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Peri, T. (2012). Between Ultimate Sacrifice and Yearning for Death: Midrash and Psychoanalysis on the Binding of Isaac. Contemp. Psychoanal., 48(1):4-28.

(2012). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 48(1):4-28

Between Ultimate Sacrifice and Yearning for Death: Midrash and Psychoanalysis on the Binding of Isaac

Tuvia Peri, Ph.D.

The biblical narrative of the Binding of Isaac conveys conflicting messages. On the one hand, it demands a readiness to sacrifice one's beloved at God's command. On the other hand, the narrative's conclusion cancels the sacrifice of the son and ordains his replacement with an animal, a ram. This article argues that the ancient rabbis of the Midrash, in the first centuries of the Common Era, perceived this ambiguity as an inherent tension between the religious demand for the believer's willingness to sacrifice his dearest, and even life itself, and the danger of a perverted overenthusiasm to sacrifice and be sacrificed. This article further suggests that classical psychoanalytic interpretations of the biblical story, as well as proposed interpretations from the perspectives of self psychology and Interpersonal and Relational psychoanalysis, can contribute to an understanding of this tension. Murderous and masochistic Oedipal wishes may contribute to a willingness to engage in child sacrifice and martyrdom, and deeply rooted desires to express and actualize the nuclear self and to attain a close relationship with idealized entities are described as competing and struggling forces in this heroic and complicated narrative. Contemporary ramifications of this interpretation are discussed.

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