The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations

By Ed Noort; Eibert Tigchelaar | Go to book overview

KIERKEGAARD'S READING OF THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC

Andy F. Sanders


1. Introduction

Reading the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, reading Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling (1843), one of its famous literaryphilosophical interpretations, another. In this contribution my aim is, first, to give a brief exposition (sections 2–3) of how Genesis 22:1–19 is read by Johannes de Silentio, the pseudonymous writer of Fear and Trembling and, next, to exhibit its ongoing significance by comparing it briefly with Derrida's recent reinterpretation of it (section 4).

Though there are perhaps few philosophers whose life and work are so intricately connected as those of Kierkegaard, I cannot go into the controversial issue of his pseudonymous authorship.1 Let me just recall that, except for a few journeys to Berlin, he lived and worked as a writer in Kopenhagen where he was born in 1813 and died in 1855, that he got a Lutheran upbringing by a severe and melancholic father, that his mother, six of his seven brothers and sisters and his best friend died before he was 23, and, not surprisingly, that he suffered himself from 'melancholy'. Also important to recall in this connection is that he broke off his engagement with the love of his life, the seventeen year old Regine Olsen in October of 1841, less than two years before Fear and Trembling appeared. From his diaries we know that he himself understood this rupture as a sacrifice and that it was very much in his mind while he was writing the book.2 However, as I will focus on the text itself, the host

1 Though there is no reason to suppose that Kierkegaard's views are significantly
different than those of his pseudonym, I will respect the distance he wished to cre-
ate between his writings and his own person by referring to de Silentio or Kierkegaard-
de Silentio as the author.

2 It has been suggested with good reason that part of the hidden meaning of
Fear and Trembling was to disclose to Regine why he had broken off their engage-
ment. According to Malantchuk, it is therefore not Abraham, but Isaac who rep-
resents Kierkegaard-de Silentio: '[he] simply wanted to tell Regine that he himself

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