Abraham's Obedience: A Biblical Epic Essay

Abraham's Obedience: A Biblical Epic Essay

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Although it may not be automatically detected by many of today's readers, a common literary genre manifests itself within several accounts of the Bible: epic. Epic is often a form of literature affiliated with works such as The Odyssey, however, its unique, artistic style can also be easily detected within the Word of God. Abraham's faithful obedience to God when called upon to sacrifice his only son is one such example found within the book of Genesis. It contains several epic elements which Homer's audience would recognize with ease. The story of Abraham's Obedience displays the following epic traits: communal nature, ritual, epithet, high style, and presence of story motifs such as hero, supernatural machinery, and quest.
Similar to Homer's classic, The Odyssey, Genesis 22's account of Abraham's obedience to God gives way to a communal or public nature characteristic of the literary genre, epic. In other words, it embodies elements of the culture in which it takes place: beliefs, practices, etc. Just as sacrifices are used to appease the gods of The Odyssey, so is a sacrifice obediently approached so as to appease God. Throughout the story, Abraham works to carry out the practice of sacrifice common to the culture. His actions capture a cultural consciousness which is acted upon continuously throughout the Bible. Throughout the passage, the author references aspects of the act with words like “burnt offering” (v. 2), “worship” (v. 5), “sacrificial knife” (v. 6), and “altar” (v. 9). The text also sums up the time period in verse 14 by stating: “And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said: 'It will be provided on the Lord's mountain.'” As the story progresses, cultural ties amount to a communal natur...


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..., a struggle to learn of God's plan for him and the promise he was given. These quest characteristics can easily be deemed parallel with those commonly displayed in The Odyssey, as Odysseus himself sets off over and over again to accomplish his mission: return home once more. Story motif, in numerous forms, was simply the messenger by which the story came in each case—a means of epic expression.
After taking a gander at various elements within the story of Abraham's Obedience, it is safe to conclude that the characteristics of an epic, which are commonly affiliated with great works such as The Odyssey, are also common to the greatest work, the Bible. Many readers may not believe God's Word to contain such commonality with other, widely-known epic works, but it is indeed so. Genesis 22 wonderfully displays the unique artistic style of epic genre through and through.

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