November 21, 2010
Via Verso Books weblog, an interview with Noam Chomsky in Tablet, featuring some interesting discussion of his early life and influences, in linguistics and politics:
Did you read Nivi’im, the prophets, with your father in Hebrew?The interview is surprisingly reasonable, which is to say not remotely as awful as one would predict after reading the sneering bien pensant gibberish of the introduction. Also best to steer clear of the attached comments thread; Romantic ethno-nationalists in the throes of Tu Quoque Tourette's are never a pretty sight.
The word "prophet" is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on.
I don’t want to say it was all beautiful. Dissident intellectuals aren’t all beautiful. You read Sakharov, who is sometimes appalling. Or Solzhenitsyn. And the nivi’im were treated the way dissident intellectuals always are. They weren’t praised. They weren’t honored. They were imprisoned like Jeremiah. They were driven into the desert. They were hated. Now at the time, there were intellectuals, "prophets," who were very well treated. They were the flatterers of the court. Centuries later, they were called "false prophets."
People who criticize power in the Jewish community are regarded the way Ahab treated Elijah: You’re a traitor. You’ve got to serve power. You can’t argue that the policies that Israel is following are going to lead to its destruction, which I thought then and still do.