Some conservative Christians were also baffled by my undertaking. They said I couldn't truly understand the Bible without accepting the divinity of Christ. They said that many of these laws -- like the ones about animal sacrifice -- were nullified by Jesus's death.
And I did start to have doubts. These were good points. I felt torn, anxious about my approach, my monumental ignorance, my lack of preparation, about all the inevitable blunders I'd make. And the more I read, the more I absorbed the fact that the Bible isn't just another book. It's the book of books, as one of my Bible commentaries calls it. I love my encyclopedia, but the encyclopedia hasn't spawned thousands of communities based on its words. It hasn't shaped the actions, values, deaths, love lives, warfare, and fashion sense of millions of people over three millennia. No one has been executed for translating the encyclopedia into another language, as was William Tyndale when he published the first widely distributed English-language edition of the Bible. No president has been sworn in with the encyclopedia. It's intimidating, to say the least.
Fortunately, I got a couple of pep talks from two of my favorite advisers. The first was Reverend Elton Richards, my friend David's father, who just retired as minister of his Lutheran congregation in Des Moines, Iowa. He calls himself a "pastor out to pasture." I told him about the doubters.
"You just have to tell them that you have a hunger and a thirst. And you may not sit at the same banquet table as them, but you have a hunger and thirst. So they shouldn't judge you."
I love the way he talks. By the end, perhaps I'll be able to speak in majestic food metaphors like Reverend Richards.
I also had breakfast with Rabbi Andy Bachman, a brilliant man who heads up one of Brooklyn's largest synagogues, Congregation Beth Elohim. He told me a midrash -- a story or legend that is not in the Bible proper, but which deals with biblical events. This midrash is about the parting of the Red Sea.
"We all think of the scene in The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston, where Moses lifted up his rod, and the waters rolled back. But this midrash says that's not how it happened. Moses lifted up his rod, and the sea did not part. The Egyptians were closing in, and the sea wasn't moving. So a Hebrew named Nachshon just walked into the water. He waded up to his ankles, then his knees, then his waist, then his shoulders. And right when water was about to get up to his nostrils, the sea parted. The point is, sometimes miracles occur only when you jump in."
So I did. And here is what happened.
Copyright 2007 by A. J. Jacobs