The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(Context: Genesis 22:13)

My son is alive. This ram is dead, but my son is alive. I cry and laugh (as promised at the naming of my son) with joy stained by bright terror at the knowledge of what I cannot understand, of the immensity of this god that I have found.

I have never heard the voice of this god, save in the way that birds and insects far from one another might sing the same rhythms at the same time, or how the patterns of distant thunder are echoed in the crackling of the fire in the hearth by my door. But its messages come through in sudden silence, in the certainty that I must do that which is right, despite the belief of others that it cannot be true, despite the knowledge that the sense that it makes defies all sense, that it breaks the logic of our outer world to hint at light that shines from deeper streams.

But I have recognized its presence when I have felt my inner voice resonating with a vibration from outside. It told me to smash the idols of the other gods, and I obeyed. It told me to leave my father, and I obeyed. It told me when the shaking of the earth foretold the destruction of the sinning cities, and I argued, but I obeyed.

And then I was summoned to sacrifice my son to this god. So many fathers have lost so many children to so many gods, some with weeping, some with celebration. We do not know what happens to the soul on the other side of death. But we have told our children and ourselves that those who are called and taken by the gods endure in joy forever.

And yet this call was not entirely one of joy. This god had promised that my line would continue and multiply through this son. I had had another son, yes, but had banished him, sacrificing him to the ravenous desert. And the prompting within my soul and the soul of my beloved Sarah hinted at a history stretching far before us, a world transformed by the children of my son.

Then this future had changed, and I felt the call, as so many fathers here have felt the call, for the death of my son. So it so often is with the gods of this land: these gods demand flesh, demand fire, demand blood.

So I headed up the mountain with my servant and my son. Yes, my son knew where we were going and why we were going there, and his fear was mixed with his excitement that he would join the gods. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, he helped me clear the flat place where I would lay him down, helped me gather the branches that would form his pyre, helped me start the small fire off to one side from which the pyre would be lit after he was slain.

And I laid him on the branches, and I raised my knife to cut his throat, swiftly, with a single stroke, to cause him the least amount of living pain.

But when the knife came down, I felt my hand stop just short of where the blade would touch him. I could not move my hand, neither down nor up nor to either side. And I cried out silently to this god, either to let me do this or stop me from doing it.

Then suddenly, to my right, I heard a rushing and galloping, and I säw a mighty ram, head down, horns forward, charging at us, challenging our presence on his land. And we were suddenly afraid, more afraid of this ram than we were of this god.

But just before he would have reached us, he stopped short, stumbling and howling, his horns trapped in a low thicket that we had not noticed before. Frozen still, I looked into the eyes of the ram, then into the eyes of my son, then into my own heart, and listened for the promptings of this god.

And I suddenly knew that, though I had offered up my son, though my son had offered up his life, this god would never take them. The offer had not been haughtily refused, but was lovingly declined.

Within my soul, the vision of the imminent death of my son cleared, and the vision of the previous future returned, the vision of a long, beautiful, complex eternity in which the children of my son would survive and thrive. And I knew that this was a different god, one who would not demand the deaths of his people as random sacrifice, a greater god than all the others, a god whom all the others would someday serve.

Suddenly unfrozen, my hand and my knife continued in their previous arc. But at the last possible moment, they shifted by the tiniest fraction of an angle, and missed the offered throat of my son. It swung high into the air as if my hand were moving by an energy other than my own, pulling me off my knees and onto my feet, spinning me around then plunging back down to swiftly, cleanly, slit the throat of the ram.

And I took the bowl that had been on the pyre beside my son and placed it by the throat of the ram to gather the blood that flowed from its wound. From the small fire, I took one burning branch and touched it to the thicket. A pillar of flame immediately leaped up and engulfed the ram, echoing its shape in a sculpture of fire, then collapsing in a mist of ash.

Then I raised the blood bowl above my head, preparing to spill it on the smoldering pyre, to spell out in blood the name of this powerful god — but I did not know how to spell its name. Pouring the blood out on a single point, in a single stream, I cried out “This sacrifice is for the glory of –” but I realized that I could not pronounce its name.

But within the ashes, I saw, gleaming, polished, hollowed but intact, the horns of the ram, now free from its body and from the thicket in which they had been caught. I lifted one horn from the ashes, brought it toward my lips, shouted “This alone is my god! This is the name of my only god!” and blew one long, high note. The sound flowed from the horn, embracing and engulfing all other sound, cascading from this mountain and resounding from the surrounding peaks. In the moments of quiet here, between the returning whispers of breezes, insects, birds, and other life, I can hear it still.

And I sit here now as night falls, lit by the embers of the small fire that we began so many hours ago. My son sits next to me, baffled, terrified, muted, but alive. I embrace him as he shivers, as we wait for our servant to dismantle the pyre so that, instead of death, the burning of its branches can bring the living warmth.

And I feel the presence of this living god, and feel the certainty that in its presence, I will never be alone. I sense the whispers of its name written in the wisps of smoke that emerge from the small fire, tracing paths of gentle chaos against the fading colors of the sunset yet always rising steadily upward; in the scent, the acrid taste of the ashes of the ram as they mingle with the stillness of the air; in the echoes of the horn, still hovering at the edge of silence; and, most fully, in the embrace of my son, of the love between a father and son that no human nor god can ever destroy.

I open all my senses to this presence in this holy place. “This alone is my god,” I murmur in silence. And as the gentle silence answers me, I know, finally and forever, that this is a god that I can worship.

This is a god that I can love.

(Next: Jonah.)


April 21, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. I’d been wanting to write this one for a long time. In fact, one of the triggers for beginning this project was running across an old interview with me in a book about artists and their day jobs. (The book is Night and Day by Gloria Klaiman. If you’re itching to read the interview, you can find it by using the “Search Inside!” feature on the Amazon site to find my name.)

    I was originally going to do a large theater piece about Sarah that never happened. But the core event in it was the intended sacrifice of Isaac, with Abraham’s epiphany about the nature of God.

    An odd link between seemingly unrelated stories: according to legend, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, was a giant who lived five hundred more years to become Og, king of Bashan. (While the text portrays him favorably, the legends made him out to be a bad guy.) And Og’s brother was Sihon, star of the previous episode of this project.

    Comment by bookofvoices | May 4, 2007 | Reply

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