Blogging the Bible

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blogging the Bible's David Plotz thought he knew the Bible pretty well. But when he recently read Chapter 34 of Genesis (describing the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah), he was deeply disturbed by this story:
... The founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel lie, breach a contract, encourage pagans to convert to Judaism only in order to incapacitate them for slaughter, murder some innocents and enslave others, pillage and profiteer, and then justify it all with an appeal to their sister's defiled honor. (Which, incidentally, may not have been defiled at all: Some commentators ... think Dinah went with Shechem willingly, and even the language in the two translations I looked at is ambiguous ...)

Like many lax but well-educated Jews (and Christians), I have long assumed I knew what was in the Bible — more or less.

I read parts of the Torah as a child in Hebrew school, then attended a rigorous Christian high school where I had to study the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck in my head — Adam and Eve, Cain vs., Abel, Jacob vs. Esau, Jonah vs. whale, 40 days and nights ..... All this left me with a general sense that I knew the Good Book well enough, and that it was a font of crackling stories, Jewish heroes, and moral lessons.

So, the tale of Dinah unsettled me, to say the least. If this story was strutting cheerfully through the back half of Genesis, what else had I forgotten or never learned? I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along.

... My goal is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document.

So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? .... I'll spend the next few weeks (or months) finding out.

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