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Professor Stern Interprets Biblical Sacrifice Story
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Professor Stern Interprets Biblical Sacrifice Story

GENESIS 22, THE story of the Binding of Isaac, or the “Aqedah” in Hebrew, is one of the most familiar but horrifying stories in the Bible. In his two GRUSS LECTURES last fall, Professor Josef Stern of the Dept. of Philosophy at the University of Chicago presented the great medieval Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moses Maimonides’ two parabolic, or allegorical, interpretations of this episode.

Unlike traditional readings of the story that focus on its beginning, Maimonides’ radical interpretations locate its moral in its ending: in the fact that Abraham does not sacrifice Isaac. On the first interpretation, Abraham’s initial willingness to sacrifice Isaac reflects the conception, deeply held by certain medieval rabbis, that the one who truly loves and fears God is he who would rather die for God than transgress any divine commandment-through acts of martyrdom. Abraham learns that such love is excessive and that fear of God within the proper limits is expressed and attained by living the life of the Mosaic Law, not by dying for it.

 

 
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