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Binding of Isaac and Messiah, The

Law, Martyrdom, and Deliverance in Early Rabbinic Religiosity

Aharon (Ronald E.) Agus

Publication Year: 1988

The author provides an interpretation of the words of Jews living during the intertestamental period and through the third century, including several hassidim. A hermeneutics grounded in the perception of early Rabbinic texts as sharing in events rather than as linguistically autonomous is used. The phenomenology of Jewish martyrdom is read as an acting-out of the Binding of Isaac. The search leads into the question of the bindingness of the Law. The religious soul’s passion for the revelation of Law is followed out in its path of temptation to martyrdom. A grand drama of sacrifice and messianic yearnings is thereby unearthed.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

Partial List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Were I to write of all those who have helped I would have to engage in something akin to autobiography. Instead I shall only mention a few of the people who are directly connected with this work. ...

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pp. 1-10

One dusty day in the heat of early June, while I was reviewing the year's lectures, a student suddenly asked me: "Why did you talk so much about the Rabbis' attitudes toward suffering? People don't suffer so much nowadays, at least not in the West. So why did you harp so much on the subject?" This question, posed by a serious young officer in the regular Israeli army, brought home ...

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1. The Mother of the Sons

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pp. 11-32

I set out by examining a particular configuration of the event of martyrdom as told in an ancient story. In Jewish tradition, the story is known as Hannah and her Seven Sons.1 It is far from a complete story; little is told about the background of the protagonists. We have mainly their act of martyrdom. ...

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2. Martyrdom and the Law

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pp. 33-62

We have seen that the martyr hears the story of the Binding of Isaac through the sharp reality that he himself is living out; and in turn, he is able to act out his own grim drama because the Akedah "really was." I have called this a sense of community, albeit a historical one. ...

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3. The Binding of Isaac

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pp. 63-68

We have seen that the story of the Binding of Isaac is not merely a source out of which variegated meanings spring exegetically. It is rather the telling of a drama that unfolds fully for the listeners only in the history of Israel and the inner experiences of the truly religious. It is a tale told by religious man, full of life and awe, signifying an implicit dynamic ...

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4. Honi ha-Me' aggel

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pp. 69-88

In order to understand a little better the phenomenology of what has been said, let us examine the "biographies" of some of the figures known in early rabbinic tradition as martyrs or as having martyrial tendencies. The stories will be interesting both for their own sake and as frames for the individual's statements, rather than the statements by themselves, because we are discussing an act of living-out and that takes place in the dimension of biography. ...

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5. R. Hanina ben Dosa

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pp. 89-114

By tradition, R. Hanina ben Dosa is a person in whom several of the characteristics we have discussed are configurated. He lived in Arav in the lower Galilee during the first century of the Christian era, and his martyrial tendency is evident from his stance in prayer. ...

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6. Nahum ish Gamzo and R. Hananiah ben Teradyon

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pp. 115-136

Nahum ish Gamzo, who lived at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second, apparently in Gimzo, in central Palestine, affords us an opportunity of tracing some of our motifs through an interplay with more mainstream rabbinic views. ...

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7. If I Am Here, All Are Here

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pp. 137-146

We may effect a clearer vision of the martyrial consciousness, and perhaps even move toward a synthesis of all we have discussed on the matter till now, by looking at a different but, as we shall see, parallel biographical story. We shall examine some aspects of the remembered religiosity of the famous sage Hillel the Elder, who flourished around the time of the birth of Jesus. ...

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8. If Not Now, When? Repentance

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pp. 147-188

We have seen that martyrdom as a Binding of Isaac is part of a scenario in which religious man is drawn into a dialectic of Law and martyrdom because he takes being in the world seriously and therefore is painfully sensitive to the existence of evil in the world. ...

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9. Pangs of Messiah

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pp. 189-206

We have seen that the story of the Binding of Isaac is a myth of deliverance. By myth we do not mean a figment of the imagination; on the contrary, it is a true reality. It tells the story of religious man's odyssey through the awesome seriousness of living the way of the Law and history, into the awesome heroism of a totally realized being in the immediacy of martyrdom and, perhaps, back. ...

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10. The Binding of Messiah: Messiah Ben Joseph

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pp. 207-222

Without getting involved in the intricate story of Messiah ben (the son of) Joseph as it is rooted in early apocalyptic visions and as it develops in later apocalyses, we shall try and understand his meaning for early rabbinic thinking. Suffice it to say that Messiah ben Joseph will appear before the advent of Messiah ben David and that he must die in battle. ...

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11. When the Messiah

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pp. 223-254

R. Joshua ben Levi (Palestine, first half of the third century) comes alive to us richly through tradition, and yet in such a way as to reveal the adumbration of a messianic myth that is deeply a part of rabbinic consciousness. That we must await a particular biography for such illumination is liable to create a historical illusion. ...


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pp. 255-296

Bibliography of Primary Sources

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pp. 297-298

General Index

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pp. 299-310

Index of Sages

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pp. 311-314

Index of Biblical Sources

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pp. 315-320

Index of Rabbinic Sources

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pp. 321-327

E-ISBN-13: 9780791494363
E-ISBN-10: 0791494365
Print-ISBN-13: 9780887067358
Print-ISBN-10: 0887067352

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 1988

Series Title: SUNY series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion