The Biblical Story of the Announcement of Isaac's Birth: A Structural Analysis

19 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2016

See all articles by Naama Weiss

Naama Weiss

Jewish Theological Seminary of America Hebrew Bible & Its Interpretation

Date Written: April 7, 2016

Abstract

The biblical story of the announcement of Isaac’s birth appears in the Bible in two different versions: one in Genesis 17 (1-27), the other in Genesis 18 (1-16). The comparison of different versions of a myth was the main method of research of Claude Lévi-Strauss, emphasizing that mythical thought highlights the great binary oppositions such as life and death, culture and nature, femininity and masculinity, producing a definition of myth as a mode of thought that contributes to the creation of cultural and intellectual identities.

The present structural analysis of the two versions of the biblical story of the announcement of Isaac’s birth according to the model of Lévi-Strauss is an attempt to decipher the mythical code of the ancient story. This explication of the mythical code suggests that the myth underlying the two versions refers to a ‘collective subconscious’ revealed in structures. The decoding is performed on four levels, following LéviStrauss’ method: geographical, techno-economical, sociological, and cosmological. All four levels materialize in the version in Genesis 18, only two in the version in Genesis 17. The transformative relationship between the two versions creates a new meaning that expresses the sociological and cosmological aspects of circumcision.

The two versions of the mythical story include the opposition between interior and exterior, expressing the fear of the penetration of foreigners into the community. The discussion further addresses Sarah’s or Abraham’s laughter, and blood of circumcision on the one hand and of menstruation on the other. The reinterpretation of cultural as well as natural and biological phenomena by mythical thinking creates a complex system of thought that contributes to the cultural and intellectual identity of biblical Israel.

Formulating the mythological characteristics of the story of the announcement of Isaac’s birth in the two versions also sheds new light on the phenomenon of ‘mirror stories’ that has been shown to be central to the poetics of the Hebrew Bible by Yair Zakovitch.

Suggested Citation

Weiss, Naama, The Biblical Story of the Announcement of Isaac's Birth: A Structural Analysis (April 7, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2760255 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2760255

Naama Weiss (Contact Author)

Jewish Theological Seminary of America Hebrew Bible & Its Interpretation ( email )

1404 E 7TH ST
Brooklyn, NY 11230
United States
2017367696 (Phone)

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