Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Aztec's National Revelation II




So it turns out that the records are pretty spotty since the Aztecs kept no written text of their myths and they simultaneously held several oral forms of the same stories (kinda similar to how early Israelites likely were). But there is one solid written source by the grandson of Montezuma II (made famous as the Aztec ruler during the Spanish conquest) from 1609.


While the text seems to make no big deal of Huitzilopochtli talking to his people he does do so, though more often he speaks through intermediaries the 'idol bearers.'



"Here it is told, it is recounted
How the ancients who were called, who were named,
Teochichimeca, Azteca, Mexitin, Chicomoztoca, came, arrived,
When they came to seek,
When they came to gain possession of their land here,
In the great city of Mexico Tenochtitlan. . . .
In the middle of the water where the cactus stands,
Where the eagle raises itself up,
Where the eagle screeches,
Where the eagle spreads his wings,
Where the eagle feeds,
Where the serpent is torn apart,
Where the fish fly,
Where the blue waters and the yellow waters join,
Where the water blazes up,
Where feathers came to be known,
Among the rushes, among the reeds where the battle is joined,
Where the peoples from the four directions are awaited,
There they arrived, there they settled…
They called themselves Teochichimeca, Azteca, Mexitin.
They brought along the image of their god,
The idol that they worshipped.
The Aztecs heard him speak and they answered him;
They did not see how it was he spoke to them…"


As you can note, it specifically says that the Aztecs heard him speak, though they did not see how - kinda like the the revelation in the Torah, hmm?

The last chapter goes like this:


"The Culhuacan pursued them, they pursued the Mexicans,
They drove them into the water….
The Culhuacans thought that they had perished in the water,
But they crossed the water on their shields,
They crossed on their arrows and shields.
They bound together the arrows, called Tlacochtli,
And those called Tlatzontectli,
And, sitting upon them, they crossed the water….
And sitting upon the shields they crossed the water
When the Culhuacans pursued them.
And they came into the rushes, into the reeds at
Mexicatzinco….
There they dried their battle gear which had become wet,
Their insignias, their shields—all their gear.
And their women and children began to weep.
They said, "Where shall we go? Let us remain here in the reeds…."
IX.
And then the old Mexicans, Quauhtlequtzqui, or Quauhcoatl,
And also the one called Axolohua went off,
They went into the rushes, into the reeds
At the place that is now called Toltzalan, Acatzalan;
The two of them went to look for the place they were to settle.
And when they came upon it,
They saw the many wondrous things there in the reeds.
This was the reason Huitzilopochtli had given his orders to the idol-
bearers, his fathers,
Quauhtlequetzqui, or Quauhcoatl, and Axolohua, the priest.
For he had sent them off,
He had told them all that there was in the rushes, in the reeds,
And that there he, Huitzilopochtli, was to stand,
That there he was to keep guard.
He told them with his own lips,
Thus he sent off the Mexicans.
And then they saw the white bald cypresses, the white willows,
And the white reeds and the white rushes;
And also the white frogs, the white fish, and the white snakes
That lived there in the water.
And they saw the springs that joined;
The first spring faced east and was called Tleatl and Atlatlayan,
The second spring faced north and was called Matlalatl and also
Tozpalatl.
And when they saw this the old men wept.
They said, "Perhaps it is to be here.
We have seen what the priest, Huitzilopochtli, described to us
When he sent us off.
He said, `In the rushes, in the reeds, you shall see many things.'
And now we have seen them, we have beheld them!
It has come true, his words when he sent us off have come true!"
Then they said,
"O Mexicans, let us go, for we have beheld them.
Let us await the word of the priest;
He knows how it shall be done."
Then they came, they sojourned in Temazcaltitlan.
And during the night he saw him,
Huitzilopochtli appeared to the idol-bearer, called
Quauhtlequetzqui, or Quauhcoatl.
He said to him, "O Quauhcoatl, you have seen all there is in among
the reeds,
In among the rushes,
You have beheld it.
But hear this:
There is something you still have not seen.
Go, go and look at the cactus,
And on it, standing on it, you shall see an eagle.
It is eating, it is warming itself in the sun,
And your heart will rejoice,
For it is the heart of Copil that you cast away
Where you halted in Tlalcocomoco.
There it fell, where you looked, at the edge of the spring,
Among the rushes, among the reeds.
And from Copil's heart sprouted what is now called Tenochtli.
There we shall be, we shall keep guard,
We shall await, we shall meet the diverse peoples in battle.
With our bellies, with our heads,
With our arrows, with our shields,
We shall confront all who surround us
And we shall vanquish them all,
We shall make them captives,
And thus our city shall be established.
Mexico Tenochtitlan:
Where the Eagle Screeches
Where he spreads his wings,
Where the Eagle feeds,
Where the fish fly,
And where the Serpent is torn apart.
Mexico Tenochtitlan!
And many things shall come to pass."
Then Quauhcoatl said to him, "Very well, Oh priest. Your heart has
granted it.
Let all the old men, your fathers, hear."
Then Quauhcoatl gathered the Mexicans together,
He had them hear the words of Huitzilopochtli;
The Mexicans listened.
And then, once more, they went in among the rushes, in among the
reeds,
To the edge of the spring.
And when they came out into the reeds,
There at the edge of the spring, was the Tenochtli,
And they saw and Eagle on the Tenochtli, perched on it, standing
on it.
It was eating something, it was feeding,
It was pecking at what it was eating.
And when the Eagle saw the Mexicans, he bowed his head low.
(They had only seen the Eagle from afar).
Its nest, its pallet, was of every kind of precious feather—
Of lovely cotinga feathers, roseate spoonbill feathers, quetzal
feathers.
And they also saw strewn about the heads of sundry birds,
The head of precious birds strung together,
And some bird's feet and bones.
And the god called out to them, he said to them,
"O Mexicans, it shall be here!"
(But the Mexicans did not see who spoke).
It is for this reason they call it Tenochtitlan.
And then the Mexicans wept, they said,
"O happy, O blessed are we!
We have beheld the city that shall be ours!
Let us go, now, let us rest…."
This was in the year 2-House, 1325."


It is very interesting to note the similarities to the Torah here as well. The nation escapes an enemy army over a body of water and then the people just want to call it quits. Then the whole nation upon traveling further sees the amazing vision of a shiny albino land which was prophesied and their god says aloud "O Mexicans, it shall be here!" and the people are overjoyed.


So yes, the source I found before was a rather modern romanticized version of the classic Aztec migration myth, but the original still has enough to undermine the Orthodox apologetic claims that no other people has ever had a national revelation besides the Israelites.

166 comments:

David Guttmann said...

> to undermine the Orthodox apologetic claims that no other people has ever had a national revelation besides the Israelites.


what about Bila''am? The problem is what kind of revelation and to what end.

Orthoprax said...

What about him? The issue is precisely with the R' Gottlieb-esque claim that no other nation even claimed to have a national revelation.

The issue, indeed, has nothing to do with the type of revelation. No true Scotsman, eh?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

First of all, the text is ambiguous as to whether the entire nation heard the gods speaking simultaneously. It says "the Aztecs" - this could mean some of them, or through interpreters.

More importantly, unlike the tone of the Aztec account, the Torah is sensitive to how unusual the phenomenon of a national revelation is. The Torah is describing an event that would be considered wondrous and almost unbelievable to its audience. In other words, the Torah is operating within a rational, non-mythological world in which these occurrences don't happen every day. This gives the report credibility.

Finally, you need to actually examine what the Torah claims is unique about Maamad Har Sinai before making comparisons to other stories. The Torah clearly identifies two elements of the event that were significant:

1 - An unambiguous perception of Divine speech by an entire nation which served as the basis for a covenant

2 - The fact that this was the culmination of the national founding event of the Exodus; in other words, it was politically revolutionary in nature.

Your comparison between the Aztecs and Jews with regard to "not knowing who spoke" is somewhat disingenuous. The Aztecs explicitly attribute the voice to their idol with no evidence - they hear a voice coming out of nowhere and believe it to be divine. The voice simply reinforces preexistent pagan beliefs.

The Torah, on the other hand, describes a convergence of details that indicate the divine source of the voice - the smoke, lightning and thunder - and emphasizes the invisibility of God to preclude the tendency toward idol worship altogether.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"First of all, the text is ambiguous as to whether the entire nation heard the gods speaking simultaneously. It says "the Aztecs" - this could mean some of them, or through interpreters."

"And the god called out to them [the Mexicans], he said to them,
'O Mexicans, it shall be here!'"

I think it's pretty clear. It could mean other things since it is written matter of factly and not in legalese, but the text is straightforward.

And anyway, the text here is also describing a very crucial formative event in their national history. The miraculous discovery and foundation of their city. They came to their promised land.

It's true that the divine speech is less important in this myth compared to the prophecy fulfillment and miraculous sight, but it's still there. And they here too are descibing an event that would be wonderous and unusual.

But, in any case, the stories need not be identical - I never claimed them to be. The point is specifically targetting the kiruv claim that no other nation even claimed to experience a national revelatory event. I think this story takes care of that assertion.

Orthoprax said...

RJM, further,

"In other words, the Torah is operating within a rational, non-mythological world in which these occurrences don't happen every day. This gives the report credibility."

What?! Have you ever read the Torah? National revelation doesn't happen every day in the Torah, but miracles are a multi-daily occurrence in the Torah's stories.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Miracles occur in the Torah but with the constant tacit awareness that they are miracles, i.e., deviations from the norm, and intended to teach the nation ideas they will carry with them into "normal" life in the land of Israel. This is very different than the stories of other ancient peoples that liberally mix natural and miraculous occurrences in mythological style.

I am not interested in the particular forms of kiruv arguments out there. I am interested in whether the total picture presented by the Exodus/Sinai tradition is compelling or not.

Fables about primitives who consider it totally natural for animals and idols to talk to them, and who are merely confirming preexistent beliefs via their myths, cannot be meaningfully compared to the Torah's description of a nation that is gradually weaned from primitivism through Divine intervention that contradicts preexistent, and very prevalent, idolatrous beliefs.

If the Aztecs had a tradition about a god miraculously communicating with them in a shocking, unexpected way, and teaching them a completely new way of life and system of values, and they held onto this tradition as the very foundation of their identity and basis for their core beliefs, we'd have a comparison.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Miracles occur in the Torah but with the constant tacit awareness that they are miracles, i.e., deviations from the norm, and intended to teach the nation ideas they will carry with them into "normal" life in the land of Israel."

If you say so. I see talking snakes and giants walking about for no specific reason at all. Also, I'm not sure if we've covered this, but what do you think of history with respect to the story of Noah, Tower of Babel and the like?

Seems to me that they were mythic stories designed by higher-minded ancient people with the intent of passing along some moral or theological message. Is it any leap at all to see that the Sinai story is on that same level? Why can't it be?

That other nations were less high minded in their stories really doesn't justify the view that Israelite stories must be divinely sourced.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

There is a big difference between early Beresheet stories, which are the "prehistory" that puts the essential historical narrative into theological/moral perspective and whose historicity is irrelevant to their purpose, and the core of the historical traditions of the nation itself upon which the whole system of mitsvot and obligations rests.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

Perhaps so, but you didn't answer my question.

Anonymous said...

"There is a big difference between early Beresheet stories, which are the 'prehistory' that puts the essential historical narrative into theological/moral perspective and whose historicity is irrelevant to their purpose..."

Wow! So, RJM, is it possible that the "early Beresheet stories" are simply false? If so, does that mean that they: 1) are not given by God; or 2) were given by God merely as instructive fables? In either case, since the Torah doesn't seem to draw any sharp lines between the "true" stuff and the "fable" stuff, wouldn't it be reasonable to be skeptical about all of it?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The Torah is primarily a document that embodies the covenant between the nation of Israel and God. The events of Exodus, Sinai and Sojourn were the formative elements of history that solidified that covenant and it was in that context, and from that perspective, that the Torah was written.

Everything in Sefer Beresheet is historical and theological "background" for the subsequent four books of the Torah. Because it is mainly designed to provide a foundation for understanding the purpose of the Exodus, the objective of the laws, etc., its historical precision is of no moment whatsoever. I think that is obvious to anyone who reflects upon the Torah's organization and intention.

By contrast, the essential historical content of the Torah - the events that occurred to the actual recepients of the Torah - are intended factually and literally. It is these occurrences that are revisited by the prophets time and time again in their rebukes of the nation.

So, to summarize - events that comprise the actual content and experiential basis for the Torah system are clearly historical, whereas stories that serve the purpose of background, although their themes and principles are true, may not be historically accurate in the literal sense.

The reason for this distinction is obvious enough that there is no cause for concern about a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

RJM--

That's intriguing, but a bit too slick for me. If the historical accuracy of Genesis may legitimately be doubted, then the persons listed as (say) Abraham's ancestors may never have existed. Given the basic genetic principle that if an individual's parents never had children, chances are that he won't either, it's reasonable to doubt whether Abraham existed. Would you go that far?

Moreover, I think your claim that "it is obvious to anyone who reflects on the Torah's organization" that the veracity of the first part has no bearing on the credibility of the remainder is a bit hard to swallow; call me thick if you will, but it's not obvious to me. No Torah scroll I've ever seen includes any chapter headings-- I would think it a reasonable conclusion from that fact that the author/editor intended for the audience to receive His/his work as a unified whole. Given this, if I hear from an expert on this text that the first part is a lie, I can't see why I wouldn't greet the rest of it with a bit of skepticism. After all-- the author/editor has begun His/his relationship with me by lying. That usually raises a serious red flag in a relationship for me.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"So, to summarize - events that comprise the actual content and experiential basis for the Torah system are clearly historical, whereas stories that serve the purpose of background, although their themes and principles are true, may not be historically accurate in the literal sense."

Clearly.

Can I get a list here? Mabul - myth? Babel - myth? Akeidah? Joseph's dreams? Burning Bush? Ten plagues? Sinai? Manna? Joshua's sun stopping? Elijah's resurrection? Elisha's bear summoning?

Why do you presume there's some specific cut off that was intended by the Torah's author(s) between background 'myth' and pedagogical 'history'? As far as I can tell, it was all meant to be accepted in basically the same light. The religious system may find some stories more sensitive and foundational than others but that doesn't mean that they are any more historical.

You might as well be saying that the various miracles of Muhammed are myths. He didn't literally fly to heaven or split the moon, but what is surely historical is the fact that the angel spoke to him all the words of the Koran. The distinction is obvious.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

I can't express myself any more clearly than I already have.

The essence of Torah is Law - the principles of living (mitsvot) and theological foundation of our religion.

All of the stories that are contained in the Torah serve to teach us lessons. But there is a difference between stories that portray the actual experiences of the Israelites as recorded in the Torah - experiences that formed the basis of the national covenant itself - and prehistory designed to explain the condition of mankind and the cultural precursors to Matan Torah. The latter were never experienced directly by the Jews - they are presented for educational purposes only, and may be formulated in a non-historical manner if that is more efficient and illuminating than the alternative.

Think of the difference between the story of the American revolution and the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. One is an historical reality that accounts for our origins and the nature of our political system. The other is a tale designed to illustrate the value of honesty we hope to find in our leaders - whether true or false factually, it doesn't matter.

The stories about Avraham Avinu and the Avot, which recount the evolution of their covenant with God, also need to be taken literally for the same reason that Exodus and Sinai do.

Yes, there is a difference between Mohammed's personal, miraculous experiences and his teachings. The two can be evaluated independently of one another, and I believe they should be.

Of course, there was no national revelation to the Arabs, so Mohammed's prophetic abilities are far from "historical fact". What makes the Exodus and Sinai narratives compelling is that they describe the national history of a people. They are not personal testimonials, nor do they reinforce or glorify preconceived religious ideas.

Anonymous said...

"Think of the difference between the story of the American revolution and the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. One is an historical reality that accounts for our origins and the nature of our political system. The other is a tale designed to illustrate the value of honesty we hope to find in our leaders..."

Funny how one never finds the cherry tree story presented as fact in serious texts about the Revolution. If one did, I suspect it might color one's perceptions of the rest of the text...


"The stories about Avraham Avinu and the Avot, which recount the evolution of their covenant with God, also need to be taken literally for the same reason that Exodus and Sinai do..."

You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too. Are you saying that 600,000 Jewish men witnessed the akeida? Where do the fables stop and the facts start? Last time around, you seemed to be saying that the dividing line was between Genesis and Exodus. Now it's somewhere else. Is this some kind of new Documentary Hypothesis?

Sorry, RJM, but I think your argument is coming apart at the seams.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous, to be honest, I am not really sure what you're talking about.

The Torah is not a history text book, so of course it contains descriptions of events that probably wouldn't be found in an historical text, as well as omitting many things that would be found in one.

The example about the cherry tree story was not a precise analogy. I was trying to illustrate a point about different kinds of stories and their roles in our culture. Some are significant from the historical vantage point, others only from the moral or philosophical perspective. Some, like the Exodus and Sinai, incorporate all three elements.

Let me restate my position one more time. I did not draw any "dividing line" separating fact from fiction in the Torah.

What I did was distinguish between the experiences of the Israelites themselves as recorded in the Torah and pre-Israelite background which is not the essential focus of the Torah's narrative.

I include the stories of the Avot under the heading of "experiences of the Israelites", because the experiences of the later Israelites are incomprehensible outside of the context of the covenant with the Avot. This has nothing to do with how many people witnessed the Aqeda. Let me explain why.

The Exodus and Sinai events were witnessed/experienced by an entire nation. The narratives describing them are clearly historical in nature.

These collective experiences established the veracity of the Torah in general, because they validated the prophecy of Moshe.

Once we have the product of Moshe's communally validated revelation - the Torah - we have a basis for accepting its content as true.

Truth can, but doesn't always, imply historical literalism. In some cases, such as the stories of the Avot, there is ample reason to believe we are dealing with factual history, even though we didn't witness them directly, because we trust the text and there is no basis for assuming otherwise. In fact, it is pretty much impossible to understand later Israelite history unless we presuppose that the Avot lived and forged a relationship with the God who would later redeem their descendants.

However, as we move into the "prehistoric" epochs of Torah history, matters are not as self evident. Here we have to use common sense, differentiate metaphor from fact and so on.

Again, our basis for believing that the Torah is true is the national revelation we received in support of Moshe's prophecy. The actual historical events surrounding these experiences, and the experiences of the Avot that formed the foundation for these experiences, were obviously real.

Baal Habos said...

Orthoprax,

Did you realize that the Gematria of Huitzilopochtli is Yahweh?

Just kidding.

You seemed to rebut the nuances of Gottliebs proof but then once you have the rebuttal in place along comes someone and adds another non-difference. Over all, very nicely done. Maybe you should polish it as a thorough rebuttal for posting in Talkreason?

Anonymous said...

RJM,
Can you explain, if it is true that god wrote the torah, couldn't he have used factual historical events to establish a theological "background"? I can't see how the essence of truth would fib for any reason.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

Is Plato's metaphor of the Cave "true" or is he "fibbing"?

Can poetry "ring true"? What about Aesop's fables? Are they lies, or creative ways of teaching concepts?

Tanach is a book of prophetic themes and messages, not history. This is particularly true of the beginning of Beresheet which is designed to provide us with insight into profound theological issues like the nature of our world and of humanity. A simple recounting of material details of the Creation or historical occurrences at the dawn of time would not accomplish this purpose. If the content is to be meaningful and educational, such subjects are best approached via the medium of mashal and metaphor.

In the final analysis it is the themes and principles communicated by the prophet, and not the historical trivia, that are the "truths" being conveyed.

Anonymous said...

"Truth can, but doesn't always, imply historical literalism."

Again, call me thick, but that sounds a great deal like "true and factually accurate are not the same thing." If there was no flood that covered the earth and destroyed all land critters except the ones in the ark, then the story of Noah just isn't true. It may (or may not) contain a few nice ideas, but that is another question.


"In some cases, such as the stories of the Avot, there is ample reason to believe we are dealing with factual history, even though we didn't witness them directly, because we trust the text and there is no basis for assuming otherwise."

No, there's plenty of basis for assuming or even concluding otherwise. The dates that the avot would have lived are centuries before the domestication of the camel-- and yet camels and caravans seem part of their experience as set forth in the Torah; some place names mentioned are places that didn't exist at the time of Moses. And frankly, stories about angels visiting people and prophesying babies to 90 year old women aren't all that credible. So now I've got a text that starts off with fables, gives genealogies that link specific people in those fables to the avot, provides details about the lives of the avot that are improbable at best, inconsistent with external evidence and are neither confirmed nor even supported by any other texts. So, why, exactly is this something I should trust?

Anonymous said...

RJM,
1st of all you didn't answer the first part of my question "if it is true that god wrote the torah, couldn't he have used factual historical events ...". If god couldn't have come up with real events to make his points, he could of created those events in the first place.

2nd from creation until Abraham you say is not historically accurate. So are we descendants of Noach and Shaime …? What purpose would there be, to list a false lineage back to creation? And if you decide to say that the lineage is true, are the events that surrounded the names true as well? Are we supposed to pick and choose? how? based on how true they sound? or where it suits us? And your telling me this is gods work?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Again, call me thick, but that sounds a great deal like "true and factually accurate are not the same thing."

So...?

If there was no flood that covered the earth and destroyed all land critters except the ones in the ark, then the story of Noah just isn't true.

Depends what kind of truth you are seeking from a story about the prehistory of mankind and the evolution of man's relationship with God. It also depends what you define as "mankind" and the "entire Earth" - even Hazal debate this in the Midrash - and during what period the events occurred (I am sure there is an historical basis to the narrative). It is much, much more complicated than you are implying here.

It may (or may not) contain a few nice ideas, but that is another question.

Exactly. It just happens to be the main question.

No, there's plenty of basis for assuming or even concluding otherwise. The dates that the avot would have lived are centuries before the domestication of the camel-- and yet camels and caravans seem part of their experience as set forth in the Torah;

Sorry, but that's an outdated error, oft-repeated by amateurs but now known to be false. Read up on more recent literature on the "anachronism" of camels in Genesis.

some place names mentioned are places that didn't exist at the time of Moses.

Again, consult the more recent literature. This is just not true at all. It is based on misinformation.

And frankly, stories about angels visiting people and prophesying babies to 90 year old women aren't all that credible.

And frankly, subjective judgments based upon superficial readings of Biblical stories are not that credible.

So now I've got a text that starts off with fables, gives genealogies that link specific people in those fables to the avot,

Not really. I am sure Noah existed and was a progenitor of Avraham. The only question is how long ago he actually lived, and to what extent the genealogies are summaries.

provides details about the lives of the avot that are improbable at best, inconsistent with external evidence

Not really. You need to do more research.

and are neither confirmed nor even supported by any other texts.

And I should expect the details of an otherwise obscure person who lived 4000 years ago to be confirmed by texts and material evidence from that time period because....?

So, why, exactly is this something I should trust?

Because it was the most revolutionary document of its time, it rejected idolatry, primitivism, mythology, paganism, and magic, replacing it with a rational, scientific view of the world and man's place in it; because it provides a systematic approach to living a well-structured and disciplined life of wisdom, contemplation and transcendence, something with no rival anywhere in the world; and because it forms the basis for all of modern Western culture and morality. How's that for starters?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

1st of all you didn't answer the first part of my question "if it is true that god wrote the torah, couldn't he have used factual historical events ...". If god couldn't have come up with real events to make his points, he could of created those events in the first place.

God doesn't "create events", they occur, especially when they involve human beings and their choices. The presentation of those events in the Torah is formulated with an eye to education, not titilating detail.


2nd from creation until Abraham you say is not historically accurate.

Historically based, theologically interpreted.

So are we descendants of Noach and Shaime …?

Yes.

What purpose would there be, to list a false lineage back to creation?

It is a summary designed to show the transitions that took place in human history. From Adam to the degeneration of Noach's time is one shift. From Noach to Avraham is another major transition. The number 10 characterizes both lists, just as it characterizes the creation process, because the point of the lists is to chart the social and cultural evolution and "creation" of mankind. The intervening generations are skipped because knowledge of these details doesn't have any benefit for us.

And if you decide to say that the lineage is true, are the events that surrounded the names true as well?

I assume they have an historical basis. But when the Torah provides explanations for the place names "Bavel" or "Edom", I have always understood that as a reference to poetic justice. In other words, I don't think people actually nicknamed Esav "Edom" because he liked the red stew; I think that the fact he became known as Edom was a Divinely orchestrated irony in retrospect. Same with Bavel.

Are we supposed to pick and choose? how? based on how true they sound? or where it suits us? And your telling me this is gods work?

Our mesorah tells us to combine Scripture, reason and external sources of knowledge when we interpret Torah. This is how Midrash operates. There you see how liberally Hazal interpreted verses when a conceptual consideration indicated that the literal sense was not intended. We should take that as a general methodological principle ourselves.

Anonymous said...

RJM,
“Because it was the most revolutionary document of its time, it rejected idolatry, primitivism, mythology, paganism, and magic, replacing it with a rational, scientific view of the world and man's place in it; because it provides a systematic approach to living a well-structured and disciplined life of wisdom, contemplation and transcendence, something with no rival anywhere in the world; and because it forms the basis for all of modern Western culture and morality. How's that for starters?”

Just to clarify I am not the same Anonymous.
I would like to review your statement 1 word at a time. You say:
“It rejected idolatry”; to an agnostic rejecting idolatry and introducing Monotheism may not be that revolutionary, since they may both be just as false.
“primitivism”; what are you talking about? Korbanois is not primitive? Selling your daughter as a slave is not primitive? Drilling the slave’s ear …
“mythology”; wouldn’t the pre-historic events that you just may not be factually accurate, be categorized as mythology
“paganism” = “idolatry”
“magic”; only Mosheh’s stick may turn to a snake? What’s that if not magic?
“replacing it with a rational”; what about Chukim?
“scientific”; what science are you referring too?
“world and man's place in it”; every religion will claim this. And the same goes for all your following statements.
For starters or anyone else for that matter I have NOTHING that compels the torahs truthfulness.

Anonymous said...

RJM,
"when a conceptual consideration indicated that the literal sense was not intended"

So Hazal may skew with definition of the words of the torah, when it suits their reasoning, or if it has to match their value system. Since the words don’t make literal sense anyway. The words of the torah don’t have to be factual at least literally. And this all makes sense to you since this is our mesorah!
I think this would be a correct summary of your statement.
If this is correct I have no further questions!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

“It rejected idolatry”; to an agnostic rejecting idolatry and introducing Monotheism may not be that revolutionary, since they may both be just as false.

Except that idolatry imprisoned people in a vision of the world that completely impeded intellectual progress, whereas monotheism predicts a rational world that can be comprehended and is worthy of study and admiration in its own right.

“primitivism”; what are you talking about? Korbanois is not primitive?

Not the way they are presented in the Torah, no. Read Yechezkel Kaufmann's "The Religion of Israel" for a detailed discussion of how the approach to sacrifice in the Torah is essentially a polemic against primitive ideas, such as the magical efficacy of offerings, superstitions, etc.

Selling your daughter as a slave is not primitive?

It is not socially acceptable in most parts of the world today, but by primitive I mean in the sense of belief in animism, magic, astrology, polytheism, etc., etc. And Hazal were against the practice of 'selling' daughters. It is regulated by the Torah, not prescribed.

Drilling the slave’s ear …

Same as above. And again, in order to really appreciate primitivism, you need to examine other cultures from the period of Tanach. It will change your perspective considerably.

“mythology”; wouldn’t the pre-historic events that you just may not be factually accurate, be categorized as mythology

No. Mythology has to do with the lives of the gods and the related drama. Greek mythology is a good example, but the same trends are found in all mythology, world over. Judaism is the only exception in the ancient world - in fact, part of Christianity's appeal was that it reintroduced mythological themes (God has a child with a human woman, man-god identification, ingesting the god's body and blood to commune with him, etc.)

“paganism” = “idolatry”

I think of paganism as broader in scope.

“magic”; only Mosheh’s stick may turn to a snake? What’s that if not magic?

I feel bad for you if you were taught Humash so superficially. Really. The whole point of the showdown between Moshe and the Hartumim is the rejection of magic.

Magicians believed they could thwart the gods by casting spells and otherwise harnessing forces that even the divine beings were beholden to. Moshe came to demonstrate that nature is under God's exclusive mastery, and no other forces can be tapped by man in order to subvert His will. A miracle is the ultimate expression of anti-magic because it shows that nature itself is subject to God's will alone. Unlike magic, miracles are not claimed to be acts of man - they are Divine interventions that surpass man's capacity to imitate.

This is another area that Kaufmann's book explains beautifully, it is a worthwhile read.

“replacing it with a rational”; what about Chukim?

The idea that huqqim are irrational or meta-rational is frumkeit, not Judaism. Nowhere in the Torah does it state that huqqim have no reason; on the contrary, the implicit assumption in the Torah is that the laws have a discernible purpose. In Devarim, the huqqim are called the "wisdom and understanding" of the Jews, and the vast majority of Midrashim and Rishonim offer detailed explanations for the huqqim in their commentaries.


“scientific”; what science are you referring too?

The previously unknown idea that the entire cosmos is a single, unified, comprehensible system governed by rational laws. Even the heavenly bodies are created by God - they have no special powers or influence and cannot be worshipped. This approach to the Universe is the basis of all science.

“world and man's place in it”; every religion will claim this.

Except that in order to evaluate the claims you have to actually examine them. Dismissing my argument this way is like dismissing an evolutionary biologists proofs because a creationist will certainly adduce counterarguments.

The Torah accurately portrays a Universe that is lawful and harmonious in all parts except for the human realm. Each component is described as "good", and the totality as "very good" in God's eyes, before man fouls it up.

The human framework is marked by its creation of artificial, subjectively based standards of "good" and "evil" and an attempt to project itself to center stage in the cosmos, rather than seeking a path that would bring it into line with the wisdom manifest in the rest of Creation. Instead of exploring nature and "naming" animals, thus discovering the beauty of the Divine order, Adam seeks to create his own order and become a god, knowing good and evil.

Mankind proceeds to form societies that adopt emotionally appealing visions of goodness - power, wealth, pleasure, etc. - and then offer a structure in which people compete for the possession of that goodness to varying degrees. This shuts the "big picture" of our position in the grand universe out of our daily lives and awareness.

Isn't this what Beresheet is all about?

The correction of this problem is every tefillah, mizmor tehillim, mention of Yetsiat Mitsrayim, observance of Shabbat, etc., etc.
Look closely, and you'll notice that every piece of Tehillim we read discusses God's creation of the Universe before ever mentioning our place in it.

Obviously this is a summary of a much more involved subject...My point is to encourage you not to be so dismissive of a field of knowledge that is much deeper than you seem to imagine.

jewish philosopher said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, however it doesn't sound as if we know that this mass revelation was universally accepted by the Aztecs as fact. Therefore there is no analogy to the book of Exodus and Jewish tradition. The Exodus and the Sinai revelation were part of Jewish national history.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

So Hazal may skew with definition of the words of the torah, when it suits their reasoning, or if it has to match their value system.

No, Hazal's mesora is that the Torah is rational and consistent. This is the same premise scientists use when they approach the material world. Explanations are expected to harmonize with the facts as well as with logic, experience, etc.

Since the words don’t make literal sense anyway.

There's a big difference between not making sense and not being literal. You seem out of your depth here.

.The words of the torah don’t have to be factual at least literally.

Correct. It is not a history book (not to say that history books are purely factual either.)

And this all makes sense to you since this is our mesorah!

It makes perfect sense. That's why it is our mesora. You are putting the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

Were it not for mesorah you would see for yourself how ridiculous you sound.
When 2 scientific theories clash then one of them becomes invalidated, and usually the stronger one remains standing. When 2 versus of the torah clash, or when a verse just doesn’t make sense you are unable to invalidate it, since it is supposedly god’s word. That’s when you have to come up with the EXCUSE of differentiating between literal and deeper meanings. That is also when you answer that the torah is not a history book, and cannot be relied on historically, even when it does recounts what seems to be HISTORY. Your logic would never fly were in not for your Mesorah.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Poor analogy. You are mixing up data and theory. When data contradict, new and more creative theories are needed to resolve the contradiction. We don't ignore one fact or set of facts out of deference to another.

Similarly, when two verses or principles of Torah appear to contradict one another, we seek a harmonizing theory that removes the problem and provides deeper insight into the subject matter. If you have limited experience studying Torah in depth, it might be harder for you to grasp what this means.

Even Hazal, who were not aware of some of the Torah-science conflicts that we are, still never related the Torah as a history book but as a source of philosophical/theological ideas and legal principles. They were not making excuses for anything. They operated in a way that was consistent with the tradition they inherited from the generations of scholars and prophets that preceded them.

I don't see any point in arguing this further. If you feel more competent to interpret Judaism than Hazal, and you somehow believe that your convictions about the Torah are more authentic than theirs, then there is no reason to discuss these issues with you anyway.

Anonymous said...

Data by definition cannot contradict data. It may contradict a theory that was derived after analyzing data, and of course that theory would have to change in light of the new observed facts. And since you can't prove the truthfulness of the torah, it should not be elevated to the level of factual data. In the best case it should be regarded as a well grounded theory.
I am well versed in the in-depth study of the torah. And to say that Hazal does not treat historical events of the torah as history is simply not true. It is true Hazal claims to operate in a consistent manor supposedly inherited, but many of the rules they claim to operate by are not very logical at all. The fact that they sometimes categorize their distortions in 13 groups does make it sensible or logical. As a matter of fact many of these rules may not even be used without being specifically inherited to be used for that specific instance. Shows you how confident Hazal felt in its logic.
Back to what I said; this low standard of reasoning is only accepted because it’s your Mesorah. Because it is religion, and because it is your religion.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"The stories about Avraham Avinu and the Avot, which recount the evolution of their covenant with God, also need to be taken literally for the same reason that Exodus and Sinai do."

I'm sorry I haven't been interacting much for the last little while, but I've been having some computer trouble.

Anyway, my point though, is clear. The only reason you take those stories as literal while other stories you don't really care either way is because of doctrinal necessity and not because of any real analysis of the history.

You need to believe those stories are historical in order for any ordinary Orthodox construction to make sense. The other stories are simply less critical to that end.

In other words, it's a contrived view and not something that you could ever figure out by simply reading the text.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Orthoprax! you expressed my main issue better then I could have myself.

Anonymous said...

RJM,

Camels or not, I think it's telling that you insist on responses along the lines of "you're out of your depth" or "you need to study more." You either have answers or you don't. Those responses suggest the latter.

The bottom line is that you're arguing for a Torah text that begins as non-factual and gradually works its way into the factual. If God is the author of this text, it seems odd for Him to have blended myth and fact, then presented them as a unified whole in which we, as Jews, are supposed to believe.

I think the problem is that you have grudgingly accepted that some basic parts of the Torah are demonstrably false, and now you're making up rules of interpretation in order to salvage your own faith.

A God who is omniscient and controls everything would hardly need to make up fables when He would be equally capable of using reality to make the same point.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

It is not contrived. Hazal were not Biblical literalists, nor were the Rishonim. The particular interpretations offered in a given generation are the combination of acquired knowledge about the world, sound reasoning and the Torah's content.

The early Beresheet stories have a surreal quality to them that is not found in other chapters of the Book. Even the miracles of the Exodus don't involve mysterious trees, flame-sword wielding angels and talking snakes (Bilaam's donkey is an exception, that is singled out as a miracle or a prophetic vision.)

This quality of early Beresheet was noted centuries ago in Midrashim and other commentaries, and is merely reinforced by our present understanding of history and science.

Anonymous,

Data can contradict data in the sense that the theoretical implications of observations contradict and must be resolved.

The 13 Exegetical principles used by Hazal are not substitutes for logic. They are technical rules for validating particular theoretical positions in the absence of clear proof. A rational sevara must exist before they can be implemented, as the Talmud notes in several places. They authenticate ideas, they don't produce them.

That being said, I have doubts about your proficiency in advanced Talmud study if you are unaware of such basic distinctions.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous 2,

I cited specific sources for you to consult. I didn't dismiss your points without offering an answer; I directed you toward further research.

Your beliefs about what God could, should or would do are irrelevant.

As I said, Hazal were not literalists, nor are we expected to be.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Hazal were not Biblical literalists, nor were the Rishonim."

That's true. But at the same time it's also true that a)they were just as willing to allegorize stuff that you consider "literal history" and b) were quite adamant that the stuff in Bereishit really happened.

You are rather wishy washy about Eden, the Mabul and the Tower of Babel - they weren't.

"The early Beresheet stories have a surreal quality to them that is not found in other chapters of the Book."

I know I asked you this before, but seriously, have you read the Torah? The Exodus and the time in the midbar seems pretty surreal to me.

"Even the miracles of the Exodus don't involve mysterious trees, flame-sword wielding angels and talking snakes"

Yeah, it only has burning bushes, bloody rivers and sticks turning into snakes. But then there are fewer surreal miracles in the Mabul.

All mythologies have their way out there creation stories and then as they progress forward in time the miracles become more rooted in the normal world until they get fainter and fainter until finally the mythology melds into history. This as plainly true for the Aztec myths as it is in Tanach. Compare the Aztec creation myths to their migration myths and you'll see exactly the same relationship as Bereishit to Shemot.

Why doesn't the Exodus read like Ezra and Nechemiah?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

There is a difference between mythology, in which supernatural events are taken in stride as a matter of course, and the accounts in Shemot-Bemidbar, in which miraculous events are clearly distinguished from the norm.

When Bilaam's donkey talks, it is identified as extraordinary. When the bush burns - which I tend to interpret as a prophetic vision anyway, based on the context - it is noted as something unusual.

This is the distinctive feature of the Torah's narrative which is not found in other ancient texts, despite your protests to the contrary!!!

And, as an aside, the Creation story of the Torah is not "way out there". It is exceptionally rational as a description of creation in poetic form. The contrast with other sources of ancient literature is stark.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

And the Rambam did not think the stuff in Beresheet literally happened, nor did many other Rishonim, and they adduce Midrashim that support their views. It is, incidentally, not at all clear from the Moreh that the Rambam believed that the Mabul was literally true.

Xvi said...

RJM,

Even if all that you say is true, you're creating a slippery slope that your own theories do not necessarily resist. When you use words like "poetic" to describe the glamourized telling of the creation, as a way of putting in contrast to beliefs of other religions you are placing yourself in a precarious position where you rely on your own personal interpretations to dictate what is reasonable or not. What you call poetic, I simply see as equally surreal to the genesis story of the Aztecs, or any other religion at that.

Semantics and subjectivity cannot be a basis of distinguishment in these situations. The question then remains: what can be an acceptable way of determining which stories in the Torah are factual and which are mythological? Without any method, the entire text is cast in the shadow of historical doubt.

Additionally, all things aside, this does not counter the initial claim that there is now another claim of a large group of people witnessing a mass revelation. We have strayed from that initial point, but it still seems to be the most important one.

Anonymous said...

"Data can contradict data in the sense that the theoretical implications of observations contradict and must be resolved."

So you are agreeing with me. Plus you didn't answer the second part of the same paragraph. so my analogy is correct, and this whole non literal in depth plane is just an excuse. because you have no other way to resolve contradictions as I wrote before.

“The 13 Exegetical principles used by Hazal are not substitutes for logic. They are technical rules for validating particular theoretical positions in the absence of clear proof. A rational sevara must exist before they can be implemented, as the Talmud notes in several places. They authenticate ideas, they don't produce them.”

So you are saying non logically based rules are used to authenticate theoretical positions, that is disturbing to me as well, your distinction does not help your point in any way. And these sevara’s you are talking about, aren’t they the result of Hazals Value system. A persons reasoning is usually the result of his life experience and value system. (The standard response to this is that they had Daas Torah)

Since your Dakesdikah chilukim don’t enhance your argument. I am not surprised that you had to resort to: “I have doubts about your proficiency in advanced Talmud study”. That statement doesn’t enhance your argument as well, and I don’t need you to confirm my proficiency.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"There is a difference between mythology, in which supernatural events are taken in stride as a matter of course, and the accounts in Shemot-Bemidbar, in which miraculous events are clearly distinguished from the norm."

No there isn't. The Aztecs are just as amazed when they see miracles and prophecies revealed as the Israelites are. And, in any case, there are numerous instances throughout Shmot-Bamidbar where the incredible happens without any discussion. Do I need to draw a list?

"And, as an aside, the Creation story of the Torah is not "way out there". It is exceptionally rational as a description of creation in poetic form."

Now you want to eat your cake and keep it too. You just called it surreal - now you want to call it "exceptionally rational." I'd love to hear how the stories of the Garden of Eden are exceptionally rational.

"And the Rambam did not think the stuff in Beresheet literally happened, nor did many other Rishonim, and they adduce Midrashim that support their views."

You're being sneaky with your choice of words. Do you mean "Beresheet" the story of creation? Or Beresheet - i.e. the whole book of Genesis? I have no doubt that virtually all Rishonim and Chazal understood the stories of the Book of Genesis to have been literal history.

Furthermore, using the Rambam as representative of the Rishonim as a general group is just misleading.

Anonymous said...

RJM,
Sorry for going backwards, but this point has to be made.
You wrote:
“Can poetry "ring true"? What about Aesop's fables? Are they lies, or creative
ways of teaching concepts?”

I once heard a beautiful pshat explaining the following. It is known that
the gemorah makes many gizmaos (exaggerations) especially when
discussing agadetah. The question is obvious, how are these exaggerations
not lies? The stories are obviously not true, especially the details.
So he answered the following. A lie is when the person hearing it is deceived
into believing it, and thinks it is true. A permitted exaggeration is when the
story is so obviously outrageous, that everyone knows that it is an
exaggeration, no one is being deceived in the process.

People know when listening to poetry that it need be taken with a grain of salt,
that’s how poetry operates. And I can’t find anyone that believed that “The
Tortoise and the Hare” actually occurred.
But when it comes to the Torah, and the stories of bereishis; all of us
here were led to believe that it were true. The way it is told and read is the
same way as when the laws and other events are told. The reader is being
deceived (at least that seems to be the writers intent). All of us here reading
this blog, that went to yeshivos, were taught by our rabbis. that these
stories occurred the way they are told (and that of course there are hecher
zachin
(higher spiritual things) involved here, but that does not change the
actual events). according to you we were being deceived, we were being lied to
by our rabbis and through the torah.
 

Anonymous said...

RJM,

Your silence is deafening.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I just haven't had the time to comment on blogs, and the time I have had has been spent elsewhere the past couple of weeks...It's funny how some people interpret silence in the blogosphere. Always looking to declare victory.

To be honest, I just felt that there were so many basic misconceptions and hidden premises on the other side of this discussion, that it was too laborious to respond.

I know you will label that as a form of surrender and congratulate yourself. It isn't.

I have no problem with skeptics who raise questions and have doubts. What I have a problem with is skeptics who believe they have all the answers, that they know more than the greatest scholars of our tradition and can outsmart any and every contemporary rabbi, because we are all vapid fundamentalists who have never critically assessed our own convictions.

This attitude is what turns me off.

Anonymous said...

The concept of Shtikah kehodua (silence is like admittance) was not invented by me.
It is obvious that since you made points in this PUBLIC blog, and you attempted to respond to your critics up to this point,
your failure to respond now may be interpreted as: your inability to adequately respond to the troublesome questions.
Since we are dealing with issues of belief in the Torah you are obligated to make sure that that the above interpretation does not occur.
The fact that it is laborious, does not exempt you from allowing a chilul hashem to take place.
Therefore the only explanation here, is that you cannot adequately respond to the questions.
Stating that this is not a form of surrender does not convince anybody.

you wrote:
"What I have a problem with is skeptics who believe they have all the answers, that they know more than the greatest scholars of our tradition and can outsmart any and every contemporary rabbi, because we are all vapid fundamentalists who have never critically assessed our own convictions.
This attitude is what turns me off."
I see this as total nonsense. This is just the bitter blabber of a loser.
All the arguments were thoughtfully posed, and critically constructed.
The attitude expressded in these arguments are no different from those in your arguments, and in the arguments posed before it became "laborious to respond".

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I am not sure which Anonymous you are, and which questions you feel have been left unanswered.

What I observe is a very literalist and simplistic attitude toward Tanach and the writings of the Rabbis. This of course leads to misunderstanding and distortion.

It is important to distinguish between the specific statements of the Rabbis and the general methods utilized by the Rabbis. I see no reason to assume that the Rabbis of the Talmud didn't believe in a global flood. They probably did believe in one, and probably took many other elements in Beresheet literally that we would not.

But this doesn't impugn the authenticity of their tradition, because the tradition was the method they used to study and apply the Torah, not the particular conclusions they reached. They taught us to interpret the text through the lens of rational thought and worldly knowledge, as they did in their time. In this sense their tradition is eternally valid.

Now of course you may bring up halachic principles, and ask whether we may change these as well. The answer is - it depends. With a Sanhedrin in place, the approach to interpretation of Oral Torah would be much more flexible and fluid, and changes would undoubtedly take place in the application of the law to specific cases. But this doesn't undermine the rabbinic tradition one iota, because the tradition deals with a broad methodology and general legal principles. This method and these principles will perforce yield different results when they are applied to different circumstances. Now that we know more about animal physiology, for example, some of the rulings on terefot might change, even though the general principles underlying the laws of terefot would stay constant.

Most of the challenges raised against the mesorah emerge from an inability to differentiate the eternal, conceptual, methodological elements of the tradition from the concrete elements that are subject to a certain degree of change and evolution over time.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"They taught us to interpret the text through the lens of rational thought and worldly knowledge, as they did in their time. In this sense their tradition is eternally valid."

Except that you limit such interpretation from those theologically sensitive areas which must be taken literally.

You are being overgenerous in what that rabbinic interpretive tradition permitted in some cases but sticking to the hard line on others. And you do so _not_ based on rational thought or worldy knowledge, but because of the consequences that such interpretations will have on the Orthodox theology and the status quo.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

You are always seeking to demonstrate that my distinctions are forced or disingenuous, but this is not the case.

Legal interpretation and midrashic interpretation are different animals, as has been noted by Rabbis for thousands of years already. Halacha establishes behavioral and ethical norms, and maintaining its consistency and integrity demands a system of Sanhedrin, Baale Mesora, etc.

Torah stories, on the other hand, are primarily designed to teach us lessons in theology and/or morality, areas that are far less clearly delineated in our tradition to begin with. There is no Sanhedrin vote on philosophical questions, nor is there any final ruling on Midrash, ever.

So liberality in interpretation of stories is fully consistent with Rabbinic tradition, while interpretation of halacha - because of its practical implications - must be conducted within the framework of the legal system and its parameters.

The same is true in any free society - purely intellectual academic discussion is not regulated carefully, but legal rulings must take precedent and other bureaucratic issues into account before they are passed.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

And if you are not talking about halacha, but are referring to, say, Yetsiat Mitsrayim - as far as I am concerned, there is no basis for questioning the historical tradition of the Jewish people anyway, so why should I reinterpret these events for no reason?

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"And if you are not talking about halacha, but are referring to, say, Yetsiat Mitsrayim..."

Correct. I am not referring to Halachic issues at all, though they are, of course, relevant.

"...as far as I am concerned, there is no basis for questioning the historical tradition of the Jewish people anyway, so why should I reinterpret these events for no reason?"

No reason? Oh, ok. If you say so. But if I have a reason is it ok if I reinterpret? Is it ok if anyone reinterprets?

Frankly, I'd be much more comfortable with the story if it involved a couple of orders of magnitude fewer people. Is it alright if I so reinterpret? Based on traditional rabbinic interpretive methodology, of course.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

I don't think I would condemn someone who claimed that the YTM numbers signify something other than they seem to signify on the surface - like that elef doesn't mean a thousand, for example. This really makes no difference as far as I am concerned, and, in fact, there are many other cases I can think of in which the Rabbis propose similar kinds of Midrashic interpretations.

However, I am extremely skeptical of the data being used to discredit the literal account, and I personally find it difficult to sustain one of these "alternative" readings, so I do not move in that direction myself.

The Torah represents a Jewish population in Egypt that is persecuted precisely because it has grown larger than its host population, which is hard to square with a smaller number of Jews.

I also see a trend developing among "enlightened" MOs in which whatever appears unusual in the Torah or doesn't immediately jive with the current conclusions of "sciences" like archaeology is quickly reinterpreted or rejected.

This is hasty and displays a lack of historical consciousness. Social sciences are far from rigorous and, in the not-so-distant past, their conclusions have been overturned and/or radically transformed in light of further research.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"However, I am extremely skeptical of the data being used to discredit the literal account, and I personally find it difficult to sustain one of these "alternative" readings, so I do not move in that direction myself."

That's exactly what Haredim would say about your "alternative" readings of whatever else in Bereishit you allegorize.

And you, just like me in this situation, stand rather helplessly to defend the perspective that taking it literally is untenable in the face of modern scholarship.

"The Torah represents a Jewish population in Egypt that is persecuted precisely because it has grown larger than its host population, which is hard to square with a smaller number of Jews."

No, it's easy to square if that, in fact, was not the reason for the persecution. But I digress.

"I don't think I would condemn someone who claimed that the YTM numbers signify something other than they seem to signify on the surface - like that elef doesn't mean a thousand, for example."

Anyway, that's mighty generous of you and far more than your average Haredi would do. But, now, what would you say to someone who wanted to almost completely allegorize it similarly to what you've done to the story of the Mabul? Or even if not go that far, but keep the basic story that a relatively small group of Israelites were slaves in Egypt and escaped under the cover of some natural disaster - the rest being allegory.

Why can't we allegorize it like that? Where is the traditional rabbinic interpretive method that says only to this line and no further?

Kylopod said...

"Why can't we allegorize it like that? Where is the traditional rabbinic interpretive method that says only to this line and no further?"

Beware of the fallacy of the heap, the idea that if you have trouble determining where to draw the line, there must be no distinction.

Orthoprax said...

Kylopod,

That's not my point. I do believe that there is a traditional line (more or less) and it begins far before the place where RJM has taken it.

RJM's line is _not_ based on classical rabbinic interpretations but simply out of concern for Orthodox doctrinal integrity.

Anonymous said...

RJM,

"Now of course you may bring up halachic principles, and ask whether we may change these as well. The answer is - it depends. With a Sanhedrin in place, the approach to interpretation of Oral Torah would be much more flexible and fluid, and changes would undoubtedly take place in the application of the law to specific cases. But this doesn't undermine the rabbinic tradition one iota, because the tradition deals with a broad methodology and general legal principles. This method and these principles will perforce yield different results when they are applied to different circumstances. Now that we know more about animal physiology, for example, some of the rulings on terefot might change, even though the general principles underlying the laws of terefot would stay constant."

The difference between your point of view and that of the reform (original Hascala). is only that you need a Sanhedrin to advance with the times, and current way of thinking, they didn't need it.

Now according to your previous statement the reform position makes much more sense. you wrote.

"They taught us to interpret the text through the lens of rational thought and worldly knowledge, as they did in their time. In this sense their tradition is eternally valid."
In other words according to you: the main eternal part of our tradition is how common sense is applied to the Torah. the actual conclusion are not as important ( since "the tradition was the method they used to study and apply the Torah, not the particular conclusions they reached").

So according to you the eternal part of our tradition is put on hold for 2000 years (more than 1/2 the time since Matan Torah) because we don't have a Sanhedrin.
how is it possible that a technical issue like that would be allowed to hinder our eternal traditional observance? looks to me like the reform got it right!

Kylopod said...

"That's not my point. I do believe that there is a traditional line (more or less) and it begins far before the place where RJM has taken it."

It's no more radical than the views of Rambam were relative to his time.

Orthoprax said...

Kylopod,

"It's no more radical than the views of Rambam were relative to his time."

Yeah, that's not the point at all.

Kylopod said...

What is the point then?

Orthoprax said...

That he claims to be guided by the traditional methodology of rabbinic interpretation when, in fact, that isn't what's directing his (re)interpretive limits at all.

His limits of interpretation are bound, rather specifically, from those areas which are most sensitive to doctrinal integrity. His sacred cows are those stories which Orthodoxy seemingly rests on, not with which modern scholarship has no issue.

Kylopod said...

That still doesn't sound very different from what Rambam did. Traditional rabbinic interpretations have often exercised considerable latitude within certain doctrinal boundaries. They cannot accept any truth claim coming from secular scholarship. But there is one fundamental distinction between the truth claims which challenge Genesis, and those which challenge Exodus: the former is much more rooted in science, the latter much more in history, which carries weaker evidentiary weight.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

I disagree with your assessments here.

Physics, geology, etc., demonstrate conclusively that the Earth is far older than 6-10,000 yrs, and that a global flood never occurred. So we utilize the method of Midrash, with ample precedent, to explain the passages as either partially or wholly allegorical. The Rabbis of the Talmud would have done the same.

By contrast, the stories of the Avot and YTM are not disproven in any way, shape or form by scientific research. They are called into question by the speculations and conjectures of historians and archaeologists whose opinions in all areas - including non-Biblical fields - should be evaluated critically and skeptically because of their tenuous nature.

It is totally reasonable to uphold our unanimous historical tradition over and against the speculations of historians thousands of years after the events in question. To accept the views of archaeologists instead of the beliefs held by the entire population of the Israelites over centuries - attested to in various biblical books written at different times by different authors - seems unsound to me.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Just to clarify - believing in the historical tradition of YTM is NOT the same as believing in a literal six-day creation or global flood, because the latter events were not claimed to be witnessed by the Nation of Israel, nor were they part of the historical chronicles of the Jewish people. They are the background to the Jewish story, revealed to Am Yisrael at Sinai but not experienced directly by them.

Orthoprax said...

Kylopod,

RJM's limits have little in common with the methodology of the Rambam, except perhaps that they both, in a sense, push the envelope on Orthodoxy through reinterpretation. We don't know what the Rambam would have done with Exodus if he was alive today and knew modern secular scholarship. Perhaps he would have seen the writing on the wall and would be comfortable reading it allegorically too, but there is no distinction for the evidentiary weight of specialties anywhere in the rabbinic tradition for reinterpretating Torah.

"But there is one fundamental distinction between the truth claims which challenge Genesis, and those which challenge Exodus: the former is much more rooted in science, the latter much more in history, which carries weaker evidentiary weight."

I get that as RJM's personal analysis - but that has little to do with traditional rabbinic interpretations. He's following his own path - which, incidentally, I have no problem with as a matter of course. It is only his claim to being guided by tradition which is not his guide at all. It is a cover.


RJM,

"By contrast, the stories of the Avot and YTM are not disproven in any way, shape or form by scientific research....It is totally reasonable to uphold our unanimous historical tradition over and against the speculations of historians thousands of years after the events in question. To accept the views of archaeologists instead of the beliefs held by the entire population of the Israelites over centuries - attested to in various biblical books written at different times by different authors - seems unsound to me."

That's your prerogative but did Sarah really give birth at ninety? Did Lot's wife really turn to salt? Did Issac really live until the age of 180? Did Jacob really wrestle with a divine being?

In what planet is it reasonable to assume those tales are literal truth just because they were popularly accepted by an ancient people until modern day? Your argument is bunk.

It is because you believe the Torah is divine truth that you give those stories credence - not because of any critical or uncritical research. It is a self-serving circular conclusion too because the only way you can believe the Torah is divine is (for some reason) if those stories are literally true.

You are protecting Orthodoxy - not intellectual integrity.


I would like to add too that you didn't answer my previous question. See above: "Why can't we allegorize it like that? Where is the traditional rabbinic interpretive method that says only to this line and no further?"

avrum68 said...

"It is because you believe the Torah is divine truth that you give those stories credence - not because of any critical or uncritical research."

Or is it possible that you don't have a poetic bone in your body. A lover tells his beloved: "I love you more than the mountains and sea combined". Does the beloved measure the mountains, and the sea...compute the distance it would take for her lover to travel these areas, and if possible, say: "Thanks for that compliment. It's both reliable, and possible".

Scary, scary world we live when everything is "evidence based", and decisions are made on that precedent. Actually, not so scary if you prefer computers to people.

Orthoprax said...

Avrum,

Thanks for the non sequitur. I'm willing to accept it allegorically. It is the others who insist on it being literal. And since they are then I'm going to call them on it.

"Scary, scary world we live when everything is "evidence based""

Tell it to your doctor.

avrum68 said...

"Tell it to your doctor"

I'm married to one ;) Though she's religious, so I guess she's one of the "delusional" ones.

I don't remember RJM claiming things happened literally.

As a side note, I've read a few postings on your blog. My experience with observant parent's who are living two lives is that the kids pick up on it. Which is why we turn to kids in family therapy setting to guage what's working, and what's not in families. My point, your kids may abandon Judaism anyway. It's a touch life you lead, I don't envy you. Good luck.

Orthoprax said...

Avrum,

"I'm married to one ;) Though she's religious, so I guess she's one of the "delusional" ones."

That depends. I'm religious too. So are the Hare Krishna. It's an open term. Some are just more off their rocker than others.

"I don't remember RJM claiming things happened literally."

Scroll up.

RJM: 'The stories about Avraham Avinu and the Avot, which recount the evolution of their covenant with God, also need to be taken literally for the same reason that Exodus and Sinai do.'

and: 'In some cases, such as the stories of the Avot, there is ample reason to believe we are dealing with factual history, even though we didn't witness them directly, because we trust the text and there is no basis for assuming otherwise.'

"My point, your kids may abandon Judaism anyway."

So might yours. It's not like there's an innoculation.

For the record though, I'm not really living two lives. I'm just selective with whom I share my thoughts.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

You keep misunderstanding me. Speaking about the stories in Beresheet, you wrote:

In what planet is it reasonable to assume those tales are literal truth just because they were popularly accepted by an ancient people until modern day?

This is a strawman, pure and simple. What I said was that the historical events that occurred on a national level should be treated as history. This validates the Torah as a document and leads us to regard its words as true, but not necessarily literal in every respect. So again, the basis for belief is YTM, the content of the belief includes the Torah in general.

Your argument is bunk.

More like, "my persistent misunderstanding of your argument is bunk."

It is because you believe the Torah is divine truth that you give those stories credence

Correct.....

- not because of any critical or uncritical research.

Not research, but clear, unambiguous, national historical tradition as to its origin.

It is a self-serving circular conclusion too because the only way you can believe the Torah is divine is (for some reason) if those stories are literally true.

I don't "need" to believe that YTM is true. I believe that its occurrence is as well-established as any other historical fact. Everything else follows from there.

You are protecting Orthodoxy - not intellectual integrity.

I disagree, sorry.

I would like to add too that you didn't answer my previous question. See above: "Why can't we allegorize it like that? Where is the traditional rabbinic interpretive method that says only to this line and no further?"

As I have attempted to explain numerous times, apparently unsuccessfully, is that the Rabbis do not provide a "line in the sand" where allegorical readings must stop. What they teach is a methodology, one of the tools of which is allegorical reading and interpretation, used whenever deemed appropriate by the sechel.

I think it is irrational to doubt that YTM, Revelation, Sojourn, etc. actually happened. I further believe that - unlike chapters 1-11 in Beresheet - these national-historical parts of Tanach are most reasonably read as literal accounts rather than symbolically embellished narratives.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"This is a strawman, pure and simple. What I said was that the historical events that occurred on a national level should be treated as history."

No. You clearly included the stories of the Patriarchs as literal history in your argument. Read your post. Maybe that's not what you meant, but I'm not a mind reader.

You spoke about 'the stories of the Avot and YTM' and 'our unanimous historical tradition.' There's nothing there about 'events that occurred on a national level.' So don't call me a strawman when you were just being ambiguous.

"This validates the Torah as a document and leads us to regard its words as true, but not necessarily literal in every respect."

Now you're just squirming. Nu? Did Lot's wife turn to salt or not?

That's literal, but the dry geneological list from Adam to Noah is allegory....for something.

"I don't "need" to believe that YTM is true. I believe that its occurrence is as well-established as any other historical fact."

Sure you do. But frankly, I believe you'd have preferred it if the Torah's account included a few less miracles. It's about as well established as the Aztec's migration history. Or the Trojan War.

"What they teach is a methodology, one of the tools of which is allegorical reading and interpretation, used whenever deemed appropriate by the sechel."

Ok great. But you didn't answer the larger question which that question was only referring to. What do you do with someone who finds his sechel has deemed that what you consider to be literal history did not occur as such? And so he reinterprets the Exodus the way you interpret the Mabul.

You don't have to agree with him, but apparently, since there's no line in the sand, he's just as well supported by your assumed rabbinic tradition as you are.

avrum68 said...

"I think it is irrational to doubt that YTM, Revelation, Sojourn, etc. actually happened. I further believe that - unlike chapters 1-11 in Beresheet - these national-historical parts of Tanach are most reasonably read as literal accounts rather than symbolically embellished narratives."

A nice summary of how I regard our tradition. Not so different from a married couple of 65 years claiming they lived in this country and that, and then the wife turns to her husband and states: "But in our third year of marriage, you were stubborn like a rock". It's quite clear there's some history, metaphor, and subjective perspective going on. All true? Well, one can agree that the marriage as well as the length of the relationship is historically true. Was the husband actually a "rock"? Was he actually stubborn? Who knows?

What impresses me about RJM is his ability to decipher between moral lesson, history and metaphor. If nothing else, I'd like to thank Orthoprax, and his blog, for introducing me to his writings. Moreover, what an opportunity to observe a rabbi grilled from all sides, yet stay in the ring and spar.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

No. You clearly included the stories of the Patriarchs as literal history in your argument. Read your post. Maybe that's not what you meant, but I'm not a mind reader.

OK, fine, but now you see what I am arguing.

You spoke about 'the stories of the Avot and YTM' and 'our unanimous historical tradition.' There's nothing there about 'events that occurred on a national level.' So don't call me a strawman when you were just being ambiguous.

Sorry if I was overzealous in my language. I probably could have been clearer in expressing my view.

Now you're just squirming. Nu? Did Lot's wife turn to salt or not?

Why do you see me as squirming? I am operating with a consistent methodology which, by its very nature, acknowledges gray areas and the potential for multiple interpretations, sometimes literal, sometimes allegorical.

Lot's wife may have been hit by sulfur that descended upon her from the sky. Or the entire narrative may be a prophetic vision designed to explain to Avraham or to Lot how and why the city was destroyed and only a handful of people (i.e., Lot and his daughters) were fortunate enough to esacpe.

That's literal, but the dry geneological list from Adam to Noah is allegory....for something.

I don't look at the genealogies as allegories. I just think they are summaries of "ten" to reflect the concept of transition, as opposed to exhaustive lists.

Sure you do. But frankly, I believe you'd have preferred it if the Torah's account included a few less miracles. It's about as well established as the Aztec's migration history. Or the Trojan War.

You would do well to stop projecting biases onto me. It is arrogant and condescending and adds nothing to the discussion.

The narrative of YTM has an enormous edge over the other histories you mention. First of all, it is attested to repeatedly in various texts from various periods and authors in Israelite history. It is not an isolated legend found in a single source.

Second, it is the foundation of the entire religious tradition of Israel and informs and shapes Israelite culture, accounting for its radical difference from other cultures in its vicinity.

Third, it just so happens that the religious tradition in question - not to mention the record of having been slaves - is not exactly popularly appealing, so the people would have had every reason to want to deny it, but didn't.

Fourth, we are left with the question of the anti-mythological nature of YTM. I know you think all miracle stories are more or less created equal. But you are missing the boat on this big time, and you should look at Kaufmann's "The Religion of Israel" or Sarna's writings to clarify it.

The fact is that the miracles are attributed to the transcendent Creator of the universe, not to the magical powers of the prophet. The representatives of God are human beings without any divinity whatsoever, who are criticized and portrayed negatively like everyone else. The explicit purpose of the miracles is to educate the Jews away from idolatry, magical beliefs, shamanism, ancestor worship, etc., etc., which is totally unprecedented in any religious narrative before or since.

This speaks quite strongly for the authenticity of the record.

Ok great. But you didn't answer the larger question which that question was only referring to. What do you do with someone who finds his sechel has deemed that what you consider to be literal history did not occur as such? And so he reinterprets the Exodus the way you interpret the Mabul.

I did basically answer this. Reinterpreting details would be perfectly fine. However, to state that the miraculous elements did not occur would undermine their whole purpose, which was to establish the truth of the religion. I am not saying, as you will likely suggest, that therefore we "need" to believe they are literal.

What I am saying is that they clearly must be understood to have been intended as literal, by definition, since they are being used to prove something to the people. Therefore, it will inherently do violence to the text if we allegorize them.

This is different than the Mabul or Gan Eden stories which are designed to teach ideas and have no practical function outside of being stories. Whether allegorical or literal, their message is identical.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum,

Thank you for your kind words.

I started my blogging career in confrontations with XGH, but found his style to be frustratingly extreme and too superficial. I have always enjoyed Orthoprax's Blog and I find him to be a much more reasonable, rational and contemplative discussion partner.

avrum68 said...

Rabbi Maroof,

I've passed on your blog(s) to a few friends. Moreover, we've used some of your blog entries as well as comments on other blogs for shabbos discussions. Printing out blog posts and comments makes for great Torah discussions. You should consider releasing a book in this format.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Lot's wife may have been hit by sulfur that descended upon her from the sky. Or the entire narrative may be a prophetic vision designed to explain to Avraham or to Lot how and why the city was destroyed and only a handful of people (i.e., Lot and his daughters) were fortunate enough to esacpe."

Why can't it be that God literally miraculously transformed her into a pillar of salt as is traditionally understood? I think it's apparent that you'd prefer a minimization of miracles in the text.

"You would do well to stop projecting biases onto me. It is arrogant and condescending and adds nothing to the discussion."

And you don't deny it. ;-)

In any case, the fact that you can be so flexible for what you had earlier said was literal history and now can just as easily be a non-literal vision shows how flexible the term "truth" is when it comes to your understanding of Torah.

But the key issue is this:

"What I am saying is that they clearly must be understood to have been intended as literal, by definition, since they are being used to prove something to the people. Therefore, it will inherently do violence to the text if we allegorize them."

Ha! No, not at all! It does damage to ORTHODOXY. For millennia all rabbis understood the Mabul and the Tower of Babel and the stories of the Patriarchs as literal history without any reservations. But then you come along and are able to somehow divine the true intent of the text better than they had ever even conceived and, though you never actually say so since you stick to ambiguous terms like 'the historicity doesn't matter,' you see that they are obvious mythology.

Your willingness to undermine the historicity of those tales does damage to the text just as well as doing so for the Exodus story since there's actually no objective means to tell when the _text_ is recording a literal historical event or pure allegory and playing by *intent* is a fool's game.

You are SELECTIVELY singling out those stories which are key as Orthodox building blocks to understand literally without any bearing on *intent* which you blithely dismiss for stories like the Mabul which, by any serious account, were meant to be taken literally - as they were so taken by all the greatest minds in Judaism for thousands of years.

This is why I had said all the way at the beginning that your approach is just like a modern Muslim who says that Muhammed didn't literally fly to heaven or split the moon, but what is surely historical is the fact that the angel spoke to him all the words of the Koran since that much is proving its divinity and isn't just a story for the sake of being a story.

The rest of the New Testament can be allegory, but it must be understood literally that Jesus rose from the dead because that's proving his divinity to the people.

It could be that almost everything in the Book of Mormon is allegorical but what it absolute fact is that Joseph Smith transcribed it perfectly from those golden plates that he literally found.

"Why do you see me as squirming? I am operating with a consistent methodology which, by its very nature, acknowledges gray areas and the potential for multiple interpretations, sometimes literal, sometimes allegorical."

So why do I see it as squirming? Because the methodology is a means to protect Orthodoxy, not as a means to truly understand either the text or history. You feel that you must understand some stories allegorically because the physical evidence is overwhelming. That decision has NOTHING to do with the *intent* of the text.

Then other stories you insist on understanding literally because they are key for Orthodoxy's integrity - and again, the intent of the text is truly immaterial for your conclusions there.

Then in the middle you have those hard to believe stories which you feel that you must treat kinda historically so you play a game between your aversion for accepting absurdity and the requirements of Orthodoxy where you squirm and are reluctant to answer questions directly.

You pretend to know intent, but it's just a codeword for "what Orthodoxy requires." Orthodoxy can live without accepting the Mabul as history, but can it survive doing the same to the Exodus?

To note, Rabbi Heschel famously said to understand the Sinai revelation as midrash. Indeed, it might be wisest to understand things in that respect than trying to shoehorn the literal-but-not-necessarily-literal-at-all approach that you propose. There's less squirming.



"I have always enjoyed Orthoprax's Blog and I find him to be a much more reasonable, rational and contemplative discussion partner."

Thanks for the compliment and I'd like to add that I think Rabbi Maroof is probably the most clear thinking and reasonable Orthodox blogger I know.

Anonymous said...

How convenient! 2 apologists displaying an emotional love fest for each other. Avrum of course you are impressed with RJM’s ability to differentiate, you need his excuses to validate your point of view. The casual observer see’s how RJM’s position is very weak, and how he sidestepped most of the questions that were posed to him. After some verbal kicking and screaming RJM did return to the ring and try to spar, his arguments were not strengthened, nor did they become more convincing.
RJM’s position boils down to: when necessary (like when there are contradictions, or when it is just plainly ridiculous) we may interpret the torah not to be literal and just use it as analogy etc. When not needed (like where he thinks the issues can be dealt with in other ways (with other apologetic excuses)) then he refrains from diverting from the literal meaning. Not because these are stated in another way, (which would lead us to believe that these versus must be taken literally) just because he thinks it is not necessary.
Oh and as a side if you don’t take these (yetzias mitzraim, matan torah, midbar etc.) literally, then you don’t have a bases for the torah in the first place(according to RJM that’s proof that it is meant to be literal). How convenient!
By the way there are many tough questions on the (shemos etc.) part that he does take literally. I won’t list them here now, but some were recently posted on littlefoxling . You could also find some on talkreason Therefore I would conclude that it is all NOT literal. In other words it’s all Hevel havulim, and Kol hayashay be’enov ya’aseh. I happen to find that very convenient!!!

avrum68 said...

"2 apologists displaying an emotional love fest for each other. Avrum of course you are impressed with RJM’s ability to differentiate, you need his excuses to validate your point of view"

I mean it couldn't, simply couldn't be because the rabbi is holding his own.

Sorta like the Dawkin's/Collins debate in Time. Where it was clear that both made strong points, but Dawkin's came out of the fight looking like a pompous ass.

It would seem that atheists have a very difficult time with the idea that folks as bright and/or brighter than themselves can also believe in God. I wonder why that might be?

avrum68 said...

"The casual observer see’s how RJM’s position is very weak,"

If it's so weak, and so silly why get so rallied up? Why site 2 blogs, follow all his arguements (on 3 blogs actually) if he's such a light-weight, espousing such nonsense? Either you have way too much time on your hands, or RJM is getting under you skin. Why?

Anonymous said...

I won’t relist all your points; the following should explain them all:
Don’t get fooled by RJM’s writing style, you need to analyze the substance of his arguments. I explain in the next paragraph exactly why his argument is so weak.

RJM is a brilliant debater as attested to by many skeptics, it’s because of his brilliance that he can take a weak argument like this and make it look like there is something to it.

I care about the truth or falsehood of Orthodox Judaism because I have a lot invested in it.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't see any value in responding to ad hominem comments that do not even attempt to address the substance of the arguments being considered here. Throwing around qualitative labels and descriptors like "weak", "strong" or "apologetic", not to mention invoking the time honored appeal to authority (from talkreason, a militantly atheistic and extremely biased website, no less), contributes nothing to the discussion whatsoever.

I prefer to focus on OP who has wisely chosen to keep his sights trained on content (as usual).

avrum68 said...

"Don’t get fooled by RJM’s writing style, you need to analyze the substance of his arguments."

Why do atheists assume that only THEY can uncover the truth behind the nefarious claims of deists?

I'm as skeptical as the next person. And I've had my go with more than a few rabbis. However when Dennis Pragger get's man handles by Sam Harris (both in substance and preperation for the debate):
http://www.jewcy.com/dialogue/monday_why_are_atheists_so_angry_sam_harris
and atheists of the world think: "Wow, the Jewish argument is really weak". It's embarrassing. So it warms the cockles of my heart to see a rabbi taking on a blog full of atheists and schooling 'em. So what if it's more sport than theology...I'm enjoying it nonetheless.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

I do not harbor the biases you attribute to me, nor am I working backward from foregone conclusions as you suggest.

I am differentiating between narratives that describe events that occurred to the actual recipients of the Torah - and were designed to establish the truth of revelation - versus narratives that, even to the Jews who left Egypt, would have been ancient history.

The former narratives must be interpreted literally based upon their context, i.e., they recount events that were orchestrated to provide proof of revelation to the very population who initially received the Torah. There is no way an allegorical maamad har Sinai could accomplish this.

By contrast, the earlier historical portions were, even for the Yotsei Mitsrayim, mere history presented in a didactic form. From the outset, these narratives were clearly designed to teach lessons necessary for understanding the purpose of the Exodus and the Torah, the Jews' role in the Divine plan, etc.

So, even to the initial recipients of the Torah, these early stories had a different significance than the stories from Exodus on. Whether they interpreted them literally, figuratively, or a combination of these two is irrelevant, because their only implication is conceptual.

You find this to be apologetic; I find it to be self-evident, and certainly noted by the classic commentaries (ex., famous first Ramban on Humash, Seforno's intro to Humash, Ralbag's intro to Humash, among many, many others).

Our mesorah teaches us that we have tremendous flexibility of interpretation when it comes to non-normative components of Tanach, and every generation exercises this flexibility as it sees fit.

My remarks about Lot's wife were not "fudging"; I was being purposely vague because I don't see the necessity of more precision in this area.

The verse "she was a pillar of salt" could be understood many ways. Maybe she was singled out for Divine punishment as you suggest. Maybe the whole episode is a nevuah, as Rambam states. Incidentally, taking it to mean she literally turned into salt seems extreme and isn't even necessarily the "peshat"; if we say the city became a mound of salt, we mean it was totally submerged in sulfur, not that a miraculous transformation took place. The same could possibly apply to Lot's wife.

In the end though, who knows? And who cares? It makes minimal difference to us, or at least it should make minimal difference to us.

The main point of the incident is to show that Lot was able to dissociate himself from the culture of Sodom and was therefore redeemed. His wife, who identified strongly with the ways of Sodom, couldn't help but look back longingly and therefore was no more worthy of redemption than any other corrupt Sodomite. Our sympathies reveal our underlying value systems.

Your conception of truth is literal, material truth. I view truth as a conceptual matter. There are certain points at which these intersect, such as historical experiences that are utilized to establish the veracity of certain principles (Exodus and Sinai, for example).

But in the areas where history is clearly not a central concern of the narrative, why should I approach it with the mentality of a literalist?

The Rabbis never operated this way, they read the content of the Torah as philosophical literature, in light of their experience and background knowledge. We do the same. Why this undermines the truth of the Torah system in your eyes baffles me. To my mind, it is the greatest testimony to the beauty and eternal validity of the Torah that every generation can be inspired by the Torah's timeless message, regardless of the vicissitudes of the age.

My approach is not a defense of Orthodoxy, it is the Orthodoxy of Hazal in modern form.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum, in OP's defense, he is no atheist.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

And pretty much anyone who can be bested by Sam Harris in a debate should really be ashamed of himself.

avrum68 said...

"My approach is not a defense of Orthodoxy, it is the Orthodoxy of Hazal in modern form."

Any chance you'll be speaking in Toronto, Canada?

Also, any books you'd recommend for my shabbos book club. We're a bunch of 20-40 somethings, professional, who range from skeptical to Modern Orthodox. We've read Heschel, the Kuzari (great argument, lousy book), and Dershowitz's Chutzpah (a waste of time IMHO).

Any suggestions would be welcomed.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum,

If I had an invite to be a scholar-in-residence somewhere, I would be honored to come. I have speaking engagements but for the most part they have been local. I am open to traveling though.

In terms of Book recommendations, just off the top of my head:

I am a big fan of "Horeb" by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, although it is a tough read for most people. It basically treats the entire corpus of mitsvot and halacha as a unified system that reflects and reinforces the principles and values of Judaism. It can revolutionize your view of Torah if it speaks to you.

The "Nineteen Letters" by Hirsch may be interesting to you as well.

Many find "This is My God" by Herman Wouk to be a timeless classic; I am not sure I would go that far, but it is definitely an entertaining and insightful work.

A Guide for Today's Perplexed by Kenneth Seeskin is a brief, well-written, and mostly accurate presentation of the Rambam's philosophical views. It is an easy read and helps clarify some thorny philosophical issues in simple language.

If you are interested in scholarly or academic issues in Biblical study, try Nahum Sarna's books on Genesis and Exodus.

Yehezkel Kaufmann's classic "The Religion of Israel" is outstanding but includes many ideas that are either pure heresy, highly debatable speculations or conjectures that were subsequently debunked.

I still hope to write a book or two myself in the relatively near future...We will see if God grants me the opportunity to do so. If and when that happens, I will be sure to let my friends in the blogosphere know about it!

XGH said...

"I started my blogging career in confrontations with XGH, but found his style to be frustratingly extreme and too superficial. I have always enjoyed Orthoprax's Blog and I find him to be a much more reasonable, rational and contemplative discussion partner."

LOL. He's just more polite to you than I am. He no more accepts your biased & totally lame arguments than I do. Oops, there I go again being non reasonable, non rational and non contemplative.

avrum68 said...

"& totally lame arguments than I do."

I'll pose the same question to you that I did to an "anonymous" poster:

If the argument are so lame, why get so rallied up? If RJM was claiming that Martians landed in his living room and told him the moon was made of cheese, would you spend as much time debating him?

Kylopod said...

XGH,

You seem to be under the impression that your go-for-the-jugular approach differs from Orthoprax's only in style. It doesn't. The way you conduct yourself affects substance as well.

Orthoprax takes the time to examine conflicting viewpoints before reaching a conclusion. You, on the other hand, have a very knee-jerk approach, where you trash any argument that you can't immediately understand.

Don't confuse openmindedness with whim.

Holy Hyrax said...

First of all RJM, let me just say that everyone really likes you. That's why everyone gets all rilled up when you comment. So it might get ugly, but you are a favorite around the blogs.

Sadly, I think the problem is this. OJ Jews have a religion to protect which is understandable. They as well as you come into this with certain axioms. Your axioms contain a bit less then lets say your average charedi, but certian things obviously overlap: YTM, TMS. But what happens is modern methodolies stop once those axioms are threatened. So you ride the scholarship train until it reaches a certain destination where you (not you specifically) decide to jump off. The reason is obvious. Many have stated it above. You start kvetching that the geneologies are just generalities intead of being exaustive. You state no global flood but instead say that maybe there was a man called Noah and a very small flood, but God kept it in there to teach a lesson. If modern science, archeology etc would not have along, you would need to feel so compelled to change things along.

You have to realize this is a scary thing and if it were possible to get a truly objective person and evidence on both sides were weighed, OJ, would probably not come out so well. Infact, maybe the only reason Judaism has survived for so long is because for most of mans history, people have been quite ignorant about the world around them. Would Judaism survive if there were printing presses thousands of years ago and studies were published on everything we talk about on these blogs?

avrum68 said...

"Infact, maybe the only reason Judaism has survived for so long is because for most of mans history, people have been quite ignorant about the world around them."

And we're SO evolved now? How many of you surf porn, get bored, turn on the tv, and then get into bed. Wake up early and sit in an hour or so of traffic to get to your shitty job, and then return home...in 2 hour traffic? Wash, rinse, repeat. You're right, very little transendence of any kind could develop within such a milieu.

But all is not lost. Even with all of our "progress", if we can afford it, we invest in all of our money in a country home to "get away from it all"...let's call that shabbos. Or how Yoga has taken the country by storm...let's call that meditation/contemplation. Or how diets are always the rage...let's call that watching what we ingest, a form of kosher.

"if it were possible to get a truly objective person and evidence on both sides were weighed"

Evidence of what? That floods did or didn't occur? Hell 9-11 happened 6 years ago, and there's an entire movement of lay and professionals who think it's an inside job.

Perhaps it's fair to say that in our materialist age, those of use who appreciate the significance of metaphor, spirit, emotion, subjectivity...we'll be seen as pariahs for some time. As my doctor wife is fond of saying, religion and science are two different beasts.

RJM, downloading your posts off itunes. Very excited for my drive to work tomorrow.

avrum68 said...

One more thing...

I work on an early psychosis team. We're touted as the best of the best with respect to medication, CBT treatment, etc. Don't believe the hype. The medications rarely work, and when the do, they have huge side effects. The theory changes monthly with respect to which neurotransmitter is responsible for said symptom. Still, there are folks in my field who believe all is dopamine and serotonin and dreams are meaningless charges of electricity. So much for deeper meanings and inner struggles leading to wisdom.

HH asks, if we knew then what we know now, perhaps psychoanalysis wouldn't fair so well. True. In an age of materialsm, psychodynamic therapy is treated by many the way religion is treated by bloggers. However, as Irving Yalom - famous psychiatrist/author - is fond of saying: "When those brief, evidence based therapists need a shrink, they go to the long term psychodynamic folks".

Thank God Judaism, and all religions, were provided with fertile soil to take root and grow.

happywithhislot said...

RJM

Id like you to attend a Rav Amnon Yitzchak concert and play the part of the unwitting athiest (in this case youre the unwitting kofer).

I look forward to him donating 10'000 cassettes in your honor.

Then go video tape a conversation with you and rav eliyashuv.
Tell him what youve said here and report back to us how hard he laughed at you.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum,

I'll be interested to hear your feedback on that audio. It's a shame our "uploader" hasn't added anything in the past year, hopefully that will change.

As a psychologist by training (originally), I appreciated your reference to psychodynamic theory. Although it has its problems, no one who has practiced it - especially on themselves - can deny the veracity of many of its ideas. Add to this the fact that we all think in psychodynamic terms when explaining the behavior of others, no matter what our professed beliefs are about psychology.

Contrast that with the superficiality of the approaches currently en vogue. People are afraid of really understanding themselves.


Kylopod,

I am with you 100% on this one. I think XGH helped prove my point with his comment.


HH,

I appreciate your comments. I certainly never planned on becoming a "favorite" or even on making a big splash in the blogosphere.

On this comment thread, I think I have already clarified what my view is of the Torah-Science issues, and why it seems to me a natural extension of the methodology of Hazal.

I understand that it is more comforting to people to take a literal approach, and that they feel that "concessions" to science undermine the Torah system.

But I argue the opposite. The Torah is revealing one aspect of existence, science another. They complement and enrich each other.

I don't deny the value of scholarship. I distinguish between hard sciences and social sciences for obvious reasons.

Historical reconstructions thousands of years after the fact - whether they are reconstructions of Greek history, Chinese history or Jewish history - can only be speculative, and are no match for an unambiguous national historical tradition that was recorded at or around the period of the events themselves.

So, in all honesty, I am no less skeptical of the archaeological findings about any other country than I am about those in Israel or Egypt. The same goes for all other sociological, cultural, and historical analyses that are performed long after the periods being studied.

In the case of Tanach, then, I see no good reason to accept the results of these speculative investigations over the clear data we have already possessed for millenia.

happywithhislot said...

RJM

whats the clear data, and are you including the last 1000 years in your suggestion?

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"The former narratives must be interpreted literally based upon their context, i.e., they recount events that were orchestrated to provide proof of revelation to the very population who initially received the Torah. There is no way an allegorical maamad har Sinai could accomplish this."

Yes, I get what you're saying. The Torah is describing the start of a religion and therefore those stories which are building blocks for that religion must be understood literally because they must have been intended literally.

But that doesn't mean that they actually happened as such or even that the intent carries further than the skeleton story without poetic embellishments.

The logic behind your distinction is one just as valid as behind taking Muhammed's angel as literal. It's the founding story of a religion and so it must have taken itself literally.

"By contrast, the earlier historical portions were, even for the Yotsei Mitsrayim, mere history presented in a didactic form. From the outset, these narratives were clearly designed to teach lessons necessary for understanding the purpose of the Exodus and the Torah, the Jews' role in the Divine plan, etc."

And this is apologetics since it's basically something you made up and is not accepted by the millennia of rabbis and entire Jewish populations who understood those very stories literally. The Torah speaks just as frankly about Noah as it does about Moses. The distinction between them is doctrinal, not textual.

If you weren't living in modern day and didn't know contemporary science then you would have no inkling or desire to read Noah in any way but literal.

The point is that if you are arguing for the intent of the text then with internal analysis and tradition you must conclude that Noah was intended as literally as Moses - and then you have no means to make those doctrinally sensitive stories a priori of special intent.

"I do not harbor the biases you attribute to me, nor am I working backward from foregone conclusions as you suggest."

Are you sure about that?

"You find this to be apologetic; I find it to be self-evident, and certainly noted by the classic commentaries (ex., famous first Ramban on Humash, Seforno's intro to Humash, Ralbag's intro to Humash, among many, many others)."

Yeah? You have any that say the Mabul and Noah may not be literal history? Seriously, if you have it, lemme see.

"In the end though, who knows? And who cares? It makes minimal difference to us, or at least it should make minimal difference to us."

Well, I care because I care about the truth. Perhaps that's why you don't care? Because if the goal is not the acquisition of truth but defense of doctrine then a manifold of obfuscating explanations is an excellent resting point for a difficult passage.

"Your conception of truth is literal, material truth. I view truth as a conceptual matter."

No, not necessarily. I appreciate profound truth inherent in fictional tales - most of the best novels fit that description - but I like to keep the distinction clear.

Resh Lakish said...

First of all, I'd like to commend everyone on the nature of the debate, esp. OP and RJM -- very constructive, with more illumination than heat -- which is not something that always happens on blogs.

Second, I'd like to second HH's comments re RJM. I think even when people talk in harif tones, it's because they appreciate your insight and view, and want to test it. I'm pretty sure

I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head (not literally...) about this comment thread, but haven't had time to put them to paper (kivyachol -- an allegory!) as yet, but hope to soon.

resh lakish said...

(I left off the end of the RJM paragraph): even those of us who disagree with some of your views like your take on Judaism, and wish it were more prevalent. I think that for many of us, the intellectual discomfort we may feel with certain aspects of the mesorah has been magnified tremendously with the rush of too many Orthodox authorities to ever-more-humrot, to ever-more-anti-science attitudes, and to a more austere, self-abnegating religion -- which is a shame. So maybe you should spend less of your time on blogs and more in instigating a revolution...

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

But that doesn't mean that they actually happened as such or even that the intent carries further than the skeleton story without poetic embellishments.

Right, but you are confusing two lines of argument here. We are now discussing why I interpret certain narratives as literally intended history as opposed to allegory, and I was answering your objections to my approach.

I never suggested that the distinction I proposed about the line of demarcation, in and of itself, was any evidence for the truth of the narratives in question.

That is a separate issue altogether, the one we were dealing with way back at the beginning of the thread.

The logic behind your distinction is one just as valid as behind taking Muhammed's angel as literal. It's the founding story of a religion and so it must have taken itself literally.

Exactly. It is intended literally. Now the question becomes whether this literal claim is true or not, which is not the same issue at all.

And this is apologetics since it's basically something you made up and is not accepted by the millennia of rabbis and entire Jewish populations who understood those very stories literally. The Torah speaks just as frankly about Noah as it does about Moses. The distinction between them is doctrinal, not textual.

Not true. First of all, my distinction makes perfect logical sense from a textual standpoint alone, regardless of what people have thought in the past.

In fact, it is very much built upon the analyses of the mefarshim who make the same conceptual distinction between the narratives in Beresheet and those in Exodus and on.

I am taking their model a step further in certain respects, but my ideas are no more strange or shocking than many Midrashim that interpret pesuqim in very unorthodox and creative ways.

Aggadot and Midrashim are very liberal in their readings of the narrative portions of the Torah and this is fully consistent with our tradition.

(I am sure you know that the Gemara doesn't necessarily take the mabul literally; it asks whether Eretz Yisrael was flooded, which should be a no-brainer if the text is peshuto k'mashmao with no questions asked.)

If you weren't living in modern day and didn't know contemporary science then you would have no inkling or desire to read Noah in any way but literal.

Unless I read Midrash too, or simply happen to notice the height of the mountains in certain parts of the world, or the number of animal species extant.

The point is that if you are arguing for the intent of the text then with internal analysis and tradition you must conclude that Noah was intended as literally as Moses - and then you have no means to make those doctrinally sensitive stories a priori of special intent.

I think you are missing my distinction, which is based upon the function the story serves in the Torah - is it simply educational/didactically geared vis a vis its audience, or is it describing the implications of experience the audience itself is purported to have had. I can't say it any better than I have before.

And incidentally, I do believe Noah was a real person, and that he really saved lots of animals in a boat from a major deluge. I just think that the Torah addresses only a particular community of human beings and their immediate environment when it speaks of "the whole earth" - people outside of this group had not yet developed any understanding of God and are therefore not of concern to the Torah anyway.

I also believe that the time frame of these events is not entirely clear, since the genealogies are most definitely summaries and not exhaustive.

Yeah? You have any that say the Mabul and Noah may not be literal history? Seriously, if you have it, lemme see.

What I meant was that the mefarshim support the distinction in purpose between the early and late narratives in the Torah, and it is this distinction upon which my approach rests.

Of course, Hazal and many Rishonim took the early Genesis chapters in a metaphoric or mystical vein, as even the Gemara notes. And the Rambam didn't believe Adam, Eve, Sheth, Qayin and Hevel were real people, which certainly raises the question of what he thought about the Mabul...And he was not a modern sophisticate either, living under the influence of Aristotelian science.

Well, I care because I care about the truth. Perhaps that's why you don't care? Because if the goal is not the acquisition of truth but defense of doctrine then a manifold of obfuscating explanations is an excellent resting point for a difficult passage.

Not fair and not nice.

I of course care about the truth, and I don't accuse you of anything else.

I am presenting what I believe is the truth, and while you see it as obfuscating it seems enlightening to me. It brings out the principle that the Torah speaks to each and every generation. The lessons in the story of Noah are timeless and our society doesn't even come close to approximating the moral values it teaches - responsibility for the environment and animal kingdom, the sanctity of human life and the Divine expectation of justice and temperance in human conduct.

If anything, you appear to have difficulty attributing sophistication and nuance to the Torah; you prefer to dismiss these explanations as apologetics and the stories as mythology. I disagree - when understood properly, we see profound philosophical and ethical teachings in the Torah that are still ahead of our time, let alone being way ahead of their own time.

The Torah is a repository of great wisdom and deserves to be treated as such. When we don't understand something we should proceed with the assumption that a rational solution may be discovered in the future. Just because previous generations didn't encounter certain problems or offer certain answers is irrelevant because Judaism is a living tradition of intellectual creativity and discovery - the Rabbis speak of new explanations emerging each and every day.

No, not necessarily. I appreciate profound truth inherent in fictional tales - most of the best novels fit that description - but I like to keep the distinction clear.

Unfortunately, most novels (not all) address emotional "truths", taking conventional values for granted and offering little direction for human society which continues to wallow in self-interest and corruption as we speak.

The Torah uses a mix of history and allegory to teach us mankind's place in the Universe and our purpose in life. That is its genius and beauty.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Thank you Resh Lakish, I will take your comments to heart...I have already done so to some degree, that is why I abandoned XGH's blog.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Right, but you are confusing two lines of argument here. We are now discussing why I interpret certain narratives as literally intended history as opposed to allegory, and I was answering your objections to my approach."

Ok, fair enough.

"Not true. First of all, my distinction makes perfect logical sense from a textual standpoint alone, regardless of what people have thought in the past."

I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. I see doctrinally sensitive areas and less doctrinally sensitive areas. Areas of less doctrinal importance are open to more liberal interpretation. And yet, still, all the classic mefarshim you refer to still believed those tales to be history.

"Aggadot and Midrashim are very liberal in their readings of the narrative portions of the Torah and this is fully consistent with our tradition."

Indeed! And they have just as many liberal midrashim and aggadot about stuff after Exodus too! This totals up to a big zero when trying to distinguish between them based on how the midrashim differ.

"(I am sure you know that the Gemara doesn't necessarily take the mabul literally; it asks whether Eretz Yisrael was flooded, which should be a no-brainer if the text is peshuto k'mashmao with no questions asked.)"

The Gemara also suggests that the 600,000 Israelites that escaped Egypt were a tiny fraction of the total number of Israelites who were in Egypt and did not escape -on the order of 100 billion if you do the math. Seems they had a pretty flexible understanding of that 'history' too.

And it was just one giant frog that the Egyptians hit that started the plague. And God held Mt. Sinai over the nation's heads.

_Midrashim_ are those that are intended allegorically - not the Torah text.

"Unless I read Midrash too, or simply happen to notice the height of the mountains in certain parts of the world, or the number of animal species extant."

Ok, so YOU would notice the problems with taking it literally that no classical authority is ever aware of? Even heretics did not claim the Mabul as reason for disbelief.

"I think you are missing my distinction, which is based upon the function the story serves in the Torah..."

Yes, some function more importantly in doctrinal foundation than others. That doesn't mean they weren't intended to be understood equally literally.

"What I meant was that the mefarshim support the distinction in purpose between the early and late narratives in the Torah, and it is this distinction upon which my approach rests."

Yes, they too understood implicit doctrinal sensitivity. But that does not justify your step of undermining the intended and believed literalness of the earlier stories.

"And the Rambam didn't believe Adam, Eve, Sheth, Qayin and Hevel were real people, which certainly raises the question of what he thought about the Mabul..."

It also raises questions about what he thought about Abraham. You are projecting.

"Not fair and not nice."

Ok, I apologize. But I hear that same kind of line 'Why should we care?" when people are defending a young earth. I mean, whether the Earth is 6000 y/o or 5 billion doesn't make any difference to us in our daily lives. Therefore it doesn't matter and I can believe whatever I want!

The "I just don't care" is a cop-out approach.

"The Torah uses a mix of history and allegory to teach us mankind's place in the Universe and our purpose in life. That is its genius and beauty."

Sure, and how God likes his BBQ. I have no desire to put down the Torah, but it's not perfect.

A concerned jew said...

I printed out this discussion and read it thoroughly. It seems to me that Orthoprax very soundly beat Rabbi Maroof. I can't help but feel this even though it hurts. I know my Tanach, Gemara, meforshim and my Jewish machshava, and Orthoprax's central point about Rabbi Maroof being selective in his reinterpration and guided by ideology and defensiveness rather than an objective set of criteria is, to my mind, unassailable. I appreciate what Rabbi Maroof is trying to do, but he's lost this debate badly. Rabbi Maroof, if you're still here, I respectfully recommend that you rethink your approach or come up with a better defense of it. It's very, very good that you're open and trying, but sometimes you have to know when to fold 'em.

Kylopod said...

I just think that the Torah addresses only a particular community of human beings and their immediate environment when it speaks of "the whole earth"

Eretz is best translated as "land."

I don't think the ancient Hebrews even had a concept of "earth" as we understand it.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

OP,

Your argument continually revolves around what earlier generations believed about the text. Yet mefarshim were never afraid of deviating from the generally accepted interpretations of Hazal, for example, and introducing different approaches. The Ralbag addresses this point in his commentary on Bilam's donkey.

Our tradition is not based upon what earlier generations thought. It is based upon the methodology earlier generations bequeathed to us, and which we utilize to constantly refine our understanding of the texts.

So whether Hazal thought "Eretz" meant the globe or Mesopotamia, and whether they thought the 10 generation lists were exhaustive or not, wouldn't have stopped any early Rishon from disagreeing and suggesting a new interpretation - so why shouldn't we?

You are inferring from what earlier generations believed that this was what the Torah intended, and therefore attempting to invalidate the document. But the tradition itself states that the document is far beyond the understanding of any one generation, and that new Torah insights - sometimes revolutionary - could potentially appear every day from now until eternity.

So assuming that what Hazal believed was literal must have been intended by the Torah literally is incorrect according to Hazal themselves.

As for my repeated assertion that YTM must be understood as literally intended - based upon the text alone and not some extraneous dogma - as opposed to the earlier stories that are somewhat more ambiguous by definition because of their role in the text, I haven't seen a serious rebuttal of this argument from you yet.

I must run for now...How about a new post already?

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Your argument continually revolves around what earlier generations believed about the text."

No, my argument revolves around the fact that there's no objective means to tell when the text is saying something allegorical or something literal when it talks about Noah, Abraham, and Moses all in the same way. To bolster this perspective is the fact that I have the entire weight of classical Jewish tradition making no such distinction in the literal understanding of the text as you are attempting to do.

If you can show me anything tangible that supports your contention that Noah was *intended* to be allegorical then you might have something.

But if you had that then I think you'd have shown it already.

"As for my repeated assertion that YTM must be understood as literally intended - based upon the text alone and not some extraneous dogma - as opposed to the earlier stories that are somewhat more ambiguous by definition because of their role in the text, I haven't seen a serious rebuttal of this argument from you yet."

Yes, so that supports the belief that those doctrinally central stories were intended literally. The same way the story in the Koran about Muhammed's angel was intended literally.

But that does NOT justify the conclusion that other, less doctrinally sensitive stories were not intended literally.

Until you can justify that distinction, you haven't gotten past the front gates.

"How about a new post already?"

I don't know. I have to be in the right mood and lately it seems like people are just retracing old ground.

avrum68 said...

On a side note...

In a 50 min interview, Sam Harris presents the hypothesis that belief in God - and all subsequent rituals - are foolish (and is quite convincing):

http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/archives/2007/071507.html

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Sorry, I find Harris to be a boring demagogue who makes XGH look deep.

avrum68 said...

"I appreciate what Rabbi Maroof is trying to do, but he's lost this debate badly."

So says you. Can you indicate, perhaps with direct quotes and source material, where he lost the debate?

avrum68 said...

"Sorry, I find Harris to be a boring demagogue who makes XGH look deep."

RJM...I regardless of how boring Sam Harris is, he draws attention. I'd love, LOVE, to sit-in on one of you classes whereby you play a Harris interview, and address/debunk his points one by one (and then open up the floor to a q&a). So much so, I've sent you info to a local rabbi (Jews for Judaism in Toronto) singing your praises and encouraging him to bring you to town - specifically to address the issues of blogging, atheism, etc. I think it'd be a HUGE draw, and I agreed to volunteer and plan/implement the event.

BTW...been listening to your MP3's, great stuff. However, get your shul to invest in a portable recorder (Zoom and Ediorl make affordable models) and make quality recordings. Or are you purposely going for that 1942 era sound ;)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum,

I'd be honored to come if I am invited, and in the appropriate forum I think the kind of topics you are suggesting would make for some interesting discussion.

In terms of the sound quality...when I am giving a shiur at a desk, the reception is better because I am much closer to the Ipod. When I am standing up on Sunday-Friday mornings giving over a brief devar Torah, or a lengthier presentation, then I am standing farther away and unfortunately the sound quality is impacted.

Which items have you listened to?

BTW, feel free to email me - my email is on my profile on any one of my three blogs (Vesom Sechel, Ask the Rabbi, Resheet Daat).

Water Ox said...

I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said but this article tangentially touches on some of the notions of national revelation and I thought it relevant. It's more relevant to XGH's blog's main theme and I posted it there as well so please forgive the cross posting.

XGH said...

> Sorry, I find Harris to be a boring demagogue who makes XGH look deep.

Wow, what a co-incidence. I find Harris to be a boring demagogue who makes RJM look deep.

XGH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
avrum68 said...

"Sorry, I find Harris to be a boring demagogue who makes XGH look deep."

I have to agree with XGH. RJM's comment (read: zinger) was unbecoming of a rabbi posting on a public blog.

Anonymous said...

I can see some differences between the Aztec myth and TMS. the Aztec myth may very well have been a priest speaking through a megaphone. TMS involved visuals as well as a voice. The source is very sketchy. Where is the evidence that it was part of the establishe Aztec history. Some experts feel that the Aztecs made up a lot of their myths after coming in contact with the Spanish. Where is the evidence that it was acceptd as history by the entire nation? The israelites had a reason to reject TMS if it wasn't true. TMS is connected to 613 commandments. Why bother keeping them if the source isn't true. The Aztecs had no reason to reject, and every reason to accept, this revelation because their national existance was based on it. Maybe some Aztecs rejected it, but since it made no diference in their lives, eg. no Mitzvas, they had no reason to speak out. TMS comes with a complicated lifestyle, so the I would have expected people to ask why, they should keep the Mitzvas if they suspect that the sourcwe isn't real?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"I can see some differences between the Aztec myth and TMS. the Aztec myth may very well have been a priest speaking through a megaphone. TMS involved visuals as well as a voice."

No, actually the Bible is pretty specific in that nobody actually saw God Himself. In each story they both hear a deity and they both see miraculous stuff - i.e. the white land.

"The source is very sketchy. Where is the evidence that it was part of the establishe Aztec history. Some experts feel that the Aztecs made up a lot of their myths after coming in contact with the Spanish."

This is a foundation myth. It explains how the Aztecs came to their land. They didn't record their stories in texts, but there are pictographic records that predate the Spanish - though the best sources are post-colonial because the Spanish destroyed many of the older records. You may prefer to promote a conspiracy theory to explain their myths as recorded, but there's really no compelling reason to suppose that is so.

"Where is the evidence that it was acceptd as history by the entire nation?"

It's a common mythology. Maybe there were some skeptics, but if it was like the mythology of any other peoples then it would be almost universally accepted.

In any case, I would submit that there's no real evidence showing that all the Israelites accepted the stories of the Bible.

"Maybe some Aztecs rejected it, but since it made no diference in their lives, eg. no Mitzvas, they had no reason to speak out. TMS comes with a complicated lifestyle, so the I would have expected people to ask why, they should keep the Mitzvas if they suspect that the sourcwe isn't real?"

The Aztec mythos is what lead them to do all sorts of things like human sacrifice - often with volunteers. But yes, you make a point - which may explain why many Israelites _did not_ keep the mitzvot and were so easily swayed by the mythology of surrounding peoples. In any case, your supposition is most likely anachronistic as most of the mitzvot were simply not as laborious in ancient Israel as compared to how many people practice them today.

Furthermore, why they would have or not have accepted the story is irrelevant to the point that it was widely accepted.

And lastly - "Why bother keeping them if the source isn't true." - is kinda the point of this blog.

Anonymous said...

The Aztec myth was written down a hundred years after the conquest. After the Aztec stopped existing as an independent nation. Where is the evidence that this existed before? Where is the evidence that this is the basis for the Aztec religion? Or that it was excepted by the nation as true? At the itme it was written the Aztec where living as virtual slaves of the Spanish. Most of then were probably too busy trying to stay alive to worry about their mythology. This came from only one person. As far back as records exist the Jewish people have followed the Torah. The Novi is repleat wiht references to a Toras Moshe, and to specific Mitzvas. The Novi ctritizises the people for a whole lot of bad things. But, nowhere are the people critizised for questioning the origin of the Torah. Morover, I've seen white swamps in Upstate New York, though they were more of a ligfht grey. i've never scene anything like Matan Torah.

Anonymous said...

As far as the Mitzvas not being so difficult, I would imagine that Giving Teruma to the Kohanim as Maaser to the Leviim was a major burden. Leaving part of the crop for poor people must have been a burden. Not eating pork must hasve been a sacrifice. All the laws of ritual purity must have been bothersome. yet people accepted these.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Ok, if you prefer the conspiracy theory for Aztec mythology then by all means go with what works for you. I, however, hardly find that scenario very compelling.

"As far back as records exist the Jewish people have followed the Torah. The Novi is repleat wiht references to a Toras Moshe, and to specific Mitzvas."

What records? All you have is Tanach - a rather suspect source since it's clearly recording history with a thesis intent. Furthermore, there's little reason to assume that "Toras Moshe" means the same Pentateuch that we have today - indeed, there is much reason to doubt that.

"The Novi ctritizises the people for a whole lot of bad things. But, nowhere are the people critizised for questioning the origin of the Torah."

You're coming in to this topic with a lot of assumptions. Like, for instance, that the "Torah" is the same one we have today.

"Morover, I've seen white swamps in Upstate New York, though they were more of a ligfht grey. i've never scene anything like Matan Torah."

You mean like a volcano? You can put down the miraculous perspective of any mythology.

"As far as the Mitzvas not being so difficult..."

People accept many difficult things for religious belief. I don't follow why this is so meaningful for you. The native Canaanites were offering their children through the fire to their gods and yet they accepted it too.

And, again, anyway - it seems fairly clear from a reading of Tanach that many Israelites did not follow the rules and many of the rules you mention are simply never mentioned in Tanach indicating that they may not have existed at the time.

Anonymous said...

The aztec myth is not a conspiracy. It is one person writng a century after his people lost their entire culture and where slaves. Where is the evidence that it was ever part of the Aztec culture or History? He may very well have been embellishing to impress the Spaniards. If TMS isn't at some point in our Jewish history, someone approached the entire Jewish nation and said, you have to keep shabbos because G-d spoke to your Grandfather.

Anonymous said...

It seems quite clear form Devorim 5:5 and 5:24 that G-d spoke to all the people.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"The aztec myth is not a conspiracy. It is one person writng a century after his people lost their entire culture and where slaves. Where is the evidence that it was ever part of the Aztec culture or History?"

The Aztecs were not a very literate people and as I said elsewhere, there are earlier pictoral sources which corroborate the story as written above. Furthermore, you don't have Aztecs rising up in protest of this version. Could it have been embellished? Sure it's possible, but I have no reason not to take it at face value.

In any case, the story written above was translated from the original Nahuatl and was intended for Aztec audiences, not Spanish. At the start of the text, the author is very clear why he's writing it since he essentially pleads with his readers to pass on the legacy of their ancestors and not allow their stories to be forgotten. That's hardly something a forgerer would be interested in.


"If TMS isn't at some point in our Jewish history, someone approached the entire Jewish nation and said, you have to keep shabbos because G-d spoke to your Grandfather."

Or perhaps the Sabbath was a social convention derived from the earlier Babylonian Sabbatu which was a day of enforced rest due to the believed bad luck surrounding the time of Ishtar's menstruation. An oral story was passed along as the local etiological explanation for the already long-standing practice and later on it was put into text.

See, your assumptions keep your thinking in a box.

"It seems quite clear form Devorim 5:5 and 5:24 that G-d spoke to all the people."

Actually it's not - which is why there is a classic understanding of the text (which the Rambam supports) where God spoke to Moshe, but the rest of the people just heard unspecific noises and then Moshe had to translate - i.e. he stood between God and the people. In any case, what's your point?

Anonymous said...

The Spaniards destroyed a most of the Aztec heiroglyphics. Moreover, the intereretation of the remaining heiroglyphics is spotty cecause we only know what they mean third hand, based on Spanish accounts of what the Aztecs heard. Any evidense supporting the account at the time of the writing would be the time of the writing, the Aztecs where slaves, anthiung wrtitten would have had to have been vetted by the Spanish. Moreoever, why would he be writing for an illiterate audience? The Aztecs wouldn't protest because they were too busy trying ot survive a horrific slavery at the hands of the Spanish. They lost their whole culture a century earlier. That could be why they didn't ask, "why didn't my grandfather tell" becuase the Grnadftasher died of smallpox or was working in the mines. The author might have embellished it to pump up the self esteem of a downtrodden, enslaved people.

Anonymous said...

Accoridng to Wikipedia, the author wrtoe a Spanish versio. He was Biligual. Moreover, the original
Nauhatl document was discovered centuries later in the Berinini collection, and only published later. This is turning into quite a mystery. If this is the case, it would seem that the Aztecs did not have access to it, so they couldnlt protest.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

He was writing for the more literate Mexica people at the turn of the 16th century - it is before that time in their pre-colonial period where they did not have much of a written language and thus surviving written records are virtually non-existant.

Also, you exaggerate the plight of the native Mexicans. The native author certainly had the time and the means to write his text - surely there were others who had an equally good opportunity to challenge it if they were so inclined. The Aztec identity and the passing along of stories did not stop just because they were conquered.

Lastly, Tezozómoc wrote two texts - the Crónica Mexicayotl and the Crónica Mexicana, in Nahuatl and Spanish respectively. They are semi-parallel but have many differences as they were intended for different audiences. Many copies have not survived to modern day, but there's little reason to suppose that in their time the Aztecs did not have access to the text.

You have only speculation to support the contention that the text is not an accurate rendition of the traditional stories. Do you have anything besides this? Anything of substance? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

The pint is that Rabbi Gottleib's claim still stands. The only evidence that the Aztecs ever had a National revelation came a century after they ceased to have a culture or religion of their own. At that point, they were forced to parctise Catholicism, as they do today. There is no evidence that they, as a nation, ever considered it to be an accurate historical account, or that they even had access to it.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

No, it doesn't still stand because his claim was that no other _claims_ of national revelation exist. That is patently false. Additionally, the lack of specific written records does in no way falsify the self-understood mythology of the Aztecs.

Essentially, you are just playing a game by not taking Aztec mythology at face value. Is it as solid as it could have been otherwise? No, but your total dismissal is hardly based on intellectually honest appraisal of the facts.

Anonymous said...

"They didn't record their stories in texts, but there are pictographic records that predate the Spanish"

Pictographic records

you mean like this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Water%2CRabbit%2CDeer.jpg

although nothing can be proven 100% I think the Jewish record is much more cogent

http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/TorahNarratives.htm

side note on Abraham:

The Talmud (Baba Batra 91a) identifies Abraham's mother as Amathalia the daughter of Karnebo. There is no mention of this name in the Bible, and yet the Jewish transferal process preserved it orally for fifteen hundred years. Bible critics laughed this name off as pure invention, and they proved their case by the absence of a name such as Karnebo in any Babylonian records. Archaeologists have since discovered new Babylonian records in Ebla that mention the name Karnebo as a royal family name.

Orthoprax said...

"Pictographic records
you mean like this"

No, I mean codices that pictographically tell of their mythology and ritual.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_codices

"although nothing can be proven 100% I think the Jewish record is much more cogent"

It is no doubt more clear but not necessarily convincing.

"Bible critics laughed this name off as pure invention, and they proved their case by the absence of a name such as Karnebo in any Babylonian records. Archaeologists have since discovered new Babylonian records in Ebla that mention the name Karnebo as a royal family name."

Somehow I doubt this because Bible critics tend not to be Talmud critics. In any case, given that the Talmud was written in Babylon I don't how you can justify the claim that the name was known and passed along for 1500 years and not selected much more recently, closer to the time of writing.

That is, assuming you are even accurately presenting this tidbit since I'm not familiar with it.

Anonymous said...

The "story written above was translated from the original Nahuatl and was intended for Aztec audiences"

so we are talking about a pictures?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_codices

I agree with you that "it is no doubt more clear". Convincing... how could it be? You would have to shut down your blog ;)

"You might inquire about times long past, going back to the time that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened, or if the like has ever been heard. Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived?.. You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being, and there is none besides Him. From the heavens He let you hear His voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, so that you heard His words from the fire." (Deuteronomy 4:32-35)

We have Aztec pictures that tell a story which we all agree is not as "great" as Mt. Sinai.
http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/TorahNarratives.htm

In addition "survival" is also mentioned in the Torah. Meaning we really need another religion that says "we heard God speak" that is alive and practicing today to really be as great as the orthodox claim.

Again I agree that the Torah claim is "no doubt more clear" and that is what Jews are banking on.

How much more clear and how convincing it is ...
http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/G-dAtSinai.htm
that is up to the individual. However as you probably well know, Orthodox Jews "know" that their Grandfathers didn't lie to them. It is not something they need proven... they knew their Grandfathers. My Rabbi told me that a few years ago he had his Pesach seder. His father was there and his great grandkid. That means this great grandkid saw his great great grandfather. My Rav said... it is only 10 tables like this and you are back to Moshe. We have an iron tight tradition that will never waver... and as is noticeable... we don't have any competitors.

Abraham is pretty biblical hence biblical critics studying him.

I am accurately presenting this tidbit... look it up ;)

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"The "story written above was translated from the original Nahuatl and was intended for Aztec audiences"
so we are talking about a pictures?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_codices"

No. The text is a later rendition based on oral traditions. But, naturally though, you cannot prove the age of an oral tradition by documentation so I presented the codices as corroboration, albeit imperfect.

"We have Aztec pictures that tell a story which we all agree is not as "great" as Mt. Sinai."

And? You're playing games with the text. "Greatness" is subjective. There's no God who talks out from a fire in the Aztec myths either. The point was that Jewish apologetics claim that no other national revelatory _claim_ exists. It is that issue which I'm tackling.

"However as you probably well know, Orthodox Jews "know" that their Grandfathers didn't lie to them."

Of course, but that doesn't mean their grandfathers couldn't have simply been mistaken. Same as the grandfathers from every other religious tradition.

"We have an iron tight tradition that will never waver... and as is noticeable... we don't have any competitors."

How do you figure that it's so iron tight? How many independent family memories are there of the Sinai event? Um, none. Additionally, it's pretty easy to see the errors and additions in the mesorah. It's no secret that Jewish history is missing 165 years of Persian rule. And you think the Zohar was written by Shimon bar Yochai?

Anyway, we can cut to the chase here before you trot out the Kuzari. Why is it unreasonable to presume that the Sinai story is based on some actual event but magnified and embellished as it was repeated through centuries of oral tradition until it was eventually put to text?

http://orthoprax.blogspot.com/2005/07/letters-to-editor.html


"Abraham is pretty biblical hence biblical critics studying him.
I am accurately presenting this tidbit... look it up ;)"

Yes, but few Biblical critics are also Talmudic critics. In any case, I'm not really doubting whether some artifact had the name Karnebo on it, but that a scholar of any note would make that kind of lame argument in the first place. Sounds like a straw man to me.

Anonymous said...

Imperfect is an understatement. Night and day is more like it.

No other religion was started by an entire nation saying "we heard God speak" and God saying "you heard yourselves" etc. Who is like this? The Aztecs?

Compare the two events by means of how we know a historical event happened. Aztec is much weaker.

I repeat...
In addition "survival" is also mentioned in the Torah. Meaning we really need another religion that says "we heard God speak" that is alive and practicing today to really be as great as the orthodox claim.

You can say our Grandfathers were mistaken however you just have one small problem... Jews are very stubborn and skeptical by nature. ...kind of like you ;) Even more so if this group of misleaders is saying cut off your foreskin, don't do work for 24 hours every week, strap tefillin etc.

What do you mean independent family memories?

"It's no secret that Jewish history is missing 165 years of Persian rule."

Actually it is 166 and can be explained:
http://www.simpletoremember.com/other/History166.htm

"And you think the Zohar was written by Shimon bar Yochai?"

So what? This is a well known controversy amongst the orthos

"Authorship of the Zohar is not a halachik ruling. I don't see how someone can oblige you in this acceptance, it is outside the scope of "al pi haTorah asher yorucha". The Rabbi's have a limited scope of jurisdiction. What is not addressed by Torah or Rabbinic laws is not something a rabbi may oblige you in."
http://www.mesora.org/zohar.html see link for full discussion

Biblical critics concern themselves with Talmud when it is relevant to critiquing the Bible. Hence their interest in proving Abraham didn't exist. Hence their upset when this evidence was found. Look it up at Hebrew U.... they know about it.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"No other religion was started by an entire nation saying "we heard God speak" and God saying "you heard yourselves" etc. Who is like this? The Aztecs?"

Yes, I get that is a unique claim - but that's not the argument I was targeting when I posted about the Aztecs.

In any case, no matter how unique a claim is, that says virtually nothing about its accuracy.

"You can say our Grandfathers were mistaken however you just have one small problem... Jews are very stubborn and skeptical by nature"

Uh huh. That's an argument? Have you ever spoken to a Chassid about the efficacy of alternative medicines? They take it all hook, line and sinker. Heck, in the Jewish Press this week there was a letter from one guy who contends the Earth is literally 5768 years old and another who says that the Sun revolves around the Earth! Some Jews are entirely too credulous!

"Even more so if this group of misleaders is saying cut off your foreskin, don't do work for 24 hours every week, strap tefillin etc"

Compared to the local ANE religions that wanted you to pass your children through fire? (Additionally, your Halachic issues are anachronistic - it didn't used to be as exacting.)

"Actually it is 166 and can be explained:
http://www.simpletoremember.com/other/History166.htm"

LOL! Yes, THAT'S a reasonable explanation. Pfft!

"So what? This is a well known controversy amongst the orthos"

The POINT is that it snuck into the mesorah and is accepted as valid. Is it so hard to believe that something like, say, the Mishnah could have come around later and likewise _claimed_ to date back to an earlier period?

"Biblical critics concern themselves with Talmud when it is relevant to critiquing the Bible."

Hardly. The Talmud came way later for scholarly Biblical critics to be much interested.

"Look it up at Hebrew U.... they know about it."

Sure, whatever you say.

Anonymous said...

Let me repeat

In addition "survival" is also mentioned in the Torah. Meaning we really need another religion that says "we heard God speak" that is alive and practicing today to really be as great as the orthodox claim.

I don't care what kiruv people say... I am looking at the Torah...

"You might inquire about times long past, going back to the time that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened, or if the like has ever been heard. Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived?.. You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being, and there is none besides Him. From the heavens He let you hear His voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, so that you heard His words from the fire." (Deuteronomy 4:32-35)

You get it? The Torah knew that anyone could make this claim. I could make it right now with a few friends. However for a group of people, a religion to be alive and kicking that claims national revelation... the Torah says this will never happen... lo and behold... do we have any contenders? Any other religions that claim national revelation that are alive and kicking? If there was it would be much easier for anyone to push Judaism aside... but we are the only ones around today... very well alive... and definitely kicking.

"In any case, no matter how unique a claim is, that says virtually nothing about its accuracy."

History repeats itself. If national revelation is the best claim for a religion we would expect out of the 15,000 known world religions at least a handful of them to have claimed it and still be around. However the crickets are chirping and only the Jews are making noise. You can definitely attribute this to chance but you are going against the rule that history repeats itself (on a general level of course... not specific people/places etc.). If national revelation is a normal thing that can happen why wasn't any other group of people on this planet able to pull it off! There are so many religions around today and only one of them has made this claim and "survived".

"LOL! Yes, THAT'S a reasonable explanation. Pfft!" That is an excellent emotional comment but very little content / logic behind it.

Anonymous said...

"The POINT is that it snuck into the mesorah and is accepted as valid. Is it so hard to believe that something like, say, the Mishnah could have come around later and likewise _claimed_ to date back to an earlier period?"

The bearers of the oral tradition unanimously accepted Mishnah but did not unanimously accept the Zohar. Therefor it never snuck "in". To sneak "in" you have to be "in" not "in and out".

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

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Let me repeat
In addition "survival" is also mentioned in the Torah. Meaning we really need another religion that says "we heard God speak" that is alive and practicing today to really be as great as the orthodox claim."

I was ignoring this comment previously because it's basically irrelevent, but now I see that you're trying to pull a fast one. Survival? The word used in the Torah is _lived_ - i.e. the people who heard God lived through the experience. The passage is NOT referring to the survival of the nation throughout time.

The rest of your claims on this issue are based on this (intentional?) mistranslation.

"History repeats itself. If national revelation is the best claim for a religion we would expect out of the 15,000 known world religions at least a handful of them to have claimed it and still be around."

So if the Jews had met the Aztecs in 1400 or so, back when they were still doing their thing, then the Torah would have been proven wrong? Convenient for you that the Spanish were so barbaric.

"That is an excellent emotional comment but very little content / logic behind it."

Because the given explanation on your site is just absurd. It really deserves no more of a response.

"The bearers of the oral tradition unanimously accepted Mishnah but did not unanimously accept the Zohar."

LOL! Who were the "bearers of tradition"? - the Pharisees - the ones who favored the concept of the Oral Law being from Sinai and those who wrote the Mishnah. Those who weren't in favor of such ideas - like the Sadducees - did NOT accept the Oral Law and would not have accepted the Mishnah as valid.

"Therefor it never snuck "in". To sneak "in" you have to be "in" not "in and out"."

The Oral Law was also "in and out" at the time of those groups. Kinda like how the Zohar is fully accepted by Hasidic groups and less so by Misnagdic groups. If the vagaries of history had it that Hasidism became the powerbase of Judaism then the Zohar would have become fully entrenched (even though it pretty much was anyway).

Obviously it is the victors who write the history and then determine what is valid and what is not. It is completely circular to depend the validity of the mesorah on the reputations of those who passed on the mesorah, which you only know about through the mesorah!

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you are the one trying to pull a fast one. A 5 year old understands that the Torah here is saying see if anything like this i.e. God speaking to a nation happens again and that group of people "lives". The word in Hebrew is from the shoresh "chaya" which means to live.

I know this may be tedious for you but hang in there.

Websters translates the word "live" as "to continue alive" and Websters translates "survive" as "to remain alive or in existence : live on"

So the English translation of this verse into the vernacular is on the mark. Therefore when you said "the rest of your claims on this issue are based on this (intentional?) mistranslation." you were wrong. My claims (the Torah claims) still stand.

We are looking for a contender that heard God speak and ... lets be clear here... according to the "Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew" of Samson Raphael Hirsch the shoresh "chaya" means "live". Again Websters translates the word "live" as "to continue alive" and Websters translates "survive" as "to remain alive or in existence : live on". The crowd is silent... no one is close to our claim. We need to look into the world today, see a religion that is alive and kicking that claims their nation heard God speak.

"So if the Jews had met the Aztecs in 1400 or so, back when they were still doing their thing, then the Torah would have been proven wrong? Convenient for you that the Spanish were so barbaric."

No. Convenient for me? How about the Torah predicted this! The only people that will ever claim this and live are the Jews. In addition the Aztecs kept no written text of their myths so I wouldn't even group their claim in the same category as ours. To bad for the Aztecs that when their god communicated to them he didn't teach them how to write ;)

"It is completely circular to depend the validity of the mesorah on the reputations of those who passed on the mesorah, which you only know about through the mesorah!"

I hate to break it to you but everything is based on the mesorah. You can't read the Torah without the vowels and the vowels are from our mesorah.

Anonymous said...

"Because the given explanation on your site is just absurd. It really deserves no more of a response."

Again a wonderful emotional point with no content behind it.

Why don't you share with everyone why it is absurd?

Then maybe we may think you actually read it and have something of substance to say on the matter.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"So the English translation of this verse into the vernacular is on the mark."

Wow, you are a BS artist!

The point was not about vernacular but about your additional interpretation of the text from talking about the survival of the individuals who encountered God into the survival of the nation throughout time.

But anyone who is not dishnoest would have understood that without me having to say it twice.

"No. Convenient for me? How about the Torah predicted this!"

The Torah was banking on the Aztecs not being literate...ok, sure....

"I hate to break it to you but everything is based on the mesorah. You can't read the Torah without the vowels and the vowels are from our mesorah."

That's exactly my point. But, y'know what? That mesorah could still be wrong! How would you know any different? It's begging the question.

How do you know the mesorah is valid? The mesorah says so!

"Then maybe we may think you actually read it and have something of substance to say on the matter."

Thanks, but I'll decline. I'm not going to play your games. Fortunately for me, I know I'll never be able to satisfy you "rigorous" "scholarly" methodology of ascertaining truth.

Anonymous said...

"Wow, you are a BS artist!"

Wow you are so emotional...

"The point was not about vernacular but about your additional interpretation of the text from talking about the survival of the individuals who encountered God into the survival of the nation throughout time."

Please reread the verse. A 5 year old understands what this verse is saying.

This didn't happen to the Aztecs. The Jews are the only ones in the entire world that claim this and lived.

"You might inquire about times long past, going back to the time that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened, or if the like has ever been heard. Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived?.. You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being, and there is none besides Him. From the heavens He let you hear His voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, so that you heard His words from the fire." (Deuteronomy 4:32-35)

How do we know the Mesora is valid?
http://tinyurl.com/yobog5

Let me ask you this... what would make you believe that God spoke to a group of people 3,300 years ago? What evidence would you need?

"Thanks, but I'll decline. I'm not going to play your games. Fortunately for me, I know I'll never be able to satisfy you "rigorous" "scholarly" methodology of ascertaining truth."

Yes and I imagine I will not be able to satisfy yours: "LOL! Yes, THAT'S a reasonable explanation. Pfft!"

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Wow you are so emotional..."

Maybe it's because you're a liar? Who then continues to lie while trying to cover his lies by pointing to my reaction to his lies? Hmm.

"Let me ask you this... what would make you believe that God spoke to a group of people 3,300 years ago? What evidence would you need?"

Consistency. Make sure the given message doesn't include gross absurdity. Physical evidence would also be great. Several different references to cross-check would be excellent - the more the better. Any of the above would be helpful.

Pretty much the same kind of evidence I'd want for any of those reported supernatural events from the mythos of all the cultures and religions out there. What an incredible coincidence that they all lack these essential evidences.

Why do you ask?

"Yes and I imagine I will not be able to satisfy yours"

Don't do it for me, I don't need to respond to your site because I think it stands on its own absurdity. I suggest that everyone check it out on their own and come to their own conclusions. My input would be excessive.

Essentially, I think your site's argument is _so_ weak that I don't even feel a need to argue against it.

For comparison, would you truly waste your time and get into an argument with a person who believes the Earth is flat?

Anonymous said...

"Maybe it's because you're a liar? Who then continues to lie while trying to cover his lies by pointing to my reaction to his lies? Hmm."

I consider name calling to be emotional... I can also call you names but then that would be leaving the topic at hand.

"Consistency. Make sure the given message doesn't include gross absurdity. Physical evidence would also be great. Several different references to cross-check would be excellent - the more the better. Any of the above would be helpful."

You can find this in Judaism.

"Essentially, I think your site's argument is _so_ weak that I don't even feel a need to argue against it. For comparison, would you truly waste your time and get into an argument with a person who believes the Earth is flat?"

Thank you for your sharing with us your "rigorous" "scholarly" methodology of ascertaining truth.

Orthoprax said...

Thank you for your most valuable input. Your comments are very important to me.

natschuster said...

Do you habve any evidence that a trext written one hundred years after the aztecs stopped observcing their own culture, and only idsciovered twoo hundred years later, was ever actually accepterd by the
Aztecs as therir history? According to Wikipedia, their where other version written after the conquest that do not have a national revelation, just a eagle eating a bird.

Orthoprax said...

Nat,

First of all, it is a fallacy to assume that the Aztecs stopped observing their culture. They didn't and they even still exist today (though they mix in a dose of Catholicism). The text was written ~80 years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, but the Aztecs still maintained their traditions and their traditional beliefs for decades to come.

Now, Tezozomac was just one generation after the conquest, from very distinguished Aztec ancestry, and wrote with a specific interest for maintaing traditional Aztec stories in the minds of his people. I imagine that given the generaly illiteracy of the society, there was no one official version of the story and many versions coexisted, but I think Tezozomac is as good a source as we can get. The Spanish made full effort to basically destroy all Aztec religious artifacts so we have very little to work with directly from the pre-conquest period.

In any case, my point here is not just that this belief existed, but that since the very _claim_ of national revelation exists, it undermines R' Gottlieb's argument - as described elsewhere in the comments. Maybe this version wasn't a unanimously held view, but I don't believe Tezozomac, with his specific interest in maintaining traditional stories, would make it up from nothing.

natschuster said...

Was it ever even seen by the Aztecs and accepted by the Aztecs as part of thier history? If it was accepted Aztec history, why wasn't the story of a national revelation included in other versions that we know the aztecs saw?

Orthoprax said...

Nat,

I don't think Aztecs had the same understanding of what "history" is that you are implying. It was more of a flowing narrative about common myths than about a timeline of specific events.

I certainly presume this was a version known to the Aztecs, or what was left of them, though since the revelation doesn't add much to the actual course of events, it could easily be dropped in more colloquial versions - as we might read on wikipedia.

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Anonymous said...

Hi,

It appears the aztec claim is not that the god spoke to everyone in a national revelation, but rather that the god spoke only to the priests, and then the priests communicated the message to the masses. So hardly a national revelatory claim.

3 sources:

1- http://books.google.ca/books?id=ooTup42hE5UC&pg=PA36&lpg=PA36&dq=Huitzilopochtli+%2B+migration+%2B+spoke&source=bl&ots=ie0mgg2nWr&sig=Zx1s7rsgDJvjg6o6kmfFLKdUlqw&hl=en&ei=B5GAS5-1O8iWtgeJrpXWBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CCMQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false

See pg. 31-32: "Huitzilopochtli, later identified as a god of war, communicated directly with his high priests via dreams and profound trances, bestowing on them omens, prophecies and navigational tools to arrive at their promised land."

2- "These priests voiced Huitzilopochtli’s oracular directions as to where the combined Mexica-Aztec tribe was next to travel."

http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:nwdGQ7tLFugJ:www.aztlan.net/quest_for_aztlan.htm+Huitzilopochtli+%2B+priests+%2B+migration&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca

3-" Huitziton, a person of great authority...heard in the branches of a tree the trilling of a small bird...struck at this, and communicating his impressions to another personage...they both induced the Aztecs to leave their country, interpreting the song as a mandate from divinity."

See pg. 140

http://books.google.ca/books?id=4OgUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA140&lpg=PA140&dq=Huitzilopochtli+%2B+Tecpaltzin&source=bl&ots=WNyYc04Vfk&sig=HTassLRSOfBBUik9cGvBpejhVak&hl=en&ei=8IuAS_b-O8qutgfEoqyaBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=&f=false

So it looks that the aztec belief was that their war god did not communicate to the people, but rather to the high priests, who then relayed the claimed divine message on to the masses. But according to these sources, the Aztecs did not have a legend that it was the god Huitzilopochtli who spoke directly to everybody. So we can see this is definitely not a national revelation from god, but rather a relayed message from priests. This, unlike a national revelatory claim, is exactly what we’d expect to see in legends.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Just like the Israelites relied on Moses for general directions of God's communication and only had one experience of national revelation, so too did the Aztec's story have only the one point where it's said that they all heard their god speak.

'And the god called out to them, he said to them,
"O Mexicans, it shall be here!"
(But the Mexicans did not see who spoke).'

Anonymous said...

Sinai: The argument is that one cannot convince a nation that all of their ancestors all experienced a significant, central event if such a thing did not happen.

With the Aztecs, even if the source means what you say (god spoke to everyone), AND it this detail was widely believed (both of which appear unlikely), it still doesn’t alter the argument because it was clearly not portrayed as any significant event in itself: the tradition goes out of its way to say the people neither saw nor heard anything special or out of the ordinary that would identify it as god (as opposed to a priest). I argue one cannot fabricate the story of a central, significant event, not a minor detail which even their own records downplay.
In this tale, even according to your interpretation, the people really experienced nothing at all- a minor detail in the overall story. Sinai, conversely, the people are clearly alleged to have all heard god, identified it as Him, with the thunder, etc., and was constantly mentioned throughout Tanach and Jewish literature as a very significant event. That- you can’t fabricate.

This text never clearly says he’s speaking to all the people.
In fact, the legend seems to be that the god spoke to a group of wise men at that moment, not the entire nation:
“Hearing Huitzilopochtli’s words, The council of wise men wept with relief and gratitude, realizing they had finally arrived at their rightful home…‘So our town is to be here…at last we have been worthy of our god. We are favored. We are blessed.’”
http://books.google.ca/books?id=7pmnDdrelwgC&pg=PA74&lpg=PA74&dq=Huitzilopochtli+%2B+feathers+%2B+snake+%2B+bones+%2B+%22This+is+the+place%22&source=bl&ots=1J9th_Suf2&sig=qnHAIjxKZV8El0yuG6lmkEkEAv0&hl=en&ei=zGeZS5P-BYz4M73MrHs&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CA0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=&f=false
That would explain why the god’s words were not the most significant event- because he never spoke to the entire people.
In fact, most scholarly references of the legend don’t even have the part when the god spoke to everyone- it’s completely absent (pg. 43-44):
http://books.google.ca/books?id=193tKPdM-ykC&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=Huitzilopochtli+%2B+%22This+is+the+place%22&source=bl&ots=5sUteUzBbB&sig=Waf6Zncvhhx1HmjRMCSs902fCvY&hl=en&ei=nGyZS8XDGY7kNbao6Xo&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CA8Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=&f=false
If this were a widely-accepted part of the legend, it would be highly unlikely that these sources don’t even mention it.
So it appears that:
Your source does not say god spoke to everyone, but only a specific group. And even if this source does make that claim, it doesn’t appear that this detail was even believed among the people- since almost no sources even mention the god speaking to them, while they all mention the eagle. AND- even if it were widely believed, that would be very possible to exist falsely, because the tradition makes it clear the people experienced nothing unusual or special at all at that moment that would have been a ‘memorable’ and let them identify it as god (rather than a priest).
Even the eagle appearing to the people, as it reads in the text, was actually just to the priests, not everyone:
"The god's first shrine in the valley of Mexico was built on a spot where priests found an eagle poised upon a rock.”
http://books.google.ca/books?id=ZP_f9icf2roC&pg=PA477&dq=Huitzilopochtli+%2B+eagle+%2B+priests+%2B+rock&cd=5#v=onepage&q=Huitzilopochtli%20%20%20eagle%20%20%20priests%20%20%20rock&f=false

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"the tradition goes out of its way to say the people neither saw nor heard anything special or out of the ordinary that would identify it as god (as opposed to a priest). I argue one cannot fabricate the story of a central, significant event, not a minor detail which even their own records downplay."

Sure, but this record was just a couple hundred years after the events in question. If it had not been written down and had been told over orally from one generation to the next do you not think embellishment and even changing of the story over time is implausible? Hardly, it is likely.

This tale may mimic a young version of the Sinai story in terms of cultural evolution.

"If this were a widely-accepted part of the legend, it would be highly unlikely that these sources don’t even mention it."

It's hard to assess how widely-accepted this version was since the Aztecs had no text-based records and the Spaniards made a mostly successful campaign of destroying artifacts of Aztec culture. This is not the version pieced together by scholars, but from Tezozomac, grandson of Montezuma himself.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, I think you recognize there are just way too many holes in their tradition (and your reading of it) to be a valid comparison to Sinai.

You can say- well maybe their legend changed from that of a significant, dramatic national revelation, into what we have today. Well, maybe it did. But that recognizes that we have today reading your source is not a dramatic national revelation at all, is it? In fact, this entire event happened in 1325, only 700 years ago, and your source was only 300 years after! What a strange thing that no other recollections of this legend includes this detail (it's a very famous legent)- but they all suspiciously omit the god speaking part.

I realize this is the source from an aztec himself, but of course you are reading a translation, and dare I say scholars have pored over his material and know what the claim is, rather than a casual 1-time reading, and assuming we understand a 400-year old, translated document on our own.

This source, unlike Sinai, is not the source of the legend itself. It was written 300 years after the legend arose- it's merely a 'recollection' of the legends, so that would be a plausible reason why he includes a detail which no other retellings of the event have.

Just to recap:

1/ Your source never actually says the god spoke to all the people- it could easily be interpreted as referring to a specific group.

2/ The other 99% of their legends relating to this god have him speaking to the priests, who then directed the message to them. It seems illogical to jump on this ambiguity and then make it part the only exception to the rule.

3/ The scholarly sources I gave actually say their god spoke to a specific group of people (wise men and/or priests). It was only the priests who saw the eagle, and this allegedly happened at the same time, so it would logically be the same group.

4/ The fact that, while the overall story is readily available in scholarly books, this particular detail about god speaking to everyone, is noticeably absent (unless it’s specifically discussing your source). That would seem to indicate that, far from being part of the national consciousness, this detail was simply not part of it, or at least, not among any of the major groups. It seems likely that, if #1-3 are false, the writer of your source was not representing the widespread legend in this detail, but perhaps interpreted the unknown speaker as god (since his text makes clear that no one saw or even heard anything to indicate anything special).

5/ Even if all the above is false, it is immensely different from Sinai in that your source goes out of its way to minimize the event, both by mentioning it only briefly, and specifically saying that nothing in that moment left anyone able to identify whether it was a god or someone else who spoke. Again, the argument is that one cannot fabricate an event of national significance. Even if # 1,2,3,4 are false, this legend does not discuss the event itself (ie. The migration), but rather, a minor detail. The argument is you cannot fabricate an event, not a minor detail of it.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax,

I misunderstood one of your points. I apologize- you were saying that their legend, if given more time, could become a big dramatic event like Sinai.

Well, perhaps- if given many hundreds of years, *perhaps* this myth would have become something more dramatic and significant.

But that of course didn’t happen.

The fact is- this legend we are looking at right now, the one you're providing, is not comparable to Sinai for a number of very good reasons (only one of which is the claim that it was a small, undramatic event). So until we find a new legend from a group that says what you suggest, then otherwise we ought to recognize that this Aztec legend simply is far too different from Sinai to draw any meaningful parallel.

It does no good to give hypothetical, historical-revisionist scenarios. My claim is that once cannot fabricate such a central claim if it were false, and there's no shortage of peoples with legends, so it's a strange thing that no group's myths have evolved into a 'national' claim as the Hebrews did.

So until we find one that does, I don’t think it’s relevant to hypothesize about what *could* have happened, if only history were different.

As it stands now, this legend is not comparable to Sinai.

YITZMO said...

orthoprax,

of all the wondrous debate that has taken place on this blog on this topic since 2007, is there really any chance that someone's going to "convince" you that sinai indeed happened and it is indeed incumbent upon every jew to practice judaism, whatever that may mean?

i mean at the end of the day, all the intellectual stuff just ain't really gonna do it right. you're either in or you're out. that's what emuna's all about. we're talking about our human minds attempting to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite and everybody who has commented here knows full well that that just ain't ever gonna happen. only emuna can make that connection between the tower (of bavel?) of our knowledge and the infinite depth of the Infinite One.

you really wanna know the truth? experience it. just like all the yiddin did at sinai, just like all the prophets did, just like all the mekublim have done and still do today.
there's chochmah and binah but until one experiences the ideas in the realm of da'as there's really nothing to talk about. da'as is knowing. we can all talk and talk and talk, but you'll never know until ya just KNOW.
sorry to disappoint but that's just the way the Abishter made this whole crazy spirituality thing work.

i'd love to write more but i think it deserves an entire reading of all the posts before i could justifiably do such a thing.

honestly, you got a great kop over there, and your determination for the truth is nothing less than admirable. hatzlacha rabba and a kol tuv!

-yitzmo and the mozenators

YES!

Anonymous said...

Nice try but it misses the mark. The above verses are taken out of context. I read the entire translation and huitzilopochtli is repeatedly referred to as both a priest and a god. Clearly the above verses are referring to a human. Gottliebs assertion still stands.

S Edelman said...

Has a people ever heard the voice of G-d speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard AND SURVIVED?' (Deut. 4:32-33) The Aztecs have not survivied. ... "The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmaties, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" --Mark Twain, September 1897 CHECK OUT THE FACTS!

S Edelman said...

You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know

Anonymous said...

S Edelman,

So you accept that the Aztecs collectively did indeed hear the voice of God?

Interesting.

Of course, the "survived" aspect of that verse is mere interpretation as it actually only refers to those Israelites who lived through the event, not referring to the lasting existence of the Jewish people.

In a similar way, the Aztecs also survived that close encounter with their god.

-OP

S Edelman said...

I don't know if the Aztecs collectively heard the voice from their stone idol,...but for the sake of argument let's say they did,...

In all humility coming from me - whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not, you are thinking EXACTLY like the Talmudic sages and great Jewish and Gentile thinkers. You are questioning anything you want to, and that is great!

That said, You are bringing up a great question - What does "survived" mean? Survive the event? Survive eternally?

Jer 31-34. Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is his name.
35. If those ordinances depart from before me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.

That said, I also refer you to Number 1 below from simpletoremember.com

The 7 Wonders of Jewish History by R. Moty Berger from AishAudio.com

The Seven Wonders of Jewish History
1) Eternal Nation
2) Exile and Dispersion
3) Few In Number
4) Anti-Semitism
5) Light to the Nations
6) The Interdependency of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel
7) The Return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel
Conclusion


1 It has been prophesied in the Torah that Jews would be an eternal nation:
"And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your descendants after you, throughout the generations. An eternal covenant to be your God, and the God of your descendants after you" (Genesis 17-7).
This promise is repeated many times throughout the Torah (Leviticus 26:43, Deuteronomy 4:26-27, Deut. 28:63-64). And it has come true. Even though Jews did not have a homeland, a common language or a shared history (the factors that historians use to define a nation), they have remained a distinct people.

Conclusion-
When we look at Jewish history, we see a history where the Jewish people have defied the laws of nature and the laws of history! We have survived and impacted this world though we have been thrown out of our land not once, but twice! We have impacted the world perhaps more than any other people in history -- the concepts of the value of human life, universal education, justice and equality, the importance of and goal of world peace (as opposed to glorifying war), the importance of a strong stable family as a basis for a moral foundation for society, individual and national responsibility for the world -- though we were beaten, killed and exiled from one nation to the other. Though few in number and spread to the four corners of the earth, we survived as a people, never assimilating into anonymity. Even our land, the Land of Israel, defied the laws of nature, only fertile when the Jewish people inhabited it.
Coincidence? Good luck? A roll of the dice? Perhaps --except that each and every phenomena was prophesied and predicted in the Torah hundreds and thousands of years before the events. Does it make you think that perhaps something is going on here? That perhaps there is a special relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people?
The Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah are intertwined. In the past 3,300 years there have been effort after effort --from within as well as from without -- to redefine and redirect our people. Each and every one has failed. If you wonder why, then perhaps the time has come to read the Torah and find out. The Torah is not only our heritage, it is the game plan for the Jewish people and the world.
by: Rabbi Kalman Packouz and Rabbi Asher Resnick
edited by: SimpleToRemember.com

S Edelman said...

It says 'the Aztecs' heard him speak. What did he say? Are there any Aztecs we can speak with who can tell us what he said?

Anonymous said...

S Edelman,

"That said, You are bringing up a great question - What does "survived" mean? Survive the event? Survive eternally?"

In the verse from Devarim, it refers to surviving the event. This is where you get the famous drasha that the people actually died after the first commandment - and then were brought back to life. Then died again after the second - and were again revived by God. After this the Israelites begged to no longer experience God directly.

Its a much later interpretation to use "survive" in the sense of continuing to exist as a people for thousands of years.

In any event, using a prophesy for a nation's continued existence as evidence of truth is self-fulfilling. The only way for it to be shown false is if everyone for whom it would be meaningful would be dead! And at that point nobody would care.

Regarding many of the other points you raise from simple to remember, there are actually rational explanations but it would be laborious to respond to in detail here. I have responses to most of them elsewhere o this blog.

Regarding the Aztecs, they reportedly heard their god speak what was seen in quotes. Not sure why you think its important though.

-OP

Anonymous said...

There is no comparison between what happened to the Israelites and this one sentence of the Aztecs. It's nice of you to try, but no cigar. You are comparing apples to peanuts. Keep trying!

Anonymous said...

I am a different anonymous. My opinion: Most of the various “Pro Kuzari” posts seem convoluted and artificial. Also
FACT there is no empirical a evidence of Sinai event
FACT The Torah that states the event has questionable credibility. All the miracles, contradictions, apparent myths, magic etc: etc:

Now we a have a story according to Yahweh’s chosen people. Roughly as follows.
That Yahweh intervened in human affairs, performs all kinds of miracles to free an enslaved tribe, then miracle upon miracle kept this tribe of hundreds of thousands of people in the desert alive for 40 years. Yahweh also came down to a mountain in a desert and made them the chosen people.

We have two explanations

A) The Exodus and Sinai story as essentially nation building myths. folk lore, propaganda...
B) That the story actually happened.

The more reasonable explanation is the former. It explains the story in the context of human affairs and natural phenomena. The latter explanation implies some supernatural Yahweh god exists and he can do miracles that add a level of complexity that strains the imagination and creates more unsolved problems than it solves. Also see my comments at http://truetorah.blogspot.com/2012/05/part-1-archaeology.html?showComment=1369036031892#c534400231874616655
My opinion and I have no time to debate it, Figure it out yourself.

Anonymous said...

We do have to wonder about all extant versions of this story including the eagle but only this version including the god speaking.

After all, what's more noteworthy? An eagle landing on a rock, or a god speaking to human beings? It's not the sort of detail likely to be left out of other versions by mistake.

Most likely this was not part of the Aztec consciousness but rather a latter-day embellishment to an interesting story.