Wrestling with the Author
Wrestling with the Author
Even if the Old Testament is the word of God, many of the characters in that story had an exasperating fondness for arguing with the author—and winning. Abraham sharply questions His plan to destroy Sodom, and makes Him promise to spare the city if fifty righteous men can be found, eventually bargaining Him down to ten. When God instructs Moses to liberate His people, Moses at first pleads a lack of eloquence, but evidently he’s a good enough talker to persuade the Boss to assign him Aaron as an assistant. And Job quite rightly questions why he should be the innocent victim of what seems an incredibly cruel wager. Jacob wrestles with an angel, who turns out to be the Deity undercover. In spite of a dislocated hip, Jacob wins both the match and a new title: God renames him Israel, which literally means “He who struggles with God.” (That explains a lot about Israel today.) This orneriness carried over to the Talmud, which carries on interminable and detailed debates over the interpretation of reading matter. The Bar Mitzvah likewise requires offering a new and original take on a classic text, an excellent preparation for careers in academia, the law, or revolutionary movements. You can trace this kind of damnably independent reading at least as far back as the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, a key figure in the transition to rabbinic Judaism, was celebrated in the Babylonian Talmud for his omnivorous reading, which was by no means limited to theology: “Scripture, Mishna, Talmud, Halacha, Aggadah, Biblical grammar, scribal traditions, deductive logic, linguistic connections, astronomical calculations, gematriot [numerology], incantations for angels, incantations for demons, incantations to palm trees, proverbs of washerwomen, proverbs of foxes,” not to mention legal treatises and chariot-repair manuals. The premise behind his reading—polymathic, multidisciplinary, ranging freely across high to low culture—is that all of it had educational value that could be shared with other readers: “That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, and that I may fill their treasuries.”
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.