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Yair Zakovitch Disgrace: The Lies of the Patriarch THE HISTORIOGRAPHIC COMPLEX OF THE HEBREW BIBLE, WHICH OPENS w ith Genesis and the creation ofthe world and closes at the end ofKings with the Babylonian exile,1 tells a sad story—notwithstanding the faint light that flickers at the end, a glimpse of hope of a better future for the exiled and perhaps even of their being granted the ability to return to the land of Israel when Jehoiachin, king of Judah, is released from prison by the king ofBabylon and shown preferential treatment (2 Kings 25: 27-30). The central message of this huge complex, which reached its final form more or less during the Babylonian exile, is etiologicaltheological : it sets forth an explanation of God’s resolve to exile Israel, his chosen people and the nation he favored, from its land, justifying the exile as punishment for the Israelites’ deplorable behavior.2 The doctrine of divine justice, of reward and punishment (mostly punish­ ment), is the thread on which are strung all the events that, together, comprise the story ofIsrael’s history. We find this doctrine being played out already in the complex’s opening stories (Genesis 1-11), stories that tell of hum ankind’s history before the Israelite nation stepped onto the stage of histoiy: Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, the Flood, the scattering of the tower-builders of Babel—each a result of human­ ity’s transgressions, and all recounted for the purpose of Israel learning from the bitter experiences of those early generations that sinned and were punished so as not to repeat their errors. But the hope is in vain, and by the narrative’s end the people of Israel are expelled, just as were Adam and Eve from the Garden, and social research Vol 75 : No 4 : Winter 2008 1035 just as the builders of the Tower were scattered throughout the world. Each and every figure in history’s relay-race—from Abraham on, till the last of the kings—is found to be morally flawed. Israel’s historiography renders no flawless figures: what can we imperfect beings learn from perfect characters?3 It is precisely from the experiences of those who have made mistakes, who have sinned and paid for their errors, that we can we draw lessons and improve ourselves, thus avoiding a share in their sins and punishments. This must be remembered: the Bible’s heroes are but the means for conveying the educational-ideological convictions of the biblical writers. The characters are not an objective in and of themselves. The Bible is not interested in promoting a person­ ality cult; it has no interest in admiring human figures who might over­ whelm the figure of their creator. Despite this, the Bible’s historiography nonetheless gives voice to two contradicting tendencies. The first aims to teach that, for every transgression that is committed, God will punish the transgressor; the other, which is in tension with the first, tries to lessen a figure’s guilt by finding extenuating circumstances and, therefore, improving the reputations of the nation’s heroes and leaders. In this paper, Iwill focus on Israel’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who serve as national archetypes. From among the patriarchs’ sins, we will examine only the most prominent, acts of lies, deception, and fraudulence, and we will consider whether the deceivers were commensurately punished and whether any effort was made to justify them. THE LIES OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC The saga of the nation’s forefather Abraham consists of a succession of tests with which God tries him, beginning with “Goforth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), and ending with “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and goforth to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (22:2).4After Abraham proves himself worthy in the first test by leaving his father’s house and arriving to the land that God shows him, 1036 social research a second test is put...


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