Isaac on Jewish and Christian Altars: Polemic and Exegesis in Rashi and the Glossa Ordinaria

By Devorah Schoenfeld | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
ISAAC ON JEWISH AND
CHRISTIAN ALTARS:
POLEMIC, FAITH, AND
SACRIFICE IN RASHI AND
THE GLOSS ON GENESIS 22

The structure of this book has been a four-way comparison between Rashi, the Gloss, and their respective sources. While previous chapters have highlighted the differences, this chapter will show that the most important elements in Rashi and in the Gloss on Genesis 22 are themes that they have in common. Both Rashi and the Gloss read the near-sacrifice of Isaac polemically, in a way that uses the story of Abraham as evidence for the greatness of Abraham—representing their own faiths—over “other” figures—different nations or religions. The Gloss specifically names Jews and polemicizes against them. Although Rashi does not name Christians, his interpretation emphasizes the polemical function as the main purpose of the story. Both retell the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac in a way that has Abraham both participate in and foresee a future sacrifice: that of Christ and the Eucharist that reenacts it in the case of the Gloss and the Temple sacrifice in the case of Rashi. In doing this, each glossator sees Abraham as a participant in his own faith’s religious rituals as they continue to be practiced into the future. Isaac becomes placed on the Christian altar in the Eucharist and on the Jewish altar through the Temple sacrifices and the rituals that replace them, and Abraham acts out the role of a faithful member of the Jewish or Christian religion whose example every follower should emulate.

This similarity, though, is intertwined with an important, paradoxical difference. Although both Rashi and the Gloss, following their own exegetical traditions, read this story as morally didactic and as an example of faith, Rashi describes Isaac’s greatness and holds him up as a model for emulation,

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