When Mel Epstein was getting ready to retire, his wife Lois asked him what he was going to do with his time. He said he wanted to learn about religion, and not only Judaism, but other religions as well.
“I’m so ignorant in religion in general and Judaism in particular, I think I’m going to study,” Mel said.
On June 22, Mel addressed the congregants who had gathered for the Friday night service and he explained why he wanted to study religion. Mel also shared a few nuggets of information he learned on his “struggle,” as he put it.
Mel began studying not only the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — but also some of the Native American beliefs as well. He was especially interested to discover that the main deity of the Lakota tribe was a woman who gifted to her people peace and understanding, something Mel suggested would not have gone over too well with the Abrahamic religions.
Mel also mentioned a story he read, an old German play written by a man named Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, titled “Nathan the Wise,” set during the Third Crusade.
“Nathan the Wise” is about a Jewish merchant, a sultan and a Templar who try to bridge the gaps between their three religions through friendship and tolerance.
At the time of its publication in 1779, the idea that the three religions could have anything in common was abhorrent to the Church, which forbid the play from being performed during Lessing’s lifetime. As such, the play wasn’t performed until 1783, in Berlin, two years after Lessing’s death.
“Nathan the Wise” sounds like a fascinating story, one which I now plan on reading, thanks to Mel’s talk. Any book that was banned by the Church is bound to provide some interesting insights.
Toward the end of his talk, Mel briefly pointed out some of the various misconceptions about the Bible he learned, many having to deal with the idea that the Bible reflects actual history rather than metaphor and parable.
For instance, Mel explained how the Torah had been written 900 years after the life of Abraham, which, as Mel pointed out, is an awfully long time for an oral history to be told without a few embellishments making their way in. The same can be said of the story of Moses, which was first written down 300 years after the prophet lived, as well as the story of Jesus, which was first recorded somewhere between 40 and 70 years after he supposedly lived, and it was first written in Greek, a language Jesus would have had no contact with.
These misconceptions and interpretations of holy books, Mel explained, are the root cause of much of the anger and animosity between people, which is why he continues his studies, so that he doesn’t pass along those misconceptions to others:
I continue to study, I continue to struggle, I continue to try to learn. I try to learn, because if you look at Christian history, you can see why misconceptions are dangerous. They feed religious persecution, religious wars, they fuel racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism, and they have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge.