An Italian Writer’s Idiosyncratic, and Very Jewish, Retelling of the Bible

In The Book of All Books—published last year in English translation just after the author’s death—Roberto Calasso attempts to do for the Tanakh what he in a previous work did for Greek myths: reinterpret it in a modern literary form. Robert Alter writes in his review:

Calasso’s retelling is intentionally an intellectual potpourri, and that is the source both of its appeal and its weakness. He begins with a midrash, the characteristic early rabbinic mode of exegesis that amplifies, elaborates, and sometimes reinvents the spare biblical text. Other midrashim are then introduced from time to time, as well as “midrashim” that one assumes are Calasso’s own invention. For some stretches of the book, he simply retells the canonical narrative, and these sections are not likely to be of much interest to anyone already familiar with the Bible. More welcome are the frequent junctures in which he midrashically fleshes out what is tersely told in the Bible.

This retelling of the Bible is also enlivened by its range of intertextual references—Racine, Kafka, Freud, Nietzsche—to whom Calasso adds the Veda, the Indian text he cherished. In a few instances, a surprising comparison is combined with a genuine insight into the biblical story: “Saul hid among the bags—something Harpo Marx would do—paralyzed by the terror of election that more than any other would afflict his people in the future, the terror of the drawn lot, the chance that a moment later might select him.”

Yet for all these winning moments, there is much that is flawed in this book. Calasso gets certain details wrong. . . . Perhaps what is most curious is that though Calasso is chiefly interested in Jewish readings of Scripture—the midrash, the Zohar, Maimonides and not Aquinas—there are intermittent passages that invoke discredited supersessionist notions of the Old Testament as an anticipation or prefiguration of the New.

He is also drawn to the bizarre, which explains why he devotes a chapter not to Isaiah or Jeremiah but to Ezekiel, surely the weirdest of all the biblical prophets. And his modern references definitely impart an allure to his narrative. Why not pick up a diary entry by Kafka as a clue to something going on in the Bible, or why not invite us to see the fearfully diffident Saul by way of Harpo Marx?

Read more at Spectator

More about: Hebrew Bible, King Saul, Literature, Midrash, Supersessionism


How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion