Volume 17, 1997
Timothy P. Jackson
Is Isaac Kierkegaard's Neighbor?
"Fear and Trembling" in Light of William Blake and "Works of Love"
I consider in this essay three possible interpretations of the infinitely rich story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. Against the background of what I call "the traditional reading," I compare the views of William Blake, Johannes de Silentio, and Søren Kierkegaard. Blake's poetry and painting suggest a striking alternative to our usual understanding of the story, but they finally require too radical a departure from the Biblical text. The pseudonym de Silentio's views on obedience to God, presented in Fear and Trembling, are even more problematic, however. They are at odds with Kierkegaard's powerful account of love of neighbor, related under his own name in Works of Love, for instance. The God who is Love would not literally require murderous intent toward a neighbor, I conclude, but that same God might issue an "ironic" command designed to lift us out of an abominable ritual.