Title: In The Beginning
Author: Chaim Potok
Potok, Chaim (1975). In The Beginning. New York: Knopf
Date Posted: March 30, 2013
A conservative Christian, from Michigan writes: “My one and only meeting with Dr. Potok occurred in 1975, while I was one of two goyim attending Jacob Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem, a study center maintained by Brandeis University. I was fascinated by his talk, and went out and bought My Name is Asher Lev and devoured it. Interestingly, Dr. Potok’s visit coincided with classes on Biblical History taught by Dr. Chaim Tadmor from Hebrew U, which interested me so much in scientific Biblical criticism that I added a religion major when I got back to my college, and immersed myself in that discipline.”
In the Beginning is likely the most honest of Dr. Potok’s books. The main character, David Lurie, is forced to confront both his growing awareness of scientific Biblical criticism, and its value, and the insistence of the world around him that he is rejecting all that they hold dear. He is given a choice between truth and isolation, or the society of those he holds dear and ignoring that truth. In the end, Dr. Potok’s picture of “watering the roots” of religious faith is a powerful image, especially for someone who understands exactly what the book is talking about. I am engaging in that same reflection, writing a blog on Spies of the Bible
The book is longer than the three preceding it, and more complex; but its issues are more easily understood by even a non-Jewish audience. It is a valuable and significant read; and one in which I gradually understood that Potok, like so many others, actually writes for the “dysfunctional” among us, those who feel isolated by family issues, substance abuse or tragedy, and yet somehow feel that we have some belief, talent or substance that we can say the world does not recognize, but that allows us to hold off the feeling of insignificance – that the more we are opposed, the more we think we are actually special. In the hands of demagogues or opportunists, this results in conspiracy theories, like Chariots of the Gods, or even well-written and attractive, yet completely fictional and inaccurate, stuff like The Da Vinci Code. In the hands of Ann Coulter or Ted Rall, this encourages paranoid isolation from rational discourse on both the left and the right. In the hands of Potok, this is none of the above, but a compelling examination of the human spirit.