In the movie “Annie Hall”, Woody Allen plays the character Alvy Singer. In one scene he is standing in line near a guy who is pontificating about the media. The screenplay goes like this:
Man:It’s the influence of television. Yeah, now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a-a high, uh, high intensity, you understand? A hot medium … as opposed to a …
Singer:What I wouldn’t give for a large sock o’ horse manure.
Man:… as opposed to a print …
Singer: (addressing the audience) What do you do when you get stuck in a movie line with a guy like this behind you? I mean it’s just maddening!
Man: (addressing the audience) Wait a minute, why can’t I give my opinion? It’s a free country!
Singer:I mean, d- He can give you- Do you hafta give it so loud? I mean, aren’t you ashamed to pontificate like that? And-and the funny part of it is, M-Marshall McLuhan, you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan’s…work!
Man:Wait a minute! Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called “TV Media and Culture”! So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan – well, have a great deal of validity.
Singer:Oh, do yuh?
Singer:Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. So … so, here, just let me – I mean, all right. Come over here … a second.
Singer: (To McLuhan) Tell him.
McLuhan: (To the man) I hear – I heard what you were saying. You- you know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.
Singer: (addressing the audience) Boy, if life were only like this!
Taking it even one step further: A Biblical verse, if containing some controversial idea, will most likely be criticized or dismissed as “misunderstood” when quoted by a non-religious person (try it – it’s fun). The interpretation in this case may often be proposed as a wrong one. However, the same verse may get lots of attention, perhaps even hours of lecture time when presented by a religious authority. The interpretation then is not to be argued, even if it’s similar to the previous one.
The issue of the alleged divinity of the sages has another interesting perspective. Theoretically speaking, there are two contradicting options: Either those who wrote the Talmud, for instance, were speaking the actual words of God, or they simply wrote whatever was on their human minds. If they did quote the Almighty on everything, then this raises considerable doubts about His Holiness’ knowledge of the world he’d created. Doesn’t he know insects are not formed of human sweat (the tractate of ‘Shabbos’)? Doesn’t he know cats and birds don’t carry poison in their fingernails (the tractate of ‘Chulin’)? Isn’t he aware of the fact that the trachea does not reach the heart and the liver (again the tractate of ‘Chulin’)? Doesn’t he know rabbits, hares and badgers don’t ruminate (the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy)? Is he confused about the relative movement of the Sun and the Earth (the tractate of ‘Pesachim’)? Hell, he can’t even properly count the verses of his own Bible (the tractate of ‘Kidushin’)! And there are many more similar examples!
On the other hand, if they simply wrote whatever was on their earthly minds, then why follow the ancient dictated rules? Why follow commands that were perhaps more appropriate for the era when they were written? Why not adopt an updated codex of rules, made also by humans – but humans who are equipped with modern knowledge of our recent time? And even more importantly: Why not allow the questioning and changing of the old man-made rules?
Even if we do distinguish (as some people do) between the Biblical text and the later extensions – as it happens, most of the religious day-to-day rituals and rules are derived from those extensions and not from the original Bible. This is certainly true for Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
So we make good use of our ancient messengers, our “middle men”. In practice, they are our gods much more than the concept we use to name as such.