Monday, April 11, 2005

Good word

"The Creation, the Garden, the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the patriarchal saga of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph make a more or less continuous story. Rereading it awakened certain sensations from my Sunday-school education, more than sixty years ago, when I seemed to stand on the edge of a brink gazing down at polychrome miniatures of abasement and terror, betrayal and reconciliation. Jacob deceiving blind Isaac with patches of animal hair on the backs of his hands, Joseph being stripped of his gaudy coat and left in a pit by his brothers, little Benjamin being fetched years later by these same treacherous brothers into the imperious presence of a mysterious stranger invested with all Pharoah's authority--these glimpses into a world paternal to our own, a robed and sandalled world of origins and crude conflict and direct discourse with God, came to me via flimsy leaflets illustrating that week's lesson, and were mediated by the mild-mannered commentary of the Sunday-school teacher, a humorless embodiment of small-town respectability, passing on conventional Christianity by rote. Nevertheless, I was stirred and disturbed, feeling exposed to the perilous basis beneath the surface of daily routine, of practical schooling and family interchange and popular culture."

--John Updike, reviewing Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses (The New Yorker, Nov. 1, 2004)

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