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xxix + 280 pp.

£30 / $47.50 / €35
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The Sacrifice of Isaac
The Reception of a Biblical Story in Music
Siobhán Dowling Long

The biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), or the Akedah in Hebrew tradition, has inspired composers, artists, writers, and dramatists down through the centuries to produce some of the greatest musical, artistic, literary, and dramatic masterpieces the world knows today. This book explores the reception of Genesis 22 in five compositions that not only have been influential in the history of classical art music but also present some of the most insightful and distinctive interpretations of the biblical story. Spanning more than four hundred years, and stemming from a variety of musical genres, the works selected include an oratorio latino by Giacomo Carissimi, the ‘Father of Oratorio’; an oratorio volgare by the Bohemian Josef Mysliveček; a canticle, and a movement from the War Requiem of the eminent British composer Benjamin Britten; and a cantata by the Jewish American composer Judith Lang Zaimont.

Dowling Long argues that, despite intensive exegetical work on Genesis 22 and the attention given to the concept of seeing in the narrative, biblical commentators have generally neglected the concept of hearing, which features prominently in the story’s reception in music.

This book will be of interest to biblical scholars, musicologists, teachers of religious education and music education, as well as to readers interested in reception history. It is beautifully illustrated with 80 images of the sacrifice of Isaac in art, stone, needlework of tapestry and embroidery, and furniture together with photographs of composers and 86 musical excerpts.

Siobhán Dowling Long is a musicologist and Lecturer in Education, University College, Cork, Ireland.

Series: Bible in the Modern World, 54
978-1-907534-87-4 hardback
Publication August 2013



1. The Biblical Story

2. The Reception of Genesis 22 in Christian Tradition

3. The Mediaeval Mystery Plays: Abraham and Isaac

4. The Akedah in Jewish Tradition


5. Isaac, a Passive Victim in Seventeenth-Century Music:
     Giacomo Carissimi’s Historia di Abramo ed Isacco

6. Isaac, a Type of Christ in Eighteenth-Century Music:
     Josef Mysliveček’s Abramo ed Isacco

7. Isaac, a Tragic Hero in Twentieth-Century Music:
     Tales of Heroism and Murder in Two Compositions by Benjamin Britten

8. The Death of Isaac:
     A Musical Retelling by Judith Lang Zaimont

Long’s knowledge of the story’s reception is mind-boggling…. Long has taken on an insurmountable amount of research, and through her concise and organized style of writing writes a book that is as accessible as can be achieved given its technical details. It is certainly a book to have on the shelf regardless of one’s expertise in art or music. Karen Langton, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception.