Columns - 2002

    Work in progress?

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    This column comes to you live from Opelika, Alabama, a town first made famous over six words ago when I started to report on this month's historic International Convention to Rewrite the Bible.

    For those of you not aware, this convention was inspired by the quick, successful rewrite of the Alabama state Constitution. That peaceful, bipartisan effort reduced a mammoth legal document to the size of a mere rhinoceros (merely the size of a large cheetah, when printed double-sided) in near record time. To this date, no constitution of the state of Alabama has ever been rewritten faster.

    Borrowing from a popular description of Mozart's compositions, one leading delegate said that the main problem with the existing Bible is "too many words."

    In fact, the convention sessions are all in recess because of all the words. In what some are calling a filibuster move, a small coalition of delegates from traditional, right-wing faiths including Orthodox Judaism, the Catholic church, and the Barry Manilow International Fan Club insisted that no rewrite for the sole reason of reducing word count should be performed until we know exactly how many words we're starting with.

    This move was hardly a surprise because most of the delegates from organized religion are against the rewrite of the Bible. "It's the word of the Almighty," said one religious leader, on condition of anonymity. Rabbi Goldschmidt then went on to say, "Who cares how many he used? Who cares how long it takes to read and understand? That's why we're on this earth."

    This sentiment might seem prevalent to most people involved in organized religion, as well as to those involved in less organized religions. (To those of you who have attended synagogue board meetings, Judaism is not considered a less organized religion. But we understand how you got that impression.)

    Why, then, was this convention convened?

    "We just built this beautiful new convention center here in the heart of our downtown, and we needed someone to use it," said a spokesperson for the mayor of Opelika during the convention's opening panel discussion.

    But the issues go deeper than that.

    "Not only are there too many words, there's too many laws to remember," according to the delegate from MALL (Mothers Against Long Leining). "I have to teach my son all the laws to follow in Judaism, my husband teaches all the other laws that come with being Protestant. And his brother the attorney is still trying to get my son through his first year of the United States Penal Code before he even starts to tackle the new Alabama Constitution, volumes one through four.

    "When am I supposed to fit in teaching him to read? He's fourteen already!"

    Assuming that little Timmy ever gets the chance to learn to read, the even bigger question becomes which language to teach him. Of course, the original texts dating back to Genesis were written in Hebrew. As time went on, the direction and Americanization of the source material continued to change and evolve. But even in the course of translation, debates abound.

    Take, for example, that there are at least three different interpretations of what the Ten Commandments actually are. The chief justice of Alabama won't.

    "There's one set of commandments," says justice Les King, "and they're the ones in my court room. If you have a problem with that, you better not challenge a parking ticket in my town."

    This example of the Ten Commandments isn't about the difference between Exodus and Deuteronomy (Will we ever know know what a deuteron is? Scientists have been searching for years�). This is about punctuation, and about whether you believe that a statement can count as the first commandment. But we'll address that in a future special feature.

    "What about our children," asked the head of the Alabama Education Association. "Forget for a moment about teaching them all those laws. There's so many stories to teach!"

    Taking it a step further, a protestor then approached the podium and started shouting about the Bible's tales of violence, gore, sodomy, eating matzah, eating quail, voting for Quayle, and other tragedies of biblical proportions. "The Bible is as graphic as Hollywood," he shouted as he was escorted out.

    "It's true," added the delegate from MALL. "The Bible presents some stories I'm reluctant to share with my children. What kind of values do they get from Cain killing Abel? Maybe they'd never even think to do certain things if they never learn of Sodom and Gemorrah.

    "And have you ever tried to answer a four year old who asks you to explain how someone begats someone else?"

    Now before you give up on this convention and start reading something more life-changing like this paper's copyright notice, I'll expound on the convention's international political ramifications.

    According to a United Nations representative, speaking on condition of Annanymity, "there is tremendous support for this effort in international circles including Dupont Circle in Washington D.C., the Circle in the Square Theatre, the stone circles in Stonehenge, the famous Tulley UFO Nests crop circles in Australia, and many others.

    "At this point," he continued, "we welcome any idea, no matter how unlikely or unintelligent, if it has a chance of promoting peace and unity among religions. If they can all sit down together and even disagree about rewriting the Bible, at least they're all sitting down together."

    Of course, once it is decided for certain that the rewrite should proceed, and it is determined that people will actually care a fig that someone did it, there is one urgent question: How much caring is a fig?

    Once we figure that out, there still remains one other small question: Who does the rewrite?

    So, as you can see, it will be quite a long time before any progress is made here.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley. His play Retrograde is in the 8 Tens @ 8 Festival anthology, available everywhere. For more information, online ordering, an archive of past columns and other writings, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.