When in doubt, consult the Bible?

Author Amity Schles had an interesting review of Ken Barnes The United States and the Holocaust In City Journal; Normally I don’t have an informed opinion about reviews, but I was surprised by one item:

It’s in the second episode that the filmmakers turn to Franklin Roosevelt, the only president forced to contend with the Third Reich while in office. Roosevelt himself was capable of dogma. During his first election campaign, Roosevelt allowed himself a kind of casual but nasty xenophobia, such as in a San Francisco speech where he attacked Chicago electricity magnate Samuel Insull, who was taking on his employees when his firm failed. Roosevelt speaks against “Ishmael or Insal, whose hand is against every man,” a line so terrifying that one can only ask, “What does that mean?” In his inaugural address in March 1933, just weeks before Hitler opened his first concentration camp, Roosevelt preached Henry Ford on international capital, claiming that “the rulers of the commodity exchange of mankind have failed” and “the practice of unscrupulous money changers”—code for Jewish Wall Street. —”The accused stands.” Burns covers none of this.

Roosevelt apparently harbored some anti-Semitic sentiments (which were of course quite common at the time). And the line about “Ishmael or Insaal” is actually a “what does that mean?” Response But a little quick Googling Bible-ignorant led me to Genesis 16:11-12:

11 And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael; Because the Lord has heard your sorrow.

12 And he shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand shall be against him; And he shall dwell before all his brethren

This seems to fit the Roosevelt sentence that the review quoted:

Whenever in pursuit of this purpose the lone wolf, the unscrupulous competitor, the reckless promoter, the Ishmael or the Insal whose hand is against every man, refuses to join and threatens to drag away the last achievement recognized as being for the public good. Government may be called upon to exercise appropriate restraint to bring the industry back to a state of anarchy.

The theory is that Insul (who was apparently not Jewish, but the son of a lay preacher) was only out for himself rather than working harmoniously with others, which connects with Ishmael, whose “hand” was “against every man, and against every man.” . The hand of man against him.” And my guess is that Roosevelt’s 1932 audience knew enough about the Bible to ask, “What does that mean?” Or doesn’t see the line as “terrible”.

Regardless, I thought I’d pass it on. Maybe I’m wrong about this myself; Again, I’m no historian (although Schles is one) and certainly no Bible expert. Still, I wonder if this item is an illustration of how easy it is to miss the extent to which biblical references have become commonplace in Western life.

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