Korb Conjures Agee, Expects Reciprocation

0&contrassID=0&subContrassID=0″ target=”_blank”>a new interview with Haaretz, Buddha-killer Scott Korb talks about the role of James Agee in his excellent new book, Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine. This is convenient because, on March 19th, we’ve invited James Agee’s ghost to come help us celebrate the release of Scott’s new book. We hope you’ll join us!

Q: I like the way that you say this is not about Jesus, but rather about his neighbors. Are you satisfied with the portrait you were able to create?

A I’m certainly satisfied with the story I’m able to tell. That despite all we can’t know, I was able to point to four things we can know for certain, and they are all markers of identity in Jewish culture: That there were no icons anywhere; that people took ritual baths; that no one ate pork; and that people drank out of stone vessels, from the earth—that those are four things we can know for sure. That’s very satisfying for me. And then, for me to be able to help a reader to imagine the life of a rural peasant in Galilee, and imagine that person in all of the struggles, in all of the joys, that kind of thing is very satisfying to me.

I refer a few times in the book to the journalist James Agee, who wrote the American classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. My ambition in the book was rooted a lot in what Agee was able to do when writing about the same class of people in the rural South in America during the Depression. Agee claims that he produced “an effort to recognize the stature of a portion of unimagined existence,” and what he did was an “independent inquiry into certain normal predicaments of human divinity.” That was my biggest hope for this book, to try to do something like Agee was able to do. And that’s why the word “imagine” is such an important one. Because this is—I think that the world that I’m writing about is often, today, an unimagined existence. When we think about the first century, we usually think about Jesus, or we think about Jerusalem, either a single person and his effect on the world, or a single city and its impact on the world. And I wanted to talk about the unimagined people, the people who, as I say in the book, built their houses out of dung. Who were, in some ways, robbed of their land. Those are the people whom I want to take center stage in this book. All the while, Jerusalem and the Temple, and we can’t forget the Romans, those three forces are also big in the book. They weigh heavy on one end of the book. And then, despite every moment that I say “this is not a book about Jesus,” and I say it several times, he is still that ragged figure that Flannery O’Connor describes, running around the back of this book, in the back of my mind, from tree to tree.