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Capital letter T. Genesis 22:6

CAT 31 Capital letter T.  Genesis 22.6.  Taferelen. BA 60.jpg

CAT 30. Capital letter T. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 20 (from Genesis 22:6) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1: 39. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Genesis 22: “[3] And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. [4] Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. [5] And Abraham said unto to his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? [8] And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”

In contrast to Holbein’s depiction of the same event (CAT 23), this artist depicts only one moment—when Abraham and Isaac start up the path, leaving the two young men and ass behind the edge of the rock on the left. The load of wood looks quite similar in the two engravings, but this Isaac is not yet as bent by its weight; in this depiction he is only beginning to ask “where is the lamb?” In this sense the Isaac in this engraving corresponds to Melville’s characterization of the young Thracian monk in Clarel: “this Isaac . . . too young to know” the implications of having “his youth self-given / In frank oblation unto heaven” (NN C 4.13-35-38). In Billy Budd Melville makes this ancient story his own by suggesting that Captain Vere “may in the end have caught Billy to his heart even as Abraham might have caught young Isaac in the brink of resolutely offering him up.” In Melville’s story the final answer to the question “where is the lamb?” follows immediately upon Billy’s death: “the vapory fleece hanging low in the East was shot through with soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision” (NN BBO 58, 65).

The word “held” on the verso of Melville’s cut-out alludes to Abraham as the “hero” who was going to be father of multitudes (“menigte”). Father Saurin’s use of the word “overweldigen” conveys the overpowering force with which Abraham must overcome not only his son’s resistance to being pushed onto the altar, but his own inner resistance to performing this sacrificial act.