Mything the Point

5 09 2009

In relation to those Biblical scholars who seem to have an allergy to the “M-word” (at least, whenever they are describing the literature that they profess to analyse), Alan Lenzi has a word or two to say by way of a comment. It’s short and sweet, but you might as well see it at his blog, rather than mine. Hear hear!




7 responses

11 09 2009

I know this is controversial, but I’m saying it anyway:
I’m not really interested what a non-Jew has to say on the Hebrew Bible. It’s like a lawyer writing a Phd in medical ethics without ever having practiced as a doctor. Even interviewing a variety of doctors and patients will not give him enough insight into a topic to which he cannot ever really relate.
Similarly, I don’t think non-Muslims should be commenting on the Qur’an and calling themselves “scholars” etc.

11 09 2009

Right, and the only treatises on botany worth reading are the ones written by plants.

11 09 2009
Simon Holloway

I disagree with you, Emunah, for a number of reasons. A lawyer cannot comment on medical ethics without first practising medicine? I know next to nothing about either field, but I am prepared to accept this. In order to qualify, then, to write about medical ethics, you need to first study medicine and practise as a doctor. It goes to follow that in order to qualify to comment upon the Bible, you likewise need to study it and engage with its message. Agreed.

Your actual point, however, is contrary to this example. What you have gone on to state is akin to suggesting that a lawyer cannot comment upon medical ethics if he has the wrong colour skin. What is the difference between a Jew and a Christian? Are you assuming, as your avatar might suggest, that the non-Jew possesses only an animal soul, formed from the סטרא אחרא? Or are you implying that all Jews are מאמינים, בני מאמינים? Your statement regarding the Qur’an would belie this, but without such a dogma I truly do not understand where else you might be coming from.

13 09 2009


Simon, your last sentence is more where I’m trying to go. (I don’t see how a photo of a black Jew suggests anything about the colour of a lawyer’s skin.or the source of a soul…)

I have a huge problem with all sorts of journalists and politicians and non-Muslim writers criticising the Qur’an. They don’t share it’s history and experiences and traditions, so they’ll never quite grasp it. They don’t have to struggle with it’s teachings on a daily basis.

Similarly, I have a problem with non-Jewish polemicists trying to analyse and comment on the Hebew Bible when they can’t ever really “unite” or as they say nowafays, “be at one with” the text because it’s not part of their collective experience.

However, I might be willing to say that if a non-Jew were to study the Bible together with the Oral Tradtion (however much authority you choose to give it) and the Jewish mefarshim (even just of pshat) who span the centuries, then perhaps they could begin to get a feel for the text. Then they could perhaps make some constructive comments and analyses, with some sort of context as to how the protagonists of the Book and their decendants understood it.

So what I’m saying – again – is that whilst “you likewise need to study it and engage with its message” (your words), I propose that it is impossible to do so accurately in a vacuum.

13 09 2009
Simon Holloway

I mistook your avatar for a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; hence my comment. I wrote “skin”, but I could have just as easily written “eyes” or “hair”. In other words, an accident of birth. But you are suggesting that one is ill-equipped to comment upon the Bible unless they are familiar with post-Biblical Jewish literature. First of all, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that non-Jews are unfamiliar with this literature. Secondly, I fail to see why it is of more immediate relevance than the reams of academic literature that have been written on the Bible, and which I would expect any scholar to peruse, irrespective of faith. Finally, I do not share your conviction that the Talmud and the Midrashim, etc, follow on directly from the Bible and illuminate its message in a meaningful way.

One studies the Talmud in order to learn Talmud, not in order to learn about the Bible. The difference between the Judaism of the Talmud and the religious beliefs of the Bible is as stark as that which separates the Hebrew Bible from the Greek New Testament. The advantage of academic analysis is that it is not (necessarily) informed by faith. I suspect that what you consider to be Biblical analysis and what I consider to be Biblical analysis are not the same thing.

13 09 2009

I once went to a lecture where we were shown a painting and asked what we thought it meant.
My answer was that it means whatever the artist says it means. And if the artist is not available to ask, then ask one of his/her children and friends who were close to him/her to find out what the initial intention may have been.
There is room for interpretation of everything, but only within certain boundaries. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “is this a sketch of a rabbit or (when you turn it 90degs) a duck?”. The answer is that it can be either depending on your perspective, but it certainly isn’t a sketch of a cat…

17 09 2009
A Grave Mythstake – Targuman

[…] have just now seen that Alan Lenzi has called me out for avoiding “the M word” (HT to Simon Holloway) To quote him in full, since it is a short note: If you can’t use the m-word for Genesis 1-2, […]

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