Wilderness of Mirrors
One of the great puzzles about the Hebrew Bible is its insistence that God chose the Jews “to be His own treasure,” coupled with Scripture’s equally persistent teaching that poisonous hatred directed at Jews is not only a thing of the past but of the future
As we experience a fresh rash of anti-Semitism, spattered across the globe, we naturally ask: Why does God permit it? Or, perhaps, does He permit it? Is the consuming fire of anti-Jewish hostility evidence that God is not looking out for us after all?
Those are two separate questions. As to the first, anti-Semitism seems to go hand-in-hand with our mission in the world as what the Bible calls a “kingdom of priests,” to introduce God to the peoples—against great resistance. In the Bible’s understanding, resistance to God is the norm. Resistance to His messengers should not then surprise us, providing the most straightforward explanation for the hatred of Jews that humanity has been unable to shake for thousands of years.
God permits anti-Semitism because He permits free choice. If He had programmed humanity to embrace Him, people would be robots and there would be no resistance to God, nor to His messengers. On the other hand, there would probably be no need for Jews, God’s ambassadors.
As to the second question, raising the possibility that no God chose us, the answer lies in anti-Semitism, its supernatural character.
The diaspora for us is a “wilderness of mirrors,” in a phrase I borrowed from the (anti-Semitic) poet T.S. Eliot. It is striking for the bewildering, ever-shifting variety of our enemies. No other people can boast of being pursued and despised by a more diverse cast of persecutors. Hardly an invention of Christianity or Islam, the burning hatred of Jews extends back long before the turn of the Common Era.
What can we make of this? The rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud identified the preeminent intellectual competitor of Judaism with a philosophy traceable to ancient Greece, Epicureanism, so called for the philosopher Epicurus. Known today as materialism, or naturalism, and still the prestige view in the academic world, Epicurean belief asserts that material, natural phenomena are the sufficient explanation for everything that occurs in the world.
The history of anti-Semitism stands in rebuke of that idea. No theory that does not invoke the supernatural can explain the astonishing variety of anti-
Semites that Jews have known. From pagan Hellenists to medieval Christians and modern-day Islamists, from “enlightened” atheists to National Socialists, there is no evident rationale underlying this tragic roll call.
The politically correct campus anti-Semitism familiar to American college students and the fire-breathing Jew-hatred rampant in today’s Muslim East—what exactly, in their origins, do these have in common?
Christianity was not always the good guy religion it is today, nor was Islam always what it is now. Where today Jews look to our Christian friends for comradeship in confronting radical Islam, we once fled from Christian nations—Spain and Portugal after 1492 would be the familiar example—and took refuge in Muslim ones. No materialist’s logic, no naturalist’s theory can explain any of this.
The difficult lesson of Jewish theology is that it all is going to have to play out, this wilderness of mirrors, before the end that the prophets envisioned. If it is not what God wanted, it is evidently what He foresaw.
David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute in Seattle and the coauthor of The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (Howard Books) with former Senator Joseph Lieberman.