Mistaking the Commentary for the Text
Here are some interesting questions for the Jews in the crowd:
According to the Bible:
1. What was Abraham's father's profession?
2. What did King Ahashverosh ask Queen Vashti to do? (In the Purim story)
And for the Christians in the audience:
1. What was the fruit growing on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? (In the Garden of Eden story)
2. How many wise men visited the baby Jesus?
It's funny just how deeply entrenched Biblical commentaries can become. For myself, I have a great deal of difficulty reading about how King Ahashverosh asked Vashti to parade in front of his guests wearing a crown, and not think that he meant only a crown. If I close my eyes and I picture the Garden of Eden, I must confess to seeing an apple tree growing in its midst. And if I think of the turning point in young Abraham's life, I see him smashing the idols in his father's shop.
These are not details contained within the Biblical text: on the contrary, they are the result of centuries of commentaries that have superimposed secondary ideas over the mainline narrative. The Midrash Rabba is responsible for contextualising Abraham's revelation of godliness, as well as explaining Vashti's refusal to leave the king's harem; Renaissance artists in their glorious realism were responsible for depicting the Garden of Eden narrative in a manner resonant with European communities; and centuries of Christian folk-tales and commentaries have wrought the conception that three kings visited Jesus. They were not kings, and there were not three of them.
With reams of commentaries being written on the Bible today, from books like Diamant's The Red Tent to films like Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I wonder what the future holds for this ancient text?