Donate

A Distinguished Professor’s Ignorant Take on Adam and Eve

Oct. 11 2017

In The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, Stephen Greenblatt traces the history of the Hebrew Bible’s account of the first man and woman, presumably built from similar tales in ancient Babylonian literature, through interpretations of the story by St. Augustine and John Milton, to the Enlightenment critique of creation, to the modern scientific understanding of human origins. Marilynne Robinson, in her review, argues that Greenblatt demonstrates a woeful misunderstanding of Milton’s theology and approach to the Bible—to which a sizable portion of the book is devoted—as well as a failure to read Genesis as it might have been understood by the ancients. More importantly, she writes, he misses the point:

Greenblatt, an English professor at Harvard University, . . . frames his inquiry in terms of truth or fiction. For him truth means plausibility, and by that measure the story of Adam and Eve is no more than a miracle of storytelling. But science tells us that Homo sapiens does indeed roughly share a single lineage, in some sense a common origin, just as ancient Genesis says it does. In the Hebrew Bible the word adam often means all humankind, mortals.

Greenblatt never seems to consider why the myth might have felt so true to those who found their religious and humanist values affirmed by it—and their own deepest intuitions, which science has partly borne out. It is interesting that those who claim to defend the creation narrative from rationalist critiques [similarly] ignore the fact that its deepest moral implications, a profound human bond and likeness, have been scientifically demonstrated.

In any case, it is a tendentious reading of any ancient text that would apply modern standards of plausibility to myth. . . . Greenblatt respects his subject, and still he assumes that the rationalist reading offers up the true meaning of the story.

[He] imposes this kind of reasoning on John Milton, no less. He writes that Milton “was convinced that everything had to spring from and return to the literal truth of the Bible’s words. In the absence of that truth, Milton’s Christian faith and all the positions he had taken on the basis of that faith would be robbed of their meaning.” There is a special problem with the phrase “literal truth.” Milton knew Hebrew. A serious student of Scripture is aware that neither English nor Latin versions can be described as “literal.” . . . In any case, precisely his devotion to Scripture would have made [Milton’s] understanding of it nuanced and rich, and not in the least “literal.”

Read more at New York Times

More about: Creation, Genesis, Hebrew Bible, John Milton, Religion & Holidays

 

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy