Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah, lujah, lujah, lujah, hallelujah, lujah, hallelujah.| From Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz

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And there are mountains, and the old man gets up and says to his son: come with me. Come with me, says the old man to his son, and he goes and his son goes with him, and they walk together into the mountains, up and down, mountains and valleys. How much further, Father? I don’t know, we are walking uphill, downhill, into the mountains, come with me. Are you tired, son, don’t you want to come with me. Oh, I’m not tired, if you want me to come, I’ll come. Yes, come. Up, down, valleys, it’s a long way, it’s midday, we’ve arrived. Look about you, son, is that an altar. Father, I am afraid. Why are you afraid, son? You woke me, we went out early, and we forgot the sheep we meant to sacrifice. Yes, we forgot it. Up and down, the long valleys, we forgot it, the sheep is not with us, there is the altar, I am afraid. I must take off my coat, are you afraid, my son. Yes, Father, I am afraid. I am afraid too, son, come closer, don’t be afraid, we must do it. What must we do? Up and down, the long valleys, I got up so early. Fear not, son, do it willingly, come closer to me, I have taken off my coat, so as not to bloody the sleeves. I am afraid, because you have the knife. Yes, I have the knife, I must slaughter you, I must sacrifice you, the Lord commands it, do it gladly, my son.

No, I cannot do it, I will scream, don’t touch me, I don’t want to be slaughtered. Now you are on your knees, do not scream, my son. Yes, I am screaming. Do not scream; if you don’t want, then I can’t do it, you must want it. Up and down, why should I not go home again. What will you do at home, is not the Lord more than a home. I cannot, yes I can, no I cannot. Move closer, see, I have the knife here, look at it, it is very sharp, it will touch your throat. Will it cut my throat? Yes. Then the blood will bubble forth? Yes. The Lord wills it. Do you want it? I cannot yet, Father. Come quickly, I must not slay you; if I do it, then it must be as though you did it unto yourself. I unto myself? Ah. Yes, and be not afraid. Ah. And not live life, not live your life, because you will give it unto the Lord. Move closer. The Lord our God wills it? Up, down, I got up so early. You surely will not be cowardly. I know, I know, I know! What do you know, my son? Apply the knife to me, wait, let me turn down my collar so that my neck is open. You seem to know something. You must only will it, and I must will it, we will both do it, then the Lord will call, we will both hear Him call: yes, come here, give me your throat. There. I am not afraid, I do it willingly. Up and down, the long valleys, there put the knife to me, and cut, I will not scream.

And the son throws his head back, his father steps behind him, clasps his forehead, and shows him the butcher’s knife in his right hand. The son wills it. The Lord calls. They both fall on their faces.

What calls the voice of the Lord. Hallelujah. Through the mountains, through the valleys. You are obedient unto me, hallelujah. You shall live. Hallelujah. Stop, throw the knife away. Hallelujah. I am the Lord whom you obey, and whom alone you always must obey. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah, lujah, lujah, lujah, hallelujah, lujah, hallelujah.

From Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin. English translation by Michael Hoffmann. (NRYB trade paperback, 2018).

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

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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:

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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.

 

“Speak, thou vast and venerable head” (Moby-Dick)

It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed— while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

From “The Sphynx,” Chapter 70 of Melville’s Moby-Dick.

 

“Hagar & Ishmael” — An Excerpt from an Unfinished Joseph Heller Novel

“Hagar & Ishmael” is an excerpt from an unfinished Joseph Heller novel (and yes, we know it’s not new to the internet. It was published by some magazine called The Paris Review a few years ago)–

It wasn’t my idea. Sarah thought of it first. But I was excited from the time she said so, and I began to wash myself everywhere every day, and to keep myself clean after noontime too. I was happy as a lark and chirped and flitted everywhere like a cute little bird, singing to myself merrily and winking to my friends and giggling behind my hands, after Sarah raised the question and Abraham moved me into his quarters to be near him, where I could be watched. Of course I would not have said no even if I could have, and of course I was excited by this chance. I was the envy of almost all of the other women, even of those with husbands.

For a week or more he would not touch me, until it was clear I was not already pregnant with another man’s child, and then for another week also after that, until I was free of the curse and he knew I was not unclean. These people are funny that way, he and Sarah, and Lot and his wife too, before they moved off with their daughters and all their household to dwell away from us in Sodom. Once I lay with Abraham and bore him his son, no other man in the camp came near me again, or seemed to want to, even long after. By the end of one month I was with child. Abraham sent me back and did not use me that way again, although I made eyes at him a lot to show that I wanted him to.

I cannot say truthfully which one of the two of us started the trouble, whether it was Sarah with her envy or me with my vanity and disrespect that kindled the enmity between us and destroyed the feelings of friendship between mistress and slave that had been in all ways favorable since they bought me with money and took me up out of Egypt with them. Probably, it was both. I was Egyptian and a servant, she was his blood relation, a half sister. But she was aged and barren, and I was younger and carrying her husband’s child, the son or daughter of her master that she herself had not been able to bear, and they had been married long.

I could not contain my happiness and my pride in myself and certainly did not wish to hide them. My conceit grew with my belly, expanding without shame. Soon everyone knew I had Abraham’s child. I made sure of that.