For our first Fun with the Bible Monday, we’re going to discuss the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of Av. Perhaps this seems sick and sadistic, but as I’ve told every woman I’ve ever loved, take me or leave me. And as it happens, this Sunday does happen to be the dreaded day, Tisha B’Av.
Why so awful? Well, it’s purported to be the day that everything awful happened in Jewish history, beginning with the destruction of the first Jewish Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem (for more on this click HERE). This destruction, of course, led to the exile of the people from Judea to Babylon. The day was then extended in the memory of the Jewish people to include the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, and even other awful days after that.
The rabbis who shaped the Jewish religion said that lots of things happened on the 9th of Av. Are you familiar with the biblical story where Moses led the Israelites to the border of Cana’an and sent spies in to scout out the land? Well, the spies returned to Moses and the people and complained about the land and how hard it would be to conquer it (Numbers 13:32). This badmouthing, the rabbis said, happened on the 9th of Av. In modern times, people have even tried to say that Hitler made his decision to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on the 9th of Av.
So, in short, the 9th of Av has been turned into the most terrible day of mourning and fasting on the Jewish calendar, and this coming Sunday is that terrible day.
Fun with the Bible
But here’s where Fun with the Bible comes in. If we look in the Bible, it doesn’t actually say that the original tragic event reputed to have occurred on the 9th of Av – the destruction of the Temple – really happened then!
First, turn to II Kings 25:8, the book that tells the story of the kings of Israel and Judah and ends with the destruction and exile. And the fifth month is Av. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month … Nebuchadnezzar … burned the house of the Lord.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t omit anything that changes what this means, so…) What!?! The seventh of Av? Suspicious, no?
Now turn to Jeremiah 52:12-13, a book by one of the great Israelite prophets alive and prophecying at the time of Jerusalem’s capture and destruction. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month…he burned the house of the Lord.” I’m sorry – did everyone hear that. Jeremiah said it was the 10th of Av, and the writer of the book of Kings (maybe we’ll get into who that was another time) said it was the 7th of Av. Huh!?
So what happened here? Basically, there was an inconsistency between two equally valid texts, both agreed to have been written with divine inspiration (again, an issue for another time), and those people who commented on the texts and read and thought about them (eventually, the rabbis) had to do something about it. So what did they do? Rather than give precedence to either text, they effectively took an average and said, the actual date of the Temple’s destruction must be somewhere in between the two accounts. Lo and behold, the 9th of Av it is. Therefore, it is this day that Jews spend mourning, fasting and crying, and claiming that other terrible things happened on to compact the day’s sadness.
Now, why did I share this?
To undermine the integrity of the Bible? To cast doubt on faith or on the Jewish religion? No (though perhaps those are unintended bonuses). I did this, among other reasons, to point out the importance of reading the Bible for ourselves and not taking the word of other people for what it says.
The Bible is a fascinating and spectacular book. I dare say it’s my favorite book (and note, I’m not religious at all). It is incredibly long, written by numerous people over the course of 1000+ years, has every kind of story and writing imaginable (poetry, prose, tragedy, comedy, romance, social/political intrigue, every stratum of society included, sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc., etc.). In the meantime, it opens up a world of fascinating history (what may or may not be historically accurate is a discussion for another day), reveals the mindset, attitudes and worldviews of countless people, times and places and so much more. All that and it’s the most highly revered text by two world religions (Christianity and Judaism) and respected by Islam as well. And there are so many more reasons to love this book.
However, people manipulate the Bible every second of every day, striving to use it for their own purposes and designs. Now, I don’t have any problem with people reading the Bible and interpreting it after their theological fashion. I mean, hey, that’s religion for you and it’s part of the book’s beauty. However, that should remind us that the Bible can be made to say anything, and nearly any opinion can be plumbed from its cavernous depths. For that reason, we need to be careful and we need to read it ourselves. I encourage everyone to go get him or herself a copy of the Bible (the editions that have the most accurate translations are the Jewish Publication Society Edition and the New Revised Standard Version) and start reading from the beginning.
You’ll be amazed at what’s in there and at what’s not in there that people may have told you was – case in point, that the Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Well, maybe no one told you that one but you’ll be surprised nonetheless. It’s a fascinating and wonderful book.
On Fun with the Bible days, we will look at some idea, theme, section or passage of the Bible and learn about it from a historical-critical perspective. That is, as scholars investigate it. We will leave our religious biases aside (though I do invite you to discuss your religion’s perspective on any particular theme or passage in the comments of the post) and try to learn about the Bible for what the Bible says (and we’ll add what archaeologists and historians have discovered as well). Then we’ll see how what we’ve discussed can be maintained as relevant today. Whether religious or secular I think you’ll have something to learn if you join me every Monday for Fun with the Bible. And generally posts won’t be as long as today’s.
I encourage you to send me your questions about the Bible or to recommend your favorite passages or themes for discussion. Email them to me at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com or just post them as comments. If you start reading the Bible on your own, I would be delighted to help you along with any places you get stuck or have questions about terms or anything else at all.
And remember, always read for yourself!
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