What would we rather accept as happening in the Bible – miracles of conception and healing or modern CPR?
As progressive Jews, simply accepting the miracles as we find them leads us down a dangerous path of believing that flouting the laws of nature and simplistic theology really can happen.
On the other hand, over-reading the text to try and provide scientific explanations shoehorns a 21st Century knowledge into a text that is thousands of years old.
One of the most famous tales in the Bible is that of Elisha and the Shunammite woman’s son (II Kings 4).
In this story, the Shunammite woman is rewarded by Elisha with a son, who subsequently dies. The woman brings Elisha to her house, where he manages to revive the boy.
This is Elisha, the miracle worker, the man of God. If it sounds like something a Jewish boy born some centuries later in Bethlehem would go on to do, it’s because these miracle worker stories of Elijah and Elisha in the Jewish Bible are clearly archetypes.
The story is also often read for its apparent description of early ‘resuscitation’. We’re told that Elisha: “Put his mouth on its mouth, his eyes on its eyes, and his hands on its hands, as he bent over it. And the body of the child became warm.” (II Kings 4:34). It sounds remarkably similar to resuscitation by CPR.
But, it’s a mistake to suspend our disbelief, thinking these miracles happen. There is nothing to demonstrate the ancient world was any different to our present time, with regards to the laws of nature.
At the same time, it’s also a mistake to think the Bible is trying to offer a first aid lesson. If we can get past these simplistic readings, we get to deeper and richer perspectives on a book that has inspired us for millennia.
Rabbi Neil Janes is executive director of the Lyons Learning Project