I have been reading Amos Oz’s book ‘Dear Zealots’ – it is a collection of essays reflecting the place of zealots in our world – the challenge in our relationships with them, their effect upon us and society, with some thoughts for the future, written last year by Israel’s greatest living novelist.
In the book Oz refers to an archaeological site in Israel – Khirbet Qeiyafa located outside the town of Beit Shemesh, about 30 kilometres from Jerusalem.
In 2007 they found something called an ostracon, which is a fancy way of saying broken piece of pottery –
No one quite knows what it says as the words have not been definitively translated.
Here however is what Professor Gershon Galil of Haifa University has determined:
1 you shall not do [it], but worship (the god) [El]
2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3 [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king
5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger
It starts with a commandment to worship God – yada, yada – that was central to what folk were doing in 1000 BCE; if it moved, eat it, if it didn’t consider whether to worship.
What is startling in this translation, particularly when you consider the time-period and the contents beyond worship, it is essentially, a humane doctrine of caring, to protect slaves, women, children and the poor.
In traditional societies, the only people who really got a look-in were the men and of them, mostly only if you were rich and powerful – a tribal leader or king. Everyone else led frightening, painful lives ending prematurely with infectious disease or violence.
How very recently have the everyday needs of widows, children and slaves (perhaps read, refugees) been considered irrelevant? And, the poor, the guy I walked past this morning in Sheffield city centre, tired, pathetic on street corner?
The document, if you can call it that, precedes Greek, Persian, Christian or Islamic cultures. It is not a scene of men hunting wild boar or buffalo, it is a paean to the poor and disadvantaged, more than a red-hand outline representing an individual – the owner or artist are absent, it is about the other and not those you fear, worship or admire, but those requiring succour, support, care.
Is this the beginning of humanism, of person-centred care? Seeing the value of the self in the other? If we save ourselves but forget the rest of society, what does that say about us and our values?
The text may of course say something completely different; it might be an early recipe for chicken soup; let’s consider the former analysis to be more representative of our aspirations/needs today.