How did this happen? Israel, Hamas, the Bible, trauma and a podcast with Professor Jacob Wright

(RNS) — I can’t. I just can’t.

At Kibbutz Kfar Aza, they have found the bodies of some 40 babies. The Israeli government has released photos of children’s corpses, some of them burned.

“It’s not a war,” Gen. Itai Veruv, head of the IDF’s Depth Command, told reporters. “It’s not a battlefield. You see the babies, the mothers, the fathers in their bedrooms, in their protection rooms, and how the terrorists kill them. It’s not a war… it’s a massacre.

“It’s something I never saw in my life. It’s something I used to imagine of my grandmother and my grandfather in Europe and other places,” he said.

A trauma a day — ever since last Saturday — a round-the-clock vigil in front of CNN, or MSNBC, or Facebook, or our phone.

This past week has been the most difficult week in the history of the Jewish people since the end of the Shoah/Holocaust in 1945.

This past Saturday morning, on Shabbat, the terrorist group Hamas launched a three-pronged attack on Israel — by air, sea and land.

There is a word for what happened, and it is not an “attack.”

It is a pogrom, and it makes the most infamous pogroms in Jewish history — those at Kishinev, 1903 — pale in comparison.

Hamas is an international Manson family. They did not go after military targets. Hardly. They have taken hostages — children; elderly people, including a Holocaust survivor who uses a wheelchair; and several soldiers.

  • More than 260 bodies have been recovered at a music festival in southern Israel.
  • Jews were rounded up and shot in the streets; we have not seen this since the Holocaust.
  • Hamas dragged hostages through the streets of Gaza. They publicly mutilated corpses.
  • Israeli girls raped.
  • Children in Gaza tormented Israeli hostage children.
  • Hamas pulled hostages from cars, screaming “Allah hu akhbar!”
  • Hamas has called on their people to use all weapons. Including axes.
  • They screamed, in apocalyptic tones: “Today the most glorious and honorable history begins.”
  • The charter of Hamas is an opera of conspiratorial antisemitism, which suggests that the Jews are in league with calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and her inhabitants: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” In its 1988 charter, it alleged that the Jews were in league with “Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, and the Lions.”

As of this writing, there are more than 1,200 Israelis dead. This is the proportional equivalent of more than eight 9/11s.

In the words of the Book of Lamentations, which offers us eyewitness accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (1:16, 17):

For these things do I weep,

My eyes flow with tears:

Far from me is any comforter

Who might revive my spirit;

My children are forlorn,

For the foe has prevailed.

Zion spreads out her hands,

She has no one to comfort her…

There is a word for what we — all Jews, and not just Israelis — are experiencing.

It is called trauma.

Many of us know about the subject, and all too well. Many of us live with, and through, and in the wake of, our own private traumas.

Many people live with PTSD, and it has often occurred to me that the Jewish people as a whole suffer from advanced PTSD — from centuries of persecution and destruction, culminating in the epigenetic phenomenon of PTSD that affects the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It is what my friend — author Thane Rosenbaum, himself a child of survivors — calls “second hand smoke.”

But today, and this week, and for the foreseeable future, the Jewish people are experiencing a major trauma — a trauma that has affected our bodies and our souls and our minds — and we can only begin to imagine how this will affect generations of Israelis.

My guest on this podcast is Professor Jacob L. Wright. He is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His books have won major awards. He is a frequent contributor to archaeology and history documentaries (including Discovery, History, Science, CNN). His six-week Coursera course (“The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future”) bears the distinctions of reaching more than 60,000 students and consistently being one of the most highly rated courses on the platform.

His new book: “Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins.”

In the words of Robert M. Franklin, president emeritus, Morehouse College: 

“We witness how in the aftermath of catastrophic defeat and devastation, the biblical authors fashioned a new form of political community — one in which a shared body of texts provided common ground for deeply divided communities and the marginalized in their communities. At the heart of the Hebrew Bible lies a question: What does it mean to be a people?” 

We dedicate this podcast to the people of Israel, as we talk about trauma, resiliency and hope.

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