Moses meets ‘Mad Men’ in new take on Torah
At one point, most everyone who attends synagogue services finds his or her mind wandering. For some, it might be thoughts of work or family; for others it’s sports or a good TV program.
Bernard Beck came up with something more to the point.
During a Shabbat Torah reading several years ago at Ahavas Sholom in Newark, Beck found himself wondering why the Five Books of Moses was written down when it was, historically speaking. “I know what purpose it serves for us today — a moral guide, a religious icon,” he told NJ Jewish News in an interview from his home in Essex Fells. “But what did it do for the people when it first came out? What purpose did it serve?”
He decided that purpose was to mold the Children of Israel into one nation from a group of loosely affiliated tribes and sought a way to frame this message in terms of his former occupation as a marketing consultant and adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University-Newark. “If I were a marketer today and I was helping in the formation of a nation, how would I go about doing it?”
In his new book, The Bible: The Greatest Marketing Tool Ever Written (Hamilton Books), Beck compares the “marketing techniques” of modern-day industry experts to the biblical narrative.
“I believe that the Bible is a marketing tool that was initially designed to give a nascent society a core,” he writes in the book. “This remarkable marketing document is so ingeniously crafted, so spectacularly laid out, so richly illustrated, that it has had the unique ability to withstand the test of time and adapt to the needs of various societies.”
The author discusses such ideas as Joseph as an ideal communicator and the role of biblical priests building a “corporate culture” and spreading “the advertising message.”
“The storyteller/priest starts out by giving his listeners a brief summary of the story that is about to unfold,” Beck writes. “Although this telling removes the suspense from the story, it adds a comfortable familiarity. This method of presentation is used by many successful speakers and writers.
“The formula goes like this: ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.’ The initial telling is just a brief outline; this is followed by a detailed presentation and then finally a summation in which the conclusion is driven home.”
Beck grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended the Hebrew Institute of Boro Park/Yeshivat Etz Chaim and Yeshiva High School in Flatbush. The book’s foreword was written by noted attorney and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, a yeshiva classmate and boyhood friend.
The 136-page book concludes with the giving of the Ten Commandments. “I think that’s the end of the narrative,” Beck said. “I think The Bible moves into another category, being rules of life.”
Beck said he focused on the mythology of the Bible. “Mythology should not be considered a pejorative,” he said. “I don’t mean by mythology that it’s not correct. It serves the purpose of uniting a people.” He cited Paul Revere’s midnight ride, George Washington atop his horse, and Abraham Lincoln delivering his Gettysburg Address as examples. “Whether these are recalled as they actually happened or whether they’ve been embellished is not relevant. What is relevant is the impact that it’s had on our American national identity.”
Beck, 72, has been busy on the book tour circuit; he will be the guest speaker at a Men at Leisure meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20, at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany. His book, he said, “has been very enthusiastically received. The discussions have been animated, exciting.” The only negative reaction he recalls came from a gentile.
“I have a friend who owns a restaurant and she invited me to do a program there…. There was a non-Jewish couple, I think the man is a lay minister. He was very knowledgeable about the Jewish Bible and he questioned my interpretation because his feeling about it was that — it’s sort of strange to say — the words came from Hashem and therefore we have no right to wonder about the purpose of it.”
For further information and to read excerpts from the book, visit bernardbeck.com. For information about the Jan. 20 program, call 973-929-2917.