The American political scene has this odd way of forcing its serious players to prove their theological acumen during campaign season. In the days of the Moral Majority, no one could escape the question: “What’s your favorite Bible verse?” or some equivalent query. While it is only occasional on the Democratic side, this phenomenon is still alive among Republicans. Christians are statistically more likely to be Republican because of their conservative social views, and thus they represent a major voting bloc that candidates must court.
However, within the last two weeks, we’ve had a double whammy of biblical gaffes.
First, there’s John Kasich. In his efforts to campaign in Brooklyn ahead of the New York primary, Kasich hilariously failed when he ran into a group of Talmudic scholars and began to ask them questions. Consider just one question he asked:
You study Joseph? What do you think about Joseph? Did you hear what was the most important thing Joseph said to his brothers? “My brothers, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Did you know that?
They literally study the Torah, including the book of Genesis, at length–in the original language. I think they know the story of Joseph. One bystander may have had previous experience with Kasich’s derisiveness, for he or she remarked that “He’s going to give you a lecture.”
Second, Donald Trump shared his favorite Bible passage: Exodus 21:22-25. This includes the famous quote: “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,…” etc. Trump once again demonstrated his lack of biblical knowledge by following up and noting the seemingly retaliatory nature of the verse:
It’s not a particularly nice thing, but you know when you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, you see what’s going on with our country how people are taking advantage of us.
There are at least two issues here. First, no respected Rabbinic tradition has interpreted this passage of the Torah in this way. It typically “means the perpetrator must pay the monetary value commensurate with the victim’s injury.” Second, Christians–which Trump claims to be–typically consider the merciful words of Jesus that combat Trump’s bad interpretation.
Let’s take this as a sign to try to keep the Bible out of the hands of politicians, and in the hands of those who actually know what they’re talking about.