Abusing the Book

The 'International' Bible Quiz is anything but.

The young people of our country have long lost any desire to read the thick and heavy required novel by author A. Donai (who later in life took on a number of pseudonyms, among them "G. Od"). It is a boring autobiographical novel, with a long, drawn-out plot, relating in an obsolete style the hopeless - obsessive, in fact - love between the author and Israel. The latter is a duplicitous and irredeemable creature who is depicted in the novel as treacherous, and all A. Donai's efforts to get intimate are met with refusal and rejection, based on a variety of excuses.

On the one hand, then, this is an old-fashioned, alien and strange novel. On the other hand - there is nostalgia. And nostalgia is a important thing that unites people: Like Hebrew songs sung around the campfire, than which there is nothing more foreign to the current spirit of the country, so "The Bible" - which is the title of the aforementioned novel - is taken out of mothballs once a year and for an hour or so everyone pretends it is a popular, wonderful, living work. And, moreover, a work that has not been distorted at all, first by generations of Talmudic hairsplitters who squeezed all the marrow out of it, and then by the secular state that claimed possession of this book for itself in an indescribably crude way, grabbed guardianship of it and, blurring the name of the original author, transformed it into the supposedly representative work of art it is today. This, then, is how the International Bible Quiz was born.

My grandmother was more international than the quiz is. If it were a truly international quiz, it would first of all have to be open not only to Jews. There are, after all, quiz projects of this sort all over the world, such as the French "Dictee" competition, which every March becomes a truly exciting media event. These events are open to everyone, regardless of religion and nationality. And there are Christians just as proficient in the Hebrew Bible as Jews - and certainly more of them.

But then, if heaven forefend, it were to emerge that in the town of Hebron, Kentucky, or Jerusalem, Ohio, people are more proficient in Bible than in Hebron and Jerusalem here - this would undermine the naive belief in the automatic connection between the People of the Book and the Book it has seen fit to abuse for two millennia now. Therefore, although the quiz is called "international," it is entirely national, and from one year to the next, more and more national-religious. This is because the energy to prove the righteousness of our grasp on the lands of this country, which throbbed in the hearts of the founders of the secular state education system, has been lost and in our times it is the province of the religious education system.

Sectarianism within sectarianism, then. Not only has the Bible quiz become an internal Jewish event, but even within that framework it has been adopted by a single group, which has taken possession of it for the benefit of a single ideology - the ideology more or less personified by quiz moderator Avshalom Kor. This is a simple ideology, the recipe for which can be read on the package of any artificial sweetener: 0 calories, 0 fat, 0 carbohydrates, 0 sodium. In short: a chemical reaction that makes zero taste sweet.

Kor, wearing blue and white, and sporting a light-blue tie, did not miss a single opportunity this year to preach the formula for this chemical reaction. One example from among many: His cynical comments about practitioners of Biblical criticism and archaeologists who have had the audacity to cast doubt on the historical truth of some Bible stories. After all, he himself, as a person with formal education in his field, knows that the debate as to the degree of historicity in the Bible has been raging among serious researchers since Day One, and that even the traditional interpretation of the Bible has had to concede historical contradictions in the text.

But that is what saccharine does: It cancels out nuances and in their stead provides the cloud of an illusion of real flavor. Thus, as supporting evidence, the organizers screened a largely obliterated and very problematic inscription that a certain archaeologist from the University of Haifa, Gershon Galil, chose to interpret in a way that would please the ideologues of national saccharine: that is to say, as the earliest Hebrew inscription found thus far, from the days of King David (whose historical existence many researchers doubt). The four-line inscription supposedly says, inter alia, "Judge the slave and the widow, judge the orphan and the stranger, plead for the infant, plead for the poor and the widow. Rehabilitate the poor at the hands of the king."

Gershon Galil's method of deciphering is, in the opinion of the majority of researchers, completely unfounded, to put it gently. However, on the holiday of saccharine, every sweetener is a king. And like the lost continent of Atlantis, which surfaces once a year and then vanishes again, the quiz is over, Avshalom Kor has folded away his blue and white uniform, the judges have gone home and the author of that boring novel, who is older than Methuselah, has returned to his place in Heaven, in the hope that his beloved Israel will at long last acquiesce to him.