And a glimpse into the power of religion, if only religion as culture for a beleaguered minority.
My good friend David Plotz at Slate (who's almost good enough for his amazing-babe wife) spent a year blogging the Bible there in a feat which filled me with writer's penis envy. Whatever you think of the Bible, or any religious text, in the hands of a writer like David, it was can't miss reading. It was so good, in fact, he's now writing a book about it; in furtherance of that, he's in Israel now visiting the Bible's sites and, bien sur, blogging about it. Homey (Chomey?) appears to be in the midst of a full blown epiphany slash religious experience. He almost made me cry today and, like Bill Maher (scroll to third video), I'm pretty religion proof.
Today is/was Day 4 for him and it was seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls in their natural habitat and the fortress at Masada that stripped him of any purely journalistic impulse. His Jewish mama is a happy woman today. Not only did he marry a good Jewish girl, been fruitful and multiplied, he went back to the rock and had the ironic stuffing knocked out of him. God help me, I'll never see the Plotzes on a Saturday again.
The difference between the Jews and the Canaanites, Moabites, Edomites, and all the other Ites who bedeviled us in the Bible is that we wrote the book, and they didn't. Jews survived not because we went forth and multiplied—we didn't—but because we kept going to the library. Again and again, Jews as people have barely survived extermination, skirting wipeouts at the hands of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. We were scattered by diaspora, savaged by the Inquisition and Holocaust. If you are religious-minded, you may believe that Jews persisted because God chose us. But even if you're not, you must acknowledge that the holy books are the root of our survival. Jews endured because our book endured. We remained a people because we preserved a culture, and we preserved a culture because we kept a book....
Masada and Qumran were inhospitable, miserable, sulfurous, barren, and terrifying, populated by strange people with stranger ideas, and destroyed by a Roman Empire that was by any measure more civilized. Yet at Qumran and Masada today, we can recognize the beginning of Jewish identity. In Masada, Jews mourning the destruction of their last temple made a final stand and gave modern Jews a model of Jews as warriors. In the caves of Qumran, Jews safeguarded for 2,000 years our rituals and books, the foundations of Jewish civilization. These were defeats that became victories.
Ironic me, when I finally visit the Gate of No Return and wherever else my DNA pops up once I can afford the tests (with my luck: Norway), I hope I allow myself to be as real.
Still, it's disconcerting that Irael did such a great job safeguarding the Scrolls and the Masada site and such a lousy one with all the Jesus stuff. While they were gazing enraptured at 10,000 potshard slivers ("the plastic of the ancient world") from an old Roman outhouse they kinda lost what may be Jesus's bones. As well as his wife's and son's.
The Lost Tomb of Jesus, made by Hollywood director James Cameron and Canadian investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, was shown only once on Discovery. Britain's Channel 4 canceled its own plans to air the documentary, which re-examines an archeological find from 1980 in which a crypt was found containing what were said to be the ossuaries of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the son of Joseph, Mariamne (possibly Mary Magdalene, say the film-makers) and Judah, son of Jesus. Given the highly explosive nature of its conclusion and its slapdash sleuthing, it was no surprise that the film was panned by some academics and many Christian clerics.
Still, even after the furor over the film faded, the questions it raised about the tomb unearthed in 1980 continued to make waves among archeologists and Biblical scholars. A leading New Testament expert from Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. James Charlesworth, was intrigued enough to organize a conference in Jerusalem this week, bringing together over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to give evidence as to whether or not the crypt of Christ had been found. Their task was complicated by the fact that since the tomb was opened in 1980, the bones of the various ossuaries had gone missing through a mishap of Israeli bureaucracy. Also gone were diagrams made by excavators that showed where each stone sarcophagus lay inside the tomb, and what the family relationships might have been, say, between Jesus and Mary Magdelene, who some speculate may have been his wife.
Their task will be "complicated" without the, you know, archeaology? I don't want to be rude, but Jews? Take a library break every now and then and go organize the warehouse.