Whilst my blog is most often an opportunity for my theological thoughts and cogitations to be aired, there are times when I feel it necessary to make a comment on culture and the media. This week is one of those times.
I spent an interesting and enjoyable hour watching Simon Schama’s new BBC documentary, The Story of the Jews. As with all of his history programs, it was good TV and he is an engaging presenter. Since I am not an historian, I would not comment on the historical accuracy of his programmes, especially the ones that have focused purely on the history of Britain or America. Whilst I watched this one, however, I became increasingly uncomfortable.
I have a more than passing familiarity with the history of the Jews (through my theological studies) and as I watched him presented his understanding of the ancient history of the Jews I felt that it was almost unrecognizable. It took me a good half an hour to work out why.
When Simon Schama began the programme, he set out his reasons for doing so. Chief among them was his own need for identity as a Jew and his desire to belong through a shared story. Yet he very clearly avoided declaring a faith in the reality of God. In fact, he declared his solidarity with Sigmund Freud’s need for identity and conclusions as to his Jewish personhood. Freud was a secular Jew who believed that the concept of God was a projection of human need and could be reduced to an expression of the human psyche. Schama is, it seems, and Freud was, an atheist.
Schama went on to set out the ancient history of the Jewish people with only a passing reference to God and, when he did refer to God, only with the implication that God was a necessity of unenlightened, pre-enlightenment Jewry. Implying further, that a concept of God was not a necessary. Even when footage of he and his friends celebrating the Pesach (Passover) meal was shown, the impression was that the presence of God in the story of the Exodus was an incidental explanation for suffering and escape needed by an ancient people.
Simply put, his history of the Jews was God-less.
He went on to suggest in his thesis, with little or no explanation, several ideas that were very problematic. Among them were the ideas that Moses must have died at the point when the law of God was developed and that the law was simply an enactment of communal grief on behalf of the people, and that the Bible itself was changed in Babylon to make the law even more rigorous. Neither of which fit with the biblical account and both of which are only necessary if one does not have a concept of the need for God.
Simon Schama has produced a documentary, all be it an interesting one, that is not ‘THE story of the Jews’, but ‘AN INTERPRETATION of the story of the Jews’.
To leave God out of the history of the Jewish people is like leaving flour out of bread. You might still be able to cook something with the ingredients, but you are not going to get bread. Perhaps his reply to this point might be that God is only the leaven for the bread of Judaism, but I would simply say that without God there is no bread at all. The presence of the One True God is at the heart of Judaism and it is what lifts it to transcend national identity. God offers purpose and meaning to the existence of humanity in the universe, a truth that is made clearly evident in the People of God, the Jews.
I am not Jewish and can never truly understand the historic suffering of my Jewish brothers and sisters. But I am a believing, faith filled Christian and I believe that the God of the Bible (both Old and New Testament) is the meaning and purpose that lies behind the existence and life of humanity. I pray for those who believe in the God I follow, even those who do not yet know Jesus to be the Messiah, and I hope that, even as I watch and enjoy the rest of Schama’s TV series, the presence of the One True God will shine out of the story of the People of God for all to see.
As the Bible says,
Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:21-24)
That time has come in Jesus.