The prophet Abraham
Abraham in the Bible is a story of faith throughout trial, tribulation and doubt. Abraham’s life gives truth and value to the commonly uttered Catholic phrase, “the mystery of faith,” which begs for action upon faith, although unseen. Genesis 22, named Abraham’s Faith Confirmed, describes a God given test to the prophet. Asked by God to take Issac, his only son, to a mountain in order to sacrifice him, Abraham obliged. Following God’s every command, Abraham proceeded with the test, passing only because of his undying trust in God. Because of this brutal test, Abraham has become the most well-known prophet.
The Bible lacks character development on Abram. Simply, it gives a brief genealogy, followed by his direct contact with God. Like Jesus and his disciples, Abram’s first task was to “go.” Without receiving a real answer as to where, he went. Abram’s encounter with the one true God exceeded any verbal explanation. Here, the literary “hero’s journey” was first seen.
Wavering at times, God continually pushed Abram back onto the correct path. In a battle between choosing to believe or not, Abram embodies all of the moral virtues packed into religion.
Abraham’s test can be found in Bartelby, The Scrivener, where Bartelby is tested by society. When he is found wavering, he is pulled back onto the correct path by the narrator, although not explicitly stated. For example, when Bartelby insisted on saying “I would prefer not to,” the narrator allowed him to maintain that stance. In doing this, Bartelby was able to find peace within himself. As a matter of fact, many comparisons between the narrator to God and Bartleby to Abraham can be found. At the core, the narrator has an odd, sympathetic love towards Bartleby, closely resembling God’s relationship with Abraham. Ultimately, Bartelby dies in the company of the only person who loves him, the unnamed narrator. This is akin to Abraham’s death in Genesis 25, where God is the only loving observer. Abraham’s story also relates to Hester Prynne’s test in The Scarlet Letter, where her entire life revolves around being tested by her society. This is embodied by the “A” that in the beginning, she hated, but eventually came to accept as part of her identity.
Tests appear in The Adventures Huck Finn in the main themes of racism and slavery, the hypocrisy of “civilized” society, and the questionable importance of education. Huck says numerous times that he would prefer to “go to hell” instead of following the rules society teaches, which is an interesting comparison to Abraham. With a common goal, both Huck Finn and Abraham work against the grain to prove their exceptional personalities.
James Joyce’s The Dead is an excellent example of Biblical themes present in modernist writing. The Dead, as evident by the title, deals with death as a very prominent symbol. The main characters are named Gabriel and Michael, two powerful archangels. Gabriel, like Abraham, is immortalized because of his incredible ability to spread the word of God and his son, Jesus. Gabriel, a direct literary descendent of the archangel, is related closely to Abraham as a prophet. The whole of The Dead can be seen a test, where James Joyce declares that Ireland failed their test to enter modern society. Holding the Catholic Church and their dogma responsible, Joyce represents the clergymen as “sleeping in their coffins,” symbolizing them as truly “the walking dead.” In Gabriel’s personal test, his famous after dinner speech, Joyce’s criticism shines through the page once again.
The dinner scene
Gabriel tested the audience through his speech, asking them to see their flaws and then act upon them. Again, Gabriel in the story drew inspiration from Gabriel the angel, whose sole objective was to spread the good word of God.
Gabriel the archangel
Sources: Abraham image, Gabriel