Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An Example of Public Revelation - in the Iliad

Here's an argument offered by Rabbi Simmons on AISH (among others who I've been recently in communication):

"There is a very powerful verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:32-33):

"You might inquire about times long past, from the day that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of heaven to the other. Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of G-d speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard, and survived?"

The Torah goes out on a limb and declares that nobody else will ever even attempt such a claim of national revelation! How could the author know such a thing?!

...Understand what we are saying here. The Author of the Torah would need foreknowledge of all of world history in order to make the claim that none of the other 15,000 religions would ever claim national revelation.

How could the Author know that? Because you can't formulate a lie based on someone else's experience. And that's why no other nation will ever make the claim of National Revelation.

...The answer is that they knew that if national revelation can never be fabricated; so too, it's validity can therefore never be denied."


What he's saying is that a proof for the veracity of the Torah lies in the fact that the Torah says nobody else makes a similar claim and in fact no other such claim has been found.

Now, the argument for one has unfair advantages. How far does the idea of "national revelation" extend? For most people, religion is not the same thing as a nation and so the method of national revelation to prove a religion's claims is nonsensical. Second, how similar must the alternative claim be to be seen as similar to the Torah's claim to count as a disproof of the Torah's assurance that nobody will make the same claim? There are a million details that can be used to disqualify the newfound claim as different, but this leads to a meaninglessness of the test.

I suspect that the Torah is NOT making the claim that nobody has or ever will make such a claim but that it simply, as a historical fact, has never happened before and will not happen again. I'm actually not arguing here with the Torah, but with overactive apologists who read more into the text to serve their own agendas.

I think that to satisfy Rabbi Simmons test all that is needed is a non-Sinaitic example of a claim wherein a god reveals himself to a large multitude.

So, now let's take a look at what I found recently.

Book XI of the Iliad begins with:

"AND now as Dawn rose from her couch beside Tithonus, harbinger of light alike to mortals and immortals, Jove sent fierce Discord with the ensign of war in her hands to the ships of the Achaeans. She took her stand by the huge black hull of Ulysses' ship which was middlemost of all, so that her voice might carry farthest on either side, on the one hand towards the tents of Ajax son of Telamon, and on the other towards those of Achilles - for these two heroes, well-assured of their own strength, had valorously drawn up their ships at the two ends of the line. There she took her stand, and raised a cry both loud and shrill that filled the Achaeans with courage, giving them heart to fight resolutely and with all their might, so that they had rather stay there and do battle than go home in their ships."

Now, according to the Iliad in various implications, the Achaean force must have been many thousands of soldiers strong. The phrase "tens of thousands" is used to describe footmen alone. Based on the number of ships that went on the attack, outlined in Book II, an approximation of 100,000 men is hardly out of line.

As written here, Discord, the goddess of, well, discord, on command from Zeus (Jove) raises her voice before the presence of many thousands of Greek soldiers to encourage them in their fight. Does this prove the existence of the goddess Discord via the Kuzari argument? Or at the very least does it satisfy Rabbi Simmons requirements? I think it might.

19 comments:

aj said...

I have a question: (sorry, I don't know much about the History of the Iliad)

According to a quick glance at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War
, the Iliad was written down 500-700 years after the Trojan War supposedly occurred. When the Iliad was being played in Greek culture, do we know what the citizens thought of its Historical nature? Did they think "this text was passed word by word down from Odysseus/Achilles to Homer, and then Homer wrote it down"? Did they think Homer took a bunch of traditions, melded them and embellished them?


They were obviously familiar with the general plotline, but what about the details.

The Kuzari proof usually says "How could it have been made up. We claim there is a direct tradition. We claim our parents' parents' parents'...........parents heard it, told their children, who told their children, who told their children....who told us. Would my great grandfather have lied"

Now I don't think this arguement actually works for proving the Torah or Judaism, but it would seem to me from the minimal Iliad knowledge I have, that it works even less well for the Iliad, as there is no claim of strong word-for-word continuity, and they public revelation is "made up" by Homer...

Manny said...

The Torah goes out on a limb and declares that nobody else will ever even attempt such a claim of national revelation! How could the author know such a thing?!

You can't just bring a story about an event that supposedly occurred before an entire nation (or at least many, many people); you have to show an extant people that also claim this as their national experience. The Greek people treat the Iliad only as great literature, not as a revelatory tradition. (BTW the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps a better example, but still falls short.)

So, sorry, although there are flaws to the Kuzari "proof", you are presenting a very poor counter-argument.

Orthoprax said...

AJ,

"I have, that it works even less well for the Iliad, as there is no claim of strong word-for-word continuity, and they public revelation is "made up" by Homer... "

True, although I suspect that was probably true of those early Jews as well before the Rabbis were using the specific wordings in the text to derive laws.

The Iliad wasn't believed to be word for word by the ancient Greeks, but that it was a generally accurate portrayal of a great ancient event as it was passed down orally from that time. I am certain that some were more skeptical of its wilder stories, while there were also those who took every part of it literally.

However, I wasn't writing this post really for the Kuzari but more for R' Simmon's argument. I have given an example of something that he says would never be found.


Manny,

"You can't just bring a story about an event that supposedly occurred before an entire nation (or at least many, many people); you have to show an extant people that also claim this as their national experience."

The Greeks did see the Iliad as history and did see themselves as descendants of that great Achaean army. Why must the ancient Greeks still be extant for the example to work?

"Greek people treat the Iliad only as great literature, not as a revelatory tradition."

That's today, what about at around the time it was written? Most of them believed it was an accurate historical portrayal of events as passed down orally through the poets.

"So, sorry, although there are flaws to the Kuzari "proof", you are presenting a very poor counter-argument."

Ok, so forget the Kuzari. I was focusing more on R' Simmon's argument anyway.

Just me said...

Nice post. Reminds me of the Bible's "exhaustive" list of animals who chew cud, but don't have split hooves and vice-versa, enumerated in Leviticus. Of course, the arnevet and shafan give the lie to that one...

hayim said...

Just me,

The Bible never states that the list is exhaustive, not in Leviticus and not in the Deuteronomy - it's the Talmud that does.

That being said, all these kiruv arguments are lame - I don't know where I had my brains during my time in yeshiva...

Eli said...

I agree with Manny, et al, that the Iliad refutation is weak, but for a different reason. pace manny, even if current Greeks do not view the Homeric epics as religious texts, the fact that antiquarian Greeks believed these stories as fact would disprove R’ Simmons (and by extension, any reading of that Posuk that ignores the fact that the writer was using a literary device, not making an argument for the future) since a later religious tradition was predicated on some kind of broad revelation of the Gods. And there are certainly parallels of the Iliad to the Torah—a collection of national myths, passed down orally, and finally redacted/written down centuries later.

But only monotheistic religions really require this type of revelation at all--Greek myth, like the myths of many other polytheistic religions, are filled with stories of very anthropomorphic Gods (or their deified representatives) interacting with humans, or humans becoming (like Caesar) somewhat divine. I don't think the Iliad is a story of national revelation, simply because the Greeks had no need for revelation of any kind. And if one were to argue that polytheistic religions require revelation, then the fact that there are thousands religions in which Gods interact with humans in a very public way (not to mention that Christianity and Islam have stories of very public miracles--would Simmons and the Kuzari, assuming R' Yehudah HaChasid believed this argument, have to accept them?)

Simon Holloway said...

Here's one: there are a few Christian historians who record an event that took place during the reign of Flavius Julianus (361-363 CE). He was the emperor who had promised the Jews a third temple and who provoked the ire of the Christians by converting to paganism. Gregory of Nazianus, Ambrose (Bishop of Milan) and John Chrysostom all record a particular event that took place, thwarting the construction of the temple.

Apparantly, a violent earthquake occurred, followed by a whirlwind (reminiscent perhaps of Elijah's vision from his cave). All of the Jews who were building the temple fled and took refuge in a local church, but the doors magically refused to open. Fire burst from the temple's foundations and destroyed many of them, and then the image of a gigantic crucifix appeared in heaven (for EVERYBODY to see), and the same mark then appeared on EVERYBODY'S garments. Many Jews had themselves baptised immediately.

Do you believe that this happened? No? Neither do I. But it certainly constitutes a tradition of public revelation, and not only demonstrates that such revelations are not specific to Judaism, but they can be bogus as well.

Baal Habos said...

Simon and company, I think this Flavius story is also a weak refutation of the Kuzari. This is once again an instance where a limited number of people report or claim that the miracle was witnessed by many. The brilliant nuance of the Kuzari, is that since it was passed down from parent to parent that 600,000 witnessed the event, therefore it must be true. Your example is one person coming to testify that a miracle took place in front of thousands. Kuzari's claim is that since Judaism is passed down from generation to generation, it's as if 600,000 are testifying right now as to the truth of Har Sinai.

That being said, there are other refutations of the Kuzari that are as brilliant as the Kuzari claim itself.

Had I not seen this other refutation, I would easily be convinced by the Kuzari.

Eli said...

Ba'al Habos,

At what number of witnesses does a miracle become "true," according to the Kuzari argument? Say the Flavius story does not met your criteria since there was only a "limited number" of witnesses. What about Jesus' feeding five thousand men with five loaves of bread? Thousands ostensibly had witnesses that. Or of the many miracles throughout the middle ages and even in more modern times, which thousands claimed to have witnessed?

Additionally, the point has to be made that there were NO witnesses to the revelation at Sinai. No contemporary accounts from that era exist confirming the world-wide miracles the midrash mentions, nor are there any contemporary accounts from Jews at Sinai. All we have is a document, written hundreds of years later, that claims there was a revelation seen by at least 600,000. I would argue that a limited number of people having claimed to have witnessed an event is more reputable than an anachronistic claim that million had seen something in the past.

Baal Habos said...

Eli, I'll repeat the main point -

"The brilliant nuance of the Kuzari, is that since it was passed down from parent to parent that 600,000 witnessed the event, therefore it must be true"

That's how it differs from Flavius.

Again, that does not make the Kuzari proof valid.

Orthoprax said...

Eli,

"I don't think the Iliad is a story of national revelation, simply because the Greeks had no need for revelation of any kind."

Exactly, that was one point I mentioned in the original post. Most religions aren't of the type that require revelation to begin with.


Simon,

"an event that took place during the reign of Flavius Julianus"

The Gospels also list a series of great public miracles that Jesus performed in front of thousands. They can all work similarly in their 'large number of witnessess' claim.

Though interestingly, in Catholicism there is a doctrine that the age of public revelation ended at the death of the last gospel. It's most interesting and as convenient as the end of prophecy and end of open miracles doctrines in Judaism.



Baal,

"The brilliant nuance of the Kuzari, is that since it was passed down from parent to parent that 600,000 witnessed the event, therefore it must be true."

It's true that the Kuzari has that added touch, but realistically it can be shown how that could not have been true (e.g. utter ignorance of the Israelites during certain historical periods). After that ground is set is the Kuzari on the same ground as any of these other "public miracle" stories.

Baal Habos said...

> After that ground is set is the Kuzari on the same ground as any of these other "public miracle" stories.

Absolutely. It's still much stronger. Personal testimony, father to son, for hundreds of thousands of people. It's very convincing. The ignorance of Israelites Ok that's a Kashia, but the Rabbi's always had answers, however weak, for that.

I think the real refutation to the Kuzari is what I have seen in the "Resource or links" section of TFSG. Check it out. If you can't find it, let me know.

Eli said...

Ba'al:

The Kuzari's argument is predicated on the assumption that the mesorah began at Sinai. Otherwise, the Kuzari's own counterargument, which he dismisses, that a lie began at some point and that was dissemanated from parent to child, become valid. Therefore, my point (which was obtuse) was that the lack of witnesses undermines the Kuzari's argument because it illustrates a break in that mesorah.

Baal Habos said...

> Therefore, my point (which was obtuse) was that the lack of witnesses undermines the Kuzari's argument because it illustrates a break in that mesorah.

But you can never have a living witness to an event in the distant past. The Kuzari claims that the claim of parent to child transmission overcomes that. Check out the TFSG argument.

Eli said...

Ba'al, the Kuzari's point is not that you need living witnesses to the past event. The Kuzari's argument is that it is transmited from parent to child FROM the original witnesses, because otherwise you'd have to accept that there an entire generation lied in between, and that's not credible. He doesn't argue that the parent to child overcomes that, he argues that parent to child transmission proves that there were witnesses.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof said...

The verse says one nation amidst another. This didn't occur in the Illiad. Also does it record that the Trojans saw discord? Also Jove sending Discord may have been like a muse rathe than a diety. Not to mention the passage doesn't imply revelation it implies that all the men got heated for battle, and it is attributed to discord. Remember Greek Mythology deified things,concpets and ideas such as wisdom and war etc. Thus this is not describing a revealatory experience and it doesn't seem to be saying that either. How do you glean these conclusions?
I've noticed you tend to conclude what you want regardless of what is written there. Read it out loud and carefully where are the same terms in A described in B.

Orthoprax said...

Tzedek,

"The verse says one nation amidst another."

Super. Did you read what I wrote in my initial post? - 'There are a million details that can be used to disqualify the newfound claim as different, but this leads to a meaninglessness of the test.'

"Thus this is not describing a revealatory experience and it doesn't seem to be saying that either. How do you glean these conclusions?"

It was mostly done tongue in cheek, but the fact is that it can be read literally and very well may have been by the more credulous Greeks.

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abele said...

1. We have no way of knowing if the Greeks believed these stories. We simply do not know enough about the beliefs about the ancient greeks to determine whether they believed in the Illiad story.

2. The loud booming sound could have been a hallucinatin, since it was a sudden noise, which could have been really a loud thunder (as opposed to the 14,600 days of manna which could not have been a hallucination).

3. We don't know if people believed to descend from the soldiers. The essential aspect of kuzari is that people believe they heard it from their ancestors.

4. The most essential aspect of Kuzari is the commemorations. Meaning, the Torah does not merely say that God performed miracles in sinai. Rather, God gave commemorations - 613 of them. For example: Sabbath, Tefilin, Shemitta, Yovel, Tzitzis, Mezuzah etc. etc. These commemorations would have prevented someone of inventing the story later, since they would have asked: Why did we never even hear of the holidy of passover, or shabbos? The Illiad has none