Harold Copping Illustration Circa 1910
Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important Holy days in Judaism. In addition to the Jewish New Year, it is also a Day of Remembrance. Celebrants remember the story of Abraham and Isaac at the alter.
Abraham was instructed by God to take his son, Isaac, to Moriah to serve as a sacfrice. Abraham obeyed and took his son to the alter and prepared him. However, before Abraham could perfom the sacrifice, an angel appeared. God was satisfied with the knowledge that Abraham would have done what he asked, so he didn’t need to go through with it.
And here’s when the story gets pretty important. The angel called out to him a second time. Genesis 22: 16-18:
16 He said, “I have sworn by myself — says Adonai — that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son,17 I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies, 18 and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order.”
Isaac went on to be the father of Jacob, who in turn became the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was a prophet of Islam and an ancestor of Muhammad. So indeed, Abraham’s descendants are many.
Some people may recognize this painting by Harold Copping, or at least his style. He is one of the most popular Bible illustrators of all time. I believe this is an illustration from The Copping Bible, which he produced in 1910.
Harold Copping worked with missionary societies and traveled to Palestine and Egypt to make his Biblical illustrations more realistic. His painting “The Hope of the World” from 1915 is particularly popular, as it shows Jesus with children from different nationalities.
This painting has a much different composition than most paintings you see of Abraham and Isaac at the altar. Copping shows Abraham looking up, probably toward the angel sent to stop him. However, there is no angel in the painting. Maybe this is the moment before the angel arrives and Abraham is just taking one last look, one last breath, one last hope that he won’t have to go through with it.
Also different in this painting is the positioning of Isaac. He appears calm. And although his legs are bound, his father’s reassuring hand rests on his chest. The viewer doesn’t see his face. In many paintings he is seen twisting or fighting.
Abraham is center stage. For someone that’s in his mid-hundreds, he looks fit, strong. But take a look at his wrists and hands. They are my favorite part of this painting. He grips the knife of sacrifice in his right hand, but when you look closely you see the hands of an old man. And the juxtaposition of one hand gripping a knife and the other hand comforting his son is such a great representation of Abraham’s faith to me. He will do what he feels needs to be done to please his God, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.
Luckily for Isaac and his descendants, Abraham’s gesture was enough. And it is this act we remember. Shanah Tovah, happy new year!