It is written

“Man does not live by bread alone” (as it is usually quoted) is such a well-worn phrase that I hardly needed to cite chapter and verse. To do so, though, is a reminder of a way of reading texts very closely. Just as the Bible is a common reference for us, so much so that the King James version permeates the English language (alongside Shakespeare), the Torah was and remains the central text in the Jewish tradition. This is another kind of classicism. When the devil took Jesus off to the wilderness for forty days to tempt him, Jesus argued back by quoting scripture. My copy of the King James Bible has a dense column of intertextual references running down the middle of each page to help the reader pick up such echoes. Turning to Deuteronomy 8, the analogy is with the forty years the tribes of Israel passed in the wilderness before entering the promised land (the underlying historical event is probably the considerably longer period of the Babylonian exile); Moses exhorts them to keep their faith and not get caught up in merely material concerns. The phrase in question puts it far better! In making such an allusion, I don’t mean to imply a particular religious allegiance. Once again, though, there is a subterranean connection in that our way of talking about what might be important in life beyond bare life itself still uses the language of that tradition.

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