But Where Is the Lamb? (Book Acquired, 8.23.2013)


But Where Is the Lamb? by James Goodman. The book is about Genesis ch. 22, the story where God says to Abraham, kill me your son. Good design on this one:


Publisher Random House’s blurb:

“I didn’t think he’d do it. I really didn’t think he would. I thought he’d say, whoa, hold on, wait a minute. We made a deal, remember, the land, the blessing, the nation, the descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore and the stars in the sky.”

So begins James Goodman’s original and urgent encounter with one of the most compelling and resonant stories ever told—God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

A mere nineteen lines in the book of Genesis, it rests at the heart of the history, literature, theology, and sacred rituals of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For more than two millennia, people throughout the world have grappled with the troubling questions about sacrifice, authority, obedience, and faith to which the story gives rise. Writing from the vantage of “a reader, a son, a Jew, a father, a skeptic, a historian, a lover of stories, and a writer,” Goodman gives us an enthralling narrative history that moves from its biblical origins to its place in the cultures and faiths of our time. He introduces us to the commentary of Second Temple sages, rabbis and priests of the late antiquity, and early Islamic exegetes (some of whom imagined that Ishmael was the nearly sacrificed son). He examines Syriac hymns (in which Sarah stars), Hebrew chronicles of the First Crusade (in which Isaac often dies), and medieval English mystery plays. He looks at the art of Europe’s golden age, the philosophy of Kant and Kierkegaard, and the panoply of twentieth-century interpretation, sacred and profane, including the work of Bob Dylan, Elie Wiesel, and A. B. Yehoshua. In illuminating how so many others have understood this story, Goodman tells a gripping and provocative story of his own.


6 thoughts on “But Where Is the Lamb? (Book Acquired, 8.23.2013)”

  1. Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”

    Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God says, “Out on Highway 61.”


  2. Dylan’s in there of course. Let me know if you have any thoughts about the subject or questions about the book. I am the author. I start by conjuring up the story’s author and imagining how the story came to be. Then I tell the story of the story, how we got from there to here Highway 61 and beyond. I am not a biblical scholar but a historian and creative writer. I got hooked, however, as countless people have over the past 2000 or more years.


    1. Thank you for your reply to my response. I do not have a copy of your book, but when given the chance, I will read it to find out what you have to say. Did this incident mark the evolution of Judaism from a sacrificial religion to a religion of law? As you can probably deduce from my question, I am not a scholar of the religion of Abraham.


  3. Actually I can’t deduce that from your good questions because scholars themselves are not in agreement. Some think that the story was an etiological tale, i.e. one that explains the origins of something or a change in ritual, and what it would have explained was the permissibility of substitution, or even (many believe) the prohibition of child sacrifice. Why is it permissible to substitute a lamb for a child in the ritual of sacrifice? See Genesis 22. Others think otherwise, that actually the story celebrates the ideal of child sacrifice, that the first child belongs to God, and sometimes God demands him back. That ideal might well have survived long after the practice was eradicated. Obviously the idea of the sacrifice of the beloved son becomes central to Christianity, again long after the practice was eradicated. Animal sacrifice and laws exists side by side in Judaism until the destruction of the Second Temple. Then it is just an ideal of sacrifice, and law. This stuff is all in just a few pages of my book, which is about a lot of other good stuff as well.


    1. It was the custom in Roman Catholic countries, where there was a plethora of offspring, to give a boy child to the church as an offering to God. Usually, not so the girls, as they were of material value in marriage.


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