herself.”
There is something calm and dignified in Rebekah’s choice and her stately generosity that is a welcome antidote to the bloodshed and bitterness of the Flood, Cain and Abel, Lot and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham and Sarah’s exploitation of Hagar.