A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gimme That Old Time Religion

I've done the law and politics thing here a lot, but despite having a degree in Religion, I haven't had much of anything to say on that subject. So I bought Testament #1 from Vertigo in the expectation that it would give me something good to review on just that front.

Without going into too much detail, the opening arc is "Abraham of Ur," and draws parallels to the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (the "Akedah"), as told in Genesis 22. For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves God instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and then stopping Abraham at the last moment. Rushkoff presents the Biblical story pretty straightforwardly, but he makes some potentially significant changes that are likely to escape most readers.

Some are rather obvious, such as his employment of more than one deity to play the role of God. Others might be nothing more than mistakes. For instance, when God stays Abraham's hand, Rushkoff inexplicably has the ram speak God's dialogue. (The ram is also depicted as standing next to Isaac, out in the open, rather than stuck in a thicket, as the scripture describes.)

But the big change is Rushkoff's repeated utilization of and reference to Moloch. Moloch (or Molech) was a deity worshipped by some Canaanites, and to whom child sacrifices were made. On page 3, Rushkoff has one of Abraham's servants say "Abraham has already defied Moloch....Perhaps his new god tests him?" "Or his old one wants him back," the other servant replies. When Abraham and Isaac reach their destination on Mount Moriah, we get the series' first splash page:

However, Moloch is never mentioned during the story of Abraham. In fact, Moloch is not mentioned in the Bible at all until two whole books later. His name first appears in Leviticus 18:21: "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.'"

So Rushkoff's use of Moloch in the Akedah story is textually anachronistic. The Bible's timeline doesn't allow for Abraham to have been a former worshipper of Moloch, or for an old stone altar of Moloch to be situated on Moriah.

Both of these aspects also contradict their Biblical depictions. When Abraham and Isaac reach their destination on Mount Moriah, the scripture says "Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it." As depicted in Testament, Abraham doesn't have to build an altar, because there is a giant stone one waiting for him. And Abram's first covenant with God, or YHWH, comes in Genesis 12, just a few verses after his name first appears. There is no indication that Abram ever changed gods or worshipped anyone other than YHWH. Certainly not Moloch.

My point here isn't to condemn the liberties that Rushkoff has taken so much as to draw attention to the fact that they exist. Especially because Rushkoff has more than one 'out' for the changes he's made. One comes straight from his own pen:

"So there's parallel action happening in Bible time, which is kind of like 1100 BC and all, but I don't see bible time as historical, so it's more like myth-time. And, like Torah, time is all screwy in there, anyway. Torah doesn't happen quite in order and events resonate with other ones centuries before or after. Something happening in one century can either trigger or justify things happening in another."

This makes it easy to cheat the timeline for storytelling purposes. The other reason is somewhat more scholarly, and, judging from other statements of Rushkoff's, involves a theory that he would seem to be aware of. The theory is that Abraham's story itself is the anachronism, a later-scripted message from a time when Moloch-worship was prevalent, written to condemn child sacrifice by retconning God's opposition to it far back into Israel's history. It's not a theory I'm particularly fond of, but I suspect it's one that Rushkoff may subscribe to, and it's one that seems to be on display here.

That's pretty much all I have to say about #1. I fully expect that Rushkoff will continue to tweak the Biblical narrative to fit his needs and that's fine, but for those who are reading, I think it's good to be aware that he is taking some liberties along the way. If you find yourself wanting to crosscheck a depiction, Bible Gateway is a great and simple resource.