Sunday, September 03, 2006

A chance to rewrite the Bible

(Cross-posted to DovBear)

Something that has alway bothered me about the Bible is why did the authors (whether it was God or a commttee of Judahite scribes insist on basing their Holy Book on factual history? There may have been some short-term politicalbenefits, but in the long run, the fact that the tales of the Tanakh can be tested by scientific means can only result in people eventually rejecting the whole thing as fantasy, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. And even people who do believe in it as literal truth end up following a distorted version of the Torah's main teachings: They worry more about a supernatural God's political promise to an extinct tribe or the alleged supernatural consequences of failing to observe ritual law than they worry about "love they neighbor as thyself" or the other great moral and ethical teachings. In fact, the "morality" that is emphasized is tribal, violent, and unworthy of God's true teachings.

Thus, I wonder why didn't God just give us a Torah that, up front, was presented as a finctional fantasy. After all, most fiction that I read today contains more truth than the stuff presented as journalism. If all of the laws of the Torah were presented in the context of fiction, perhaps people would focus on the morality and ethics andnot try to justify tibal wars.

As an example and thought experiment, let's imagine the Torah if it were set in Middle Earth instead of the ancient Near East. Let's say that the basic story was that God gave Frodo a ring with great powers and told him to go to Mt. Doom with an army of hobbits, to destroy the ring, as a test (becuase using the ring would corrupt the user). As part of Frodo's quest, he would have to make alliances with dwarves, elves, and men, some of whom might not believe in God (more tests-- how could Frodo keep the alliances without betraying God). Finally, at the end, Frodo destroys the ring (or maybe he fails the test, but Gollum snatches the ring and falls to his death, etc.) All the time during this quest God is giving the Hobbits all of the Laws of the Torah, oral and written as we know them.

After the Ring is destroyed, God gives the Hobbits the land of the Shire. But the Hobbits grow fat, forsake theTorah, and start up with the idolatry. So God sends prophets, etc. But it doeslittle good, so God sends the Orc-king to defeat the Shire and send the Hobbits into galut, with the promise that, once they suitable repent of their sins, God will restore them to their land. (And to end the work on a nechemta, God inlfuences King Aragorn (who defeated the orcs) to allow the Hobbitish exiles in Gondor to return to the Shire and rebuild Bag End.)

Such a tale would have the advantage of making the Torah available to all the people of the world, rather than just one tribe. Anyone can consider him or herself a spiritual descendant of the Hobbits by accepting the Torah. And there's no complications about what to do with the tribe of people who were involved in the story, as they are non-existient and imaginary. Furthermore, if we all accepted that the tales were fiction, we could save ourselves the trouble and wasted time (not to mention bitter feelings) involved in struggling to reconcile Torah and Science.

So here's my challenge to all you fan-fiction fans: How about rewriting the Torah (oral and written) to be rest in the world of Middle Earth? Let's see if it can be done, and then we'll worry about getting copyright authorization from the Tolkien estate.


Anonymous Antiquated Tory said...

Hmmm, you didn't make too many friends at Dov Bear's with that post. This is OK by me, I thought that at least your intro post was spot-on. As for the rest of it, do bear in mind that Tolkien was an Establishment Christian who'd been in the trenches and almost all of whose childhood friends had died or been wounded in the trenches. To a large extent I think Tolkien has done with what you suggest, except with a lot more New Testament salvation through sacrifice etc.
Sadly, I am a far, far worse Jew than you and would not touch the DovBear comments section with a bargepole. I know there is actually some really cool moral philosophizing in the Torah and the Talmud when the Hebrews aren't exterminating some other tribe and I've seen examples of the same, but I fear I'm more interested in Mill, goy though he may have been.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Nir said...

Myth is most powerful when it's not recognized as myth (hence the recurrent religion-blog discussion of why fundamentalism is so strong when it's obvious nonsense); it would have been most surprising if Tolkien's books had started a new religion - Moshe in Deuteronomy could tell Israel of the 7th/6th century BCE that their survival depended on their loyalty to the Torah, whereas a clearly fictional character saying the same thing wouldn't be very convincing.

Anyone can consider him or herself a spiritual descendant of the Hobbits by accepting the Torah.
This is already true of Judaism - cf. Rambam's famous letter.

Tolkien incidentally said that his goal was to develop a genuinely English mythology that would be independent of the Bible, which he considered a foreign influence - clearly he wasn't totally successful...

6:40 PM  

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