Kubrick's horror tale resembles the Akedah

AS the High Holydays approach, it is appropriate to consider the Akedah and its representation in popular culture.

The Akedah is iconic in western culture. Christianity has treated it as a forerunner of the actual sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

It is also important in a different version for Muslims.

For philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: "There were countless generations who knew the story of Abraham by heart, word for word, but how many did it render sleepless?"

Psychology professor Stephen Frosh explained it as "the violence implicit in fatherhood" and "a father's murderous envy of his sons".

It consumed such artists as Rembrandt and Caravaggio, and countless depictions of it have been produced in art. For Wilfred Owen it was the source of one of the greatest poems of the First World War, the Parable of the Old Man and the Young (1918).

Following in his wake, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen have all used the Akedah in some form in their work, often as a means to protest against war.

Of course the Akedah is central to Judaism. It is the focus of many legends, myths and folklore.

Critic Robert Alter referred to it as a "Jewish preoccupation with failed relationships between fathers and sons".

It forms a key part of the New Year's Day service when the complete narrative is read aloud. Many midrashim have grown up around the Akedah, and there is more than one interpretation of it, reflecting the deeply troubling nature of the story.

It has since been deployed in Hebrew literature, lamenting the loss of homeland and people.

During the Middle Ages, in particular, the Akedah obtained a prominent place in Jewish liturgy.

In the context of the murderous Crusades, it was held up as a test of the worthy, an example of devotion in faith and its merit was invoked when appeals were made for God's mercy.

The Akedah is both a template of faith and for sacrificing one's son (even if the rabbis argue that it is a supreme injunction against child sacrifice).

Consequently, it is no surprise that filmmakers, both Jewish and otherwise, have used it in their films.

It appears, albeit briefly, in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) while taking a slightly larger role in Bigger Than Life (1956) when Ed Avery (James Mason) explicitly quotes Genesis 22 as the rationale for killing his son.

The Jewish neo-Nazi protagonist of The Believer (2001) finds in the Akedah and the classical Jewish response to it, the source of his self-hatred; he loves the Torah, but loathes what Jews have done to it.

The murder of the son Yitzchok as revenge on the father in Lucky Number Slevin (2006) provides yet another, somewhat fleeting, reference to the story, as does Gregory Peck's attempt to kill his son in The Omen (1976).

But, to my mind, in its central idea of a father seeking to murder or sacrifice his son at the bidding of a higher power (The Overlook Hotel), the narrative of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining bears closest resemblance to Genesis 22.

Many of The Shining's details parallel the Akedah. Just as God instructed Abraham, a mysterious force draws Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) to the Overlook Hotel, which sits high in the Colorado Mountains, an eternal place of mystery that transcends time.

Like Mount Moriah, both are lofty, exalted places. The name 'Overlook' itself suggests a Godlike higher power in its omniscience and omnipotence.

Without giving too much away, it is neither Isaac nor a ram that is caught in the thicket and sacrificed. Atonement is not achieved.

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph