Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Many Voices of the Book of R

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Many Voices of the Book of R

Article excerpt

A few years ago, translator David Rosenberg and literary critic Harold Bloom collaborated on The Book of J, an attempt to recover one of the strands that was woven into what eventually became the first five books of the Bible--the part that Jews call the Torah. The Book of J was notable for a number of provocative suggestions on Bloom's part, including his radical although not wholly improbable conjecture that J was a woman.

I share Rosenberg and Bloom's affection for the J strand, but as an editor I have perhaps even greater admiration for another participant in the collective endeavor that the Torah represents. This is R, the Redactor. While the Roman Catholic Church offers editors the patronage of Sts. Francis de Sales from seventeenth-century Savoy and John Bosco from nineteenth-century Turin, neither of whom seems to have done much editing, I find continuing inspiration in the work of R.

When I am not editing Compass, I spend a good part of my time working on books on Canadian political economy in partnership with two other journalists. It is my job in these collaborations to take the material that the three of us have written and organize it into what we hope is a coherent text. There are a number of circumstances that simplify this task for me. First of all, we are in general agreement on the subjects we are writing about, and can meet in advance to work out a common position. Second, we can communicate while we are writing to make sure we remain on the same track. And third, computer technology makes the mechanics of moving text from one place to another fairly easy.

R had none of these advantages. He had no technology beyond parchment and a quill. The material he worked with was written by authors who were long dead and was quite diverse in focus and interest. In fact, the biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman argues that one of the strands, the Priestly or "P" document, was deliberately written as an alternative to an already existing torah that had been fashioned out of the work of J and her near-contemporary E. (1) (The priests who wrote P, tracing their ancestry to Aaron, would have found the E story in which Aaron directs the building of the golden calf particularly distasteful.)

But despite all these difficulties R--who Friedman and others suggest may have been Ezra, the great priest and scribe who served as religious leader of the Jews on their return from Babylonian exile--compiled one of the world's masterpieces of religious literature. …

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