Abraham

chapter II of Young Joseph
by Thomas Mann

Of the oldest servant

Abram may actually have resembled Eliezer – and
again, perhaps, he may have looked quite different. He
may have been lean, puny, twitching with restlessness,
and bitten by the tooth of care; the assertion that
Eliezer, Joseph’s teacher, looked like the moon-wanderer
certainly had nothing to do with the person of the learned
head servant as now manifest in the flesh. People spoke in
the present, but they referred to the past, and transferred
the one to the other. Eliezer, they said, ” resembled”
Abram in the face; the tradition might easily be justified
in view of the one-time wooer’s birth and origin. For
presumably he was Abram’s son. Indeed, some would
have it that Eliezer was the servant whom Nimrod of
Babel had given to Abram when he was obliged to let
him go; but this was improbable to the point of impossi-
bility. For Abraham never came into personal touch with
the great power in whose reign his exodus from Shinar
had taken place; the latter had never troubled his head
about him. The conflict which had driven Jacob’s spirit-
ual forefather from the land had been a silent and in-
ternal one; and all the accounts of personal contact be-
tween him and the lawgiver, of his martyrdom, his
languishing in prison, of a trial by fire in a lime-kiln –
all these tales, of which we can dwell only upon such as
Eliezer told Joseph, were either a random combination
of legend or were handed down from the most distant
past and crystallized upon a past much nearer; that is to
say, only six hundred years old. Abram’s king, who in
his time restored the towers and made them taller, had
not been called Nimrod, for that was only a regal and
dynastic title, but Amraphel or Hammurabi, and the real
Nimrod had been the father of that Bel of Babel of whom
it was said that he had built tower and city and who be-
came a god-king, after he had been a man-king, like the
Egyptian Osiris. The figure of the original Nimrod thus
belongs to times before Osiris; from which one can guess
at the historical gap which divided him from Abram’s
Nimrod; or, rather, one at least becomes aware of its
immeasurable nature. As for the events supposed to
have taken place during his reign: for instance, how the
birth of a boy very dangerous to his power was foretold
to him by his star-gazers; whereat he had resolved
upon a general slaughter of innocents; how a boy named
Abram escaped from the massacre and was brought up
in a cave by an angel, who fed him on milk and honey
from his finger-tips, and so forth – all these of course
have no discoverable historical foundation. In short, the
figure of Nimrod the king is much like that of Edom, the
Red: is is a presentness, through which shine ever older
pasts, losing themselves in the divine, which in its turn
issued out of the human in still profounder deeps of
time. The day will come when we shall feel that the same
was true of Abram. But for the moment we shall do well
to stick to Eliezer.

Eliezer, then, was not given to Abram by ” Nimrod”
as a present. We must regard that as a fable. Rather, in
all probability he had been Abram’s natural son, begot
upon a slave woman and born probably at Damascus
during the stay of Abraham’s people in that flourishing
city. Abram had later given him his freedom, and his
rank in the family was somewhat lower than that of Ish-
mael, son of Hagar. As for Eliezer’s sons. Damasek and
Elinos, the Chaldaean had long regarded the former as
his heir in default of legitimate ones; until first Ishmael
and then Yitzchak the true son were born. But Eliezer
retained his place and importance among the people of
Abraham; and his had been the honour of going to
Naharina to woo a bride for Isaac, the rescued sacrifice.

Often and with relish, as we know, Eliezer related to
Joseph the tale of this journey – yes, I am betrayed
perhaps all too willingly into writing here simply the
word ” he,” although quite aware that according to our
habits of thought it was certainly not Abram’s Eliezer
who was speaking to Joseph. What leads me astray is the
natural way in which he used the first person when he
spoke of the bridal journey, and his pupil’s silent ac-
quiescence in this lunar syntax of his. Joseph smiled
indeed, but he nodded as well, and whether the smile
implied any criticism, the nod any suggestion of courte-
ous forbearance, one cannot tell. Personally I prefer
to believe in his smile rather than in his nod; I incline to
think that Joseph’s attitude toward Eliezer’s manner of
speech was clearer-eyed than was that of Jacob’s worthy
half-brother.

We are justified of reason for thus referring to Eliezer,
for that was what he was. Isaac, the true son, before he
became blind, had been a man of strong desires, who had
by no means confined his attentions to Bethuel’s daugh-
ter. The circumstance that she like Sarah remained long
unfruited must have determined him betimes to seek an
heir elsewhere; for years before Jacob and Esau were
born he had had a son from a beautiful slave; which
son was named Eliezer and had later received his free-
dom. It was, in fact, traditional that such a son should
receive his freedom and should be called Eliezer. One
might find Yitzchak’s conduct the more excusable on the
ground that there had to be an Eliezer. There always had
been one in the courtyards of Abraham’s spiritual fam-
ily, where he played the role of house steward and head
servant and was, whenever possible, sent as proxy
wooer for the son of the true wife. Regularly, also, had
the head of the family given him a wife, from whom he
had two sons; namely, Damasek and Elinos. In short,
he was an institution, like Nimrod of Babel; and when
he and young Joseph sat at the lesson hour in the leafy
shade of the tree of wisdom, beside the well, and the boy,
his arms clasped round his knees, gazed into the face of
the old teacher who “looked like Abraham” and knew
how to say ” I” in so simple and majestic a way, strange
thoughts and feelings must have floated through that
young mind. His lovely and well-favoured eyes were
fixed on the figure of the narrator; but he looked through
him into endless perspective of Eliezer-figures, who
all said ” I” through the mouth of the present manifesta-
tion. They sat in the twilight shades of the great tree;
but behind Eliezer the sun-drenched air quivered in the
heat, and the succession of identities lost itself not in
darkness but in light. . . .

The sphere rolls; never can it be certainly known
where a story has its original home, whether in heaven or
on earth. The truth is best served by the statement that it
takes place simultaneously and concordantly both here
and there, and only to our eyes does it appear that it
came down and went up again. The story comes down,
as a god becomes a man, it becomes earthly, becomes
bourgeois, so to say. A good instance of what I mean is
afforded by a favourite boast of Jacob’s seed: the so-
called battle of the kings; namely, how Abram defeated
the army out of the East in order to set free his
” brother” Lot. Later learned editors and commentators
state their opinion that Abram followed the kings,
defeated and drove them beyond Damascus, not with
three hundred and eighteen men as Joseph knew the
tale, but quite alone with his boy Eliezer; and the stars
had fought for them so that they conquered and routed
the foe. It happened that Eliezer himself told Joseph the
story in this form also – the lad was familiar with the
variants. Everybody can see, however, that told like this
the story loses the earthly and therewith the heroic char-
acter given it in the saga and assumes another instead.
When one hears it, it is – Joseph too had this impression
– as though two gods, master and servant, had fought
and conquered superior numbers of giants or inferior
Elohim. And this can only mean that the event is recon-
verted, in the interest of truth and justice, to its heavenly
form, and re-established therein. But should we on this
account deny its earthly one? On the contrary, we might
even say that the truth and reality which clothed it in
heaven go to prove the same qualities on earth. For what
is above comes down; but what is beneath would not
know how to happen and could not, so to speak, occur
on its own account, without its heavenly image and coun-
terpart. In Abram became flesh that which had previously
been celestial; he based on the divine, he supported
himself upon it, when he victoriously scattered the rob-
bers from beyond the Euphrates.

Again, had not, for instance, the account of Eliezer’s
journey to woo Rebecca its own story on which it was
founded and on which its hero and narrator might found
himself, as he lived and told the tale? This too the old
man sometimes metamorphosed in a singular way, and
in such a form has it been cherished and handed down
to us. It is said, namely, that Eliezer, when Abram sent
him wooing for Isaac to Mesopotamia, covered the
journey from Beersheba to Harran, a journey which
takes twenty days or at the very least seventeen, in three
days, and that the earth ” sprang to meet him.” We can
only understand this figuratively, since the earth never
runs or springs toward anybody; yet it seems to do so to
him who moves across it with great ease and as though
on winged feet. Moreover, the commentators pass over
the fact that the journey was made, as usual, with cara-
van, with beast and pack; they do not speak of the ten
camels. Rather the light which they cast upon the story
tends to suggest that Abram’s messenger and natural
son covered the distance alone and with wings to his feet;
with such celerity, indeed, that winged feet would not be
enough, he would need wings on his hat as well! . . .
To come to the point, we must conclude that the account
of Eliezer’s earthly and fleshly journey is an earthly tra-
dition based on a heavenly one. Thus it came that in
telling the tale to Joseph he confused not only the lan-
guage but also the matter of the story somewhat, and
said the earth had ” sprung to meet him.”

Yes, when the young pupil’s musing gaze rested upon
the present fleshly Eliezer-manifestation, the perspective
of his personality lost itself not in darkness but in light.
And this was true not only of Eliezer’s identity but of
other people’s as well – it is easy to surmise whose.
And here as a sort of advance light upon Joseph’s his-
tory, let me say that those impressions were the most
real and enduring, which he got from his hours with
old Eliezer. Children are not inattentive when their mas-
ters say they are. They are only attending to other, per-
haps more important things than those which the severely
practical master is commending to their attention.
Joseph, however absent he might seem, was more observ-
ant than the most observant child – in fact probably
much more so than was good for him.

How Abraham found God

In the above, I have in some sense been putting Eliezer’s
master, Abraham, in the same category as the eldest
servant. What did Eliezer know of Abraham? Much, and
of various kinds. He spoke of him as it were with a
double tongue, sometimes thus and then again quite
differently. At one time the Chaldaean had been simply
the man who had found God, whereat the latter had
kissed his fingers in joy and cried: ” Up to now no man
hath called Me Lord and Highest, so now shall I be
called!” The discovery had cost much labour and even
pain; Forefather had tortured himself no little. And
indeed his pains and performances had been conditioned
and compelled by a conception quite peculiar to hm: the
conception that it was highly important whom or what
thing man should serve. That made an impression on
Joseph; he grasped it at once, particularly the part about
taking things seriously. For in order to give any sort of
importance or significance to things – or any one thing
– one had to, before God and man, take them seriously.
Forefather had beyond a doubt taken seriously the ques-
tion as to whom a man should serve; and had given it a re-
markable answer, to wit: one should serve the Highest
alone. Remarkable indeed. For the answer revealed a
self assertiveness which might be called excessive and
arrogant. The man might have said to himself: ” What
am I and of what avail, or the human being in me? What
mattereth it which little god or idol or minor deity I
serve? ” He would have had an easier time. But instead
he said: ” I, Abram, and humanity within me, must serve
the Highest and nought else.” And that was the begin-
ning of it all (as it pleased Joseph to hear).

It began with Abram thinking that to mother earth
alone was due service and worship, for that she brought
forth fruits and preserved life. But he observed that she
needed rain from heaven. So he gazed up into the
skies, saw the sun in all its glory, possessed with the
powers of blessing and cursing; and was on the point of
deciding for it. But then it set, and he was convinced
that it could not be the highest. So he looked at the moon
and the stars – at these with particular expectation and
hope. It may have been the first cause of his vexation
and his desire to wander, and his love for the moon, the
deity of Uru and Harran, had been offended by the ex-
aggerated official honours paid to the sun-principle,
Samash-Bel-Marduk, by Nimrod of Babel, these being
an offence to Sin, the shepherd of the stars. Perhaps it
was duplicity on God’s part, born of desire to glorify
Himself in Abiram and through him to make His name
great, that stirred up in the moon-wanderer, through
his love of the moon, that first conflict and unrest, em-
ployed them at his own ends, and made them the secret
spring of all Abram’s later acts. For when the morning
star rose, both shepherd and sheep disappeared, and
Abram concluded: ” No, neither are they gods worthy
of me.” His soul was greatly troubled and he thought:
” High as they are, had they not above themselves a
guide and lord, how cold the one set, the other rise? It
would be unfitting for me, a man, to serve them and not
rather Him who commands over them.” And Abraham’s
thought lay so painfully close to the truth that it touched
the Lord God to His most innermost and He said to Himself:
” I will anoint thee with the oil of gladness more than
all thy fellows.”

Thus out of impulse toward the Highest had Abraham
discovered God; had by teaching and by taking thought
shaped Him further and bodied Him forth and therewith
done a great good deed to all concerned: to God, to him-
self, and to those he made ready the way of realization of
Him in the mind of man; to himself and to the proselytes
especially, in that he laid hold upon the manifold and
the anguishingly uncertain and converted it into the
single, the definite, and the reassuring, of whom every-
thing came, both good and evil – the sudden and fright-
ful as well as the blessed usual, and to whom in any
case we had to cling. Abraham had gathered together the
powers into one power and called them the Lord – ex-
clusively and once for all. It was not as for a feast-day,
when one sung praises and heaped all power and honour
upon the head of one god, Marduk or Anu or Shamash
– only to do the same to another god on the next day
or in the next temple. ” Thou art the Only and the High-
est, without Thee is no judgement given, no decision made;
no god in heaven or earth can oppose Thee, Thou art
lifted up above them all! ” How many times had that
not been said and sung out of ephemeral devotion in
Nimrod’s kingdom! Abram found and declared that it
could and might with truth be said and sung only to One,
who was always the same, who was utterly the known,
because everything came from Him, and who thus made
all things known after their source. The men among
whom he grew up anguished themselves sore not to fail
this source in prayers and thanksgivings. If they were
doing penance in some calamity, they set at the head of
their prayer a whole list of invocations to their deities;
painstakingly they called upon each single god whose
name they chanced to know, that the particular one who
had sent the affliction – they could not tell which it was
– might not be left out. But Abraham knew which it
was, and taught his people. It was always and only He,
the Highest and Uttermost, who alone could be the true
God of mankind; who unfailingly answered man’s cry
for help and his song of praise.

Joseph, young as he was, well understood the boldness
and strength of mind which expressed themselves in first
Forefather’s thoughts of God – though many there had
been to shrink back in horror from the teaching. Whether
Abram had been tall and goodly to look on in his old
age like Eliezer, or whether he had been little, lean, and
bent of stature, at least he had had the courage, the con-
summate courage, which was needed to concentrate all
the manifold properties of the divine, all blessing and
all affliction, upon the one and only God; to take his
stand there and to cling solely and undividedly to the
Most High. Lot himself, white with fear, had said to
Abraham:

” But if thy God forsake thee, then art thou forsaken
indeed! “‘

To which Abraham had answered:

” It is true, thou sayest it. Then can there be no for-
sakenness in heaven or upon earth like to mine in extent
– it is consummate. But bethink thee, that if I appease
Him and He is my shield, nothing can lack me and I shall
possess the gates of mine enemies! ”

Whereupon Lot had strengthened himself and spoken:

“Then will I be thy brother! ”

Yes, Abram had known how to communicate his ex-
altation of spirit. He was named Abiram; that is to say:
‘ my father is exalted,” or also, probably just as cor-
rectly, “father of the exalted.” For in a way Abraham
was God’s father. He had perceived Him and thought
Him into being. The mighty properties which he ascribed
to Him were probably God’s original possession, Abra-
ham was not their creator. But was he not so after all, in
a certain sense, when he recognized them, preached them,
and by thinking made them real? The mighty properties
of God were indeed something objective, existing outside
of Abraham; but at the same time they were also in him
and of him. The power of his own soul was at certain
moments scarcely distinguishable from them; it inter-
laced and melted consciously into one with Him, and
such was the origin of the bond which then the Lord
struck with Abraham. True, it was only the outward
confirmation of an inward fact; but it was also the origin
of the peculiar character of Abram’s fear of God. For
since the greatness of God was something frightfully
objective outside of him, yet at the same time coincided
to a certain extent with the greatness of his own soul
and was a product of it, so was this fear of God some-
what more than fear in the regular sense of the word:
it was not alone trembling and quaking, but also and at
the same time the existence of a bond, a familiarity and
friendship. In fact Forefather had sometimes had a way
of going about with God, which must have aroused the
amazement of heaven and earth, if pone did not take into
consideration the extraordinary involutions of the rela-
tionship. For instance the familiar way in which he had
addressed the Lord at the destruction of Sodom and
Amorra was not far from insolence, considering the aw-
ful greatness and power of God. But, after all, who
should be offended, if God were not? And God was not.
” Hearken, O Lord,” had Abram said then, ” it must be
one way or the other, but not both. If thou wilt have a
world, then thou canst not demand justice, but if thou
settest store by justice, then it is all over with the world.
Thou wouldst hold the cord by both ends: wouldst have
a world and in it justice. But if thou dost not mitigate
thy demands, the world cannot exist.” He had even ac-
cused the Lord of double-dealing, and upbraided him:
Once he had revoked the flood of water, but now he would
invoke the flood of fire. But God, who probably could
not have dealt otherwise with the cities after what had
happened or almost happened to His messengers at
Sodom, had taken all that Abram said in good part or at
all events not ill; for He had enveloped Himself in a
benevolent silence.

This silence was the expression of a tremendous fact,
which had to do with the outward side of God as well as
with the inward greatness of Abraham, whose own actual
creation it probably was: the fact that the contradiction
in terms of a world which should be living and at the
same time just resided in God’s greatness itself; that He,
the living God, was not good, or only good among other
attributes, including evil, and that accordingly His es-
sense included evil and was therewith sacrosanct; was
santity itself and demanded sanctity.

Oh, wonder! He it was who had dashed in pieces
Tiamat, and cloven the dragon of chaos; the exultant
Marduk and which the people of Abram’s country re-
peated every New Year’s day, belonged by rights to Him,
the God of Abram. From Him issued order and joyous
confidence. It was His work that the early and the late
rains fell at their appointed time. He had set bounds to
the monstrous sea, the residue of the original flood, the
home of leviathan, that in its most awful turbulence it
could not pass beyond them. He made the sun rise in
its creative power to the zenith and at evening begin its
journey to hell; likewise the moon to measure time by
her ever recurrent change of quarters. He made the stars
to shine, likewise ordered them to form pictures; and He
ruled the lives of men and beasts, nourishing them ac-
cording to the seasons. From places where no man had
been the snow fell and watered the earth, whose disk
he had fixed upon the flood of waters, so that it never or
only very seldom swayed or shook. How much of bless-
ing, of goodness, and of benefit was there in all this!

But as a man who conquers an enemy, by the victory
adds unto himself the properties of the conquered, so
God, it would seem, when He clave the monster of chaos,
embodied in Himself its essence and perhaps only
thereby grew to the full height of His living majesty. The
struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, bless-
ing and frightfulness upon this earth was not, as the
people of Nimrod believed, the continuation of that war
which Marduk waged against Tiamat. Neither the dark-
ness, the evil and the unknown terror, the earthquake,
the crackling lightning, the plague of grasshoppers
darkening the sun, the seven evil winds, the dust Abubu,
the serpents and the hornets – none of these but were
from God, and if He was called the Lord of the pesti-
lence, it was because He was alike its sender and its
physician. He was not the Good, but the All. And He
was holy! Holy not because of goodness, but of life and
excess of life; holy in majesty and terror, sinister, dan-
gerous, and deadly, so that an omission, an error, the
smallest negligence in one’s bearing to Him, might have
frightful consequences. He was holy; but He demanded
holiness too, and that He demanded it by his mere being
gave the Holy One greater significance than that of mere
awfulness. The discretion which he enjoined became
piety, and God’s living majesty the measure of life, the
source of the sense of guilt, the fear of God, and the
walking before Him in holiness and righteousness.

God was present, and Abraham walked before Him,
consecrated in his soul by that outward nearness of His.
They were two, an I and a Thou, both of whom said ” I ”
and to the other ” Thou.” It is true that Abraham com-
posed the properties of God, with the help of his own
greatness of soul – without which He would not have
known how to compose them or name them, so that they
would have remained in darkness. But after all God
remained a powerful Thou, saying ” I,” independent of
Abraham and independent of the world. He was in the
fire but was not the fire – wherefore it would have been
very wrong to worship fire . God had created the world,
in which such tremendous things happened as the storm
wind or leviathan. This had to be considered in order
properly to measure it, at least to conceive it. He must be much
greater than all His works. Makom he was called, space, because
He was the space in which the world existed; but the
world was not the space in which He existed. He was also
in Abraham, who recognized Him by virtue of his own
power. And it was just this that strengthened and ful-
filled Abraham’s sense of his own ego; which was not at
all minded to be lost in God, to become one with Him
and be no more Abraham, but rather held itself stoutly
upright in face of Him – at a great distance, certainly,
for Abraham was but a man, and made of clay – but
bound up with Him through knowledge and consecrated
by the high essence and presence of the Deity. It was
on this basis that God had made His compact with Abra-
ham, that covenant so full of promise for both sides; of
which God was so jealous that He would be honoured
entirely alone by His worshippers without the flicker
of an eyelash toward those other gods of whom the world
was full. For here was the important fact: through Abram
and his bond something was come into the world that had
never been there before and which the peoples did not
know – the accursed possibility that the bond might be
broken, that one might fall away from God.

