Sunday, February 21, 2010

From the Mail Bin

"I've been reading your blogs and i find them quite intriguing. I agree with u regarding the many myth and fable like stories in the Bible. The part that i find more difficult is that if the Torah was not given as a Divine Revelation then how did we get such a complex and vast Talmudic system. I mean the laws in the Talmud seem so far fetched and abstract that its difficult to believe that God didnt have some part of it. I dont thing there is any other man made system of laws that is as vast and complex as the Talmud. what r your thoughts?"


Whether God had a part in it or not is not the question, since most would agree that the Talmud was composed l'shem shamayim and with God in mind. The question is whether Talmudic law requires supernatural intervention to explain itself. I don't believe it does. I don't know if you've studied the Talmud but it's essentially an effort to justify and further clarify the rules of the Mishna from the text of the Torah with proof texts, allusions and the like.

Many times these proof texts work very well and are indeed impressive and clever, but that should be expected since the Mishna itself was composed with the Torah in mind. Other times though the efforts of the Amoraim (the Talmudic scholars) seem pretty strained and they have to go through several iterations of hair-splitting or "this-case-is-an-exception-because..." in order to come to some conclusion when an apparent contradiction arises. And there are also plenty of times when the Talmudic discussion ends in "Taiku" - where they can figure out no resolution.

Add in the fact that the Talmud itself occasionally cites natural "facts" that are now known to be false to make arguments or simply as side discussion, complements the conclusion that it is a great but still an eminently human work.

If you're looking for another vast and complex system of laws, I'd refer you to the United States' tax code. For comparison, the Talmud is written formally on less than 6000 pages, while the tax code is now more than 16,000, 70,000.

80 comments:

frumheretic said...

I couldn't find any on-line source, so based on one daf only, I estimated that there are almost 10 Million words on the Gemara. This includes all commentaries on the page (Rashi, Tosafot, Ayin Mishpat). That's way more than the tax code, and doesn't include the myriad of commentaries both within a shas and outside it, which are often necessary to understand it.

So I'd say that the tax code (3.7 million words) pales in comparison.

I'd also venture to say that the Talmud is vastly more complex than the tax code. Just a gut feeling.

Of course, neither the size nor the complexity of the Talmud is relevant to the question whether God had some part in it.

Orthoprax said...

The Talmud proper has about 2.5 million words - and it's subject matter runs more than the entire gamut of human experience, as opposed to just one subject. How many books do you think exist that offer commentary on the tax code?

The point isn't to make a contest but that complexity doesn't offer any sense of divine intervention.

frumheretic said...

I agree with your final point, which was my final point also!

B. Spinoza said...

Ask Dr. Orthoprax. You should make this a regular feature of your blog :)

Anonymous said...

Have you guys ever checked out the vast, vast libraries of ancient budhist thought, much of it in Pali and other ancient languages and not translated to modern languages.

Miri said...

Also, I'm told that Islam has developed a body of legalistic literature very similar to the talmud and it's various commentaries. which is not surprising, when you consider that the talmud was being written just around the time Islam was getting started in the world. but I think the more important point is that literary traditions of almost any kind develop on themselves in a similar fashion - the basic body texts, then the commentaries, legends, addendums and interpretations follow and it becomes a large body of work that organically forms its own culture and traditions. there's no reason why the talmud would have developed any differently; and to reiterate a point made three times above already, there's certainly no need to imply a divine involvement.

Phil said...

"Whether God had a part in it or not is not the question."

I'm not so quick to dismiss this question as insignificant. Once you allow for the "Divine foot in the door" (to borrow a phrase from Lewontin) and believe that at least some of the Talmud is divine in some sense, the perspective on how to accept Talmudic teachings can change greatly.

Phil said...

The questioner points to the question of "the Divine Revelation of the Torah" and also to the "vast and complex Talmud." I can't tell if he meant the gemara, or the mishna-gemara combo.

Perhaps he holds that the part of the Talmud that God had "some part in" is the Mishna, while acknowledging that the gemara is largely man-made (in which case your answer would be irrelevant to him). Maybe you should've focussed on the issue of the Mishnah being possibly/partially divine.

Orthoprax said...

Phil,

"I'm not so quick to dismiss this question as insignificant"

I didn't dismiss the issue, my comment was with respect to the idea that the Talmud is indeed divine in some sense since it was surely composed l'shem shamayim and with God in thought.

Also, I believe the questioner he is referring to the Talmud proper, since the Mishnah is not particularly vast or complex.

I'm not trying to argue whether in some respect these texts are involved with God or divine or holy, but whether they require any special supernatural intervention to explain their existence.

Miri said...

Orthoprax,
I don't know that I'd say that the Mishnah is not vast and complex, despite the fact that you can fit the entire text plus kahati in six paperback volumes; well, anyway it's reasonably complex. But the larger point is that the Mishnah was also written by a man, and I'm not really sure why anyone thinks it requires divine involvement for its own justification. The fact that it was organized and written by one man as opposed to a bunch of different people over several generations somehow necessitates G-d's involvement? Is that the idea?

perfume said...

I am the questioner

The purpose of the question was as follows

1. The Talmud's( mishna+ gemara) complexity proves that there was a divine event on Sinai and that the Torah is from God

However Orthoprax explained that the Talmud's complexity stems from man's genius and not from any Divine intervention.

The fact that "Talmud was composed l'shem shamayim and with God in mind." does not have much effect on me because u can say the same thing regarding the koran and new testament, etc.

If God was not involved with the Torah then it greatly reduces the effect that I will let the Torah have on my life.

I will live my life by taking what i feel r the best ideas from all religions, science, and philosophies and not just Judaism.

This also gives me great leeway in what halachas I feel benefit me personally and which don't.. There are many laws that I kept because i thought they were from God even though I felt that were not beneficial to me.

On one hand it's scary to feel that God does not have such an intimate relationship with us as the Torah would make us believe, but on the other hand I feel more free to grow and develop outside the strict confines of Judaism.

Alex said...

Depending on my mood, I can find ways that keeping the law of shaatnez benefits me, and I can find ways that the law of, say, not stealing doesn't benefit me.

perfume said...

Alex, I think it's important to live according to the laws of the society that one lives in. Stealing is obviously frowned upon in America while shaatnez not so much. However, if one could prove to me the the law of shaatnez is from God then i would ofcourse keep the law.

Anonymous said...

First things first: the Talmud's authority (and indeed, the rabbis' authority) does not derive from proofs in those texts, but rather the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, which give the teachers and leaders of Israel the role of arbitrators of the Law.

Secondly, the Talmud truly is unique and not comparable to any U.S. system of laws for a number of reasons.

The commenter was not noting the mere size of the Talmud, but rather its intense complexity and depth, which really there is no equivalent in any U.S. law.

The U.S. has many many times the Jewish population (not just now, but since its inception). The U.S. tax code is legally enforced by very strict (and carried out) penalties, plus there are no significant threats to the existence of the U.S. tax code.

But the true wonder of the Talmud (or more generally, rabbinic tradition) is that it was followed by Jews from Poland to Yemen, over a course of 1,500 years, covering every conceivable aspect of life, and despite enormous direct threats and attempts at its destruction, it has been THE factor in maintaining Jews with Judaism for the last 15 centuries.

I do not think any comparable system exists.

That doesn't "prove" the Talmud's divine authority, but then again, it's not meant to. The Talmud's authority is derived from the Hebrew Bible itself.

Anonymous said...

To remark on a couple above posts about Buddhist & Islamic texts, I'd ask the following questions:

- Have those texts ever had consistent, centuries-long, influential and direct attempts to destroy them by powers/states many times larger?
- Have those texts been the primary source of learning for every generation, and the primary source of answers and discussion for adherents of that faith, for people across the world, levels of observance, language, culture and generation?

In short, have these texts had the central significance in Islam and Buddhism that they have had in Jews, and was the existence of such texts ever in doubt? If not, then we're simply comparing apples and oranges.

perfume said...

