Revelations – Douglas Smith

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Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

Genesis II, 7

 

And it came to pass, in the golden age of biotechnology at the opening of the new millennium, that one man stood above all others, a genius the likes of which had not been seen on the earth for ages, a giant in the mold of Newton, Einstein, Hawkings, and Mozart, or a Maimonides or Rashi, because he proved equally adept as a scientist and a Torah scholar. Michael Steinman had the kind of pedigree that made both corporate recruiters and academic institutions salivate uncontrollably. With an undergraduate degree in Biology, summa cum laude, from Georgetown by fifteen, followed by a Ph.D. from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and an M.D. from Johns Hopkins, before he reached twenty one, several pharmaceutical companies fought over him. In the end they banded together to fund the research institute he demanded and deserved.

For ten years he and his team of scientists, technicians, and coworkers mixed bioinformatics, molecular modeling, and protein design on clusters of supercomputers with recombinant DNA and stem cell research in the laboratory.  The institute kept both a bioethicist and a moral philosopher on staff full time, to keep the scientists working on cutting edge medical research in line. Together, Michael and his elite team discovered and brought to market cures for several diseases. They grew artificial lungs and kidneys, saving thousands of lives and earning billions of dollars for their investors. Then abruptly Michael Steinman took a leave of absence. He appeared at the press conference as always, wearing the full beard, yarmulke on top of his head, and tallit katan of an Orthodox Jew under his shirt.  He told the media he was taking time to pursue new and other but ‘related’ interests. The institute would continue on in his absence. He gave no details and answered no questions.

“I just feel we haven’t done enough, gone far enough, in our work to date. There is so much work we can still do,” were his parting words.

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“Men have always been fascinated with creating life.” Father Gannon spoke softly, sipping his scotch and staring over the rim of his glass at the fire burning merrily in the hearth. “Literature is replete with examples ranging from the Jewish Golem of the Middle Ages, formed from clay and animated by God’s name written on its forehead, to Shelley’s monster, sewn together and brought to life by Dr. Frankenstein during an electrical storm. But these accounts are all just fiction. It can’t be done.”

“The stories go back farther than that. For example, a little tale of a man named Lazarus, brought back to life by a Hebrew rabbi.” Rabbi Yitzhak Solomon chuckled as he drank with his Jesuit friend.

“Yes, of course,” replied Father Gannon testily. Then, with a sly look at his Chassidic companion, he continued. “An occupational habit of great rabbis, even those we know were not the Son of God. Didn’t the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of your own sect, restore life to the dead?”

“Now, Francis, you can’t get a rise out of me that easily. The Jews know that to be literary license. The great Rebbe giving life to the dead meant bringing Jews back to the true meaning of the Torah, and the proper ways to worship Hashem, from whatever muddled or wrong-headed practices they had fallen into.” Rabbi Solomon couldn’t resist another barb. “And we didn’t deify the Baal Shem Tov for it.”

“Well, it’s questionable whether or not this latest Jewish upstart is the Second Coming. Or the first, even,” said the priest with a good-natured smile, noticing the look on the Rabbi’s face, “but it’s a good bet that he’ll end up being crucified.”

“Ah, yes, our mutual friend Michael.” Rabbi Solomon smiled. “I thought he might be the reason you invited me tonight. What’s he up to these days that might get him into trouble with the Church? The last I heard was that IBM had become a partner with the drug companies in his institute. Besides, he’s been on sabbatical from the institute for what, two years now?”

“Closer to three. And I didn’t say vilify, I said crucify and I meant it literally.” Father Gannon scowled as he stared into the fire again.

Rabbi Solomon put down his glass and looked at his old friend and sometime rival. “Francis, I do believe you are serious. But this is not the Roman Empire of Joshua of Nazareth’s time. Surely you’re jesting. Come, confess what’s troubling you.”

“I hadn’t noticed the difference between Jesus’s Rome and America today.” Father Francis Gannon, S.J., Ph.D., Professor of Biology at Georgetown University got up, walked to the fireplace, and placed his empty glass on the mantle. He took a poker and stirred the embers, sending a shower of sparks upward through the flue and on towards Heaven. He stared at the brightly burning blaze then turned abruptly, clasping his hands behind his back. His face was flushed and small beads of sweat dotted his hairline, reflecting the light from the room.

