David Plotz, Slate’s longtime Washington editor, is one of the rare mainstream journalists who has the ability to swoop in once in a while to do a Jewish story — and manage to hit the nail on the head (on Foxman, for example).
In 2006, Plotz made what he describes as a rare visit to a synagogue (for a Bat Mitzvah), and shocked to find when leafing through the Chumash a story with which he was unfamiliar — the rape of Dinah. A few weeks later, he launched the "Blogging the Bible" project:
Like many lax but well-educated Jews (and Christians), I have long assumed I knew what was in the Bible—more or less. I read parts of the Torah as a child in Hebrew school, then attended a rigorous Christian high school where I had to study the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck in my head—Adam and Eve, Cain vs., Abel, Jacob vs. Esau, Jonah vs. whale, 40 days and nights, 10 plagues and Commandments, 12 tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee Sea walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, I absorbed other bits of Bible everywhere—from stories I heard in churches and synagogues, movies and TV shows, tidbits my parents and teachers told me. All this left me with a general sense that I knew the Good Book well enough, and that it was a font of crackling stories, Jewish heroes, and moral lessons.
So, the tale of Dinah unsettled me, to say the least. If this story was strutting cheerfully through the back half of Genesis, what else had I forgotten or never learned? I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along.
And now we have … the book: "The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible." As part of the roll out, Plotz spoke with Shmuel Rosner:
Here’s a very serious question: how significant to your reading was the fact that you’re Jewish? Did and how this changed your way of reading – and interpreting – it?
It was hugely significant, by far the most important fact in my reading. Christians have the New Testament, which softens and explains and cleans up a lot of the messiness of the Hebrew Bible. Jews don’t have Jesus to fall back on. The result, I think, is our amazing tradition of argument. We have a holy book that is full of immoral heroes and an erratic, vindictive God. How do we grapple with that? My Bible reading, though deeply ignorant and naïve, is very much in that Jewish tradition of addressing the holy book by arguing with it, rather than simply accepting it, sheep-like. Also, being Jewish allowed me to be more joking about it. I was not comfortable in blogging the New Testament because it might have been insulting for me to crack jokes about Jesus, a savior I don’t believe in. Similarly, I’m not sure a Christian would have been comfortable writing about the Israelites and the God of the Hebrew Bible.
You’re an editor (and writer) with a political mind. You wrote a lot about politics, you thought a lot about politics. Did you find the Good Book politically relevant?
Yes, in a couple of ways. The Bible is the book that guides tens of millions of my fellow Americans. They make their decisions about gay marriage, economic policy, education, abortion, etc based on the words in the book. If I want to be able to understand them, and to engage with them, I need to know what they believe. Also, the Bible has many episodes analogous to Biblical events. It’s much easier to understand Bill Clinton having read about King David.
Click here for the full Q & A.