In reading a Guardian review of the new film Noah, starring Russell Crowe, we are reminded again how the media group’s hostility towards Israel can manifest itself in the most unlikely places. The article (Arkaeology: the real meaning of the Noah story, March 31), by culture critic Jenny Diski, begins by explaining her view of the Biblical story:
The Bible isn’t the word of God or dictation taken by any of his followers, but neither is it a novel, though it is a kind of structural matrix for all fiction. It is a most extraordinary text written by several hands from different periods, each having their own motives and style.
Diski then proceeds with a (at times contemptuous) deconstruction of the story of Noah, which consumes most of her 2500 word essay – a Guardian Left drash which begins to take form in these latter paragraphs:
Ham, who was the father of Canaan, walked into the tent and “saw the nakedness of his father [Noah], and told his two brethren without”. For which, when he regained his senses, Noah cursed Ham’s son, Canaan, and condemned him to become the servant of Shem and Japheth and their offspring. Shem and Japheth had walked backwards into the tent with a garment over their shoulders and, without looking behind them at Noah, covered him and “saw not their father’s nakedness”. So why the gravity of Ham’s punishment? Baffling. Perfect for the rabbis to work on, but difficult or embarrassing enough for most of them to keep their silence.
It isn’t the most famous part of the Noah story. Not the one they tell in primary schools where the animals walked in two by two. There’s no tiny figure of the naked Noah in a stupor in those wooden sets of Noah’s Ark. Perhaps, suggests the Gemora Sanhedrin, facing up to the oddity of the verse about Ham seeing his father’s nakedness, it means either that Ham castrated his father, or that he sodomised him. This seems a bit of a stretch from “seeing his nakedness”, but we know the Bible has a quaint way with sexual deeds: lying with each other, knowing each other – and why would Ham’s offspring be condemned to servility for an innocent incident?
I wonder what the movie will make of this. Beyond their disapproval of showing Noah drunk, there are no mentions of incest or Oedipal activity in reports of complaints about the movie from the fundamentalists. Maybe the movie ends with the rainbow promise and a drunken I Will Survive party. I wonder what the fundamentalists make of this passage in the Bible. Either option, castration or sodomy, certainly seems an ignominious finale to the Noah, with whom the world began again. The Bible has no more to say after the curse, beyond “And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.”
Then, a more modern villain appears in Diski’s tale:
Perhaps it simply goes to show how right the Lord was to give up hope in mankind’s essential goodness. Or, as is the way of the Bible and in particular the Priestly writer’s text, it was simply having one of its expositional geopolitical history moments, to explain why the Canaanites (with Noah’s curse on them) had to vacate their land so that the tribe of Israel could move in and settle there. Nothing to do with sex, but a florid way of giving grounds for how things got to be the way they are, and ever should be. Just as Israel today chooses to explain its land “rights” on the basis of that ancient, patched-together, fanciful book.
A great read, and a delightful puzzle, but as the contradictory and whimsical interpretations of the rabbis show, hardly a reliable basis for justifying real-world land grabs. Dubious folk-historical territorial claims, on the one hand; an ancient parable to warn of the next man-made destruction of the planet modern, on the other. I look forward to what the least biblical of biblical films will do with this most malleable of texts.
As we saw with Guardian religion blogger Andrew Brown’s contention that new archaeological evidence that camels weren’t domesticated until 1,500 years after the stories in Genesis are supposed to have taken place” undermines Zionism, we see again the paper’s dexterity in weaving anti-Zionist narratives into even the most disconnected cultural, historical or political issues.
Of course, Zionism (which since its modern incarnation was largely a secular movement) is based not on the literal truth of every word in the Tanach – what our cultured British literary critic characterizes as “ancient, patched-together, fanciful book” – but largely on the more than 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, as well as modern legal rights: the San Remo Resolution of 1920, the Mandate for Palestine which was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922, and the Franco-British Boundary Convention of 1920 – supplemented by the Anglo-American Convention of December 3, 1924 respecting the Mandate for Palestine.
However, I would venture to guess that such dry legal and historical evidence attesting to the inalienable rights of the Jewish people in their homeland would not at all interest Ms. Diski. Our skepticism regarding the Guardian writer’s receptiveness to an empirically based understanding of the modern Middle East is partially based on the following essay she wrote at a literary journal called ‘berfrois’, in which expounded on her conflicted British Jewish identity.
But I find myself in a double difficulty. I am against antisemitism and racism in general, but I am also against the idea of Zionism and dismayed by its consequences. More than that, I positively relish the Jewish diaspora. The great thing about the Jews is the fact that they are dotted about all over the world, participating in every other culture, while also sharing and holding on to a changing culture of their own. I find this infinitely preferable to nationalism. I have no sense at all that Israel has anything to do with me. I see no justification for demanding a national homeland that was and is already inhabited by others, based on a fictional narrative written by various hands thousands of years ago. In particular I deplore the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinians and its use of the holocaust as a rationale for displacing and persecuting people.
As Howard Jacobson has broadly observed about such ‘heartfelt’ confessionals, though Jenny Diski is against “real” antisemitism, at least in the abstract, when it comes to six million real Jews living in the world’s only Jewish state, as-a-Jew, she is (proudly) ASHamed!
Though religious Christians and Jews are often mocked by many within the Guardian Left for their ‘fanciful’ stories and ‘unenlightened’ beliefs, Diski’s fealty to such ahistorical narratives reflects the increasing tendency of such ‘sophisticated’ UK commentators to accept calumnies about Jews which not only flirt dangerously close to familiar antipathies, but are so divorced from reality as to resemble something akin to secular superstition.
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- Why is former Guardian journo David Hearst afraid of a few Zionist activists? (cifwatch.com)
- Jewish Writer Blackballed at Amnesty International Event Featuring Anti-Israel Activist Ben White (VIDEO) (algemeiner.com)
- Guardian Contributor Claims ALL Palestinians Jailed for Terror Crimes are ‘Political Prisoners’ (algemeiner.com)