Word reaches us this week of the demise of Charlton Heston. Or, rather, of the feverish delusions that launched his cinematic career. No Moses, for gosh's sake. No Exodus. Never happened, we are informed.
If no Moses and no Exodus, presumably no Ten Commandments. And that's not all. No Abraham; no battle of Jericho for Joshua to fit; just a bunch of curious folk tales. So anyway -- according to the New York Times -- the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism would have its 1.5 million U.S. adherents know, via the synod's newly published Torah and commentary.
The best-selling rabbi, Harold Kushner ("When Bad Things Happen to Good People"), who co-edited this engaging venture, bids adieu to "the childish version of the Bible" -- the Heston stuff, and so on. Archeologists and scientists complain that they can't verify this stuff. What more need be said?
Textual scholars have been picking at the Bible for about two centuries now, and it's a wonder there's enough left to wrap a well-masticated piece of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit. The Bible is explicitly a book of revelation, as opposed to an ongoing, participatory, consumer-driven enterprise.
It's the Age of Deconstruction. A text, you see, is no more than a snapshot of the author's thought processes. He wasn't saying anything (SET ITAL)true(END ITAL); he was sort of refining events through his own circumstances -- just like the children of Israel, with that risible tale about the Red Sea parting, and so on.
A central theme of modernity is the impossibility of really knowing anything, except scientific theories. The Bible is legend and myth; literature is a collection of authorial crotchets and phobias; the U.S. Constitution embodies the prescriptions of upper class white males.
The professorial and clerical caste -- formerly keepers of Truth -- spend their time nowadays educating us as to the relativity and impermanence of all things, especially Truth. The one duty we're not supposed to let drop is that of pooh-poohing (cf. the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) whatever displeases advanced and restless minds. Old truths tie the hands. Better to clear them away so the restless can give us new truths that better fit new times. (No Ten Commandments -- think of the possibilities this opens up!)
It's everywhere: churches as well as synagogues. I mention at random the Anglican theologian Norman Pittenger's "The Bible is a grossly overrated book" and Prof. Gerd Ludemann's "Today no one seriously accepts that Jesus in fact walked on the sea ... and raised the dead" -- these feats having been "invented" after the "supposed resurrection."
The modern age is engrossed -- as perhaps no preceding age ever was -- in itself: what it can see and sift; what it can smell and taste. All those old authorities -- forget 'em, we're instructed.
Wait though. What entitles a modernist to say that? Where's (SET ITAL)his(END ITAL) authority? Why believe (SET ITAL)him(END ITAL)? It's his "truth" against the historic truths of our civilization, isn't it? The Mosaic accounts -- back to them -- are shored up by 3,000 years of testimony. Rabbi Kushner and his allies adduce ... what? Forty years of scholarly doubt?
An age of individualism is perpetually tempted to arrogance -- to rejection of Old Dead Guys, like the framers of the Constitution or the compilers of the Torah, who might way back then have had some understanding, and maybe more than that, of the Truth.
Western intellectuals have been chucking the Old Dead Guys overboard for decades, and what do we find? Nobody, least of all the new gurus, can prove anything. Why believe the gurus rather than the solemn testimony of all the ages since Moses, Abraham and the Founding Fathers? Is it that we've had a new revelation? If so, who says so?
Cheer up, conservatives. These hard times can't last forever. If
"truth," as the new-breed scholars would instruct us, is just another name for "opinion," that makes their own opinions liable for a good thrashing. I mean, just as soon as we remember what you say to the new breed on occasions like the intended suffocation of Moses. You say: "Oh, yeah?"