Throughout “Good Book,” you talk about violence—between tribes, between family members, between men and women. Leaders flying into rages; people being sacrificed to mobs. Were you surprised by the prevalence of violence in the Bible?
I don’t think it’s surprising. Every great epic and myth and religious text is shot through with violence. The surprising part is the way we try to whistle past the violence in order to make the book more morally palatable. The Book of Joshua, for example, is an account of a divinely ordered genocide: God commanding His people to exterminate every person in the land of Canaan, even down to the boys and girls. Yet in our happier retelling, this book is the story of the Jewish arrival in a land of milk and honey, and their rightful assumption of the land God promised to them. To focus on the milk and honey rather than the blood and guts is a willful refusal to grapple with the morally problematic nature of the Bible.
The overarching theme of the Bible, particularly of Genesis, is real estate. God is Trump-like, constantly making land deals (and then remaking them, on different terms). When Sarah dies, for example, there are two verses about her death, and a whole chapter about Abraham negotiating to buy a burial site for her in Hebron. It’s not just land that the Bible is obsessed with, but also portable property: gold, silver, livestock.
...perhaps...the Israelites were just as maniacal about land ownership as we are. None of them wanted to rent in the Promised Land. They all wanted to own (and there wasn’t even a mortgage interest deduction).
It kind of set my head spinning, especially because Hebron is still there and still named Hebron; it's the biggest city in the West Bank.
Combine that with the incredibly tragic and frustrating way that by 1939 the dynamic that we see today among Israelis, Palestinians, neighboring Arab states, and the heavy-handed superpower of the day (Britain then, the U.S. now) was already in place, and it's all very frustrating. Rueful might be the best word to describe the way it makes me feel.