Fall 2009

Professor David R. Blumenthal (reldrb@emory.edu,  404-634-3833)

TT    2:30 – 3:45                                                                    

JS Seminar Room



The Akeda is arguably one of the most important stories in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition. It is the root of God’s promise to the Jewish people of land and of forgiveness of sin, the adumbration of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the story of the chosenness of Ishmael. We will study the basic text carefully and then take a deep look at the rabbinic interpretations. The students will teach the rest of the semester as we study the Akeda in Christianity and Islam, as well as in art, music, literature, and feminist revisionings.



Bible,  any translation; best: Tanakh,  Jewish Publication Society.

S. Spiegel, The Last Trial.

Packet of midrashim (to be distributed).



D. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (theology).

                        E. Wiesel, Messengers of God (69-97) (theology).

D. Blumenthal, “Confronting the Character of God” (theology).

                        J. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son (theology).

                        Review of Levenson, Death and Resurrection, by D. Blumenthal (theology).

H. Fisch, Poetry With a Purpose (literature).

                        N. Sarna, “The Binding of Isaac” (historical).

                        D. Levenson, “Child Sacrifice: Deviation or Norm” (historical).

P. Trible, Texts of Terror  (feminist).

S. Heschel, “Jesus as Theological Transvestite” (feminist).

                        E. Umansky, “Re-Visioning Sarah” (feminist).

                        C. Thompson, “Imagining Sarah”(feminist).



This is a reflection-intensive class. Very active class participation is expected plus one final paper.





Introduction – August 27


The Genesis Text – Sept. 1, 3, 8


            The problems in the text as a whole

            The problems in the text, line by line; gaps, fault lines, structure


The Rabbinic Texts


            Bereshit Rabba, chapters 55 and 56 – Sept. 10, 15, 17, 19, 22

            Midrash Vayosha` -- Sept. 24, 29 [get organized for the rest of the semester]

            The medieval poems – Oct. 1, 6, 8


(Oct. 13 – no class, Fall break)


Work Week – Oct. 15, 20 – consultations by group during class time


Child Sacrifice Historically Viewed, The Akeda in Christianity, and The Akeda in Islam


            Child Sacrifice – Oct. 22

            Christianity – Oct. 27

            Islam – Oct. 29


The Akeda in Art – Nov. 3, 5


The Akeda in Music – Nov. 10, 12


The Akeda in Literature – Nov. 12, 19


The Akeda in Feminist Revisioning – Nov. 24, Dec. 1


(Nov. 26 – no class; Thanksgiving)


Conclusion – Dec. 3, 8



The final is due in the Jewish Studies office on Dec. 15 at 12:00 p.m.









Choose only one essay and write an adequate analysis. Depth, not length, counts. Please send to me by email. Due Dec. 12th. The Emory Honor Code is in effect for this paper.


For the paintings, sculptures, poetry, etc. please consult the material on Blackboard for this class. Ditto for the midrash, especially the material from Bereshit Rabba and PRE (Pirqei de Rabbi Eliezer). You are, of course, free to search out and use other materials.


If you do not choose to do one of the essays below but to do an independent paper, please get an okay from me.


Questions – choose one:


If the Akeda is an act of violence, which painting or sculpture and which midrash best captures this, and why? And, if the Akeda is an act of piety by Abraham and Isaac, which painting or sculpture and which midrash best captures this, and why?


We studied a midrash and a medieval poem that spoke of Isaac’s ashes being piled on the altar with the prayer that those ashes serve as a merit to protect the Jewish people. We have not, however, found a visual representation on this subject. How, in words, would you envision such a representation? Be specific. Catch the action dramatically.


This incident is variously referred to as “The Binding of Isaac,” “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” “The Sacrifice of Abraham,” and “The Testing of Abraham.” Which of these best describes the story and why? And, what alternate ending could the Akeda have that would have a meaning so deep that it would become one of the most central stories in Jewish life and religion?


Sarah is not present in the biblical story and, except for a brief passage in PRE, she is absent in the rabbinic literature as well as in most of the visual representations we have seen. Write a midrash with dialogue in which Sarah’s voice is present. Be sure to do this using a “gap” in the text. Try to make your midrash stylistically as much like the classical midrashim we studied.


Pick one verse in the Akeda and illustrate it with: one midrash, one piece of art or sculpture, and one story or poem. These choices should be arranged as a commentary on the verse: choose a verse; insert one of the three chosen items; write a commentary explaining why it best illuminates the text you chose; go to item two; go to item three; add a conclusion.