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The Book of Exodus and the Book of Palestine

Israel/Palestine
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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Passover fragments – that’s what left of Jewish life. Whatever the state of Israel was meant to be, it hasn’t left us much.

The prophetic is alive and well, though. Is the prophetic, Passover’s fragment afterlife?

Perhaps fragments were the reality from the beginning. From the moment ancient Israel entered the Promised Land, the promise started unraveling. Even before Israel’s entry, Moses saw it clearly. His last instructions to the Israelites were quite grim, funereal really. Whatever you have to say about Moses, he wasn’t Israel’s cheerleader.

The Biblical prophets are sent by God within the unraveling of the initial promise. What was the promise that involved the land but went beyond it? Many years ago Norman Gottwald, a Biblical scholar, put the promise succinctly. God freed Israel from Egypt with the command that Israel create a new kind of society – a socially egalitarian decentralized tribal confederacy.

Quite a modernist mouthful but Gottwald got it right. Liberated from empire, Israel was to create a society without empire. A difficult mandate to be sure – has it ever been accomplished? God’s command comported with Israel’s experience of slavery. Why escape one empire to build another?

We know the story of Israel’s failure well but if you noticed it isn’t recounted in the Passover story. Passover looks forward – ancient Israel is moving toward glory. Freedom! Next Year in Jerusalem!

What happened to the Israelites in the land – what happened to others in the land when Israel came and conquered – that is left for another time, a time we never seem to reach.

Even now, at least by our Constantinian Jewish establishment, Israel is recounted as a dream foretold. The devastating details of the dream achieved are missing.

Like Easter Sunday liturgies without a discussion of Christian history after. Upside without the downside. Convenient.

At least the Hebrew Bible details the downside. Credit where credit is due. The New Testament lacks courage. If the New Testament covered roughly the same amount of time as the Hebrew Bible does, the New Testament would stretch from Jesus to Auschwitz. So much for the Jewish God of vengeance versus the Christian God of love.

Imagine a Christian liturgical reading from Auschwitz on Easter Sunday. Let’s call it a historical gospel – the Gospel of Auschwitz. Other possibilities abound. Try reading the Gospel of 1492 and the Gospel of Colonialism as a compliment to the resurrection theme. See where that goes.

Scriptures should evolve to include what is done in God’s name after the forming of faith communities. Expand the Passover story to include the modern state of Israel. Shall we call it the Book of Palestine? Or we could recite both histories together – the Book of Exodus and the Book of Palestine.

On the Jewish side of the Book of Palestine are plenty of authors up for the task of narration. Think of Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Josh Ruebner and Max Blumenthal combining their expertise and insights. On the Palestinian side, think of Edward Said, Nur Masala and Joseph Massad.

History has to be our guide. Whatever religion can say after history is in place – proceed. What religion can’t say after history, religion has to leave behind.

When religion has to take the history challenge only fragments survive.

Along with the traditional story, in the last few days of Passover begin reading the Book of Palestine. Now read it out loud with other Jews.

Hear who we have become.

As you raise the matzah to your lips note the sound of Star of David helicopter gunships in the air.

You’ve asked the four traditional Passover questions for years. Now ask the fifth.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. just
    just
    April 18, 2014, 10:39 am

    Wow. Great article. Many thanks.

  2. Citizen
    Citizen
    April 18, 2014, 10:46 am

    history |ˈhist(ə)rē|
    noun ( pl. histories )
    1 the study of past events, particularly in human affairs: medieval European history.
    • the past considered as a whole: letters that have changed the course of history.
    2 the whole series of past events connected with someone or something: the history of Aegean painting.
    • an eventful past: the group has quite a history.
    • a past characterized by a particular thing: his family had a history of insanity.
    3 a continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution: a history of the labor movement.
    • a historical play: Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies.
    PHRASES
    be history be perceived as no longer relevant to the present: the mainframe will soon be history | I was making a laughingstock of myself, but that’s history now. • informal used to indicate imminent departure, dismissal, or death: an inch either way and you’d be history.
    go down in history be remembered or recorded in history.
    make history do something that is remembered in or influences the course of history.
    the rest is history used to indicate that the events succeeding those already related are so well known that they need not be recounted again: they teamed up, discovered that they could make music, and the rest is history.
    ORIGIN late Middle English (also as a verb): via Latin from Greek history ‘finding out, narrative, history,’ from histōr ‘learned, wise man,’ from an Indo-European root shared by wit2.

    religion |riˈlijən|
    noun
    the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.
    • a particular system of faith and worship: the world’s great religions.
    • a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance: consumerism is the new religion.
    PHRASES
    get religion informal be converted to religious belief and practices.
    DERIVATIVES
    religionless adjective
    ORIGIN Middle English (originally in the sense ‘life under monastic vows’): from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence,’ perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind.’

    What did they say about the bubonic plague at the time it happened? What do they say now? What is a bible or sacred book of any sort other than anthropomorphic projection in the full freudian sense? How long will true believers continue to be made?

  3. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 18, 2014, 11:24 am

    For many years — so I have been given to understand — orthodox Judaism forbade Jews from making any effort to gather the Jews into Palestine. FORBADE. The work of ingathering the Jews was understood (and taught!) to be God’s work, and definitely not man’s work.

    Indeed, even praying (so I read somewhere) for the ingathering was forbidden because praying was done by men, not by God.

    In the context of those teachings, “Next Year In Jerusalem” is a strange thing, not a prayer (I suppose, such a prayer being forbidden) but the expression of a hope, the hope that God would find it (at long last) appropriate to perform this miracle, the ingathering.

    The creation of the modern imperial colonial Israel is man’s work, no question, and not God’s work. No more than the construction and operation of certain facilities at Auschwitz can be said to be God’s work. (Not a comparison, just saying.)

    I know little and (therefore?) usually care less about religion. This essay is wonderful. I don’t know what relation religion bears to what Ellis calls “the prophetic”. If anything can rescue religion from what it has become, I dare say it is “the prophetic”.

    I was a slave and now am free. Now I keep slaves. Happily and without any notion of contradiction. Hmpfff.

    • JeffB
      JeffB
      April 18, 2014, 12:31 pm

      @pabelmont

      Indeed, even praying (so I read somewhere) for the ingathering was forbidden because praying was done by men, not by God.

      No it is part of the orthodox daily prayer:

      No this is not true. Of the 19 daily prayers #1 is for the ingathering. Here is a good translation by a Christian(?) source: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Prayers/Daily_Prayers/Shemoneh_Esrei/Kibbutz_Galuyot/kibbutz_galuyot.html
      So no, not only is it not forbidden it is essentially mandatory.

      #14 asks for the return of the David King to rule Jerusalem.

      The creation of the modern imperial colonial Israel is man’s work, no question, and not God’s work.

      I don’t believe in God. But among many of the orthodox in Israel the idea that Israel represents the ingathering is pretty well accepted. Judaism sees God as working through his agents. Otherwise the ethical precepts would have no tie to the religious precepts. Judaism most certainly developed a learned helpless leading to a passivity, and certainly mainstream Judaism after the Bar Kochba turned on the idea of bring about the messianic age. But that’s a result of Jewish failure, now Ben-Gurion has succeeded in achieving what Bar Kochba aimed for.

    • jon s
      jon s
      April 18, 2014, 3:55 pm

      Pabelmont, you admit that you know little about the subject, so I suggest that you consult a traditional Jewish prayer book. You would learn that you were wrong in thinking that Jews didn’t pray for an ingathering from exile. In fact, for centuries , Jews prayed for it constantly , at least three times a day.
      See for example, the tenth and fourteenth of the eighteen blessings in the “Shmone esreh ” or “Amidah”:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah

      Also on holidays (“next year in Jerusalem” in the Passover seder being one example), and let’s not forget the oath made by Jewish grooms,at the wedding, just before breaking the glass.

      • talknic
        talknic
        April 19, 2014, 12:17 am

        @ jon s “You would learn that you were wrong in thinking that Jews didn’t pray for an ingathering from exile.”

        Prayed to who? The Jewish Agency and its terrorists?

  4. libra
    libra
    April 18, 2014, 1:49 pm

    Professor Ellis: Imagine a Christian liturgical reading from Auschwitz on Easter Sunday. Let’s call it a historical gospel – the Gospel of Auschwitz.

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Here we are on Good Friday and our prophet finds himself channeling the dire JeffB:

    The Holocaust was our crucifixion and Israel our resurrection.

    Memo to Professor Ellis: When you start sounding like a Zionist blowhard you aren’t helping the Palestinians.

    • puppies
      puppies
      April 18, 2014, 11:44 pm

      @libra – I’ll second and third the memo to Prof. Ellis. Plus a note: a picture of a page of Exodus… in *English* has no class. None at all.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      April 19, 2014, 8:38 am

      May I offer you a mental bridge, Libra? To get over the passages that trigger your revolt?

      Quite possibly the vast majority always used and uses religion as some type of superficial cloth that makes them appear: righteous. ON BOTH SIDES. That is his core narrative. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by emotional responses.

      At least the Hebrew Bible details the downside. Credit where credit is due. The New Testament lacks courage. If the New Testament covered roughly the same amount of time as the Hebrew Bible does, the New Testament would stretch from Jesus to Auschwitz. So much for the Jewish God of vengeance versus the Christian God of love.

      No doubt Christians more generally would profit from the Jewish avoidance of black and white versus the Christian’s own obsession with the devil, the personification of the “evil other”. Which seems a deeply influential ultimately dangerous myth and apparently a core inspiration of the religious right and some religious nuts.

      But, if I may: The Nazis really weren’t Christians. Their intention ultimately was to change religion according to their own Aryan designs to take it over like anything else. Look into the history of the German Christians, and the attempts to take over the Protestant church with their help. No doubt you also will find rather dubious theologians that managed to keep one foot in the party even the SS for a time and at the same time were dissenters in the Confessing Church too, just in case, it feels. And yes, even on the side of the Confessing Church its members apparently did not protect their priests with Jewish roots, maybe too busy trying to protect their church, the institution, against the Nazi takeover. Which led to the surrender of core values.

      All this for me strictly belongs into the herd and the occasionally “real Christians”, whatever that may be. Where the bystanders and diverse layers of perpetrators centrally Christians?

      Compare the righteous among the nations, a variation may well be the righteous among the Christians. Remember some of the churches’ representatives were among the victims too. Let’s dive a bit into mystical Jewish tradition:

      Lamed-Vav Tzadikim: As a mystical concept, the number 36 is even more intriguing. It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is 6. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous “greet the Shechinah,” the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b).[1]

      ************

      That said, I respect Marc’s pride, if that is what it seems, in Jewish tradition and its long history. Just as I think, its a real tragedy that Judaism apparently got taken over by rather worldly interests.

  5. American
    American
    April 18, 2014, 2:32 pm

    ”’Imagine a Christian liturgical reading from Auschwitz on Easter Sunday. Let’s call it a historical gospel – the Gospel of Auschwitz” >>>

    Why would there be a reading of a Christian liturgical at Auschwitz?
    Are you still blaming Christianity for the holocaust?
    Are you aware of how blaming an entire religion makes people less sympathic to Jewish holocaust claims?
    When it goes too far people quit listening.
    It wasnt Christianity, it wasnt ‘the world’ it was the nazis and they’re all dead.

  6. dbroncos
    dbroncos
    April 18, 2014, 10:55 pm

    Our American Constitution dispenses with biblical claims, religious nationalisms, tribalisms and debates about angels and pin heads. Thank God!

  7. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    April 19, 2014, 1:40 am

    I do hope you are being sarcastic. I agree with you 100% in terms of the letter of the law. The technical letter of the law doesn’t necessarily carry over into day to day life though.

  8. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    April 19, 2014, 11:15 am

    I would point out to Marc that the Tanakh covers 3-4,000 years, from Adam to Cyrus and beyond, so that the extended New Testament would still be very far from finished, giving us time for amendment of life.

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