Appraising God: Reading Psalm 146

Haim Watzman

A preview of a conversation I’ll be leading at an all-night Shavu’ot study session this evening—happy holiday to all.

Ostensibly simple, theologically maddening, Psalm 146 is one of my favorite biblical poems—precisely, perhaps, because its ostensible simplicity is so maddening. And since it gets recited each day in the morning service, where it appears just after “Ashrei” and as the beginning of the hymns of praise that precede the prayer service proper, it’s hard to avoid.

The problem at the heart of this poem, and its daily recitation, is that it isn’t true. But before I get to that, let’s look at the structure.

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Theology Watch

Haim Watzman

My sister Nancy once worked for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a project that tracks where legislators get their money from and how it affects their votes.

But Congress seems to be in danger no less from bad theology as bad money. Yesterday she referred me to this incredible video of Rep. John Shimkus, who represents a huge chunk of southern Illinois. Shimkus believes that, because God promised Noah that he would not destroy the world again, we don’t need to do anything about global warming.

Note that Shimkus segues without blinking from God’s promise that He will not destroy the world into the odd idea that therefore mankind is incapable of destroying the world on its own. That’s sloppy theology.

Maimonides would not have made such a ridiculous mistake had he been elected to Congress.

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More on “Southern Exposure”

Readers of Gershom’s last post may be interested in an article I published in Nature last year on Elad’s role in running the site of the City of David excavations.

As I reported in the same journal earlier this month, a group of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists recently unveiled a draft agreement about how archaeological sites and artifacts would be treated under a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

As Gershom notes, every historical or archaeological site can provide the basis for a variety of different stories. True, archaeological artifacts and sites provide hard facts that limit the kinds of stories you can tell. A Palestinian scholar who proclaimed that City of David structures dating from the eighth or ninth century BCE were actually from the early Islamic period would have a hard time getting anyone to take his case seriously because we know from other sites that buildings built in those periods have distinct styles and methods of construction. An Israeli who tried to argue that Arabs never ruled Jerusalem would run up against all those layers of Muslim and Arab remains that excavators have found all around the city.

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Telling the Story and Doubting It, Too

On Shabbat afternoon I walked over to the Ramban synagogue in the Greek Colony to attend the popular weekly talk by Rabbi Binyamin Lau. This week’s topic was Daniel.

Daniel, as related in his eponymous biblical book, was a boy from a family exiled by Nebuchadnezzar from Judea to Babylonia. He is educated in the school at the royal court and achieves fame—and avoids execution—when he succeeds in solving a problem even tougher than the one Joseph faced in Egypt. Pharaoh had a dream and needed to know what it meant; Joseph interpreted it for him. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream but didn’t remember what it was; he needed someone who could both tell him what he’d dreamed and what actual events it portended.

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