Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Bible Experience

The evolution of the Bible continues to reveal its propensity to adapt. Earlier this week Disney purchased the script to "All About Adam," a romantic comedy about the famously doomed biblical couple. The description of the movie is too laconic for analysis: "The story follows the biblical Adam as he trails Eve to modern-day New York after they have a lover's quarrel. Adam discovers Satan was behind the breakup." I am hoping for High Fidelity meets Dogma.

Meanwhile, the Bible Belt continues to debate the merits and pitfalls of building Bible Park USA. The proposed park will be an interactive experience of biblical stories similar to the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Fl.

Many residents are concerned that the park with be a massive, publicly funded evangelization effort while others feel it will cheapen their religion. But Ronen Paldi, the potential park's chief executive, assured the New York Times that "it would simply present biblical scenes without evangelizing; no roller coaster or Ferris wheel, just a 'calm, solemn park,' where visitors of any faith or denomination would feel welcome." Gee, sounds like a blast. You can't tell me Noah's Whitewater Rafting Adventure, Elijah's Fiery Chariot bumper cars, and The Ascension roller-coaster weren't divinely ordained.

More concerning is Paldi's belief that the park, which the promotional material calls "edutainment," will be able to educate Americans about the Middle East. He notes that many people are either too afraid or too financially constrained to visit the Middle East and experience biblical scenes for themselves. This is a dangerous thought for a nation that already understands that region of the world in a biblical context. Instead of spending public resources to build a "Bible experience," these funds would be far better spent helping Americans understand the real experience of present-day Middle East.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bible Bending and the Six Days War

Today marks the 40th year since Israel took control of the Gaza strip, the Sinai Peninsula, eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Golan Heights in what has become known as the Six Days War. Though a temporally brief moment in history, the war is considered to be the fountainhead of the on-going tumult in the region.

The establishment of Israel's boundaries continues to be understood by many as a fulfillment of biblical prophesy. Even in the media, references and discussions of the event are framed with biblical rhetoric--making the Israeli-Arab conflict the most volatile example of Bible bending.

Because Israel is emotionally connected with the Bible in so many people's minds, the temptation to allude to the Bible is understandable and perhaps necessary. However, there was not one article that directly confronted the relationship between Israel and the Bible. In failing to underscore the emotional concept of Israel that stems from the Bible and its political implications, journalists have done a disservice to both their Western readers and Israel and its Arab neighbors.

As testament to the Bible's role in shaping political and social discourse, here is an overview of articles published in the last few days remembering the Six Days War:
  • Several articles pointed out that "Israel won the Six Day War in 1967 in the same time as the Bible tells it took the universe to be created." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chicago Sun Times, MidEast Web Views (ISRAEL))

  • Many articles pointed out that the disputed land is "biblical." (Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Canada Free Press, Scotsman (UK), Terence Smith in The Huffington Post, The Brunei Times (BRUNEI DARUSSALEM))

  • The Kuwait Times (KUWAIT), although it does not refer directly to the Bible, describes the conflict as "clashing national and religious claims."

  • The Associated Press article that ran in many newspapers on Sunday argues that it is demographics, rather than religion that will dictate the relations in the region in the future. It also quotes one Israeli man who compares the time since the June of 1967 to "the biblical wanderings of ancient Israelites."

  • Sandy Tolan of Salon argues that we need to re-think who is the "David" and who is the "Goliath" in this conflict.

  • YnetNews (ISRAEL) published a conversation between father and son about the war to highlight the differences between generations. Although both witnessed the Six Days, they recall the event differently. The son is more sympathetic to the Palestinians while the father recalls: "It was an unbelievable mythological event, like the siege of Assyria on Jerusalem that is mentioned in the Bible, that there was a plague and suddenly the siege was lifted and suddenly they were living anew. The Six Day War was a similar biblical miracle."

  • San Fransisco Chronicle (CA) boils Israel's central problem in the aftermath of the war to this question: "How could the desire to establish a Jewish state in the ancestral Jewish homeland mapped out in the Bible be reconciled with the future of the Palestinian Arabs who had been living in that same land for centuries?"

  • Just to remind readers that Israel is the host to many events from the Bible, several articles felt compelled to point out a location's biblical significance. For example, in a story about two families, the Miami Herald explains: "the growing Bazlamit family bought property in 1993 on an adjacent hillside in Bethany, the ancient town also known as Azariya, where the Bible says Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead." Onet (POLAND) refers to "the biblically resonant hills of Judea and Samaria" and the Los Angeles Times ran an article on returning to Israel where "the heroes of the Bible had roamed."

  • Jacqueline Rose of The Guardian (UK) uses the anniversary to review poetry that came from both sides of the conflict. Rose says of poet Yehuda Amichai who wrote "Jerusalem 1967": "In the Bible, the exiled Daniel is alone capable of translating this deathly warning for Balthazar, which appears on the wall as he drinks from vessels his father tore from the Jewish temple; he dies the same night, and Daniel becomes the third ruler of the kingdom. It is a story of the vindication of the Jews. But no victor is immutable. The vanquished can always return. To write like this in 1967 was counter-intuitive to say the least. Amichai calls on his biblical heritage to subdue the conquering pride of his own people."
Lest I give the impression that articles on Israel always refer to the Bible, I would also like to point out that many articles managed to remember the war and report on its contemporary relevance without reference to the Bible. To name a few: Los Angeles Times, Trinidad and Tobago Express (TRINIDAD and TOBAGO), The Scotsman (UK), France24 (FRANCE), The Jerusalem Post (ISRAEL), The Melbourne Herald Sun (AUSTRALIA), Aljazeera, BBC (UK), Ha'aretz (ISRAEL), People's Daily Online (CHINA), International Middle East Media Center (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES)