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

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Read more at New York Times

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

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy