I'm currently going through Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and, in particular, there is a passage at the end of Preliminary Expectations that discusses why it is wrong to call the binding of isaac merely a "trial", starting with

"People construe the story of Abraham in another way..." (page 52 in the Hongs' translation )

From the Soren Kierkegaard skrifter:

Man opfatter Fortællingen om Abraham paa en anden Maade. Man lovpriser Guds Naade, at han skjænkede ham Isaak igjen, det Hele var kun en Prøvelse. En Prøvelse, dette Ord kan sige Meget og Lidet, og dog er det Hele saa hurtigt forbi som det er sagt. Man bestiger en |4, 146 bevinget Hest, i samme Nu er man paa Morijabjerget, i | samme Nu seer man Væderen; man glemmer, at Abraham kun reed paa et Æsel, der gaaer langsomt hen ad Veien, at han havde tre Dages Reise, at han behøvede nogen Tid for at kløve Brændet, binde Isaak, og for at hvæsse Kniven (http://www.sks.dk/FB/txt.xml 4.145-4.156)

going to the end of the chapter.

However I'm a bit confused as to what he is saying and I would love it if people could help to clarify, in particular, with respect to what he means by the man with "insomnia".


As I read, the end of the "Preliminary Expectoration" is trying to avoid a sort of trivialization of what Abraham does. In particular, it's a trivialization that we can call "Hegelian" if we want that reduces what is happening to how it ends. Maybe the best way to illustrate this is like this.

Q: What happened to Abraham with that whole sacrifice Isaac thing?

A: tl;dr Abraham kills a goat instead and God is happy.

The point here which ties into a major point of the text is that Abraham actually has to be willing to kill Isaac and it has to be something he genuinely deals with. He actually has to have this resolve not just for a moment but as the quote explains -- for three days while riding on a donkey up a mountain.

The "don't call it a trial/ordeal" bit is hard to follow, because one natural meaning of this is to describe something difficult, but I think in English just as in Danish, it can also be trivialized, "you wouldn't believe the ordeal I went through today." -- "I had to wait for hours to get the new CD."

One thing that might make that bit harder to follow in just reading the text by itself is that you need to keep in mind an image Kierkegaard used much earlier which is the image of the church sermon on Abraham. Kierkegaard looks at from several sides how the sermon is not being taken seriously.

Earlier in the expectoration, he points out the preacher who does not take it seriously. Here near the end of expectoration, he points out how the listener who skips all of the details is not taking it seriously and contrasts that with the "insomniac" who stays awake through the sermon and ponders what Abraham is doing in all seriousness.

All of this is again to emphasize that the author does not think the story of Abraham can be sold lightly or cheaply -- or brought under a number of more palatable descriptions. ("But to sell a cheap edition of Abraham and yet forbid everyone to do likewise is ludicrous" Hong 53 / Men vil man afhænde en Godtkjøbs-Udgave af Abraham, og dog formene Enhver at gjøre ligesaa, da er det latterligt. SKS 4.147)

tl;dr - de Silentio wants us to pay very close attention to what he thinks Abraham is doing when he's willing to sacrifice Isaac and not to skip over the reality of the struggle or what it means for Abraham to do what God commands -- even when the command is to murder the son born of God's promise to him.

  • Could you elaborate on: "it's an affair of a moment...if only you wait a minute you see the ram and the trial is over" to which the preacher responds "all of life is a trial." Is the point that Abraham's sacrifice was like a lifetime of trial, not a single test. Or is the point that staging it as a "trial" trivializes it since it means that all Abraham needed was a certain amount of resolve (to go through with the sacrifice), without any consideration as to how he did it? – bGe May 11 '18 at 15:03
  • I take it to mean that the preacher is claiming we are always experiencing similar "trials" because the summary has trivialized what Abraham had to experience. Writing this paper is my "trial"; being a mom is my "trial"; taking the SAT is my "trial." But the point is that none of these are trials like Abraham's. Only by tl;dring his experience do we get this bad interpretation – virmaior May 12 '18 at 0:51

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