Unfortunately, Moyers’ 10 part series reveals more about the participants than it does about Genesis. With a little nudging from the host, we hear about this rabbi’s divorce, that minister’s bout with surgery, this scholar’s near suicide, that ex-nun’s rejection of hell. And Oprah is nowhere in sight. Feminist rage against patriarchal religion is on full display. So are the strategies of feminist Biblical retrieval. In almost every segment there is an effort to imagine what the silent women of Genesis might have said or thought. But as one woman scholar finally complains, there is a difference between interpretation and “ventriloquism”.
Conversely, too little tolerance is allowed for the insights of scholarship. Time and again, those who know and teach the Hebrew Bible plead in vain for staying with the text. Little effort is made to explain how and why the diverse stories found their particular literary forms, or how those forms shape the Biblical material and message. As one participant remarks, “Genesis is not a collection of short stories”. Moreover, Hebrew is a complex language, as Robert Alter shows in his splendid new translation. Through plays on repeated words and images, one story bleeds into another, sending echoes across the entire landscape of the Bible’s first book.
Has Moyers done a public service by discussing Genesis in extended conversation? Yes: this is real adult entertainment. But he encourages too much free association and self-confession for a series that wants us to be serious about the Bible.