Monday, May 22, 2006


It is said that Abraham is the father of multitudes. I do take this as true, although the number is somewhat smaller than the stars of the heavens or the sands of the sea. Perhaps the fulfillment of that covenantal promise lies some thousands or millions of years in the future, when humanity has spilled out into the galactic frontier and peopled those countless planets we are told must exist. In the meantime, we must take such a divine promise either as a symbolic and rhetorical flourish on the part of a hyperbolic Lord, or as a prophecy awaiting future fulfillment.

Troublesome, these promises. All the prophecies of Jesus' first coming came to pass with black-letter literalness - but it's been so long, so very long, his supposed second coming ... we are tempted, some of us, to read it now as all symbolic. Literal to the spilling of his life's blood, the first time, but somehow entirely mystical and symbolic, the second - he gets to be a real servant, and a figurative lord. Poor Jesus ... hardly seem equitable ... all the actual suffering, none of the actual glory. There he is, stuck in that eternal, holey, raised body, and no throne to sit on, outside of heaven.

Not an elegant solution, but we do, some of us, grow weary in the waiting. The bride has the obligation to be vigilant, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her beloved. If he delays, well might she sleep. Her flesh is weak. And any shame that comes to her, for her lack of diligence, is to be excused. She is only a silly bride.

Since those who take the Bible as the pure, if not literal, word of God might choose to read its text with a meaning more soothing to their impatience, how much more ought we excuse those who trust it not at all, and pay it only passing and insincere lip service? I speak, of course, of Islam. Abraham is the father of three great faiths. The first two trace their connection to him quite literally. Islam has grafted itself into that stem by right of declaration and conquest. It is so because Mohammad said it must be so. No pervading, prevailing literary history justifies it. No institutions spanning the millennia authenticate it. Mohammed alone claimed it, and his authority carries the notion.

The camp followers of the Hebrews were Arabs. They are the mixed multitude that became a nation. There is no shame in this. Arabs are, after all, gentiles. And we who are, or were, gentiles are sometimes grafted on to the living root of promise. We don't do it by self-declaration, but by agreement with Him who offers the chance. So it is not the fact that Arabs are gentiles that makes the claims of Mohammad, um, suspect. In theory, the revelation which he supposed he received could have as much validity as any of the desert seers whose poems and scrolls are preserved in the Bible.

But Islam, and the Moslem, is disqualified from serious consideration as issuing from Abraham. Islam does this by its inherent contradictions. The People of the Book - the Koran's term for Jews and Christians - are to be respected as followers of God. Yet the Book they follow is full of lies. Jesus is not God. The Trinity is not taught. As for the Jews, well, Moslems have always been taught that the stones themselves will rise up and say, Here is a Jew - come and kill him!

But the Book that Islam gives lip service to honor, that Book contains the promise, repeated many times, that those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse her will be cursed. The covenantal promise is that the land of Canaan, of Palestine, will be an eternal possession of the Children of Israel, forever, unceasingly. When God's covenant with the laws of nature fails, then will this promise also fail.

Of course, many Christians do not believe this promise. It must be symbolic. It must have been conditional. It must mean something else. Because its fulfillment has been so long in coming. So, that Moslems agree with such believers can be no indictment against Moslems. They are merely agreeing with the spirit of the world. And what fault could possibly be found in this?


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