Very often I catch myself using the comments section of other people’s blogs as a launching pad for my own ideas, an excuse for ranting about whatever I happen to be thinking about at the time. I did it again this morning. This time the unwitting soapbox provider was Rabbi Rami Shapiro, and the springboard was a recent post of his called Interfaith and Abrahamic Faith. It’s a very good post and I agree with everything he said. That’s precisely what inspired me to write a spin-off on it in the comments section.
After I spent about two hours writing and editing the comment, it suddenly occurred to me that I have my own blog where I can rant to my heart’s content, so there is really no need to hijack someone else’s blog. So I decided to repost my comment here, adding a few lines to explain the context. If my focus on Judaism appears to single it out as being somehow more intolerant than the other Abrahamic faiths, that would be a total misreading of what I actually believe. Historically, Judaism has had far less opportunity to exercise its triumphalist and repressive tendencies than the other two Abrahamic faiths. It’s just that Rabbi Rami lists them in chronological order, the order in which each one first appeared on the stage of history: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. And then each one comes in for its share of criticism. I simply didn’t get any further than Judaism.
As usual I started with a short quote from the post I was responding to, and then went on from there.
Re The Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is only one true faith, and the Jews have it. If biblical Jews had any interest in other religions it was to destroy them...
Yeah, sure they did. This is yet more evidence that just like history, Scripture is written by the winners. Or at least it's heavily edited, rewritten and censored by the winners. I'm currently reading The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai, which paints a VERY different picture of "biblical Judaism" than what the official monotheistic party line tries to tell us has "always" been the case.
Anyone who didn't have an inkling of it already would be shocked at how "pagan" the religion of our forefathers and foremothers (very important!) actually was. I don't mean only the folk religion of the villages, but also the royal cult as practiced in Solomon's temple, and later in Herod's temple right up until its destruction in 70 C.E. The archaeological evidence, which can't be edited or censored, bears this out.
One part of the standard disclaimer concedes this point, but condemns the behavior at the same time: "Oh yes, our ancestors did all that pagan stuff, made all those graven images of naked goddesses and stuff like that. The prophets tell us all about how they were constantly backsliding. But they were bad, bad, BAAAADDDD and God punished them for it."
Am I really supposed to accept that kind of simplistic orthodoxy at face value? Pretend I don't know that it was that very same Semitic paganism, which after going through many transformations, eventually became the heart and soul of esoteric Judaism?
But even with all that in mind, I think it's very unfortunate that the commandment is still on the books to wipe out all the seven nations of Canaan down to the last man, woman and child, and that many people still pay lip service to it. Is that in Deuteronomy? Sorry, but I don't know the Torah all that well.
I'm familiar with all the official apologies and disclaimers, such as the fact that by the time that passage was written it was already too late for any such "final solution" to be possible, assuming that anyone had actually wanted it. By the time that passage was written, the Israelites had already been intermarrying and interbreeding with the Canaanites for generations. So what it really amounts to is nothing more than wishful thinking on somebody's part about something that "should have" happened generations earlier. "If only we had killed them all, we wouldn't have to put up with all this freakin' idolatry now." Sound familiar?
I don't find that kind of explanation very satisfactory or reassuring at all. It still presents what is commonly understood as a divine sanction for genocide--with tragic and bloody consequences I don't have to spell out for anyone. I've had Christian fundamentalists throw it in my face that the Israelites disobeyed "God's" command to wipe out the Canaanites, and that was the beginning of all our troubles for the next 2000+ years. To which I can only answer, "God does not command genocide. Period."
I have no choice but to say that to anyone, Christian or Jew, who cites that as a precedent or rationale, even if they further distance themselves by saying the commandment was impossible to carry out and was therefore null and void. Because anyone with a genocidal mindset is sure to identify their favorite scapegoat as the physical and/or spiritual descendants of the seven nations of Canaan, making it not only necessary but actually virtuous to exterminate them. That's guaranteed, and we can see many examples of that kind of thinking right now.
The image at the top of the page is an ivory relief depicting the complex and paradoxical West Semitic goddess Anath, also known as Astarte. It shows her in her fertility goddess aspect, as Lady of the Wild Things, but she is primarily a goddess of love and war, as indicated by the skulls under her feet. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Anath lately, and I’ll have more to say about her down the line.