Highway to Hellenism

From a Passover service at my synagogue: the rabbi, expounding on Exodus 33, is sent on a long digression, via a question from the congregation, to the story of Solomon’s “shamir.” The question was about “rule worship” in the Hebrew Bible. The shamir was the mythical worm or caterpillar whose mucus was used by King Solomon to build the first Temple at Jerusalem, in adherence to the divine rule that the rocks used to build the temple not be cut with iron implements. (Obviously, the shamir’s mucus is what did the cutting.)

Rabbi (sighing slightly, after a long digression from the Torah portion in front of us): So anyway, that is the story of Solomon’s shamir.

Congregant: Wow, what a story! It’s even better than Homer’s Odyssey!

Rabbi: Not really.

12 thoughts on “Highway to Hellenism

    • I suppose Paterson’s version has a certain plausibility lacking in the story of the shamir. Is this in The God of the Machine? I vaguely remember it.

      When I read ancient history of Scripture now, I always find myself wondering: for all the talk of “kings,” and “princes,” and what not (“dukes,” in the KJV), how governed were these people, anyway? Even with kings in place, what did that entail by way of everyday governance? And then there were places that no king presumed to rule. Know anything worth reading on this? Traditional historiography always seems silent on the key issue here. You’ll read about some monarch on a throne somewhere, with no sense of what that actually meant for anyone living at any distance from the throne, as most people did.

      People often describe Locke’s account of the State of Nature as a “thought experiment,” but it’s obviously a thought-experiment modeled on real places. And one of those places, I’m convinced, is the Israel/Palestine of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the New Testament, and setting aside God-as-lawgiver, large swatches of the Hebrew Bible seem to take place in something like a State of Nature. Abraham and Jacob dwelt “in the land of Canaan,” but Canaan is a place, not a government. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was upright and perfect,” but nothing is said about his politics or political situation. The Book of Ruth takes places “in the days when the judges ruled,” but they don’t actually do any visible ruling in the book. The decisions are made by “ten men of the elders of the city,” just as they’re done in ungoverned Palestinian villages today. Curious what you think.


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