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Two New Works of Biblical Scholarship Demonstrate the Plausibility of Ancient Convictions

Dec. 26 2017

Reviewing two recent books on the Hebrew Bible by distinguished Jewish academics, David Wolpe explores their implications for religious readers:

In The Exodus, Richard Elliott Friedman seeks to answer, once and for all: was there an Exodus from Egypt? In The Great Shift, James Kugel responds to the perennial Sunday-school question: why doesn’t God talk to us anymore?

Kugel draws on [the philosopher] Charles Taylor’s notion that the premodern self was “porous”—or as Kugel puts it, “semipermeable.” People did not experience themselves as fixed, bounded individuals, but as continuous with the natural world. . . . The heart of the book contains evidence from the biblical text that not only were human beings more permeable, the Deity was different too: far less abstract and distant than in later conceptions. God was periodically visible [and] local, choosing to be accessible to select individuals at times.

[For his part, Friedman] insists that the Exodus did indeed happen, just not quite the way the Bible describes. . . . Friedman agrees with [the current scholarly] consensus [that] most Israelites did originate in Israel. But not all of them. . . . The Exodus story, [he argues], is really the tale of how the people we call Levites left Egypt and joined up with the Israelites already in Canaan. . . .

Both books trace the gradual emergence of monotheism from a background of polytheism. . . . Each explains the gradual unfolding of a universal God who is parent to all, who provides a paradigm of liberation and demands not just devotion but ethical action. Both authors succeed in deploying modern scholarship to prove the validity, or at least plausibility, of ancient convictions.

In Moses’ final song to the people, he encourages them: “Remember the days of old/ Consider the years of ages past/ Ask your father, he will inform you,/ Your elders, they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). They still have a tale to tell, those elders. As Kugel and Friedman demonstrate, if we learn new ways to ask, even doubting moderns can trust

Read more at New York Times

More about: Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Prophecy, Religion & Holidays

 

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations