A frightening ride through the streets of New Delhi had so exhausted Rafi David that he barely spoke for hours.
Then he grimaced. “I must apologise for being so uncommunicative. I’d almost forgotten how it feels to be caught in a mob like that. It’s about thirty years since I was last here. But,” he told his friend, Marcus Daniel, “the experience has given me some thoughts about how to begin our lectures.”
“I’m glad you said that,” said Rev Daniel, a U.K.-born Protestant minister. “Certainly we need to restructure the opening talk. What do you have in mind?”
Rev Daniel had invited Israeli Professor Rafi David to India to co-present a course based on their speciality, The Hebrew Bible For The E-Book Age. Both devotes of interfaith work, they had developed a strong relationship over the Net but had not previously met in person.
“I’d like to examine the texts of the Book of Judges as though the events had taken place in modern India,” said Professor David. “The crowds of protestors we drove through earlier, make me ponder the parallels between the recent gang-rape and murder of the girl pseudonymously dubbed ‘Damini' by social networkers and the unnamed concubine who died after being attacked by members of the Tribe of Benjamin. She had been sent to them as a bribe to prevent her husband being sodomised. Her death eventually led to unprecedented civil war in ancient Israel. The current public protests are painful reminders of what could happen here.”
“That’s a great idea but we’d be driving home a very harsh message. The publicity our work receives in the religious Press could filter through to Muslim and Hindu extremists who would not appreciate the implication,” said Rev Daniel.
“But,” argued Professor David, “ on the other hand we may receive support from fellow academics and even the intelligent public. They could be persuaded that biblical stories should be viewed not only in the context of the period in which they were written but seen also as a way of explaining why civil war erupted then and has to be avoided now.”
“But Rafi, you’re also suggesting that we take them out of that context and re-plant them in the modern world where barbaric atrocities take place daily without any biblical reference. To draw this argument to its logical conclusion, our studies could themselves cause uproar and bloodshed.”
“My dear Marcus,” said Rafi, “don’t forget that I, too, am Indian by birth and I believe most strongly that we should take the risk.”
“All right,” said Rev Daniel, “let’s mull it over and make a final decision tomorrow.
“But on a lighter note, I can reveal without contention that you are already a hit with several of my women students. Those who have seen your photograph are competing as to who will be the first to present their dissertations on the tale of Judge Deborah and Yael to ‘the handsome Israeli professor’.”
“Ha-ha! Very flattering. But I must be direct with you,” said Rafi, serious again.
“You know I’m single. Indeed, I’ve been celibate for many years. But,” he faltered, “I’m - also gay. I had a brief – finally horrible - experience with someone while at university in Tel Aviv. He was straight but experimented with homosexual sex simply for ‘fun’.
“He despised me as desperately as I then loved him. One day he stage-managed a fight, overpowered me and then raped me. He ripped open my backside and then sauntered away, banging my front door behind him.
“He left his course soon afterwards and I never saw him again. Believe me,” sighed Professor David, “it’s not only violated women who are loath to tell their story. I often feel that I’ve spent my entire adult life suffocating slowly in a smog of all-enveloping shame.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 18 January 2013)