Friday, August 15, 2008

Sholem Asch

Those who have read Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky's essay "The Old Testament and Rationalistic Biblical Criticism" (originally published in Orthodox Life, and later included in Selected Essays), will remember this paragraph about an intriguing-sounding novel entitled Moses:
Among recent creative literature there has been a successful attempt at retelling the story of Moses, the exodus and the wandering in the desert of the Jewish people, by Sholom Ashe, a twentieth century Jewish writer. The name of this writer is well known because of the part he took in several Russian periodicals of the pre-revolutionary period, and now, from a whole series of novels dealing with American life, written in English. The long work Moses (comprising some 500 pages) merits our attention because it shows the naturalness and the quite viable possibility of the entire course of events which are set forth in the books of Moses. The value of this work lies in that the author does not depart from the text of the Bible but fully preserves the idea of God leading the people of Israel in those days, concerning himself only with enlivening the narrative with a picturesque rendering of events which are given in compressed form in the sacred account in the Bible. In particular the author sets before the reader a method for the technical organization of notes for the future Pentateuch which was feasible at that time: the preparation of solid material for writing, the obtaining of inks from seaweed or shells; further — the collection of sacred traditions from the lips of the elders of Israel, the selection of scribes. In like manner, described on a large scale, is the possible picture of the preparations for equipping the tabernacle during the people’s annual sojourn at the foot of Sinai, and the works of the equipping itself: how Moses, ascending Sinai, amid the outcroppings of copper ore, discovers an area covered by thick vegetation which has a wonderful aroma and a thicket of huge acacias; how later this costly wooden material is fashioned into parts of the tabernacle, and the aromatic plants into fragrant incense for the services; how the collection of gold and silver objects is conducted so that they may be worked into utensils for the services of the tabernacle; the temple — a free labor, not carried out under the whips of overseers, a labor for their own people, not for their oppressors; with what diligence master craftsmen took to their specialities which they had acquired in Egypt — some men took to the dry reworking of metal, beating gold into sheets with stone hammers, others to smelting silver, having obtained it locally on Sinai, and to smelting copper; others were masters of woodworking and of the tooling and cleaning of leather; women, according to their skill, labored in preparing and dying wool, in spinning thread, and those skilled in fine work were found as well, for embroidering designs after the spinning, for preparing vestments and objects for the services. Everything took place under the observation of directors of labor who were chosen by Moses and the council of elders. Later comes the description of the sanctification of the tabernacle and the organization and consecration of the Aaronic priesthood, etc. In a word, all that which has been considered unfeasible in those far-away times and under those conditions by some critics of the Bible is not disregarded. The testament and vows of Moses, and his death, as they are set forth in the book of Deuteronomy, end the account.
I searched for this book years ago, to no avail. Now, through the magic of the Internet, I've located it. The author's name is not Sholom Ashe, but Sholem Asch, and the novel, which is indeed entitled Moses (not to be confused with the same author's Uncle Moses), can be purchased on Amazon for pennies. I've just ordered my copy, and hope to post about it, should I be up to it.


~TessaScoffs said...

I have this book but have not read it yet -- found it in a thrift store in San Diego. I bought it because I loved his "A Passage in the Night."

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