Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Study the Bible?

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

Why Study the Bible?

I can give you the long, philosophical answer... which I might do in a future column. But for now, let me tell you about something that happened last week. I went to visit the Metropolitan Museum to see the major exhibit on ancient Assyria. I’m making my way through the splendid archeological treasures when I spot a small stone slab in a corner exhibit. I bend over to examine the piece and am shocked to see that it is the famous Tel Dan Stele.

The Tel Dan Stele is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993-­94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-­Damascus, an important regional monarch in the late 9th-­century BCE. What’s so unique about it? King Hazael boasts about conquering two kings of “Beit David”, the “House of David.” It is the first mention outside the Bible of King David.

We’re spending the year studying the remarkable story of David. We do so at our Torah study every Shabbat morning. Ask any of the 20-­30 folks who show up each week just how compelling and relevant the texts are, and the discussions that ensue. It’s our story. Our history. Our literature. And it just so happens that the Bible has profoundly influenced the course of Western civilization. So much so that I would argue it is impossible to understand our cultural history without studying the Bible (and why I think it is a shame it is not taught in public school).

As Rabbi David Wolpe writes in his acclaimed new book about his namesake: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life. Every sex scandal involving prominent men is sure to evoke comparisons with David and Bathsheba. Successions in power allude to David and Saul. Unequal struggles are summarized with the battle of David and Goliath. If you reach for an underdog, if you seek a precedent for the abuse of power, if you look for an ancient model of friendship or (perhaps) same sex love, if you want a monarch who is also a bard, if you want to suggest a kingship that will never end, and so very much more­ David is your man.”

The Tel Dan Stele puts to rest the notion that the story of David is pure legend, invented history. David’s story is epic and intimate at the same time. He is supremely gifted yet deeply flawed. Some of his story is surely embellished, but in the main it is all too real. His excesses are our excesses; his family problems are our problems... only to a greater degree.

David’s story is the most compelling of the entire Bible, yet it is only one of dozens. It is “Exhibit A” for why it’s worth reading the book of books. And it’s never too late to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment