Bible relevant to our day
Photo: Herzl Yosef
Few study Bible in university
Photo: Meir Azoulay
Engineers aren’t enough
Op-ed: Decline in status of humanities, Biblical studies threatens our ability to progress

Few people in Israel are interested in taking up Biblical studies at university, and there is a reason for that. Understanding Biblical texts requires immense knowledge in the fields of archeology, history, and various Semitic languages. In addition, there is the problem of low salaries and lowly image. Yet it appears that the greatest objection to the profession has to do with its utility, as in “what can you do with it later?”


This question reminds me of a well-known Arabic proverb: “What do donkeys know about delicacies?” The above approach, whereby any investment of time must produce a quick financial reward, has taken root in our society. Those familiar with history (and there aren’t too many of those among us, as history too is in the field of humanities) also know why that is.


The classic Athens, where “praxis” was akin to a bad word, reached the status of military and cultural empire. In fact, there is no other society that was so small yet affected Western culture so dramatically. How could this happen, of all places, in a city-state where most citizens were interested in trivialities such as philosophy, Olympic Games, sculpture, theater, and other spiritual affairs?


In order to progress, a society requires a certain number of individuals who possess two qualities: Criticism and curiosity. The rest can be engineers and accountants. These two qualities are built through the humanities, and their long-term effect is vital. A professional, as capable as he may be, cannot discover or invent anything if he does not possess curiosity. A healthy society cannot be premised on computer programmers and lawyers alone.


We can understand this logic in respect to the philosophy of science. Yet what does reciting verses of the Song of Songs have to do with progress? Well, the Biblical creation is the zenith of Hebrew language creativity. Those exposed from a young age to the familial-political sagas and the immense linguistic wealth in the Bible can later express themselves better, understand idioms, and be more sophisticated and fluent beyond the level of expression required to draft a talkback.


Bible not primitive book

It’s clear to me that I’m failing to convince anyone. In our world, darkness is light, bitterness is sweet, and garbled speech is an asset. I read the talkbacks and smile. The argument that the Bible is a primitive book “belonging to the religious” often comes up in these talkbacks. In fact, the Biblical text is the greatest enemy of religious profiteers. The stories in the Bible present to us, without any intermediaries, the kind of moral and cultural distortion adopted by current-day faithful compared to Biblical realities.


Moreover, I am not convinced that a believer can even fully understand the stories of the Bible. A believer cannot accept the eroticism, intrigue, and murder, and he therefore requires commentators that would distort the text for him, in order to adapt it to the self-righteous worldview adopted by contemporary Judaism.


On the other hand, a person who had access to effective education, with a firm basis in philosophy, Biblical studies and history, would be a much more difficult target for people who try to convince him to take up religion and other divine franchisees.


Meanwhile, those who claim that the Bible is an outdated, primitive text mock themselves. After all, the stories of the Bible provide a past reflection of what goes on in our world today: Corrupt rulers, jealousy among brothers, hunger for power, and love songs. Nothing is new under the sun; it’s the medium that changed, shifting from ink on a scroll to web pages and wireless routers.


I am not trying to convince anyone to sign up for Biblical studies or to join the humanities department. Those who are interested in sustaining an intellectual defect are free to do so. Curiosity and hunger for knowledge are also inborn defects, and those afflicted by them will make their way to the university library regardless of being financially rewarded or not.



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