Much besides did Forefather know of God – but not
in the sense in which others knew of their gods. There
were no stories about God. That was indeed perhaps the
most remarkable thing: the courage with which Abram
represented and expressed God’s essence from the first,
without more ado, simply in that he said ” God.” God
had not proceeded, had not been born, from any woman.
There was also beside Him on the throne no woman, no
Ishtar, Baalat, mother of God. How could there be? One
had only to use one’s common sense to understand that,
considering the nature of God, it was not a possible con-
ception. God had planted the tree of knowledge and of
death in Eden, and man had eaten of it. Birth and death
were of man, but not of God; He saw no divine female
At His side, because He needed not to know woman, but
was Baal and Baalat at one and the same time. Neither
had He children. For the angels were not so, nor Sabaoth
who served Him, nor yet those giants whom some angels
had begotten upon the daughters of men, led astray by
sight of their lewdness. He was alone; such was the mark
of His greatness. The wifeless and childless condition
of God might perhaps explain His great jealousy con-
cerning His bond with man; however that may be, it
certainly explains the fact that He has no history and that
there is nothing to tell of Him.

Yet even so, one may only take all this in a qualified
sense; referring it to the past, but not to the future – if
indeed we may speak of the future in this sense at all.
For God did after all have a story; but it referred to the
future, a future so glorious for Him that His present,
splendid as it always was, could not compare with it.
And that very discrepancy between the present and the
future lent to God’s sacred majesty and greatness a
shadow of strain and suspense, of suffering and unful-
filled promise, which we must frankly recognize in order
to understand the jealous nature of His covenant with
man.

There would come a day, the latest and last, which
alone would bring about the fulfillment of God. This day
was end and beginning, destruction and new birth. The
world, this first or perhaps not first world, would be dis-
persed in ultimate catastrophe; chaos, primeval silence
would reign once more. Then God would begin His work
anew and more wonderfully than before – being Lord
of destruction, as Lord of creation. Out of chaos and
confusion, out of slime and darkness His word would
call up new cosmos; louder than ever before would
ring the jubilations of the onlooking angels; for the re-
newed world would exceed the other in every respect,
and in it God would triumph over all His foes!

So it would be: at the end of days God would be king,
king of kings, king over men and gods. But then, was
He not that already, even now? Of course He was, in all
quietness and in the consciousness of Abram. Yet even
so, not everywhere recognized and admitted, and thus
not entirely realized. The realization of God’s great and
boundless kingship was reserved for that first and last
day, for the day of destruction and resurrection; when
out of the bonds wherein it still lay, His absolute splen-
dour would rise up before the eyes of all. No Nimrod
would exalt himself against God, with shameless ter-
raced towers; no human knee would bow save before
Him, no human mouth give to another praise. God, as
in truth from Everlasting, now actually would be lord
and king over all other gods as well. In the blare of ten
thousand trumpets directed slantwise at the skies, in the
singing and thundering of the flames, in a hailstorm of
lightnings, He, clothed in majesty and terrors, would
pace away to His throne across a world praying with
forehead in the dust, to take possession in sight of all
and for ever of a reality which was His truth.

Oh, day of God’s apotheosis, day of the Promise, ex-
pectation, and fulfillment! It would, be it remarked,
embrace the apotheosis of Abraham, whose name thence-
forward would be a word of blessing, with which the
races of mankind would greet each other. That was the
Promise. But this resounding day lay not in the present,
but in the uttermost future; and until then was a time
of waiting; this it was that brought lines of suffering into
the countenance of God of today, which were the mark
of the to-be and of the not-yet-accomplished. God lay in
bands, God suffered; God was held in prison. That miti-
gated His exaltedness; all the suffering might adore Him
and He consoled those who were not great but small in
the world; it gave them to feel scorn in their hearts
against all that were even as Nimrod was, and against
the shamelessness of vaunting greatness. No, God had
no stories like Egyptian Osiris, the sacrifice, the muti-
lated, the buried and arisen one, or like Adonis-Tammuz
for whom the flutes wailed in the gorges; Tammuz, lord
of the sheepfold, whose side Ninib the boar did tear
and he went down into prison, and rose again. Far be it
from us, and forbidden, to think that God was associated
with the nature-myths – nature, withering in affliction,
freezing in anguish, that she might be renewed according
to the promise, in laughter and billows of flowers; with
the seed-corn, that decayed in darkness and in the prison
of the earth, that it might arise and sprout; with dying
and sex; with the corrupt worship of Melech-Baal and
his ritual at Tyre, where men offered their semen to the
God of abominations in base-begotten folly and deathly
shamelessness. God forbid that He could have had any
dealing with such affairs! But He lay in bonds and was a
God of waiting upon the future; and that made a certain
likeness between Him and those other suffering god-
heads. Therefore it was that Abram at Shechem talked
long with Melchisedek, who alone might enter the
temple of Baal of the Covenant and El Elyon,
over the question whether and up to what point any like-
ness of essence subsisted between Adon and Abraham’s
God. But God had kissed His finger-tips and cried, to
the private resentment of the angels: ” It is unbelievable,
what knowledge of Me is possessed by this son of earth!
Have I not begun to make Myself known through his
means? Verily, I will anoint him! ”

The master of the messenger

In such wise, and so simply, had Eliezer paintedAbra-
ham to Joseph with his words. But unconsciously his
tongue forked in speaking and talked of him quite other-
wise as well. Always it was Abram, the man from Uru, or
more correctly from Harran, of whom the forked tongue
spoke – calling him the great-grandfather of Joseph.
Both of them, young and old, were quite aware that, un-
less by moonlight, Abram was not the man, that unquiet
subject of Amraphel of Shinar; likewise that no man’s
great-grandfather lived twenty generations before him!
Yet this was a trifling inexactitude compared with others
at which they had to wink; for that Abraham of whom
the tongue now spoke, changefully and inconsistently,
was not he, either, who had lived then and shaken the
dust of Shinar from his feet; but rather a different figure
perceptible far behind the other, visible through him,
as it were, so that the lad’s gaze faltered and grew dim
in this perspective just as it had in the one called Elie-
zer – an even brighter vista, of course, for it was light
that shone through.

Then came into view all the stories which belonged
to half of the sphere in which master and servant,
not with three hundred and eighteen men, but alone save
for the help of supernatural powers, drove the foe be-
yond Damascus; and in which the ground had sprung
towards Eliezer the messenger; the story of Abraham’s
birth foretold by prophecy; of the massacre of innocents
on his account; of his childhood in a cave and how the
angel fed him while his mother sought him round about.
All that bore the mark of truth: somewhere and somehow
it was true. Mothers always wander and search; they
have many names, but they wander about the fields and
seek the poor child that has been led away into the under-
world, murdered or mutilated. This time she was called
Emathla, also probably Emtelai – names in which Elie-
zer probably indulged his fantasy; for they were better
suited to the angel than to the mother – the latter, in-
deed, in an effort at verisimilitude on the part of the
forked tongue, may also have had the form of a goat.
Joseph found it all very dreamlike; his eyes changed
their expression as he listened and heard that the mother
of the Chaldaeans was called Emtelai; for the name quite
plainly signifies ” mother of my elevated one,” or, in
other words, ” mother of God.”

