God on trial: Human sacrifice, trickery and faith

Rane Willerslev


What would the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac look like through the value magnitude of Chukchi sacrifice, and vice versa? Drawing on the Dumontian idea that a dominant value contains its contrary within, I show that what counts as the dominant value in each of the two sacrificial traditions is so deeply co-implicated that trickery (Chukchi) becomes the shadow of faith (Abraham), and vice versa. At certain moments, one dominant value or the other is captured by its own shadow and flips into its contrary. This reversibility takes place against a “paramount value” shared by both traditions: the necessary hierarchical distance between humanity and divinity. All of this allows us to reconsider Abraham’s trial in a manner that is precisely contrary to most prevailing interpretations—namely, as an act in which God is put on trial by Abraham.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.1.009