Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Heresy Of Zev Farber

Once upon a time I was sitting in shul on a Shabbos morning and an acquaintance, a proud Conservative, wandered over and asked me if I knew whose yahrzeit it was coming up in a couple of days.  Without hesitating I answered "A.J. Heschel".  The acquaintance smiled and seemed pleased that I knew.  After he walked off someone asked "How did you know?" I responded, "Well, he's Conservative so he'd really only make a big deal out of one of them and when you've only got one 'Gadol' to choose from it's kind of easy to guess."
One must feel a little sorry for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah these days.  Like the Jewish Theological Seminary many students have passed through their gates but only one seems to have qualified for the coveted "Yadin Yadin" status, Rabbi Zev Farber.  Now it turns out their greatest prodigy is trying to redefine Orthodoxy into something that violates much of its treasured core principles and beliefs.
YCT is, of course, no stranger to controvery.  Ever since Rabbi Avi Weiss printed his "Open Orthodoxy" credo the yeshiva and its followers have continually struggled to redefine Orthodoxy further and further into secular territory.  From their pulpit in the Morethodoxy blog they have espoused changing some of our morning blessings because it offends their egalitarian senses, subtly encouraged the idea that halacha should change to allow for homosexual marriage and presented deadly enemies of the State of Israel in an encouraging light.  Each time they insist they have support from the halacha using their pick-a-posek method of decision making.  Each time they insist they are Torah observant in their views and are not violating any principles of Orthodoxy.
In fact there is a tremendous difference that does remain between Morethodoxy and right wing Conservativism. Despite all the comparisons and accusations that have been made that YCT is just JTS with a mechitzah we must acknowledge that the pick-a-posek method, while invalid, is still superior to the so-called Rabbinal Assembly's method of open voting on halacha.  YCT recognizes that they still cannot simply make up new rules or dispense with old ones willy nilly.  We should not forget that.
But Rabbi Farber may have finally crossed a line and provided opponents of YCT with their "Ah ha!" moment.  In a recent essay he endorsed many of the lies that the Documentary Hypothesis has been spreading over the last couple of centuries while analyzing Sefer Devarim.  True, his first statement is vague and can be explained away as simply pointing out that the conclusion of those Sinai-deniers who fail to see the unity and holiness of our Torah.
The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience
But one of concluding statements dispenses with that assumption of innocence:
 it appears to me that being able to accept that there are contradictory perspectives expressed in the Torah allows us to offer meaningful interpretations of each and to address significant tensions in the text without feeling the need to create hollow apologetic explanations
By referring to the wisdom of Chazal as apologetics Rabbi Farber seems to be stating his preference for the academic approach to Chumash rather than the Jewish one.  His tossing out of the phrase eilu v'eilu to justify his position smacks of open Reformativism.  Eilu v'eilu doesn't include opinions that allow driving on Shabbos or the eating of bacon.
This is not the only time Rabbi Farber crosses the important line.  He dismisses the narratives of Bereshis as mere allegories and moral tales, denying the historical existence of Avraham Avinu et al, something no believing Jew could conceive of doing.  His final justification for continuing to be "Orthodox" despite not believing in fundamental principles of it sounds like a paean to orthopraxy:
I was once asked by a friend how I can go on being an Orthodox Jew when I believe that virtually all of the stories in the Torah are ahistorical. I responded with a story from the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 61b). During the Hadrianic persecutions, when the teaching of Torah was a capital offense, a man named Pappos asks Rabbi Akiva why he continues to teach Torah if it could get him killed. Rabbi Akiva answers that a fox once asked a fish why he swims in water if he could get caught by fishermen. “Would it not be better,” the fox asks, “to hide on the dry land and avoid the nets?” The fish responds that this would be a bad idea. “Outside the water,” the fish says, “I will surely die; inside the water I have a chance.” “I am the fish,” says Rabbi Akiva, “and the Torah is my water.”
This is a powerful story about Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to his faith and people. Now, if Pappos had responded by saying, “Akiva, you are telling tales—fish don’t talk,” he would have been missing the point. “It doesn’t matter whether fish talk,” we would respond, “Rabbi Akiva’s story is still true.” Now, I am going to tell you something else: there was no Pappos; the story is a fictional account, written in Babylonia four hundred years after Rabbi Akiva’s death. Nevertheless, that is not the point; it is still true. 
In short, Rabbi Farber doesn't believe the Torah is a produce of the Divine.  He doesn't believe our forefathers existed.  He simply feels comfort in Orthodox practice the same way a Reformative feels comfort in what passes for Judaism on their side of the line.  He continues to keep kosher not because of some imperative from Sinai because frankly the Sinai experience probably didn't happen, chalilah.  He does it because he likes it, it gives something to him. His religious experience is selfish, just like that of the Reformatives.
And despite YCT's protests to the contrary we should not be fooled that the leadership of Morethodoxy has any problem with this position.  They can't.  Accepting that Matan Torah happened, accepting that the Torah is a divine and accurately preserved expression of the Will of God and that the Oral Law is a necessary part of it, not a product of Chazal invented much later on, creates the authoritative mesorah which must be handled with extreme care and only by the greatest authorities, none of whom work for YCT.  It means that being Torah observant is the correct lifestyle for a Jew and the only one at that.  It means no moral relativism but external standards of right and wrong that do not change to fit secular society's mood.  In contrast, the new "Rosh Yeshivah", Rabbi Asher Lopatin, is on regard as dismissing the uniqueness of Orthodoxy when it comes to genuine Torah observance.  For him, like Farber and the others Orthodoxy is simply a stream, a style, not the authentic practice of the mesorah we have received from our ancestors.  I have no doubt that the leadership of YCT does not believe in the historical reality of Matan Torah or the unity of the Torah as a God-given document.  Unlike Rabbi Farber they realize they cannot continue to portray themselves as "Orthodox" if they admit it publicly.
Now Rabbi Farber may be a nice man.  He is probably quite ethical, honest and decent in his dealings with others.  But it seems that he is not, despite his attempts to redefine the term, Orthodox.  A pity such a mind has gone off in the wrong direction.

29 comments:

Fred said...

Rabbi Meir Kahane (who, aside from his politics, was no fan of Rabbi Weiss) always referred to those known as "modern orthodox" as "moderately orthodox". I think he had a point.

david a. said...

The fact is we live in a world where, more and more, it's evidence that trumps blind faith.

And, this is the existential problem facing traditional Judaism. The evidence against the historicity (even of just some details of the) many narratives in the Chumash keeps building. As a former Yeshiva-leit who now doubts the divinity of the Torah, based on reasoning and and “evidence”, yet still loves Yiddishkeit, I certainly can see R. Farber’s view/problem.

Criticizing him or calling him a “kofer” (even if he might be one halachically) does not help the problem one bit.

Chaim B. said...

I don't understand why this is an issue. M'mah nafshach, if you are already in a theologically different camp than YCT, then whatever this guy says doesn't matter much; if you are in the YCT camp, then R' Farber's shita will trump those who criticize him. They view it as a machlokes of equal bar plugtas.

Anonymous said...

This kind of rhetoric always reminds me of the former Soviet Union: Communism is obviously superior and the truth, and the west is decadent and classist and evil.

Anyone who challenges the obvious superiority and truth of communism will be sent to a forced labor camp. No one can ever travel abroad to evaluate things for themselves. All books, radio, tv and newspapers are communist party controlled. All outside information is suppressed, omitted or distorted.

But communism is still obviously superior and the truth.

Sigh…

Tuvia

Lisa said...

Contrary to david a., there is no evidence against the historicity of Chumash.

I think everyone who parrots this claim should be forced to sit through a semester of Bible Studies at Hebrew U. It might help them to understand how this field really works.

The documentary hypothesis predates archaeology. It is predicated on the axiom that the Bible isn't what it purports to be. That it is not a unitary text given to us by God. This is not a conclusion of the field; it's the overarching premise.

Archaeologists look at physical evidence. But in order to make sense of it, they turn to written records. And because deconstructive biblical criticism is big in academia, they accept it. Not out of any ill will towards religion, but because they aren't experts in the field, so they have to accept the verdicts of those who are.

In turn, biblical deconstructionists use, not the actual evidence found by archaeologists and contained in primary sources, such as dig reports, but *secondary* sources written by archaeologists and historians, which contain an interpretation of that evidence which was informed by the deconstructionists themselves.

It's a perfect storm of circular reasoning, but because it crosses disciplines, very few people have enough of a bird's eye view to see it.

We are raised to think that anything taught in college is scientific. But it's not true. Physics is a hard science. Economics is a soft science, though it's barely entitled to the label "science" at all. The fields of ancient history are much more art than science. But because of the perception that they are science, many people are intimidated. They think (and they're usually right) that if they dispute an academic claim, they will be labeled as "faith driven primitives".

This fear has done a lot of damage. david a. is one of the victims, but he's one of thousands.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Tuvia, you've missed the point.
Using your analogy: Communism by definition does not believe in personal property. Everything belongs to the community and people use of the community's resource as they need to.
If someone comes along and announces "I'm a Communist" but then espouses the view that he believes in private property free from control by the community, what kind of communist would that make him?

Anonymous said...

If you are going to have a true debate on the origins of Torah (or the age of the universe, or the mabul, or evolution) you have to let the other side make its own case and bring its own evidence.

A rabbi can’t spend five minutes wrongly summing up the theory of evolution, and twenty minutes on the traditional argument and then say to the class “you see, you heard both sides, and our side wins!”

That’s called a show trial, and it appears to me to be the only way the Jewish world can cope with controversial topics. It’s not about a search for emes, but an attempt at control.

You have to let evolutionary biologists come in and show their evidence. You have to give them a chance. You can cross examine them, show counter evidence. They can cross examine your side. There can be expert witnesses. The class can ask questions.

I’ve never met a rabbi who was willing to share a lectern for six months with representatives of the other side of these controversial topics. Your post reminded me of this state of affairs.

Spinoza noted that the tradition handed down from Mt Sinai was the equivalent of (multi-generational) heresay – something a beis din would never consider a reliable kind of testimony. He also said that tradition, prophecy, belief, revelation are unreliable guides to the truth.

As long as we are talking about other people’s religions, most orthodox Jews would agree. Why?

Tuvia

david a. said...

nice explanation, Lisa.

But you miss the essence of the point. People trus "evidence", they (increasingly) don't trust blind faith.

People trust, even if the evidence is actually wrong. The blind-faithers must show that the evidence is wrong. They can't just pound the table and yell, you must believe or else you're a nasty kofer".

When a guy like Dever who is an Ohev-Israel writes a book on archaeology, indicating that many aspects of Tenach are not historical, the blind-faithers must show why he's wrong, so the unfortunates, like myself, can be set straight.

Lisa said...

david a., Dever may be an ohev Yisrael, but he's still well inside a paradigm that excludes us axiomatically. I'm no blind faither. I'm, unfortunately, one of the few people who can dispute Dever on the basis of solid evidence, rather than faith.

And that's the thing. Not all faith is blind faith. I've never seen a real kidney (other than in a chicken), but I have faith that there's two of them in my body. I took chem in college, but while the math is elegant, I've never actually seen the molecules we were talking about, let alone the atoms that make up those molecules.

Human beings amass knowledge by making it unnecessary for each individual to be an expert in each field of knowledge. The blind faithers, as you call them, are basing their faith on personal knowledge of their teachers, and their teachers' teachers, and the logical extrapolation that if these are reliable conduits of knowledge, so were their predecessors, going all the way back.

The problem with debating Dever, and the reason he would probably find debating me very frustrating, is that we differ in our basic assumptions. He thinks the chronological dating of the stratigraphy in Israel is solidly based and not subject to any major revisions. I agree with him about the physical evidence, but I disagree about the stratigraphic dating, and if you know how stratigraphy works, that changes *everything*.

If the Exodus happened during the Egyptian New Kingdom (Late Bronze Age), then it probably didn't happen at all, just like someone like Finkelstein (who is, in my opinion, one of the most intellectually honest archeaologists of the ancient near east out there) claims. If, on the other hand, it happened at the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt (the end of Early Bronze), there's ample evidence of it.

If Shlomo lived in the Iron Age, his grand kingdom and mercantile empire is nothing but fiction. If, on the other hand, he lived in the Middle Bronze IIB,C, there's a wealth (no pun intended) of evidence for it.

But how do you "prove" which chronology is right? Short of hopping into a time machine, all you can do is look at different structures and draw conclusions as to which works better.

Little story. I was at the home of a biblical studies professor once, and I thought I'd make a stab at opening his eyes. So I said: "You know how the archaeological evidence shows invasions from the north, rather than the east, and waves of settlement coming from the north, rather than an almost overnight settlement in the land?" He agreed. After all, this is one of the big arguments against Joshua and the Invasion of Canaan. "Suppose we didn't know that the Israelite period started around the time of those waves of invasion and migration and settlement. Don't you think the archaeological evidence looks an awful lot like the biblical description of the Assyrian conquests and settlement of the Samaritan tribes?"

He thought about this for a moment, and replied, "Yes, but we *do* know that it was the time of Israelite settlement."

This was a highly intelligent man, who I don't think has any axe to grind. But he's locked into his paradigm to the point where he couldn't even see the obvious match between the archaeological evidence and the biblical account.

So is there blind faith operating here? One could say that Dever has blind faith in the conclusions of archaeologists, Egyptologists and Assyriologists. Not their evidence, but their conclusions. Their interpretations of that evidence. I wouldn't say so. Faith, yes. Blind faith, no. But it's equally difficult to argue against.

Let me ask you: given that most written material from the ancient near east was perishable and that Jews didn't generally leave stelae (matzeivot) for obvious reasons, what kind of evidence would you *like* to substantiate the biblical account? If there's no conceivable evidence that would satisfy you, is it right to ask for evidence?

Lisa said...

Anonymous, the problem with your suggestion is that "I don't know" isn't a valid answer in most scientific disciplines. A wise man once said "It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong", but that's not a sentiment that's very common in science.

Let's posit that evolution is a possible mechanism for speciation. Does that *prove* that all speciation happened through evolution? Of course not. But when you eliminate God from the equation, the best explanation is that speciation should be extrapolated back to a point. There's zero evidence for this extrapolation, but if you challenge an evolutionary biologist on it, the answer will be, "If not, how would you explain where various species came from?" And if you say, "God", then you're a benighted primitive who isn't worth talking to. If you say "I don't know", you get a smug, "Then how can you argue with our extrapolation?"

Like I asked david a., try and picture this happening in real life. You're a rav, and you invite an evolutionary biologist in. Since he won't accept "God did it" as even a thought experiment, how do you envision this dialog going? How do you even see the possibility of a dialog?

What would you call an absolute refusal to accept a suggested premise? Blind faith, maybe? Is God testable? No. That makes God something that science prefers not to deal with. By its nature. Not because scientists are anti-God, but because the scientific system isn't built to work with an unprovable like God. It's like mixing apples and easy chairs.

Anonymous said...

Lisa:

I can’t really argue your view of things. I think the best way to proceed would be for yeshivas to have evolutionary biologists share a podium with rabbis/creationists/designer types and let them give their evidence and ideas. They can cross examine each other and bucherim could ask questions. If necessary, they could back up a bit, and go into how science proceeds, how rabbis proceed, and even question each other on that.

I have no idea who would “win.” But it would really encourage me if Judaism would stop ducking these questions, and controlling the way bucherim are educated. It would also be a wonderful way to keep Jews from shaking their head and walking away from Judaism, as Judaism seems too afraid to do anything but strive to control minds regarding these topics.

I’ve read five or six pieces by modern biblical critics that delve into linguistics, philology, similarities between Judaism and other cultures in the ANE. I am no scholar. But rabbis should give Modern Bible Scholars a year or two to really explain why they think the Torah is a product of many hands and several centuries. There is a lot of scholarship to go into.

Then the bochurs and other Jews, shielded from this information til now, could make up their own minds about it.

I am sick to my stomach with the empty but confident assertions made by rabbis, yet the utter fear they have in the face of a challenge.

If the omitting, distorting, and suppressing of the outside world does not work, they have the “carrots and sticks” of divine blessings and gahenim. Classic supernatural fear mongering that really works on all people, everywhere. Add to that a huge dose of inspirational talks (to overcome people’s rational faculty) and it is the same recipe all other religions use, and even nationalist movements use – including early Nazis and communists in Russia.

I get it: inspiration feels amazing. I’ve been there. I’ve been intoxicated. I just think feeling good – feeling we are special, we have a definite mission, a way to act and live – while an amazing feeling, is still being built on a false platform of indoctrination and manipulation. I’m sure early Nazis and communists felt amazing too. I’m sure Mormons and Christians who are true believers feel amazing too. I know that Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus feel amazing – they are not shy about telling us how amazing their lives have become since they turned on to JC.

Modern Biblical Scholarship is a downer. Education is often a downer to the true believer. Indoctrination is inspiring and fun. I’ve been there and felt it, and I know how troubling it can be to be informed, not manipulated.

There seems to be good reason to see the Torah (from a rational evaluation) as coming from different pens. More so today than even twenty years ago.

The rabbis should not shy away from sharing a lectern for a year or two with scholars who think the Torah shows good evidence of multiple pens over several centuries. Let’s lay it all out and take a look. Make it part of the curriculum for orthodox Jews.

If the rabbis don’t want people to think, but just believe – they’re really operating in the wrong paradigm by trying to prove various scientific ideas wrong. It’s the wrong challenge. Letting modern biblical scholars into the yeshiva to show why they see it differently is only fair.

I respect your point of view – I just think we are not approaching biblical studies in a real way – orthodox Jews are just dismissing it with a wave of the hand. That is fear talking. That is not confidence. Jews should never be afraid of anything.

I’ve been reading Betraying Spinoza – which I really recommend to anyone who was taught that Spinoza was just some kofer whose grave we should spit on. I think Judaism used to be a beautiful tradition – but it got scared after the Enlightenment, when it lost its privileged place along with divinely appointed royals, the Church, and all other forms of false authority.

Judaism has been like a soldier traumatized by combat since then. Acting strange.

Tuvia

david a. said...

Lisa,

>>>>> I agree with him about the physical evidence, but I disagree about the stratigraphic dating, and if you know how stratigraphy works, that changes *everything*.

Of course getting the dating correct is the crux of the matter, and I’m certain you gave it much thought in arriving at your own revised dating of events.

Questions:
Does anyone agree with you? Have you any “evidence” that might support you? Have you published it anywhere, particularly in a peer-reviewed type venue?

Also, has anyone ever critiqued Dever (What did the Biblical Writers Know) or Finkelstein (the Bible Unearthed) in writing and shown why they are wrong?

>>> If, on the other hand, it happened at the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt (the end of Early Bronze), there's ample evidence of it.

This might be true. I think there was an Exodus. The story is too powerful and too central in our tradition to be totally fiction, but it certainly was not in the size, grandeur and maybe time frame as the Torah describes. This in itself militates against a divinely written narrative.

>>>>> Let me ask you: given that most written material from the ancient near east was perishable and that Jews didn't generally leave stelae (matzeivot) for obvious reasons, what kind of evidence would you *like* to substantiate the biblical account? If there's no conceivable evidence that would satisfy you, is it right to ask for evidence?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that we do have ancient documents that clearly show that the Torah (as we have it today) was an evolving document. For instance, I have no reason to doubt that the book of Samuel goes back to circa David’s time. Yet an objective reading is that none of Saul, Samuel, or David had our Torah. In fact the term isn’t even found in the entire book. I wrote about it here: http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2013/04/the-arguments-from-nkh-part-1.html#disqus_thread

>>>> The blind faithers, as you call them, are basing their faith on personal knowledge of their teachers, and their teachers' teachers, and the logical extrapolation that if these are reliable conduits of knowledge, so were their predecessors, going all the way back.

Ah, but there exactly is the rub. I simply don’t fully trust my teachers and their teachers going all the way. I grew up in chareidi yeshivot. My rabbei-im believed in every word of the Talmud and medroshim. Every single outrageous story was gospel truth. They believed that Chazal were infallible and their science superior to what mankind knew at the time. What utter rubbish. So how can I now believe that every element of their history is correct. Further, we see that in our day the so-called Gedolim have invented stuff, e.g. the concept of Daas Torah or that kollel is the ideal and goal for every Jewish male. They are even known to pervert the sayings of some of the Rishonim to match they fabrications.
So again, how credible are they?

Anonymous said...

Hi Garnel, When I grew up I was introduced vaguely to the Documentary Hypothesis. To be frank, although I was and am "spiritual" at the time I did not have a clear-cut opinion on Torah mi'Sinai vs. DH. Now, after studying the Tanach a fair amount, I have come to the belief that Moshe wrote the Torah over a period of 40 years, under direct divine inspiration. I really that this is not a satisfactory belief to you as an Orthodox Jew, but it is far more "traditional" than the beliefs of "Reformatives" (as you jokingly call them). I think that the problem is, from what I have observed, that those that do not believe in (any version of) Torah Mi'Sinai usually take Jewish observance less seriously. There are exceptions, like Rabbi Farber. However, most are not like him. From this viewpoint, we should support Karaite Jews, since EVEN THOUGH they do not accept the authority of the Talmud, they do indeed believe in (written) Torah Mi Sinai. Of course, this is what I feel is another problem with Orthodoxy- you have to believe exactly like us or your out of Judaism. Regards, Dave.

Lisa said...

Anonymous, I hear what you're saying, but I don't think it would work. Scientists are really missionaries for their field. And when they have assumptions built in that have been accepted by others in their field, they can't easily change them.

Look, back in Greece, we didn't say, "Sure, go to the gymnasia and then we can debate whether the Torah is true or whether Hellenism is true. Because that's a waste of time. The two begin from utterly different premises. By bringing evolutionary biologists in -- as they are now -- we would be giving an endorsement to their premises.

We don't know exactly how God did creation. And we're okay with that. The problem is that evolutionary biologists are not okay with saying, "We don't know how all the species we see came into being", even though that would be true.

What you don't seem to realize is that the picture you have -- "Science civilized, religion primitive" -- is incorrect. Yes, I think it would be wonderful if frum Jews could get into the field and challenge things. But we're outnumbered. And if you think that doesn't make a difference, you haven't spent enough time in academia.

david a. mentioned peer review. And that's the thing. This is relevant to what you've written as well as what david has written. Peer review in hard sciences means that claims are checked to see if they're producable or reproducable. This is not the case in evolutionary biology. How on earth can you "prove" that human beings evolved from aquatic precursors? You can't. Ah, but if we can show that humans have a similarity to dolphins and other sea mammals, we can argue that this can't be mere coincidence. Nice, but at that point, Orthodox Jews will say, "Duh, who ever claimed it was coincidence? God made us that way and God made dolphins that way." And evolutionary biologists will say, "Since this can't be a coincidence, it stands to reason that the species are related." Do you see how those are two equally logical -- on the face of it -- responses to the same information? But one presupposes that God created the species, and the other presupposes that the species came about without outside help. Both presuppositions are unprovable. But one is acceptable in an academic setting and one isn't. One is acceptable in a yeshiva setting and one isn't.

In soft fields like history, peer review gets even more problematic, because the yardstick an article is measured against isn't whether it comforms to physical data, but whether it conforms to other scholarship in the area. And the fields are tiny. When I studied in the Assyriology department at Hebrew U, there were fewer than a dozen of us. As a result, the average age of a scholar in that field is pretty high. And the older scholars are correspondingly more rigid in their views. Suggesting that the Iron Age began in the mid-700s in Israel is like suggesting to a physicist that Special Relativity is wrong. Only in that case, you can at least produce equations or experimental results. In Assyriology, since nothing is based on rigorous conclusions in the first place, how do you challenge it?

What I'm working on right now is a book in which I intend to challenge the conventional dating of the Iron Age. Because taking on the Bronze Age as well would be far too much for people to digest. But I also work for a living, and I have a family, so it's slow going.

Lisa said...

Let me give you a small example of how things work in Assyriology. There's an Assyrian inscription about an Egyptian foe. You can see a description of it in Gardiner's book here. "Sib'e, like a a shepherd whose flock has been stolen, fled alone and disappeared". That's a 1961 book in a 1964 printing. But if you go here, you can read in a volume of the Cambridge Ancient History from 1982 that "since the true reading of the turtanu's name is now believed to be Re'e, not Sib'e, the supposed identification of So with him is no longer tenable and, as a corollary, a suggestion to equate Sib'e and So with Shabako must also be abandoned." Why? Because in 1960, R. Borger published an article in Journal of Near East Studies (you can read it here, if you understand German) in which he pointed out that if the cuneiform sign "sib" is read as "re" (both syllables being represented by the same character), the Assyrian inscription could be read as a pun, since "re'e" is cognate to רעה, and it would make a pun with the word "shepherd" in the sentence. Now understand, there is zero basis for preferring Sib'e over Re'e or vice versa. But Borger was a highly esteemed expert in the field, and his suggestion of the pun seemed cool. As a result, the person in question has been reinterpreted as not referring to the same individual at all, which has further implications for history, including biblical history. It's on such things that things rise and fall in Assyriology.

The only way to challenge a paradigm is to present an alternative one and defend it. It can't be done by working within the paradigm. That's simple sociology of science.

Lisa said...

Tuvia, you say that Jews should never be afraid of anything. I think that's a little naive. I think there's what to be afraid of. I think the current response to that fear is flawed, granted, but I'm not sure what the alternative is.

You also say "Judaism has been like a soldier traumatized by combat since then. Acting strange." No question. Not "like", but very much as. If we've got some national PTSD, do you think it's really unjustified? And would you go to a soldier with PTSD and shout, "Can't you just get over it, already!"

Lisa said...

David, "The story is too powerful and too central in our tradition to be totally fiction, but it certainly was not in the size, grandeur and maybe time frame as the Torah describes." Why "certainly"? What is the source of that certainty?

So your teachers were part of the crazy-rigid "The Midrash Says" crowd, who insist that Bat Par'o really had super stretching powers and that Moshe Rabbenu really leapt 10 cubits in the air when fighting Og. That's a problem, no question. I reject that as much as you do. But by letting that kind of thing represent Orthodoxy, you're granting those people way too much authority and power.

I do have evidence, but of course, it's no more "proof" than the conventional chronology has.

Anonymous said...

Lisa wrote:

“Look, back in Greece, we didn't say, "Sure, go to the gymnasia and then we can debate whether the Torah is true or whether Hellenism is true. Because that's a waste of time. The two begin from utterly different premises. By bringing evolutionary biologists in -- as they are now -- we would be giving an endorsement to their premises.”

The idea is to let people evaluate the world using their rational faculty. That’s the idea. It is a good idea. It’s not “a waste of time.”

Lisa: if someone had a belief system that said women were not intelligent enough to own property, or vote, or run for mayor and that testing that belief was a “waste of time” – what is your reaction? Wouldn’t you find it rather self-serving?

That was the thinking that informed generations of people in the West. It was the Enlightenment which permitted that assertion to be challenged and subjected it to evaluation by people using their rational faculty.

In the end, this led to The Bill of Rights. The idea of inalienable human rights. Natural Law, Natural Rights. Equality under the Law (and under G-d, either metaphorically or literally.)

What is it about letting people EVALUATE things that is so objectionable to you? Is it just that since you agree with this belief system, you cannot tolerate having people evaluate its claims? What if it is a belief system you didn’t agree with, would evaluating its claims suddenly be a fair course of action?

Kings (pre-enlightenment) made claims to divinely granted power. After the Enlightenment – but only after – people could challenge that claim. “Where’s the proof?” “How does that work?” “What makes you better than me, other than your making a claim that G-d chose you to rule?”

The claims did not withstand scrutiny in the Age of Reason (aka the Enlightenment.)

WHY do you want to return us to pre-Enlightenment thinking??? Why can’t a Jew evaluate the claims of his tradition? What kind of Jews are you hoping to create under your system?

Please explain.

Thanks,

Tuvia

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Dave,

> I have come to the belief that Moshe wrote the Torah over a period of 40 years, under direct divine inspiration

Well that's pretty much what the Torah says. Afer all, Haazinu was written at the end of the 40 year period, the Torah itself tells us, while Matan Torah was probably recorded right after it happens so there's no contradiction.

Beware people who create false dichotomies. People say it's either creationism or evolution. Why can't God have directed evolution? Science and archeology must contradict the Torah. No, read the literature and you'll find that there's no evidence contradicting anything in the Bible. The best any archeologist can do is say there's no positive supporting evidence. The only people who need conflict are the ones who cannot support their position without delegitimizing the other.

Michael said...

Lisa, what corroborating evidence is there for any of the historicity of the 5 books of Moses?

Joshua and forward is very a different story, I'm asking about the "Torah" and its narrative that our faith is supposed to be based on.

david a. said...

>>>> Why "certainly"? What is the source of that certainty?

Ok so “certainly” is a poor choice of words. But for all kinds of rational reasons, the Torah’s count is a bit absurd, consider.

1. how did 50 or so adults going in become 600,000 in 5-6 generations. And if you use the medrosh notion that women were having sextuplets on a regular basis, aside from its silliness, it’s also contradicted by the all the genealogies found in T’nach, which seem to give an average of 3-4 males per generation.

2. Archeology claims that the total population of Egypt was much less than 5 million during all of that ancient period.

3. The logistics of movement of over 3 million people plus how many millions of animals and wagons. Unless God miraculously created a highway hundreds of yards wide, using any normal desert track would create a line hundreds of kilometers long and take a week to queue up each time the moved and another to settle down.

4. Admittedly, one can invoke “absence of evidence etc.”, but the B”Y spent 20 or more years at kadesh barnea which has been torn apart and not a stitch of evidence. Its compelling.

davd a. said...

>>>>> No, read the literature and you'll find that there's no evidence contradicting anything in the Bible.

Garnel, i'm a bit dismayed. This is not quite truthful.

Lisa said...

Michael, the Ipuwer Papyrus describes the aftermath of the Exodus from the Egyptian point of view. The utter collapse of the 6th dynasty and the Egyptian Old Kingdom matches what we'd expect to see based on the Exodus narrative.

And then there's Pepi II. The Turin Papyrus, which dates from the time of Ramesses II (the "great") was discovered in 1820. It contains the information that Pepi II, the second to last king of the 6th dynasty, reigned from the age of 6 to the age of 100. That's an incredibly long reign. Ninety four years.

Then there's the Sefer HaYashar, which is a compilation of midrashim. The first edition is from 1552. The odds of any information having been copied from the Turin Papyrus are pretty slim, since it was lying under the Egyptian sand at the time. The book describes the Pharaoh of the Oppression (second to last king before the Exodus), who reigned from the age of 6 to the age of 100.

Clearly, this is circumstantial. But it's hard to argue away as a coincidence.

Lisa said...

David, what evidence is there that contradicts the Bible?

Lisa said...

Also, has anyone ever critiqued Dever (What did the Biblical Writers Know) or Finkelstein (the Bible Unearthed) in writing and shown why they are wrong?

Last time I read The Bible Unearthed (Finkelstein and Silberman, btw), I couldn't stop laughing. At some point, I do want to write a chapter by chapter commentary on it, because so much of it is based on the conventional chronology.

It's also based on Finkelstein's opinion that population density in Israel back in the day was approximately that of rural Arab villages today, which is just ludicrous. And they draw very many conclusions from the fact that Josiah is mentioned in a prophecy early on in the divided monarchy. And since it's impossible that it could have been real prophecy, the text must have dated from after the time of Josiah. Talk about circular reasoning.

Btw, Garnel? I don't know if it's possible, but non-threaded comments kind of bite. Just saying'...

david a. said...

>>>> David, what evidence is there that contradicts the Bible?

I think you’re pulling my leg. You know very well, but Ok, I’ll bite.

1) the description of creation as given in Gen 1 seems to be written by someone ignorant of the structure of the universe. eg. What is rokia? What is the waters above. Earth as an entity independent of the universe, Etc. etc.

2) The overwhelming evidence (archaeological, biological, botanical, geological and just plain common sense) that no global flood occurred 4000 years ago

3) the claim that multiple languages miraculously appeared in the world (or at least the Middle East) ca 1750 BCE.

4) people living 100s of years.

Some minor points.

5) the arnevet (usually translated as hare) chewing its cud, the shafan (rabbit or hyrax) chewing its cud. The bat being a bird.

6) plain reading of text in Gen, saying that the rainbow was created post-flood.

>>>> And since it's impossible that it could have been real prophecy, the text must have dated from after the time of Josiah.

Don’t see your point. Doesn’t the Gemorrah hold that Jeremiah wrote Kings?

Steve Finnell said...

HERESY CHECK !
There are only two kinds of doctrine taught in contemporary churches.

1. Man-made doctrine, which is heresy. (Mark 7:1-9-13... 9 And He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.....13"making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.)

Man-made doctrine is found in catechisms, creed books, and church statements of faith.

2.The word of truth, which is God's word. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.)

The word of God is found in the Bible and the Bible alone.

Some believers proclaim that in order to be saved, men must go to a mourners bench, repent and pray until you feel saved. Still other believers assert that men need to go to a so-called altar, in front of the church building, and pray a sinner's prayer in order to be saved. There are those that believe salvation comes from simply saying a sinners prayer, and having a repentant heart. Is this heresy or truth? Where are the Scriptures to support these doctrines? There are no Scriptures, there are only handed down traditions of men

Jesus said, Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Was Jesus a heretic for saying "Is baptized will be saved?" Or was Jesus speaking the word of God?

The apostle Peter said, 1 Peter 3:20-21....were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Was the apostle Peter a heretic for saying, "Which now saves you, namely baptism?" Or was Peter speaking the word of God?

Ananias said, Acts 22:16 'And why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

Was Ananias a heretic for saying, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins?" Or was Ananias speaking the word of God?

The apostle Paul said, Ephesians 5:25-27 ...just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, 26 that He might sanctify and cleans it with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Was the apostle Paul a heretic for saying. "sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word?" Or was Paul speaking the word of God?

The apostle Peter said, Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Was the apostle Peter a heretic for saying, " Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins?" Or was Peter speaking the word of God?

There are only two choices. 1. Man-made doctrine, or 2. The word of God.

(All Scripture from: NEW KING JAMES VERSION)


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Anonymous said...

Excavating the Bible is a great read and addresses many of the issues raised.

Lisa said...

Steve Finnell wrote:

Was Jesus a heretic...

Yes.