RU Sirius interviews Douglass Rushkoff. Fascinating interview, and much, much more at the link.
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass:
What if The Bible were happening right now? That’s the question Douglas Rushkoff has been trying to grapple with in Testament, a series of graphic novels that transpose Biblical stories into contemporary narratives. The series, created in collaboration with artist Liam Sharp flashes back and forth between contemporary and Biblical times, portraying struggles between total control freaks and revolutionaries. Various gods and goddesses form a sort of Greek Chorus — philosophizing and commenting on the action. The “Testament” series is a startling attempt to bring Biblical mythology back to life.
...RU: As someone who has never read the Bible, and who has found myself bored by every attempt that I’ve made to do so, let me ask you — why do you think this is such a powerful book?
DR: Well, I think the reason you get stuck is because you’re not the original intended hearer. I mean, if you’re not from that time and place, it’s really hard to get the jokes. Or the sense.
That’s why so many religious people are confused. They look at the stories literally, without realizing that each of Jacob’s sons is meant more as a satirical embodiment of one of the tribes. Today’s readers think of it like these guys are really the patriarchs of each of these tribes, rather than story devices.
Plus, if you don’t know all the Egyptian customs, then all the stuff that the Israelites do differently doesn’t come through. In one section they build a big arc but don’t put a god on the top. To a hearer of that era, they’d know this was radical — because all the Egyptian arcs had gods on top. Or they’d know that slaying a calf in April is a really big deal, because that was the Egyptian New Year’s month when the calf was to be revered.
On a deeper level, the Bible works because it’s very gently trying to break the bad news: that our relationship to God has changed from that of believing children to that of lonely adults. It’s telling the story of how a civilization grows up, and learns (or doesn’t learn) to take of itself with no parent telling it what to do. It’s about how to stop engaging in child sacrifice; how to develop legal and monetary systems that don’t exploit people. And, most of all, it’s about how to stay alive and conscious in a society that’s trying to make you dead and asleep.
...Basically, when the Israelites were under attack, they decided that rather than just having the best and most powerful god, they had the only god (what historians call the “one God, alone” cult). So they needed their own creation story. They cobbled together some of the best ones, gave them a decidedly Jewish context (the spoken word itself has creative power) and put it at the front.
...As far as real reality, I think there’s a whole lot of stuff we accept as given circumstances that are actually social convention — belief systems. Not the sum total of reality — like rocks and planets and physics — but certainly the nature of power, money, relationship. The way we interact is guided as much by our beliefs as our nature. And our perceptions of the world are, as Robert Anton Wilson would say, just reality tunnels.
...So many of our greatest challenges as a civilization still hearken back to our inability to operate an economy on a system other than the scarcity model. We could make enough energy or food. It’s not a technological problem. It’s an economic problem. An economy based on artificial scarcity — on the hoarding of resources and meting out of commodities — doesn’t know how to cope with abundance. Or even sustainability. How do you maintain centralized authority if people aren’t depending on the central authority for everything?
...But the vast majority of responses — particularly from rabbis — has been positive. They’ve been looking for someone to tell Torah stories the way they actually appear in Torah — but to do so in a way that gives these horrific and sexy scenes some context. It’s one thing for a layperson to blog the Torah on Slate, and it’s quite another for a media scholar (if I’m allowed to call myself that) to do it in a fictional work with informed interpretation. That’s another reason the rabbis like it, though — it’s attempting to carry on the Midrashic tradition of Torah commentary in a contemporary medium, rather than around the table at the house of study.
The other great thing has been the responses from magick types and Crowley fans who really had no idea the Bible was filled with all this sex magick. They’re now looking at Torah as source code rather than some enemy’s dictates.