So speaks Isaac, of the House of Abraham.
Mother warns me against going with him to the mountaintop. She is my mother, but she is also a woman. He has chosen me and he is the leader of our people. He is the Patriarch. The chosen of God. And I am his son. How could I refuse him anything?
My brother clamors to go in my stead but father denies him, even though he is first-born. He swears against me – another in the ongoing series of death wishes – but I don’t care. I know that if he kills me, he will die as well. He knows this also. Father’s words come to me: spare the rod; spoil the child.
My thoughts return to mother. The dawn witnesses our departure from the compound and she stands outside of her house, watching us quietly. I wave until she dwindles in the distance. My father and I walk ahead of the two retainers. I stay behind and to his right, in the place of a first-born son.
Abraham the Patriarch is tall and black as night. My brother Ishmael is dark with the features of his mother, Hagar, but everyone says that I look more like our father even though I am shorter and brown, like my mother, Sarah. Isaac, they say, is his father’s son. Born of his first and foremost wife.
When we reach the mountains the mood is somber, reflecting that of the craggy terrain. Father carries only his ceremonial blade and a burning staff, which we will use later to light the fire. The donkey carries most of the load.
We arrive upon Mount Moriah. Father decides that he and I will finish the journey alone. This mountain is familiar to me as a holy place of the Canaanites, a place spoken of in dreadful whispers by the Chosen People. The thoughts pass ghost-like, finding no purchase. The true sight stirs, threatening my state of mind, but I quell the impulse.
My eyes turn to my father and I feel my mouth smile. The love between us is strong. We leave the retainers and donkey below, awaiting our return.
Father tells them, abide ye here with the ass; and the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
I now carry most of the load; burdened by the clutch of firewood that we will use for the burnt offering. We do not speak and my mind is quiet, thought strangely muted.
Then father tells me that the Alter is not far distant. He tells me also that God has shown him this place and told him that the future would not be as the past; that the obligations of the Chosen People are not the obligations of the Pagans. His words are strange to me and a frantic light shines behind his eyes. Of its own volition, the thought I have been avoiding all morning bubbles forth and I speak.
My father, I say, hearing my own voice with difficulty, as if from a great distance.
Here am I, my son, he replies.
I see fire and brimstone cascading from his eyes, transforming the deep, golden light into hellish tones. I feel my eyes widen involuntarily as I stare. I realize that the true sight has come to me yet again. Everything turns red as blood: the mountain, the clouds, the underbrush, but his power rise into the sky, carried aloft by the crackling embers of his soul.
He has become terrific but I ask him, behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
He replies, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.
I avert my gaze and nod. I follow him until he halts, announcing our arrival at the Alter of God’s choosing. It is a rough-hewn stone – unremarkable – surrounded by brambles at the summit of the mountain. A depthless voice echoes around me and I am not sure if my father speaks or if it is a scion of the true sight, some denizen of the life beyond.
Even Ha-Shettiya is its name. It is the Rock of the Foundation. It is the stone at the center of the world.
It speaks to me.
It tells me a story, its story, the story of my people, of all people.
Millennia passed momentarily and flashes of vision spark quests of inquiry into the distant past and future. Time becomes timelessness as progenitor and progeny agglomerate timidly at the bipolar boundaries of civilization, gathered against the depredations of the gods in cities and towns. Homo edens – man the eater – becomes Homo necans – man the killer.
The Angels called War, Pestilence, Famine and Death ride the crest of the future-past-apocalypse and time compresses into one story that is all stories. The family lives, survives the elements, ever growing, increasing until the cities are born and worship is formalized in ritual devotion.
Disasters are averted through supplication, the work in blood a divine discourse on brother Cain’s punishment and blessing.
The first instance repeats itself in culture after culture. Isolation of the executioner from those subject to being executed is a necessary condition of killing as ritual sacrifice, death as the appeasement of the gods, with each family offering representing a prayer for peace in the penitence of the eternally damned. Blood sacrifice, therefore, is the price of technological progression. Mass murder and cannibalism spike through the story like screaming spears of fear.
Place the wood, my father says to me.
I do so.
Lie down upon the wood, he tells me.
I again do as he bids. I lie still as he binds me with thick rope, tying me to Shettiya. A crevice in the rock’s harsh surface grabs me – pinching my back – causing me to squirm.
The sun falls toward the horizon. My father’s voice blends with the ethereal music, praying, his tone rising then falling in the fervor of his belief. I know that he is alternating between kneeling and lying prostrate even though I cannot see him.
My dread crests with his soul-felt intonations and I shiver violently. The music is insistent. On the verge of inaudibility but moving closer. It is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.
The world around me is once again tinged with blood and screams blend with the music of the spheres drifting on the wind, faint and lonely as time’s eternal march and I realize that I am truly my brother’s keeper. I recognize that I have crossed over into trance and an image of Ishmael assails me, his liquid, brown eyes as harsh and accusing as ever. His hatred of me is visceral, apparent in his every gaze and gesture.
His love of father is unbound. Ishmael tries to believe, to observe the traditions, the cultural complex of our people. But his mother’s influence is too strong. The culture of her people too close. Hagar is always angry and accusing. She loves father, but hates my mother Sarah and I. She calculates our demise in equations of pain, sacrificing in vain to the god of her people.
There is only one God. So say the Chosen People. But still there is no ram.
Father rises to his feet. I look in his eyes and am frightened by the light shining from them, cascading over me in bright waves of warmth and splendor.
He is still chanting under his breath and in his hands he caresses the ceremonial dagger that I have seen used on beasts of the field many times before. His voice deepens and I notice that the light shining from his eyes is actually rainbow-hued, transformed by tears.
In his gaze I see all colors, the splendor of a life lived faithfully and that perfection shines upon me, through me, within me. I am transfixed as the light bathes me; holds and protects me, fills me with love. All pain, all doubt of our purpose is released and my fear evaporates. My body vibrates powerfully and I feel the tingle of God’s presence as father’s voice rises, preceding the rise of his arm by moments only.
The dagger glints in the waning sunlight. We are bathed in beauteous shades of red, gold and purple that illuminate the mountaintop. The moment pauses and time stands still with my father’s hand risen above, his eyes turned toward God, his voice hoarse. I close my eyes, secure in the love that emanates from him. My trust is total.
The darkness is suddenly rent by searing energy.
Startled, I squint against the glare of a brilliant, golden light that banishes the blood-tinted haze.
Father cries out and falls to his knees.
I am bound, but I witness the glory of God’s angel, hovering directly above me.
Black, blue, green, red eyes abounded, impossible in number.
A multitude of eyes.
Eyes crying, laughing.
Eyes filled with desire, passion and love.
Flapping wings of gentle shades and various sizes.
The being is amorphous yet definite in purpose and conception, its passage accompanied by the music of the spheres, music that has become deafening, emanating from all directions at once, filling us with its wondrous message.
The music becomes the angel’s words.
It says, Abraham, Abraham.
My father answers, Here am I.
The angel replies gently in the voice of the Lord, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
A sound arises from the thickets – of bleating – and I turn my head slowly, aware only of the beauty of this moment. A ram, caught by his horns, kneels close by, a gift from the Lord our God. My father, in his spiritual ecstasy, calls the name of this place Jehovajireh, the mount of the Lord.
And the angel speaks to father yet a second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
In this moment my destiny becomes my choice and all doubts vanish.
Jehovajireh- Shettiya speaks to me again in jubilant visions of glory.
The cycling of civilization mirrors the cycle of the stars beyond, proceeding in ever-increasing stages towards the perfection of godliness manifest. My father and I have sown a new-old seed in the traditions of our people, of all people, once again decrying the cult of death in favor of the cultivation of life.
Even Ha-Shettiya shudders and groans as the ghosts of the past are released from its grasp. Stark impressions of fearful cowardice, rivers of blood, the avarice and desire of Pharaohs, the rape and destruction of the natural world. Crying children, shards of self-hatred, wild-eyed women and bound men, rivers of pitiful despair, hopeless supplication and shades of envy blur past, released from the trauma of their passing. The Rock of the Foundation is recast in the form of God. The burning, crimson flow of the offering covers the stone in glory, reflecting the fading light of the day as life passes from the ram.
Later, we will eat the sacrifice, as our ancestors ate their sacrifices, praising the Lord of Hosts as the Bringer of Peace and of All Good Things.
The Glory of God recedes from the mountaintop and the evening returns to its previous state. But we are transformed. The bond between my father and I has grown greater through our tribulation. The world has changed in an instant. What will come shall not be as that which has passed. The voice and presence of YHWH has blessed our line and we shall be the Chosen of the Lord until the End of Days.
So speaks Isaac, of the House of Abraham.