19 January 2009

discovering Heschel . . .

Posted by at 2:12 PM Read our previous post
Recent listening:
  • Bill Laswell — Baselines
  • Bill Laswell — Hear No Evil
  • Caetano Veloso — Fina Estampa
  • Djivan Gasparyan — Duduk Music from Armenia
  • Sly & Robbie — Rhythm Killers
  • Pat Metheny — Watercolors
  • Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
  • King Crimson — Lizard
  • Yes — Time and a Word
  • Yes — Tales from Topographic Oceans
  • Yes — 90125
  • Genesis — Selling England by the Pound
  • Peter Gabriel — Peter Gabriel (#1)
(The last six reflect my recent watching the new BBC documentary on prog rock. I just had to revisit some of the music for a few days)

My current reading has centered on the problem of Jewish self-identification as it relates to the origins of Christianity:

  • Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism
    from the writings of Abraham J. Heschel
  • Selections from the Talmud
  • Jewish and Christian Self-Definition (Vol I):
    The Shaping of Christianity in the Second and Third Centuries

    various contributors—E.P Sanders, editor
  • Dialogue with Trypho
    — Justin of Neapolis
  • Jesus and the Pharisees
    by Donald W. Riddle
  • Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes
    by John Shelby Spong
  • The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity
    by Hyam Maccoby

I'll likely write a long piece on the topic of self-identity soon.
But for now, I'd like to say that I'm very impressed with the writing of Rabbi Heschel. I haven't read any theologian whose prose flows like his in a long time, not since I first encountered the work of Paul Tillich, who he kinda reminds me of. His is a sober reminder to anyone who would mindfully bend Judaism into some archaic, outmoded, legalistic religious relic: If this is your perception of Torah, you have no idea what Judaism in fact is.
Heschel has that rare quality of being an intellectually honest empiricist AND a reverent mystic simultaneously.
The translators of the Septuagint committed a fatal flaw and momentous error when, for lack of a Greek equivalent, they rendered "Torah" with "nomos," which means law, giving rise to a huge and chronic misconception of Judaism and supplying an effective weapon to those who sought to attack the teachings of Judaism. That the Jews considered scripture as teaching is evidenced by the fact that in the Aramaic translations Torah is rendered with oraita which can only mean teaching, never law.
This guy would have made mincemeat of Justin AND Trypho!

Or . . . how about this gorgeous bit on how to identify the divine:
If in the afterglow of a religious insight I can see a way to gather up my scattered life, to unite what lies in strife; a way that is good for all men as it is for me—I will know it is His way.

Why is it that I, a confessed ignostic, find the mystic variety of theologian to be the only kind that is at all satisfying in any significant or credible way? Eckhardt. Rumi. Juan de la Cruz. Tillich. Love them all as poets.

Might this be related to the fact that, heathen though I am, the only Christmas carols that I don't detest are the traditional, deeply religious and symbolic ones? Frosty the snowman could melt for all I care, but the melody of Gabriel's Message is still mildly sublime to my esthetic sensibilities.

I guess you can take the boy out of the Bronx . . . . but . . . .



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