Rabbi Solomon did not think any of this was caused by the heat from the fire. “What’s troubling you?” Yitzhak asked again, gently.

“Michael’s back from his sabbatical, as you called it. He’s invited me to a special seminar entitled ‘After Artificial Organs: Where Do We Go Next?’ and frankly, I’m afraid to attend alone. I have an idea that he was much busier than anyone knew, and I don’t like it. When I found out you too were in town, I decided to invite you as my guest to the seminar. I’m sure Michael won’t mind. He’s known you almost his entire life, hasn’t he?”

“I trained him for his Bar Mitzvah,” replied Rabbi Solomon. “But I won’t go as your guest.” Father Gannon’s look of dismay caused another chuckle. “There’s no need. Michael’s invited me as well. I’ve already accepted because I’m worried, too.”

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Dr. Michael Steinman stood at the front of the conference room in the hotel, eschewing the podium as he walked back and forth, like some caged lion. Behind him was a hospital gurney bearing a shrouded mass surrounded by a plethora of devices, some familiar and others less obviously so. Gone were the trappings of his Orthodoxy: the beard, yarmulke, and tallit, in favor of a turtle neck sweater, blue jeans and loafers with no socks. One thing hadn’t changed, though: the magnetic force of his personality. If anything that had increased. His eyes burned with religious intensity.

“Why shouldn’t we strive to create life?” he asked his audience of pharmaceutical bigwigs, selected politicos, and his two friends of the cloth. “If Man was truly created in the image and likeness of God, as the Bible tells us, then Man is potentially divine. I believe,” he continued, warming to his theme, “based on my studies of the Zohar, the mystical Jewish ‘Book of Splendor,’ and other kabalistic writings of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that I have found several extant recipes for creating a Golem. In these writings are tracts describing the effectiveness of God’s seven secret names. Whereas the early Jews achieved bringing to life this magical homunculus accidentally, or at best through mystical revelation, I know how to create my Golem. I have spent the last three years studying these writings. Computer analysis of the pattern of letters reveals that these recipes are actually a genome, while numerical analysis of the seven names of God revealed codes for enzymes. My team and I synthesized these enzymes, and then used them to convert inorganic matter into living tissue. Thus, Genesis may truly be a literal statement of the creation of life.”

The audience erupted, no longer able to contain its collective calm or derision at these words. Michael let them babble on as he busied himself with the apparatus at the front of the room. Father Gannon looked shocked while Rabbi Solomon’s lips moved in silent prayer. Slowly, the various voices died down as each pair of eyes registered the scene adjacent to the podium. Michael had removed the cover from the gurney, revealing a roughly man-shaped object into which a confusing array of tubes, wires, monitors, and unnamed gadgets were connected.

“Behold, ladies and gentlemen, my ‘lump of clay.’ It contains internal organs, a skeleton, and other necessary structures all formed from inorganic materials. It has been treated with various chemicals and enzymes necessary to animate it. You will all be privileged to witness the final steps of the process that will lead to the creation of life from inanimate, inorganic matter. Today, we become as God.”

Father Gannon’s anguished voice arose from the crowd. “And if such monsters are generated, must we believe them the work of nature, even if they be different from man?” he deliberately misquoted Paracelsus on De Homunculis, from his Operum Volumen Secundum.

Rabbi Solomon rose to his feet and stretched out his arm towards the podium. “Michael, my friend, I beseech you. Look at the heavens and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that Hashem did not make them out of things that existed. By the word of the Lord they were made. Thus also mankind comes into being.”

“Father Gannon, Rabbi Solomon, ladies and gentlemen,” Michael introduced the speakers to the rest of the room. “Yitzhak, my old, dear friend, I have looked clearly: at heaven, at the earth, and at the words of God. I may be the first man in almost two thousand years to truly see and understand. So I shall proceed….” His voice trailed off as he turned to the gurney. Confusion filled his face as he viewed the tubes, wires, and monitors hanging free, no longer connected to anything at all. The Golem was gone.

A deep voice rumbled throughout the room, seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “Nu? Get your own dirt.”

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