Facing Death (Chaps. 22–23)
The Offering of the Son (Chap. 22)
The Death of the Wife (Chap. 23)
The first episode is famous: as a test, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the child of promise; and after a wrenching account, an angel intervenes at the last moment and renews the promise. The promise is further strengthened by a form of good omen, the news that his brother has had twelve sons. Thus the episode goes from the impending death of an only child to a sense of children abounding.
But while Abraham was spared his son, he was not spared his wife. In the second episode Sarah dies and Abraham mourns. Yet here, too, there is a turnaround and again the shadow of death gives way to something positive, not to children but to land. In seeking a burial place Abraham acquires a field of great price, four hundred shekels. As the twelve children of the first episode intimated the people to come (the twelve tribes), so the field of four hundred shekels intimates the future possession of the land.
This double encounter with death means not that Abraham is impoverished but that the promise of progeny and land is stronger than ever; stronger and closer.
The predominant literary types are those of a trial (chap. 22) and a dialogue contract (chap. 23; Westermann, II, 354, 371). The dialogue contract secures Sarah's burial place—a field with a cave.
The overcoming of death is reflected in a pendulum effect at the center of both panels. In the Isaac episode this pendulum effect is a journey to the mountain and back again. Abraham explicitly tells his two accompanying boys (young men) that he and Isaac will go to the mountain to bow down (šā âh), implying worship, and that they will then come back again; and so he does; “he came