Jon Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: algo así como una reseña (I)

Lo que sigue a continuación es una exposición general de los principales temas que recorren el excelente libro de Jon Levenson que titula este post. Levenson, para quienes no lo conocen (yo no lo conocía antes de iniciar mis estudios de teología) es uno de los estudiosos más importantes del mundo judío, particularmente del Antiguo Testamento, un reconocido profesor de Harvard y un muy apreciado colega de mi profesor, Gary Anderson, quien también enseñó en Harvard antes de venir a Notre Dame.

Lamentablemente, como sucederá algunas veces de ahora en adelante, voy a colgar una versión en inglés de mi trabajo. Siempre que me sea posible, trataré de mantener una versión española de mis textos, pero algunas veces por tiempo esto no será posible. Espero que eso no resulte un motivo de alejamiento de los lectores de habla hispana que he ganado con el tiempo. De todos modos, extiendo mis disculpas. Va el texto, entonces.

*****

The transformation of child sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity is a very difficult matter from both theological and literary perspectives, yet Jon Levenson treats the complexity of the subject masterfully, giving us a hermeneutical key to interpret the theme: the dialectic of the humiliation and exaltation of the beloved son. In the following lines, therefore, I will try to present the main ideas of the author through three expositive sections. In the first part of the essay, I will analyze the transformation of the concept of child sacrifice in its ancient Hebrew sources to explain its historical relevance. In the second section, I will describe Levenson’s hermeneutical key, the humiliation and exaltation of the beloved son, through his interpretation of two paradigmatic stories of the Old Testament, namely, the binding of Isaac and the narrative of Joseph. Finally, I will conclude the essay by addressing the doctrine of election as a representative instance of the hermeneutical key mentioned above in both Judaism and Christianity.

 

§ 1

The Sacrifice of the First-Born Son: Never Commanded?

 

Levenson affirms that interpreting the passage of Exodus 22: 28, “You should give Me the first-born among your sons”, remains a debated subject among scholars, (3)[1]. For instance, De Vaux argues that such a situation would be absurd if we accept the fact that the first-born is “the hope of the race” (3). The seriousness of the situation, however, seems to diminish, since Exodus (34: 20) apparently provides a solution. Thus, the narrative claims that Israel should “redeem every first-born.” On this basis, Levenson initially concludes that “Exod 22: 28 only states the general principle, that the first-born son is to be given to God. The particulars as to how this is to be done appear later, in the separate legal corpus of Exodus 34. It is to be done through redemption, with a sheep perhaps replacing the doomed son”(4).

Although this might suggest that the problem is solved and that the early commandment should be read only allegorically, the situation is more complex because everything indicates that the sacrifice of the first-born was practiced. Proof of this is the condemnation of it by Jeremiah —“I never commanded, never decreed, […] never came into My mind [child sacrifice]” (Jer 19: 5) — and Ezekiel —“I, in turn, gave them laws that were not good (Ezek 20: 25). Therefore, what the biblical material seems to confirm is that “YHWH once commanded the sacrifice of the first-born son but now opposes it” (8). It was “an ideal whose realization could range from literal to non-literal implementation” (9)[2].

Beyond these complex issues, something appears unquestionable in the interpretation of this phenomenon. We could see this particularly in the case of the binding of Isaac, as Levenson maintains, “Abraham will have his multitudes of descendants only because he was willing to sacrifice the son who is destined to beget them” (13, my emphasis). Then, it is clear that the theological significance of the sacrifice relies on the absolute obedience to the will of God, that is, the courage to love God even to the extreme of surrendering what we love most, “the most precious possible offering” (22).

All this leads us to consider that the sacrifice of the first-born did not disappear from Israelite imagination, “it was only transformed” (45) [3]. Levenson offers an excellent balance of the issue by the end of the first section of the book: “the impulse to sacrifice the first-born remained potent long after the literal practice had become odious and fallen into desuetude” (52). This potent drive, however, not only was sublimated through new ritual procedures, but also and especially through the development of biblical narratives which re-signified the sense of the ritual sacrifice of first-born in a paradigmatic way.


[1] All the references, unless otherwise indicated, correspond to Levenson, Jon, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993.

[2] Which is why, Levenson maintains, it makes no sense to qualify, a priori, the practice of the sacrifice of first-born as pagan. Even when the sacrifice is not directly made by the Israelites, the acceptance of its effectiveness is clear in passages like Kgs 3: 26-27. In general, then, the relations between Israelite religion and the pagan world cannot be easily dismissed. See Levenson 15, 32-35; Anderson, Gary, “Introduction to Israelite Religion”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, v.1, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994, p. 276; Levenson, Jon, Sinai and Zion, Minneapolis: Winston, 1985, particularly chapter eight, “One Lord or One God?”

[3] This happens despite the unsuccessful attempt of the Holiness Code, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, books in which the desire to completely eradicate the idea of the sacrifice of the first-born is very clear; see Levenson 44-45.

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3 respuestas a Jon Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: algo así como una reseña (I)

  1. synchronicity23 dijo:

    y el texto entonces?

  2. Raúl Zegarra dijo:

    ya está, pequeño error de edición jaja!

  3. Pingback: Solo quien se humilla será exaltado: la paradoja del misterio de Dios | Sagrada Anarquía

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