Sunday, January 29, 2012

* "The average American lives a better life than Louis XIV." John D. Ogden

Central heat
Running hot water
Personal hygiene (bathing, lice eviction, brushing teeth)
Medical knowledge and care

Sunday, January 22, 2012

* JoePa, King of Football

You have all seen Oedipus the King … overwhelmed by a tidal wave of disasters that will sweep him to his grave . . . Judge no man’s life until he is dead . . . Call no man fortunate or safe from pain till he lies in his last, everlasting bed, and the earth covers his head.

The Chorus
Oedipus Rex

Saturday, January 21, 2012

* Thornton Wilder and The Magical Land of the Quinnipiac

Thornton Wilder, 
playing the Stage Manager in his 
Our Town.

Above and Typed Below: 
Thornton Wilder's response 
to Donald Hall's poem  
The Sleeping Giant: A hill in Hamden, Connecticut.  
Mr. Wilder and Donald Hall lived in Hamden
(actually, Mt. Carmel, Centerville, and Hamden), 
where I was born and raised. 

Apparently I like the poem better 
than Mr. Wilder does.

Poet Donald Hall, 
native of Centerville, Conn.,
 is honored by the Hon. Scott D. Jackson, 
 Mayor of Hamden ,Conn., 2011, 
a town which decades ago gobbled up the villagette Centerville, 
and erased its name.

                     "Better" Poems?

In  1974, when I was thirty, I was sitting in New Haven’s Olde Heidelberg one night, with a friend, and I said,   "They say Thornton Wilder frequents this place, but I’ve never seen him.”

The next moment, as if summoned by a genie, Thornton Wilder, portly septuagenarian,  wearing a trench-coat, with newspaper in hand, bustled through the door and shot toward the circular booth in the corner by the bar immediately under one of the sidewalk windows.  A waitress later told me that Wilder would pace up and down outside that window until that booth was empty and then make a bee-line for it. It was "Thornton Wilder's booth", she declared.

( If you want to read about my encounter and the beginning of a 20-year friendship with his sister, Miss Isabel Wilder,  click here.)  

Suffice it to say, before we knew what had happened we were at Thornton Wilder's table chatting away, a bit awe-struck, while he ate dinner.

My agenda here is not to rehearse that encounter; it is to point out the difference between childhood and adulthood in appreciation of a poem.  

Thornton Wilder lived on Deepwood Drive in Hamden, Connecticut for fifty years, in "the house The Bridge built," the home he built with the profits from his first literary success The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

The Wilder home  Hamden. Conn., 
50 Deepwood Drive,
"The house The Bridge built."

 Hamden is the town contiguous with New Haven, connected by Whitney Avenue and leading to villages (or villagettes) Centerville and Mt. Carmel, the latter my birthplace and site of  the Sleeping Giant,

The Sleeping Giant is a mountain which Quinnipiac Indians thought was an actual slumbering titan  who  awakened, arose, and walked about on days when the fog made him disappear from their vantage point on East Rock in New Haven.

I was raised at the foot of the Sleeping Giant, Mt. Carmel, Connecticut.  The poet, Donald Hall was raised in Centerville, one villagette farther away from the Giant, but Hamdenite Thornton Wilder had NOT been raised in the land of the Sleeping Giant at all ------except metaphorically, since he was raised in China for part of his childhood, a formerly fabled economic 'sleeping giant'.

This is my circuitous way of saying that  I sent Mr. Wilder a copy of Donald Hall’s poem entitled The Sleeping Giant after our meeting at the Olde Heidelberg.

He didn’t like it (see above and below).

Sanibel, Fla. Jan. 30, 1975

Dear Mr.Keane:

Thanks for your note 
with Donald Hall's poem.
I met Mr. Hall over 20 
years ago in Cambridge and I 
think I remember his saying
he was brought up in 
Mt. Carmel. He has written
many better poems than
that one.

Thanks again,


Thornton Wilder

But then, he never grew up in the magical land of the Quinnipiac.

I did.

And, so did Donald Hall, now 83, who wrote of Hamden in his New Yorker article "Out My Window"  this week.  (Jan. 23, 2012, p. 40)

Our Giant walked.

Thornton's didn't.

My  Mount Carmel birthplace, 
43 Norwood Avenue, 
with the magical hills 
leading up to the Giant
 in the background.


The Sleeping Giant

      A hill in Hamden, Connecticut

Donald Hall

The whole day long under the walking sun
That poised an eye on me from its high floor,
Holding my toy beside the clapboard house
I looked at him, the summer I was four.

I was afraid the waking arm would break
From the loose earth and rub against his eyes
A fist of trees, and the whole country tremble
In the exultant labor of his rise;

Then he with giant steps in the small streets
Would stagger, cutting off the sky, to seize
The roofs from house and home because we had
Covered his shape with dirt and planted trees;

And then kneel down and rip with fingernails
A trench to pour the enemy Atlantic
Into our basin, and the water rush,
With streets full and all the voices frantic.

That was the summer I expected him.
Later the high and watchful sun instead
Waked low behind the house, and school began,
And winter pulled a sheet over his head.

* When a Yale Student Disappears . . .

Sam Todd would be 53 years old this year, 2012. It is still possible that he is alive.

"The Man with a Thousand Faces"

New York City Police

Yale Divinity student Sam Todd left a party in the early morning of New Year's Day, 1984 ---and has never been seen or heard from since. Perhaps, suggests the author, who here offers fresh insights into the case, Sam had some very good reasons for disappearing.

Connecticut Magazine
May, 1985

Paul Keane, a 1980 graduate of Yale Divinity School, is a New Haven-based free-lance writer. This article is excerpted from a longer report submitted to the President of Yale University, the Dean of the Divinity School and the parents of Sam Todd.

Many of his acquaintances and friends at Yale Divinity School agree that Sam Todd was a shy young man. Some say “painfully shy”, others say “socially awkward”, some say “a loner.” His friend Phil Olmstead, who walked guard duty with him on two nights a week, calls Sam a “supernumerary person--- an outsider looking for his place.” Sam was very quiet, looked down a lot, and often expected you to understand what he was thinking with by a hand gesture. His favorite was a revolutionary first thrust in the air; another was a drum rim, the final flourish with drumsticks in a drum performance. Sam was an accomplished jazz drummer, but no one at YDS knew it until he happened to mention the fact one day in his second year at school. One of Sam’s teachers at YDS, who also knew him socially outside of the classroom, says he “found Sam to be spacey and scattered”. But most of Sam’s friends describe him as “particularly solid and stable” ---not someone who would suddenly run off and go into hiding.

Friends and family acknowledge that Sam was probably drunk at the Mulberry Street New Year’s Eve party that night. It was his and his younger brother Adam’s third stop on a party hop, and Sam had been drinking beer and vodka. He went downstairs from the Mulberry Street loft to get some air. Adam went down with him and joshed him a bit about his condition as he tripped on the stairs on the way out. Sam was dressed entirely in blue: jeans, running shoes and a sweatshirt with the emblem and the school name “Ecolint Geneve.” Though the temperature had vacillated between 17 and 37 degrees that first day of 1984, he had left his coat with his wallet and identification back at the party. Sam broke into a mock jog to prove to Adam that he was OK as he headed up Mulberry toward Houston Street. Adam went back into the party, had second thoughts five minutes later, and went to look for Sam.

No one able to identify him has seen Sam since he turned onto Houston Street around 1:30 that morning. He was the first missing person report of New York’s new year, a year in which the city was to receive over 16,000 such reports.

Adam called his oldest brother John, then a law student who lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, at about 4:30 A.M.. John drove into New York and the two brothers began calling hospitals and friends of Sam’s around the city. They also went to their Aunt Doris Todd’s apartment in the Village, thinking that Sam might have stopped there, as he often did when he stayed in town. At around 11:00 A.M., they went to the police and filed a missing person’s report.

By the weekend, about 20 of Sam’s friends from Vassar (his undergraduate school) were involved in the search, joined by another 29 friends from YDS. A week later, Adam and John had set up a “command headquarters” with five telephones in a Greenwich Village church and coordinated nearly 200 student volunteers from Yale Divinity School, Vassar, Princeton and elsewhere to distribute 20,000 “Missing” posters around Manhattan. Sam’s childhood friend, David Marcus, a staff writer for the Miami Herald, joined the search and wrote an article about Sam’s disappearance on the front page of the Herald on January 10. The next day, a quarter page article on the disappearance and search appeared in The New York Times, with photos of Sam’s father and two brothers at the Greenwich Village “headquarters.” The national television and radio media picked up the story of the search, and the baffling case was the lead-off in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column on February 13. Within the next nine months, the family had organized among friends and contacts a “Sam Search” committee in every state in the country. If Sam Todd had disappeared intentionally January 1 and was having second thoughts, soon thereafter, that maybe he should quietly resurface, the clout of this publicity may have sent him underground by January 11.

No one could believe he ran away, at first. His on-and-off girlfriend from his days at Vassar, Jill Tonelli, was quoted in the Times as saying “He loves his family too much for that.” The fact sheet his family circulated about him says, “It seems clear his disappearance was not deliberate or premeditated.” But seven months later, his parents’ thank-you letter to the divinity school volunteers modifies that position: “Is he pursuing an agenda of his own which no one can guess?” it asks.

If Sam Todd did run away, where could he have hidden against the odds of 20,000 posters with photographs, national news coverage, and a couple of hundred volunteers scouring the soup kitchens, shelters, bus, train and subway stations, and hospitals of Manhattan? Had he secured a new passport and spirited himself back to Geneva, Switzerland, where his family had lived from 1973 – 1977? Or to Zimbabwe, where, in 1980, he had worked in a school with revolutionaries who had laid down their guns?

If he stayed stateside, even temporarily, where could he go where no one would ask questions about his past or think it strange that he did not volunteer such information or even give a full name? Where could he go where people would be reluctant to cooperate with the police in a humane undertaking like a missing person search?

Sam disappeared at Mulberry and Houston Streets, within short walking distance of Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street, the gay Main Street of the East. New York is the site of hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings every week at all hours of the day and night. Sam could have successfully traveled in any or all of these circles unfound. No one would ask him for more than a first name, no one would think it odd that he did not want to talk about his past, and no one would cooperate with police inquiries about their membership. Indeed, even if persons in such places thought they were talking to a runaway, their allegiance would be to the group, not to the police or family on the hunt. After all, it is not a crime to run away. It is a private matter. Sam need merely have said, “Leave me alone.” Moreover, the 20, 000 posters distributed by his parents would not have helped much. One poster has six photographs of Sam, and he looks like an entirely different person in each photograph. The New York police refer to Sam as “the man with a thousand faces"

Sam's aunt, Doris Todd, who had lent money to Sam while his parents were living abroad, had sent her nephew a $2,000 check for a six-credit summer Hebrew course at YDS about May 15, 1983. The course cost $800. On July 15, Sam paid the Yale bursar’s office $2,330 he owed for the previous year’s tuition. Perhaps he saved the difference of $330 from his earnings at the Connecticut Food Bank, where he worked 20 to 30 hours a week. Clearly, he didn’t have money stashed away for a secret purpose when he returned to YDS in the fall. That semester, he was living entirely off a $2,400 grant from the school and an eight-hour-a-week job on the security patrol. His tuition was $3,150 for the first semester ’83-’84 and, as of October, 1983, Sam still owed Yale $750. Apparently, the entire grant went toward tuition. Sam was probably feeding and sheltering himself solely on funds from his $4-an-hour job. According to Sam’s classmate, Beau Weston, and his wife Sue, who rented Sam a room in their Orange street apartment, that was not enough to meet his payments to them, and early in December, the Westons had to sit down and have a talk with Sam concerning his late rent and grocery payments.

Aunt Doris had also paid for Sam’s first year at Yale when he lived in Hopkins, a dormitory in the divinity school’s Sterling Memorial Quadrangle. She couldn’t understand why Sam didn’t ask her for money for his second year, when he also lived in Hopkins: “I was here with the money,” she says.

Was pride involved in Sam’s reluctance to ask for help? Or did he want to live a more Spartan life? Many seminarians feel guilt (or at least what Sam’s security patrol partner Phil Olmstead calls “a cognitive dissonance”) about the comfort afforded them in the Edwardian drawing-room environment of Yale Divinity School, five blocks from the poverty of New Haven’s ghetto. Sam’s friend of 2 ½ years at YDS, Shep Parsons, says bluntly of Sam, “I definitely think he thought capitalism evil.” Paid for by the donations of the Rockefeller and Sterling families, Yale Divinity School’s campus could certainly be construed as a monument to capitalism.

For the last 20 years, YDS has had a casual system of grading. At one point there were no grades at all. As one professor said, “There are three grades at the divinity school: Honors, High Pass and Pass. High Pass is what everyone gets.” The clear impression was that the screening process of the admissions committee was the major hurdle at YDS. If you got in, it was assumed you could do the work. Whether you would do it was another matter, hence the chronic abuse of unfinished course work by many students.

The folklore had it that these relaxed characteristics of the school reflected the faculty’s awareness that, unlike other academic departments of the university, the divinity school requires students to deal on a daily basis, with questions of ultimate meaning in life and that they therefore need some of the pressures of grading and the academic calendar relieved. Carlton Erickson, president of Beecher and Bennett Funeral Home, which received suicide cases from Yale during the 1960’s and 70’s, recalls that a higher proportion of the suicides came from the divinity school than from other schools at the university. He offers as a layman’s analysis that the divinity school attracts the type of person who believes there are answers in an answerless world. Attitude toward the questions, not the questioning itself, causes the stress, in Erickson’s opinion.

Beau Weston uses a quote from the Quaker leader Geroge Fox to describe Sam Todd’s attitude: “He was not a light and chaffy man.” Corrie Dinnean, Sam’s study-break conversation companion in the library in 1982, says Sam had “that driven quality in him another person would name anxious . . . He was in the process of becoming a radical Christian who was going to get at the core of things. He wanted to be more than a liberal Christian who was going to do Band Aid work. If he committed suicide, jumped in the water, it’s weird that the body hasn’t turned up.”

When Todd began the fall semester, a notice was circulated to students from the director of studies, professor R. Lansing Hicks, that sent a chill through the student body. The catalogue for 1983-85 had included the possibility of “Failure” as a grade at YDS, but now, Hicks’ memo specified the faculty decision that “Incomplete” would automatically
become “Failure” on the transcript if course work wasn’t finished according to YDS regulations and deadlines. (Prior to this, “Incomplete” remained permanently on the transcript if course work was not made up.) This was the first time in 20 years at YDS that the spectre of “Failure” hovered over a student’s official transcript if the student didn’t complete course work. Things were tightening up at YDS ----and many students panicked.

When Sam left for Christmas break two weeks before he disappeared, he may have thought he was headed for academic probation in his final semester at YDS. Of the four courses he took first semester, his transcript indicates he had two “Incompletes” and a “Pass.” He surely knew he had the incompletes when he left for his break because he hadn’t finished the course work. But he may have feared that he had failed the course that he squeaked by with, with a “Pass,” for professors’ grades were not due in the registrar’s office until February 6. He had pre-registered for a extra –a fifth –course for his final semester, a heavy load even for someone who is not a procrastinator. Sam may have felt he couldn’t finish his two incompletes and keep up with five courses spring semester.

Sam had another problem too: He couldn’t have completed the 72 credits needed for graduation in May on time. A previous “Fail”, an “Incomplete” and a “Dropped” left Sam six credits short of the 72 credits necessary to graduate., even if he had passed all of the five courses he had pre-registered for, for spring semester, and made up the two incompletes he had when he left for Christmas break.

The matter of ordination was another question. When Sam first came to the divinity school, “there was no talk of ordination”, Joan Forsberg, Associate Dean of Students at YDS, recalls Even in his second year, ’82-’83, classmate Corrie Dinnean recalls that Sam was talking about doing “ Ph.D, work”. It was “where he was headed in the Religious Studies Department.” (The Divinity School does not offer a doctorate; the Religious Studies Department does.) By the end of his second year, however, Sam’s own transcript must have told him that while he was capable of Ph.D. work, he wasn’t motivated enough to produce the kind of record that would lead to it: “Incomplete”, “Dropped” and “Fail” don’t augur well for entrance into any doctoral program. He evidently had decided to try for ordination by the summer of ’83 ---one doesn’t usually take six credits of Hebrew in summer school for fun. By the end of fall semester, just before he disappeared, even that plan was shaking at the foundations: his Greek professor told his New Testament professor before final exams that “if Sam doesn’t get his act together, he isn’t going to pass Greek.” Sam squeaked through, but he may not have known he had at the time he disappeared.

Joan Forsberg had come aboard YDS in the early ‘70’s. She had been a classmate of Sam’s father George at the divinity school in the late 40’s and early 50’s and had kept in touch with George after he married and, later, when he and his wife, Kathy, moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where George sat on the desk of the Urban/Industrial Mission of the World Council of Churches. She recalls sitting around the grand piano in the YDS Common Room after dinners in the refectory, George Todd at the keyboard and a small group singing hymns. They are warm memories of a good era in the divinity school’s august history.

