Monday, February 11, 2013

An augmented Bible story

kw: book reviews, bible, fiction

The first half of 1 Chronicles 4 lists sundry families of the tribe of Judah, from his younger three sons. In the midst, connected with nothing else, we find
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. – 1 Chr 4:9-10 [NIV84]
There is nothing else regarding the parents or descendants of Jabez. Given the few surrounding names such as that of Othniel, the time of Jabez may have been quite early, within a generation or two after the Exodus. Othniel was the first Judge of Israel, and the second was Ehud, 58 years later. Could Jabez have lived during the occupation by Moab, which was ended when Ehud assassinated Eglon, king of Moab? Thom Lemmons thinks it possible.

In his book Jabez: A Novel, Thom Lemmons weaves a man's life story from such suppositions. From the 60 or so words (in our English translation) the Bible contains about Jabez, and a guess here or a hint there about the time in which he might have lived, he has produced a 129-page narrative. One more thing; the statement about pain in his prayer, in the King James Version, is translated "that I may not cause pain", a significant point. This is enough for Lemmons to construct the personality of a gentle, retiring man.

The name of God is not found in 1 Chronicles 4, though it is frequent in Judges. This name, either translated as "the LORD" or transliterated "Jehovah" in Christian versions, is forbidden for modern Jews to pronounce, and this has been so for generations. Given the frequency with which the phrase "O Jehovah" is found in the Psalms, it is likely that at least until the time of David the name of God was commonly found on the lips of His people in prayer and praise. The Bible, both Testaments, frequently mentions (in OT) "calling upon the name of Jehovah" or (in NT) "calling upon the name of the Lord". In the latter case, by context you can understand whether Jehovah or Jesus is being called upon. If God wants His people to call upon His name, it makes sense to use His name! What a pity that Jews today forbid the practice that God exhorts them so frequently.

Lemmons supposes that Jabez and his neighbors knew the God of Israel only as a nameless god, while worshiping sundry idols in their homes. The word Jehovah (or any alternate spelling such as Yahweh) is not found in the novel.

Such niceties aside, we have a straightforward novel of a man's life, centered on his coming of age in a hostile environment, and the psychological crisis that led him to pray such a prayer. I suppose such fiction is popular fare among many Christians; who knows, perhaps also among today's Jews. It is a touching story, and well told, though it leaves my spirit untouched. The friend who gave us the book meant well. Yet our human spirit is nourished by the words of God, rather than by appeals to emotion or intellect. But if such literature leads some to delve into Scripture, well and good.

No comments: