Friday, January 19, 2007

"Blogging the Bible"

At contentions, David Gelernter suggests that if a person is reading the Bible for the first time, it might not be a bad idea to take advantage of the scholarship in the field.
In an ongoing, multi-part series called Blogging the Bible on Slate, David Plotz offers comments on his first reading of large parts of the Hebrew Bible. At his best he is superb. He is selling innocence and a new viewpoint - two commodities you might have believed the world was fresh out of when it comes to the Bible, the mightiest text of all, most famous and most exhaustively-studied book known to man. Yet, amazingly, it is all new to Plotz, and his loss is our gain: we experience his fascination, excitement, and occasional joy alongside him as he discovers the narrative genius and moral profundity of the good book.

But to reach these peaks of fine writing Plotz's readers must slog through the usual nonsense about the alleged contradictions and cruelties of the Hebrew Bible, written with as much vigorous outrage as if these observations had just occurred to mankind yesterday afternoon. Worse is Plotz's passivity: repeatedly he writes (frankly and openly) that "I don't know" or "I wonder" - but virtually never cracks a book or calls in an expert to find out. He waits for the answer to come to him, in the form of emails from readers. His commentary suggests a whole new way to do research: if you want to learn about topic X, write an essay about it and your readers will teach you.

This lack of curiosity may be deliberate. In his introduction to the series, Plotz tells us that his aim is to "find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based." Undeniably this approach has its moments. When David sings his lament on the death of Saul and Jonathan, Plotz doesn't recognize this most famous elegy in the history of the world. Yet he does recognize its greatness (all on his own, not because anyone tipped him off); and he is unfailingly honest about his ignorance. "David sings a gorgeous lament about the deaths [of Saul and son]. (Hey, language mavens! This song is the source of the phrase: ' How the mighty are fallen.')"

But innocence can be overdone - to the point where you question the author's competence as a literate reader. In the middle of his discussion of Leviticus 19, which Plotz calls the "most glorious chapter of the Bible" (a lovely phrase), we read: "'Love your fellow as yourself' - Ever wonder where Jesus got 'Love thy neighbor'? Not anymore." The most famous sentence in the Hebrew Bible is news to Plotz. What does a man know if he doesn't know this? Not that Plotz is alone in his ignorance- but ignorance this dramatic makes a peculiar basis for offering yourself as a commentator....

It might be fairest to say in the end that Plotz’s sins are the sins of his era and medium, but his virtues are his own. He is sometimes rambling and shallow — but Internet prose encourages shallow rambles. He is ignorant of religion and the Bible, but so are most educated people nowadays..... [more]
Source: contentions » archive

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