4000 years after Abraham bargained with God—the verses read as though he got the better of Him!—along comes a writer who suggests the man was autistic. Only if you had autism would you be so completely unaware of the impropriety of staring down God, so goes the rationale. Here is exchange, located at Genesis 18:
Then Abraham approached and said: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the 50 righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable that you would act in this manner by putting the righteous man to death with the wicked one so that the outcome for the righteous man and the wicked is the same! It is unthinkable of you. Will the Judge of all the earth not do what is right?”
Then Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodom 50 righteous men in the city, I will pardon the whole place for their sake.”
But Abraham again responded: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah, whereas I am dust and ashes. Suppose the 50 righteous should lack five. Because of the five will you destroy the whole city?” To this he said: “I will not destroy it if I find there 45.” But yet again he spoke to him and said: “Suppose 40 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it for the sake of the 40.” But he continued: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me go on speaking: Suppose only 30 are found there.” He answered: “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”
But he continued: “Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah: Suppose only 20 are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the 20.” Finally he said: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me speak just once more: Suppose only ten are found there.” He answered: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” When Jehovah finished speaking to Abraham, he went his way and Abraham returned to his place.
Did Abraham just get the better of God? Only an autistic man would be so rash to try! It reminds me of when I entered the living room of a home where I had been invited and an autistic son descending the stairs said to me (four times his age) “What are you doing here?” “Asperger’s” is the specific brand of autism we are speaking of here, I think, though the writer does not say it.
This post was introduced to me with the ‘Hoo boy!’ remark that “Now they're speculating as to whether Abraham had autism. These retro-diagnoses really are getting a bit out of hand.” So I was prejudiced against it and that prejudice held up well while reading it. And then I noticed something that changed everything: the writer is a seventh grader, Meyer Lewis. I take back everything I was thinking. It’s brilliant.
That’s not to say I buy it. In fact, the very idea of an “autism spectrum” upon which one might “identify” seems dubious to me. Even more dubious is to contrast it with “neurotypical” people not on the “spectrum.” Is it science or is it marketing to line up conditions that may or may not be related as though they were different gradients of the same thing? I am happier just to recognize that there are differences in people. But this is hardly a reflection on Meyer—he is taught this stuff in school—of course he is going to pick up on it.
Meyer is autistic himself, he says, and ‘it takes one to know one.’ That’s why he reads into Abraham something no one else would. He also tells me something about Greta Thunberg, the global warming kid, that I didn’t know—she too is autistic, and is unaware of the social graces that hem in others!
Meyer plays the connection even further. Later in the Torah, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, and Abraham doesn’t give him any feedback at all? How to explain this, from the fellow who wrung the concessions he did from God, whittling down the 50 persons required for God to save the place to just 10? Well, he experiences “selective mutism” in this latter case, which Meyer has also experienced—that’s why he thinks he can put himself in the patriarch’s shoes. The request is so “confusing and subtle” for Abraham to grasp that he freezes up, just as Meyer freezes up if you throw everything but the kitchen sink at him all at once.
I don’t like the categorizing of people that Meyer is taught, but given that he is taught it, I like what he does with it. It undermines the very foundation of critical thinking in that it reveals we are a collection of our experiences and it is those experiences that skew, if not determine, how we think. He will always see situations the way he does, but others will see things according to their own perceptions molded by their own experiences. Will critical thinking enable us to “come together” and find common consensus? I wouldn’t hold my breath. “Stay apart” is what has defined us throughout history.
The seventh grader even quotes Elie Wiesel, and endorses his take that “God invited Abraham to play this role. It is as if God turns to us, the readers of the future, and says, ‘I’m going to tell Abraham what I intend to do to Sodom so that he will argue with Me. I want to lose this argument.’” God thereby prods Abraham to reveal the good that is in his heart. I like it. Even if it is not God’s purpose, it certainly is the effect.
A noble handling of verse from the youngster, so that I, several times his age, ought be ashamed of the silly use I put the verses to—using them to trace the possible origen of a pejorative roundly considered offensive today—so that Meyer’s parents will either forbid him to read it or encourage him to on the basis of learning to spot an ignoramus when he sees one.. Either way, it’s dubious for me, but good for him.