It was the last days of what has come to be called the “golden era” at YDS. when faculty names like Niebuhr, Macintosh, Bainton, Weigle, Brown and Calhoun still rang through the halls and recollections were still vivid of the work of the Revised standard Version Committee, which sat for years at YDS making 5,000 emendations in the King James version of the Bible. Joan Forsberg and her husband visited the Todds in Geneva when Sam and his brothers were in their teens in the early ‘70’s. She recalls that when they stopped in, the Todds were waiting for a Philippine national from the church who was four days overdue and presumed missing. She recalls later hearing stories from the Todds about “refugees vanishing in Latin America.” The Todds themselves refer to this unique experience of persons vanishing, in their thank-you letter to the divinity students of August 1, 1984:

As we keenly miss Sam and are baffled by the mystery of his disappearance, we are filled with a sense of the unpredictability of life and the absurdity of the way things can happen. We think about the tragic disappearances and separations occurring all over the world ---the many “disappeared” people (some of them known to us) in Latin America and other places. We think of the thousands of people whose lives are suddenly cut off by wars, natural disasters, accidents, illness and crime. From our place of relative comfort and security, we have a sharper sense of the suffering of those whose family members and friends are missing in much more dire circumstances.

The reaction of Sam’s parents to those disappearances cannot have gone unnoticed by the sensitive young man Sam was becoming in Geneva. Sam saw firsthand exactly how much anguish such disappearances caused his parents, and he saw , too, that they did not shatter his parents’ theology. They coped, they carried on ---just as they have carried on since Sam’s disappearance.

Sam Todd was born in 1959 in New York City and was moved the same year to Taiwan: in ’63 back to New York City; in ’70 he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, in ’77 he entered Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.;and in ’81 he entered Yale Divinity School in New Haven. His summer jobs from ’78 to ’80 moved him from Martha’s Vineyard to Atlanta, Georgia, to Zimbabwe to San Francisco to Providence, R.I., to New Haven. In short, Sam himself may have felt like a homeless person, someone without roots. It is interesting in this regard that Shep Parsons, Sam’s friend in Bushnell dorm at YDS, recalls that when Sam lived in Hopkins, “he never bothered to unpack.”

If Sam felt rootless or homeless geographically, he may not have felt so in terms of his identity in the world. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Samuel Franklin, a social activist, and watched his father’s own career as a social activist grow from the urban problems of a ministry in Harlem to the global problems of urban centers at the World Council of Churches. Sam played the piano as a child, a talent his father displayed at after-dinner hymn sings at Yale Divinity School. And, ultimately, he would choose to attend his father’s alma mater with an interest in his father’s vocational interests: urban ministry and the problem of third-world countries. Indeed, Sue Weston remembers that Sam had a plan to get married and have “an inner-city urban ministry in Newark, N.J.” Sam was not only walking in his father’s footsteps, but remaining in his father’s shadow. And the shadow cast from a desk on the World Council of Churches was a long shadow indeed.

Sam is the third of four Todd sons, each spaced about two to three years apart. Even if the Todds had a full time governess, the realities of being a third born of four males so spaced apart cannot be denied: just as the first two are getting on their feet and demanding more attention, a fourth baby enters the picture making disproportionate demands. The third born in such a dynamic has a tendency to get lost in the shuffle.

David Marcus, the Miami Herald reporter who grew up with the Todd boys, recalls that “when peace groups organized a candlelight vigil to protest the war in Vietnam, Kathy [Sam’s mother] shepherded us down to Broadway at night, treating us to buttons and bumper stickers and answering our non-stop questions about the moratorium. She took us to the first Earth Day rally, and to Rockefeller Center at Christmas.” Sam may not only have been vying with his brothers for his parents’ attention, but also vying with his parents’ social concerns for his parents’ attention.

It may be significant, sadly, that when Sam first began planning to attend and actually matriculated at Yale Divinity School, one of his brothers began to develop debilitating emotional problems. Could it be that having pushed magic buttons for his parents’ attention (following in his father’s footsteps) Sam suddenly upset the equilibrium of the brothers’ vying process? Can it have escaped Sam’s notice subconsciously that the developing severity of his brother’s emotional problems coincided with his own journey toward and through Yale Divinity School? Could his refusal to complete that journey, by disappearing, have been a subconscious attempt to restore the equilibrium of that vying process, and perhaps thereby restore his brother’s emotional health? The central axiom of Tom Brown’s “Psychoanalysis, Parents and God” course at YDS is, “There are no accidents in the life of the mind.”

Or, could the opposite have been the case, subconsciously: “Here I am pushing every magic button I know to get my parents’ attention and approval by following in my father’s footsteps, and my brother gets sick and commands the attention I want”? Evidence is that Sam’s cultivated altruism would never have permitted him to think such thoughts consciously. But the conscious life of the mind is a life which lets us 'but slenderly know' ourselves. Sam’s Aunt Doris believes that Sam would never have caused this hurt to his weakened brother. Jill Tonelli agrees that Sam “loves his family too much” to have just run off.

Plaster saints sometimes crack.

Everyone agrees on one thing: Sam cared about the poor and disadvantaged. “Poverty and destitution haunted him,” Corrie Dinnean says. “He wasn’t a person in narcissistic crisis ---‘will anyone love me, will I make enough money, will my children love me?’” He “didn’t grind at the core of his being about individualistic stuff.” Franklin Salisbury, a friend in Hopkins, remembers that Sam was “taken with political issues ---his studies seemed secondary. He went to Groton [to participate in the nuclear submarine protests for which Yale Divinity students have made a name for themselves in Connecticut]. The January 20 Miami Herald article by David Marcus reports that “nearly half of Yale’s 400 divinity students have helped the Todds since January 1, and more are joining every day . . ." "My sense is that there is something in Sam’s selflessness that causes people to do something for him when he’s in trouble,” Dean Forsberg said.

Perhaps Sam’s selflessness had something to do with it, but the divinity students’ own selflessness wasn’t their only motivation. Shep Parsons, a third year M. Div. candidate, had made a deal with Dean Keck for those persons participating in the search to be relieved of their deadlines for unfinished course work. Is that what burgeoned the divinity searchers to 200 persons? “It’s what got me down there,” Parsons admits. Ian Straker, a second year M.Div. candidate at the time, agrees. Ironically, relief from one of the pressures that could have caused Sam to run away in the first place may also have ballooned the very search which kept Sam from reappearing quietly if he had so desired. The national media attention was riveted as much on the magnitude and quality of the search as a story as it was on Sam’s disappearance.
News reports cited Sam’s concern for others as manifest in his work at local soup kitchens and the food bank. Indeed, Sam did do paid work at the Connecticut Food bank the summer of ’83. Only one staff member at the Columbus House, a shelter for the homeless in New Haven, can remember Sam at all ----and then only as a volunteer one weekend for three days. Sam’s friend at YDS, Serene Jones, suggests that Sam volunteered at the Columbus House the one night a month that the divinity school students agreed to sponsor a meal for the Columbus House residents. Cynthia DeLouise, director of the Columbus House since its creation in 1981, doesn’t recollect Sam at all and can’t find his name on any records in the house’s files.

In their thank-you letter to the divinity school, Sam’s parents refer to the Columbus House as “the shelter and soup kitchen Sam helped to found.” The divinity school graduating class of 1983 gave a gift in Sam’s name to the Columbus House at the time of graduation ---a graduation that Sam Todd had at one time planned to participate in. De Louise was "surprised and pleased” by the gift and purposely perused Columbus House records to find out who Sam Todd was. She found nothing. Staff currently at the Christ Church and Fairhaven soup kitchens also do not recall Sam, but acknowledged that staff turnover in the last few years may be partially responsible for their ignorance. Could it be that a post-disappearance mythology about Sam as a volunteer for the poor has expanded Sam’s selflessness beyond the data?

Sam may have been selfless in a different way. Having grown up in a family of social activists, the language of selflessness may simply have been the only vernacular familiar to Sam, or available to express the unfolding personality and its overwhelming feelings during adolescence. This is not to denigrate the quality of Sam’s sincerity, but merely to observe that most of us sleepwalk out of our childhood, through adolescence into adulthood. Some of us awake gradually, others with a start or a fall.
The vernacular was intense ---“the very core of his being” as Corrie Dinnean describes it. She would meet Sam often in the library “at the dictionary.” Sam and Corrie had a “meeting of the minds” on The Wretched of the Earth, black psychiatrist Franz Fanon’s 1961 psychoanalytic interpretation of the dynamics of colonialism in underdeveloped countries. Sam told Corrie, “We have to read this book,” and she remembers that after they did so, Sam’s copy was generously underlined in red, especially the preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. “If you want to understand Sam Todd,” Dinnean says, “read that book.” Sartre’s preface directs readers’ attention to Fannon’s rallying cry, “Natives of all underprivileged countries, unite! . . .Europe has her hands on our continents, and we must slash at her fingers until she lets go.” Sam’s fascination with this book may have as much to do with his past proximity to the World Council of Churches as it did with any radical Christian identity he might have been trying on for size at Yale Divinity School: last year, CBS News’ 60 Minutes reported accusations that the World Council of Churches had knowingly permitted its charity funds to wind up in the hands of third-world revolutionaries for the purpose of purchasing weapons.

Sue Weston remembers that “Sam was someone who was impressed with the possibilities for revolution.” She acknowledges, too, that Sam was “ a brooder . . . someone who returns often to the same problem.” What problem? “South Africa, the collapse of the U.S., nuclear war,” Weston says. Sam’s heroes, she says, were Karl Barth, the back-to-fundamentals Protestant theologian of this century who began his career in Geneva, and the Rev. Charles Bannana, a Zimbabwean revolutionary who had laid down his arms. “Sam admired him because he was working for the right thing but wasn’t a revolutionary,” she says. Beau Weston recalls that the “political arguments” he and Sam would have always boil down to one thing ---“national politics vs. individual action ---the question was what was the level needed to get things done.”

Shep Parsons tells of the “community art project” he had in his apartment the fall semester before Sam disappeared. It was a mural of sorts; each visitor to the apartment was asked to trace his or her hand on the wall. When Sam visited Shep, he traced his hand in the form of an upraised fist. It is the only upraised fist in the mural. Shep has thought about that off and on since Sam disappeared.
Sam expressed “concerns about his psychological health” To Jill Tonelli at least once, according to Shep Parsons. This is nothing unusual, especially for someone who had seen emotional illness firsthand in his own family. Corrie Dinnean cautions that “the spiritual journey is very different from the psychological journey.” Using Christian terminology, she says, if you’re “in the dying and haven’t got to the resurrecting part yet, if you’re in that place, it’s very hard.”

By the middle of fall semester there is evidence that a new feeling was creeping into Sam Todd’s personality, previously so grounded in the selflessness of global concerns for the oppressed. This feeling might be called the legitimacy of self. By November, when students were pre-registering for spring semester’s courses, Sam summoned the courage to try to share that new feeling with a professor on the YDS faculty. He had not had Professor North (a pseudonym) for any class, but a friend of Sam’s, knowing his troubled state of mind, recommended that he go see him. When Professor North unexpectedly introduced himself to Sam at coffee hour one morning, the ice seemed broken and Sam felt comfortable enough to later ask him for an appointment. (Sam didn’t know that Professor North had introduced himself intentionally, having heard from Sam’s friend that Sam was a “really troubled” young man.)

When Sam arrived at Professor North’s office, late in the afternoon, he "looked like someone threatening to become ill” ---pale and emaciated. (Corrie Dinnean says Sam always looked this way ----“skinny as a rail, utterly white, like a disaster area.”) Sam’s manner was “diffident, not pushy.” Was he “spacey and scattered”,” as one of his classroom professors called him? “I had the impression he was not in full control,” says North. “It troubled me that he was not able to put his thoughts together on his own behalf . . . He was not suicidal or I would have pursued him.”

They talked for over an hour. Sam was fumbling for words, so North began the conversation, “Let me tell you how it is for a lot of us . . . We have difficulty putting religion together in the context of the world we live in . . .This isn’t unusual. It’s what some of the great teachers are about.” Professor North cited Kierkegaard’s putting himself together at 25.” Sam liked this.

North was bothered that Sam seemed to have “no firsthand acquaintance with anything religious,” something from his own life, not that he’d “read in books.” He told Sam this, and Sam “didn’t react very well” to it. “I told him Christianity is a way of making sense of your life . . .He listened respectfully, thanked me, but didn’t respond.”

Did Sam feel that his own altruism was phony? “yes,” thinks North. He wasn’t sure at all about the kind of religion he was caught up in, this social action bit. He thought it was as ‘flakey’ as other kinds of piety he’d been involved in, and that bothered him. " I had the impression he was quarreling with his father’s kind of ministry.” At times during the meeting, North had the feeling that Sam was “on the verge of cracking,” on the verge of tears. As they parted, Professor North assured Sam that it was not a bother for Sam to come to him this way. “I am a teacher, this is my job . . .We should meet again.”

They did not meet again before Sam disappeared. North was not surprised by the disappearance. “Alcohol and running away fit into the picture,” as Professor North sees it. When Sam’s parents came to campus to speak to student groups helping in the search, Professor North was surprised by how upset they were by the disappearance. “”I wanted to tell them to cool it,” he says, but he didn’t. North did speak with Mrs. Todd, but told her only in the palest terms the nature of his meeting with Sam. It didn’t seem the correct moment to say more.

Sam seemed relieved at one point during his meeting with Professor North: We were talking about the disciplined life and I told him that after Wittgenstein had read Kierkegaard, he commented, "If I am supposed to give up my whole life I can’t become a Christian, because I’ve never been able to give up a cup of coffee.” Sam brightened.

Beau Weston points out that at the time he disappeared, Sam had just completed an exegesis paper for the New Testament on Luke 14, a passage which includes, among other verses, these two: “Go out quickly to the lanes of the city and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame” (14:21); and “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”(14:26). Professor North recalls that Sam “did say negative things about the church, but not his parents” in their meeting.
A popular theory at the Yale Divinity School is that Sam is just off “seeing how the other half lives,” as Corrie Dinnean puts it , or doing research on the disadvantaged . “I like to think he’s traveling on trains and taking an inventory,” Dinnean adds. An interesting sidelight to this theory, and one which has not been previously noted, is the cover story of the February 21, 1983 New York magazine. Published eight months before Sam disappeared , the cover photo shows a handsome bum, in striking chiaroscuro, under the title, “Diary of a Homeless Man.” On the first page of the article we learn that the “bum” is John R. Coleman, the former president of Haverford College, now president of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a philanthropy which aids the severely needy. The article begins with the “bum’s” first day journal entry on his experiment of living as a homeless person:
Somehow 12 degrees at 6 A.M. was colder than I had counted on. I think of myself as relatively immune to the cold, but standing on a deserted sidewalk outside Penn Station with the thought of ten days ahead of me as a homeless man, the immunity vanished. When I pulled my collar closer and my watch cap lower, it wasn’t to look the part of a street person; it was to keep the wind out. My wardrobe wasn’t much help. I had bought my “new” clothes ---flannel shirt, baggy sweater, torn trousers, and cap and coat ---the day before on Houston Street for $9.
Doris Todd had New York magazine in her home the months of the January – May semester,1983. Sam visited her once during that time for a weekend, and may have seen the February issue in question. Or he may have stumbled across it in New Haven or in Providence, where he visited occasionally. Could Sam have toyed with the idea of turning Coleman’s 10-day experiment into a book of his own adventures as a homeless man? It is a thought.—one Sam might have had himself on Houston Street that mild New Year’s morn as he jogged, tipsy, away from his brother Adam, and perhaps from his family’s God, country and Yale.

Did anything happen at the New Year’s party which could have made Sam run away? Was there an argument, say, between Sam and his girlfriend, Jill Tonelli? Quite the opposite, Beau Weston says; Jill had given Sam vibrations that the relationship was on again if he wanted it. Beau acknowledges this to be Jill’s interpretation after the disappearance. He says Sam had broken it off with Jill earlier in the year because “she didn’t want to be a minister’s wife.” Sam’s aunt reinforces Beau’s story. Sam, she says, had invited Jill to get together over vacation.

Shep Parsons tells a different story of what he believes happened at the party. His story is based on things Sam’s brothers Adam and John told him after the disappearance, things which mesh with his personal knowledge of the difficulty Sam was having breaking up with Jill. Shep’s personal knowledge is that Sam was “trying to get rid of Jill” and was “glad it was over with,” but that she was “hanging on tenaciously.” Sam “felt so guilty . . . here was this woman who really loved him . . . he didn’t have it together enough to end it.” Shep recounts what Adam and John told him about the Mulberry Street party. “Sam was blown away because Jill was there and he didn’t expect it. Sam was trying to get out from under her.”

Work and love: Freud says that a man who has conflicts in either or both of these areas can’t be happy. Sam appears to have had conflicts in both, conflicts between what he thought he ought to do, and what he actually wanted to do.
The streets were filled with revelers on New Year’s morn. Could some of those revelers have been solicitors for a cult, entrance to which would have been an easy exit from society, if one wished to disappear? Saul Levine, in the article “Radical departures” (August 1984, Psychology Today), summarizing 15 years of his study of cults, says the type of person who joins a cult usually comes “right off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.” One of Levine’s happier observations is that “more than 90 percent of these departures end in a return to home within two years, and virtually all joiners eventually abandon their groups.” Levine spells out his thesis: “In short, they use their radical departures to grow up.” In the town of Rajneeshpuram in Wasco, Oregon, the Rajneesh cult last winter was importing thousands of homeless men from around the country to bolster their membership and, some suggest, to influence local elections.

Another current theory, given the proximity of Houston Street to Greenwich Village’s gay community, is that some homophobic roughnecks, out for a joy ride on New Year’s Eve, spotted a lone walker on the street and decided to teach him a lesson, a fatal lesson, presuming that he must be gay. In repeating this theory which she heard at YDS graduation last year, Corrie Dinnean says she believes it is unlikely. She subscribes to the Police assertions that they’re usually pretty good at finding bodies –“Why wouldn’t they have found his body by now?” she asks.

Another theory, one the police detectives have questioned Beau and Sue Weston about, is that Sam may have been gay and just decided to stop living a lie any longer by vanishing into the gay underworld. This theory would explain Sam’s apparent renunciation of ordination, and would supply a conflict of sufficient intensity to make running away understandable. It would also provide his parents an opportunity to make a safe harbor for his return by spreading the word that they are neutral or even hospitable to such a lifestyle choice and would welcome Sam back, regardless.

But Shep Parsons says of Sam, I know he was not bisexual or gay,” and virtually all of Sam’s other friends agree. Of course, a person can lead a secret life or conceal his true feelings. And Sam’s propensity to take late night jogs (sometimes at 2:30 A.M.) provides a possibility for a clandestine life. But one would suspect that such a person would want to throw people off the track by avoiding gay persons in his everyday life, or perhaps even by acting outright homophobic. Sam did neither. He was benign on the gay issue and friendly with openly gay persons at YDS, even voicing his support to one of the gay leaders of YDS’s Gay/Straight Coalition, a support consistent with his interest in the oppressed.

What about the mental breakdown theory? Sam’s parents apparently consider this a possibility; their search includes alerting mental hospitals. There is the matter of emotional illness in the family, and Sue Weston remembers Sam once talking about “the difficulty of talking to troubled people,” referring to the painful situation in his family. One would have to believe that by now ---16 months later ---such a person wandering the streets or occupying a bed in a mental hospital would have been identified, given the extraordinary nature of the publicity surrounding this search. But America is an enormous land, as anyone who has traversed it knows, and one more “space cadet” wandering the streets or hitchhiking across the highways could go unidentified for years. How many people can you describe accurately after walking down a pedestrian-filled street? And if one were an expert on the homeless, and on how they survive via soup kitchens and shelters, one might be able to so survive ad infinitum even in a state of mental disrepair.

What about loose ends? Sam’s aunt says he had invited friends to visit at his parents’ Chicago home over Christmas break and was planning on hosting them. Beau Weston talked by phone to Sam twice on New Year’s Eve, trying to get him to come to his own family’s home that evening. There was no indication of an emotional problem. Sue Weston says, “I know Sam was coming back. He promised he’d wash the dishes before he left, and he left the casserole dish soaking.”

Sam Todd is still missing; that is the disturbing reality. If he was driven underground in terror of return after the sudden magnitude and rapidity of the search for him, has anything changed, to make his return easier? With the search lights so bright in the harbor, how could anyone slip quietly back?

Sam’s file is still very active with the New York Police Department’s Bureau of Missing Persons, and his description appears on the FBI’s nationwide computer network. The Bureau has received hundreds of “sightings” of Sam from around the country ---each has been tracked down, checked out, so far to no avail. The most promising lead to date, a sighting by YDS student Marlene Gill, who believes she saw Sam near the Columbia School for Social Work in Manhattan in late September, is still being investigated. In recent weeks the Department has also been reviewing passport applications, in case Sam has decided to leave the country.May, 1985


The original article:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

* Three Fathers; Three Sons; Three Killings: Oedipus, Isaac, Jesus

Sculptor George Segal and his sculpture in memory of students slain and wounded at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen, entitled In Memory of May 4, 1970:Kent State---Abraham and Isaac.
The sculpture was commissioned by Kent State University circa 1977 which then promptly rejected it in 1979, inexplicably giving as a reason that it "depicted violence".
The public was left to wonder if Kent State's administration was still in denial, nine years after the shootings, or merely kowtowing to its funding source, the State of Ohio, whose Guardsmen committed the slayings.
This is a funding source which prefers to ignore the horrible event or refer to the slayings with bloodless euphemisms such as the "Kent State incident" or "Kent State tragedy".
Sadly, this strategy of euphemizing the butchery that day, has succeeded, and by this writing nearly forty years later (September, 2009) the Kent State slayings are merely a paragraph or two in history books and the slain are erroneously lumped together as "anti-war demonstrators," when in fact two of the slain were onlookers; one a male ROTC student (Bill Schroeder), the other a female student (Sandy Scheuer) walking to class.

Princeton University accepted the sculpture the same year that Kent State rejected it and displays it prominently outside its Chapel today. This writer attended the dedication ceremonies at the President's House at Princeton University in 1979, which included as honored guests, (along with many of the nine wounded students) the parents of the four slain students.

sacrificing Isaac

Asphalt Altar
Kent State University, May 4, 1970

George Segal
RFD 4 Box 323
North Brunswick, N.J. 08902
March 5, 1979

Dear Mr. Keane,

Thanks for sending me a copy of your brilliant paper.
I value greatly your sensitive and profound response
to a difficult subject.

For your interest and curiosity,there is a painting
by Hieronymus Bosch in the Prado Museum,
ADORATION OF THE MAGI, in which there is a
sculptured representation of the Abraham-Isaac story
offered as a gift to the Infant. Then look closely at
the embroidered images on the cloaks of the Kings.

Essentially, you've cracked my code, which delights me.
On my trip to Kent State last spring, I was appalled
at the blind cliche of radical left vs radical right
that was delivered to me. My decision to picture the
May 4 situation more as I understood it caused a large
uproar, as you well know, but I felt stubbornly it was
necessary to deal with the ambiguity and conflict of
modern psychaitry, and its swirlinq agreement with
classical myth and religious dogma. Which is precisely
what your paper is about.

I like exceedingly your hungry search for unifying threads
connecting these diverse and packed fields.

July 10, 79, 1:30pm I'll be on a panel with Jane Dillenberger and others at the Aubern Theological Seminary, 120 St and Broadway, NYC. One of the topics we plan to talk about involves Jesus's embracing of death in contrast with the Abraham-Isaac story and its implications about stubborn physical life survival.

Hope you can attend.

It will be a pleasure to meet you.

With best regards,

Georqe Segal

George Segal created a series of sculptures throughout his career based on biblical works. These sculptures contained important biblical figures from the Old Testament, dressed in modern-day clothing and set in a realistic environment. One of these works, In Memory of May 4, 1970:Kent State-Abraham and Isaac, was created in response to the shooting of anti-war demonstrators by the National Guard, on the Kent State campus during the Vietnam War [INCORRECT: Two of the fatalities were not demonstrators; one, a boy, was a ROTC student observing the protest, and the other, a girl, was walking to class.] Segal used the idea of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac in order to complete God's will, to represent the National Guard's willingness to sacrifice American people to make a point. The sculpture shows Isaac on his knees in front of Abraham, seemingly begging for his life. This work was considered to be politically controversial and rejected by its comissioner Kent State for being "unpatriotic". (Berman)


Oedipus, Isaac, and Jesus

Paul D. Keane
New Testament Tutorial (Prof. R.A. Greer)
Yale Divinity School

Transcribed by PDK , 09/27/2009

(Note: For thirty years this paper has gathered dust in Sterling Memorial Library Manuscripts and Archives' "Kent State Collection" at Yale University. After a brush with death myself last year, I read it again and decided to exhume it and put it on line. Here it is.)

GENESIS 22: 1-19
After these things God tested Abraham, and said
to him, "Abraham! " And he said, "Here am I. " He said
"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. "
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. " And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife.
So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father." And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will
provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham" And he said, "Here am I. " He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.


Laius and Oedipus, Abraham and Isaac, God and Jesus: Three fathers, three sons, three killings -- killings which loom like great pyramids on the flat landscape of 3000 years of human carnage.

What is it about these killings which, epoch after epoch, 'thrills through us'(to pluralize Oedipus' first words of recognition)?

Perhaps the Abraham/Isaac motif illuminates this question. It has been used throughout the ages as a powerful and ambivalent symbol. "The Index of Christian Art at Princeton gives no less than 1450 entries for Genesis 22: 1-19". (Spiegel, p. xi)

Indeed this very paper is prompted by my encounter with the latest artistic rendering of the theme, George Segal's sculpture "In Memory of May 4, 1970 Kent State: Abraham and Isaac" at New York's Janis Gallery.

My exploration of the Abraham/Isaac theme here will be more than a seminarian's obligatory term project however; for, I witnessed the Kent State killings and I can testify that God did not call for human sacrifice at Kent State, nor did He stay the hands of the Abrahams wearing Ohio National Guardsman uniforms that bloody May 4, nine year ago [1970].

Mr. Segal's comment that his sculpture deals with "the moral underpinning of everyone's belief -- as Abraham moves to do violence with his right hand, his compassion and love for his son are expressed in the gesture made by his left" doesn't help me much either; for, there has been no compassion or love expressed by those responsible for the killings at Kent State, but rather an unrelenting "truculence with which Ohio officialdom [has] responded time and again to the anger and anguish of the victims' families." (New York Times editorial January 8,1979).

Indeed Segal's portrayal of the theme left me angry: Isaac is on bended knees in front of his knife-wielding father, trustingly searching Abraham's eyes for some explanation of the act which is about to be performed - - "No man, not even a father, should be worshipped; and Isaac worships Abraham here", was my reaction.

Perhaps a brief consideration of how the Abraham/Isaac motif has been used in history and literature will make Mr. Segal's choice of theme more understandable. In The Last Trial, Professor Shalom Spiegel's exhaustive work on 'the Akedah [the binding] of Isaac' legend, we find a grisly account of one instance of the theme's manipulation to meet the needs of history, viz. when Jews slaughtered each other by the hundred rather than surrender to the nightmare of the Crusades in the 11th Century:

Solomon bar Samson records 'on the testimony of the elders' who were eye and ear witnesses of the events of 1096.

And Zion's precious sons, the people of Mainz, were put through the ten trials like Father Abraham. They too offered their sons, exactly as Abraham offered up his son Isaac. . . . There were 1,100 victims in one day, every one of them like the Akedah of Isaac son of Abraham.
(Spiegel, p. 25)

And again,

Thus: In the community of Worms, some eight hundred souls were killed in the course of two days at the end of the month Iyyar 1096. Among those were some who "offered up sacrifices of righteousness, who with whole heart took their sons and slew them for the Unification of His Glorious and Awesome Name. . . . Now there was a unique person there whose name was R. Meshullam bar Isaac, and in a loud voice he called out to all those standing by and to his lifelong companion, Mistress Zipporah: 'All ye great and small, hearken unto me. Here is my son whom God gave me and to whom my wife Zipporah gave birth in her old age. Isaac is the child's name. And now I shall offer him up as Father Abraham offered his son Isaac'

Whereupon Zipporah besought him: ' 0' my Lord, my lord, do not yet lay thy hand upon the lad whom I raised and brought up after having given birth to him in my old age. Slay me first so that I shall not have to behold the death of the child. But he replied, saying: 'Not even for a moment shall I delay, for He who gave him to us will take him away to his own portion and. . . Lay him to rest in Father Abraham's bosom. 'And he bound his son Isaac, and picked up the knife to slay his son, and recited the blessing appropriate for slaughter. And the lad replied 'Amen. ' And the father slew the lad. Then he ,took his shrieking wife and both of them together left the room; and the vagabonds murdered them. Over such as these wilt Thou hold Thy peace, 0 Lord?

(Spiegel, pp. 24-25)

In our own crusade -- the American Civil War -- a song written by James Sloan Gibbons to help raise volunteers for the Union Army entitled "Three Hundred Thousand More" employs the political/theological double entendre "Father Abraham", evoking in the Biblically astute ear of the 19th Century American an image tantamount to a call to glorious death:

"We are coming Father Abraham

Three hundred thousand more."

And while the allusion suggests the irony that it is to Father Abraham's bosom they are going, the very notion of Father Abraham suggests the son whom God had requested in sacrifice those many centuries before, a suggestion which compounds the irony as thousands of sons prepare to become the blood sacrifice of the American Abraham.

Wilfred Owen manipulates the sacrifice theme more directly in his World War I poem, "The Parable of the Old Men and the Young".

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went
And took the fire with him, and a knife,
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering ?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched
forth knife, to slay his son.
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son, --
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

(Blunden, p. 57)

And there is Soren Kierkegaard who, in Fear and Trembling, has focused on the angst of the father faced with his dilemma. (I will want to focus on the angst of the son, but more of that later.)

Even the contemporary folk singer,poet Bob Dylan, has employed the Abraham / Isaac motif in his song, "Highway 61":

God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son",
Abe said "Man you must be puttin me on",
God said "No",
Abe said "What! "
God said "You can do what you want man
but the next time you see me comin
you better run"
Abe says, "Where you want this killin done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61".

One can't help but notice the complete contradiction of Scripture in these examples, since as we all know, Abraham did NOT slay Isaac.

That distortion cost many sons their lives at Mainz and Worms, and is used in the literary examples as a device to comment on the disobedience of man who has continued to slay his sons one way or another through the ages. Even the Segal sculpture reflects this contradiction, for as Peter Davies, author of The Truth About Kent State, told me after viewing it: "Abraham looks as if he's going to do it, as if he's . . . actually going to go through with it."

The literary irony seems didactic since the Abraham/Isaac motif has traditionally been seen by theologians as an instruction to man that God is not favorably impressed by human sacrifice. Indeed the substitute of a ram for Isaac on Mt. Moriah in the Genesis account has been understood as God's call for man to replace human sacrifice with animal sacrifice.

Professor Spiegel is straightforward about this:
"It may well be that in the narrative of the ram which Abraham sacrificed as a burnt offering in place of his son,there is historical remembrance of the transition to animal sacrifice from human sacrifice -- a religious and moral achievement which in the folk memory was associated with Abraham's name, the father of the faith and the first of the upright in the Lord's way". (p. 64)

But I suspect this didactic irony points to something buried deep in the human psyche which enables an actual father at Mainz to slay his son, something which enables a nation's fathers to send their children into son-slaying ventures like the Civil War, World War I, and to turn a blind eye to son-slaying on American highways and perhaps even at Kent State.

What might this unconscious something be? Professor Spiegel alludes to it I think:

The paschal offering ritual in the Torah is
based on a rejection of the primitive practices
of paganism, or at least on their transfiguration.
And yet, in the sources and in their
customs there survives something of the dread
of the ancient festival of the first-born. The
night of the full moon, in the first month of
the Spring season and according to the archaic
calendar the first of the months of the year was
a time of attack and atonement for members of
the tribe. It was the time to appease higher
powers, and it was a time to battle against the
forces of evil which station themselves on the
threshold of the new year in order to harass
and hurt man and everything he possesses. It
may be, however, that the gods will be placated
and for the price of a small gift of first fruits
and first born they will show favor and spare
the rest of earth's produce and the cattle litter
and the fruit of the womb. By paying a ransom
to his gods from the yield of the field and the
firstlings, and, from whatever he plants for
food, the primitive hopes to obtain the favor
that they shall neither hurt nor destroy the field
and orchard, cattle and property, wives and
children. As with the first fruits of the field,
so he delivers to the gods their share of his
newborn, the first issue of every animal and
human womb, lest the other cattle and children
be destroyed. This is the soil out of which
grows the offering of the first born, human and
animal, in the Spring festival of ancient shepherds
and herdsmen -- all for the purpose of protecting
and guarding the tribe and its livestock.
Scripture forbade the sacrifice of the human
first born, and for the practice substituted that
of the redemption of sons -- but the primitive
demand of "You shall give me the firstborn among
your sons" was based on the ancient principle of
the sanctity of all first born, "the first issue of
every womb among the children of Israel". (Exod.
13:1 and 22:28, Num. 3:12 and 1 Kings 8:14ff . . . )
The biblical paschal sacrifice also came to put an
end to the heathenish practices of the Spring festival,
to abolish human sacrifice and in its place to substitute
animal sacrifice. Nevertheless, here and
there vestiges of the age-old heritage did survive,
from strata of the religion of archaic times, before
the ancients had yet learned how to propitiate the
gods without resorting to blood sacrifice.
(Speigel, p. 53)

Yes, it is the power of unconscious atavistic choreographies to 'thrill through us' which these contradictory uses of the Abraham/Isaac motif point to. Those of us in the modern world see the power of such atavistic choreographies in the everyday example of the domesticated dog which dances a small circle with its body before lying down. This circular motion is a kind of vestigial behaviour, a remembrance of the need of its canine ancestors to mat into a nest the grass of
pastures in the antique world.

So too with the human heart.

And in fact in early Jewish lore and exegesis (haggadah and midrash) the power
of this atavism effects the Abraham/Isaac motif: For legend exists that Abraham actually went all the way, that he slaughtered his son on Mt. Moriah. Indeed, "the blood of Isaac's Akedah" is a troubling phrase which persisted in haggadah to such an extent that Spiegel speculates,

In the Haggadah of the talmudic Sages the
attempt to defy Scripture and ignore its signals
was made and succeeded. Or perhaps the
Haggadah recovered for Judaism something of
that legacy the Torah wished to renounce or at
least subdue. Out of its longing -to provide atonement
for the sins of Israel (N. B. "there is no
atonement without blood ! ") the Haggadah brought
to completion the deed of the father, the first in
a long line of those who were to bind for the altar,
and made full the righteous piety of the son, the
first in a long line of those who were to be bound
on an altar; and of the blood of the Akedah made
an offering on high where it might serve as protection
and guardian of Israel until the end came
Again, therefore, what do we find? That it was
not in the Middle Ages that this haggadah was invented.
Passover and the Akedah go hand in hand
on the New Year of the ancient calendar and festival
of the first born in the pastoral society of antiquity.
Who knows? Maybe in the blood of Isaac's Akedah,
as in the sacrifice in the first month of the Spring,
there is a speck of a hint that the roots of that
haggadah on the slaughter of Isaac reach back to
- - a remote past of the world of idolatry, possibly
before biblical religion came
into being.
(Speigel, pp. 58-59)

Thus, the need to defy Scripture with a contradictory legend that Isaac was actually slaughtered is but a slight indication of the hold this ritual of human sacrifice atavistically retained over the human heart. The historical and literary manipulations of the Abraham/Isaac motif cited above refer to horrors of actual human,sacrifice which I suspect more accurately reflect the power which this
atavistic choreography retains in man even today.Indeed, it can hardly be a coincidence that majority of those slain in the Civil War, World War I, on American highways and at Kent State have been young people or, figuratively speaking, Isaacs.

But what of this legend that Isaac was actually slain? It must be a solitary and exceptional legend indeed!

Not at all. In fact,Spiegel's The Last Trial is a 158-page examination of the appearances of this legend in haggadah and midrash, an examination which considers such derivative legends as these: That Abraham drew a quarter of Isaac's blood for sacrifice; that God stayed Abraham's hand,but too late, for the altar fire consumed him and reduced him to ashes; that God breathed life back into Isaac so he could father the nation Israel.

All of these variations stem from a structural ambiguity in the Genesis account of the sacrifice: viz. after God stays the hand of Abraham, Isaac disappears! ("So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose together and went to Beersheeba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheeba":
Where is Isaac? Still on the mountain top? Why are not father and son depicted as rejoicing hand in hand at God's mercy in calling off the sacrifice? Why does Abraham descend the mountain alone?)

Some early Jewish scholars cope with this problem by hypothesizing that God took Isaac into Paradise to instruct him, or to heal him from the wound Abraham inflicted; but the fact is that Isaac is not seen again until two chapters have elapsed (Genesis 24:69) when he meets the woman he will marry, Rebekah.

If the modern ear, sensitive to New Testament motifs, hears certain parallel motifs in all this, it does so with justification. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church reports thusly in its entry for "Isaac":

In the NT Isaac appears in Gal. 3.16 and
4.21-31 as a type of Christ and of the Church.
He is both the son of promise and the father of
the faithful. In Heb. the sacrifice of Isaac is
brought into connexion with the sacrifice of
Christ (11. 17-19). This theme was developed
in the Fathers, who regard his intended immolation
as a type of the sacrifice of Golgotha. Thus
Tertullian sees Isaac carrying the wood the type
of Christ carrying His Cross. St. Cyril of
Alexandria elaborates in detail the similarities
between the two sacrifices, and St. Augustine
compares the ram substituted for Isaac with
Christ crucified. In the Middle Ages, the
sacrifice of Isaac as a prefiguration of the
Passion was a favourite topic of theologians.
The important part which this conception has
played in Christian art is shown by the paintings
of the Catacombs, where the representation of
the scene is used as a figure of the Eucharist.
(pp. 714-15)

Significantly, the author of our work of departure, Shalom Spiegel, (Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America) exacts this conclusion from the resonances in the two Testaments:

To put it briefly: Both differentiae and
parallels in the two traditions on the one
bound and the one crucified seem to point
rather to a common source in the ancient
pagan world. What survived from the
heritage of idolatry which in Judaism remained
peripheral grew to become dominant
in the Christian world, which sought to shape
and clarify the Golgotha [Calvary] Event in
the Akedah image and likeness. And when
Christianity placed at the center of its
religion belief in the atoning power of the
blood of its messiah, in Israel a need was
increasingly felt to blur more and more the
remnants of similar ancient beliefs from
pagan times, leaving behind therefore only
faint traces in our sources. Withal, however,
it is possible to find support for every one of
the details of the Haggadah on the slaughter
and resurrection of Isaac in the documents of
talmudic-midrashic literature itself, independently
of ideas or sources from the realm of Christianity.

(pp. 117-18)

Thus, it is not only the power of atavistic choreographies that keeps the sacrifice-fulfilled legend alive, it is theological politics.

For Scripture can "triumph" in evolving man from human to animal sacrifice, while the existence of this contradictory legend will ensure, in Professor Speigel's eyes, that Judaism will escape the criticism heard "in many countries, particularly in Christian kingdoms, in the Middle Ages, when the taunt was frequently directed against Israel that the Akedah was no sacrifice in truth, but only a hint of what was to come, the completed act in the days of Jesus." (p. 129)


So much for the rivalry of first century Middle Eastern religions as they sought to consolidate their positions.

Although this raises the question that the present shape of sacred literature in the Judeo-Christian tradition may have been determined more by theological politics than by Divine inspiration, there is still considerable value in viewing the Bible as the highest expression of the collective unconscious recorded during the emergence of civilization.

And, in such a light, I suggest, these two great father/son killing motifs stand out as archetypes of primitive man's attempt to cope with the anxiety caused by man's ambivalence not only toward his natural father, but toward the Author of life he worships as Father.

For what is often overlooked, if not smoothed over, is the terrifying notion behind both of these stories: God choreographs human sacrifice.

Let me repeat these words, GOD CHOREOGRAPHS HUMAN SACRIFICE.

The very idea evokes anxieties which 'thrill through'the deepest regions of the soul of every son. It kindles in some dark atavistic corner of the human heart a remembrance of that ancient pagan ritual of the sacrifice of the first-born,a ritual which must have filled all sons with suspicion and dread.
And what (we might rightly ask) is the value of evoking such a vestigial anxiety in the depths of the human heart? After all, it would only distance fathers from sons.


For as every son approaches manhood what can be more terrifying for him than the recognition that his allegiance to his Self is greater than his allegiance to his father? This recognition brings with it not only anxiety but suspicion that one's own father might similarly be capable of an allegiance greater than the parental
contract, as Abraham with Isaac, and God with Jesus.

But those anxieties 'thrill through' our heart in a more pervasive way. For
what better description can there be for the human predicament itself than those very words: "GOD CHOREOGRAPHS HUMAN SACRIFICE": The Father who breathes life into man is also the Father who takes it away: We are born to die.

Most of life is an elaborate attempt to escape anxiety over feeling both anger and gratitude for the gift of being imprisoned in that choreography. Indeed, psychiatry tells us that repression of our ambivalent feelings toward those who gave us our lives can bind our minds in the most crippling manner.

The third great father/son killing motif from the ancient world alludes to that binding.

In Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex two significant variations occur in the theme: The SON has killed the father; and he has done so UNWITTINGLY. Fate, not God, choreographs this killing.

Further, the concommitant of this killing is the son's binding to the family in the most intimate and inextricable of ways -- incest: Oedipus unwittingly has married his mother.

This is quite different from Isaac who appears released from his father's literal binding on Moriah and from binding to the family. For, as we noted before, Abraham leaves the scene of the aborted sacrifice WITHOUT Isaac, who disappears from the narrative until two chapters and three years later, when he returns (at the age of 40!) to assume the role of manhood, i. e. to marry Rebekah and perpetuate the race: (Genesis 24:67+) "Then Isaac brought her into the tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife. And he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." Note that Isaac's absence from the narrative after his release from the binding encompasses even his mother's death, (Genesis 23. 1) a significant fact in terms of our concern with the transition to manhood and release from binding to the family.

But what of the binding on Calvary?

We have already noted the inescapable parallels between, and pagan precedents for the sacrifices of Moriah and Calvary. We have also recorded Spiegel's assertion that what became central to Christianity was assigned a peripheral position in Judaism(Moriah takes up one chapter in Genesis: Calvary is the very underpinning of the entire New Testament).

If we are correct that the Oedipus, Isaac and Jesus stories represent a kind of primitive psychiatry emerging from the collective unconscious of the ancient world, we would expect the most extensive elaboration of that father/son killing motif to provide us with significantly more clues from which to deduce the intent of that primitive psychiatry.

I believe it does.

It is almost as if the agenda implicit in Isaac's ordeal (his release from family binding) had not been understood by ancient man, and therefore had to be made explicit in the words of one whose crucifixion would break that binding 'once for all'.

