Fun with the Bible: Abraham’s Trip to See Sigmund Freud

The Situation

Everybody knows about Father Abraham right? That patriarch of all monotheistic people who everyone likes to trace his or her roots to? You remember: God spoke to him, gave him descendants and Canaan and all that jazz?

Do you remember the story where he goes to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test from God (Genesis 22) but before he can do it God stops him? It’s a great story. Rather popular, and boy is there a lot to say about it. But do you know the story of Abraham and his other son, Ishmael?

Well, in Genesis 21, (yes, the chapter immediately before he tries to off Isaac), Abraham sends his other son (and his mother) out into the wilderness to, presumably, die. Why? Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is getting testy about Ishmael, the son of a slave woman, playing with her son. Jealousy? Maybe. But no matter the reason, we have two back to back stories of Abraham doing things that will kill his sons.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like this, I start thinking of everyone’s favorite mother fucker, Sigmund Freud. Now, there’s no real indication that Isaac or Ishmael was trying to sleep with either of their mothers or subsequently tried to murder their father, Abraham. But perhaps this was a preemptive strike on Abraham’s part while his sons were still young.

The Approach

There’s little that annoys me as much in scholarship as a reductionist approach. That is, the attempt to understand and explain information all through a particular lens without taking account of the entire situation. For instance, like attempting to interpret everything through a Freudian, Oedipal Complex, eye. (By the way, interpreting the entire Old Testament like it’s forecasting Jesus is also reductionist.)

However, with two back to back stories about killing sons, I can’t help but wonder if we’re not getting glimpses of some very long standing emotions about familial relations. We know that the ancient Greeks thought about these things – why not Ancient Near Eastern people as well?

The Questions

One big question internal to the story is, how can Abraham get everything that God has promised him (descendants and land for them), if he is killing his sons (while claiming that God is telling him to kill them – sounds delusional, no?)? So, if these Freudian drives are correct, is this in part a story about Abraham overcoming his internal drives (son-murder) in order to acquire his long-term goals: Id v. Superego? Should he smoke a cigar?

If you like this family murder stuff, Genesis is filled with some great fratricide and attempted fratricide stories too (e.g. Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers).

Have you read Genesis 21 and 22? What do you think about this Freudian interpretation on the whole thing? What are your thoughts on Abraham’s psyche? Are there other places you can think of in the Bible that lend themselves to Freudian interpretation? God does let his only son get murdered, right?

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Quran Day: The Cow 21-29 Speaks of Allah’s Omniscience and Other Qualities

God’s Characteristics

I was struck throughout these 9 verses by the flurry of ways that Allah, as He’s portrayed here in the Quran, reflects issues that the biblical reader will notice immediately. Then suddenly, at the end, there’s a huge difference (a difference that a biblical reader, though not necessarily a religious Christian or Jew, might notice).

In verse 29 of the Cow, we learn that God is omniscient; that is, he has knowledge of everything. Though predictable that the Quran would make sure to let us know this seemingly obvious fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this about God.

Jews and Christians will insist that God is omniscient – after all, how could He not be? – but show me where it says that in the Bible. It doesn’t. The Jewish and Christian conception of God that developed in the centuries surrounding the year 0 was one of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but God was not always thought of like this. In fact, there are instances in the Bible where we see that God just doesn’t know certain things (in Gen. 3 He has to look for Adam and Eve and calls to them because He doesn’t know where they are).

My point is that by the seventh century and the development of Islam, the concept of God in monotheistic traditions had developed in such a way that God was quite obviously omniscient, as the Quran states outright. God, we learn in these verses, is also the creator and the controller of nature.

Covenant?

One point I would love to understand better in these verses is from 27, when God’s “covenant” is spoken of. A covenant was a two-party agreement in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and either the word is being used generally or I’m having some trouble with it. Can anyone tell me what the Arabic word is?

Usually a covenant is not God’s, per se, but God’s covenant with person x. Is it implied that this is God’s covenant with mankind or individuals? Is this common language and should we understand what is being said?

Man as Creation’s Culmination

It seems a bit unfair of me to compare everything in the Quran to the Bible but as one who has studied that text and since the Bible is known to the Quran, I feel justified making such comparisons. Verse 29, that God made all that lies within the earth for you, is an interesting combination of the two creation stories in the Bible.

In Genesis 1, everything is created and human beings (not Adam and Eve) are the final creations: they are the culmination of creation. In Genesis 2, a different creation story (just read them and you’ll see that they are two different tales) tells us that man is created, and then everything else is created for him to enjoy.

These two different ideas – man as culmination of creation and as the catalyst for additional creation – seem to be harmonized in the Quranic verse, “God made for you all that lies within the earth.”

What do these verses make you think about? The notion of resurrection is also present in these verses? What is the Muslim understanding of resurrection? Are there any notions here about God that you find are the same as or different from those expressed in the Bible?

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Read more Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 21-29

21. So, O you people, adore your Lord who created you, as He did those before you, that you could take heed for yourself and fear Him. 22. Who made the earth a bed for you, the sky a canopy, and sends forth rain from the skies that fruits may grow – your good and sustenance. So do not make another the equal of God knowingly. 23. If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our votary, then bring a Surah like this, and call any witness, apart from God, you like, if you are truthful. 24. But if you cannot as indeed you cannot, then guard yourslves against the Fire whose fuel is men and rocks, which has been prepared for the infidels. 25. Announce to those who believe and have done good deeds, glad tidings of gardens under which rivers flow, and where, when they eat the fruits that grow, they will say: “Indeed they are the same as we were given before,” so like in semblance the food would be. And they shall have fair spouses there, and live there abidingly. 26. God is not loath to advance the similitude of a gnat or a being more contemptible; and those who believe know whatever is from the Lord is true. But those who disbelieve say: “What does God mean by this parable?” He causes some to err this way and some He guides; yet He turns away none but those who trangress, 27. Who, having sealed it, break God’s covenant, dividing what He ordained cohered; and those who spread discord in the land will suffer assuredly. 28. Then how can you disbelieve in God? He gave you life when you were dead. He will make you die again then bring you back to life: To Him then you will return. 29. He made for you all that lies within the earth, then turning to the firmament He proportioned several skies; He has knowledge of every thing.