Monday, August 31, 2009

Matthew 25: Of Sheep, Goats, and Liberal Lions (A Brief Reflection on Senator Kennedy's Passing)

Saturday morning, I checked in on Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral mass, televised on nearly a dozen channels in the New England area. Overall, I was unexpectedly moved at the very classy send-off—the heartfelt family tributes, the rush of Congressional colleagues, and President Obama’s somber, pitch-perfect eulogy.

Of course, there were some surreal moments. One of the local stations enlisted a priest to provide play-by-play, and his commentary was by turns unnecessary and hilarious. A brief excerpt:

Anchor: As the family walks in, I hear some ominous music that seems to be emanating from a bank of metal tubes in the rear. Father, is there any danger of those tubes falling to the ground and crushing the visitors below in a bloody melee?

Priest: No. And Matt, that's called a pipe organ.

Anchor: Fascinating stuff, Father. Fascinating.

The color commentary from the Vatican rep was odd, but one of the Bible readings struck me as similarly strange: for the gospel passage, the family—with Ted's involvement—had picked the closing movement of Matthew 25, a bleak, apocalyptic piece often referred to as the parable of the sheep and the goats. (The two others were from Romans 8 and the Catholic Book of Wisdom 3, if I recall correctly.)

Initially, this selection, with its odd-ball pastoral imagery and its promises of fiery punishment, made little sense to me. But after a little thought, I started to get the joke …

This passage from Matthew sketches out an end-times scenario in which the risen Christ will return in glory to establish the Kingdom of God. According to its unique narrative, Jesus’s first task will involve separating the faithful—envisioned as sheep—from the unrighteous—the goats.

The first half of Jesus’s tale of judgment makes perfect sense in the context of an ongoing celebration of Kennedy’s accomplishments. Christ’s characterization of the sheep runs as follows: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Briefly put, the blessed are those who practice social justice ... which is logical, given the fact that both the funeral service and the media coverage surrounding it correctly emphasized the senator’s lifelong devotion to such causes. Especially in the years following his failed presidential bid, the senator worked tirelessly for a bevy of noble projects: increased minimum wage, paid family leave, the Americans with Disabilities Act, civil rights, and—pertinent to contemporary debates—universal health care.

However, what of the goats? Why darken our collective doorstep with talk of the unelect—those scabrous beasts who ignore the plight of the downtrodden? For Jesus continues, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink” (25:41-42), etc. etc.

However, even this fits. I think the senator’s inclusion of the grimmer half of Matthew’s parable is a not-so-subtle finger-jab at those who would give up Kennedy's dream of a more just world. And the implication is clear: if you do not feed the hungry, if you do not care for the sick, and if you do not continue campaigning for, well, something so basic as universal health coverage, you—fellow senators—are goats. Thus the Bible message is not only for the Kennedys and those who got invitations to his wake--it's for Congress, and for all of us.

And so I smile at the pluck of the liberal lion from Massachusetts ... still twisting arms from beyond the grave.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mark 4: Jesus's Secret Teaching

For many modern believers, the Christian creed is both simple and universal. In fact, its availability and accessibility are often cited as its greatest strengths. All you need to do is believe in Jesus--in his resurrection and his forgiveness--to join in. And what could be easier than basic belief? (For many liberal theologians, it is much more complicated, but bear with me.)

However, Groucho Marx once remarked that he never wanted to be part of a club that would admit him as a member, and I wonder if similar things couldn't be said about such an omnivorous Christianity. I mean, which bar would you rather visit on a Saturday night--the one whose sleazy bouncers pass out cheap glossy postcards that scream "no cover; girls drink free"? Or the invite-only, super-swank Manhattan speakeasy with no sign and an ominous black front door?

Well, at least one of the gospels delivers a message that is very much like the second--all members-only intrigue and high-society class. That book is Mark, and in Mark, Jesus's message is dark, difficult, secret, and--unlike the modern Christian one--available only to an elite few.

Most Biblical scholars believe that Mark is the oldest gospel. According to our best estimates, it was written somewhere between 65 and 70 C.E., just a few decades after the death of Jesus. Because of its age, many argue that it presents us with the truest portrait of the Christian savior. But if Mark's is an accurate rendering, we may not like this dude very much.

Because Mark's Jesus is surly, temperamental, and given to fits of rage. Further, he often indicates that his teaching is most certainly not for everyone. Nowhere is he clearer on this point than in chapter four. In this passage, Jesus has just finished speaking a parable--a folksy illustration supposedly meant to elucidate the thornier parts of his message.

After the speech, his disciples--apparently finding the story a little opaque--pull him aside to question him about its function. Jesus's reply, however, is unexpectedly mean-spirited: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables, in order that they may indeed look, but no perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand" (4:12).

Here, in a very raw Biblical moment, Jesus says that he has two teachings: one fake one for the masses and one real, "secret" one for the inner circle. Further, he suggests that his parables are specifically designed to distract the crowd from the truth, to preserve the inside for the insiders. Said differently, if you're hearing a parable, you won't be partying with the billionaire mayors and the German supermodels tonight--you'll be jostled on the sweaty dance floor by frat boys wearing tee-shirts that say, "If you like my guns, wait till you see my rocket."

But if this isn't all galling enough, we also discover that the crowd's confusion is very costly, for Christ goes on to nefariously argue that those distracted by the parables "may not turn again and be forgiven" (4:12) Thus, those who aren't in on the secret aren't only uncool; they're unredeemed.

Now, the Mark author--or some later editor--eventually backtracks later on in the chapter; just a few verses later, Jesus says, nor is anything secret, except to come to light" (4:22). But it's very difficult to reconcile this feint at full disclosure with the frightening elitism of the previous verse.

And I can't help but wonder if this isn't just lip service, and if the big black door hasn't already been shut.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Mark 1: A Little Love for John the Baptizer

Though I begin this post committed to writing more on the New Testament, I’m still not quite ready to take on its megastar, Jesus. Hence, reading my last few entries might begin to feel like going to see a sweet concert with too many openers—you really want to see Bob Dylan, but first you have to watch Kenny Loggins and the mustachioed member of Hall and Oates.

Playing the role of Kenny Loggins tonight, then, is John “the baptizer,” the man assigned the thankless job of pumping up the crowd for Christ in the Gospel of Mark. However, every time I read Mark, I get the feeling that John isn’t the most eager opening act. He demands a bigger cheese tray backstage, grumbles through his 28-minute set, doesn’t play any of his hits, and wisecracks when the crowd’s attention wanders.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if Mark’s “baptizer” had his way, he’d be headlining his own show … and dishing to the press after about how Jesus hasn’t been able to carry a tune since Blood on the Tracks.

But before we get to Mark’s first chapters, we need to note how this gospel doesn’t begin—with Jesus’s birth. In Mark, there’s no immaculate conception, no angel choirs, no manger, no swaddling clothes, no nothing. Actually, the gospel doesn’t only not begin with the nativity—Mark doesn’t even refer to it.

But I can go further still: fully half of the Bible’s gospels (Mark and John) make no mention of Jesus’s hay-bound delivery—a fact which makes contemporary Christianity’s focus on Christmas seem a little misplaced. We also know from ancient documents that other traditions about Jesus’s birth circulated through the ancient world.

For instance, Justin Martyr—another early Christian-ish writer—writes that Jesus was born in a cave. And the Persian author Archipodel champions the claim that Jesus fell to earth in a meteor and was subsequently adopted by a sentient car named Kit who helped him solve mysteries. (Guess which one of those is true.)

But I digress. Back to our baptizer.

It is likely a testament to John the Baptist’s substantial influence that he is the first to step on stage in Mark. And other gospels stress that John has a big following in the lead-up to the beginning of Jesus's ministry.

The Mark author introduces John by telling us a little about his message: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4) Catchy tune, right? But doesn’t it sound familiar? Indeed, to Christians the world over it does, because repentance and forgiveness will become common themes in the preaching of Jesus. And maybe it’s not going too far to say that Christ “borrows” some of John’s chord progressions when he starts his set.

But I don’t mean to start out so cynically, or with charges of divine plagiarism. John initially seems very ready to prepare the way for Jesus and accept his superiority: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals” (1:7). Now, this is the kind of respect we’ve been waiting for, right?

Well, not quite, because when Jesus strolls down to get baptized by John just a few verses later, John doesn’t seem to recognize him. We may expect the Baptist to acknowledge Jesus as divine, or to untie his sandals, or to say, “Hey, you’re that guy I was just talking about. Thong guy.” But he does none of these things. In fact, the text gives us no reason to believe that Jesus isn’t a faceless member of the crowd.

Perhaps to remedy this situation, the the author of the Gospel of John—written by a different, pseudonymous "John" at least four decades after Mark—makes it clear in his version of events that the baptizer verbally acknowledges Jesus as the “Lamb of God” when he comes to the river. But is the later evangelist’s clarification a response to the baptizer’s lack of enthusiasm in Mark?

Further, while the Mark author reports that the heavens open when Jesus is baptized, John never certifies the miracle. If this were a true torch-handing ceremony, wouldn’t we expect him to fall on his face and cry Jesus as his holy successor? On the contrary, even after God speaks, John says absolutely nothing. Not even “Holy shit.” And then the whole episode abruptly ends when the "Spirit" "immediately" drives Jesus out into the wilderness without another word from either party. What a truly odd juxtaposition.

We don’t hear much more about John in Mark. Jesus’s baptism seems to mark their only direct encounter, and it’s possible that the whole affair is underwhelming—or maybe even galling—for John.

All of which suggests that Mark’s John might be a little less than eager to pass the mike over to Jesus, because the man believes he can still rock. So today, let’s give John the baptizer his due. Play “Footloose” one more time.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Matthew 1: Jesus and the Birthers

As we dive head-first into the New Testament, let’s start at the very beginning—because as Maria Von Trapp reminds us, the beginning is a very good place to start. But check that: with this story, we can actually start before the beginning. Not just with Jesus’s birth, but with his genealogy. (Suck it, Maria.)

And if Michael Bay has taught us anything, beginnings should bang, and this one does, because I start the New Testament part of my blog with scandal. Scandal, I say! For we needn’t get any more than a few chapters in to discover that Jesus, like President Obama, has a bit of a birther problem.

However, if the uncertainty surrounding our president’s origins is an invention of the conservative fringe, the mystery hovering over Jesus’s forebears is very real. For there is legitimate confusion about the Savior’s stock, and remarkably, the Bible gives Jesus not one, but two distinct genealogies.

The first opens the first gospel, Matthew; its author begins, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). We can glean much from just this opening line: the Matthew author argues that Jesus is related to two of the three most important figures in Hebrew lore (the other being Moses).

We’ll return to this point momentarily, but for now, let’s get straight to the discrepancies. From Matthew, we get the following list of Jesus’s dads and grand-dads: Jesus’s father is Joseph (kind of); Joseph’s father is Jacob; Jacob’s father is Matthan; Matthan’s father is Eleazar; and Eleazar’s father is Eliud. Those are just the first five generations, but the list goes on to fill the entire chapter.

However, Matthew’s is not the only family tree sprouting in the gospels; a second comes in the third chapter of Luke, and the list it provides is completely different. For Luke, Jesus was the son “of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi” (3:23-24). Not even close! Basically, unless the gospel writers don’t want to tell us that Joseph is part of an extremely progressive, My-Two-Dads-style household, we’ve got conflicting stories here—at a very crucial part of the tale. (And the judge lives in the building! Just kidding--that joke dates me, doesn't it?)

Obviously, such huge disagreements can be unsettling to some believers. In The Age of Reason, founding father Thomas Paine cites Jesus’s two genealogies as evidence that the Bible cannot be not divinely inspired. After all, how could authors writing with God’s hand mess up such basic information as the lineage of the most important man ever born? Further, it’s also very difficult to believe that the Bible communicates one “literal” truth when these two passages deliver, um, two truths.

Now, I don’t wish to downplay the importance of such concerns. Anyone who believes that the Bible delivers actionable verities wrung straight from the mouth of God must wrestle long and hard with such passages. But for serious Biblical scholars, these different lists don’t tell us that the Bible is bunk; instead, they tell us some important things about the interests of the authors who created them.

As mentioned above, the Matthew author traces Jesus’s ancestry through David and Abraham, two giants of the Jewish faith. This makes sense, especially given the fact that he is very interested in establishing Jesus’s pedigree as the Jewish Messiah. Indeed, no other gospel author is so devoted to proving that Jesus fulfills Hebrew Biblical prophecy.

The author of Luke, on the other hand, goes even further back, and though he also includes David and Abraham, he identifies Jesus’s oldest forefather as the first man: Adam. Which suggests that he wants to characterize Jesus as not only (or not primarily) the Jewish Messiah; instead, Christ is humanity’s savior. According to Biblical myth, we too have Adam as a great-great-great-great grandfather, and thus Jesus is both everyone’s relative and a universal deliverer.

I’d also point out that while the author of Matthew starts old (with Abraham) and moves ahead in time to Jesus, the Luke author starts with Jesus and moves all the way back to Adam. This narrative difference is as fascinating as the factual inconsistencies, because it tells us about these two men as writers. To me, it indicates that perhaps the Luke author has a better sense of dramatic tension than his fellow evangelist—for him, Jesus’s earliest ancestor is (drumroll please, wait for it, feel the suspense growing) … Adam! Tada! And the crowd goes wild. And why shouldn’t they? For with a little thing like a family tree, the Luke author confirms that the Jesus story really begins in Genesis, at the creation of the world. Cool, huh?

But not cool enough to hide Jesus’s birther scandal, right?! So whip up your forged birth certificates, and start dialing up your favorite right-wing radio jockey. I’ll call Lou Dobbs.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

A Bridge Too Far: From Malachi to Matthew

Regular visitors may have noticed that thus far, this blog has focused entirely on the first “half” of the Bible—on Hebrew scripture, the Tanakh, the “Old” Testament. (I hope you’ve also noticed that I try to refrain from calling it the last of these names. For Jews, there is nothing “old” about their sacred texts; they are as fresh, life-giving, and “new” as they have always been.)

So it’s time for me to confess: I have yet to address the Christian Bible—or “New” Testament—because I have absolutely no idea how to get there from here. To build bridge sturdy enough to reach from Malachi (the last book in most Protestant Old Testaments) to Matthew seems difficult, if not completely impossible.

Let me tell you why I think it’s so hard. And how I plan to span the gap, despite the challenges involved. (And why there's a picture of Dumbledore there, teasing you.)

For me, transitioning seamlessly from the Tanakh to the New Testament is as tough as moving rationally from the Hebrew Bible to Harry Potter. (Though there's probably a blog out there somewhere that tries. Maybe it's called Gryffin-Torah. Or Harry Potter and the Challah of Prophecy. Or Hogwart's Yeshiva.)

Sorry ... to get to my point ... Why is that so? Well, after immersing ourselves in Jewish scripture, we can come away with a pretty clear idea of what those texts hope for: the restoration of Israel and the temple, continued adherence to Torah law, the establishment of more reliable systems of social justice, and perhaps the re-establishment of a lost intimacy with God. And most often, it is the Jewish people who are asked—and perhaps expected—to do these things themselves.

For Christians, Jesus is understood as fulfilling Hebrew Biblical expectations by himself. This eccentric, testy, paradoxical, not-quite-Jewish teacher who is killed by the Romans—and whose teachings are codified by the equally odd Paul—supposedly completes the Tanakh. But the way he “fulfills” Hebrew Biblical expectations is so thoroughly weird—with its mustard seeds and its turned cheeks and its Kingdoms of God—that it often feels like no fulfillment at all. In fact, Gospel authors so frequently repeat their claim that Jesus’s actions fulfill Jewish scripture that these assertions feel more like defense mechanisms than prophetic completion.

More bluntly, Jesus’s new direction feels like a tangent. Or perhaps more gently, the Christian savior is a virtuoso graduate student who gives his mentor’s research a completely different spin. And the “New” Testament can strike us as a brilliant, unexpected, heterodox mis-reading of the Hebrew Bible.

That’s the perspective I’ll take in this blog when trying to understand the relationship between Hebrew and Christian scripture. But please know that if I call the New Testament a “misreading” of Jewish sacred text, I don’t mean that term as a critique. The literary scholar Harold Bloom argues that the best interpreters can only misread their predecessors’ texts; for Bloom, all great interpretations of old texts are misreadings. (This all comes from his book The Anxiety of Influence, if you’re interested.)

Obviously, many Christians believe that the part of Jesus’s message that I've dubbed "misreaderly" feels that way for a reason: preachers for centuries and generations have suggested that Jesus fulfills Jewish prophecy in utterly surprising ways. But the more I read Isaiah and Ecclesiastes and Exodus and Job, the more Jesus's message feels not surprising, but delightfully irrelevant. And I can’t help wonder why God would create a relatively unified expectations with one set of books (the Tanakh), and then subvert them with another set (the Christian scriptures).

But tradition demands that we try to reconcile the one with the other. Not because we are all good Christians--though some of us are--but because the Bible comes to us (and especially to Americans) as an intact corpus. As a whole. No matter how ragged the package, it is one book. And it has been one book for around sixteen centuries—which tells us that for literally billions of people, the leap from Malachi to Matthew is no leap at all. Moving ahead in my writings, I hope to explore the reasons why this is so—while at the same time remembering that for every devout Jew, there are only reasons why not. It’s a tough balancing act.

Nonetheless, today I open the floodgates and free myself to jump among scriptures and between “testaments.” In doing so, I will not build a bridge—that image is too neat, too causal. Instead, I will take a leap of faith. Not Christian faith or Jewish faith … let’s call it interpretive faith, or "misreaderly" faith. We will make the transition not because it makes sense, but because we must. And because we can. And because we want to. And that will be “reason” enough.
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Psalm 103: The Dude Abides


One of the driving forces behind this blog, as its inscription suggests, is an abiding belief that "it's good to know the Bible better." Not just for devout Christians or Jews. Or hard-scrabble skeptics who want to stick it to the Man. But for everyone. Because the Bible's influence (unlike its shifty God) is omnipresent.

But I also believe that Biblical literacy isn't helpful only in "serious" situations. You don't need it only when talking with your hyper-religious friends. Or when listening to a Southern senator quote scripture as adultery brings his political career to an end. Or when following the persistent (and persistently bloody) struggles over the Holy Land.

It can even come in handy when watching The Big Lebowski. Seriously. Check it out.

I was watching Lebowski last weekend for something like the 22nd time, and as the film was coming to a close, I noticed a Bible quote plastered to the back wall of one of the sets, almost like an epitaph for the movie. The passage comes from the Psalms:

As for man, his days are as grass.
As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone. (Ps. 103:15)

These lines, set in gold-embossed lettering, hang on the paneling behind the undertaker from whom Walter and the Dude receive Donny's remains. And it turns out that the whole movie is a pretty decent interpretation of this brief text.

Now, at a basic level, the scripture makes sense at a death wake: this is just one of the Psalmist's frequent reminders that while God is eternal, we are most decidedly not. The Lord endures forever, but we all end up as piles of ash in Folgers cans unsuccessfully thrown out over the waters of the Pacific ... which we love so well.

And the moment of our death remains laughably beyond our understanding. Life, as the Dude might remind us, "is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta in's, lotta out's, lotta what-have-you's." And we're likely never to catch up in time to see who's out of the game next; as the Psalmist continues, "the place thereof shall know it no more" (Ps. 103:16).

For Lebowski, the wind takes the one we never expect--Donny, struck down by a heart attack after the "plot" ends. (And have you ever noticed that the only time Donny doesn't bowl a strike is right before he dies?) Goodnight, sweet prince.

But the movie's Psalms reference is also a hilarious stoner joke, because Lebowski is all about "grass." Says the Dude to Jeffrey Lebowski, "Mind if I do a J?" And the Coen brothers remind us, thankfully, that not all Bible references need be pious.

But, as is often the case with Biblical intertextuality, there's so much more here. There's a chance that the writing on the wall might recall for us another piece about grass, this time from Isaiah. First, the King James translation: "All flesh is grass" (40:6). Then, the blunter NRSV: "All people are grass [...] surely the people are grass" (6-7).

And we are returned to the blasted heath of Lebowski's late-millennium Los Angeles, where we see no grass, only concrete and pavement and wood floors and dusty desert prairies (and micturated-upon rugs). In L.A., only people are left to signify the natural world, and each of us is an all-too-fleeting sign of life in the sprawl.

In our hyper-urban, post-modern America, Isaiah's metaphor is condensed and distilled. We are not only like grass--we are grass. And with the distancing power of idiom gone, we are one step closer to the ephemeral, liable to be blown away by the divine winds at any moment.

So what are we to do? Flee in fear from the terrifying breath of God? Despair?

Or perhaps we should take the counsel of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes: "Be happy and enjoy [yourselves] as long as [you] live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil" (3:12-13).

Or perhaps better, we could take Walter's similar advice: "Fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling."
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Judges 1: An Open Memo to the Israeli Settlers

A piece in last Thursday's Times noted the continued proliferation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, even as President Obama and his point man on Israel--George Mitchell--ramp up efforts at Mideast Peace. (A Monday news analysis continues the coverage.)

The first story quotes a settler--a devout one, obviously--petulantly defending the his group's rights to the land: “The Torah says the land of Israel is for the Jewish people. This is just the beginning. We will build 1,000 homes here. The Arabs cannot stay here, not because we hate them, but because this is not their place.”

I can't really quibble with his point. The Torah does suggest that 1) the land that is now Israel belongs to the Hebrews and 2) it is not the Arabs' (read: Canaanites') place. (Other scriptures argue otherwise, but let's keep this discussion Biblical.) However, it only takes a quick read through the opening chapters of Judges to discover that these two statements are only true, well, until they aren't.

Those of you who have never made it to the end of the Torah (the first five books of the bible) might not know that while it reputedly tells how the Israelites' get to the Promised Land, the story ends before the people arrive. It is the book of Joshua, one after the Torah, that gives us their successful invasion and occupation of the land.

Joshua reads like heroic legend--it's a heavily idealized version of events. The Israelite armies conquer with bloody ease. Opposing armies fall beneath their blades like grass before the reaper, and their entrance into Canaan feels divinely mandated, like it's supposed to. Even their route seems inspired by God--a perfect circle of destruction that delivers the Promised Land to the Chosen People.

(As a side note, when I heard of the Promised Land as a child, I always pictured it as uninhabited--as rolling, fertile, unpopulated plains filled with amiable wildlife. A lot like Nebraska, I guess. In fact, it's full of people--people who have to be slaughtered. Perhaps that's why kids only get the Jericho story.)

By contrast, the book of Judges lays out a different version of events--one that doesn't paper over pesky details. Because it turns out that the Israelites' occupation of Israel is neither so simple nor so complete as Joshua would have us believe. The Hebrew armies actually lose a few battles. And some of the Canaanite peoples (read: Arabs) just won't be rooted out.

Take a notable instance in Judges 1: "The Lord was with Judah [the tribe], and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron" (1:19).

Note a few things here. This moment is supposed to mark a triumphant entry into Promised Land--the place that God sets aside specifically for the Israelites. This is the time when the deity is supposed to cash the covenantal check, no questions asked. Furthermore, "The Lord was with Judah." In plenty of instances, the Bible makes no mention of the Lord's presence or absence, but here the text is specific--God is riding shotgun with the Judahites as they hit the plains.

And despite all this, they lose. With the creator of the universe on their side! With the maker of lightning and the bridger of depths. Because of rattle-trap metal boxes pulled by emaciated quadrupeds! (Sorry, horses ... I'm just trying to make a point here.) So this is just how far the Promise goes: Israel for the Israelites, unless the other side has bigger guns. Said differently, the people of Israel are never, even in these first hours and days, unproblematically in control of the Promised Land. It's always a tough row to hoe.

So I close with a special note to the West Bank settlers: as far as the Torah is concerned, Israel is indeed yours, not the Arabs'. But I'd watch out for guys with chariots if I were you.
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