This week marks the anniversary of the verdict of one of the most famous trials in American history. On July 21, 1925, a jury in Dayton, Tenn., convicted high school teacher John Scopes of violating the state’s law against teaching human evolution. The trial, which pitted celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow against three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, lives on today thanks to popular reenactments on stage and screen. But here’s something you never saw in “Inherit the Wind.”
In the middle of the trial, Scopes’ defender, Clarence Darrow, phoned the top Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Louis Ginzberg. Darrow was planning to call his opposing counsel, Bryan, to the stand, and interrogate him about the Bible. His aim: to elicit a concession from Bryan, a devout Christian, that the text could be read non-literally. If, for instance, Bryan was willing to say that the six days of creation need not have been 24-hour days, but instead lasted millions of years–which he was–why couldn’t he similarly reconcile evolution with biblical teaching? But before Darrow put this plan in motion, the noted agnostic needed to brush up on his Bible. And so he phoned New York–-on Shabbat.
My latest in Tablet excavates a historical gem:
What did Darrow ask Ginzberg, and why? Read the whole thing and find out.
I see journalism as an excuse to interrogate people who interest me under the guise of professional obligation. So when I report, I tend to collect a lot more information from my sources than can fit into my pieces. Here I post some of the greatest hits for your entertainment, along with other brief thoughts on religion, politics and culture. Well, that and funny YouTube videos.