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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

Hamas Sets Its Sights on Taking over the PLO

Oct. 20 2017

Examining the recent reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian organizations Fatah and Hamas, Eyal Zisser argues that the latter sees the deal as a way to install its former leader, Khaled Meshal, as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and thereby the Palestinian Authority. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened:

Even the former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat . . . took the PLO leadership by force. His first steps, incidentally, were with the Fatah organization, which he cofounded in January 1965 in Damascus, under Syrian patronage. Fatah was meant to serve as a counterweight to the rival PLO, which had come into existence [earlier] under Egyptian patronage. Arafat, however, was relegated to the sidelines in the Palestinian arena. It was only after the 1967 Six-Day War that he exploited the resounding defeat of the Arab armies to join the PLO as the leader of Fatah, which led to his gaining control over [the PLO itself].

Meshal [most likely] wants to follow in Arafat’s footsteps—a necessary maneuver for a man who aspires to lead the Palestinian national movement, particularly after realizing that military might and even a hostile takeover of [either Gaza or the West Bank] will not grant him the legitimacy he craves.

It is hard to believe that Fatah will willingly hand over the keys to leadership, and it is also safe to assume that Egypt does not want to see Hamas grow stronger. But quasi-democratic developments such as these have their own dynamics. In 2006, Israel was persuaded by Washington to allow Hamas to run in the general Palestinian elections, thinking the Islamist group had no chance of winning. But Hamas won those elections. We can assume Meshal will now look to repeat that political ploy by joining the PLO and vying for its leadership.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Fatah, Hamas, Khaled Meshal, Palestinian Authority, PLO, Politics & Current Affairs, Yasir Arafat