Another from Arthur Waskow
A prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, & American life
When the Torah Meets a Stand-up Comic
One of the most interesting studies of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that I know is a book by Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden. It is a fusion of history, anthropology, ecology, and archeology with his own spiritual exploration. It gives an ecological grounding to the spiritual struggle of the Western Semitic peoples in the face of the emergence of imperial monocrop agriculture in Sumeria. That spiritual struggle resulted, Eisenberg suggests, in the birth of Torah. Torah does not include Eco-Judaism; Torah IS Eco-Judaism.
Eisenberg looks sardonically not only at ancient empires, but also at those in seats of power today. (In this he echoes one book of the Bible: the Scroll of Esther, which is a funny and bitter critique of arrogance in power.) I am sending his sardonic Torah commentary on this week’s portion and on passages from Genesis, the Gospels of Matthew and John, and Ecclesiastes which he calls “THE KING GEORGE VERSION” of the Bible.
You will also find my comments on three books:
a new gender-sensitive translation of the Torah – that is, “the five books of Moses” – published by the Jewish Publication Society;
a heart-stirring study of war, soldiers, and post-traumatic stress in its most lethal form – suicide.
Middle Church by Rev. Bob Edgar (general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a former Congressman from Pennsylvania. Edgar looks at the religious commitment that lay at the heart of his congressional terms, and at the commitment to social justice that lies at the heart of his religious task. He finds the religious right profoundly wanting in religious understanding.
THE KING GEORGE VERSION
by Evan Eisenberg
“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them…” — Deuteronomy 17:18-19.
In the big inning God created the Prescott and the Bush.
And the Bush was uninformed and void, and darkies was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of Dad flew over the water.
And God said, Let them be white. And they was white.
And God saw the whites, that they were good. And God divided the whites from the darks.
And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our whiteness; and let him make his millions over the oil of the sea, and from fouling the air, and over the battle, and over net worth, and over every creepy thing that creeps do on earth.”
And God dressed him, and God said to him, Eat Fruit Loops and multiply, and drill the earth and undo it; and have your minions over the executing ranch, and the vegetative ranch, and the prejudicial ranch.
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a broadcast booth; and when he was set, and made up, his advisers came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and read the prompter, saying,
Blessed is the boors and nitwits, for theirs is the kingdom at present.
Blessed is they who are well-born, for they shall be comfortable.
Blessed is the cliques, for they shall inherit the perch.
Blessed is they with a hungover thirst after rightwingness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed is the purseful, for they shall obtain purses.
Blessed is the sure in Karl, for they shall succeed Dad.
Blessed is the warmakers, for they shall be called the children of Saud.
To every thing there is a fleecing, and a dime to every purpose under the heaven.
A dime for trees shorn, and a dime to mine; a dime to plant fibs, and a dime to talk up that which is planted;
A dime to kill, and a dime to make squeal; a dime to make drown, and a dime to build YUP;
A dime to weep, and a dime to smirk; a dime to yawn, and a dime to prance;
A dime to get tapped for Bones, and a dime to gather Bonesmen together; a dime to scapegrace, and a dime to retrain for scapegracing;
A dime to pet, and a dime to schmooze; a dime to grease, and a dime to fax DeLay;
A dime to pretend, and a dime to snow; a dime to keep silence, and a dime to leak;
A dime for mud, and a dime for hate; a dime for war, and a dime for Reconstruction.
For Dad so loved the world, that he gave his first begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not flourish, but have desert-blasting strife.
Gender in Torah:
Months ago I got an intriguing note from Rabbi David E. S. Stein, who had been commissioned by the Jewish Publication Society to review their translation of “The Torah”: Were words that had been translated with specific gender — “man,” “Lord,” “his”, etc. -— really intended by the writers/editors of our Hebrew text to mean that, or should they be retranslated?
His letter asked for advice from me and fifteen others about how to translate the famous four-letter Name of God -– “Yud-hei-vav-hei.” The JPS translation uses “LORD”; some translations use “Eternal”; I usually translate It as “Breath of Life,” drawing on the sound the four letters make when “pronounced” without any vowels (and on a theology more interested in connection than hierarchy).
What I recommended is that Rabbi Stein do what Everett Fox did in his translation of the Torah: instead of translating, simply transliterate as “YHWH.” That would leave the question up to each reader to wrestle with, one might say, the most literal—letter-by-letter version of “Godwrestling.” (“Godwrestler” is the translation of “Israel” that the Torah itself asserts, in Gen. 33:29.)
Now the book is out, entitled The Contemporary Torah. Stein walks the “Godwrestling” path one step further: he uses the four Hebrew letters themselves. Neat!
In other aspects of the new translation, Stein carefully distinguishes when the Torah used “ish” to mean “man” and when it meant “person.” He has even found a few cases when a Hebrew word was translated by his predecessors in a gender-neutral way when history and sociology make clear the reference was male.
I am grateful for his work, and still find the Fox translations, The Five Books of Moses and Give Us a King! (the books of Samuel) give the best access to the Hebrew itself, with its puns, its key leading words, and its breathing patterns.
The Pain – and perhaps the Healing
If breaking your heart is one way of opening it, then take the risk of reading Penny Coleman’s book Flashback (Beacon). She reports in vivid language her painful research into the truths of those who have returned with wounded souls from the wars of the last 150 years. And between each chapter there are a few pages from an interview with one or another woman whose Vietnam-veteran husband, beset with the nightmares that do not end in daytime, has killed himself.
By the time you have finished the book, you know that post-traumatic stress is not a disease; it is only a symptom. The disease is war.
These lives, through Coleman’s artistry, have conquered death. It is up to her readers to conquer war.
Religion is supposed to be the comforter of broken hearts, the healer of broken souls. But only, Bob Edgar reminds us, if it heals our shattered peace, our shattered homeless, our shattered earth.
Despite Edgar’s use of the phrase Middle Church for his title, the book is absolutely relevant to Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Bob Edgar is unusual among clergy in that he finds God in the Bible, in the communities of faith, on the streets, and in political hubbub. His is one of the best of the new genre of books on the prophetic and progressive roots of our religions, and how to help them flower today.
Just as he was a Member of Congress who actually listened to human suffering –- imagine! -– he is a clergyperson who actually speaks his truth instead of referring it to a committee. As he is fond of saying, “the Prophets never won an electoral majority.”
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