I had read a handful of books pertaining to the Holy Land in preparation for my Israel trip in January. Most of them I started and finished in short order. One book was different. The Source, a novel by James Michener, came highly recommended so I went for it. I had glanced to see that it was over 900 pages but I didn’t think much about it.
Let’s just say my Kindle showed 55% read for a long, long time.
That was the point of the novel where I had to step away and read some other books. Like I’ve written about earlier, I’m a big believer in reading momentum and this book was messing me up hardcore. By the time I was at 55%, I had come and gone to Israel and had other books that I needed to read.
Nonetheless, I committed last week to focusing on my return to The Source and to making sure I put the effort to read the whole thing. I’m very glad I did. While the history, the complex social dynamics, and Michener’s elaborate word selection (words like “augury” and “uxorious”) don’t make for an easy read, it is definitely a valuable experience to dramatically improve your understanding of the Holy Land and of Judaism. This book helped me to put a lot of things in perspective.
If you’ve never read Michener before, he basically tells you the history of every group of people that have EVER lived in an area. For The Source, the setting is an archeological dig in the 1960s and Michener intersperses stories of people who had lived in the spot they are excavating. This helped me put a lot of history into perspective in a truly helpful way.
Since the book contains a handful of fictional stories (historical fiction), it is somewhat hard to come away with quotes. Nonetheless, here are some of the ideas in the book that most stood out for me (the second quote is especially hilarious and the last quote sums up much of history):
And the anguish that Ur knew that nightâ€”the mystery of death, the triumph of evil, the terrible loneliness of being alone, the discovery that self of itself is insufficientâ€”is the anxiety that torments the world to this day.
â€œThe key to the Jew,â€ he said jokingly, â€œis my favorite passage in the Torah. Moses is being eulogized as the greatest man who ever lived, knew God face-to-face and all that. But what is the very last thing said of him as a man â€¦ as a living man? It seems to me that this is a profound insight â€¦ Itâ€™s the reason why I love Deuteronomy. Iâ€™m going to quote it from the King James Version first: â€˜And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.â€™ â€ Eliav repeated the last phrase, â€œ â€˜nor his natural force abated.â€™ But in our Hebrew original this last eulogy on a great man ends, â€˜His moisture was not fled.â€™ â€ Eliav closed the book and placed his hands over it. â€œA man who had known God, who had created a nation, who had laid down the law that all of us still follow. And when he dies you say of him, â€˜He could still function in bed.â€™ Ours is a very gutsy religion, Cullinane.â€
A man is never old if he can still be moved emotionally by a woman of his own age.
In Godâ€™s Torah there are 613 laws, 365 prohibitive laws, one for each day in the year, 248 affirmative, one for each bone in the body.
It was this Rabbi Bag Huna who offered the famous definition of a Talmudic scholar: â€œHe should be able to concentrate so thoroughly upon the Torah that a seventeen-year-old girl could pass his desk completely naked without distracting him.’ To which Rabbi Asher said, â€œI fear not many would pass that test.’
Because when men ignite in their hearts a religious fury, they inflict at the same time a blindness upon their eyes.