Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2003 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Jay D. Homnick
Bible or Babble in Babylon?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The Jewish New Year has begun (You mean that the Jews work on a different cycle? Aha, that explains everything), and in the wake of the celebration, herewith some cerebration.
The great Irish statesman and historian, Conor Cruise O'Brien, shows in his masterwork, The Siege, that the decisions taken by Great Britain in creating and maintaining a mandate for a Jewish state cannot be defended on the basis of national self-interest. For all that their good intentions were often circumscribed by their own circumspection, the English role was founded in altruism. For once the Empire was not empirical but existential in this last great act of its existence.
He goes on to posit this: clearly, there is a subtle culture war among people of literacy and sophistication; which is the greatest literature in the Western World, the Bible or Shakespeare? Those who believe in the Scripture first were in the ascendancy for the time period required to institute the Mandate.
Fast forward to our own time and what guys like that (yes, like me), proto-secularists who are yet "All for the BOSS (Bible-Over-Shakespeare-Standard)", are thinking about the startling spectacle of all "nations of good will" being invited to husband and steward the new Iraq. Indeed, even France, Germany and Russia signed on to the new UN resolution, punctuating the U. S. Army drum roll with a crashing of symbols.
According to Biblical history, all of Mankind spoke one language until they abused this commonality in some act of collective arrogance. This is the story of the Tower of Babel, told in Genesis. The Providential response was to miraculously divide the citizens of the world into speakers of seventy distinct languages, thereby precluded from conspiring.
Then, in the epic poem of world history composed by Moses at the end of Deuteronomy (32:8), he says: "When the Exalted bequeathed nations, when He separated people, He established the borders of nations...." This is understood to mean that the concept of sovereign nations is an extension of the division of languages. Disparate tongues, distinct borders, separate nationalities.
The notion that humanity can heal this fracture in the cast of history is at the heart of the prophetic vision. Certainly anyone animated by that dream finds his pulse quickening to the pace of current events. A rapprochement among nations of good will, with Babylon as its point of convergence, has a dynamic utopian cachet. Read the description by Max Boot in the Sept. 29 Weekly Standard of the Marines handing off "Camp Babylon" to a squad composed of soldiers of many nations, and tell me if you don't sense a centipede doing cartwheels on your vertebrae.
Yet even the most well-intentioned, the most poetically condign, the most symmetrically syncopated, the most dramatically delivered, policy can lay a huge egg in its encounter with reality. The Shiites may not be as bullish; their last will is to oppose our Testament. They continue to insist "Call me Ishmael"; they wish to harp on our differences; they will spare us no wail.
One is put in mind of the traveling salesman who seeks to dispel the ennui of his solitary motel room by leafing through the Gideon Bible. In the inside cover he finds a handwritten notation: "If you are sick, read Psalm 18; if you are troubled about your family, read Psalm 45; if you are lonely, read Psalm 92." Sure enough, he flips to Psalm 92, and there finds another note in the margin: "If you are still lonely, call Gloria at 632-4879."
The inspired life provides a passport through the byways of the soul, but the flesh can still be an ornery travel companion, its importunities not easily deniable. Sure it would be a remarkable futuristic achievement if John and Juan and Johann and Jean and Ivan could collaborate on fostering a democratic Iraq. But hang on tight to the cord (chord?) that rings down the final curtain on the stage of history; there just might be a messy annex first.
No one would be happier than I to hear that the French have suddenly begun to love other nations, that Germans have begun to love other people, that Russians can master, or muster, any emotion more complex that a boozy bonhomie. In fact, if it all works out, give me a call. I'll be over at 632-4879.
09/05/03: Dubya's last stand?