In the Beginning, the Prophet Was Poet
Long before the academics, Jewish prophets knew all about 'intertextuality'
What academics heralded not too long ago as "intertextuality"--an author's practice of alluding to older texts by engaging their original meaning, then placing them within a new context and endowing them with a renewed significance--has been the linchpin of Jewish literature since the writings of the prophets.
Consider, first, one of many modern examples. After World War II, Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein composed a poem, "Without Jews" ("On yidn"), where the intertextuality consists of nothing less than brazenly refashioning the voice of an ancient biblical prophet. The flashes of familiarity that Glatstein's poem allows--language and images of the Bible--train our attention on how revolutionary his prophecy is.
Here is a translation of parts of "Without Jews":
Without Jews, there will be no Jewish God.
If, heaven forbid, we should quit
This world, your poor tent's light
Would be stamped out.
Since Abraham knew you in a cloud
You have burned on all Jewish faces
And streamed from all Jewish eyes
And we formed you in our likeness:
And in every land, and every city,
You too were a stranger alongside us,
Oh, Jewish God. ...
Soon your reign will close.
Where Jews sowed,
A scorched waste. ...
Whole congregations sleep,
The babies, the women,
The young, old,
Even your pillars. Your rocks,
The tribe of your saints,
Sleep their dead
Who will dream you?
Yearn after you? ...
Your tent void of light.
Flicker of the Jews' last hour.
Soon, Jewish God,
Glatstein turns the traditional prophetic rebuke of God's people on God. With chillinglogic, he explains that the relationship between "Creator" and "created"is one of such mutual dependence that their roles are actually identical ("and we formed you in our likeness"). To emphasize this, the prophet's anger is lightly masked beneath a casual comportment (in the original Yiddish, he addresses God with the less formaldikh
), and with an air of matter-of-factness he outlines God's doom.
The poem's central motif is the eternal flame of the Tent of Meeting(taken from the Book of Exodus), which was meant to symbolize God'senduring presence among the people, His enduring protection. Here, thepoet/prophet throws God's words back in his face, reminding Him that theJews' destruction means His own demise as well.
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