Avivah Zornberg —
Exodus, Cargo of Hidden Stories

The biblical Exodus story has inspired believers and non-believers, Jews and Christians — and more than a few Hollywood movies. But this is no simple story of heroes and villains; it is a complex picture of the possibilities and ironies of human passion and human freedom. If you're not familiar with Exodus, you're in for a deeply sensual experience; and, even if you're well-versed in the text, you just might be surprised.

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is a scholar of Torah and rabbinic literature, and author of several books including The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus.

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In an enclave in Baghdad, one of the remaining Iraqi Jews stands in front of a synagogue during Passover.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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I loved this show! Missed a lot of it. When she talked about Moses asking God about his name, Avivah's reflections made sense to me as did God's answer(I think because of my recent studies of Budhism). It was a great clarification, and fascinating. I loved how God was evasive and how Moses was skeptical.
As the show progressed, I felt more and more like I was in meditation.

Beautiful and fascinating.
Thank you for your show Christa and the staff of On Being.

Marvelous interview re passover! I learned more in one session than in 9 years at a talmudical academy.( I am a humanistic Jew )

We all have elements of Moses (being open)and of Pharaoh (kaved). The struggle to find the balance is ongoing. Each time I hear AZ tell the mirrors story, I marvel.
Look forward to the 'Murmuring Deep' interview.
Thanks for a wonderful series.

"The sense of seeing one's pain as experienced through the eyes of the other [God} is the beginning of the people's redemption."

What a beautiful statement for Passover and Holy Week

I want to share that I learned something about this art of Midrash in a 'Bible as Literature' class at the University of Minnesota some 15 years ago under an incredible Bible and Shakespeare scholar named Prfessor David Hale. Professor Hale had us read the translator and literary master Rober Alter who used the same reading techniques that Avivah displayed so lucidly and beautifully on your show: close reading of ironies and complexities, characterizations by way of subtle sometimes 1 word narrative touches, and overarching narratives containing sub-plots made by the Hebrew scholars oh-so long ago with conscious and beautifully ambiguous art.

It is a real gift that scholars like David Hale and Avivah Zornberg give to humanity. Their scholarship and mastery open texts rather than trapping them in dogma, fundamentalism, and a monopolized form of interpretation. Their love of these writings allows others to love the writings - and, even as importantly - to love the act of reading, a sacred act, apparently, in many traditions. They show that everyone can share 'a reading' of a text while also 'reading' a text in a multitude of different ways, simultanously creating dialogue and creative individual meaning. No one person can provide one definite, exclusive reading of these stories, because they are muli-faceted, multi-dimensional, thick with irony, complex moral issues, and very personal spiritual content. This is a very beautiful effect that these scholars are able to bring to light.

Your show is helping me and my wife with our scholarly pursuits, as we plan on a close-reading of the 17th century novel 'Don Quixote' this summer, comparing it with certain elements of trickster tales in the oral traditions of Ojibway stories. Thank you so much for your hard work and belief in what you do! Please thank your guest for her work as well!

I really appreciated her emphasis on asking questions, and especially how the ability to ask good questions is really important -- even more important than having an, or "the", answer. It's such a valuable way to approach and interact with Scripture. I think this is actually a way to take Scripture more seriously than just trying to get all the facts straight. Truth is so much bigger than fact. Asking pertinent questions in each generation is what keeps Scripture alive, and makes it truly the "living word" of God.

I am struck by the quote from Primo Levi regarding 'it is a time to put one's elbows on the table, a time when evil becomes good' etc. I'll have to read the original, but to conflate table manners with the tension of good vs. evil seems a leap I cannot imagine a wholesome, intelligent mind making. Is this the Seder speech at every Seder? Or just Primo Levi's? I'm confused. I'll read more.

Avivah starts off stating that Moses was not a simple character because he was an Israelite raised by Pharos sister but nursed by his mom hired by pharos sister.She also sees significance with Moses refuting God at the burning bush because God being angry at Moses also represented the problem God had with trying to redeem the people, a resistance of unwillingness to open oneself up. The reason because people find they are not fully capable, by their own short falls to be used by god.

Avivah talks about how Pharos hardened his own heart and after the six plagues God hardened his heart, she describes that when it is said that God hardened his heart it let Pharos off the hook. She also says that Pharos didn’t just harden his heart he doesn’t hear what Moses or God is saying. Pharos did this intentional he doesn’t have to say no by not hearing and he doesn’t outright refuse to let the people go.

I like how she went into the importance of the pain and suffering being seen by Moses and God and how this is a big part of redemptions possibility, because the barrier has been removed. Even seeing ones own pain was the beginning of the people’s redemption, it makes them apathetic. I agree with her about how God is aroused by humans just as humans are aroused by God, showing the relationship is mutual, god is moved by human beings and vise versa.

In talking about the Passover, Avivah brings out it happened to be a stimulus for a good story, not something happening making the story. This was done to make the Egyptians rush Israel out and for God to rush his redemption. Also why Pharos came after Israel after he rushed them out was because he felt it was a crazy idea, irrational to let them go, he felt as long as he had the children of Israel in his power and God was sending him messages, he felt he had a relationship with God. Now that was gone and he was bored, a mentality many leaders have, this lead to many Egyptian deaths in the Red Sea.

She talks about human freedom and human liberation and the need for those having to be liberated to achieve in themselves some sense of the possibility of change. I like this because it goes to people seeing in themselves that a change is needed and they are tired of sin and need salvation before salvation can even take place.

I really enjoyed this discussion with Avivah Zonberg, it reminded me of the readings we just finished on Pagels and how there was more or less to the stories in the bible. I understood the Mardish story more than the Gnostic stories. To me this was more believable because he didn’t try to change or just pull stuff out like the Gnostic’s he just brought out hidden stories, which seemed more like more insight on what happened in Exodus.

Arthur Crutch

The interview whetted my interest and took me to Zornberg's website. There I discovered that she would be speaking in Berkeley, California. Today I was blessed to sit in Avivah Zornberg's talk on 5 sisters, the daughters of Zelophehad. (See Numbers 27.) What an exhilarating experience. As an Episcopal priest and weekly preacher, I was challenged by the holistic and thoughtful approach to a few seemingly obscure verses from a book I usually skim through. Thank you for introducing me to Avivah Zornberg.

Slavery, liberation, both oppressors and oppressed become automatons; her peaceful voice and the flow of questions.

God wants the best for us but we have to be willing to trust him completely!

Very good discussion about the Exodus and Passover! The miraculous fact of this event is that it points to The Christ, The Messiah who came to willingly suffer and die, then was raised to life so we, all mankind could have redemption (be saved from our elements called sin). Thanks for a great dialogue!