Commentary Magazine


When Bookmen Disagree

To the Editor:

Your reviewer, Mr. David Daiches, declares, regarding Solomon Goldman’s remarkable The Book of Books, that “the extraordinary hodgepodge of quotations referring to the Bible in the ‘Echoes and Allusions’ section is absolutely baffling. There seems to be no principal of selection here at all, but only a wild and unequal mass of texts.” Mr. Daiches is under the impression that Dr. Goldman should have quoted according to some principle, say of literary merit, or of social significance. Herein he misses the point about as widely as he could. It is perfectly obvious to me that Dr. Goldman undertook the admittedly impossible task of showing the omnipresence of the Bible influence among all sorts of people, the illustrious and obscure, the wise and stupid, the serious and trivial and even the drivelling. Mr. Daiches notes that “nowhere are any of Milton’s own eloquent statements about the Bible quoted.” Then adds: “Is it contempt for the intelligence of the ‘average reader’ or an unbecoming sense of inner insecurity about the ability of the Bible to stand up on its own feet that makes the author feel that he needs endorsements from ‘celebrities’ to bolster his case?” Actually The Book of Books is written on a level which demands a good deal of intellectual persistence and concentration from any reader, average or above average. The section “Echoes and Allusions” fails—as it was bound to—to reproduce the actual substance of the interpenetration of the mass mind by the influence of the Bible. But that very failure is its success. It needed a lot of courage to achieve this indirect result, and it needs a bit of sechel to appreciate it.

Maurice Samuel
New York City

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To the Editor:

In reply to Mr. Samuel, I can only say that “Echoes and Allusions” contains far more references to the Bible as a word than as a book, and a numerical count of the number of times the word “Bible” occurs in the written and spoken discourse of “all sorts of people” proves nothing whatever about the “interpenetration of the mass mind by the influence of the Bible.” One might as well cite the number of times “Jesus” is used as an expletive as evidence of the influence of Christianity. The idea that the number of times a word is used proves anything at all about the extent to which the idea or thing originally represented by that word has influenced people seems to me to be absurd.

The influence of the Bible can only be proved by citing ideas, attitudes, and expressions which derive from it. If Mr. Samuel thinks that such a view indicates a lack of sechel, I can only wonder what sort of chachamim he moves among.

David Daiches
Ithaca, New York

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