Political Lessons Of Passover

Kevin Drum points to Dan Drezner's entertaining piece on the "political lessons of Passover. Here is a taste:

God was not that good at bargaining. For each of the ten plagues, the following pattern recurs:

* Plague descends upon Egypt
* Pharaoh begs Moses to get God to end the plague, promising freedom for the Jews if it happens
* God lifts the plague
* Pharaoh's heart hardens, and he reneges on the deal.

Pharaoh does this nine -- count 'em, nine times -- before God resorts to the grisly tenth plague. No wonder the Egyptian leader kept reneging -- if anything, the Pharaoh's resolve should have increased over time, because he discovered that cheap talk could get God to stop what he was doing.*

This is very clever from Drezner. But I think there is an interesting subplot to Drezner's piece - that no one really teaches as fact the specifics of the Passover story. No one insists that the Passover story be taught in schools or be taught "alongside" conventional ancient history.

And the Passover story is in the Bible. There is no direct compelling evidence that it is not true. Why is there not a clamor from the Religious Right insisting that the Passover story be included in school curriculums? Why is it only Genesis (and yes, intelligent design is in fact an insistence that Genesis be taken into account in science classes) that must be taught in schools according to the Religious Right?

Any thoughts on this?

Speaking for me only

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    Because (5.00 / 3) (#16)
    by Dr Molly on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:55:57 AM EST
    the anti-evolutionists know they can whip up fundamentalist Christians to support their anti-science agenda. Not so much with Jews - traditionally, they are not so much at war with evolutionary theory or science in general.

    Jews are much harder to (none / 0) (#18)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:01:28 AM EST
    manipulate in my experience too.  It is much better to grow a population that you can make dance on one string :)  Those in power wouldn't want people to begin to act Jewishish and be less susceptible to easy manipulation :)

    Cuz after Genesis, (none / 0) (#1)
    by jussumbody on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:16:12 AM EST
    Jehovah starts emerging as a petty, capricious, rash, and all around insane character.  People might notice it's just mythology if you looked at the Old Testament as a whole.  Better to focus on the trees and ignore the forest.

    More appropriately, (none / 0) (#13)
    by scribe on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:52:39 AM EST
    after the First Book of Genesis, the God written about in the Old Testament is, in reality, man making god in man's own image - petty, capricious, capable of being bargained with, capable of anger, hate and vindictiveness, ignorant (and thus susceptible to being petitioned), and prone to playing favorites.

    Speaking of trees, wasn't it rather (none / 0) (#24)
    by oculus on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:11:21 AM EST
    arbitrary of God in Genesis to expell Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden for the offense of eating an apple?  Yes, I know they were warned, but still, . . .

    Speaking of Arbitrary (5.00 / 2) (#34)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 01:30:50 PM EST
    Who kicked Lilith to curb when it came time to put the Old Testament out in hardcopy?

    Passover lessons seem to me to (none / 0) (#2)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:26:21 AM EST
    express the importance of endurance alongside decency, and grasping that there is more to all of us than what is immediately taking place or what has already happened to us.  Passover to me seems to challenge its participants to look deeper into the depths of our being.  American Christianity currently likes quick fixes and easy miracles that will happen to you if you only believe in Jesus enough.  It has in my opinion evolved into a drive through Burger King sort of faith, and we have so much of that where I live and things were so good for awhile and now they aren't and some people in my area are very confused right now.  Seems like they take these more challenging times as a sign that God is displeased with them as much they took the good times to mean that God was very pleased with them. Funny thing was he seemed to love all of us no matter what we did.  It was great :)  Who needs to think about trials and difficult learning when are seemingly God's chosen?  In my marriage we seem to attract a lot of people in our lives of Jewish decent and after awhile I noticed that they have a much greater depth of patience and are more comfortable in the midst of the uncomfortable.  But if I talk about such things openly, that I believe that many Jewish Americans do so well because they are better prepared to deal with LIFE AND ALL OF ITS POSSIBLE FUBAR IN GENERAL I just get told that I must belong to the American Friends of Likud.  When I was kid though the Old Testament stories were very popular for kiddos to have story books about or television programs about.....not so much anymore.

    A writer I know (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Fabian on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:46:56 AM EST
    did a take on the story of Job - asking why the wise and benevolent deity deliberately tortured and abused his most faithful servant.

    I can read the Old Testament as ancient mythology, but I can't stomach it as a religious text.


    I can't either (none / 0) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:55:36 AM EST
    but I can't deny that there is something healing and a special human grounding to be found in celebrating Passover as it is usually celebrated.

    Religion and tradition (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Fabian on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:16:29 AM EST
    are one thing.

    The religious texts are something else entirely, especially the Old Testament which is a relatively large collection of stories and writings when you compare it to other religions with written texts.  A lot of the OT is easier to read as historical mythology - just remove the references to the Divine.  

    The Bible is a hodge podge of a lot of things, written for different purposes, different audiences and different cultures.  If you took political speeches, centuries' worth of tribal history and fairy tales and ran it through a verbal blender - you'd have something like the Bible.


    The Puritans viewed wealth (none / 0) (#19)
    by byteb on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:08:56 AM EST
     as a sign of God's favor. Therefore, those less fortunate must have incurred the Almighty's displeasure by their sinfulness and have no one to blame but their unworthy souls. This kind of thinking is still alive and kicking in many Protestant denominations and has found a home in the Right Wing and the Republican Party.

    Oops, forgot about the "New Covenant" (none / 0) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:34:57 AM EST
    There is nothing to be learned from these Old Testament stories for me anymore because the messiah came and I'm under a new covenant.  The Jewish though, they are under the old covenant so all this stuff still applies to their lives until the Antichrist comes to lead them.  Holy Cripes I don't want to talk about this anymore.

    Um what? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:37:02 AM EST
    "The Jewish though, they are under the old covenant so all this stuff still applies to their lives until the Antichrist comes to lead them."

    All due respect MT, what the hell are you talking about?


    Evangelicals and the OT (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Dadler on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:16:02 AM EST
    As a graduate of what was at the time the largest evangelical Christian high school in the country, I can attest that the Old Testament, to them, is just that, old and no longer relevant, because of the blessed new covenant that came with Jesus.  That's why the old dietary laws and the like don't apply to them.  In one NT passage Jesus, in an obvious piece of rewriting much later (if not made up entirely), is said to have, with a few words, eliminated all dietary laws.

    The new covenant is alive and well to evangelicals.  It is the reason they are "immune" to criticisms of selectively following the Bible, because they can always givet he soothsaying answer, "Well that's old covenant and Jesus is the new and destroyed the old."

    Same way my biology classes at that school taught us that the world was only a few thousand years old and that dinosaurs "probably small ones" were actually aboard Noah's ark (a direct quote from Biology for Christian Schools from, gasp, Bob Jones University Press).


    Another one of the tortured (none / 0) (#33)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 01:23:07 PM EST
    How's your recovery coming along :)  

    Since around the age of 19 I have (none / 0) (#11)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:52:06 AM EST
    occassionally been exposed to the "new covenant" teaching that many Evangelicals believe and pass on from the pulpit.  When I was very young I was engaged for a short time to a mininster's nephew and the family was very Evangelical.  It is one of the teachings though.....that the coming of Christ and crucifixion has placed us Christians under a new covenant and any lessons from the Old Testament aren't important and are in fact about  old rules.  All I have to do is believe in Jesus as my savior and follow the ten commandments and there's no need to crack the Old Testament ever unless I'm having one of those really bad days when I'm having a hard time figuring out how I got here and who I am.  Look BTD, I've chosen my faith and I'm Buddhist.......I'm just repeating teachings from the pulpit that I couldnt' be a part of because I was told that I wore too much eye makeup.

    Ah (none / 0) (#22)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:47:58 AM EST
    Now I get it.

    Sorry for misunderstanding.


    Dresner's wrong . . . (none / 0) (#5)
    by allys gift on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:44:07 AM EST
    about G-d being bad at bargaining.  G-d 'hardens Pharohs heart so that Pharoh will keep refusing the request.  It's all preordained in order to make the Hebrews leave enslavement and become free people as one cultural/national group.  Pharoh isn't really refusing, he's a pawn in G-d's design to convince the Hebrews to get moving.

    Don't know why Evangelicals don't tend to tell the rest of the story.  Might be because they are really bad at metaphor and can't make it all fit with their view of G-d.

    It's a pity (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by reslez on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:54:00 AM EST
    God hardens Pharaoh's heart, then kills Pharaoh's first born son. This is the sort of morally problematic quagmire that leads many people to question in their hearts how much the Bible has to teach.

    I always thought this lesson was about (none / 0) (#17)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:58:33 AM EST
    being so stubborn and stupid about lesson learning that the powers that be decided that your DNA should no longer go forward :)

    A theological view (none / 0) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:49:47 AM EST
    Drezner's is a political analysis. Assuming God wanted his People freed as quickly as possible.

    Your point is God did not have a political goal (or at least it was better served by "hardening Pharoah's heart").

    Fair enough.


    That's true. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Fabian on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:51:08 AM EST
    How about that final plague though?  Thoroughly vicious, that one.  (Of course, this is the Old Testament and G_d is plenty wrathful.)

    There is lots of bargaining (none / 0) (#29)
    by ricosuave on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:45:22 AM EST
    in several of the stories.  Abraham bargains about the sacrifice of Isaac, and there is continual debate on whether he was actually going to go through with the sacrifice.  

    Abraham also bargains with God over the destruction of Sodom.  He bargains God down to being willing to save the city for the sake of only one good person.  The God pulls a zinger and says "OK...go get that guy out of the city."  Abraham definitely lost that one.

    Sorry....while I was typing this some evangelicals came knocking on my door to invite me to some memorial/revival.  I pointed to the mezuzah on the door (which didn't seem to register with them) and sent them on their way.


    They're a-spoilin' fer a fight (none / 0) (#7)
    by reslez on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:48:48 AM EST
    The Religious Right is fueled by people who feel aggrieved, victimized, and persecuted by modern life. Evolution is the basis of all life sciences including biology. There are a lot of people willing to defend evolution and argue its correctness: this leads to a perception that the Genesis tale is "under siege" by the many doctors and scientists who study evolution.

    In contrast, scientists have not created an entire field of learning which contradicts key elements of the Passover story. Therefore the Religious Right is unable to feel sufficiently persecuted and victimized by the people who point out the lack of historical corroboration for the biblical account of Passover. The RR would love to have the entire Bible taught in schools, but they would put it under "Science" and "History", rather than "Literature" or "Comparative Religion", where it rightfully belongs.

    Good point (none / 0) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:50:12 AM EST
    Thoughts.... (none / 0) (#12)
    by kdog on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 08:52:12 AM EST
    I wish a mark of lamb's blood on the door was all it took to have the plague of Uncle Sam pass on by our cribs.  You know they'll be coming for more vig to pass on to banks and insurers any day now.

    Well, (none / 0) (#23)
    by bocajeff on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 09:50:57 AM EST
    If by the third plague the Pharoah wouldn't submit then many people would be calling the struggle G-d was in a "quagmire" and "unwinnable". And by the sixth failed plague the rest of the ancient world would be united against G-d for failing to yield to plan that simply was not working. And by the tenth there would be calls for a Human Rights Commission to ask whether it was needed and if a War Crime was committed. Not to mention the envirormentalists in a tizzy over the parting of the Red Sea.

    As for why Passover wouldn't be taught while Genesis should (according to Fundamentalists): Easy. Genesis is pretty much the existence of G-d. If you refute this then the rest doesn't matter.

    Personally, I could care less either way with the exception that if you include one religion then you have to include others. There is never too much morality - except when people kill each other over which G-d is more benevolent.

    But.... (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by Dr Molly on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 11:20:36 AM EST
    Personally, I could care less either way with the exception that if you include one religion then you have to include others. There is never too much morality - except when people kill each other over which G-d is more benevolent.

    Religion does not equal morality, and secondly, neither belongs in the science curriculum.


    Hmmm (none / 0) (#26)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:24:42 AM EST
    Are you saying the Passover is not about the existence of God? Really?

    Everything in the bible (none / 0) (#28)
    by bocajeff on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:36:57 AM EST
    is about the existence of G-d. What I'm saying is that you start with Creation and then everything moves from there. Noah is about G-d as is Job. If you deny the story of Creation then the rest doesn't really matter much.

    Personally, the story of Passover (whether true or not) is far better than the story of Creation as it has to do with fighting for freedom.

    Hmmm, right back at you.


    Deny what about Genesis? (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:55:51 AM EST
    That it is science? I deny it.

    An aside: very impressive knowledge (none / 0) (#25)
    by oculus on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:13:37 AM EST
    of the details of the Old Testament from a group of commenters who don't appear to embrace religion.  

    Which Genesis story? (none / 0) (#27)
    by ricosuave on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:33:56 AM EST
    There are two completely separate and incompatible creation stories in Genesis: chapter 1 has the "traditional" Adam and Eve story.  Chapter 2 has a completely different account.  I guess the fundies don't usually read past the first few pages (it is abundantly clear that they never even skimmed Jesus's sermon on the mount).

    But I am always amused by the rigid Christian reactions to our book (what they derisively refer to as the Old Testament).  We (Jews) are taught to learn it, question it, interpret it, interpret the interpretations of it, and to constantly debate its meaning and the significance of its lessons in our lives.  I have never seen a Jewish sermon or teaching that ends with an easy lesson on what it all means (or even a single answer of any kind).  The passover service (called the Seder, and only known among Christians because of a Da Vinci painting) typically includes references to historical debate on the significance of the holiday.

    To me, the focus is on freedom.  We repeat several times throughout the Seder that once we were slaves and now we are free.  Perhaps our non-Jewish friends here can put aside the horror of blood, lice, frogs, and the slaying of the first born and join us in celebrating that (despite several serious setbacks for our people over the intervening three thousand years) we are free.  Next year, may all people be free.

    (If that doesn't do it for you, then just celebrate that our people gave you the gift of the weekend, and enjoy that.)

    Historical evidence ignored for useful mythology (none / 0) (#31)
    by Erasmus on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 11:05:51 AM EST
    I'm not trying to be provocative.  But Schumer IS my senator (enough said).  Look - there WAS no passover, folks.  t's all a Very Useful Myth. I wish someone would actually discuss the book by Sholmo Sand, an Israeli historian (other than Le Monde and Haaretz) "Matai ve'ech humtza ha'am hayehudi?" ("When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?")

    "..An Israeli historian suggests the diaspora was the consequence, not of the expulsion of the Hebrews from Palestine, but of proselytising across north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East...

    Every Israeli knows that he or she is the direct and exclusive descendant of a Jewish people which has existed since it received the Torah (1) in Sinai. According to this myth, the Jews escaped from Egypt and settled in the Promised Land, where they built the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon, which subsequently split into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They experienced two exiles: after the destruction of the first temple, in the 6th century BC, and of the second temple, in 70 AD...

    But during the 1980s an earthquake shook these founding myths. The discoveries made by the "new archaeology" discredited a great exodus in the 13th century BC. Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Egyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders. Nor is there any trace or memory of the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon. Recent discoveries point to the existence, at the time, of two small kingdoms: Israel, the more powerful, and Judah, the future Judea. The general population of Judah did not go into 6th century BC exile: only its political and intellectual elite were forced to settle in Babylon. This decisive encounter with Persian religion gave birth to Jewish monotheism.

    Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.

    Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea ..  (read the rest, enjoy passover, and start putting mythology back into the fairy tales, and reality on the table).

    God stopped Moses from entering the (none / 0) (#35)
    by oculus on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 03:23:12 PM EST
    promised land.  He only got to watch.