Every composition of a book is in a way the autobiography of the author, even if the book is not really a book but a website and the work in question is the most technical of scholarly treatises. The author's life story is hidden in invisible nuggets between the words, only discerned by the most astute readers. If the book puts forth a daring new hypothesis, as this one does, then it stands to reason that the voyage of discovery involved momentous events in the author's own life, even if they were mainly cerebral. In this short forward, I wish to share with the reader a precious nugget in my voyage of discovery.
When I was 21 I killed Isaac. Oh not literally, I didn't invent a time machine - that would have been really exciting. I discovered that the original Genesis narrative told a story in which the angel did not stop the knife from coming down but let it cut through Isaac's tender flesh, severing his head and the narratival continuity between Abraham and Jacob. I sat the traditional seven days of mourning for Isaac who was no longer my father, and for Abraham whom I had disowned, and then gave a lecture / eulogy on it at the World Congress of Jewish Studies.
Part of any process of mourning is coming to terms with the event, trying to explain the mystery of death, and the hope of resurrection. In the case of Isaac, I was also desperate to understand Abraham's motivations. I knew that I was traveling on well trod ground. If Kierkegaard hadn't been able to figure out Abraham how could I hope to do so?
On this website you shall find out. The "how" is quite technical and dare I say may seem a trifle humdrum to the non-biblicist - although I find it fascinating. The trick was attempting to relate the narrative to the Abraham story cycle in general. The story of Isaac's sacrifice actually begins in Genesis 20 with Abraham and Sarah's sojourn in Gerar, in which Abraham sells his wife to save his hide. In the original narrative which I isolated, I discovered that Sarah had not been saved by God and that the account implied sexual relations between her and Abimelech. The next chapter is an account of Isaac's birth, but since Sarah had likely engaged in intercourse with Abimelech, Isaac's paternity was in serious doubt. What did Abraham do to deserve this? Well it seems he hadn't trusted God to keep him safe and instead had employed subterfuge, Furthermore it seemed likely from further inquiry into narratives belonging to the same source that this was an iniquity of the highest order, punishable by the perpetrator's death, or perhaps by the death of his "son"? The more I thought about this, the more it seemed to make sense, it was extraordinarily brutal poetic justice, but it was just in a convoluted amoral sense, the product of Abraham's mistrust in God would be the vehicle by which he would prove his trust in Him once more.
Isaac's death also got me thinking about his resurrection. Who resurrected him and why, and critically - at least to me - why was I able to discover it? The answer to the first question is of course impossible to answer - notwithstanding intriguing attempts by scholars such as Bloom, Brisman, and Friedman, I believe that the names of most of the Bible's authors are forever lost to us. I thus had to remain content with the famed scholarly siglum for this author: "J" I did a little better with my second question. J resurrected Isaac in order to create a coherent and cohesive historical account beginning with Adam Noah and the three patriarchs and culminating with David. His bridge between Abraham and Jacob, constructed if you will with Isaac's bones, was but one of the bridges he created between disparate traditions.
The answer to my final personal why, is best answered by a metaphor. Imagine the Bible as an urn, as a Bible critic, my teachers taught me how to shatter the urn, to fracture the canonical text into tiny shards of text and tradition. We were much less adept at picking up the pieces and reconstructing the textual edifice.
One of the dominant paradigms of Pentateuchal criticism was and is the documentary hypothesis which posited four separate and independent documents fused together by a series of editors. My biggest problem with this hypothesis was its inability to provide me with anything whole. The reconstruction of the elusive documents was very incomplete, and our urn was glued together with scholarly fantasies through which the shrieking winds of empty words blew uninhibited. The aliennesss of the documentary hypothesis which posited an editorial process harsher and more invasive than any of the 20th century, to the textual traditions of the ancient near east and the respect they accorded the written word, led me to search for a paradigm more organic to the time and place in which the Bible was written.
The answer I found was a version of the supplementary hypothesis, which actually predated the documentary hypothesis, but ultimately lost out because of the sophistication of documentary arguments and the usual academic politics. The supplementary hypothesis at its most basic level suggests that the search for 3 or 4 different fragmentary documents is erroneous and that the editorial procedure was one of successive additions upon one original text, an organic procedure in a culture where the written word was respected, and revelation revered. I searched for the original text and found it. I found it not because I wished to rebuild an imaginary urn, to heal the fractures of my shattered heart but simply because the text was present and waiting to be discovered. It is the source that tells us of Abraham's sin and Isaac's murder. It is coherent and complete and altogether a work of literary genius, it is E: The first book of God.
It was however, only the first stage - The first book of God was followed by, J: The book of Mercy, who resurrected Isaac and composed the first historiographical work of the Bible, then P: The book of Order, who added the bulk of the laws found in the Pentateuch to J's historiographical work and so on and so forth. Each successive supplementation respected the received text and only added to it, the only erasures were accidental.