Should the good Elizer have been reproved for talk-
ing like that? No. Stories come down as a god becomes
man; they civilize themselves as it were and become
earthly, without thereby ceasing to take place on high
and to be narratable in their celestial form. For instance,
the old man sometimes referred to the sons of that Ke-
turah whom Abram in his old age took for a concubine:
Medan, Midian, Jokshan, that is, Zimran, Ishbak
and whatever their names were. These sons had “glit-
tered like lightning ” and Abram had built for them and
their mother a brazen city, so high that the sun never
shone inside it, and it was lighted by precious stones.
His listener would have had to be much duller than he
was not to see that this brazen city signified the under-
world, as whose queen, in this version, Keturah accord-
ingly appeared. An unassailable conception! Keturah
was indeed simply a Canaanitish woman whom Abram
in his old age honoured by his couch; but likewise she
was the mother of a whole series of Arabian progenitors
and lords of the desert, as Hagar the Egyptian had been
mother of Ishmael; and when Eliezer said of the sons
that they glittered like lightning, that meant nothing
else than seeing them with both eyes instead of with one,
in token of the simultaneous and the unity of the
doubled: that is, as homeless Bedouin chiefs, and as
sons and princes of the underworld, like Ishmael, the
wrongful son.

Then there were other moments in which the old man
spoke in strange accents of Sarah, Forefather’s wife.
He called her ” daughter of the unmanned” and
” Heaven’s queen “; adding that she had given birth to
a spear, and that it was quite proper that she had origi-
nally been called Sarai – namely, heroine – and only
been toned down by God to Sarah – that is to say, lady.
A like thing had happened to Sarah’s brother-husband:
for he was reduced from Abram, which means ” the ex-
alted father ” and ” father of the exalted,” to Abraham,
which is to say ” the father of many,” of a swarming
posterity, spiritual and physical. But had he therefore
ceased to be Abram? By no means. It was only that the
sphere rolled; and the subtle tongue, forking between
Abram and Abraham, spoke of him now so and then
again so.

Nimrod the father of the land had sought to devour
him, but he had been snatched away, fed in a cave by
a goat-angel, and when he was grown up had played
so shrewd a game with the greedy king and his idolatrous
majesty that one might even say that the latter came to
” feel the sickle.” He had suffered much before achiev-
in his position. He had been held captive – it was
heartening to hear how he had employed his imprison-
ment to make proselytes and to convert the keepers of
the dungeon to the Most High God. He was sentenced to
be sacrificed to Typhon; in other words, to be burned;
had been put in the lime-kiln or – Eliezer’s versions
varied – had mounted the stake. This last sounded
genuine to Joseph, for he knew that even in his time in
many cities a feast of the stake was celebrated. And are
there ever feasts without an idea at bottom – feasts
without a root, unreal feasts? Do people, at New Year’s,
on the day of creation, perform in pious mummery things
which they have sucked out of themselves or out of an
angel’s fingers and which never really happened? Man
does not think himself out. He is of course exceeding
clever, since he ate of the tree, and is not far from being
a god. But with all his cleverness how should he be able
to find something which is not there? Yes, there must
have been some truth in the story of the stake.

According to Eliezer, Abraham had founded the city
of Damascus and had been its first king. A specious utter-
ance; but towns are not in the habit of being founded by
men, nor do the beings which one calls their first kings
wear human countenances. Hebron itself, call Kirjath
Arba, outside which they were sitting, had not been built
by human hands, but by the giant Arba or Arbaal, at
least so ran the legend. Eliezer, on the other hand, stuck
to it that Abram had founded Hebron as well. That may
have been no contradiction to the popular idea, nor
should have been so. Forefather must himself have been
of a giant’s greatness; that was already clear from the
fact that according to Eliezer he had taken steps a mile
long.

What wonder, then, that to Joseph, in dreamy moods,
the figure of his forefather, the founder of cities, merged
to the distant view in that Bel of Babel, who built the
tower and the city and who became a god after he too
had once been a man and been buried in the Baal-tomb?
With Abraham it seemed to be the other way round. But
again what does that mean, in such a connection? Who
will say what Abram had been at first and where the
stories are originally at home, whether above or below?
They are the present of the revolving sphere, the unity
of the dual, the image that resolves the riddle of time.

—————-
chapter II of Young Joseph, by Thomas Mann
copyright 1935, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
seventh printing, January 1945

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About marley engvall

peacefully dismantling the big lie. www.UnitedResistance911.wordpress.com
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