It is arguably considered the most dreadful story in the Bible: the story (found in Genesis 22) where God commands Abraham to take his dearly beloved young son Isaac up the mountain and sacrifice him. Bind his little wrists, lay him on the sacred altar and then faithfully kill him. The "good news" is that God halts the proceedings before any children are harmed (at least physically) in the playing out of this awful command. A ram suddenly appears, caught in a nearby thicket, and this becomes the sacrifice God desires. God has witnessed Abraham pass this test of obedience with more-than flying colors, and now it's time for everyone, unbound, to move on.
For some, this story demonstrates how right God was to choose Abraham for the most honorable task of fathering many nations and, most significantly from the biblical perspective, serving as Father of the Israelites.
However for many, this story demonstrates why no one in their right mind or heart should ever read the Bible, take it seriously, or do anything with Christianity (or Judaism) except to renounce it.
The Comic Lens raises the same question here as it did in the previous blog about the heartless expulsion of Hagar and young Ishmael into the harsh Judean wilderness: what could possibly be funny about this story? How could child sacrifice ever (at least amongst sane people with at least half a heart) be the source of laughter and delight?
In the video below, Dr. Lori Anne Ferrell (my Christian History prof at the Claremont School of Theology, now on the faculty of the English Dept. at the Claremont Graduate School) discusses the story of "Abraham and Isaac" in Genesis 22 as it was presented in the hugely popular "Chester Mystery Cycle." The "Cycle" was a series of short plays based on scripture that were adapted and performed on pageant wagons by a variety of local guilds in the English community of Chester in the 14th and 15th century as part of its Feast of Corpus Christi (a big festival celebrating the Eucharist). These short plays -- and the experience of watching them -- was, as Dr. Ferrell engagingly suggests, something like a cross between the Obergammergau's Passion Play and Monty Python's Flying Circus: fully sacred, fully profane, and all of it surprisingly fresh, inspired and terrifically entertaining. Especially the bits involving medieval counterparts to silly walks.
Here is a 5-minute segment of a sermon/talk Dr. Ferrell gave in April of 2013 at the Toluca Lake United Methodist Church, LA's Comedy Church!
Seems these common folk found some mighty delightful humor in the portrayal of Isaac as he prepares, necessarily pluckily, to be ignominiously sacrificed. Not only it is quite fun to learn what hijinx ensued from the Chester Butchers Guild performance (and via Dr. Ferrell's sparkling replay), but it's also gratifying (from the Comic Lens perspective) to realize folks of that day were perfectly comfortable, and fully encouraged by the Church, to embellish the biblical text with humor. Clearly there was once a time when it was fully accepted that comedy had a sacred place and purpose, even and especially in the midst of mind- and soul-numbing tragedy -- in the Bible and, by extension, in life. No matter who, what, or which Deity brought or brings the tragedy or threat of tragedy on….