The other day someone noticed one of my feeds that seemed uber-apropos for a self-proclaimed Wench who runs a Virgin Training School: “Jeremiah and the Lustful She-Camel” screamed the headline from Slate Magazine.
Oh, my, but there are volumes of possibilities in that headline! I’ve written a silly story about it that has very little to do with the actual article. You can read it in a moment, but first I’d like to talk a bit about the article and the series that begat it, as well as some books I recommend to anyone interested.
The article is part of David Plotz’s series Blogging the Bible: What’s Really in the Good Book. Plotz is a faithful Jew who, like many of us who have attended services in the religion assigned to us by virtue of our birth, reached adulthood believing that he knew what the Bible taught and what the stories were. In the article in question he examines the Book of Jeremiah and comments on how Jeremiah spends a good deal of time early in his sermons talking about sex – or at least comparing people’s bad behavior to sexual misconduct. He describes them at one point as “running about like a lustful she-camel.”
In the introduction to his series on the Bible, Plotz explains that at a bat mitzvah for a friend’s daughter, he picked up a copy of the Bible and idly flipped to Genesis Chapter 34 and began reading. What he saw startled him and started him on a new quest to discover the book he assumed he knew fairly well. He is now blogging a book of the Bible at a time and reexamining what the book says. It’s an exercise I have immensely enjoyed following. I highly recommend the series to anyone interested in religion.
Like Plotz, when I find myself unwillingly stuck at a religious ceremony, which is pretty much anytime I find myself at a religious ceremony, I pick up the Bible and idly flip through it. Almost without exception I find something that appalls me about this so-called benevolent God we are taught about, or about the teachings of his Son as explained by Peter or Paul, both of whom I think corrupted the message beyond recognition.
Chapter 34 of Genesis is the subject of a marvelous contemporary literary midrash by Anita Diamant called The Red Tent. When I read it several years ago, Diamant’s interpretation and extrapolation of the story of Dinah, half-sister of Joseph (he of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) sent me on a quest to discover more of these wonderful novels.
I’m a voracious reader, but the sheer number of midrashim I devoured over the next few months impressed even me. I felt as though there were finally people out there – other, sensitive, questioning, intelligent, appalled people – whose language I could finally understand and to whose thoughts and responses to Biblical stories I could finally relate.
I still read every contemporary literary midrash I come across. I like them. I like the fact that heroes like King David are shown to be petty and mean, like in Queenmaker, by India Edgehill. That’s how he impressed me in the first place. That and arrogant, of course. The same author has written about the relationship between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in Wisdom’s Daughter.
That’s right, the brilliant and prolific Orson Scott Card has written three midrashim so far. He is the Hugo Award winning author of Ender’s Game fame, the start of a classic science fiction series that brilliantly combines interspecies space battles and computer video games. This is the same Orson Scott Card who wrote the fabulous alternate history/fantasy series the Tales of Alvin Maker. Alvin, the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, whose “knack” for “making” makes him almost god-like, has interactions with actual historical figures from the time period including Chief Tecumseh and his brother, the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa, Napoleon Bonaparte (exiled in this alternate history to Detroit for his crimes against Europe), and my own distant cousin and President-for-a-White-Hot-Minute William Henry Harrison, he of Tippecanoe fame. Card has written lots more that is absolutely wonderful, but I’ll let those of you who don’t know his work email me for more information if you’re really curious.
Card has written midrashim about Rebekah, wife of Isaac and mother of the twins Esau and Jacob, and Rachel and Leah, the wives of Jacob and mothers of Joseph and Dinah and the twelve tribes of Israel. I sincerely hope he writes more. I really enjoy his work and it delights me no end that he has delved into another genre I love.
Marek Halter, a Polish writer whose family narrowly escaped the Warsaw Ghetto during German’s occupation, has written the Canaan Trilogy which includes another book about Abraham’s wife Sarah, Zipporah, the wife of Moses, and Lilah, the sister of the Prophet Ezra. Halter also has written several other books about the Jewish people including The Book of Abraham, which is not about the father of the Judeo-Christian-Islam traditions, but about a man who lived after the time of Jesus in Jerusalem when the Romans sacked it in 70 C.E.
More books in the genre include Rebecca Kohn’s The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther; Brenda Ray’s The Midwife’s Song: A Story of Moses’ Birth; In the Shadow of the Ark, by Anne Provoost; and Lion’s Honey: The Myth of Samson, by David Grossman. A very funny but poignant look at the missing years in the life of Jesus is the subject of Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, a novel Guy, High Priest of Meatloaf recently turned me on to. I’m here to tell you, if a High Priest of anything advises you to read something about religion, you should.
The books I’ve listed here are just a few of the contemporary literary midrashim that exist. If you’ve read something in this genre that I haven’t listed, please leave me a comment about it. I’m always looking for more.
And please, don’t anyone tell me I’m going to hell for not believing what they tell us in church, temple or mosque, or for not accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Save it for someone who is more impressionable than I am and who hasn’t embarked on an exploration of religion to find out more about it.
Enough of the seriousness. On, now, to my own quasi-midrash: Jeremiah and the Lustful She-Camel. It is not a polite story.
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