Friday, February 27, 2009

David Plotz - Blogging the Bible

(From JTA)

Like many lax but well-educated Jews (and Christians), I have long assumed I knew what was in the Bible—more or less. I read parts of the Torah as a child in Hebrew school, then attended a rigorous Christian high school where I had to study the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck in my head—Adam and Eve, Cain vs., Abel, Jacob vs. Esau, Jonah vs. whale, 40 days and nights, 10 plagues and Commandments, 12 tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee Sea walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, I absorbed other bits of Bible everywhere—from stories I heard in churches and synagogues, movies and TV shows, tidbits my parents and teachers told me. All this left me with a general sense that I knew the Good Book well enough, and that it was a font of crackling stories, Jewish heroes, and moral lessons.

So, the tale of Dinah unsettled me, to say the least. If this story was strutting cheerfully through the back half of Genesis, what else had I forgotten or never learned? I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along.

This is such a great idea. I know that I'm not as well educated about the Bible as I'd previously assumed I was. I find new stuff in there every day, even in the Gospels, which I thought I had down. Reading it straight through would be something. I mean, time-consuming and tedious but also probably really fascinating and enlightening.

Plotz says something else in this interview that I found really fascinating:
Christians have the New Testament, which softens and explains and cleans up a lot of the messiness of the Hebrew Bible. Jews don't have Jesus to fall back on. The result, I think, is our amazing tradition of argument. We have a holy book that is full of immoral heroes and an erratic, vindictive God. How do we grapple with that? My Bible reading, though deeply ignorant and naïve, is very much in that Jewish tradition of addressing the holy book by arguing with it, rather than simply accepting it, sheep-like.
I've often wondered how the Jews could seem to be such reasonable, intelligent, hilarious, nice people when their God is the same God that those fundies running around quoting the Old Testament pray to. I mean, Leviticus is a Jewish book. The Hasidic Jews (like my cousin the Rabbi) pretty much follow it to the letter. But this idea of arguing with the Bible... I have to confess, I love it. Not only that, but I totally do that. Just as much as I take my morality from the words of Jesus Christ, I often try to make the words of Jesus Christ fit with my morality. Who knew there was an entire religion full of people who do the same thing (only, you know, without the Jesus part).

And speaking of Jesus, wasn't he Jewish? Wasn't what he did while he was preaching just arguing with the Old Testament? His words were simultaneously steeped in the Jewish tradition yet completely opposed to so much of it. Who's to say that we can't do the same thing today? I think this idea is certainly food for thought. If we see the Bible not as a dead set of laws that we must follow or perish, but a living organism with which we can have a conversation, then we can find ways to make our faith work in this new world. Oh, and we can also stop giving gay people shit all the time. Just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

I know the answers to the questions that David Plotz raises. God is neither unfathomably cruel, or a sanctioner of murder. When one is dealing with the scale that Yahweh encompasses, the big picture is the issue. God weeps at the loss of a single life through senseless murder, as a father cries for his lost child,but there is a progression of destiny that we may be too small to see, and even in hindsight we have to observe logically and dispationately. The truth may be very hard to discern, but an open and questing mind will usually find the answers to be surprisingly simple. Some examples of clarity (and I know these answers are tough and bitter luck for those cast aside in pain and oblivion for the higher cause): Joshua the genocidal brute, aided (cruelly) in the establishment of the nation that gave the world its first practical working monotheism, its God of Love (not hate), and the foundations of thousands of years of Jewish continuance and contribution to the world. Simple: Why was there WW I? So that Tsarist Russia would fall into revolution. Only a subsequent Stalin and a fierce dictatorship could have stood up to Hitler a scant 23 years later in WW II. Elsewise, Hitler would have conquered the world. Why was there a Hitler? So there could be a WW II. Why was there a WW II? So the sacrifice of 6 million jews could finally get the attention of the cruel and careless world and create the nation state of Israel, after 1,900 years. The price was tremendously steep and tragic, but the window of opportunity was incredibly small between colonialism and the oil-fueled power of rising Arab nationalism. That is how Yahweh works; that is the scale of the true titan of the cosmos. And that, friends, is WTF Yahweh and Jesus would do, and have done. ...And he carries the burden of his choices within a weary soul as heavy and vast as the universe. Never mind the petty actions of weak, ignorant and/or personally disillusioned people claiming to work for a holy cause and name. Look deep. Keep faith. All questions have such answers, for those truly looking for answers. And if you believe in an afterlife for the innocent and just, why then you know that there is an ultimate, kindly place for those who have suffered. A home of love everlasting, without pain or sorrow... (signed: The Panoptikon)

Jocelyn said...

That is a very interesting argument, Panoptikon, and one that I hadn't heard before. I can't say I find it entirely convincing, as I don't really support the idea of destiny, but it it certainly food for thought. I'll be pondering this for a while, I think.

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