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The Unbinding of Isaac

A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22


Stephen J. Stern

In The Unbinding of Isaac, Stephen J. Stern upends traditional understandings of this controversial narrative through a phenomenological midrash or interpretation of Genesis 22 from the Dialogic and Jewish philosophies of Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and, most notably, Emmanuel Levinas. With great originality, Dr. Stern intersects Jewish studies, Biblical studies, and philosophy in a literary/midrashic style that challenges traditional Western philosophical epistemology. Through the biblical narrative of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca, Dr. Stern explains that Rosenzweig, Buber, and Levinas Judaically exercise and offer an alternative epistemic orientation to the study of ethics than that of traditional Western or Hellenic-Christian philosophy. The Unbinding of Isaac makes the works of these three thinkers accessible to those outside philosophy and Jewish studies while also introducing readers to the playfulness of how Jewish tradition midrashically addresses the Bible.


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Chapter V: Rebecca 78


Chapter V Rebecca I am reduced to myself in responsibility, outside of the fundamental historicity Merleau-Ponty speaks of. —Emmanuel Levinas1 Rebecca fter Sarah’s death and burial, Abraham instructs a servant to go find Isaac a wife. Upon hearing Abraham’s command, the servant asks if she does not consent to come, should he take Isaac back to the land from which Abraham has come. Abraham responds: On no account must you take my son back there! The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, who promised me an oath, saying, “I will give this land to your offspring”–He will send His angel before you, and you will get a wife for my son from there. And if the woman does not consent to follow you, you shall then be clear of this oath to me but do not take my son back there. 2 Isaac is not allowed to return to Abraham’s ancestral land. If he does, Isaac no longer offers something new, a saying that has not been said. And Abraham is condemned to being no more than his past; that which has been said. Simply, God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham that many nations will descend from them goes unfulfilled. A A Rebecca B 79 Here, perhaps, Isaac is emptied of Abraham’s former history that sacri- ficed life to idolatrous traditions. Without the safe haven of his father’s tra- ditions, Isaac stands exposed or vulnerably open to the unknown, unable to move back,...

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