In his exordium to Fear and Trembling Søren Kierkegaard accounts for a man's growing fascination with the story of Abraham's binding of Isaac. This interest culminated in a deep desire to witness the event and to accompany Abraham and Isaac on their three day journey. This man did not try to go beyond faith in understanding the impressive Abraham (see the Preface to Fear and Trembling), and he was no biblical scholar who knows Hebrew and therefore he has only himself in order to make sense of the story.
Kierkegaard offers four alternative versions or interpretations of the binding of Isaac. In the first one Abraham poses to Isaac as an idolater in order for him not to lose faith in God's goodness. In the second version Abraham returns from the mountain but he has lost any joy in his life following the event. In the third alternative version Kierkegaard offers Abraham rides alone to the mountain where he asks forgiveness for considering sacrificing Isaac. In the fourth take on things it is Isaac who loses faith following his attempted sacrifice.
All the different variation of the sacrifice story are accompanied by a comparison with the relationship of a child with his mother's breasts. In the first scenario the mother covers her breasts and denies them in order to maintain herself in the eye of the child. The father, Abraham, in this case is the one who is sacrificed and no longer serves as mediator between God and the child. In the second version, the mother denies her breasts and the child loses his mother. Isaac is alive but he has lost his father. In the third version the sorrowing mother keeps the child close just a little longer before they sadly part. Abraham mediates Isaac's relation to God, and both of them bemoan losing him. In the fourth version the mother has better food for her child to keep him alive after weaning.
Kierkegaard concludes the exordium to Fear and Trembling by stating that there is no one who is as great as Abraham, and who can understand him? The story of the sacrifice of Isaac will be the focal point of Fear and Trembling.
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