Dr. Yaakov Weinstein, an Orthodox Jew who writes the Torah From Narnia blog was interviewed during Ecumenism Month at Pints With Jack, a podcast that got me through Till We Have Faces* last year. But I have stylistic objections to PWJ I just can't get past, so I only listen to its interviews. They have done Reformed Lewis and Eastern Orthodox Lewis, and I still have Baptist Lewis and LDS Lewis to go. But this did look intriguing.
It was intriguing, right off the bat when he pointed out two things I had never noticed and connected them. When the three angels in disguise visit Abraham, Sarah hurriedly makes bread upon the hearth while Abraham sees to butchering and cooking a calf and other meal preparations. Hurriedly. This means it was unleavened bread, and thus not only a foreshadowing of Passover, but a fore-enactment of it. The former can be only a literary device, the latter is a participation in a truth that is already present though it is not yet revealed. It is deeper, revealing an intuitive understanding of the truth even if not articulated. Weinstein suggests this is a very rabbinic analysis, giving as another example the conclusion that Redemption must have been created before the universe, because God would not make a universe that cannot be redeemed. So the concept must be present even preceding creation.
He ties that in to the very first chapter of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Mr Tumnus is described, because of the snow and his parcels, as if he has just done his Christmas shopping. But there is no Christmas anymore, which is the point of the story, "always winter and never Christmas." Mr. Tumnus cannot actually be doing Christmas shopping. Yet somehow he enacts at least the appearance of it, likely unconsciously. Yet not unimportantly. I love people who can point such noticed things out to me like that.
He stated that it is a biblical principle that God transforms things rather than destroying them, and that rang true. It fit with our recent discussion about "he descended into Hell" in the Creed, and the belief that heaven and hell are not unmentioned in the Old Testament, but they are vague and shadowy and considered of optional importance - hints about them grow throughout the Scripture - but at the resurrection they are not merely opened up to humans, they are in some sense created. The shadowlands that existed before become transformed and they divide into eternity with God or eternity away. But that principle of transformation rather than destruction occurs right from the start. Thinking about both fore-enactment and repeated transformation sheds new light on many passages. The Eucharist, for example, which is a foretaste, not a foreshadowing.
For this reason Dr. Weinstein objected to the Stone Table being destroyed in Narnia. Transformed would have been better. One can see why a Jew would object to the symbolic destruction of the law and be bothered by it. Yet I think he has a point. I am not offering any symbolic device that Lewis should have used instead - he would have done far better. But in my next time-travel to visit him I shall mention it if I get the chance.
Then they discussed Till We Have Faces, and he had many more objections to that, though he thought much of it was deep and powerful and instructive about different types (styles, aspects) of love that is not much taught in Jewish thought. He objected that Orual is regarded in the second part as in need of remaking, and the praise for the virtuous Bardia is too mild. She had done great things for her people, he had been as noble as his understanding allowed. If the point was to transform the nation in preparation for the distantly-implied new religion that would come someday, then they had done that. I would counter that as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the point is that these things are good, but ultimately not enough.
It occurred to me that a lot of his energy came from his sense of distance from the paganism of Ungit and I wondered why, as I think paganism transformed is a very biblical concept. We recently discussed that in Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? The Christian Church in Europe took both approaches, of rejecting paganism (destroying groves and shrines was big) but also in embracing some to transform it. And not just Christmas, but even what aspects of the faith were expressed in Europe vs the rest of the world. Weinstein thought rejecting and abjuring paganism was the only way to go, and that Lewis was treading dangerous ground by giving it any foothold at all. I think from a Torah-Tanakh perspective, that would be a very natural conclusion. God is strict with the Jews to have nothing to do with the practices of their pagan neighbors, and there is lesson after lesson about this. Do not touch.
Yet wait, I thought, isn't Judaism also paganism transformed? Genesis is awash in primitive elements, and Torah practices have some strong similarities to nearby tribes. I don't think that's a bad thing, I think that's exactly the way it should be. I suspect our Jewish friend would find the question "Is Judaism pagan?" to be deeply offensive. And I get why. It is not only that he himself regards his faith as already complete, but he thinks we should, even if we cannot go that far, at least credit it as being of an entirely different kind than paganism. Well, I do. I think both. I think it was a paganism that was transformed more than once before it came to the early Christians. Notably, it transformed again at the destruction of the Second Temple, away from the paganism of sacrifice to a more...more intellectual? more contemplative? religion. I don't think that the splitting of the faith into two transformations at that point in history is accidental. And in that split, the Torah-Talmud version went less pagan and decided that was the way to go. (If the Temple were rebuilt there are some Jews who would want to restart the sacrifices, but most would not. they feel they have left that behind for good.)
His view is more Protestant, as we have stressed ideas and theology more than mystic practice. It's why I think the Catholics (and others) have it right about the Eucharist. The god you eat. Uggh. Pagan. Gross. And yet I think that is the truth we are supposed to embrace. It is a paganism transformed. Even as a Congregationalist in confirmation class, learning about Consubstantiation, Transubstantiation, etc I thought viewing the Lord's Supper as merely symbolic was somehow wimping out. Embrace it. Deal with it.
It is ironic that I would ask Dr. Weinstein to embrace his own lesson about transformation.
But perhaps I have misunderstood him. that has been known to happen before.
*I discussed that here