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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bible

Recently a student told me that the best selling work of non-fiction was not The Diary of Anne Frank as I had suggested, but was in fact, The Bible. Hmm, I thought. What should I not say or say? Here I was in a public school classroom in front of 25 students who were waiting with baited breath to see how I might respond.

Some years ago I tried to finish The Book of J by Harold Bloom. I'm an armchair quasi-biblical, more ancient history kind of scholar (Second Temple period specifically), but it is definitely a hobby not a serious academic pursuit, so I had some well-informed thoughts about this young man's assertion. The Book of J is a somewhat scholarly tome that maintains that certain parts of the Pentateuch (the first five books -- or the Hebrew hit parade known as Torah) were actually written by a woman living at the time of the Solomon’s Court or the time of the first Temple, as a piece of literature. Bloom is referring in particular to the first strands in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers. From what I was able to gather, he and his translator reinterpreted much of the writing to support this claim.

Bloom goes on to demonstrate rather compellingly how there were at least four authors who contributed and how you can tell who was responsible for what by the dramatic changes in the writing styles. For me, this was a new and interesting take on a piece of literature that has somehow survived all of the tragedies and plagues known to man. Clearly there was something to be said for its endurance record.

But, I wondered if it might be appropriate to clarify a bit of confusion about what "The Bible" actually is; doing so had gotten me into big and extremely unpleasant trouble once before.

For the record, the Hebrew Bible should not be confused with the Christian Bible. The scriptures by which Jews practice include three parts: Torah or the Five Books of Moses, Nevi' 'im or The Prophets (my personal favorite) and Kethvvim or The Writings.

Christians and other non-Jews and even some Jews refer to the Hebrew Bible as The Old Testament thereby making a connection to and having it superceded by The New Testament. We could split hairs here and say in fact that it is the Original Testament and what Christian’s call The Old Testament is in fact a revised draft, facilitating the arrival of you know who. The first five books of the Christian Old Testament do appear in the same order but have different names and varied text and beyond those first five books, what is considered “The Bible” have even less in common.

The term Bible comes from the Greek, "La Biblia" which literally translates as the books – and as all these thoughts and more ran through my brain while looking at the pimply face of my challenger, I decided to nip it in the bud. This young man claiming The Bible as best seller was clearly not prepared or interested in the complex response that I was prepared to elucidate and I certainly did not want to broach so perilous a perch in my temporary public school classroom.

I might add that all this has nothing to do with what I believe in or don't believe. This is all historical information examined from a literary perspective. The Hebrew Bible was compiled long after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the compilation committee functioning much like American Idol, chose not to include a variety of texts known as the Apocrypha. To confuse holy matters even more, some of these rejected texts are considered holy by other religions, and are actually a part of their Bible.

For example, why is the story of Queen Esther of Purim fame celebrated

in Jewish lore and not the story of Judith, another super heroine who seduced and then cut off the head of General Holofernes to save her people?

Catholics accept the book of Judith as a narrative of facts, but the Book of Judith does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and is consequently excluded from the Protestant Canon of Holy Scripture. The Catholic Church has always maintained its canonicity, which is a very nice word for sacred writing and sounds like an album by the Police.

What is not nice, is how religion can create a great deal of noise and conflict between people that is nothing like Synchronicity.

About twenty some odd years ago, I was working for a large media corporation in the South, which sold merchandise on your television and was run by two larger than life personalities. Both had become billionaires in short order and the only thing larger than my slave-to-fashion shoulder pads were their egos. The president was a born-again freakishly tall Laurel and the chairman of the board was Hardy with a deep southern drawl and lascivious attitude.

They had just returned from a business trip to Denver on Delta Airlines and the president came into my office with a small card that came with his meal. It was a Thanksgiving greeting “from your family at Delta Airlines”. He said that he wanted us to do something just like it for the upcoming holidays for everyone who made a purchase from the company.

I ran all creative services for the corporation and called a quick meeting with some members of my team. I also reached out to operations to determine how many packages we would be shipping between December 12 and January 12, as well as the dimensions of the smallest box we used. The company anticipated shipping twelve million units in that time and based on the design and size of the card, it would cost $18,000 to produce.

The card used a very nice stock photograph of a Christmas tree next to a fireplace hung with stockings with care. It had that kind of cheesy diffused lighting that made everything glow just a bit too much and I knew the President would love it. The copywriter had drafted a bit of seasonal prose closing with Happy Holidays from your family at Insert Company name here.

So I now called our very hands-on President with the news. He asked that I come down to his office and show him the work. We were located at that time on a sprawling 400-acre campus built just for us. My office was in the same building and around the corner from the president and chairman through a series of wide hallways with locked doors that required using a coded identification badge to open. Each doorway has a unique code so the corporate caste system could be easily enforced. Everything, the carpet and walls, was a shade of blue except the money they were minting by selling boatloads of crap to transfixed viewers.

I was announced and walked into his office. I showed him the materials we had prepared. He loved the photograph. After reading the copy, he looked up at me and said, “ The card should read Merry Christmas. Do I need to give you a bible?”


“No,” I said. “I have my own thank you. I understand you work with that rough second draft.”

Yeah, I lacked a certain self control at times.

Then he said, “ This is not NBC or CBS or ABC and the day the Jews own this company is the day that card will say Happy Holidays. Do I make myself clear? “


“You do indeed. But where should I expense the $18,000 that we do not have in the marketing budget?”

“Go ask Hardy.”

“Shall I do that now?”


So I left Laurel’s office, shaking and angry and walked down the hallway to Chairman Hardy’s office.

“Why come on in little lady. What can I do for you today?” He crooned.

I went on to explain that I had this photograph and copy for the card they had requested , we needed to print 12 million of them, but that Laurel felt the card should say Merry Christmas.

“Why, I think the card should say Happy Holidays.”

I told him I agreed with him but the other issue was that the card was going to cost $18,000 to produce, money we had not allocated in the Marketing budget, where did he want me to post the expense.

He blinked and thought for a moment. Smiling he said, “ I would be just as happy to wish them Happy Holidays over the air.”

“Ok,” I smiled, “ Shall I tell Laurel that?”

“Yes please do.”

So I left Hardy’s office eager to kill the whole thing, headed back to you know where.

“I’m back and have been instructed to tell you that Mr. Hardy says he would be just as happy to wish them Happy Holidays over the air.”

“What!!” He stood up and grabbed the materials I was holding out of my hands. “ Follow me” he commanded.

Barging in to the Chairman’s office he seethed, “ Did we or did we not decide on the flight back from Denver that we were going to do this for our club members who made a purchase over the holidays?”

The red faced chairman replied, “Well, uh, yes. But I think the card should say Happy Holidays. “

Our president turned around facing me. Pointing a finger at me and speaking with clenched jaws he hissed, “ Did she get to you? This is not ABC or NBC or CBS. This is a Christian company and the day the Jews own it is the day that card will say Happy Holidays.”

At this point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. So I said, “ Why don’t you let me know what you decide?” and backed slowly out the door.

Under my breath I muttered, “ For the record, this is a public company” and fled.

As I walked back to my office, through the coded doors with my hands shaking as I used the coded ID to get back to where I could collapse, I kept repeating to myself, “ They can’t kill you, they can only fire you. They can’t kill you, they can only fire you.”

It was the only time in my life that I could see the movement of my heart pounding in my chest.

I got back to my office and my secretary came in. She asked how the meeting went. I was speechless. The phone rang. It was Laurel.

Maniacally he articulated, “The card should say MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

Trembling, I replied, “ I don’t care what the card says, where should I post the expense?”

“I don’t care!” He hollered and hung up.

So the 12 million cards said Merry Christmas but I posted the expense to his executive expenses account.

The Bible can be a dangerous book. I wasn’t going back there.

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