Listen for example to how remarkably un-bound Jesus is:

. . . call no man your father on
earth, for you have one Father
who is in heaven . . .
(Matt. 23. 9)

What iconoclastic words these are in a world where the word 'father' commanded a respect tantamount to worship! Indeed, Young's Analytic Concordance to the Bible records no less than 2500 entries for 'father'.

Consider then another short entry from the first century biography of Jesus:

Then his mother and his brothers came
to him, but they could not reach him for

the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother
and your brothers are standing outside
desiring to see you." But he said to them,
"My mother and my brothers are those
who hear the word of God and do it."
(Luke 8. 19)

And what is the greatest imperative of that word: As we might have already inferred, a commandment which (significantly) omits any notion of family obeisance:

"Which commandment is the first of all? "
Jesus answered, "The first is this, 'Hear,
0 Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;
and you shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this, 'You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. ' There is no other
commandment greater than these.

(Mark 12. 28-32)

It is possible to postulate at this point that these three great motifs are concerned to facilitate in Every-son a process which modern psychiatry calls "separation and individuation" from the family of origin. In the Greek version, this facilitation occurs through catharsis, the purging of binding-emotions through pity and fear.

In the biblical version, it occurs through paradox, the use of fear to create courage.

For the atavistic angst of Every-son as he hears that the ultimate father
(God) choreographs the blood sacrifice of sons (Isaac,Jesus) creates in him a fear of his own father, a fear which, paradoxically, gives him the courage -- the psychological distance -- necessary to launchout on the process of separation and individuation.

And this may be what the literature means by "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son": God so loves his worldly children that He choreographs sacrifices which will initiate them into the ambivalent feelings of manhood.

Hence Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for a higher allegiance, and God's willingness to sacrifice His son for a higher allegiance suddenly sound remarkably like the ambivalence described by sculptor Segal, in which "the moral underpinning of everyone's belief" is embodied in the hands of Abraham :"as Abraham moves to do violence with his right hand, his compassion and love for his son are expressed in the gesture made by his lefthand. " (N.Y. Times, Nov. 18, 1978 or January 8, 1979)

John Zinner and Roger Shapiro in their article "Projective Identification as a Mode of Perception and Behaviour in Families of Adolescents" allude to the powerful ambivalence associated with the process of freeing ourselves from the binding of family scenarios; their insight further clarifies Segal's use of the Abraham/Isaac theme for his Kent State sculpture:

We view the family as such a small group [Bion's Small Group Behavior Model] and, more metaphorically, as the cast of a drama, the themes of which are some combination of adaptive and functional family 'work' tasks and a variety of generally unconscious fantasies, or covert assumptions, often conceived of as if they were a 'hidden agenda'. Families with adolescent children have as a primary task to facilitate the development of ego autonomy and individuation in the offspring . . . This task, whose successful outcome implies a significant restructuring of the family group, is endangered by demands placed upon the child to collude with the unconscious assumptions of family life which are implicitly striving to maintain the status quo ante in family relationships. From the very formation of a new family, unconscious assumptions exert an important influence on behaviour. Marital choice is motivated by a desire to find an object who will complement and reinforce unconscious fantasies . . . Prior to their birth, children are introduced into the covert assumptions of family life in their parents' fantasies, and from birth onward, a variety of parental coercions interact with the child's own instinctual requirements to fix him as a collusive participant in the family's hidden agenda . . . This re-enactment of the parents' own early object relations within the context in which he himself is a parent may assume the form of highly fluid role attributions in which the adolescent may be perceived at one time as the parent's parent, and at other times as the child who his parent once was. Thus, in the same family a child can be both parentified and infantalized . . The variables relevant to the development of psychopathology in the offspring seem to involve the content of the projected material, the capacity of the parent to differentiate himself from the child, and the intensity of the parental defensive requirements.
Depending on the nature of the interaction of these factors, projective identification can endow a relationship with salutary empathetic qualities or, to the contrary, generate binding attributions in which the child remains a creature of parental defensive economy.

(pp. 523-530)

This ambivalence of the family both seeking to facilitate development of ego autonomy in the offspring while simultaneously seeking to maintain the status quo ante of family relationships further explains the phenomenon of contradictory legends accompanying both the Moriah and Calvary events; for, if -- as we are postulating -- both of these stories are primitive psychiatric initiation rites designed to facilitate growth into manhood, then the culture's attempts to undermine those initiation rites with tales that Isaac was actually killed and Jesus never resurrected are nothing less than the ambivalence of the family raised to the societal level, i. e. the collective unconscious' attempt to maintain the status quo ante in which the fantasy of Establishment authority does not give way to the new generation, while at the same time recognizing that it must give way if the new generation is to be un-bound or free to carry on the race.

And it is precisely here that Segal's sculpture and the Kent State incident become pertinent: The students who gathered on the Kent State Commons that May 4th 1970, to protest the occupation of their campus by National Guardsmen were more than 'students' or 'protestors' to those Guardsmen; they were terrifying
symbols of the Guardsmen's own ambivalence and anxiety over the process of separation and individuation.

For those students represented a growing activism in youth across the country during the 1960's whose goal was nothing less than the smashing of family fantasy on a national scale -- the fantasy that in the perpetuation of the Viet Nam War the Establishment-fathers knew best, that they had the best interests of their country's sons at heart.

As we know from Wilfred Owen's "The Parable of the Old Men and the Young"; from the son-sacrifices at Mainz and Worms; from our own son-slaughter in the Civil War; and even from the blood sacrifices offered on the asphalt altars of our national highways to the God of Gross National Product: The old men often have allegiances which require the death of society's sons.

The ambivalence felt by the young about the process of separation and individuation is I suggest nowhere more dramatically revealed in current events than in these Kent State murders.

For it was not Abraham sacrificing Isaac at Kent State, it was
Isaac sacrificing Isaac.

As in Zinner and Shapiro's projective identification model, the National Guardsmen-Isaacs had been parentified by the Establishment fathers, and when they killed the Kent State four, they were acting as collusive agents in the societal family's hidden agenda to maintain the status quo ante of societal family relationships.

That those National Guardsmen were the same age as the very persons they killed and maimed, suggests that they were trying to kill the 'son' in themselves, to extinguish the anxiety evoked by the protestors' symbolic separation and individuation ritual, i. e. defiance of the Establishment .

Indeed the Scranton Commission has concluded that the Guardsmen's lives were not in danger at the time of the shooting, and the records show that of the four killed and nine wounded the closest person was 71 feet from the Guardsmen, the farthest 495 feet.

(The four students killed were 265, 343, 382, and 390 feet away,respectively. Not even an Olympic athlete could throw a stick or stone 300 feet with enough accuracy to pose bodily harm, let alone a fatal threat! Nor does the chanting of obscenities and the chasing of Guardsmen around a campus constitute a lethal threat; the Scranton Commission agrees and concludes that the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted and unjustifiable".)

Thus, there are data to suggest that the real threat which these Guardsmen felt was the threat of their own unconscious anxiety and ambivalence in the presence of a group of iconoclastic Isaacs and Jesuses who had had enough: Who refused to passively walk up the Moriahs and Calvarys of Viet Nam on the command of their societal fathers; a group of young people who dared to cut the family bindings by holding their allegiance to themselves higher than their allegiance
to their 'fathers' !

In some blind atavistic ritual from the pagan past, these Guardsmen sought to assuage their own anxiety about manhood by taking on the role of 'fathers' killing their 'sons'.

Segal's sculpture therefore takes on the added dimension of defining our own misunderstanding of the biblical father/son killing motifs of Moriah and Calvary.

For society has used these stories to evoke in the reader feelings of gratitude for God's mercy, when in fact their real salvific quality is their capacity to evoke our feelings of ambivalence, in order to release us from the bindings of family fantasies which lead to the terror of Oedipus or the nightmare of Kent State.

Just as Segal's worshipful Isaac should anger us, so too should these words of Jesus: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt. "
(Mark 14.36)

For it is only when we can feel both our anger and our gratitude to the biological, societal, and celestial parents whose wills bind us, that we can transform our ambivalence into the liberating harness of compassion and Love.

Paul D. Keane



Berman, B. "George Segal: Works from the Bible." Exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum. February 1997. 12 October 2000. site with photos of five of Segal's biblically tied works. Great photo of In Memory of May 4, 1970: Kent State-Abraham and Isaac

Blunden, Edmund. The Poems of Wilfred Owen.
London (Chatto and Windus, 1931).

Spiegel, Shalom. The Last Trial :On the Legends and Lore of the
the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice: the Akedah.
New York (Random House, 1967).

Zinner, John and Shapiro, Roger. "Projective Identification as a
Mode of Perception and Behaviour in Families of Adolescents."
International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1972) 53,523.