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.