Irish Council of Churches. Irish Inter-Church Meeting

Moses – A Human Life

Pádraig Ó Tuama





© Corrymeela

I am delighted that the renowned scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg will be visiting Belfast this September to speak at a Corrymeela seminar (kindly co–sponsored and hosted by the Chaplaincy at Ulster University) on the topic of trauma, resilience and remembering in the life of Moses. 

I first came across Avivah through an interview she gave with the On Being podcast. In that interview she spoke about the Garden of Eden, and through poetry, theology, etymology and psychoanalysis unpacked meanings hidden in the text that were always there, but perhaps not yet uncovered.  Then I heard her again a few years later speaking about the story of Exodus — again using various disciplines and approaches to show how that ancient story of liberation spoke to contemporary stories today. She has an even, considered, pace in her speaking (and writing), always understandable, never predictable. When Avivah explores a text, I find myself thinking of how Hebrew biblical stories are at once poetry, history, medicine, analysis, accusation, protest and praise. 

I wrote to Avivah Zornberg last year asking if she would consider coming to Belfast to do an event and was thrilled to receive a positive reply. Her latest book — Moses, A Human Life — explores the inner world of Moses. She looks at his disappointments, his needs, his story and his trauma. Opening with a quote from Kafka, she brings conversation with Freud, Dickens, Eliot, Levinas and Žižek into her exploration of this towering figure.

Moses is presented to us as a man of confused and conflicted identities, neither Hebrew nor Egyptian, but both. His trauma is deepened as he is forced to flee before encountering God in the bush that burned but wasn’t consumed. Moses is presented as the bearer of a traumatic history, expressed in his own life and spirit as speechlessness. Avivah describes him as “a living metaphor for a people in exile from itself.”

Avivah’s other works — most notably, for me, The Murmuring Deep — have influenced the way I approach scripture. In her world, scripture is a great world literary text that reveals humanity and also the divine work at the heart of Scripture. Her devotion disarms and disturbs us, both. Avivah’s exploration of character shows us how psychologically astute the writers of biblical texts were, presenting the violence and victories of people in a way that makes these texts more relevant to today’s tribulations, tribalisms and communities as they have ever been.

Tickets for the event can be purchased online HERE. The seminar will commence at 7pm on Tuesday 5th September in the Connor Lecture Theatre in the Belfast Campus of Ulster University.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is leader of the Corrymeela Community.