This is the fourth post in a series by Johnna Kaplan exploring aspects of Jewish life outside of her own experience.
Last week I opened an Amazon box containing a Stone Edition Tanach. It is the first tanach, or tanakh (or Bible, or Old Testament, or whatever you want to call it), I have ever had.
There’s no particularly good reason why before this moment I never owned the book that’s so central to the history and practices of the Jewish people. It’s certainly not due to an aversion to books, which I accumulate to an embarrassing degree. You could say that if the Jews are the people of the book, I am the person of all the books but that one.
My first encounter with a Bible story involved several illustrated children’s books, school library cast-offs that I quickly conflated into one large volume in my head. They told tales of different peoples, from Roman myths to Native American creation stories to Scandinavian folklore. One of them had a Jewish section; I vaguely recall dramatic drawings of figures like Moses. There was something about those stories that seemed important somehow, but not alive. I ignored it, and all the others, in favor of the bits about ancient Greeks, which grabbed me instantly.
Still, I knew somehow that the biblical stories were different than the others. Although they bored me, I was aware that they were “mine.” But I didn’t directly encounter them again until I grew old enough to become obsessed with musicals, and learned every word of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”