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SIDNEY-SPENSER  August 2005

SIDNEY-SPENSER August 2005

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Subject:

Re: 3rd try, faith and the senses,

From:

"James C. Nohrnberg" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sidney-Spenser Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 10 Aug 2005 17:38:28 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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On Wed, 10 Aug 2005 14:25:21 EDT
  [log in to unmask] wrote:
> I am not sure if this is exactly the kind of example you are asking about, 
> but Sarah laughed at the prophecy of her having a child with Abraham at 
>their 
> late stage in life. I recall that one of the Old Testament kings didn't 
>believe 
> God would save Jerusalem until the prophet removed the "veil" so the king 
> could see the angelic host standing by (apologies--I need to re-read the 
>OT 
> history books and have not recalled which king/prophet).  And Gideon took 
>a lot of 
> convincing from his senses--one test wasn't enough to overcome his doubts. 
> Arthur Upham, Madison

Lengthily, tediously, and only for the brave, further on the nature of 
Abraham's "faith" in the promises and in his future nationhood and 
reproduction genetically (cf. Sarah's being "reproved" [AV] in Gen. 20:16, 
for, obliquely and ultimately, lack of credulity as to God's word  "And unto 
Sarah he [Abimelech] said, Behold, I have given thy brother [Abraham] a 
thousand peices of silver:  behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, 
unto all that are with thee, and with all other:  thus she was reproved."). 
 For I think there is a sense in which the knight errant Redcrosse is not 
altogether unlike the sojourning Abraham as a "knight of faith," especially 
in the interval in which he generates and defeats Sansfoy.

How does Abraham himself pay his respects to a blessing for which his own 
name might one day come to stand?  The answers to the question all come down 
to the intersection of the blessing of Abraham with Abraham's faith.  For 
Abraham's is a faith that can become no less proverbial than the blessing 
itself.
	The  favorable verdict of the Letter to the Hebrews on the faithfulness of 
Abraham seems to be present there, in that New Testament text, so that it 
can be questioned by the more wary readers of the story itself:  the devil's 
advocate who opposes the case that the tradition might seem to have made for 
the Patriarch's sainthood.  For the blessing of Abraham, and the complicity 
of the characters' utterances in a sort of recoupment of Abraham's happy 
future as the father of the many peoples who call Abraham their father, 
should not blind us to Abraham's questionable desert, and to the imputedness 
of some of his merits.  His justness towards others is rarely in question. 
 But despite his characterizing action of lifting up his eyes, Abraham 
regularly exhibits a short-sightedness regarding the fulfillment of God's 
promises.  Yet the story does not wholly censure Abraham's earlier 
skepticism and subsequent misconstructions; it accepts them, even as it also 
accepts the Abraham who brings this doubtfulness with him as part of his 
human person.
	First let us list the more unalloyed and less dubious instances of 
Abraham's faith in the promises.  Even before the promise has been made 
Abraham is in want of a fertile wife;  Sarah is announced as barren from the 
start.  Therefore Abraham's long marriage to Sarah is to be counted as 
exceptional faith in God's promise of progeny -- it was to be a large 
progeny at that.  After Sarah has died, Abraham purchases land in the 
promised land to bury her.  If he pays an exorbitant price (and it seems 
that he does), then his purchase may be counted as the expression of an 
exceptional faith in God's promise of a right over the land of Canaan.  We 
may see Abraham's investment, like one made in a government savings bond, as 
a long-term one, less the making of an irrefutable claim on the land (as 
burying one's dead there could be), than a buying of stock in the nation's 
future.  At the time of the imminent Babylonian invasion of Israel, and in 
just such a spirit, Jeremiah buys the deed to a portion in a post-exilic 
Israel.
	Abraham thus honors the promises as possibilities, by taking a stake in 
their fulfillment:  by betting on his marriage and his real estate.  But a 
purchase like that of the grave might also make Abraham feel that God is 
only going to honor His promises figuratively, while breaching them 
literally:  that is, unless He gets some human help in keeping them, or at 
least keeping them fulfillable.  For Abraham does not trust God to protect 
him, the future father, or his marriage, the source of progeny; thus he 
pretends not to be married and so makes Sarah available for the harems of 
others.  And he does not trust God to protect Lot from the fate of Sodom. 
 Lot would be a source of Nahorite relatives (for Lot has two daughters), 
and so Abraham tries to get God to spare Sodom for the sake of a few 
righteous persons in it, persons whose righteousness might be tested by 
their hospitality.  Thus in trying to protect his nephew, Abraham has 
instead exposed him to a test, and Lot does not really come off that well. 
 For to protect his guests Lot offers to sacrifice his daughters -- to the 
Sodomites.  It thus appears that he hardly cares to protect the only genetic 
vehicle for any Nahorite future (in this case "Haran") in the West.  Nor 
does Abraham trust God to give his barren wife children, insofar as he 
accedes in her proposal to create offspring through the maternal surrogacy 
of her maid Hagar.  But in protecting his seed, he divides his household and 
alienates his wife.  And finally he does not trust God to make a people of 
Ishmael, in that he speaks out for Ishmael when God is promising him the 
birth of Isaac, and promising Isaac the Abrahamic peoplehood in question.
	Thus God's faith in Abraham must be a somewhat generous one.  Yet that is 
why it might inspire the faith of others -- other such as Melchizedeck
-- in the Patriarch and his god.  The bet that God has Himself chosen to 
make surely cannot have been a bad one, nor His investment a short-sighted 
one.  For it is a bet that God not only makes, but, being omnipotent, cannot 
help but also make good on.  Yet the narrative will not have made the 
analogous investment in Abraham, unless it also shows Abraham himself making 
the God's bet on his own future.  Furthermore, Abraham must be brought to 
bet on God Himself:  even if this should involve trusting in a Promiser 
whose only promise is, No Promises.
	Once Abraham has been actually blessed with Isaac, we can see Abraham's new 
willingness to bet on God's faithfulness without much qualification or 
limit.  God will provide the sacrifice, and Isaac himself will provide the 
stakes:  the means to make such a bet, should it be offered.  For surely the 
sacrifice of Isaac shows Abraham's readiness to risk the whole farm, when 
God is his partner.  Thus the father's subsequent arranging of his son's 
marriage does not seem like Abraham's earlier meddlesome attempts to help 
God help Abraham.  It is more like a bet on Abraham's own, Nahorite future 
in and through Isaac.  He bets on his ambassador finding a wife, and finding 
a wife in the East (for if no Nahorite wife is found, the ambassador is 
discharged of all further obligation to his ward's marriage).  It is thus 
the Abraham of faith, and not the Abraham of doubt, who makes his final bet 
on Isaac's marriage.  His faith in God is thus extended to his faith in the 
ambassador.  If God can provide the sacrifice, he can surely also provide 
the wife.  Rebekah may be a needle in a haystack, but God is both compass 
and magnet.
	Thus the blessing of Abraham emerges for the first time in the narrative, 
as a concept in the mind of another, in the speech of the ambassador 
himself.  The ambassador has faith in the blessing of Abraham as the future 
of Isaac.  That is why he might legitimately jump the gun in declaring Isaac 
Abraham's heir.  This "faithful" character might indeed have this kind of 
faith:  because he needs it.  For at this juncture the promise of peoplehood 
can only be realized through marriages:  and marriage-brokerage is surely an 
act of faith.
-- "The Blessing of Abraham" (ca. 1991, unpublished)    --Jim N.

And as a footnote to the above:

The scorn the parents [of Isaac] conceive for the chance of parenthood 
provides the etymology of their son's name.  Rachel weeps over her children 
who were not, Sarah laughs, but it is the same dissent against a barrenness 
that would deny them their 'toledot' [generations/story].  But Sarah is 
warned that anything is possible with God--it is nothing that is impossible 
with him.  Thus the descent from Abraham is also traced back to the creation 
itself:  because anything is possible with God, and nothing is not.
	Typically, the "generations" are produced from a human progenitor.  This is 
not the case in the first instance, "These are the generations of the 
heavens and earth."  For the creation is anything but a spontaneous natural 
generation, a 'genesis'.  The Bible takes huge exception to the pagan 
creation myth of genesis, where the congress of heaven and earth generates 
the gods, where the gods generate monsters, and where the big bangs of rape, 
castration, and ejaculation play such a role in the primeval events.  In the 
Bible, on the other hand, the miscegenous sons of God who come into the 
daughters of men do not precipitate Nature, but the Flood.  The waters above 
and the waters below not only merge two texts, but two levels of being that 
the creation in fact distinguished.  God did not originally breed the 
heavens and earth, he segregated them.  Thus the pagan or ontogenetic 
creation myth is fossilized in the single expression here in question.  The 
heavens and the earth are actually the virtual antithesis of the unity of 
the darkness on face of the deep facing it--this last is an image not of 
coitus, but of barrenness.  Thus God's intervention in the barrenness of 
Sarah has the most awesome precedent in God's original mercy to non-entity. 
 --  "The Keeping of Nahor," in R. Schwartz, ed., The Book and the Text 
(1990).

  




[log in to unmask]
James Nohrnberg
Dept. of English, Bryan Hall 219
Univ. of Virginia
P.O Box 400121
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121

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