Monday, October 23, 2006

Proof of Sinai?

Earlier today, I noticed a comment from my friend Jake Adler on the "Authenticity of the Bible" post. He requested a further post addressing the so-called "proof" of revelation at Sinai. This proof has been elaborated convincingly by Rabbi Chait here, as well as by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb here, here and here.

The Proof of Sinai, or Kuzari Principle, has also come under serious attack within the blogosphere, even at the hands of people who are, for all intents and purposes, 'believers'. Thinkers on both sides of the issue have adopted an all-or-nothing approach; with one side claiming that Sinai offers decisive proof of the Torah's divinity and the other claiming that it offers no evidence whatsoever.

I believe that many of the objections raised against the Sinai proof are themselves deeply flawed and rooted in basic misunderstandings. At the same time, though, overestimation of the value of the "proof" in the eyes of some of its proponents is partially responsible for the backlash against it. I would like to take the liberty of reproducing a segment of an email I wrote to David Guttmann, author of the Believing is Knowing blog, last week:

My understanding of the so-called Kuzari argument, even as presented by Rabbi Chait, is not as a demonstration, strictly speaking. I believe the thrust of his article can be summarized and reworded less hyperbolically as follows:

"Most religions stake their validity on the 'honesty' of a prophet or small group of leaders who claim to have received revelation. Judaism is unique in that it bases its authenticity upon the collective experience, by the Jewish people as a whole, of key events in their history. The nature of the events in question - i.e., their public character and profound significance - is such that accounts of their occurence are no more or less suspect than the essential elements of any other record of a nation's history. No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience. As a matter of course, we accept such reports as authentic until proven otherwise. The accounts of the Torah thus deserve the same respect. To question their validity is to necessarily introduce a conspiracy theory the magnitude of which has never been observed in human history."

In other words, I submit that the argument succeeds in demonstrating that the accounts of the Exodus and Maamad Har Sinai are a part of the national history of Israel, not the personal claims of a particular prophet or priest. As such, they should be considered empirically factual until evidence is adduced to the contrary.

( If these events were not a part of the collective memory of klal yisrael, then we will be hard pressed to explain the fact that the prophets constantly make reference to them in their polemics against the Jews. Does it make any sense to remind people of the implications of something that they deny ever happened?)

The fact that records of these events constituted the formative history of a nation gives the accounts of those events a qualitatively superior kind of reliability. This is the "evidence" that our mesora provides as to its authenticity.

As David posted this morning, it is a grave mistake to confuse standards of proof with one another. If we expect to demonstrate mathematically that the Exodus - or any other event, for that matter - in fact occurred, we will wind up concluding that it did not. Historical events are never "proven" to have happened in any absolute, logical sense of the term. Our views of the past are based upon an evaluation of whatever evidence is available to us and a determination of the most reasonable or likely explanation for it. In this framework, and in this framework alone, the Proof of Sinai is a compelling one.

Despite the fact that history is far from an exact science, we possess a fairly consistent and coherent model of the past. Only revisionist historians who are willing to consider the possibility of intricate conspiracy theories, etc., present us with radically different versions of the historical record. Legitimate historians - though they may differ on details of interpretation and other nuances - usually operate within a common framework of empirical knowledge that shapes the direction of their research.

Now, let us examine the facts. There is no alternative account of Israel's history that has even a shred of empirical data to support it. Yet, archaelogists and so-called Biblical scholars will accept the wildest conjecture and the most unfounded and groundless speculation as long as it contradicts and supplants the traditional viewpoint.

It is important to keep in mind the paucity of the archaeological evidence we have in our possession, relative to the number of hypotheses and interpretations that have been built upon it. Most experts estimate that only .5%-2% of the archaeological material in existence has actually been unearthed and studied. This is a modest amount of data on which to base a complete rewriting of ancient history. We must also consider the fact that many archaeological discoveries have confirmed Biblical accounts, and that not a single archaelogical finding has ever decisively contradicted them (of course, in some instances, this is a matter of interpretation - but the presence of disagreement about the implications of a finding renders that finding "indecisive").

In summary, when we approach the subject of history and the verification of historical records, we must clarify the standard of proof we will be employing. There is no question that the character of the events in Egypt and at Sinai is such that the Torah's account deserves to be accepted as a reliable national history.

If we choose to deny that the events that the Torah describes actually occurred, then we are forced to work out an alternative explanation for Jewish religious and political life that will have no evidence to back it up and will involve conspiracy theories galore. This will lead us down the path of purely speculative historical revisionism and far away from any rational assessment of the data at hand. We would not take this kind of fanciful reconstruction seriously in any other area of historical study; thus, we should be equally unwilling to accept it with regard to the Torah's accounts.

This is the essence of the "Proof of Sinai" as I understand it.

117 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the historicity of the Torah events should not be used to prove authencity of a religious belief. The Torah is divine because of its contents. See MN 2:39 see also my articles in hakirah issue 1 and 3 re Nevuah, Nevuat Moshe and miracles. I touch on some of the concepts in TMS. I have to deal with matan torah soon.

The Torah is not a history book but a guide of how to interpret historical events. It is only a guide and like all good teachers points rather than spells out. It leaves it to us to figure things out because only then do they have a greater impact. I believe that it is that which makes it such a great book and the torah of the Ramabm follows in the same footsteps. I therefore don't worry about biblkical criticism, archeology and all the other issues discussed on many blogs. They miss the point completely. I have posted on that a little and will do so many times more.

I love your posts. They are very important and though I don't see always eye to eye, they are well rooted in our sources. The Torah has to make sense to people with different ways of thinking. 'Keshem shepartzufe'em shonot ...."

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I fully agree with your point here. Keep in mind, though, that you speak from the perspective of a person knowledgeable in Torah and well versed in proper hashkafa.

However, one only develops an appreciation of the inherent greatness of the Torah and its wisdom after much study. How should a person decide which system of revelation to commit to from the outset?

I believe that the argument from history is at the very least sufficient to establish that the Torah is the place to begin the quest for truth. Over time, such discussions become unnecessary and appear even trivial. But for a beginner, they are crucial, as the Rambam explains in his letter to Yemen

Kylopod said...

What exactly do you mean you don't worry about the "other" issues? Do you mean the DH for example isn't convincing, or do you mean its truth or falsity is irrelevant? If the latter, how do you account for Orthodoxy's absolute rejection of the theory (a major factor in the Jacobs affair, among others)?

Anonymous said...

>If the latter, how do you account for Orthodoxy's absolute rejection of the theory (a major factor in the Jacobs affair, among others)?

Don't take me to task about how orthodoxy deals with opposing views. They act from a defensive position and as rabbi Maroof points out in his comment, there is a fear of how begginners will understand things. I feel a little different as nowadays people are much better educated and should be dealt with honestly from the inception.

Yes DH is irrelevant. The Torah is divine because of its content not by who wrote it and whether it is historically unchanged. We believe every letter is misinai though we have more than one version. that alone gives you an idea where we are coming from. Biblical scholars reduce Torah's dynamism by positing that the authencity of the text is an issue. it is not. Rabbi David Halivni has an excellent book, Revelation Restored, a worthwhile read and an eye opener. It gives you the view of a great Talmid Chacham who has gone the whole nine yards and finally came to understand what tradition means.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I agree with David that the belief that minor changes occurred in the Torah's text over time would not be theologically problematic.

It is unrealistic to believe that every word or letter has been reliably preserved over time. In fact,this extreme literal take on "Torah Min Hashamayim" would contradict the views of the Hachmei HaTalmud and Rishonim who held much more "liberal" opinions on the subject.

However, I personally think that the DH is a thoroughly unconvincing approach to Tanach for many, many reasons that have been ably explored elsewhere and need not be repeated here.

I also find myself disagreeing with Halivni's position for several reasons. The scenario he paints is just unbelievable.

To offer one of numerous examples, the notion that Torah Shebal Peh remained intact while Torah Shebichtav became riddled with distortions is very difficult to accept. Wouldn't the same people who maintained and transmitted the mesorah - prophets and scribes - also pay attention to the condition of the texts? If they knew a text was obviously corrupted, why would they treat it as sacred, etc.?

There are many other problems with Halivni's hypothesis and, though he is extraordinarily knowledgeable, I feel that he is not giving Torah Shebichtav or Torah Shebal Peh sufficient credit for their depth and subtletly.

Perhaps I will post on this topic in greater detail at another time.

Kylopod said...

But I would be interested to know your take on the Jacobs affair. It isn't just an issue for beginners. While I'm not familiar with all the details of the case, what I do understand is that this brilliant scholar was driven from Orthodoxy largely because of his acceptance of the DH. The incident is often viewed historically as having helped set the boundaries of contemporary Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I have never read "We Have Reason to Believe" by Louis Jacobs, but I am familiar with the main thrust of his work.

Several weeks ago, Gil Student posted a very nice treatment of the "Jacobs affair" that I would basically agree with.

I should probably clarify my position by stating that the DH, as understood by Biblical Scholars in academia, is objectionable to me on both methodological and theological grounds. In addition to being unconvincing on a very basic level, it would also undermine the whole concept of mesorah.

My point earlier was that I am totally comfortable with the notion that some of the letters and words in the Torah that we possess today may not be identical to that which was transcribed by Moshe. This is acknowledged in the Talmud in several places and is beyond question.

However, the theory that the entire Torah is a patchwork of sloppily sewn together sources, and that the prophets and sages were incapable of preserving and/or tampered with the Torah text, is not a tenable viewpoint and should be roundly rejected.

By the way, religious people do not have a monopoly on criticism of the DH. For a couple of examples, check out Walter Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy for a scathing analysis (from an agnostic, no less), or look at http://www.uglx.org/documentary-hypothesis.

Kylopod said...

My question was actually addressed to David Guttmann, because he is the one who asserted that the DH's truth or falsity is irrelevant. Your position is a fairly typical Orthodox one, and I have no trouble understanding it. It's David's that I'm more curious about.

micha said...

I wrote a number of posts on the "Kuzari Proof" as well. I can only put the expression in quotes, since the actual thesis of the first section of the Kuzari is not a proof -- but the assertion that we don't need a proof! Philosophical proofs are described as uncertain things, which one philosopher can use to prove on thing, and another a contradictory one. That Philosophy is something the Greeks had to rely on because of their lack of Semitic tradition. Communal first-hand knowledge is deemed more certain than philosophy.

In my blog ("Aspaqlaria") the relevant posts are:
The "Kuzari Proof" part 1, part 2, part 3,
Argument by Design, ver. 4.0 (an example of why proofs don't actually convince anyone not already ready to be convinced)
Emunah Peshutah and Machashavah Amuqah (Simple Faith and Deep Understanding)

J said...


The nature of the events in question - i.e., their public character and profound significance - is such that accounts of their occurence are no more or less suspect than the essential elements of any other record of a nation's history. No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience. As a matter of course, we accept such reports as authentic until proven otherwise.


I think that there is a basic flaw in your logic here, with all due respect.

If a nation's collective history contains supernatural events - whether it be prophets, miracles, sorcerers, etc. - since we don't currently believe in such phenomenon or more percisely we don't observe such phenomenon nowadays, a historian would discount that aspect of the collective history as mythology. So how would Har Sinai differ? Since noone has spoken to God lately, wouldn't a historian be fair in relegating this part of our collective history to mythology as well?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

J, you cannot evaluate the merits of an argument objectively if you have ruled out its conclusion a priori. If a person has decided, as a matter of dogma, that God does not exist or doesn't interact with human beings, then no amount of proof will convince him anyway.

Historians and scientists assume that the supernatural does not exist. But this is an assumption like any other, with no proof to support it. It is a current cultural/intellectual trend in our society.

A truly open minded person, who is willing to consider the possibility of God's intervention in history, is the one to whom the argument is addressed.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Micha, I will make an effort to look at your blog posts later this evening. Thank you!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Micha, I haven't much time to write this morning, but I'd like to respond to some of the points you make in your blog posts.

First of all, I should mention that I had actually read your posts in the past; I recognized them as soon as I saw them. Just the other day, I was trying to find them online, I couldn't remember the name of your blog. I very much enjoyed many of your points.

With regard to the intrinsic beauty of Torah and the intuitive sense that it is Divine, I am with you 100%. Much more could be said about this subject, and you contributed a lot with your excellent description.

However, I am not convinced that the conviction that emerges from engagement in Torah is the only kind of conviction that can be gotten.

After all, it is only accessible to individuals who have reached a certain level of sophistication in their learning.

How shall we convince people to invest the time and make the commitment to learning Torah in the first place, when there are competing religious systems "on the market"?

This is where the Sinai testimony comes in. It is not an absolute proof of anything, but it is strong evidence for the truth of our tradition.

You are correct in noting that there are many origin myths to be found among ancient peoples. But you will not find a single account of a cataclysmic event occurring to an entire community of people that is fabricated.

Origin myths are set in the distant past and usually portray the founding members of a nation, not experiences of the nation after it is already constituted. They provide prehistory or parahistory, not history that is organically related to the current state of affairs in the community.

Another difference between origin myths and the Torah's accounts is their implications. Origin myths may be believed, but they make little difference in the lives of believers.

The Torah and Prophets, by contrast, use the events that were experienced by the people as the basis for their message. They insist that the Jews reflect upon them and change their lives because of them.

These are not the kinds of bedtime stories that would have been spun by the people over time. They stand out to strongly against the spirit of their age. They present powerful challenge, rather than comfort, to those who retell them.

Again, I agree with you that the ultimate proof of Torah is in the experience of its beauty and wisdom. However, the Torah and Prophets identify the events of our history as the preliminary basis for our knowledge of God. This is a theme that runs throughout Tanach.

Regarding finding proof for God...In this respect, I am unsure where you are coming from. The Torah repeated says things such as "you have been shown to know that Hashem is God, there is none else". Knowledge of God is an ideal. This can be obtained through direct prophecy, through the witnessing of miracles, or through reasoning.

Seeking proof of God's existence may seem like a dry exercise that takes away from a sense of "relationship" with God, but that doesn't mean it is unnecessary. Otherwise, Moshe Rabbenu would not have insisted upon it so strongly.

Of course, as you have stated, proof of God is no substitute for a relationship with Him. At best, it can be a part of the preliminary groundwork for spiritual growth.

As an aside, with all due respect to Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, I will say that I strongly disagree with your characterization of philosophical proofs. They are not at all as flimsy or meaningless as you imply.

The fact that two arguments prove opposite conclusions indicates that one of the arguments is flawed, although we may not be discerning enough to identify which. This is an essential principle of logic, the principle of non-contradiction.

We should be careful about trying to evaluate the merits of metaphysical arguments. The great scholars of our tradition - both rationalists and kabbalists - warned that these subjects are too subtle for the untrained mind, and that even experts were prone to making (and did make)major errors. Haza"l say the same in Masechet Hagiga and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, people often disregard their advice and engage in metaphysical speculation prematurely.

We should not expect to be able to determine which of two arguments is correct in this field of inquiry, nor should we presume that all arguments here are of equal validity and that the whole enterprise is worthless.

Those who understood metaphysics well should be relied upon when they testify that it contains much, much more than meets the eye.

micha said...

I did not intend to assert that "that the conviction that emerges from engagement in Torah is the only kind of conviction that can be gotten" where "engagement" is limited to learning. In fact, one of my arguments is comparing the many people who became observant because of the experience of Shabbos, in comparison to the few (if any) who were won over by a debate.

The elegence and explanatory power of Torah is not only evident in its study.

And for the person seeking amongst the belief systems on the market place, it has in practice served as convincing evidence far more often than the weight of strong but yet contravertivle arguments.

And I did not speak only of myths about creation existing in other cultures, but myths about their own origins -- the birth of their national identity. There are myths people have about the start of their peoplehood that involve large populations. How does someone out in the marketplace distinguish between those, and our nation's founding in the 10 plagues and the revelation at Sinai?

I don't want to dwell too much on the flaws in the "Kuzari Proof". It works for too many people.

Rav Yehudah haLevi's point, or at least my take and take-off on it, is that a philosophical proof is no stronger than the postulates on which it rests. Therefore, it is no stronger than its weakest postulate. Different philosophers, starting with different postulates, can therefore reach different conclusions.

It's usually not the arguments that are flawed, it's the explicit and implicit assumptions about reality that are.

Therefore, no proof can be stronger than a single postulate about reality that you experienced yourself. People who do not have direct knowledge of something need to extrapolate and deduce from what they do know. We, however, do not need to do so.

And so, from a pragmatic perspective, it isn't and shouldn't be the philosophical proof that convinces people. It shouldn't be, because we can never identify and validate every hidden assumption. And it isn't, because (to quote my own aphorism), "The mind is a wonderful organ for justifying conclusions the heart already reached." We accept the posulates that match our experience, either directly or because their conclusions confirm our beliefs. The proofs only work to reinforce and embellish beliefs, and rarely if ever to create them.

J said...


No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience


With this statement you are asserting a logical argument. To make such an argument without acknoledging the qualitative difference between the two cases (other nation's collective histories vs. Matan Torah) where the former are natural events and the latter are supernatural, is not being intellectually honest. This does not mean that I have prejudged the outcome. It does not mean that I think that the conclustion is wrong. It means that I find your logic faulty. (Just because A does not imply B, does not mean that B is not true.)

I assumed that the purpose of this blog is to go back and forth and thereby clarify your arguments proofs, etc. If I have found fault in your logic, someone you are going to be 'mekareiv' may likely bring up the same points...

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Micha, I appreciate your perspective and you make some fine points. Your description of the explanatory power of Judaism certainly resonates with me. Once a person has experienced this, arguments to support Judaism from history appear trivial by comparison.

I will say that I have yet to see any examples of historical events of the magnitude of Yetsiat Mitsrayim and Maamad Har Sinai in the annals of ancient mythology. If you (or anyone else)could show me one, I would accept it and change my view accordingly.

At the present time, though, I think that, as historical records go, the Torah's account deserves (at least) as much credibility as we would give any other.

I agree with you that the experience of Judaism, in the holistic sense, is the road to recognizing its truth. I emphasized the learning aspect because your comments on that dimension of Torah stuck out in my mind.

Again, I do appreciate your point of view, and your qualms about philosophic proof are valid ones. We harbor numerous hidden assumptions that can be very, very subtle.

I still believe, though, that some human beings can liberate themselves from the prison of these assumptions and perceive the objective truth.

To some extent, a process of philosophical discourse and even polemic is necessary to achieve this goal.

This quest for truth has given us our great prophets and philosophers, whom we strive to emulate.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

J,
I did not intend to dismiss your point. Please forgive me if I was not clear.

I agree with your assessment that there is a qualitative difference between natural and supernatural events. I also agree that because we expect the world to function according to natural law, we treat any real or imagined deviation from that law as immediately suspect, and rightly so.

In the case of the Exodus and Matan Torah, we have a report of supernatural phenomena that affected an entire nation and fundamentally altered their history and destiny. The supernatural events form an organic and inextricable part of their national identity. We cannot separate them from the fabric of the national history without changing it in a substantial way.

Other mythological reports involve individuals or groups who have experiences of revelation or miraculous intervention that may or may not be accepted at face value. We can discount the supernatural report without having to reinvent history.

In the case of the Jews, though, the experiences of Yetsiat Mitsrayim and Matan Torah were the very foundation of their history as a nation. Because history and God's intervention are meshed in this way, to accept the "natural" history of Israel is to accept its encounter with the Divine.

I believe this is the whole reason for the Exodus - that the Jews' identity as a nation is inextricably connected to their spiritual mission.

kol dimama daka said...

Lkavod harav,Thank you for your thoughts however, perhaps i am guilty of taking too strict a view of the complete authenticity of the torah can you please show me the exact sources which show the more liberal view of torah min hashamayim and to what point can you take this
jake

kol dimama daka said...

Now if i miss your point entirely please forgive me however, the rambam seems quite clearly to explain exactly what torah min hashamayim is (perush hamishna sanhedrin perek helek yisod 8 page 143 girsat rav Qaffah) "the beleif that ALL of this torah which we have in our hands today is the torah"
further:"this is the inyan of torah lo min shamayim one who says the entire torah is from G except for one pasuk that G did not say but rather Moshe himself stated.... Rather(within) each and every letter there is chachma and niflaot...
Further in the hakdama to the yad second paragraph...
"The entire torah was written down by Moses our teacher before he died in his hand"
Please reconcile these apparent statements
Thanks in advance
jake

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Jake,

Please look at my extensive post on this topic at my other blog,
http://askrabbimaroof.blogspot.com/2006/05/torah-authorship.html.

Now, to address an aspect of your question that is not addressed there:

Every letter in the Torah that Moshe wrote was min hashamayim, from the Almighty. This is what the Rambam means when he says that every word was from God.

However, the preservation of the Torah has been subject to some human error, such that the Talmud states that the spellings of many words may not be exactly right anymore, relative to what was written in the Sefer Torah of Moshe Rabbenu.

This is known as the area of "Haserot and Yeterot", letters that are sometimes written and sometimes not written but are pronounced the same anyway, like yud, vav, etc. The words mezuzot and totafot will be read the same, with or without a vav present.

The Talmud says that we are not experts in these nuances at all, so the spellings in our Sefarim are somewhat suspect. We know that, across communities and time periods, some discrepancies across Sifre Torah, though very minor, have appeared.

The Rambam himself states that he consulted the Sefer Torah of Ben Asher - widely assumed to be the famous Aleppo Codex - when he wrote his own personal Torah. He states that the reason for this was that Ben Asher was scrupulous about checking and correcting his text, again and again. So, the Rambam himself concedes that there are degrees of accuracy in Sifre Torah insofar as the nuances of spelling are concerned.

It is still true that the original Torah, committed to writing by Moshe, was dictated by Hashem, letter by letter, and that every nuance has significance.

The Torah we have today is still the same Torah, word for word, that Moshe wrote. The content hasn't changed, and we should operate with the "presumption of innocence" that the spellings haven't changed (even though, in some cases, they probably have).

Whatever errors may have crept in are not important because the halachic system dictates the manner of preserving the Torah and, as long as its principles are adhered to, our Sifre Torah are halachically defined as THE Sifre Torah. In this sense, the parameters of Sefer Torah are no different than the parameters of any other halachic area, in which we rely upon halachic process to determine practice.

As the Torah tells us, "it is not in heaven."

J said...

See? A little constructive criticism and you improved your argument :) You are welcome ;)

Kylopod said...

I hate to come down on one of the most popular proofs of our religion, but the overuse of the Kuzari argument has bothered me for some time.

My chief problem with the argument is that it overestimate's people's critical thinking skills. Or, rather, it underestimates people's gullibility. I know a lot about gullibility, since one of my interests is the debunking of urban legends and historical folklore.

The Kuzari constantly assumes that the only alternative to the Torah being true is the Torah being an intentional fabrication. But people can come to accept a bogus story without there having been an intent to deceive at any step of transmission.

One reason is that people tend to embellish or exaggerate stories they hear without being consciously aware they are doing so. That's how people came to believe, for example, that alligators infest New York's sewers. (There was one news report in 1935 about an alligator spotted in a sewer; from there, it was purely a game of telephone.)

Another reason is that people misunderstand the intent of a tale. For example, people have mistaken bogus reports in the parody newspaper The Onion as real news reports. The belief that "Ring around the Rosie" references the bubonic plague apparently came from someone's offhand speculation in 1881.

We tend to confer the word "mythology" only to the beliefs of ancient societies, while thinking our own society is free of any actual myths. To be sure, modern society has acquired genuine histories, and somewhat reliable methods of discerning the true from the folklore. Yet we do have many essentially mythical stories which exist alongside the real accounts. Examples in U.S. history include the stories about Columbus proving the earth round (this belief has its origin in a fictional story by Washington Irving) and the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock.

I have observed that people tend to believe whatever they are taught, without questioning. That's basically our first method of gaining knowledge as we're growing up, and it continues to play a much stronger role in our lives than we often acknowledge.

If we can be so gullible in the present day, when we usually think of ourselves as so sophisticated and advanced, how much more so for the distant past. The myths of ancient peoples probably arose in a similar fashion. Someone would write an imaginative or speculative story that was never intended to be taken literally. Eventually people started to believe it as pure history. Even the real attempts to record history may have become embellished beyond recognition.

The Torah certainly has unique properties which set it apart from other national myths, if we're to call it a myth. But I'm not sure that any of these properties are enough to convince a skeptic that the stories didn't arise from the usual processes of myth-making. You'll have to do better than that.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Kylopod, I am sure you realize that none of the myths you cite involves a public event of national historical significance that would have become a part of the people's historical consciousness.

You describe false beliefs or legends that were naively accepted by people at face value, but not historical claims of the magnitude we are speaking here.

I don't know of any case where the basic details of the major events in a national history were fabricated or fundamentally "reworked" in the way you describe. I have difficulty imagining that it could have happened, even in more primitive times.

This is the primary difference I see between the Torah and other ancient myths.

kol dimama daka said...

Fascinating thank you
jake

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

I don't understand what your saying about this whole topic of Proof of Sinai. Can we prove history? if we can, then I don't understand why we can't accept the Proof of Sinai 100%. If we can't prove history 100%, so then we have to say that all of history is not absolutely true. What exactly are you saying? I know I may not have previous knowledge of this whole area and the rules of logic etc., so please forgive me if I am coming out of nowhere to ask you this question.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Can we prove history?

Strictly speaking, the answer is no. The way we prove things is by showing that it is logically impossible for them to be otherwise.

With history, we cannot say that it is logically impossible that X happened or did not happen, just that it is extremely improbable.

If we can't prove history 100%, so then we have to say that all of history is not absolutely true.

Whether we can prove something or not has no bearing on whether it is true or not.

I cannot prove what I had for breakfast yesterday, or where I was a week ago at 10AM, but that doesn't mean I didn't eat something, or that I wasn't where I claim to have been!

Historical assertions are either absolutely true, absolutely false, or partly true and partly false. This is the case regardless of whether there is an ultimate proof to be had.

When it comes to Sinai, the argument is that it is most reasonable and parsimonious to accept the account, because otherwise we will have to generate complicated, far-fetched conspiracy theories to explain Jewish history.

This is the same standard of "proof" that we use to validate the vast majority of assertions about the past.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

Thank you for your clarification but why can't we say that we can prove logically 100% that Har Sinai happened if we know that it is impossible that millions of people could collaborate to fabricate such an event? If we know absolutely that this is impossible to occur in human nature, then why can't we say it for sure happened?

Also, how can a proof not be 100% a proof? If we take any example such as if I see a person in front of me, why can't I say that he 100% ABSOLUTELY exists and that the proof to this is that I see him and he is there? As I mentioned before, I don't have much knowledge in the rules of logic and the system in general so please forgive me if I see clueless on this whole thing.

Kylopod said...

"Kylopod, I am sure you realize that none of the myths you cite involves a public event of national historical significance that would have become a part of the people's historical consciousness."

The Trojan War?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Kylopod, most scholars now believe that the Trojan War is, at least basically, historical...

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

Your questions are very valid and important.

We know that the Jews left Mitsrayim and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. We know this with the same certainty that we know any other fact about ancient history. There is no reasonable doubt to be had about it.

Proof is a special kind of phenomenon. We only really "prove" things in mathematics, where we are dealing with pure ideas that have absolute and inviolable relationships with one another. This allows us to say things like, if X is A, then Y MUST be B - because if Y were C, X couldn't possibly be A.

In other scientific fields, we can disprove an hypothesis with evidence that contradicts its predictions. And we can bring evidence that corroborates another hypothesis. But we cannot absolutely "prove" a scientific theory, strictly speaking. So very little of what we do in life is based upon "proof".

When we say "proof" about something in the physical world, or about history, we mean that the evidence is so strong for something that it cannot be reasonably denied.

Even a prophet cannot "prove" his prophethood in the same way that we can prove that 1+1=2. He can only show us so many signs and/or make so many accurate predictions that the evidence is undeniable. The certainty we have may feel the same as the certainty we have about mathematical things, but logically they are different.

When you see a person directly, you are experiencing them through sense perception. You are not proving their existence logically or through reasoning, because the fact that you perceive them makes this unnecessary. Your certainty derives from the senses.

If the person were not being perceived by you at this moment, would you be able to "prove" their existence? That is the question, and the answer is: you could provide a lot of strong evidence that would be incontrovertible, and we would be foolish to deny it, but this is not the technical meaning of "proof."

Kylopod said...

I have long assumed that the Trojan War did occur (I took a course on Greek mythology), but I should note that Wikipedia claims that most scholars don't think so.

If it did occur, then The Iliad is an excellent example of how true history can get mixed with fantasy. Nobody today can possibly interpret all the events recorded in that book literally, even if the general framework is historical.

Many secular scholars approach the Bible in a similar way, suggesting that the basic events happened but were embellished and mixed with fantasy. I remember reading a Washington Post from a few years ago suggesting that Anthrax might have been responsible for some of the Ten Plagues.

Indeed, we as religious Jews do not have to interpret every story literally, and it goes without saying that some of the "miracles" may be subject to natural explanations. But there is a limit to this. Our tradition has a core that is non-negotiable, that must be taken literally for our religion to work. But is that core really provable?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Kylopod,

My understanding is that the current consensus of scholars holds that there is an historical core to the story. Remember, though, that the poetry of Homer was not history, it was art. It was more like a movie set during WWII than a documentary of WWII, if you will.

I think that your comment highlights two further aspects of the Torah's narratives that differentiate them from, say the Iliad:

1 - The stories of the Torah are not entertaining or neutral. They would make poor bedtime stories in ancient Israel. On the contrary, they make major demands upon the people, demands they were not too interested in fulfilling, especially during Biblical times.

The Torah narratives shaped the national institutions of religion and society in Israel, such that Jewish values and practices became utterly distinct from Pagan culture.

The prophets constantly refer to these stories as the basis for the imperative to repent. It is the miraculous nature of the events that is emphasized by the prophets; this is how they serve as the foundation of the Jewish people's covenant with God, a covenant they are accused (rightly) of breaking.


2 - You will be hard pressed to explain how fanciful elaboration of history led to a revolutionary concept of God, the universe, religion, and morality. All other myths give expression to already existing popular beliefs about the world. The Torah contradicts just about every one of those beliefs. And we are to imagine that the common people came up with it?

On the other hand, you may suggest that the priests or prophets originated it. But that would make using it as a pretext to call the Jews to repentance completely absurd. How can you make up a story nobody has ever heard of and then ask them to radically transform their lives over it? And then castigate them when they are recalcitrant?

Finally, you must admit - as a recent article in Commentary noted - that, unlike epic poetry, the Tanach is written in a sparse, direct style. It shows little sign of poetic embellishment. The form of expression it utilizes does not suggest a popular source.

This had to have been real, bonafide history. Sorry Homer.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

So your saying that there is no such thing as 100% absolute truth in regards to anything in this world, whether were talking about the physical world or mathematics but we believe things beyond a resonable doubt? If that is what your saying, I don't understand why we can't prove things 100% absolutely through logical argument or empirical evidence. If we know that you and I exist and we say so because we see each other so then why can't we say its 100% proof and it is true? As for historical evidence, why can't we say that we have 100% proof for an event in history just like we can prove 1+1=2? If we can't even say that we can have 100% proof in regards to empirical evidence then how can we even say that we have 100% proof in mathematics? The way I know 1+1=2 is only through my physical existence which is based on empirical evidence so how can we say that there is 100% proof even in math?

Kylopod said...

Anonymous--

You need to study more for philosophy. Or, on second thought, maybe you shouldn't!

Anonymous said...

Can you recommend any good books?

Kylopod said...

I was just alluding to the known philosophical dilemma that it is impossible to prove with 100% certainty that anything besides one's own mind exists. Human knowledge can never reach 100% certainty. "Beyond reasonable doubt" is the best we can do. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt" is futile.

Anonymous said...

But how can you even prove 100% that your mind exists?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think it would be best to forget about the term "proof" and substitute the term "knowledge."

We know that our minds exist the same way we know anything we apprehend with the senses exists. We don't construct a proof for this purpose because it would be unnecessary. We know it firsthand.

Proof is a method of demonstrating that something is true. It can function as a tool for the acquisition of knowledge. However, there are other ways to ascertain truth besides formal proof.

Some of these alternative methods include sense perception, rational argument that leaves a conclusion beyond any reasonable doubt, and direct experience of revelation (very, very uncommon of course.)

So again, proof is just a particular method of determining what is true. It is not the only road to knowledge available to us.

Anonymous said...

But not all proofs are of equal truth, is this true? There are people who think that some methods of proof are more true than others, but how does that make any sense?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Something is either true or false. One statement cannot be "more true" than another.

Proofs can be unreliable if the premises they are based on are not correct or are misunderstood.

This failure is not due to the method of proof, but to the ideas used to construct the proof.

Anonymous said...

So are even mathematical proofs not 100% absolutely true? People seem to imply that in mathematics we can prove something 100% but not in history or some other areas.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

You said that "Proofs can be unreliable if the premises they are based on are not correct or are misunderstood".

When we make a premise such as it being impossible for there to be mass fabrication of an event why can't we say its 100% true? We KNOW that this is not the nature of people.

Kylopod said...

I don't know if mind can be established 100%. Philosophers are undecided about that. Descartes's "I think therefore I am" has been criticized as being tautological. But I consider it a sound idea. The problem with philosophy is that all arguments end in basic premises that some people accept, others reject, and we can argue all day about whether these core ideas are well-founded or are simply articles of faith.

I raised this issue simply to point out that nothing can be proven 100%. And while we can establish reasonable boundaries of proof and disproof, we have to realize that our senses and reasoning power are not infallible.

Mathematics makes certainty possible by separating itself from the real world. And even math requires axioms that are essentially articles of faith. What produces the illusion of certainty is the deductive process itself, but it can never be applied to the real world with absolute assurance.

Of course, there are even mathematical fallacies. One charming example I learned in a calc course involved a medieval thinker who claimed to "prove" that 0 = 1. The "proof" went like this:

0 = 0 + 0 + 0 + ... (to infinity)

0 = (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + ...

0 = 1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) ...

0 = 1 + (0) + (0) + (0) + ...

0 = 1

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Kylopod, that series of equations is not a "fallacy", it is a simple mistake in calculation (Line 3 is incorrect).

With regard to Descartes statement "I think therefore I am", take a look at Spinoza's commentary on Descartes. He explains that this is not to be understood as a "syllogism" but as a statement of identity, i.e., "thinking is a form of existing".

You are right that we must be very cautious about philosophical proofs, especially insofar as examining premises carefully is concerned.

However, the fact that philosophers seem to prove contradictory things does not demonstrate that philosophical argument is futile. One of the interlocutors in every debate is certainly wrong, though it may be beyond our capacity to determine which.

The Rambam has already taught us that, in these areas of speculation, we should expect a proliferation of opinions and lack of clarity even among the "experts" let alone laypersons.

Kylopod said...

It is not a simple mistake in calculation. He applied a rule from basic mathematics (the distributive property) to an infinite sequence, probably figuring that since the series was unending, you could "always" continue moving over the parenthesis. The rules for dealing with infinite sequences had not yet been developed.

If Descartes's statement isn't a syllogism, then it isn't a proof. You might argue that it's a self-evident truth, but apparently it's not self-evident to everyone! People have written lengthy essays claiming to refute the statement.

I certaintly don't consider philosophy futile, even though it's questionable whether the field has ever proven anything. You might consider science to be an offshoot of philosophy, but it has become an independent field and made the rest of philosophy seem quaint. But I'm a big believer in the idea that process is more important than outcome, and the search can yield valuable results even if it doesn't lead anywhere conclusive.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Kylopod, it still appears to me like a simple mistake. Look more closely.

0 = (1+-1) This is correct, because 1-1 is 0.

However,

0= 1+ (1+-1) is immediately recognizable as false, even without going beyond the first step. 1 plus 0 is 1, not 0!

The jump between the second and third lines is totally unjustifiable from the outset.

Re: Philosophy, it is popular nowadays to believe that it cannot prove anything. I disagree. I am of the opinion that we are not all qualified to philosophize, especially about certain abstruse matters. But the practitioners of philosophy have robbed it of much of the benefit it could have afforded to the layman. I am a fan of MJ Adler's works, which show how far common sense philosophy can take us.

Kylopod said...

I know we've gotten far afield, but I'd like to clear up what I believe this guy's error was.

Basically, he was working with an infinite series. It makes intuitive sense to say that if you add zeroes together infinitely, the sum is zero. He laid this out, changed each zero to (1 + -1), then applied the distributive property, which says that the placement of parentheses is arbitrary when adding. Thus,

(1 + -1) + (1 + -1)

is the same as

1 + (-1 + 1) + -1

All he did in the third step was move the parentheses over one step, so that

(1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + ...

is equivalent to

1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 ...

Obviously, this wouldn't work if you were dealing with finite terms. It would always end up with zero. But since he was dealing with an infinite series, he thought that you would sort of just keep shifting the parentheses on and on forever, and all the previous parenthetical sums (-1 + 1) would be changed to zero, leaving only the lone first term. It's pretty weird reasoning, and it was disproven when methods were developed for handling infinite series, but that's where the error lies.

As for the philosophy part.... I'm done arguing about that for now.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

You said "Mathematics makes certainty possible by separating itself from the real world".

Before you made this statement you said that human reason is not infallible and that is why we cannot prove anything 100% but how can you then say that mathematics makes certainty possible 100%? Your contradicting yourself. If human reason is not infallible then mathematics cannot be proven 100% either.

Anonymous said...

Also, can someone explain why human knowledge can never reach 100% certainty?

Kylopod said...

My point about math is that it creates certainty because it works on an abstract level. Once you start applying math to the real world, this certainty collapses. Mathematical certainty isn't something real or tangible, but purely theoretical, arising from our ability to control variables that we could not absolutely predict in the real world.

Kylopod said...

Forgive me if you're familiar with any of this, but you seem to have expressed interest, so I'll lay out some of these philosophical ideas.

Do you ever dream? Actually, scientists tell us that everyone dreams, just not everyone remembers. So let me rephrase that. Do you remember your dreams? Don't they feel absolutely real to you while they're occurring? Aren't you convinced that you're having an actual experience until the moment you wake up?

How do you know this moment, now, as I'm speaking to you, isn't a dream? It might feel real to you, but the next moment you might find yourself lying awake in bed. This is one of the old philosophical conundrums. People dream. They also hallucinate. Thus, one's senses are not infallible. Even your reasoning power is muted when you sleep--that's what allows you to believe ridiculous things when you're dreaming, and when you wake up you laugh at how silly they now sound to you.

In short, our five senses as well as our reasoning power are all ultimately tools of our mind, which is not infallible. Therefore, it's a possibility, albeit a remote one, that what we think we "know" might be totally an illusion. One of the classic scenarios is the "brain in the vat." According to this idea, you might be nothing more than a brain submerged in liquid, being fed information that makes you think you have a body and live on planet Earth in a human society. In other words, your entire life is one big dream. It's impossible to totally disprove this idea, farfetched as it sounds. It's been the basis for much science fiction, including the recent Matrix films.

The most extreme form of this argument is known as solipsism, which is the belief that "I" am the only one who exists; everyone else is an illusion. Again, this idea is impossible to completely disprove--to me. I have no way of knowing for sure that other people have conscious minds, because I've never experienced--or at least I can't remember having experienced--life from someone else's viewpoint. Of course, you experience your own mind; therefore, from your point of view, you can't know for sure that I really exist. You can assume it to be highly likely, but you can't know 100%.

Some people think these philosophical discussions are pointless and stupid, the products of people who need to get out more often, or perhaps those aided by certain substances I'd rather not identify. But I think these ideas help us recognize that human knowledge is never absolutely assured.

Anon said...

Sorry, but your post is full of inaccuracies.

1) It is not correct that foundation stories are assumed correct until proven otherwsie. ("No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience. !?!?!?) If you'd like I can find you foundation myths or national myths of multiple nations which involve miracles (even public ones) and you can tell me which of them you believe.

2) There are numerous other stories of miracles to large numbers of people in mythology and even modern times. Here, see pictures of the Holy Mother Mary appearing on front of millions of people only 35 years ago: http://www.zeitun-eg.org/zeitoun1.htm

3) "If these events were not a part of the collective memory of klal yisrael, then we will be hard pressed to explain the fact that the prophets constantly make reference to them in their polemics against the Jews. Does it make any sense to remind people of the implications of something that they deny ever happened?" What? First off, you're bringinr a proof to the torah from the neviim; how silly is that? (sorry, i'm assuming you agree with david g. here. you seem to.) Secondly, from the prophets themselves you see that the israelites generally worhsipped idols and didn't keep mitzvos but eventually came around at the end. Clearly large numbers of people can be convinced (and were!) to buy stories which they did not previously.

3) "Now, let us examine the facts. There is no alternative account of Israel's history that has even a shred of empirical data to support it. Yet, archaelogists and so-called Biblical scholars will accept the wildest conjecture and the most unfounded and groundless speculation as long as it contradicts and supplants the traditional viewpoint." Ooh, good one. The old atheist reshoyim scientists/archaeologist argument. The reason that they don't buy your stories is because they're consistently proven incorrect. In fact, dig after dig was performed by people trying to PROVE the bible (seventh day adventists, baptists, etc. Joseph Callaway had to retire from his conservative Southern Baptist seminary after concluding that Ai lay uninhabited at the time joshua and co, "conquered" it.) who wound up leaving mighty disappointed. (The whole idea that you're objective and they biased is laughable, btw.) City after city "conquered" at the time of joshua was found to be uninhabited at the time, sometimes not even founded until centuries later.

Your claim that archaology has often confirmed the bible is true if you knowledge of archeology is 50 years old. Unfortunately, repeat excavations with better scientific capabilities have found the opposite. Go buy a basic book on the topic and stop the ignorance. (Here: http://www.amazon.com/Were-Early-Israelites-Where-They/dp/0802809758/sr=8-3/qid=1162695986/ref=pd_bbs_3/103-0279127-5108636?ie=UTF8&s=books )

4) "We would not take this kind of fanciful reconstruction seriously in any other area of historical study; thus, we should be equally unwilling to accept it with regard to the Torah's accounts." The reconstruction is not "fanciful," it is empirical. What is fanciful is the torah story. If someone were to give you the same story from another religion (and again, I can point you in the direction of some good mythology with national foundation myths and public miracles if you'd like), you'd reject it with good reason.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anon,

Because the tone of your comment is combative, I was reluctant to respond at first. However, for the benefit of everyone involved in the discussion, I will briefly state my responses to your objections:

1 - I am still waiting for anyone to provide an account of a NATIONAL event of fundamental import that was witnessed by masses whose own descendants possess the story and base their moral and ethical belief system on it. All of the promises to provide this evidence have thus far not been fulfilled. I am open to being disproven on this, but no example has been comparable to the Torah's account.

In the case of the Mary miracle, you have two problems: Which nation's official history is it a part of? Who are the people, where are they, and what impact did this event have?

2 - It is legitimate to prove from the Prophets what the beliefs of the Israelites were during the time of the First Temple. All scholars of Biblical history operate with this assumption. The Jews believed they had left Egypt and received laws from Moses. Otherwise, the chastising of the prophets is complete absurdity. The fact that they didn't keep the laws is another story entirely. It is clear that the process of absorbing the implications of these beliefs was a long one, but the history itself was accepted from the start. To assume otherwise is not warranted by any evidence.

3 - Regarding archaeology: I am not an archaeologist, and I assume that you are not one either. In this area, I rely on the same texts and articles that any other educated layperson does. To my knowledge, what you say is an extreme overstatement of the facts. I can think of several recent discoveries that have supported the Biblical record - the altar on Har Ebal that dates to the time of Joshua, or Solomon's Temple.

Of course, you will cite the interpretations of minimalist scholars who dispute the implications drawn from the findings, and so on, ad infinitum. That is why I stated, in my original post on this blog, that quoting archaeologists, etc., is fruitless.

Let me emphasize that, contrary to your suggestion, I never meant to imply that archaeologists are evil or purposely biased. But their interpretations are often speculative.

In a hard science, the data available necessarily limits the number of possible interpretations that can be offered.

However,in Biblical studies and archaeology, the number of opinions, reconstructions, explanations, etc., are so numerous and so broadly divergent that the absence of sufficient evidence to back any single approach up is obvious.

What has become clear to me is that archaeology is a field that is constantly in flux. New discoveries are being made all the time, and interpretations being revised. The problem is compounded by the fact that the location of many Biblical sites is not definitively known, so archaeologists have to dabble in Biblical interpretation as well, for better or for worse.

Finally, by its very nature, the picture of the past constructed by archaeologists is speculative and tentative. They are using small samples of a specific type of evidence to draw very broad conclusions. So the specific results are often tenuous and tentative. One new finding can overturn decades of speculation in an instant.

I am familiar with the book you recommended. But I am also familiar with books that take very different positions, and reinterpret the same findings in more "conservative" ways.

Hoffmeier and Kitchen (i.e., "Israel in Egypt", "Israel in Sinai" and "On the Reliability of the Old Testament", all of which were published in the past 1-5 years) are competent scholars with very traditional views. You can consider their religious outlook a bias, but a secular "bias", when it comes to religious subjects, is also a bias.

The very fact that some archaeologists can read the data as supporting the Biblical record is a sign that the archaeological data offers no decisive disproof of the Bible's history, though it may pose some problems. Such problems can be found in many, many other areas of ancient history that we are still trying to reconstruct.

I think that, until someone can bring a real example of an historical claim similar to the Torah's, or an undisputed archaeological finding that contradicts the Torah, we should put this discussion aside for the time being. It is pointless to argue about this in the abstract.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

So then your saying that there is no such thing as 100% proof even with regards to mathematics, is this correct?

Also, you mentioned the example about dreams and the brain in liquid. I don't see how these things can give us even a slight doubt so that we cannot have 100 proof in any area. If you can't prove something 100% then how can you even say it is true if there is some doubt. Even the slightest doubt should invalidate a proof. Also, you know that your not dreaming because we define what dreaming is to begin with! The same applies to the example you gave with the brain. I believe we can prove things 100% because its a contradiction in itself when using your own mind to prove that there is no such thing as 100% proof. If you can't prove that there is such a thing as 100% proof then you can't disprove it either. Otherwise what do we say? That we dont know anything and can't prove anything? This just doesnt make sense because the fact that I am even thinking and reasoning means we exist and that we can prove things without a doubt.

Anon said...

"Because the tone of your comment is combative, I was reluctant to respond at first. However, for the benefit of everyone involved in the discussion, I will briefly state my responses to your objections:"

My tone is combative because you 1) distort the truth (and if you have even a layman's knowledge of the field, as you imply, then this is intentional) and 2) you accuse people who deal with evidence in a manner far more objective than you of bias

"I am still waiting for anyone to provide an account of a NATIONAL event of fundamental import that was witnessed by masses whose own descendants possess the story and base their moral and ethical belief system on it. All of the promises to provide this evidence have thus far not been fulfilled. I am open to being disproven on this, but no example has been comparable to the Torah's account."

Of course you'll never get anyone to fulfill all your stipulations because if someone does, you'll just add another to your list of requirement, "Yes! But are any of the descendents names Moshe? No! See; it's not the same." The fact that the descendants NO LONGER believe their fairy tales or base their ethical system on it is somehow relevant to whether this event ever took place? So if we had this disucssion two tousand years ago when people still believed in these stories then you wouldn't have a proof but now that Orthodox Jews have continued to believe in them it's a proof? If I find you some unstable personality who bases his ethics on his being descended from the dragon teeth from which the founders of Thebes grew, would that satisfy you?



"In the case of the Mary miracle, you have two problems: Which nation's official history is it a part of? Who are the people, where are they, and what impact did this event have?"

This is part of the problem of kiruv arguments. There is no real logic to them; only people become so accustomed to thinking in a certain manner that something is "obvious." ("Well, if there's a god, of course he would have given mankind an instruction manual...") So Mary was seen NOT ONLY by members of the coptic church but also to muslims (to whom she originally appeared!) catholics, protestants, and jews. In the world of logic, this makes it more likely to be true. In fact, emissaries from not only the coptic church but also the evangelical minstries, the vatican, and even the police force were sent and confirmed the event, giving Zeitun far more credibility than a 3500 year old foundation myth. But in the world where they post-hoc define what constitutes proof based on what happened to the jews it's "not a proof." Yet it was only 35 years ago and surely there will be members of the coptic church and others in egypt to go talk to. If you really believed that this sort of event were convincing you'd hop on a plane right now.


"It is legitimate to prove from the Prophets what the beliefs of the Israelites were during the time of the First Temple. All scholars of Biblical history operate with this assumption. The Jews believed they had left Egypt and received laws from Moses. Otherwise, the chastising of the prophets is complete absurdity."

Let me spell out my objections more clearly: 1) If ones does not believe in the revelation of sinai then he likely believe that the writers of the torah and prophets belonged to similar circles. Would he expect their stories to be at great odds with each other? 2) The prophets are nowhere near an authoritative source of history. In fact, there are foreign kings mentioned in Daniel which never even existed (and have you read anywhere near "all scholars of biblical history" or is this typical rabbinic hyperbole?). 3) If you'd like to believe that the idol-worshipping Jews were big believers is the divine given torah and passed it down faithfully to their children then fine, but don't expect people to be convinced by this "proof."


"Regarding archaeology: I am not an archaeologist, and I assume that you are not one either. In this area, I rely on the same texts and articles that any other educated layperson does. To my knowledge, what you say is an extreme overstatement of the facts."

It is absolutely not. I specifically pointed you to a book that is very middle of the road and often argues with "revisionist" historians. The evidence is simply overwhelmingly against you. No one (and that includes what I know of your beloved Evangelic Christian Kitchen named below though my knowledge is limited) will corroborate an Orthodox version of the Israelite origins including a massive conquest of Canaan in the days of Joshua.

"I can think of several recent discoveries that have supported the Biblical record - the altar on Har Ebal that dates to the time of Joshua, or Solomon's Temple."

I am not knowledgable enough to argue about whether it is actually an alter on har Ebal. If it is, it seems to be on the wrong side of the mountain (perhaps enough of a truth to develop a myth about?). Yet, if it was, would you then concede that the ancient Israelites brought deer as sacrifices, as their burned bones were found there? Didn't think so.

I know little about Solomon's Temple other than to asy that a point against the more revisionist elements of historians is hardly a point for the Orthodox view.

More importantly, have you examined the evidence AGAINST the biblical story? You can start with the lack of any evidence for the exodus to wandering in the desert (The only known stops, Migdol and Kadsh_barnea, seem to have been founded far after the exodus. But, like the other sites mentioned in the torah and corrolated to actual locations, they did exist in teh 8-7 centures BCE when, if the Torah is not of divine origin, it was written) to the conquering of Canaan (discrepencies of inhabited lands, kingdoms, uninhabited cities or cities founded later on too numerous to mention, buy a book) archaeology is overwhelmingly against the biblical story.

Again, numerous discoveris against the biblical stories were made by people there with the goal of proving the biblical story. From Seventh Day Adventist's embarassment at finding Heshbon was uninhabited when it was destroyed to Southern Baptist's similar conclusion about Divon the evidence is too great (and made by people with a bias opposite of you accusations)to dismiss as you have.


"Of course, you will cite the interpretations of minimalist scholars who dispute the implications drawn from the findings, and so on, ad infinitum. That is why I stated, in my original post on this blog, that quoting archaeologists, etc., is fruitless."

Again, this is incorrect, and I challenge you to find people outside Aish Hatorah describe Dever as a "minimalist."


"Let me emphasize that, contrary to your suggestion, I never meant to imply that archaeologists are evil or purposely biased. But their interpretations are often speculative."

Really? If this is your interpretation of, "Yet, archaelogists and so-called Biblical scholars will accept the wildest conjecture and the most unfounded and groundless speculation as long as it contradicts and supplants the traditional viewpoint." then it is truly useless discussing empirical data with you.


"However,in Biblical studies and archaeology, the number of opinions, reconstructions, explanations, etc., are so numerous and so broadly divergent that the absence of sufficient evidence to back any single approach up is obvious."

I think we are both out of our edpth here. My impression from reading those knowledgable in this field is that while you are right that there is not yet definitive knowledge about what did happen there is more than enough to exclude the biblical account.


"You can consider their religious outlook a bias, but a secular "bias", when it comes to religious subjects, is also a bias."

In my experience (being very familar with both religious rabbis/academics and secular academics), the secular bias is nowhere near the religious bias, but surely this would be a fruitless discussion.

Kylopod said...

So then your saying that there is no such thing as 100% proof even with regards to mathematics, is this correct?

In essence. Math solutions can be 100% conclusive for math problems, but this level of certainty cannot be applied to the real world. It is essentially unreal, an abstraction, an imagined idealization of the world.

If you can't prove something 100% then how can you even say it is true if there is some doubt. Even the slightest doubt should invalidate a proof.

That doesn't apply to inductive proofs, which by definition are not 100% certain. Even deduction rests on unproven assumptions. What makes deduction appear "certain" is the process, not the premises.

Also, you know that your not dreaming because we define what dreaming is to begin with!

That's an interesting argument. But it's demonstrably false. I don't think I'm dreaming at this moment. But I have had other moments where I concluded that I was not dreaming, only to wake up a moment later in my bed. I may be defining what dreaming is, but who is to say I have not carried a correct definition into this "dream"?

You might reply that I'm acting certain in saying your argument is "demonstrably false," thus contradicting my previous contention. But it is not so. The burden of proof is on the person doing the proving. Philosophically, we cannot assume that the world is real, because there's a possibility, however remote, that it isn't. The only argument against this thought is a pragmatic one: we can find no practical reason to spend our time brooding over this remote possibility. (Some Eastern thinkers might disagree.) So we assume the world is real, because it seems better to live life this way than any other way.

I believe we can prove things 100% because its a contradiction in itself when using your own mind to prove that there is no such thing as 100% proof.

Only if you define proof as "100% proof." I do not. Neither do most philosophers. Proof is not absolute in practice. In our daily life, we would consider a 99.99% certainty to more than constitute a "proof." Most of our life's decisions and beliefs are based on far less certainty.

If you can't prove that there is such a thing as 100% proof then you can't disprove it either.

I agree. I'm not absolutely disproving that there ever could be such a thing as 100% proof. All I'm saying is that it seems we have never found such a proof.

This just doesnt make sense because the fact that I am even thinking and reasoning means we exist and that we can prove things without a doubt.

The fact that you're thinking and reasoning proves that you exist--if you accept Descartes. (Many philosophers do not.) But it does not show that you can prove anything else beyond a doubt. In fact, what Descartes was saying was that the only thing we can be certain of is our minds. That may show that there is a potential for certainty, but it isn't very encouraging if you want to prove anything else about the world. At best, you can say that you are 100% certain that your mind exists, but you cannot be 100% certain of anything else. Brain in the vat, remember?

I once heard a joke at an Aish HaTorah lecture pertinent to this philosophical problem. I am reciting the joke from memory; pardon me if I bungle it up a bit. It goes like this. A man is on trial for murder. The prosecution has produced the gun with his fingerprints on it. The man says in his defense, "I have studied philosophy, which shows that you cannot prove that anything exists. Therefore, you cannot prove that the gun on that table exists. I know the evidence seems overwhelming, but how can you know for sure?" The judge ponders this statement for a moment, then says, "You're right. I can't prove that anything exists, not even the gun on that table. Therefore, I'm sentencing you to be put in an electric chair that you can't prove exists!"

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anon,

I still take exception to your tone. I don't think you have any reason to accuse me of obfuscating the truth. Your language is unnecessarily aggressive and very condescending, and this detracts from the value of what you have to say.

It is not wise to assume everyone in the world is biased and trying to fool everyone else. I certainly don't assume that. At the same time, it is true that everyone who investigates an area, even a scientific one, approaches it from within a paradigm or with a specific ideology that informs his or her interpretation of the facts. This holds for all of us, as well as maximalists, minimalists and everyone in between. It is an inescapable fact of life.

A person who holds a broad theory by which he tries to interpret a set of phenomena will often come up against problems. This may force him to modify his views and/or to interpret data a bit differently. This happens in all scientific disciplines all the time.

My paradigm is this:

A nation emerges from antiquity with a religious tradition that is in flat-out contradiction to everything that has ever existed before. Monotheism, anti-idolatrous sentiment, universalism, a sense of the lawfulness of nature, a system of mitsvot that is highly sophisticated, an emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge as the road to G-D, rejection of superstition and magic, social and religious critique even of great figures, etc., etc.

A series of prophets continually struggle to return the people to this system of observance - never presenting themselves as the source of the system, but encouraging the people to heed what they already knew.

To top it off, this nation attributes its possession of a relationship with Hashem to an unprecedented set of historical experiences which are repeatedly referred to by said prophets.

So, here we have it: A nation with an unprecedented religion based upon an unprecedented history. To my mind, this is the ultimate testimony to the truth of the Torah, and this is why the difficulties with archaeology to not impede my acceptance of Torah.

You might want to take a look at Walter Kauffmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy. He uses a similar argument to mine in order to support the idea that at least the essentials of Torah were from Moses. He was an agnostic who obviously did not accept Judaism as true, but believed it was the genuine "revolution" wrought by Moses who liberated the Jews from bondage. Several other authors, including Y. Kauffmann and even Freud, have argued similarly, and I find their approach very convincing.

You prefer to see the prophets and scribes as politically motivated schemers who brainwashed - or tried to brainwash - a nation by systematically doctoring its history, records, religion, etc. Even if you believe they were piously motivated, you attribute much dishonesty to them.

What I don't understand is, if they were looking for power or to aggrandize themselves, why did they produce such a sophisticated religion that went against everything the people wanted? Why didn't they create a unified, but very appealing, idolatrous cult instead? That's what all the other kings and priests did!

On the other hand, if they were piously motivated, why not just present the religion for what it was - their own creation? They wouldn't have been the first people to invent a religion and convince people to follow them. Attaching it to a complex history could only have been a liability to their cause, since it required them to sell the religion AND the story along with it.

There are many possible reasons for the present state of the archaeological record. Drawing conclusions from absence of evidence is never secure. Look at how many of the early postulates of Biblical studies (ex., there was no writing in the times of Moses, Camels were not domesticated in Patriarchal times, certain kings never existed or events never happened) were overturned by subsequent evidence.

I do not deny that there are areas of difficulty in reconciling the Biblical history with archaeology. The Evangelical archaeologists understand this as well, but they maintain that, as of yet, no knock-down-drag-out empirical data has contradicted the Bible. The worst there is is absence of data, which can have multiple causes.

However, precisely because it is formulated as history and not as mythology, I think that attempts at reconciliation must be continued rather than abandoned. I believe in giving the same credit to Tanach that we accord other written documents of antiquity.

Let me emphasize that this is not, and was never intended to be, a site for "kiruv". I am not on a mission to convince people that the Torah is true. I posted on the Sinai argument only in response to a request. I am just as suspect of the kiruv world's handling of empirical facts as you are.

That being said, I stand by my post and my comments here. I have not fiddled with my criteria in any way. If you read my post and comments carefully, you will see that my definition of what is unique about Jewish history has remained static.

I am pretty sure that my points here are as clear as I can possibly make them. I have nothing more to say on this subject, and you are free to have the last word if you like.

Of course, any other commenters are free to chime in on this topic if feel they can add something constructive to the discussion.

Anon said...

"I still take exception to your tone."

I apologize.

"It is not wise to assume everyone in the world is biased and trying to fool everyone else. "

Absolutely correct. This is why on any given topic, *including this one*, I am overwhelmingly inclined to believe the concesus of the world's experts. (It should be noted that there are certain exceptions to this rule and when, to make up an example, the world's geneticists argue with the Mormon head priest (or whatever he's called) who happens to be a gentics as well regarding whether the native americans were jewish I will almost entirely discount the mormon's opinion. The nimshal needn't be explained.)

"A person who holds a broad theory by which he tries to interpret a set of phenomena will often come up against problems. This may force him to modify his views and/or to interpret data a bit differently."

Absolutely, and the forgone conclusions of the religious scholar and the academic (assume secular) scholar are entirely differnt. The academic has almost no bagae to hold on to, and if he discovers that a biblical event actually took place, his world is not going to fall apart. OTOH, the religious scholar has a massive framework to maintain, as you've kindly explained. People's lives have been shattered by less than figuring out that the old testament stories didn't really happen as written.


"This happens in all scientific disciplines all the time."

While I do agree that we all have frameworks within which we work, I will point out that you may lack the expertise to formulate such sweeping criticism.

"A nation emerges from antiquity with a religious tradition that is in flat-out contradiction to everything that has ever existed before. Monotheism, anti-idolatrous sentiment..."

Monotheism existed before the jews, check out wikipedia: "Ancient Middle-Eastern religions may have worshipped a single god within a pantheon and the abolition of all others, as in the case of the Aten cult in the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, under the chiefly influence of the Eastern-originating Nefertiti. Iconoclasm during this pharaoh's rule is considered a chief origin for the subsequent destruction by some groups of idols, holding that no other God before the preferred deity (dually and subtly acknowledging the existence of the other gods, but only as foes to be destroyed for their drawing of attention away from the primary deity). Hinduism was also a pre-biblical monotheisic faith, worshipping one divine force known as the Atman, or the Brahman."

"universalism"!!!???

Surely you jest. Are you an orthodox rabbi? Forget it, I'm not getting into this one.


"So, here we have it: A nation with an unprecedented religion based upon an unprecedented history. To my mind, this is the ultimate testimony to the truth of the Torah, and this is why the difficulties with archaeology to not impede my acceptance of Torah."

Archeology really ought to be used to figure out what the history was. Archeology would place the writing of the torah in the 8-7th centuries BCE at the earliest by noting that the political landscape and existence of cities in the torah are similar to how they were at that time and not how they were 600 years earlier. Historians would argue that written accounts of stories which occured 600 years ealier would be entirely unreliable. So, sure, by taking the orthodox jewish story as your framework, archeology doesn't bother you. But you're working backwards.


"You prefer to see the prophets and scribes as politically motivated schemers who brainwashed - or tried to brainwash - a nation by systematically doctoring its history, records, religion, etc. Even if you believe they were piously motivated, you attribute much dishonesty to them."

Straw-man. There could have been political motivations to certain stories, but I make absolutely no claims in this regard. (Surely you would agree that Artscroll may make some changes to some stories without truth as the as the sole arbiter of their decisions?) I think you impute your 21st century mindset to people living 2500 years ago. I view the prophets very favorably actually, and to the extent that their stories are not entirely historically acurrate, I certainly don't view them as dishonest schemers anymore than I would view Homer, a shaman, or Jesus' disciples as "dishonest schemers." Stories become historical facts without malicious intent.

"What I don't understand is, if they were looking for power or to aggrandize themselves, why did they produce such a sophisticated religion that went against everything the people wanted?"

Again, I don't believe that this was their goal. In any event, I place weight with empirical data far greater than I do with psychoanalyses. Whether you understand what might have motivated these people 2500 years ago is inconsequention when faced with the utter lack of data to support these stories. (You may have already reads Friedman's who Wrote the Bble and his attempt to explain these motivations.)

"On the other hand, if they were piously motivated, why not just present the religion for what it was - their own creation? They wouldn't have been the first people to invent a religion and convince people to follow them."

Becuase they didn't invent it. They passed on stories which they themselves had heard. Frankly, this is a somewhat unsophisticated understanding of how myths develop. IN addition, I cannot think of any religion offhand which the founder admitted to "inventing." They all seemed to build upon previous stories.


"There are many possible reasons for the present state of the archaeological record. Drawing conclusions from absence of evidence is never secure."

As you pointed out above, we can't be skeptical of everyone. The experts in the field seem to believe that they have analyzed suffiecient areas with tools which have developed to the point where evidence would be expected to be found if it existed. As you point out, it is certainly a possibility that they are wrong. I await the revelation.


"I believe in giving the same credit to Tanach that we accord other written documents of antiquity."

Archeologists certainly began with this assumption. Everyone knows that the father of biblical archaeology was out to verify the bible. Its status has fallen with increasing evidence against it.


"Let me emphasize that this is not, and was never intended to be, a site for "kiruv". I am not on a mission to convince people that the Torah is true. I posted on the Sinai argument only in response to a request. I am just as suspect of the kiruv world's handling of empirical facts as you are."

I do not mean to impugn your website. I came here off a link you left on another blog, and I'm sure that I would have much to learn from the rest of the site.


"That being said, I stand by my post and my comments here. I have not fiddled with my criteria in any way. If you read my post and comments carefully, you will see that my definition of what is unique about Jewish history has remained static."

My apologies. I have only read this one post. Yet your insistence on multiple criteria including that the decendants of the people continue to believe their magical foundation myths, and not only that but base their ethical system upon it as well led me to the conclusion that instead of formulating parameters a priori you instead decided to take any arbitrary component of the jewish experience and make it integral to teh proof and thereby exclude all otehr stories.

"I have nothing more to say on this subject, and you are free to have the last word if you like."

Your mother dresses you funny. ;)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

As I said, I really have no more to add here. But I wanted to clarify some aspects of what I said because they may have been misunderstood. I will also provide some "source material" to support my assertions:

It should be noted that there are certain exceptions to this rule and when, to make up an example, the world's geneticists argue with the Mormon head priest (or whatever he's called) who happens to be a gentics as well regarding whether the native americans were jewish I will almost entirely discount the mormon's opinion. The nimshal needn't be explained.

In the end though, all that matters is the truth. If you had other reasons for believing the Mormon priest's account, then it wouldn't be so crazy to do so.

the forgone conclusions of the religious scholar and the academic (assume secular) scholar are entirely differnt. The academic has almost no bagae to hold on to, and if he discovers that a biblical event actually took place, his world is not going to fall apart. OTOH, the religious scholar has a massive framework to maintain, as you've kindly explained. People's lives have been shattered by less than figuring out that the old testament stories didn't really happen as written....


While I do agree that we all have frameworks within which we work, I will point out that you may lack the expertise to formulate such sweeping criticism.


It wasn't a criticism necessarily. Read God and The Astronomers by Robert Jastrow, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, and The Evolution of Physics by Einstein.



Monotheism existed before the jews

For a discussion of the absolute uniqueness of Jewish monotheism, see The Religion of Israel by Y. Kaufmann, Nahum Sarna's books and commentaries on Genesis and Exodus, and Critique of Religion and Philosophy by W. Kaufmann.

universalism"!!!???

Surely you jest. Are you an orthodox rabbi? Forget it, I'm not getting into this one.


I am a little bit confused. Avraham goes out trying to proclaim monotheism to all of mankind. This is the purpose of the Jewish people as recorded throughout Tanach. Moses intervenes with God in order to prevent Egyptians and Canaanites from misunderstanding Him. The Prophets speak of the ideal for humanity as all people worshipping together, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, etc. We have the seven laws of Noah, no conversion by force. I am just confused here.


Archeology really ought to be used to figure out what the history was. Archeology would place the writing of the torah in the 8-7th centuries BCE at the earliest by noting that the political landscape and existence of cities in the torah are similar to how they were at that time and not how they were 600 years earlier. Historians would argue that written accounts of stories which occured 600 years ealier would be entirely unreliable. So, sure, by taking the orthodox jewish story as your framework, archeology doesn't bother you. But you're working backwards.

Archaeology is useful, but it's not the only method at our disposal for understanding history. You are describing inferences that can be (and are) debated, some placing the Pentateuch earlier, and some later.


Surely you would agree that Artscroll may make some changes to some stories without truth as the as the sole arbiter of their decisions?

Now you dare to impugn Artscroll! I am beside myself.

I view the prophets very favorably actually, and to the extent that their stories are not entirely historically acurrate, I certainly don't view them as dishonest schemers anymore than I would view Homer, a shaman, or Jesus' disciples as "dishonest schemers." Stories become historical facts without malicious intent.

True, but where did the stories, and the related moral/legal demands, come from? That is what needs to be explained. Jesus' apostles, Homer, etc., are the source of their stories.

Again, I don't believe that this was their goal. In any event, I place weight with empirical data far greater than I do with psychoanalyses.

The problem is the paucity of the data available for this - or any other - historical inquiry.

Whether you understand what might have motivated these people 2500 years ago is inconsequention when faced with the utter lack of data to support these stories.

As long as it's a lack of data, intrinsic analysis of the case is all we have.

(You may have already reads Friedman's who Wrote the Bble and his attempt to explain these motivations.)

I'm not impressed with his work. If anything, he made me more wary of reading scholarly books about the Bible without checking other opinions.

Becuase they didn't invent it. They passed on stories which they themselves had heard.

Again, these stories are too unlike the prevalent kind of mythology to have appeared out of the blue. Where did they come from?

Frankly, this is a somewhat unsophisticated understanding of how myths develop.

The Torah is nothing like a popular myth. It is too sophisticated for that.

IN addition, I cannot think of any religion offhand which the founder admitted to "inventing." They all seemed to build upon previous stories.

By inventing, I mean "taking credit for having received a new revelation."

The only religions I know a lot about are Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity and Islam. Jesus explicitly said that he came to change things (see the Sermon on the Mount.) The stories his apostles spread were, of course, new! The fact that he built on the Torah's stories is not the point here; he admitted he was adding something to the "canon", if you will.

Mohammed also brought a totally new revelation to the pagan Arabs.

I'm not sure what religions you're thinking of here.

As you pointed out above, we can't be skeptical of everyone. The experts in the field seem to believe that they have analyzed suffiecient areas with tools which have developed to the point where evidence would be expected to be found if it existed. As you point out, it is certainly a possibility that they are wrong. I await the revelation.

If this were a hard science, I'd agree with you. But upheavals in either direction have occurred in the past, so future upheavals should not come as a surprise. Other fields of science also have factions, each of which is waiting for evidence to bear out its as-of-yet unprovable case.


Archeologists certainly began with this assumption. Everyone knows that the father of biblical archaeology was out to verify the bible. Its status has fallen with increasing evidence against it.

Aside from the conquest data problems, I am not sure what you are referring to here.

Yet your insistence on multiple criteria including that the decendants of the people continue to believe their magical foundation myths, and not only that but base their ethical system upon it as well led me to the conclusion that instead of formulating parameters a priori you instead decided to take any arbitrary component of the jewish experience and make it integral to teh proof and thereby exclude all otehr stories.

No, I was simply abstracting out the features that make the story a uniquely compelling one. Really, it is a single definition with several aspects: A historical record of national experiences which form the basis of the lifestyle and worldview of the current generation.


Your mother dresses you funny. ;)

Here, you are dead wrong. My mother has an excellent sense of fashion. The fault lies solely with me.

Anon said...

"I am a little bit confused. Avraham goes out trying to proclaim monotheism to all of mankind. This is the purpose of the Jewish people as recorded throughout Tanach. Moses intervenes with God in order to prevent Egyptians and Canaanites from misunderstanding Him. The Prophets speak of the ideal for humanity as all people worshipping together, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, etc. We have the seven laws of Noah, no conversion by force. I am just confused here."

You are right to a point though I think you extend it way too far. God kills a nice percentage of the egyptians and commands killing all the canaanites as a universalist gesture? Nevertheless, from an objective perspective the torah and neviim are fairly universalist. Surely, though, you can't call our relationship to goyim as viewed through the lens of chazal as universalist? Please; I don't want to go through this.


"Now you dare to impugn Artscroll! I am beside myself."

Kidding aside, the point is that even in todays age when stories are (far far far) more verifiable than they were at any time in history, there are those who will change them with pious motivations. That you joke about it only shows that we all know it's true.

"True, but where did the stories, and the related moral/legal demands, come from? That is what needs to be explained. Jesus' apostles, Homer, etc., are the source of their stories."

No, they developed. Homer, from what I understand, is one person (possibly; scholars differ) in a line of oral-tradition relaying older stories which would later be written down. The apostles also were story-tellers but not at all mere "inventors" of these legends. To compare and contrast the gospels is instructive. Many of the stories overlap yet some are unique. Of the overlapers, there are differences in the way they are retold. This is how oral traditions work. A little change here, a little addition there, none likely with any malice and the same thing happens the next time it's told over. (Pretty soon one loaf of bread has fed an entire crowd.) Similar to the Artscroll point, you'll surely concede that you wouldn't take shivchei habesht or shivchei ha'ari as historically accurate yet you might not (maybe) assume that the stories were simply invented by the author and written down.


" Whether you understand what might have motivated these people 2500 years ago is inconsequention when faced with the utter lack of data to support these stories.

As long as it's a lack of data, intrinsic analysis of the case is all we have."

We've kind of been through this, but lack of data doesn't equal no data. For example, lack of centers of population to support 3 million+ people in canaan once Israel arrived (in fact the data is about 50k IIRC) is very heavy evidence against the biblical account. It's not proof positive, but it's proof 95%.


"I'm not impressed with his work. If anything, he made me more wary of reading scholarly books about the Bible without checking other opinions."

Absolutely, that's what you get when you start with psychoanalyses. That's why all the "Why would someone write the bad things the avos did? Why would someone write not to plant crops? Why would someone write to go to yerushalayim for the regalim? type questions all amount to nothing.


"Again, these stories are too unlike the prevalent kind of mythology to have appeared out of the blue. Where did they come from?"

This is completely subjective and not worth arguing about. Same goes for, "The Torah is nothing like a popular myth. It is too sophisticated for that."


"Jesus explicitly said that he came to change things (see the Sermon on the Mount.)"

"I have not come to abrogate the law, but rather to uphold it." I don't deny that many religions have had reformers but that doesn't preclude them from simply being a development of what already existed. I don't believe academic scholars view Jesus as attempting to create a new religion. In fact, even the gospels, written later as it was becoming a new religion, go out of their way to put him in the context of the jewish religion, establishing that his lineage was davidic and having him baptized and acclaimed by John, a well known previous religious authority.


"Mohammed also brought a totally new revelation to the pagan Arabs."

Again, not something totally new. He taught that the previously known prophets were all real prophets. To quote wikipedia, "Muslims do not regard him as the founder of a new religion, but rather believe him to be the last in a line of prophets of God (Arabic Allah) [6] and regard his mission as one of restoring the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham and other prophets of Islam that had become corrupted by man over time." See, it's always an evolution and then, often, religions claim their new way is really the original authentic way. In any case, with all of these great religious personalities, very few people (academics included) would view anyone as sitting in a room making up stories out of thin air. People do have spiritual experiences and do believe they have had revelations and stories do evolve.


"Aside from the conquest data problems, I am not sure what you are referring to here."

I'm not sure what you mean by you're not sure. There's no evidence of 3 million people in egypt, leaving egypt, in the desert, conquerting canaan, or living in canaan. That's the entire biblical story, no evidence.


"No, I was simply abstracting out the features that make the story a uniquely compelling one. Really, it is a single definition with several aspects: A historical record of national experiences which form the basis of the lifestyle and worldview of the current generation."

Again, the fact that people continue to take it seriously argues for people's gullibility and has nothing to do with it's original truth. Thebians believed that their anscestors grew from Dragon teeth and Athenians that Apollo appeared to the entire city and commanded them to build him a temple. That these people don't continue to believe in fairy tales is not relevant.


Sof davar hakol nishma, the kuzari argument is not at all compelling. 1) Other people do have similar stories. 2) It's not at all clear to anyone who has read nach that we do in fact have such a tradition. 3) If 2 is correct, we ourself are a display that people can adopt a story they did not previoously have 4) Such a "proof" does not consider the natural progression of myths which are not written from scratch one night and sold to a people the next morning. 5) Outside evidence detracts from the uncritical acceptance of the documents which bear these stories.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anon,

(1) Still, I haven't seen the evidence of this. Can you provide a specific book or link? I am open to further discussion on this point.

(2) I'm not sure to what tradition you are referring.

(3) No it doesn't. The story has been around for thousands of years. It was not recently introduced; it is widely known. The fact that individual Jews may learn about it now is not really relevant. If the entire Jewish people had never heard anything like it before and then the majority became convinced, that would be relevant.

(4) There has to be a plausible explanation of the development of such a unique history and accompanying religion. No one challenges the fact that Jesus+Paul founded Christianity, or that Mohammed founded Islam.

But somehow Judaism evolved from popular myth? Or anonymously spun priestly myth? How do we explain Judaism's break with Near Eastern culture? Other Near Eastern peoples have myths and practices that are fundamentally similar to one another - idolatrous, full of magic and superstition, etc. None of them produced an intellectual culture like ours.

This is why people like Y. Kaufmann, the Biblical scholar Whybray, Sarna, etc., all agree that something transformative must have happened to cause this "break."

(5) Documents discovered in Egypt would be accepted, but not documents of the people whose history is being told? Were the Jews devoid of historical consciousness from among all other nations on earth? They had no sense of history whatsoever, and no record of their past? Why should this be assumed?

We know, for example, that the Tanach contains much verifiably accurate historical information at least from the period of the Divided Monarchy and on. Should we assume that everything before the earliest thing we can verify was made up? That at some point the Jews woke up and started recording accurate history?

I freely acknowledge that there are problems with the archaeological record. For me, this is a tsarich iyun.

However, most of the difficulties, if not all of them, revolve around a lack of evidence. Lack of archaelogical and textual evidence can be attributed to many, many factors, such as erosion, the use of papyrus, climate change, incorrect identification of locations, etc.It can also be filled in with new discoveries. So it seems to me presumptuous to discard Tanach on that basis.

In summary, I am not prepared to jump to the conclusions that you have.

I don't mean to criticize you, but I also don't get a sense that you fully appreciate how revolutionary Judaism was in the ancient world. Maybe I am wrong about this. You seem to be very educated and well read, in Jewish and secular matters.

I try not to draw broad conclusions from the impressions I glean from blog comments!!!

BTW, I understand that Christianity and Islam base themselves on earlier traditions. I understand the history and the ostensibly pious intentions of those who spread and developed these religions. What I meant was that Jesus and Mohammed offered new revelations, they claimed to introduce new ideas - albeit ideas that were related to past ones - to their audiences.

The prophets just complained that the Jews were not complying with what their forefathers had been commanded. That was their main message. Walter Kaufmann speaks about this at length. You should check out his piece on this.

This is the difference I wanted to highlight.

All in all, I appreciate your interest and contribution to the forum. I don't think I have much more to offer by way of new insight or argument. We will probably have to agree to disagree until more evidence comes to light.

But you gave me much to think about and research, and for that I am thankful. The removal of ignorance, even if it is only replaced by a question, is a blessing in its own right.

I learned a lot from your comments, and I hope you'll continue to share your thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

According to you, even for math problems when not applied to the real world cannot be proven 100% since you believe we cannot prove anything 100%, including the mind. Since you believe there is no 100% proof of anything, the mind must be included.

Im sorry but I did not exactly understand what you meant by this statement:

"That doesn't apply to inductive proofs, which by definition are not 100% certain. Even deduction rests on unproven assumptions. What makes deduction appear "certain" is the process, not the premises."

What do u mean exactly?

You also say that it is the burden of proof is on the person doing the proving. Well if thats true, your also trying to prove that we cannot know anything 100%! That is a contradiction.

I believe that the definition of proof means 100% proof and I don't understand why someone should think otherwise. If there is a slight doubt about anything you cannot say that it is true because you don't know it for sure because there is 1% doubt. If your arguing that there is no such thing as 100% proof and your trying to support your argument with proof, then your in the same so called problem you say I am in. But the fact is that well keep going in circles which in itself proves that we exist, and that we can prove things 100% because otherwise your contradicting yourself.

The philosophers that do not accept Descarte's proof that we exist just shows that they are wrong. Think about it, people who are trying to disprove that we can prove something 100% is in itself contradicting oneself. How can one say that I exist 99% and they know for a fact they exist but then say that there is this remote possibility that I don't exist? It sounds very foolish. Either you exist or you don't. You can't say Im not sure because if you say your not sure then that means you dont know if you exist or not and then you cant even say the words your not sure because you don't believe you exist 100%. I hope I'm not confusing you :).

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

Also, look into how many problems we get into if we cannot prove things 100%. We then have to say that everything we believe is not proven 100% and then everything is subjective because if we cannot prove anything 100% then we must say that we dont know if anything is absolutely true because then when everything that someone tries to prove is true will all be subjective.

For example, lets say 2 people try to prove their own view 99%, we cannot say who makes more sense or is correct because neither person can prove their position 100% so we can never know what the truth is because every person will just believe what they want for whatever reason they believe is rational but they will not be able to prove it 100%. It will all be subjective.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

I think that being there is no evidence from archeology or something else proving that Jewish history is not true, we must say that all the events occurred, including Har Sinai of course. There really is no question so you don't have to say that there is a problem because lack of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, especially when we can prove that Har Sinai happened and we have evidence, so there is no question or tzarich iyun :).

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

We have positive evidence for our history - the existence of our unique tradition and the magnificent system of mitsvot that emerges from it.

The absence of material evidence to corroborate our tradition really means nothing, because one cannot make any assertions about history based upon an absence of evidence. There are many possible reasons for a lack of archaeological findings in a given case, and to select one would be nothing more than a guess. Such guesses have been proven wrong numerous times in the past, both with reference to Biblical archaeology as well as archaeological studies of other places.

The question of why there is no archaeological evidence is of interest to me as a curious layperson with some interest in archaeology, not as a student of Torah.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

Aside from the logical Torah M'Sinai proof for our tradition, I have been told that we do have many objects from the first or second or possibly both temples and that the vatican is holding them. Is this true? if it is then we do have evidence of Jewish history etc. I am sure there are other objects or material proof as well.

I am in the middle of a discussion on this blog with Kylopod about proof and if things can be proven 100%. If it is true, and I dont believe this, that we cannot prove something 100%, then the Torah M'Sinai proof is proven 99% and is no different then proving anything else 99% so why is anyone claiming that we cannot prove Torah M'Sinai? I believe that we can prove it just as well as anything else.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

There are currently some gaps in the archaeological record that have been identified as inconsistent with the Biblical record. This is a matter of fact which is subject to divergent interpretations.

As I've said - and several archaeologists, not necessarily 'fundamentalists', agree - I believe that an absence of evidence is, by definition, tentative and inconclusive. This leaves our tradition intact and authentic.

You are correct that there is a great deal of empirical evidence for the Tanach's history from King David and on.

There are (and probably always have been) rumors of that kind about the Vatican, but I have no knowledge of their truth or falsity.

Anon said...

"(1) Still, I haven't seen the evidence of this. Can you provide a specific book or link? I am open to further discussion on this point."

We already discussed Mary appearing to millions of people 35 years ago and Apollo appearing publicly to Athenians to guide them in his worship and temple building. Do these stories convince you? I've never met anyone who believed in the Kuzari argument who was affected at all by these stories. Even if you were to come up with a distinction, if the whole public miracle thing was at all convincing to you, you would at least take a few moments to seriously consider Christianity or the worhsip of Apollo. But, of course, no one really takes these things seriously.

In addition, I've never met anyone propose the kuzari argument who was decently familar with world mythology (not to imply that you or anyone else are not, this is just my experience). I am not myself knowledgable in this area and would never disparage anyone solely on this point, I only find it ironic that OJ's quite often claim that their national myth is unlike all others without even a layman's acquaintance with any others.


"(2) I'm not sure to what tradition you are referring."

I mean that anyone who has read nach would seriously doubt that the generations of idol worhsipping jews simultaneously were passing down the story of sinai to their children.


"(3) No it doesn't. The story has been around for thousands of years. It was not recently introduced; it is widely known. The fact that individual Jews may learn about it now is not really relevant. If the entire Jewish people had never heard anything like it before and then the majority became convinced, that would be relevant."

Similar to 2 above, if the israelites worhsipped idols and then came back en-mass to the torah, this would indicate to most people that they then adopted the torah stories.


"But somehow Judaism evolved from popular myth? Or anonymously spun priestly myth? How do we explain Judaism's break with Near Eastern culture? Other Near Eastern peoples have myths and practices that are fundamentally similar to one another - idolatrous, full of magic and superstition, etc. None of them produced an intellectual culture like ours."

Perhaps it's a personality thing, but I am completely unable to relate to these ideas. To me, things like this are entirely subjective, and I cannot even momentarily convince myself that somehow the jewish myths are so unlike other ANE myths as to preclude a natural evolution. In any case, I lack the knowledge to perform such a comparison but I was under the impression that there are many similarities.


"(5) Documents discovered in Egypt would be accepted, but not documents of the people whose history is being told? Were the Jews devoid of historical consciousness from among all other nations on earth? They had no sense of history whatsoever, and no record of their past? Why should this be assumed?"

Do you say the same thing about the Greek myths, Celtic myths, African myths, Polynesian myths, or the myths of countless other cultures? No of course those stories are silly, only our miracles deserve being taken as rigorous historical accounts. Further, accounts of events deemed to have taken place hundreds of years ealier and passed down in an oral tradition would be discounted in any document. Finally, the bible has been given more than a fair shot but fails to be corroborated by external evidence.


"We know, for example, that the Tanach contains much verifiably accurate historical information at least from the period of the Divided Monarchy and on. Should we assume that everything before the earliest thing we can verify was made up? That at some point the Jews woke up and started recording accurate history?"

Of course. Didn't every culture "wake up" at some point and start recording history accurately?

(interstingly many actually still don't. For a contemporary situation, North Korea might be a good example though obviously it's inaccuracies are of a different nature that those we discuss.)

(And i won't get into how much during the times you consider accurate is actually accurate.)


"However, most of the difficulties, if not all of them, revolve around a lack of evidence. Lack of archaelogical and textual evidence can be attributed to many, many factors, such as erosion, the use of papyrus, climate change, incorrect identification of locations, etc.It can also be filled in with new discoveries. So it seems to me presumptuous to discard Tanach on that basis."

I am no archeologist, and I can only assume that the consensus of the vast majority of scholars is correct. Certainly there will be changes here and there, but the number of issues where the chance of sudden upheaval is terribly low argues that there will never be biblical corroboration. Will estimations of the post-conquest population be revised from 50,000 to >3 million? Don't hold your breath. And there are many similar issues.


"I don't mean to criticize you, but I also don't get a sense that you fully appreciate how revolutionary Judaism was in the ancient world. Maybe I am wrong about this. You seem to be very educated and well read, in Jewish and secular matters."

Thanks, and you are aboslutely correct, I do not have a sufficient grasp of the ancient world to appreciate this "revolution." to repeat though, this is not the type of argument which will ever convince me. I will never play the game of telephone and conclude that since the last person reports an idea so different from the first person, God must have changed something in the middle.

Thank you for the compliment.


"All in all, I appreciate your interest and contribution to the forum. I don't think I have much more to offer by way of new insight or argument. We will probably have to agree to disagree until more evidence comes to light."

Agreed. Did you hear that they just found P in a cave in the Judean desert?

;)


Thank you for an enlightening converstion. Should God grant me the time some day, I'd love to follow up on the reading you suggested.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think that your argument with Kylopod is largely a semantic one.

We cannot prove things 100% in a logical sense. This is impossible. Technically, Kylopod is right on this.

But we can prove things to the point that we should believe in them 100%,i.e., to the extent that it would not be rational to harbor any further doubts about them.

I don't think Kylopod would disagree, but I cannot speak for him...

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

I visit www.mesora.org very often and I have seen your articles in the JewishTimes issues of the website. In continuation of what I asked you recently, Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim also believes that we can prove things 100%, take a look at many of his articles. Here is just one of many:

http://www.mesora.org/CorroborationII.htm

He proves convincingly that we can prove things 100% and that Torah M'Sinai is proven 100%.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

But to say that we should believe in them 100% doesn't mean we KNOW it 100% so isn't that saying in essense that we only believe but we don't KNOW anything 100%? Knowing means its a fact and if we just believe something 100% doesn't make it true. I don't understand why we can't prove anything 100%. If I know that I exist why can't I say its 100% proof?

Kylopod said...

I tend to think, as you do, that we can be 100% certain that our mind exists. If I acted as if I thought differently, you misunderstood. But that is all we can be certain of. Nothing about the physical world around us can ever be established 100%.

If you are unfamiliar with the difference between induction and deduction, I am not going to give you an elementary lesson in the concepts. You can always consult Wikipedia or other websites that explain the concepts better than I could. Suffice it to say, neither of these two methods of ascertaining truth produce absolute certainty.

Rabbi Maroof is correct. Our disagreement rests on semantics. You define proof as 100% proof, I define it differently. It's true that in our daily lives we tend to act as though "proof" means something has been established as absolutely certain. But our habit of thinking that way is hard to justify philosophically. It is more a concession to practicality: it would be impractical for us to wait till we are absolutely certain before making a decision. I must disagree strongly with the following statement: "If there is a slight doubt about anything you cannot say that it is true because you don't know it for sure because there is 1% doubt." If you really took that attitude, you wouldn't get anything done in life. How do you know for sure that the lunch you are about to eat hasn't been poisoned? Please answer that for me.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anon,

If we were speaking of the hard sciences, I would say "absolutely, the consensus of scholars is the way to go."

I'm sure we both would have championed the causes of Aristotelian physics 2000 years ago, Newtonian Mechanics and the theory of ether at the beginning of the century, steady state theory, etc., etc. No one ever imagined any of these theories would be discarded, did they? And yet, it was rational to follow the consensus of scholars then, as it is now.

When it comes to archaeology though - whether Egyptian, Israelite, or wherever - you enter into a field where the quantity of evidence is tiny relative to the amount of speculation, inference and interpretation. The number of theories offered seems endless. And every one of them banks on the fact that there is no evidence yet to disprove them. At least 90% of the data has yet to be uncovered.

Consensus here does not carry the same weight as scientific consensus, which is based on a wealth of information and is still imperfect.

Ditto on this for the DH, but admittedly, literary theory is even less evidence-based than archaeology.

I would not discount a thorough, basically consistent document of Egyptian, Phoenician, Sumerian, etc., history that came down from antiquity, simply because there was no corroborating evidence.

There may be points of contradiction that need to be explained, but I would give credence to the basic story unless there was a clear motive to lie. In fact, Archaeologists and Near East scholars rely on such material all the time. Otherwise, we'd have no information at all about antiquity, no context through which to understand material findings.

I mean that anyone who has read nach would seriously doubt that the generations of idol worhsipping jews simultaneously were passing down the story of sinai to their children.

...if the israelites worhsipped idols and then came back en-mass to the torah, this would indicate to most people that they then adopted the torah stories.


On this, I think you are completely wrong, WADR, for two reasons:

1- The fact that they did not absorb the implications of the stories is no sign that they did not believe in their historicity. Archaeology and Tanach both show that the Jews never denied Hashem's existence, they simply combined worship of YKVK with idolatrous cults. Look at the Book of Judges, for example.

Plus, I work in a Sephardic community and see this with my own eyes all the time - people who believe with 100% emunah in every letter of the Torah but observe almost none of the mitsvot.

2 - The prophets rebuke the Jews on the premise that they acknowledge the Exodus, sojourn in the wilderness, etc. They never "inform" them of these events. It is obvious, for example, from Isaiah that even the idol-worshipping Jews were "believers", they came to the Temple on Shabbat and Holidays, etc. The Prophets simply insist that the Jews rid themselves of idolatry and recognize the implications of their history.

The reason I emphasize the uniqueness of Judaism is because that is the rejoinder to the claim that it evolved naturally. It is clear to many, many scholars - in my opinion, the ones with the most accurate understanding of Torah, relatively speaking - that Judaism represented a complete break with the thought and practice of the pagan ANE.

Thus, it must have been discovered, formulated and presented by someone. The fact that the events in Egypt and the Wilderness and the leadership of Moshe are credited with having taught the Jews this new religion, I see no reason whatsoever to question it. If we deny it, we are stuck with cranking out yet another elaborate theory of the origins of Israelite religion.

If you have any time at all, please look at The Religion of Israel by Y. Kaufmann, who expounds upon this theme in great detail. Also, read Exploring Exodus by Sarna. Both of these books make this point abundantly clear. In his brief piece on Mosaic Theories, Walter Kaufmann (no relation to above, to my knowledge) makes a similar argument to support the idea that the fundamentals of Judaism must have come down from Moses.

to repeat though, this is not the type of argument which will ever convince me. I will never play the game of telephone and conclude that since the last person reports an idea so different from the first person, God must have changed something in the middle.

But that is the whole idea. There is no middle, there is no telephone. It was a revolution of epic proportions on so many levels. It had to come from somewhere, and the historical experiences of the Jews are understood as its source. Perhaps I should post on this topic in more detail sometime...

In summary, you rely upon the current consensus of archaeological interpretation, while I rely on ancient documents and historical memory that do not appear like mythology, even to scholars.

You maintain that Judaism naturally evolved to its present form. I see in it a radical transformation that cannot have emerged from the popular imagination. There is much more to say on this, hopefully I will prepare something about it in the future.

If not for reliable documentary evidence to the contrary - and by this I mean the testimony of Tanach - I would still be skeptical of archaeological interpretations, as I generally am, but I would simply suspend judgment in the matter.

However, the fact that there is no concrete evidence to corroborate a postitive history is no proof against its veracity at all. If anything, it should leave us questioning our archaeological assumptions, identifications of locations, analyses and interpretations, etc.

Anon said...

"I'm sure we both would have championed the causes of Aristotelian physics 2000 years ago, Newtonian Mechanics and the theory of ether at the beginning of the century, steady state theory, etc., etc. No one ever imagined any of these theories would be discarded, did they? And yet, it was rational to follow the consensus of scholars then, as it is now."

Neh, you can't compare the empirical science of today to Aristotle. Newtonian mechanics is somewhat comparable, but it is still correct as far as predicting the nature of objects which are similar to the ones observed.


"Consensus here does not carry the same weight as scientific consensus, which is based on a wealth of information and is still imperfect."

I didn't mean the consensus of the story which is still deabted amongs scholars. I meant the consensus that the data and tools are sufficient to rule out certain stories. To take you example above, the observations that led to Newtonian physics would not rule out the contribution which Einstein made. In other words, had Einstein proposed his theory in the day of Newton, I do not believe Newton would have argued that the data disproves him. Archeologists today would argue that the known data disproves the biblical account.

We keep coming back to the lack of data point. The fact is that it is practically impossible to prove something didn't happen if someone is willing to make contortions to argue that it did. Some events however would be so expected to leave certain traces that the lack of these traces can be considered strong evidence that the event didn't take place. 3 million people leaving egypt, wandering the desert, conquering canaan, and then living there should leave a mssive amount of evidence. It hasn't.


"I would not discount a thorough, basically consistent document of Egyptian, Phoenician, Sumerian, etc., history that came down from antiquity, simply because there was no corroborating evidence. "

Of course you wouldn't. Your first objective would be to date the document. When dating the Torah, there are multiple indications within ("ad hayom hazeh" "vihaknaanee az baaretz" "vayeerdof ad Dan") and without (archological evidence of location inhabitance and political situations) that the Torah is at earliest an 8-7BCE document. IT DOESN'T EVEN CLAIM OTHERWISE. Next, you would want to know how much time elapsed between the events and the writing. Oral traditions are well known to change over time. Aside from these aspects, you'd take into consideration whether events described have been corroborated by outside sources. All of these issues would cause any document to be held as less credible, and all of this is without taking into consideration the fact that this is a religious document full of miracles of the sort that would cause you to discount such a document from any other culture.


"There may be points of contradiction that need to be explained, but I would give credence to the basic story unless there was a clear motive to lie. In fact, Archaeologists and Near East scholars rely on such material all the time. Otherwise, we'd have no information at all about antiquity, no context through which to understand material findings."

As discussed above, there is methodology. The scholars don't treat the bible any differently than you would treat a similar document.


"The fact that they did not absorb the implications of the stories is no sign that they did not believe in their historicity. Archaeology and Tanach both show that the Jews never denied Hashem's existence, they simply combined worship of YKVK with idolatrous cults. Look at the Book of Judges, for example.

Plus, I work in a Sephardic community and see this with my own eyes all the time - people who believe with 100% emunah in every letter of the Torah but observe almost none of the mitsvot. "

I do not argue that it is proof. I argue it is a reason to be skeptical. (And your community does not worship idols.)


" The prophets rebuke the Jews on the premise that they acknowledge the Exodus, sojourn in the wilderness, etc. They never "inform" them of these events. It is obvious, for example, from Isaiah that even the idol-worshipping Jews were "believers", they came to the Temple on Shabbat and Holidays, etc. The Prophets simply insist that the Jews rid themselves of idolatry and recognize the implications of their history."

We've been through this. It isn't surprising that the prophets take the biblical story for granted. As for the holiday thing, you'll find as many places in nach where it seems they didn't keep holidays (ezra and sukkos for exmaple).


"It is clear to many, many scholars - in my opinion, the ones with the most accurate understanding of Torah, relatively speaking - that Judaism represented a complete break with the thought and practice of the pagan ANE. "

Let's assume you're right. Could there have been stories of an old historical prophet Moses who had new ideas and which evolved into the stories that became the Torah? Sure.


"But that is the whole idea. There is no middle, there is no telephone. It was a revolution of epic proportions on so many levels. It had to come from somewhere, and the historical experiences of the Jews are understood as its source. Perhaps I should post on this topic in more detail sometime..."

That would be a great idea. In the post, please address how you know that there were no middle stages.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

First of all you keep going back and forth first saying that we can prove 100% the mind exists and then you say we can't after I pointed out to you that if you think the way you do then even the mind cannot be proven 100%.

Secondly, if we say I do not know if this food I am eating is poisonous then we can question anything. That would mean that we really don't know anything not even 99% because its always possible that this thing could be poisonous since I am sure there have been cases where it was. We must then also apply this to anything, our senses and our mind included since we will always say that maybe what I see isn't so etc. Also, if we say that we can only prove things 99% so then why do we even see people arguing that their position in a certain subject is more rational or makes more sense. Neither person should believe they are correct since they both can't prove it 100% and its all subjective as to why each person thinks their position makes more sense or is more rational. I don't see how we can know anything is true if we all argue on so many things believing they are rational and especially if many people even disagree about the fundamentals and basics of knowledge and proof. Some people believe we can prove things, some people don't. So then how do we know what is the truth?

I agree there are certain things we can prove and certain things we can't. The example with the poisonous food is a case we can't prove. However, most things can be proven 100%, such as Har Sinai because we KNOW that it is impossible for there to be mass corroboration of an event which many people witnessed. We KNOW human nature so we know its impossible.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

When dating the Torah, there are multiple indications within ("ad hayom hazeh" "vihaknaanee az baaretz" "vayeerdof ad Dan")

None of these are conclusive; there are explanations of them that are not even apologetic.

"Ad Hayom Hazeh" means forever and ever, it is an idiom, like "Ko Yaaseh lee Elokim V'Ko Yosif". It has nothing to do with the time in which it was written. Otherwise, some of the instances in Tanach don't even make sense.

"V'Hakenaani Az Baaretz" and "V'hakenani v'haperizi az yoshev baaretz" are both in Lech lecha - once upon Avram's initial arrival in Canaan, and once when he returned there after descent to Egypt. They emphasize the fact that Avraham did not enter the land to possess it at that point, he was a sojourner in a land that was already occupied by others.

This example is not very good for a more basic reason - because even in the times of Bayit Rishon there were plenty of kenaanim in the land. It would never make sense to say "then" if the purpose was to contrast with "now." It means "even back then, the kenaani was already in the land."

There are good reasons to think that "Ad Dan" should be "Ad Dedan"; it is a typical Scriptural contraction. Articles have been written on this already.

Plus, I think a forgery would avoid such obvious anachronisms.

IT DOESN'T EVEN CLAIM OTHERWISE

I have read this claim several times in the works of Bible Scholars, but I am surprised it would be repeated by someone obviously knowledgeable like yourself. Try, "And Moses wrote all the words of this Torah on a scroll, until they were completed." It's a verse in Vayelech, clear as day.

And what about Sefer Yehoshua, "Only be very strong and vigilant to be careful to observe the entire Torah that My servant Moses commanded you...This Book of Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate on it day and night..."

"Then Joshua built an altar..like Moses, the servant of Hashem, commanded - as is written in the Torah of Moses..."

The Torah and Nach make the explicit statement that Moses wrote the Torah.

and without (archological evidence of location inhabitance and political situations) that the Torah is at earliest an 8-7BCE document.

Actually, a great deal has been written to support a much, much earlier date. I know you are not a fan of Kitchen, but it is certainly worthwhile to review his arguments in this regard - he compares the style and language of the Torah to documents of antiquity from before and after the period of settlement, constructing a very compelling case for a pre-conquest date - and Hoffmeier's as well.

You can find plenty of other discussions of this issue on the web, and, though the arguments sometimes come from supposedly "biased" sources, their intrinsic merit should still be evaluated.

My point is that the profile of evidence is much more complicated than you suggest.


As discussed above, there is methodology. The scholars don't treat the bible any differently than you would treat a similar document.

Actually, this very point is fiercely contested by the maximalist school, which accuses minimalists of doing just that.

It isn't surprising that the prophets take the biblical story for granted

But it would be if, as you suggest, it was not yet formulated at that point, or was "gradually evolving" among the people.

(And your community does not worship idols.)

But that is a subjective and arbitrary value judgment. It doesn't seem that the masses of Jews during the First Temple felt that idolatry was as heinous a crime as we do. They looked at it like driving to synagogue on Shabbat, or eating non-kosher meat.
Or maybe they felt it was just OK -after all, everyone was doing it.

Some events however would be so expected to leave certain traces that the lack of these traces can be considered strong evidence that the event didn't take place.

But that evidence is not nearly as strong as the testimony of historical documents and oral tradition that the events did indeed take place.

No one looks for corroborating clues to attest to something that they witnessed, do they?

Incidentally, what exactly we should expect in terms of evidence is not as clear as you suggest. This is debated amongst scholars to this day. It is not a simple matter.

We can discuss the gradual/radical issue after you have read those sources!

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

Did you read my above post about the Mesora.org article? I am interested to know what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

In numerous articles on his website he says that we can attain 100% proof and he has some articles defending the Kuzari which is a debate between micha and against micha's articles who writes against the Kuzari proof. He posted earlier on this blog.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

Yes, I did read your comment.

I stand by what I've said before, and I'm sure this is what RMBC intends as well - we have sufficient evidence to justify 100% belief.

If you want to understand why Kylopod and I are making this distinction, it would really be worthwhile for you to pick up a basic logic text. It will explain the difference between formal proof and argument.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think all of us would probably be better off taking a brief hiatus from this topic and spending time in more productive areas of study. I know that, personally speaking, the time I am investing in this debate is interfering with involvement in more meaningful Torah learning. What's the point of proving the authenticity of the Torah if we don't learn and observe it?

Anon said...

"None of these are conclusive; there are explanations of them that are not even apologetic."

I won't argue the individual cases, and if it were one instance, I could get over it. (There are plenty of others as well, "ever hayarden," the list of edomite kings, etc.) BTW, where in tanach is it moochach that ad hayom hazeh is as you've explained? That would be interesting.


"Plus, I think a forgery would avoid such obvious anachronisms."

Once again, I'd like to clarify that I don't view tanach as a "forgery."


"I have read this claim several times in the works of Bible Scholars, but I am surprised it would be repeated by someone obviously knowledgeable like yourself. Try, "And Moses wrote all the words of this Torah on a scroll, until they were completed." It's a verse in Vayelech, clear as day."

This is a fair point, and I did speak too rashly. Nevertheless, see divarim 1:5 where it debatably implies that moshe's speech on ever hayarden is "the torah" refered to in divarim. That Moshe is described in third person in the rest of the torah butresses this position. I should add, in defense of bible critics, that they would certainly view divarim as a separate work.


"Actually, a great deal has been written to support a much, much earlier date. I know you are not a fan of Kitchen, but it is certainly worthwhile to review his arguments in this regard - he compares the style and language of the Torah to documents of antiquity from before and after the period of settlement, constructing a very compelling case for a pre-conquest date - and Hoffmeier's as well."

Wow, stlye and language? You're starting to sound like a believer in the DH ;)


"Actually, this very point is fiercely contested by the maximalist school, which accuses minimalists of doing just that."

I don't believe it's "minimalists;" it's quite mainstream.


"It isn't surprising that the prophets take the biblical story for granted

But it would be if, as you suggest, it was not yet formulated at that point, or was "gradually evolving" among the people."

Not really.


It's been a blast.

Kylopod said...

I asked you the question about the poisoned meal to make the point that our day-to-day decisions are not based on absolute certainties. They are based simply on reasonable assumptions. It would be unreasonable to worry that the next meal you eat will be poisoned, even though there is a very, very slight chance that it will be. If we spent our life worrying about unlikely occurrences, we'd go mad. It isn't like you have much of a choice: if you don't eat, you will starve to death. Thus, your best bet is to eat, even if there's a tiny, tiny chance that you will be poisoned. All the decisions we make involve some level of risk. The risk here is so low as to be negligible. It's nothing compared to the risk involved in, say, investing in the stock market, or starting a home-based business. But it does exist. What this shows is that something can be remotely possible without being worth considering. It's possible that we're all just brains in a vat, but dwelling on that possibility leads us nowhere.

I agree with R. Maroof that you ought to learn a little more about basic logic. When you say that it is impossible for there to have been mass fabrication of an event which many people witnessed, you are, without realizing, using inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is potentially a very powerful means of ascertaining truth, but by definition it does not produce 100% certainty. If you read up on the topic, you will better understand why. The value of induction is not that it makes us certain, but that it gives us access to areas of knowledge we would not otherwise have. It constitutes the basis not just of science, but of a great deal of the knowledge from our everyday experience. If we threw away induction, we would be left with a very limited understanding of the world around us.

Of course, it would be nice if we could possess 100% proof of these things. But God didn't put us here so life would be that easy. Look how quickly the Jews turned to idolatry even after having witnessed all the miracles. No matter what we see or experience, there's always room for doubt, for disbelief. Faith has to be a struggle, a challenge, and if it weren't that way it wouldn't be worthwhile.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Nevertheless, see divarim 1:5 where it debatably implies that moshe's speech on ever hayarden is "the torah" refered to in divarim.

This is impossible, as Moshe is described as "explaining this Torah", which means that he is elucidating something else that already existed. In Sefer Bemidbar, for example "And this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel."

That Moshe is described in third person in the rest of the torah butresses this position.

Not at all. This is the style of writing throughout most of Tanach, meant to emphasize that the record is objective. It is not uncommon in ancient literature, and this is why it was not seen as a problem by those who accepted the Torah for centuries. When you write a contract, you speak about yourself in the third person for the same reason.

I should add, in defense of bible critics, that they would certainly view divarim as a separate work.

Of course but, in addition to all of the problems that attend that, you can't chop up the text to serve a preexistent theory.

Once again, I'd like to clarify that I don't view tanach as a "forgery."

You can't really maintain that view in light of the fact that whoever wrote it wrote "and Moses wrote all of the words of this Torah on a scroll until their completion." According to you, this is a lie.


Wow, stlye and language? You're starting to sound like a believer in the DH ;)

Heaven forfend! The Rambam speaks about this at length in Moreh Nevuchim - the Torah was written first and foremost to directly address the needs and experiences of that generation. It is written in the "language of men".

Words used to describe the Tabernacle are derived from Egyptian terms. Also, the Torah studiously avoids the slightest mention of any afterlife, which is most explicable as a rejection of the obsession with immortality in Egypt. The structure of the covenant with blesses and curses was typical only during the time period in which the Exodus took place. There are many, many more examples.

I don't believe it's "minimalists;" it's quite mainstream.

I think my intent here was not clear. I meant that minimalists are accused of treating the Biblical text with less "respect" or "weight" than they treat the documents and records of other peoples of antiquity, despite the fact that those records are also full of religious references.

In general, I want to respond to one aspect of your comments that I never addressed directly. A couple of times you mentioned that I would never take the miracles of Apollo as seriously as I would take the miracles of the Torah. This is true.

The most basic reason for this, which has been the central motif of our discussion, is that the evidence of the Torah miracles is as strong as any history. I haven't yet seen any evidence of that caliber in the miracles of other religions.

But there is another reason. Reports of miracles that purport to validate nonsense should automatically be discounted.

The Torah's miracles, though, form the basis for an idea of God, a rational view of the universe, principles of ethics and morality and a system of mitsvot that are all extremely sophisticated. They were light years ahead of their time and seemed to come out of nowhere. Much of Western Culture is derived from them to this day.

As I promised, I will post further on this later.

Anon said...

You have officially had the last word.

Yours Truly,

Anon

Anon said...

P.S. I have read and enjoyed some of your other posts.

Anon said...

P.P.S. I apologize for my condescending tone a second time. Reading ingredients for kashrus? El-Elyon a Canaanite god? You're a bigger heretic than I am. ;)

Anonymous said...

To Rabbi Maroof or Kylopod,

Im sorry for prolonging this conversation but this really has been bothering me because I am trying to understand what I am about to ask you.

If you say that there is no 100% proof on anything, including your mind, then I am confused by this position. Please explain to me then do we KNOW and can we PROVE 99% that Judaism is the only true religion from the Kuzari proof? I don't understand the people who are skeptical about everything who say that there wasn't any event of Har Sinai. If that is the case, they are saying that Judaism isn't the true religion and there is no such thing as a true religion. The Torah keeps reitirating the fact that the people saw what happened at Har Sinai and how Hashem made it KNOWN to them that there is a God and that Judaism is the ONLY true religion. There should be no debate about this even to people who believe that we can prove Har Sinai 99% because its still a proof just like any other and equal to any other proof. One thing cannot be proven to be more true that something else so the only reason there are people who try to say Judaism is not true is because they do not want it to be true.

Another problem I am having is that if people can always be skeptical as we see with anon, then how can we KNOW anything 100% if people disagree as to what is the truth. Everyone seems to believe in subjective truth and that there isn't one thing that everyone agrees on. So how can we KNOW what the truth is and how can we be objective? It seems that many people believe that everything is subjective.

Kylopod said...

I cannot speak for R. Maroof. But in my humble opinion, the Kuzari argument is flawed in many ways, not because it's uncertain, but because it reflects a poor understanding of how myths begin. Earlier in this thread, Micha posted a modified version of the Kuzari argument that deals better with the myth-making problem and roots the argument more directly in the religious experience. Do not assume that the (conventional) Kuzari proof is the be-all, end-all of rational arguments for Judaism. It is just one argument offered by one medieval philosopher.

For the record, I do not personally believe that Judaism is the only true religion, though of course I believe there is only one God. I believe there is some truth in most religions. Experiencing the presence of God in one's life is not exclusive to Jews.

I wouldn't say that most people think everything is subjective. Most people think our knowledge of the world is very uncertain, tentative, and incomplete. To believe that we have 100% certainty is comforting but simply not realistic. We are human beings, capable of great insight, but hardly omniscient.

In short, to accept that we lack 100% certainty is simply to recognize that we are not God.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

I have to disagree with you. I think that the Kuzari proof is one of the proof we have for the veracity of Judaism among other proofs. If you say there is no proof to the Kuzari, why do you believe other historical events are true? It is based on the same method of proof.

I also disagree with your position on Judaism not being the only true religion. There can only be one true religion since God would not contradict himself by giving more than one system which contradict one another.

I believe we can have 100% proof and certainty. It doesn't mean were God if we can know things 100%. If this is a reason you claim we cannot have 100% certainty then that is not a good reason.

You also haven't answered my question about subjectivity. Apparently everyone believes that truth is subjective and that we can all have our own views and beliefs on truth. I think we can prove 100% that we have a mind, that we exist, and many other things. Maybe I cannot prove that someone did not poison my food and must rely on probability in that case. However, to claim that millions of people can fabricate a story is impossible. If the events at Sinai did not happen, other people who have disputed it and it would not be passed down as true history. If we accept history as true on specific premises, then the events at Sinai have those premises and therefore happened.

Kylopod said...

I agree that millions of people could not fabricate a story. But people can, over time, come to believe a fictional story without there having been any intentional deception. Stuff like that happens all the time, in the present day as well as the distant past.

You make a good argument for the idea that there can be only one true religion. Indeed, I once held just that viewpoint, and when my mother first suggested to me that multiple religions may be true, I was as perplexed as you are. But my views have since changed, and now I better understand what my mother meant. It is not an easy concept to grasp, and I doubt I will persuade you at this time. But I will try to give you a glimpse of where I'm coming from.

Have you ever read the poem about the blind men and the elephant? It is an illuminating poem that shows how different people can be in equal possession of truth even if no one possesses the whole truth. No human being can fully comprehend God. Each person has a sliver of insight into God's true nature.

The question "Is Judaism true?" seems simple enough, but in reality it isn't. For one thing, how do you account for the many disagreements among the rabbis? According to your rationalist argument, contradictory statements cannot be equally true. Yet our tradition teaches just that! A famous line from the Gemara comments on the differences between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel and makes the following provocative remark: "These and those are the words of the living God." In other words, their opposing views are equally true, and equally a part of what God wants! Logically, this principle is very hard to understand, but there are multiple ways of dealing with the apparent contradiction.

Can this principle be applied in any way to other religions? Can we recognize that other religions may offer true insight into God, even in new and unique ways untapped by Jewish thinkers? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks got himself into trouble when he suggested something of that sort. I don't claim that this view is representative of most Orthodox Jews. Judaism has traditionally held a very negative attitude toward the other religions it has encountered, not just the ancient pagan ones, but also our monotheistic daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, which we usually regard as distortions of Judaism.

Yet there are times when religious differences seem to break down. For example, Buddhism supposedly holds that there is no God. Yet if you compare the teachings of Buddhist mysticism to Kabbalah, there are moments when you get the eerie feeling that they're talking about essentially the same thing using different language.

Likewise, we have many different ways of understanding what it is precisely that the Torah is saying. We can hold that the Torah is true while recognizing that our interpretations of what it means may change over time. Maybe one day the seeming differences between different religions will collapse and we'll discover far more in common than we can possibly imagine now.

We all are capable of having knowledge of God, but this knowledge can never be complete. In other words, knowledge does not imply certainty. Was Avraham certain about his encounters with God? I believe that he was as certain as he was about anything else in his life. Skeptics may question this certainty on the grounds that anyone today who claims to talk to God is immediately considered nuts. That's what makes the collective experience of Jews at Har Sinai so significant. Judaism is the only religion claiming that the entire people simultaneously had the divine experience. The purpose of pointing this out is not to construct some historical "proof." We don't need such a proof. We can reexperience the divine today.

The real aim of Judaism--of any religion, actually--is for a person to become Godly. This applies to knowledge as well as behavior. The more mitzvos you perform, the more Torah you study, the closer you get to God, and in turn the deeper an understanding you acquire of the universe. That is how we reach for certainty--not through some formal philosophical proof, but through the continuing experience of fulfilling our Jewish destiny.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

I disagree with everything you have said.

You said: "But people can, over time, come to believe a fictional story without there having been any intentional deception. Stuff like that happens all the time, in the present day as well as the distant past."

I can't believe you and others can be so hypocritical. When it comes to any other history, no matter how old it is, you will accept it if its proven to be true. But when it comes to the event at Sinai, you come up with invalid reasons for saying that it did not happen. The events at Sinai happened just like any other historical event. The reason why many people are always trying to disprove Sinai is because it obligates them to follow the truth and do what it right.

You also have an incorrect understanding of the principle of "Aylu V'aylu Divrei Elokim Chaim" because the statement doesn't mean that if there are two or more opinions that contradict each other, all of them can be true, whch is what you are implying by saying that all religions can be true.

We do need to be able to prove Sinai and we can. If you do not prove it, then how can we know which religion is true? We have a proof and people who try to come up with stupid reasons of why it cannot be true is because of the reason I mentioned above.

You also have still not answered my question about subjectivity.

Kylopod said...

Historians do not accept any history as automatically true. On the contrary, they are in the habit of questioning many purported "histories," and for good reason: these accounts are quite often mixed with legend and hearsay, and colored by nationalistic bias. This is especially true of ancient times. There is not a single work from the Biblical period that most historians take at face value. Their picture of the distant past is pieced together from the fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing.

There are, however, a few things that the Tanach has going for it. It doesn't bear the hallmarks of national propaganda. For one thing, it's too critical of the people who are supposedly the bearers of the tradition. The novelist Israel Zangwill once quipped that the Prophets were the world's first anti-Semites, because they had such negative things to say about the Jews.

I agree with R. Maroof that the Torah's vision was revolutionary. Some scholars may attempt to downplay this fact by viewing the emergence of Judaism's ideas as an evolution rather than a revolution. But one way or another, Jewish ideas did revolutionize society, forming the cornerstone of Western morality and rationality. In this respect, Christianity played an important role in disseminating Jewish ideas through the world.

I realize that elu v'elu is meant as a description of Judaism alone, not other religions. But it does reveal one way to understand the principle that two seemingly contradictory statements can have equal merit in God's eyes. Truth is rational, but it is also complex and multifaceted, sometimes going beyond what humans can fathom.

People of other religions have recognized the revolutionary elements of Judaism and the impact that Jews continue to play in world affairs that far transcends their small numbers. The oft-quoted passage by the Roman Catholic historian Paul Johnson is especially relevant here:

"All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place. Above all, the Jews taught us how to rationalize the unknown. The result was monotheism and the three great religions which profess it. It is almost beyond our capacity to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged."

I do not reject the idea that Sinai happened. I just think that our knowledge of the event is rooted in something more subtle than the popular version of the Kuzari argument. The continued experience of the Jewish people is the biggest testament to the truth of the Torah. See Micha's links from earlier in this thread for an elaboration of this point of view.

I'm not clear on what your question about subjectivity was. Please rephrase it.

Anonymous said...

Historians accept histories of the past if proven true. For example, they have found things from Egypt from the time of the Pharohs.

Aylu V'eylu does not mean that one can say all religions are true when they all contradict each other. You can't say parts of other religions are good because they believe in not murdering etc. If the system is based on falsehood, then everything it contains is false because its part of the whole system.

Rabbi Maroof believes we have proof of Sinai just like any other historical event, and I agree with him. What your saying is an additional proof.

My question about subjectivity is, if people can always be skeptical as we see with Anon's previous posts, then how can we KNOW anything 100% if people disagree as to what is the truth. Everyone seems to believe in subjective truth and that there isn't one thing that everyone agrees on. So how can we KNOW what the truth is and how can we be objective? It seems that many people believe that everything is subjective.

Kylopod said...

Just because historians have found evidence to corroborate specific claims doesn't mean they accept the ancient stories in their entirety. As a matter of fact, they do not. Your claim that they apply a double standard to the Bible and automatically consider it less true than other ancient books is groundless. The main thing that makes them extra-skeptical of the Bible is that it describes supernatural events, which the modern academic world is not prepared to accept. But they treat it no differently than other ancient books with supernatural elements, and many of these scholars are willing to concede that the basic historical events outlined in the Bible have at least some basis in truth. The only question is how much.

I never claimed that elu v'elu is a doctrine of universal religious pluralism. In fact, I specifically made clear that it is not. What I said was that it is a starting point to help us understand the concept of multiple religious truths.

I disagree with your statement that everything in a religion is false if the system is based on falsehood. I do not have to believe in, say, the Virgin Birth in order to recognize that Christians are capable of true insight into God.

I have maintained throughout this discussion that we cannot know anything 100% (with the possible exception of mind). By no means does that imply that "everything is subjective," and you are wrong that most people think that way. There is some subjectivity involved in acquiring knowledge, but it is not absolute. There are objective truths in the world--which is not the same thing as saying they are proven with 100% certainty. Uncertainty is simply the result of our limitations as human beings. Objective existence is not dependent on what we know. Even if we didn't know anything, the world out there would still objectively exist.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

It isn't groundless. Many historians are looking for reasons to discredit the Bible but they cannot do so. If we have evidence of many things, the Proof of Sinai, and the Mesorah which we can prove was not corrupted, then we know that all the events mentioned in Tanach are true.

There is no such thing as multiple religious truths. It is true that everything in a system is false if the system is based on falsehood. The proof to this is the fact that the Torah forbids any kind of pleasure from Idolatry for example. Even if you can get some type of benefit from it, it is still forbidden. The whole thing is considered wrong. Christians cannot have true insight into God because their whole view of God is corrupted to begin with.

If two people have an argument and they both can prove their arguments 99% and prove it rationally, how can one of them say what I believe is true and what you believe is false, if they can both prove their arguments. There has to be one truth so why should either of them believe their position if the other person can prove their argument. It is then subjective because they each think that their argument is true. So how can either of them disprove the other? My question is if 2 people can prove their arguments rationally, then how and why should either of them believe their arguments if they cannot disprove the other person. They are being subjective and sticking to their own arguments because it makes sense to them. But the question is, which person is correct?

Also, I don't believe that people cannot be completely objective.

I also don't understand why you think we cannot prove things 100% in most cases. I showed you how the whole brain in the vat problem is not true.

You also said:

"Objective existence is not dependent on what we know. Even if we didn't know anything, the world out there would still objectively exist."

How can a person say that the world would still objectively exist if the person doesn't know anything?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous and Kylopod,

I have been remiss in not joining your dialogue the past week or so - this has been due to time constraints.

I do think that the subjects you are discussing require further clarification.

I hope to post anew on the topic of "Proof of Sinai" this week, and I think it will allow me to address some of the points that have been raised in your exchange.

I agree with Kylopod that a philosopher or religionist with a false "system" can still provide insight into certain aspects of religious thought.

However, I also agree with Anonymous that the authenticity of the Torah is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Shabbat Shalom!

Anonymous said...

"It isn't groundless. Many historians are looking for reasons to discredit the Bible but they cannot do so."

You're right. When I looked back at my post, I realized I was exaggerating. There are many scholars interested in discrediting the Bible. However, my general point remains: secular historians do not give credence to any work that describes supernatural events.

"The proof to this is the fact that the Torah forbids any kind of pleasure from Idolatry for example. Even if you can get some type of benefit from it, it is still forbidden."

Absolutely. Our religion must remain free of idolatrous influence. On the other hand, we are implored to accept truth from wherever it comes.

"Christians cannot have true insight into God because their whole view of God is corrupted to begin with."

Many of the Rishonim would disagree with you.

"My question is if 2 people can prove their arguments rationally, then how and why should either of them believe their arguments if they cannot disprove the other person."

Maybe because it is better to have a belief than to remain agnostic. At the same time, it's good to be open to the possibility that you could be wrong.

"I showed you how the whole brain in the vat problem is not true."

You did? I must have missed it.

"How can a person say that the world would still objectively exist if the person doesn't know anything?"

Well, if the person doesn't know anything, then of course he can't say he knows the world objectively exists. What I was saying was that we (who do possess some knowledge of the world) can legitimately say that the world's existence is not dependent on anyone's knowledge.

Let's put it this way. Take the old philosophical question, "If a tree falls in a forest when no one's around, does the tree make a sound?"

If you answer yes, then we are in agreement. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

RJM: I look forward to your new post on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Kylopod,

It is true that we can accept truth from whoever it comes (the Rambam mentions this), if you read this article you will understand what I am saying.

http://www.mesora.org/religionscorrect.html

With regards to the brain in the vat, I told you that we know the definition of what dreaming means so you know that your not dreaming. If someone asks maybe I am dreaming in essense the person is claiming they already know what dreaming is.

With regards to historians, just because they don't give credence to supernatural events just shows how closeminded they can be sometimes. They aren't being objective enough to think that it is possible that there is a God out there who created the world and can change the course of nature eventhough its not something that God "prefers".

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to Rabbi Maroofs article as well.

Anonymous said...

I think that the writer in that link dodged the question by mentioning examples where Judaism differs from other religions. Of course there are differences, but that doesn't prove that other religions are devoid of any insight into God.

To say that Rambam accepted only Aristotle's "philosophy" but none of his "religion" is to be disingenuous. Any time you critically examine a religious belief, you are philosophizing. The Aristotelean ideas which Rambam absorbed included not only principles that had nothing to do with religion, but also principles that had everything to do with religion, such as the First Cause argument.

Aristotle's understanding of God differed markedly from the Jewish conception. He believed there had to be a First Cause, but he didn't think of it as a transcendent being that cares about the world. Yet Rambam was able to find truth in this belief. Whenever a kiruv worker today uses the First Cause argument, he owes a debt of gratitude to Aristotle for first formulating this principle. The argument is not divorced from religion at all but an integral part of it. It concerns the existence of a Creator, without which Judaism cannot be true.

In your attempt to refute the brain-in-the-vat argument, you're forgetting that there can be dreams within dreams. Thus, your ability to define the concept of a dream doesn't prove that the present experience doesn't fall within that definition. (You can, of course, define the concept so that it excludes the present experience, but then you're just engaging in circular reasoning.)

I agree with your point about the supernatural.

Anonymous said...

Rambam did not accept anything of Aristotle's religion, and I don't believe Aristotle belonged to any religion.

With regards to dreams, we know that dreams are not tangible and if someone says there can be a dream within a dream, he is presupposing that dreams can be something tangible and we know that dreams are not tangible because we define what a dream is and it isn't something tangible.

Rabbi Maroof, when will that new post be up?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous, I apologize for the delay - it is in the works and will, God willing, appear soon!

Anonymous said...

There are two aspects to religion: belief and practice. Aristotle might not have subscribed to any formal religious practice, but he definitely had religious beliefs, and Rambam definitely gained some insight from those beliefs.

The experiences we have in dreams may be imaginary, but the thoughts that go through our heads during that time may be perfectly valid. What makes you so sure that a dreamer cannot correctly define things?

Anonymous said...

>No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience. As a matter of course, we accept such reports as authentic until proven otherwise.

Do we accept the account of the rise and fall of early Greece contained in the Ilyad as authentic until proven otherwise? Of course not. We start with the assumption that tales involving supernatural beings are fictional and try to figure out what truth might lie in between those obviously fantastic stories. Does that approach sound familiar?

Mikeskeptic

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

MikeSkeptic, thanks for visiting my blog. You have resurrected a very old post!

I am in the process of preparing another post on this topic in the near future; perhaps we should reserve any extended dialogue for the newer version. Please peruse the comments here, if you haven't already, so we can all be on the same page at that point.

Meanwhile, very briefly, I will say this: If the Iliad were the official history of Greece and included public, national events of the scale described in the Torah that were identified as the cause in a national religious/cultural/political revolution, then we would have a reasonable comparison.

The problem is that those who object to the Sinai argument generally cite either alleged public supernatural events (not comparable because they don't involve an entire nation nor do they engender any revolutionary change) or the development of myths over time that relate to the supernatural but fail to include anything on a national scale. Neither type of scenario poses a challenge for the argument I presented here.

And again, this is not a question of proof. Historical events are not subject to proof. It is a question of what is the most reasonable explanation of the evidence.

If one is unwilling to entertain the idea of the supernatural, or if one would have denied the significance of Sinai even after witnessing it, then one will of course reject the conclusion of this argument a priori.

But one must take all relevant factors into account - the national scale of the events described, the religious/cultural revolution attributed to them, and the fact that the implications of these events ran contrary to the interests of the very people who reported them.

Anonymous said...

RJM, I stand by my comment, but will reserve my response for your future post.

Mikeskeptic

Anonymous said...

I just finished skimming through the previous comments on this post and I see that someone else has already mentioned the Iliad as a counterexample and that your response went unchallenged. I want to add that the popular conception of Homer's work as mythical/artistic rather than historical dates back only to the times of Aristotle, who lived five centuries after the Iliad was composed by Homer. Until then, the Greeks treasured the Iliad as an historical work and traced their genealogy to the figures mentioned in the Iliad. (Note also that even the fact of authorship by Homer is not unquestionably accepted by scholars, some of whom believe Homer merely compiled and redacted older works and others of whom doubt that Homer was even a real person. All of this, again, sounds quite familiar.) It could just be that Aristotle and his Greek contemporaries were more skeptical than Chazal and more ready to challenge their nation's traditions or that the supernatural claims made by the Iliad are more obviously identified as mythology. In any event, I believe the Iliad is a good precedent for how the Torah's development should properly be approached by scholars.

Mikeskeptic

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

(Note also that even the fact of authorship by Homer is not unquestionably accepted by scholars, some of whom believe Homer merely compiled and redacted older works and others of whom doubt that Homer was even a real person. All of this, again, sounds quite familiar.)

Quite familiar, yes, and equally unconvincing. If anything, it is evidence for a growing suspicion that this form of "scholarly" reasoning was and is nothing more than a stereotypical pattern of conjecture that is in no way based on solid evidence.

It is reminiscent of a certain psychoanalyst who diagnosed every patient with the same disorder and was amazed to find so many cases of the same type, again and again. A proof for his theory indeed! In the end, he discovered that it was he who was suffering from the problem.

It could just be that Aristotle and his Greek contemporaries were more skeptical than Chazal and more ready to challenge their nation's more obviously identified as mythology.

Right. Because Chazal were gullible uncritical fools who had no idea about their own history. They were definitely comparable to the pagan, idolatrous hamon am of the Greeks. Sure.

In any event, I believe the Iliad is a good precedent for how the Torah's development should properly be approached by scholars.

Based on what? Your own emotions? How can you possibly make this judgment?

There is and was a huge difference between Jewish religion/culture and that of the Greeks. It can't be explained by natural evolution, because no such view of the world became dominant in any other nation on Earth. It is silly to compare the Iliad, a mythological work, to the Torah, which introduced the most sophisticated philosophical and ethical ideas ever heard of in antiquity, contrary to all that had come before.

I have found that anyone who disputes the uniqueness of Judaism is simply unaware of its distinction from other religions, past and present. It amazes me how many scholars have recognized though, despite being nonbelievers.

Anonymous said...

>Quite familiar, yes, and equally unconvincing. If anything, it is evidence for a growing suspicion that this form of "scholarly" reasoning was and is nothing more than a stereotypical pattern of conjecture that is in no way based on solid evidence.

Perhaps, but arguing that a methodology generally used by scholars within their area of expertise is fundamentally flawed is a lot different from arguing that historians are not giving the Mesorah the same credence they give to other similar claims. The argument you attempted to make in the original post, that the Mosaic authorship survives the same tests historians apply to other similar works, was potentially much more persuasive, if it were true. In fact, however, as you concede in the comments, historians routinely reject supernatural claims and do question the authorship of other works from such early dates.

I agree with you that there is a "bias" among historians against belief in the supernatural, but in truth you have the same bias when the claims are not the ones you were raised with. Just ask yourself this question: if Aristotle had accepted the conventional wisdom of the time that the Iliad is an historical work and if this belief had survived until modern times, would you really give it the same credence that you give to historical descriptions of the Crimean War?

Finally, the reason I believe the Iliad is a good comparison is that it was accepted as the national history of a people for many centuries until it was challenged by skeptical philosphers. That makes it the perfect counterexample to the kuzari proof.

I don't want to get into an argument with you here over the similarities or differences between early jewish teachings, as compared to the revolutions in thought that were occurring in Greece, India and China during the same period. This post is about the kuzari proof, after all.

Finally, I am not suggesting that Chazal were "gullible uncritical fools". I do think that they were mystics, rather than skeptics, and they were dealing with a religious tradition that is a lot more rational than the mythology of the Iliad.

Mikeskeptic

Matt said...

As highly as I regard Rabbi Chait's article on "Torah from Sinai," I think that Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's approach (presented in his book "Living Up to the Truth," which can be found in PDF here: http://ohr.edu/yhiy.php?seriesid=77) has one advantage. Before expounding on the Kuzari Principle (Chapter 6), Rabbi Gottlieb first addresses the standard of proof which will be utilized (Chapter 3). Specifically, he rejects the Cartesian standard of knowledge, which requires absolute certainty and the debunking of every alternative before one can call a theory "true." Rabbi Chait makes a similar point, but in an easily overlooked footnote. I prefer Rabbi Gottlieb's approach of establishing the standard of proof as a premise before moving on to prove that the Torah was given at Sinai. This approach evades a number of "refutations."

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think they are essentially making the same point, but I agree that the point is made more explicitly and clearly by R' Gottleib.

I attempted to emphasize the standard-of-proof issue in my presentation and comments as well.

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