Written by Rolf Gompertz
Published by iUniverse
Review by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Anyone who has ever been bothered—morally or ethically—by some of the events in the Bible may want to read Abraham, the Dreamer. Rolf Gompertz manages to examine the questions we have all felt when reading the story of Abraham and the near sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
Gompertz uses time-honored midrash—the telling or retelling of a legend—to achieve that end. He has examined the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael, as it is told in the Bible. Then he has studied interpretations by Biblical philosophers, psychologists and other experts, and so given the ancient story new life, new meaning without losing any of its authentic qualities.
As Gompertz examines the possible motivations for the actions of the characters, the Biblical tale comes to life for even a casual reader looking for a good read. After all, as Gompertz says, his “primary concern is to shed light on the human condition.”
This biblical novel offers an intriguing, unconventional, and daring interpretation of the life of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, the “First Family” of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The biblical text tells us little about Sarah, but Gompertz’s version boldly suggests that Abraham’s wife is a high priestess serving Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of War and Love. Sarah, who has become pregnant when her religious order forbids that, orders the child killed. Abraham revolts against this practice and, in that moment, hears the call of a new, singular, unseen God who tells him to go forth to a new and different land. Ironically, he is also told that he will become the father of a multitude.
Later, Sara feels alienated from her husband—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. In desperation, she offers Abraham her handmaid, Hagar. It is her hope that they could have the child that had been denied to her. When she does so, she is unaware of the attraction that has already developed between her husband and the lovely young girl who is part of their household. It is a matter of Biblical record that Hagar gives birth to Ishmael. When the jealous Sarah gives birth unexpectedly to Isaac, she breaks up the idyllic relationship between Abraham and Hagar, driving Abraham’s “other love” and her son, Ishmael, away forever.
Abraham has his difficulties trying to understand the will of his new God. In his despair over losing Hagar, he falls back on pagan sacrificial practices, and he proceeds to sacrifice Isaac, believing that this is what his new God has asked of him.
Ultimately, Abraham, the Dreamer asks the difficult question: How can we ever know the will of God with certainty? In the final showdown between Abraham and Sarah, the author offers a surprising and startling answer to this question.
It should be noted that this Jewish author uses explicit language in his effort to meld the meanings of spiritual and physical love and how those relate to one’s life of worship. I appreciated that, and though it was explicit, I never found it offensive.
I also found that reading about these people in the context of a love triangle made me look at many Biblical stories in a different light. The time, the place, the culture, and the evolution of religion all influence the thoughts and actions of people, then, now and forever. We ought not forget that.
For Bible scholars the bibliography alone will be worth the price of the book.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of This is the Place, an award-winning novel about a young journalist who writes her way through repression into redemption. For a free first chapter, send an e-mail. For a free Cooking by the Book, or to learn more about Carolyn Howard-Johnson, visit her online. She is also the author of “Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered.”