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On the Irrelevance of Biblical Criticism

Aug. 29 2017

Engaging with the recent series in Mosaic on the problems with academic scholarship of the Bible, Jerome Marcus argues that the documentary hypothesis—the regnant claim that the Tanakh was synthesized from a series of earlier texts that can be disentangled through critical reading—should be ignored by anyone who wishes to take the holy book seriously. He writes:

Bible criticism . . . rests on the idea that to interpret the text accurately, the identity of the author and his historical location has to be reconstructed, and this requires the dating of the text and, correlatively, its extrication from texts by later or earlier authors with which it came to be interwoven.

One adopting this view of the Bible necessarily rejects the idea that the text is a coherent whole. . . . Yet someone who is focused on the text’s history and the identity of its author(s) will not study the text with the commitment of extracting meaning from the text itself. Instead, he will use the context to inject meaning into the text from outside it. . . .

It’s not just the religious reader—it’s also the truly careful and wise reader—who will never abandon the assumption of the Torah’s coherence for just this reason. The moment one abandons the assumption of coherence is the moment one stops learning from the Torah.

Note that this argument says absolutely nothing about the historical origin of the Torah. Biblical criticism may or may not rest on bad history. Instead, the argument here is that Bible critics advocate a shallow way to read any book, much less the Book of Books. Surely if one should read the Federalist Papers, or Shakespeare, or any other part of the Western canon, [assuming] that those books contain great ideas and that they are worth taking seriously as the vehicles for the transmission of those ideas, then the Bible can profitably be read in that way. And just as it would be a colossal mistake to dismiss Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay as no more than advocates for their class [as Marxist critics are inclined to do], so it is at least as big a mistake to dismiss the Torah—any part of it—as simply the work of a priest advocating for priests, or of any [member of some] group advocating for that group’s interests.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical criticism, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy