Thursday, August 26, 2010

History Lesson

One theory of the Torah’s authorship (if you accept that it was not written by G-d Himself) is that the five books were written by four different authors. Deuteronomy, according to this “documentary hypothesis” was based on material from pre-Exilic times but was actually written down by a single author, the Deuteronomist, in the age of Babylonian exile, the mid-sixth century BCE. So, in this parasha, when the Deuteronomist describes the blessings that will rain down on the children of Israel as they enter the promised land, he also knows that exile is in their future, and he describes this as well with a passage beginning, “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.” (28:16).

Predicting the past is easy. Telling the future
from further ahead, the Deuteronomist,
sees clearly how the wheel will turn towards woe.
The kneading bowl, once brimming with yeasty life,
lies empty; the city with its proud towers
is disassembled stone by holy stone;
and every male body, the mark of the covenant
etched into it, bursts out in scales and boils.
So, the moment of entry into the land—
promised, longed for, glad—is tinged for us
by knowing what comes later: how the people,
heads bared, trudged into captivity
behind the captured vessels from the Temple
they had yet to build. There were good years,
when all the bees made honey, and sheep,
descendents of the flock brought out of Egypt,
gave milk. Blessings, curses; blessings, curses:
what other word for this than history?

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