Questioning the Bible
Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"Give me a test," I said. "Any question you want. I'm ready."
I was cocky. I'd been studying the Bible a long time, and I was sure I could handle anything the King of Rational Thought could dish out. We were sharing a take-out pizza when he mentioned that people often read the Bible without questioning or analyzing what they're reading. Convinced that I never do that, I threw down my challenge.
"OK," he replied. "You're familiar with the story in Genesis 47 of Joseph bringing his family into Egypt?"
"Sure," I said. "I've read it many times."
"What happened when Joseph brought his father Jacob before Pharaoh, king of Egypt?" he asked.
"Well, let's see," I said, struggling to remember the details. "Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was. Jacob replied that he was 130 and told Pharaoh how few and unhappy his years had been. Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh again and left. That's about it."
"Very good," replied the King of Rational Thought. "Now, what's wrong with all of that?"
"What?" I said. "What do you mean, what's wrong with it?"
"Doesn't anything about that story strike you as odd?" he asked.
"Like what?"
"Well, why would Pharaoh ask Jacob how old he was right away? Isn't that an unusual opening question? And why did Jacob bless Pharaoh twice? And what's all this about Jacob saying his years were few and unhappy? This guy was a great sage and scholar. What kind of reply is that?"
I was busy eating, which was fortunate because I didn't have a clue as to how to answer. Sensing my dilemma, the King of Rational Thought answered his own questions.
"A wise person recognizes and takes into account the attitudes and personalities of others," he began. "Pharaoh was a powerful ruler. Jacob knew this. He also knew he was a guest in someone else's kingdom and palace. So he acted carefully and respectfully. He began by blessing Pharaoh, an appropriate action under the circumstances. Then Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was. Why was that the first thing on his mind? Because there are certain people who have to be the best at everything and can't stand it if someone has one up on them. You know the type. The possibility that Jacob was somehow better than Pharaoh, just because he might be older, bothered Pharaoh. So that was the first question he asked."
"Now," he continued, "note Jacob's wise reply. Based on Pharaoh's opening question, and possibly other information he had already gathered, Jacob had an idea of Pharaoh's personality. Remember, Jacob was no slouch. He answered truthfully, but played down his life as if to say, 'Yes, I'm old, but my years have been nothing compared to yours.' By his very reply, he appeased Pharaoh's concern, then blessed him a second time to reinforce that."
"But that sounds almost deceitful," I said.
"Not at all," he replied. "If you found yourself in the cage of a sleeping lion, would it be deceitful to tiptoe out quietly to avoid waking him?"
I was practically speechless. "How did you come up with all of this?" I finally asked.
"From the questions," he replied. "You have to question. If a passage isn't completely clear to your mind or if it doesn't make sense, you must question it. It's your questions that can lead you to answers and real understanding. Based on the questions surrounding this passage, this interpretation is the only one that makes sense."
I wanted to continue the discussion, but realized I had to get back to work. As we parted toward our respective cars, I called out another question. "Does this mean that there are right ways and wrong ways to interpret the Bible?"
"Of course," he called back as he headed across the parking lot.
"Then that would mean that some religions are right and some are wrong," I yelled.
He smiled, waved, and was gone.