"First things first: the Talmud's authority (and indeed, the rabbis' authority) does not derive from proofs in those texts, but rather the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, which give the teachers and leaders of Israel the role of arbitrators of the Law."

The point is that the Hebrew Scriptures also can not be proved to be given by God. Therefore both The Hebrew Scriptures and the Talmud r most likely man made systems of laws.

Anonymous said...

Perfume, that's another discussion-the divinity of scripture.

I simply rebutted the point that the Talmud's authority is garnered from itself, rather than the Hebrew Scriptures.

No one really claims they can "prove" the Hebrew Scriptures true- merely providing positive evidence in favour of that. And yes, I believe there is positive evidence that the Jewish national tradition is accurate, from the Sinai revelation (which orthoprax once compared to an aztec legend, which is in fact not even close to a national revelation), to the paradox of Jewish history and persecution, implausible yet fulfilled claims in Scripture, the impact of the Jewish people on global civilization despite their tiny size, etc.

So none of these are "proof," but certainly positive evidence, and once one includes the cosmological reality of the world (ie. world is finite as Torah says- ie. Big Bang), then it is certainly unjustified to make the assertion that it's a closed case. Heck, even the archaeologists often quoted by skeptics (Finkelstein, et al) say the Hebrew Scriptures accuracy is- in the words of Finkelstein, "amazing." So I'm asking for just a bit of nuance before you make such strong claims.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"First things first: the Talmud's authority (and indeed, the rabbis' authority) does not derive from proofs in those texts, but rather the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, which give the teachers and leaders of Israel the role of arbitrators of the Law."

And that scripture has that derivation because it was so interpreted by Rabbinic understanding. In other words, the Rabbis' authority is granted by the Rabbis. :-)

"The commenter was not noting the mere size of the Talmud, but rather its intense complexity and depth, which really there is no equivalent in any U.S. law."

Have you read US tax law? There is not one person alive who understands it all. There probably isn't one person alive who has read it all.

"But the true wonder of the Talmud (or more generally, rabbinic tradition) is that it was followed by Jews from Poland to Yemen, over a course of 1,500 years, covering every conceivable aspect of life, and despite enormous direct threats and attempts at its destruction, it has been THE factor in maintaining Jews with Judaism for the last 15 centuries. I do not think any comparable system exists."

What has that to do with being a system? That's just a matter of being a very well-protected document. It's a testament to the regard which the Jews held to it over the centuries - and in that regard alone it should engender great esteem - but that tells us nothing about it's intrinsic character or origin.



"And yes, I believe there is positive evidence that the Jewish national tradition is accurate..."

I don't want to get into a long debate regarding all the things you mentioned, though I assure you they all have their counterarguments, but I am curious about your beliefs regarding how many Israelites left Egypt and how many Egyptians existed at that time in history? How many people lived on Earth during the Exodus?

Orthoprax said...

"Heck, even the archaeologists often quoted by skeptics (Finkelstein, et al) say the Hebrew Scriptures accuracy is- in the words of Finkelstein, "amazing.""

Where does he say that? I am certain he does not have that opinion about the records of all Tanach.

perfume said...

Anon
There are also many inconsistencies in the Torah that point to the fact that its a man made book

A. The literary set up of the text often demonstrates (in my opinion) that we are reading fiction. The youngest son motif, the the barren woman motif, the brilliant word plays by people who don't even speak Hebrew (i.e. Pharoah, pharoah's daughter, Laban, etc.) In what way other than fiction could Rahav the harlot reference Az Yashir in her speech to the spies?

B. The excellent editing process doesn't erase inconsistencies in the text. For example (I will just do some random ones, I could go all day with this):

1. Although there is much to learn from Abraham and Isaac's claiming their wives were their sisters in comparison with each other, the stories in context don't work well. Sarah is old enough that she laughs (she even claims others will laugh) when told that she will have children, yet she is taken by Avimelekh because of how fair she is? Come on! This is a contradiction between two versions of the Abraham and Sarah stories, one where she is young and beautiful and one where she is old. Rebekkah and Isaac have twins, and Avimelekh takes her as well thinking she is Isaac's unmarried sister? (You could say the Isaac stories are out of order, if that works for you, I guess.)

2. Jacob has 12 children in seven years. Even with four wives this is a serious stretch keeping in mind nursing, etc. Leah has 7 just in this period, and even has time to worry about how she stopped having children! Come on! This is an attempt to fit two traditions together, the many births and the idea that they were all born in Aram before Jacob asked to leave.

3. Who was Moshe's father-in-law, Hovav, Reuel or Jethro?

4. Who brought Joseph to Egypt? The Midianites, the Madanites or the Ishmaelites.

5. The book of Devarim is totally contradictory to the rest of the Torah. Just read through the first four chapters with an open mind and you'll see two things. First, you'll see that every single assertion Moshe makes contradicts the accounts in Shmot/Bamidmar. Second, you'll see that it is filled with parenthetical asides (i.e. editorial comments), some of which reference a later period.

6. There are stories, like the spy story, the Noah story and the Korach/Datan and Aviram story, which are clearly jumping between two versions with differing details. They have all been edited to make them work together better; Noah has been excessively spliced, Korah and the spies are missing one introduction a piece, and Korah's name has been added in a few extra times, but the cracks are still clear. For example:

a. Spies: Was it Moshe or Moshe and Aaron as the leaders who God and the people speak with? Was it Caleb or Caleb and Joshua? Why is everything happening twice?
b. Korah: Was the rebellion about God and Moshe not taking the people into Israel or is it about Aaron having too much power and cutting the rest of the Levites out? How does Korah die, with Datan and Aviram in the earth or with the 250 incense lighters?
c. Was it rain or was it the unplugging of the heavens? 7 pairs of clean animals or 1 pair of each? 40 days or 150 days?

perfume said...

The legal sections are also problematic. For example:

7. Is Ma'aser supposed to be for yourself to be eaten in God's place but every third year for the poor and the Levites (Deut. 14:22-29), or is Ma'aser a tax that goes to the Levite for his temple service (Numbers 18:21-24)?

8. Do slaves go free on the seventh year (Ex. 21:1-6, Deut. 15:12-18), or do they go free at Yovel (Lev. 25:39-55)?

9. Do we cover the blood of slaughtered animals (Lev. 17:13) or do we just spill it on the ground (Deut. 12:16,24,15:23)

10. Is it permitted to eat non-sacrificed animals (Deut. 12:15) or is it necessary to sacrifice all sacrificial animals (Lev. 17)?

All of this is just internal inconsistencies. I have not dealt with the historical impossibilities of the stories in the Torah, which are also numerous,
examples:

A. There were no Philistines in the time of Abraham, and the city of Gerar (Tel Harar) was not yet founded, and certainly not as a real city.

B. There is no evidence of a massive collapse corresponding to a slave revolt in Egyptian texts.

C. There is no evidence of large scale dwellings in the Sinai Desert or in Kadesh Barnea in the Exodus times, and archaologists claim that this is tracable with modern technology.

D. Very few of the cities claimed to have been conquered by Joshua show destruction layers from this time period, many don't even have occupation layers.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax,

You can find Finkelstein’s quote referenced on pg. 5 in the book “The quest for the Historical Israel,” written by him, Amohai Mazar and edited by Brian Schmidt. Finkelstein does not have that view of all of Tanach, and I never claimed he did. But there are plenty of archaeologists and Egyptologists who do say that (Prof. Kenneth Kitchen, for example). To say the historicity of the Hebrew Bible is very good, especially for a skeptic/minimalist, is significant. Kitchen wrote of the Tanach: "In terms of general reliability,the Old Testament comes out remarkably well..."

The Tanach providing authority to the teachers of Israel is not an interpretation of the rabbis- it is a consistent message. The Judges and the priests are the ones who Scripture gives the authority to arbitrate the Law (Deut 17:9). The Tanach draws a distinction between the prophets and the teachers/priests. The prophets teach Israel specific commandments, and priests teach the people the practical applications of the law.

The teachers are leaders of Israel, and they are the ones who arbitrate the law (Lev. 10:11, Deut 33:10, Mal. 2:6, Ez. 44:23, etc.). It was in Shemot 18:25 that Moses gave this authority to the teachers of Israel. And priests/leaders does not mean those at the Temple, as at the burning bush we see G-d tells moses to speak to Israel’s leaders in Egypt. So the teachers/leaders are not appointed, but come about through a living process.

This is not ‘rabbinic interpretation,’ but the direct and consistent teaching of Scripture.

It’s irrelevant to quibble over how many specific Israelites I think left Egypt. Scholars debate the meaning of many texts (Does 480 years mean 480 years, or 12 generations, as each one is generally viewed to be 40 years? Did the exodus take place in 15th century BCE or 13th century BCE?, etc)

There are way too many variables/questions to pigeonhole me into giving a specific number/date, and the details are very secondary in nature- the claim is about the event itself.

As for the aztec claim, since this post is long, I'll put it under your response in Aztec post #2.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"You can find Finkelstein’s quote referenced on pg. 5 in the book “The quest for the Historical Israel,”"

Ha, yeah he says that it would be "amazing" if the basic convergence of many geographic and historical details with records in Tanach were a coincidence. That's actually the inverse of what you appeared to imply - as if the text is amazingly accurate.

It would be amazing if a man named Jesus never lived ~2000 years ago and was killed by the Romans. But the New Testament is not amazingly accurate - savvy?

"The Tanach providing authority to the teachers of Israel is not an interpretation of the rabbis- it is a consistent message. The Judges and the priests are the ones who Scripture gives the authority to arbitrate the Law (Deut 17:9)."

Arbitration is not the same as legislation. Who appointed the first rabbis as leaders of Israel? The Pharisees as a group had a unique interpretation of scripture and theology who grew over time, by probably common consent, to hold power over the people. The extent to which their successors, the Rabbis, became "teachers" and the powers they determined to make law and derive conclusions came solely from their externally derived interpretations of scripture.

Going from mere arbitration to the creation of a compendium of rules that is much longer than the Torah itself is a liberty that the Rabbis granted themselves.

"It’s irrelevant to quibble over how many specific Israelites I think left Egypt."

Ok, let's not quibble. More or less than 2 million Israelites? Do you think ~600,000 able bodied men on the move and armed for battle (Ex. 3:18) would be a meak and weak bunch of people unwilling to take on a few tribes in Canaan - or would it actually be a force large enough to possibly conquer the known world of the Iron Age if it so chose?

Anonymous said...

No, orthoprax, read the quote again on Finkelstein:

"Finkelstein notes that archaeological surveys, settlement studies...converge with the biblical traditions in numerous points having to do with geographical and historical matters pertaining to the Iron Age. He asks rhetorically whether or not this is mere coincidence and then goes on to describe such a possibility as "amazing." On the next page, he says these facts "strike a serious blow" to those who deny the historicity of many biblical events.

Come on, man. He's saying the biblical tradition is backed up in many places, and then says that the possibility of such a thing happening is amazing. Ie. that one wouldn't think it would be the case, but it is. He's on the skeptical side.

The rabbis did not create legislation- there are a handful of exceptions to this (prozbul, Esther, etc.). Regarding the 99.5% of the cases, the teachers of Israel were given the authority to arbitrate law by scripture. If you want to discuss the exceptions of new laws (Purim), etc., then that's a different discussion. But again, these cases reflect the vast majority. The text cannot be clearer in this regard- it was practised and written long before any schisms in Second Temple Period, and give authority to the teachers of Israel- whoever becomes the Teachers of Israel has that authority.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Come on, man. He's saying the biblical tradition is backed up in many places, and then says that the possibility of such a thing happening is amazing"

No, he clearly says only that the prospect of factual convergence being coincidental is amazing. I.E he is not as much a minimalist as you think he is. The actual sentence which Finkelstein uses the word "amazing" is on page 13 of the same text. His whole introduction is very obviously arguing against the strong minimalist position.

"The rabbis did not create legislation- there are a handful of exceptions to this (prozbul, Esther, etc.). Regarding the 99.5% of the cases, the teachers of Israel were given the authority to arbitrate law by scripture."

You can legislate by "arbitration." The rabbis took it upon themselves to be the most activist of activist judges, besides for the more obvious cases of Rabbinic novelty like prozbul, etc.

Orthoprax said...

So, not going to answer the numbers question, eh?

Other questions? Do you believe in talking snakes? Giants? Witches? Life spans into the high hundreds of years? A global flood that destroyed virtually all life on earth ~4000 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, I'm not sure what your point of disagreement is. I gave Finkelstein's quote to demonstrate that even those who are non-maximalists/fundamentalists see the biblical tradition as reliable (or at least, large parts of it). That should aptly demonstrate that I did not misrepresent his quote as you alleged- he is making a positive statement about biblical tradition, and that it is more reliable than some would easily dismiss it as.

For the numbers- Again, I will not get stuck into a debate about minutea. If it was 2 million or less, I don't know. If scholars with phds who have been studying the bible for their entire lives are divided on the numbers. The word 'eleph' in Tanach- does that mean thousand, or rather the head of a group, as some scholars say? Perhaps it came to mean a thousand, but simply referred to head of a clan in the text itself. Well, as I said, that's very much a side detail, and I'm not going to pretend I have the extensive knowledge to make a statement about such a thing.

Anonymous said...

About the rabbinical leadership: With the notable (few) exceptions where the rabbis apparently created new laws (a separate point), the arbitration of the laws is the right of the teachers of Israel.

That means that the teachers of Israel ("rabbis") were given the right to interpret laws and teach them to the people. No society functions when laws are to be interpreted by every person on their own. The Tanach never says, when people have a dispute about the Law, they should just pray on their own and get their own answers. It never says they should just figure out the laws on their own. That's ridiculous. The Tanach, even for those who consider it a human work, is very detailed in matters of the law, so to think that the 'redactors' or editors somehow missed that basic point, is just not sensible.


Countries have constitutions which give that right over to the leaders- ie. judges. In much the same way, the Torah gives that right to the teachers of Israel, ie. rabbis. Whether one thinks rabbis overstepped their boundaries in some cases does not change the fact that the Torah gives Israel's teachers the right to interpret the law to the people.

In much the same way, whether one personally believes (justified or not) that there are too many activist judges in the U.S., that doesn't change the fact that the U.S. Constitution gives the right of interpretation of the law to them in the first place.

Miri said...

"Arbitration is not the same as legislation. Who appointed the first rabbis as leaders of Israel? The Pharisees as a group had a unique interpretation of scripture and theology who grew over time, by probably common consent, to hold power over the people. The extent to which their successors, the Rabbis, became "teachers" and the powers they determined to make law and derive conclusions came solely from their externally derived interpretations of scripture"

point of fact; the Rabbis seized control after the failure of the bar Kochba revolt. Judaism was at a crossroads, without any of its previous structures to hold it in place, and the rabbis, who had been quietly constructing an alternate structure all the while, stepped in and basically insisted on their own authority. the people obeyed them bc, quite simply, they didn't know what else to do and were too exhausted from the years of war and death to stage much of a resistance.
just fyi.

Anonymous said...

Hi Miri,

You are correct- the pharisees did have an interpretation that they ascribed to scripture, partaining to the Law. Now, the question is, who gave them that authority? The Scriptures, as I quoted a few passages above, are very clear, direct and consistent that the authority of interpretation of the Law goes to the teachers of Israel.

Now, what about the sadducees, essenes, etc., one might ask?

When the Tanach speaks of reward for obeying the Law, it speaks of those "written for life in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 4:3), but for those who contravene the Law, it says they will be "cut off from the midst of the nation." (Numbers 15:30). So we can see that those groups who have ceased to exist are clearly not part of those groups who have been loyal to the Law.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"I'm not sure what your point of disagreement is. I gave Finkelstein's quote to demonstrate that even those who are non-maximalists/fundamentalists see the biblical tradition as reliable (or at least, large parts of it)."

Which is actually not what you had said. Norman Finkelstein does not believe that the Bible is amazingly accurate, but rather as accurate as we would expect a place and period human work to be.

"For the numbers- Again, I will not get stuck into a debate about minutea. If it was 2 million or less, I don't know."

Ah, but you should know because the Kuzari proof tells you so, no? If the 2 million number from Sinai is inaccurate, what else is historically inaccurate, eh?

"The word 'eleph' in Tanach- does that mean thousand, or rather the head of a group, as some scholars say? Perhaps it came to mean a thousand, but simply referred to head of a clan in the text itself."

Sure, that works until you get to Bamidbar and they start counting in much more detail. :-) Maybe in Shemot it meant "clan" and in Bamidbar Moshe got confused by the old 'eleph' terminology and thought it meant 1000?

"That means that the teachers of Israel ("rabbis") were given the right to interpret laws and teach them to the people."

It's pretty obvious that historically the leaders of Israel were the priests, prophets, and kings. That changed over later on - so who decided that the new official teachers of Torah were THE TEACHERS besides for the Rabbis themselves?

"No society functions when laws are to be interpreted by every person on their own."

Not the point, nor did I suggest that. When I point at unjustified rule I'm not suggesting anarachy as the correct alternative. I'm not even suggesting the Rabbis did wrongly, but that the only source for their own justification for rule is external to the Torah in their own religious philosophy. Little doubt, had the Sadducees maintained control after the churban, it would have been the actual kohanim still running the show rather than the learned laity.

"So we can see that those groups who have ceased to exist are clearly not part of those groups who have been loyal to the Law."

Triumphalist nonsense. When Athenian democracy came to halt after the death of Alexander does that suggest to the world that dictatorship is the correct mode of rule?

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, the man's name is Israel Finkelstein, not Norman Finkelstein. His quote/paraphrase repeatedly states that he sees the Hebrew Scriptures as remarkably accurate, which is impressive considering he's far from a traditionalist scholar. He says the bible is confirmed by archaeology in many places, he says it deals a serious blow to minimalists, and then he asks rhetorically whether it's all a "coincidence" (ie. or something more...). Obviously, it's tongue-in-cheek, but his point is that it's surprisingly accurate, amazingly so because of its antiquity. He would not make such a big deal about its accuracy if it were nothing out of the ordinary for that period. It clearly is unusual. This whole quote about him was only meant to point out the biblical record is stronger than many skeptics sometimes claim, and Finkelstein is a scholar often quoted by them.

I didn't say 2 million is accurate or inaccurate. I said I didn't know which of our translations is correct. The word 'eleph' is used in both Exodus and Numbers (the census in Numbers ch. 1, for example), so the question is our *translation* of such words. The point is that scholars dispute what the bible means to say- 600 thousand or 600 clans? The kuzari doesn't specify a particular number, and the specific number, as I've said, is rather secondary. Whether it's 600,000, or tens of thousands, the number is not the relevance. In either case, it is the entirety of the Israelite nation which experienced the event, and with that, the claim is made. Either nunber is large enough to make them an identifiable group, and so it has no real impact on the claim.

Prophets did not arbitrate the law-they directed the people in their relationship with G-d. The priests and judges arbitrated the Law.

As we see (Ex. 3:16, 12:21), the Jews in Egypt had teachers who led them. There was no Temple, and not even a mishkan, so these were not sacrificial priests. The people, through an internal process, had followed elders. And when G-d chose leaders, it was these 'elders,' not a new group, who were chosen (Numbers 11:16, Deut. 1:13). So the leaders of the Jewish people, the people who arbitrate the Law, are the ones who are chosen by the Jewish people in that same natural, organic process.

No society functions without such a judicial branch arbitrating laws-but the rabbis' authority is not based on that philosophy. I mention it because it's quite obvious that whoever wrote the chumash was well aware that such a society needs a judicial system like that to survive, so to deny that it ascribes such a power to a group not only overlooks the many verses on this, but it also does not make sense, considering how much emphasis the bible puts on the Law (and thinking that biblical writers would not know that a society needs such a system to survive).

The Tanach makes clear that the primary curse of a group turning away from G-d's law is separation from the Covenant (Num. 15:30), so according to that, the Sadduccees, Essenes, Nazaranes, were all going in the wrong direction(s), and hence, cut off from the Covenant (or disappeared altogether). The rabbis did not interpret this after-the-fact; it's clear and direct, it long predates the churban, and this source (Chumash) was accepted by all the above groups as authoritative, so nobody could theoretically dispute it afterwards.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"the man's name is Israel Finkelstein, not Norman Finkelstein."

My error.

"Obviously, it's tongue-in-cheek, but his point is that it's surprisingly accurate, amazingly so because of its antiquity."

This is simply incorrect. You can read his whole introduction in his own words in the same text you reference. He does not say it is surprisingly or amazingly accurate, nor does he comment about the textual accuracy overcoming antiquity. You are putting words in his mouth for your own reasons. I'll just have to leave it to you or other readers to check the source for themselves.

"I didn't say 2 million is accurate or inaccurate. I said I didn't know which of our translations is correct."

Ah, so it's our MESORAH that's now suspect, eh?

"The word 'eleph' is used in both Exodus and Numbers (the census in Numbers ch. 1, for example), so the question is our *translation* of such words."

Hardly. When they go and count each of the tribes independently and then add 'em up somehow the number of "aluphim" grows, kind of exactly like one is carrying over a digit.

Simple example:

Numbers 2:
3 On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. 4 His division numbers 74,600.
5 The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. 6 His division numbers 54,400.
7 The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. 8 His division numbers 57,400.
9 All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first.

74,600 men + 54,400 men + 57,400 men = 186,400 men.

74 'chieftans' and 600 men + 54 chieftans and 400 men + 57 chieftans and 400 men = 1400 men and 185 chieftans.

Where did the bonus "chieftan" come from if not from the addition of 1000 men, hmmm?

"Whether it's 600,000, or tens of thousands, the number is not the relevance. In either case, it is the entirety of the Israelite nation which experienced the event, and with that, the claim is made."

Weak! How do you know it was the entirety? Is there any record of the number of Israelites who were not religiously convinced after this demonstration? Is there any record of how many people joined into the group afterwards who were not witness? Consider your source!

"Prophets did not arbitrate the law-they directed the people in their relationship with G-d. The priests and judges arbitrated the Law."

Sure, I was speaking generally.

"So the leaders of the Jewish people, the people who arbitrate the Law, are the ones who are chosen by the Jewish people in that same natural, organic process."

Ah, so you agree that the Rabbis have no official justification? They have as much legitimate power as any naturally occurring person of influence?

"The Tanach makes clear that the primary curse of a group turning away from G-d's law is separation from the Covenant (Num. 15:30), so according to that, the Sadduccees, Essenes, Nazaranes, were all going in the wrong direction(s), and hence, cut off from the Covenant (or disappeared altogether)."

Please! You've turned a specific verse about individuals sinning into an ideological hammer to bash alternative Jewish ideologies! As I said, this is pure triumphalism and tells you nothing about legitimacy or correctness.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax,

Finkelstein comments the bible is confirmed by archaeology in many places, then he asks whether it's a mere "coincidence" or not. This intro says he's attacking these skeptics, and then the intro says archaeology "strikes a serious blow to the minimalist position." Let's let people interpret that however they want.
---
If you're interested on the word אֶeleph, you're free to research it yourself. I'm not an expert, and was clear that I don't pretend to be. I didn't say whether it's true or not- it's irrelevant because it's a secondary issue. The mesora says all of Israel was at Sinai, and the linguistic debate does not change that. The rabbis argue over many aspects of Torah and Exodus (eg. 10 versus 250 plagues), but the main facts- that all of Israel left Egypt and had a revelation at Sinai- is not in dispute.

The Torah says many times it was the entire people who witnessed the event (it's a central scriptural claim). The *claim* is that the entire nation of Israelites ALL experienced Sinai- whether the nation numbered 25,000 or 2 million is largely irrelevant- they're both large, identifiable groups. The argument is that one cannot claim to the Israelites that ALL of their ancestors experienced something if it didn't.

So the claim does not change. The Torah claims the entirety of Israel stood at Sinai, and Jews believed that it was all of their ancestors who were present there- and one cannot fabricate such an event. Both figures are large and identifiable, and the Torah says Sinai comprised the entirety of Israel.
---
The rabbis have judicial authority both because they have support, AND because they are loyal to the Law. If one breaks the law, they're 'cut off' from Israel, and if one has no authority among the people, they're not a leader of Israel. Judges can interpret the law, but they cannot make up whatever they want or do whatever they want, and they derive their authority from the people. So any trendy 'popular group' does not derive that authority, and we see from history that all of these groups died out anyway, so it's a moot point.

The verses about being cut off from Israel is a consistent scriptural teaching about those who violate the Law. Those who are rewarded are those "of your nation found written in your book" (Daniel 12:1), or "written for life in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 4:3). And when Scripture mentions punishment, it speaks of being "cut off from the midst of the nation" (Num 15:30), and "in the writ of the House of Israel they shall not be written" (Ez. 13:9). So it is clear that the punishment for going against the Law is being cut off from the nation, so those groups who have been cut off from Israel have obviously experienced this punishment.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"The rabbis argue over many aspects of Torah and Exodus (eg. 10 versus 250 plagues), but the main facts- that all of Israel left Egypt and had a revelation at Sinai- is not in dispute."

Actually, as a matter of point, I believe there is Rabbinic opinion that many (most?) Israelites died in Egypt during the plagues because they were unworthy of redemption.

"The *claim* is that the entire nation of Israelites ALL experienced Sinai- whether the nation numbered 25,000 or 2 million is largely irrelevant- they're both large, identifiable groups. The argument is that one cannot claim to the Israelites that ALL of their ancestors experienced something if it didn't."

Just for the record, assuming the Kuzari argument even has internal validity which I do contest, I think it's far easier to fool ~25,000 people than >2 million people.

"So the claim does not change. The Torah claims the entirety of Israel stood at Sinai, and Jews believed that it was all of their ancestors who were present there- and one cannot fabricate such an event."

Sure you can - heck, the Samaritans of New Testament fame, claimed - and still claim that it was THEIR ancestors who stood at Sinai when they were plainly planted in Israel from other tribes during Assyrian times. They made up an entire history about themselves.

"The rabbis have judicial authority both because they have support, AND because they are loyal to the Law."

And who determines the Law? The Rabbis! The circle is complete.

"So it is clear that the punishment for going against the Law is being cut off from the nation, so those groups who have been cut off from Israel have obviously experienced this punishment."

Except they could have just died out from natural causes or evolved into other movements and not been a recipient of divine punishment. Your argument could work for ANY modern religious or political movement as they currently exist while past ones have withered. I reject the whole crux of your argument since it assumes what it is trying to prove, but it is also factually undermined by the mere continuing existence of the likes of the Karaites, Messianic Jews, etc.

Miri said...

Anonymous-
clearly I have to stop going to class and doing work if I want to keep up with you guys.

"Countries have constitutions which give that right over to the leaders- ie. judges. In much the same way, the Torah gives that right to the teachers of Israel, ie. rabbis. Whether one thinks rabbis overstepped their boundaries in some cases does not change the fact that the Torah gives Israel's teachers the right to interpret the law to the people."

Actually, I'm pretty sure the Torah gave that right over to JUDGES. Aren't there specific qualifications and standards delineated for who qualifies for a beit din?

"You are correct- the pharisees did have an interpretation that they ascribed to scripture, partaining to the Law. Now, the question is, who gave them that authority? The Scriptures, as I quoted a few passages above, are very clear, direct and consistent that the authority of interpretation of the Law goes to the teachers of Israel."

Um, I'm sorry, you vaguely quoted two phrases from entirely different places in Scripture, both of them completely out of context and barely relevant to the question at hand. unless I'm missing some other quote, that was not especially clear at all. also, if you're talking about who gave them the authority, I'm telling you this based on a reasonable amount of research (I just wrote a term paper on the topic, actually) THEY SEIZED IT FOR THEMSELVES!!!! As Orthoprax said, I do not say they did the wrong thing; but I do say that all this faith in the divine authority of the rabbis definitely happened post-Bar Kochba. After all, that's when smicha lost it's true meaning right?

Orthoprax-
"Little doubt, had the Sadducees maintained control after the churban, it would have been the actual kohanim still running the show rather than the learned laity."

Actually, for various political reasons, they were simply unable to maintain that power. The faithful religious Jews had long since lost their trust in the kohanim, because they had been corrupt for so long at that point.

"heck, the Samaritans of New Testament fame, claimed - and still claim that it was THEIR ancestors who stood at Sinai when they were plainly planted in Israel from other tribes during Assyrian times. They made up an entire history about themselves."

not to change the argument or anything, but that does sound eerily familiar doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

All Israel left Egypt: typo on my part- I meant every living member of Israel was present at Sinai.

If you think one can ’fool’ an entire people into thinking they had all met god, or that such a myth can form naturalistically, fine. Consider the following:

If people are so easy to fool, or that a myth that form naturalistically, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner because we need to then explain why there are no such legends in history of other peoples who claim, if it‘s so rational and naturalistic.

The Samaritan example is flawed because it does nothing to prove one can fabricate an event- they believe in the same event! If their ancestors became part of Israel, then many of their ancestors could have been present. So that example does not demonstrate that one can fabricate an event.

As for Karaites/messianic- The curse is that they’d be cut off from the covenant. Both examples are not relevant for a few reasons:

Messianics- Most of their members are gentiles, not Jews. Every Jewish denomination, from reconstructionist to orthodox, does not consider them practicing Judaism, and nor do most Christian denominations. They are not in any way part of the Covenant, and have no legitimacy among Judaism.

Karaites- Yes, there are a few thousand Karaites in the world, but the question is whether the Karaite religion still does. There are probably no more than a couple hundred practising Karaites in the world today. Karaite religious practise and scholarship is virtually non-existent today.

Here are a couple references: “Their religion has virtually disappeared…Most are no more than passport Karaites- that is, Karaites by official classification only.” Not only that, the Karaite religion is not considered by really any scholar to be part of Judaism, but a breakaway group very distinct from normative Judaism (and the Covenant).

I’m not sure what your issue is with rabbinical arbitration of the law. If you don’t believe in the divinity of Torah, then your objection is illogical. I’m only giving a source for the rabbis’ right to interpret the law for those who want to know its source in the Torah.

I understand you do not accept the ‘curse’ of being cut off since you would ascribe it to naturalistic reasons, but that’s putting your bias ahead of the text. The text makes it clear that those who go against the Law will be cut off from the Covenant, so if the Hebrew Scriptures are divinely-authored, then that would indicate the groups which disappeared were part of this.

Of course, that’s only a proof for one who accepts the divinity of Torah (as is the issue of rabbinical authority), and so it means if one denies the Torah’s divinity, then the objection is irrelevant. The Sadducees, Essenes, Pharisees, etc., all accepted these texts as divine.

As for the law. Modern judges did not write the constitution, but they interpret it for specific circumstances, etc. But a judge cannot rewrite the constitution, or have it mean whatever they want- they can only interpret it and put it into specific situations.

Rabbis cannot make the Law mean whatever they want it to, but quite obviously within certain parameters. The Bible makes itself clear that the Laws are divine, eternally-binding, etc. But the Tanach does not give authority to run roughshod over whatever rabbis want (neither does Constitution with judges). They interpret the specifics of the law as it pertains to specific situations- that is the right the tanach gives them.

Anonymous said...

Miri: These are consistent teachings in Scripture, that breaking the Law results in being cut off from the covenant, and following the law results in being a part of it. I didn't claim Isaiah was writing with the sadducees in mind- I'm demonstrating it is a consistent scriptural teaching that those who violate the Law will be cut off from the Covenant, and those who keep it will be part of the Covenant.

The Tanach gives rights to the leaders of Israel to interpret the law. These sources are clear, direct and consistent. The sources regarding the rights of Israel's leaders to arbitrate, as discussed above, are not specific to judges. As in Egypt, the elders were chosen to become the leaders (Numbers 11:16, Deut. 1:13). There were no judges at all then, nor was there a Temple or priesthood.

Again, the teaching of these sources is consistent in that they give the right/obligation of interpreting the Law over to the leaders of Israel (Lev. 10:11, Deut 33:10, Mal. 2:6, Ez. 44:23, etc.). The Tanach gives the right of interpreting and teaching Laws to the leaders of Israel.

No, it was not a post-temple justification, it is taught extensively here, that when one has a question on the Law, they go to the teachers of Israel for arbitration. The rabbis are the teachers of the Law. That is the system of interpretation of the Law which the Torah provides.

Anonymous said...

My above sources (Num 11:16, Deut 1:13) show that those given the rights in the mishkan only had their authority because they were accepted as the elders of Israel.

We see these elders were a specific group in Egypt, before there was any temple or judicial system- Ex. 3:16, 12:21.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"If people are so easy to fool, or that a myth that form naturalistically, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner because we need to then explain why there are no such legends in history of other peoples who claim, if it‘s so rational and naturalistic."

One point is that there are much fewer circumstances which allow an entire people to be in one place at one time in order for any one event to be observed by all of them, either in history or myth. Secondly, most of the myths we know about are in the form of transnational religious stories which by their nature are not in the form that can be used for the Kuzari argument. Thirdly, because of the hold of these religions, tribal stories tend to be forgotten.

However, with that said, there are indeed legends in history that a people claim happened to them. The Aztecs, as we had been on the topic, claim that they collectively came from living under the earth. The prehistorical proto-Irish claim that they fought a whole war against magical creatures and saw the emerald isle turn invisible by magic - they won, btw, which is how they say they took control of the island. The Puget Sound Indians have a foundation story about a visiting Spirit Man who taught them all sorts of things and called the first potlatch at which they were all present.

"The Samaritan example is flawed because it does nothing to prove one can fabricate an event- they believe in the same event!"

But they don't believe it because of any Kuzari theory! They claim to have Israelite ancestry, but they actually do not as far as Tanach and Rabbinic tradition hold. So can a people have a pretend history about themselves? Clearly, yes!

"Messianics- Most of their members are gentiles, not Jews. Every Jewish denomination, from reconstructionist to orthodox, does not consider them practicing Judaism, and nor do most Christian denominations. They are not in any way part of the Covenant, and have no legitimacy among Judaism."

They are not part of the Covenant because other Jews don't legitimize them? That's your argument?

"Karaites- Yes, there are a few thousand Karaites in the world, but the question is whether the Karaite religion still does. There are probably no more than a couple hundred practising Karaites in the world today. Karaite religious practise and scholarship is virtually non-existent today."

Except that besides for the virtual non-existence, in reality they really still do exist! They may be small but you must confess by your own logic that they may still have it right and it may only be a matter of time until they regain pre-eminence.

"Not only that, the Karaite religion is not considered by really any scholar to be part of Judaism, but a breakaway group very distinct from normative Judaism (and the Covenant)."

Not only is that an appeal to again, purely subjective and biased opinion, but it's also false. Most scholars consider Karaism an old sect of Judaism.

Orthoprax said...

"I’m not sure what your issue is with rabbinical arbitration of the law. If you don’t believe in the divinity of Torah, then your objection is illogical. I’m only giving a source for the rabbis’ right to interpret the law for those who want to know its source in the Torah."

Nonsense. I simply don't believe your explanation (or rather their own explanation) for their power grab holds up to external scrutiny. The divinity of the text is actually irrelevant.

"I understand you do not accept the ‘curse’ of being cut off since you would ascribe it to naturalistic reasons, but that’s putting your bias ahead of the text."

Is it? Or is it your bias informing the text? Please provide some external validation for your assertion.

"The text makes it clear that those who go against the Law will be cut off from the Covenant, so if the Hebrew Scriptures are divinely-authored, then that would indicate the groups which disappeared were part of this."

Don't you realize that this logic enthrones whatever the current religious theory in Judaism is in power regardless of the historical accident which brought it to be? It provides zero external validation and is internally circular.

"Rabbis cannot make the Law mean whatever they want it to, but quite obviously within certain parameters."

Ok, so the Rabbis determine whatever the Law is - within certain parameters. My same criticism applies. It is well known that big segments of the Oral Law are given far greater authority in Rabbinic tradition than by other Jewish sects. This granted authority is a matter of ideology, not law, evidence or even adjudication.

Anonymous said...

“However, with that said, there are indeed legends in history that a people claim happened to them…”

Flawed examples, once again. None of those examples have any kind of a national revelatory character, so they are all flawed analogies. They were all ‘pre-history’- that is, before any mass group of people, as large or identifiable, existed.

As for kuzari: You once again are trying ‘historical revisionism’- well, if only history were different. Well, the inability to find a single parallel example demonstrates that, while it may sound nice and logical to think one can convince an entire people they heard god, there are zero historical examples of it, so in theory, it may sound nice, but in reality, it is false.

“But they don't believe it because of any Kuzari theory…”

Once again, misleading! The Samaritans assimilated into wider Jewish society, so their tradition is about the same (apparent) historical event. So many of their ancestors were in fact present at Mt. Sinai, and unless you can claim their legend is that all living Samaritans, a large, identifiable group, were believed to be present there, then it fails for an additional reason. Claiming an exception to this event by claiming the same event is an exercise in self-contradiction, man!

“They are not part of the Covenant because other Jews don't legitimize them? That's your argument?”

If they are universally (by Christians and Jews) recognized as practicing a faith outside of Judaism, then by definition they are outside of that Jewish ‘covenant.’ Now, they believe the covenant was changed and the old rejected, but that’s really irrelevant for this discussion. The point is that they have clearly and totally broken from Judaism, and that covenant.

“Except that besides for the virtual non-existence, in reality they really still do exist!”

No- Karaite religious practice exists no more than a handful of cult members in a California basement claiming to be a still-practiced ancient faith. The Karaite religion is practiced by virtually no one. There are people still practicing Marcion Christianity, but no scholar would say it still “exists.” The religion is gone, but if there are still people holding to it as an ethnic or cultural identity, that has zero bearing on the issue. Again with historical revisionism- they “may” resurrect as a religion, but until that happens, that remains in the same bin with your other “theoretically possible, but unproven” claims.

“Don't you realize that this logic enthrones whatever the current religious theory in Judaism is in power regardless of the historical accident which brought it to be? It provides zero external validation and is internally circular.”

Considering all the above groups accepted the texts as divine, and the texts all predate any schisms, then it’s not random at all, particularly if they’re divine. It’s only circular if you assume from the outset that they’re not divinely-written, which is, of course, circular reasoning. It was only a scriptural proof that the teachers of the Law cannot, logically, be from a group which is non-existent.

“Ok, so the Rabbis determine whatever the Law is - within certain parameters. My same criticism applies. It is well known that big segments of the Oral Law are given far greater authority in Rabbinic tradition than by other Jewish sects. This granted authority is a matter of ideology, not law, evidence or even adjudication.”

Once again, whether you believe the rabbis overstepped their boundaries does not change the fact that, according to the text itself, they were given the right to interpret the Law. Judaism considers the giving of the Law the most important event in Jewish (and world) history, and the core of the Torah shebal peh is legalistic- only from the Law itself do we derive any hashkafa.

Anonymous said...

And what makes the mass kuzari naturalistic explanation even worse is that, considering the syncretism evident in religions in antiquity, and the spread, assimilation, expulsion, etc. of Jews, it is doubly odd how none of the neighbour faiths borrowed this
myth and adopted it for themselves. That would indeed be expected.

Miri said...

Anonymous-
"Now, the question is, who gave them that authority? The Scriptures, as I quoted a few passages above, are very clear, direct and consistent that the authority of interpretation of the Law goes to the teachers of Israel."

No they're not. The scriptures you quoted above referred to who are and are not cut off from Israel, or "inscribed for life in Jerusalem." Which has nothing to do with who has the right to interpret the law; it only talks about those who either follow the law or break it.

"The Tanach gives the right of interpreting and teaching Laws to the leaders of Israel.
No, it was not a post-temple justification, it is taught extensively here, that when one has a question on the Law, they go to the teachers of Israel for arbitration."

So which was it? The leaders or the teachers? Prior to Bar Kochba, the rabbis were not the leaders. They were the teachers - but not the leaders. The leadership they seized for themselves, and there's really no way to say that they didn't. So if you're saying it's for the teachers to arbitrate (which i don't think flies, seing as how there's a complicated system of judges set up in Moshe's time, and later on the King would do most of the heavy judging) then you're fine; if you're saying it's for the leaders, that's also fine, but I'm telling you G-d didn't come out of the sky in a cloud of fire and annoint them the new leaders of klal yisrael. They did that on their own. That's not a problem - let's not forget "Hatora lo bishaamayim hee"- but it wasn't G-d, is all I'm saying.

"Flawed examples, once again. None of those examples have any kind of a national revelatory character, so they are all flawed analogies. They were all ‘pre-history’- that is, before any mass group of people, as large or identifiable, existed."

1)people sharing a vision of an island going invisible definitely counts as a revelation by pretty much all definitions (and btw I'm currently taking a class on the nature of revelation, or divine discourse, so I think you can trust me on this); a Spirit Man who shows up and teaches you things, also definitely counts as a revelation. So, non-revelatory, not so much. Also, if it happened to all or most of a nation's ancestors, I think hat counts as national. But that one is just my opinion.

2)Technically, the term pre-history refers to a time before man knew how to write, and hence there are no writings around t tell us about them. meaning, everything we know about pre-history comes from archeaology, and the period is I believe all prior to 3,000 b.c. or thereabouts. So, any culture with any history in any form, basically does not count as pre-history.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Flawed examples, once again. None of those examples have any kind of a national revelatory character, so they are all flawed analogies. They were all ‘pre-history’- that is, before any mass group of people, as large or identifiable, existed."

Ha, you don't know thing one about these myths and you're already shooting from the hip against them!

Point: There's nothing about the Kuzari argument that applies to any kind of revelation per se, just some sort of so-called nationally 'unforgettable' event. Point 2: These people recognize these stories as coming from their ancestors as a collective group, so you're comment about prehistory is irrelevant.

"As for kuzari: You once again are trying ‘historical revisionism’- well, if only history were different. Well, the inability to find a single parallel example demonstrates that, while it may sound nice and logical to think one can convince an entire people they heard god, there are zero historical examples of it, so in theory, it may sound nice, but in reality, it is false."

What are you talking about? Why does there have to be an identical myth form in another culture to demonstrate the theoretical unpinning of the Kuzari argument? If you want to, I can demonstrate the internal problems of the Kuzari without even referring to a single external mythology or historical claim.

"Once again, misleading! The Samaritans assimilated into wider Jewish society, so their tradition is about the same (apparent) historical event."

Oh, I didn't realize you knew nothing about Samaritan history from the Jewish perspective. They in fact did not assimilate into the rest of Jewish society but were formed apart and stayed apart for their entire history. They have been enemies of the Jews. See 2 Kings 17:24ff for details of their origins. Are you proposing a different theory for their origins, in direct contradiction with Tanach? Do go on...

"If they are universally (by Christians and Jews) recognized as practicing a faith outside of Judaism, then by definition they are outside of that Jewish ‘covenant.’"

LOL! Are you truly serious? How is that "by definition" of anything? In traditional Jewish theory, only God makes covenants with man and is the sole arbiter of what is a true covenant or not. This can be the case with the popular recognition of other men or not!

Orthoprax said...

"No- Karaite religious practice exists no more than a handful of cult members in a California basement claiming to be a still-practiced ancient faith. The Karaite religion is practiced by virtually no one."

You are ignorant and display great capacity to speak authoritatively about which you do not know. There are ~30,000 Karaites in the world and most live in Israel. These numbers are significantly higher than they have been over the last few hundred years. There is an active Karaite University in California where they teach Karaite theology and are making new converts, as approved by the Moetzet Hakhamim (Counsel of [Karaite] Sages) in Israel, as formed under the auspices of Universal Karaite Judaism. There are efforts now to open up new Karaite synogogues in New York, West Virginia and other places. If anything, Karaism is currently undergoing a religious revival.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1838095/posts

"Considering all the above groups accepted the texts as divine, and the texts all predate any schisms, then it’s not random at all, particularly if they’re divine. It’s only circular if you assume from the outset that they’re not divinely-written, which is, of course, circular reasoning."

What are you talking about? The point is you have no external validation showing that God swept away those sinning groups rather than one group gaining preeminence through natural means and is just claiming correctness through mere survival. The acceptance of the text or even the quality of the text's divinity has no bearing on the lack of external validation.

"Once again, whether you believe the rabbis overstepped their boundaries does not change the fact that, according to the text itself, they were given the right to interpret the Law."

Sigh. And who interpreted the law that says the Rabbis have the right? Oh, now I recall, it was the Rabbis! Maybe they interpreted wrongly? How can we know?

"And what makes the mass kuzari naturalistic explanation even worse is that, considering the syncretism evident in religions in antiquity, and the spread, assimilation, expulsion, etc. of Jews, it is doubly odd how none of the neighbour faiths borrowed this
myth and adopted it for themselves. That would indeed be expected."

No, it wouldn't be expected because "religious movements" after the Exile were of transnational ideologies and could not fit the necessarily tribal source for mythos.

Anonymous said...

Miri, the 2 quotes I gave (and you referenced) are not about arbitration of the law, but the curse for breaking the Law. Kindly see my post again. The people who have the right to interpret law are the ones chosen by the people as their leaders. They are the teachers of Israel. Again, I've given you many many verses on this, and until you provide counter-examples, I'm afraid your objections are simply off-base.

As for your examples, let's see the scholarly sources. What did the people believe? When did they believe it? Did they all believe it? Let's read about it, instead of shooting examples from the hip. Well, all the above examples are ones which are claimed to pre-date the culture in its present stage- ie. the culture (or world) in its premordial stages which the people would clearly not be able to verify because it happened so early on and before the lines were clearly defined- ie. Adam & Eve.

To suggest trusting you because of your claimed expertise is a logical fallacy called appeal to authority. I have read enough on these topics to know a thing or two also, so let's see the facts, not an appeal to authority.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, like I said about the aztec example, you yourself are 'shooting off the hip' with these examples. Let's see the material so I can research it myself. But then again, anything sounds good at first, until you research it a bit (aztec god speaking myth, anyone?)

“Prehistory” is hugely relevant. If these claimed events happened in the premordial stages of development (Milesians for example), then this is exactly the point. They would not be the current people, but a different group, in a different stage entirely. It would be in their 'premordial' stages, and the people wouldn't know to verify. It happened to the ancestors of their nation, not the nation itself. It may have been the physical ancestors it claimed to have happened to, but the histories are entirely separate. Just as if the Israelites claimed something happened to everyone in Ur during Abraham's time- that was before the Israelites were even a group that the people could look back to, so the example is flawed. Sinai claims it was their ancestors, the Israelites, who it happened to. They spoke the same language, and were the same people. I’d like to see scholarly sources for the examples you provided.

Samaritans- I love how you present difficulties when are none. The Samaritans were indeed a people who came in from Babylon according to Tanach. Historians confirm this. They also say the Samaritans married in and mixed in with the local population (Prof. Lawrence Schiffman in From Text to Tradition: “The Samaritans were a mixed people, made up of Israelites who had not been exiled when the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 BCE and people of various foreign nationalisties whom the Assyrians had resettled...This mixed group had adopted a syncrestic form of Judaism...").

Firstly, I am not here debating the accuracy of the Tanach- I am disputing your claim on the kuzari. Secondly, this is not a contradiction because II Kings says they came from Assyria. That is true, and they also mixed in with the Israelites and became part of them, so when they claimed their ancestors were at Sinai, well, that’s true.

Covenant- Dude, if the messianics and Christians were completely cut off from the Jewish faith in every way, then their two peoples were severed totally. And if the covenant is with the Jewish people, and the Christians were totally separated from them, then think about it.

I appreciate you calling me ignorant, especially since I addressed your point and you apparently ignored it. I did not deny there are 30,000 Karaites in the world- I said the religion itself is all but dead. As my quote said, “Their religion has virtually disappeared…Most are no more than passport Karaites- that is, Karaites by official classification only.” Ha- a single article that says Karaites still exist and are entering the technological age says nothing about a revival. I read that article years ago. As I said, their religious practice is confined to an extremely extremely small number of people- likely in the low hundreds (if that!). And all sources I have ever seen says their numbers are in fact in steep decline, and even this article doesn’t claim they’re in a renewal- merely that there are still people who call themselves Karaites.

Anonymous said...

There is one Karaite synagogue in the U.S., and the head of it said in an article that he himself drives 90 minutes on Shabbat to run the service, and that nobody there is a Karaite who follows the religion. So as I said before, there are virtually no people who still follow and practise Karaite religion, and if and when the religion does grow and spread, then I’d bet my bottom dollar they will overwhelmingly be non-Jews and make the religion into an entirely non-Jewish faith like Messianics did.

“The point is you have no external validation…” As I said ad naseum, this point is irrelevant for those who do not accept the Torah’s divinity. This is a debate between Pharisees/Sadducees/Essenes, etc., not those who deny it altogether. It’s not meant to have ‘external’ validation because it’s proving the bible’s view on this topic for those who believe the bible!

Law: Dude, read the verses yourself. It’s very easy to just ‘challenge’ what I said, and provide zero examples yourself or any meaningful objections. The verses I provided (there are more) are consistent, direct, clear and complete. You provide me biblical passages which refute that.

What a cop-out!

Many peoples have similar basic myth structure. We have many myths that meet the basic myth similarities, but are not comparable to sinai’s claim. I don’t know what you mean by ‘transnational,’ but if you’re referring to interconnectivity and intertwined myths of different peoples, that would really have no bearing on the issue.

There’s every conceivable variable you can imagine among the ancients! There are many similarities to start with- axis mundi, hero stories, national myths, and more. So to suggest there just aren’t enough examples is out of touch with reality. Unless you can give any meaningful parallels (I never asked for exact parallels), then your suggestion that it’s “possible” is dismissed rather easily.

Anonymous said...

I will rephrase what I posted earlier about who interpreted the passages which said the rabbis interpret the passages:

Throughout scripture we see how the respective roles of the prophet
and the judge remain distinct and separate (Leviticus 10:11, Deuteronomy 33:10,
Malachi 2:6,7, Ezekiel 44:23, 1Chronicles 26:32, 2Chronicles 19:11). When the Jew is
faced with a dilemma in relation to the Law he will not expect a new directive of God to
guide him, for that expectation would constitute a rejection of the completeness of God’s
Law. Rather, the Jew will look into the perfect Law of God (Psalm 19:8) and hear the
voice of God as it personally addresses him (119:102).

In the times when the nation possessed a universally recognized body of central leadership, this body would resolve the conflict (Deuteronomy 17:10).

The first body of arbitrators of the law was established by Moses (Exodus 18:25,
Deuteronomy 1:15). Since then, the nation always had people to whom they can turn with
their questions relating to the Law. The leaders of each generation recognize their
responsibility to provide guidance for the next generation.

The system of choosing Israel’s leaders is not a formalized process, it is a living process.
Scripture informs us that even when Israel was enslaved in Egypt she possessed
identifiable leaders (Exodus 3:16, 12:21). It is doubtful that as slaves under Pharaoh that
the people had any formal election system. The straightforward reading of these passages
implies that these leaders attained their position through a natural process. These were
men who had earned the respect of their brethren and whom the society turned to for
leadership. When Moses established a more formal system of leadership, he did not
override the nation’s natural system of leadership, instead Moses appointed men who
were already acknowledged by the nation as her leaders (Numbers 11:16, Deuteronomy
1:13).

From the times of Moses until today the leadership of Israel is chosen by a spontaneous
and natural process. Within the parameters of any given community which lives the Law,
some people will necessarily stand as examples to their peers. As the nation participates
in the ongoing living discussion, proficiency in the Law stands as a very valuable
commodity. Eventually, some people will gain the confidence and respect of society as
representatives of the spirit of the Law, and as experts in understanding the Law.

Again, this is not a rabbinic interpretation, but a clear reading of the text itself.

Anonymous said...

Hey Miri,

I read your post again, and I feel my response came off a bit disrespectful, so I apologize.

Regarding the issue of rabbinical leadership. The point is that the “rabbis”- I put in quotations because it is not just the rabbis, but the spontaneous people who have gained the leadership of the Jewish people.

As my above quotes show, there were identifiable leaders in Egypt, before any beit din, semicha, Bar Kochba, or temple. There were leaders who the people looked to (Exodus 3:16, 12:21).

Now, as I mentioned, it is unlikely in Egypt there was any formalized system of election, so it is reasonable to assume these people gained these positions through an organic, natural process.

Now, later on, when Moses did establish a system of formal leadership, he took them from this same group (Numbers 11:16, Deuteronomy 1:13). He did not create a new system or election, but rather took the existing leaders and gave them the rights of arbitration.

So of course the Torah doesn’t say “the rabbis,” but to be fair, I didn’t suggest that, nor that G-d came out of the sky and appointed them as such. What I said was that the Torah gives the right of arbitration to the group who the people have accepted as leaders for themselves. So even in Moses’ time, the leadership was not chosen by Moses, but the people, and then G-d gave them those rights. So after the 2nd temple destruction, when the ‘rabbis’ were the leaders of Israel, it was they who had that right to interpret the Law.

Miri said...

Anonymous-
"As for your examples, let's see the scholarly sources. What did the people believe? When did they believe it? Did they all believe it? Let's read about it, instead of shooting examples from the hip."

To begin with, nice job stealing Orthoprax's phrasing. Second, they were not my examples, they were Orthoprax's examples - I was simply explaining how your arguments against them were basically untenable. I don't know the sources - you'd have to ask him. And as to when and how many of them believed it, that's hardly a test for the veracity of anything. How many times in our history did Jews not believe? How many of us don't, who still claim a connection to Judaism? Does that, in your mind, infringe on the accuracy of the Jewish tradition? and if not, why should the same phenomenon in another culture cast doubt on their historical claims? Be consistent dude! You hardly seem to follow your own argument from one comment to the next.

"Well, all the above examples are ones which are claimed to pre-date the culture in its present stage- ie. the culture (or world) in its premordial stages which the people would clearly not be able to verify because it happened so early on and before the lines were clearly defined- ie. Adam & Eve."

You mean unlike Judaism, which in its current form bears absolutely no resemblance to what it was during Biblical times and prior. And as to verification, what verification can we say the Torah has? Your previous claims about the historians who say that archaeology proves that the Tanach is true are entirely false. No historian I have ever met, even the religious ones, (and I go to a religious university, by the by) claim that archaeology confirms the Tanach, except in a few details concerning tribe migrations and that's essentially it. Mostly, they say archaeology if anything, disproves the Tanach. So if we have no real verification for historical accuracy, that makes us different from the other cultures how exactly?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"like I said about the aztec example, you yourself are 'shooting off the hip' with these examples. Let's see the material so I can research it myself."

You're telling me that *I'm* shooting from the hip when you now admit you had pre-formed opinions about things you've never even heard of?

Book of Invasions:
http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/lebor5.html
Spirit Man:
http://www.native-languages.org/nisquallystory.htm

Many Native Americans have beliefs that they arose from under the Earth and so I initally wanted to talk about the Aztecs, but the Mandan tribe is even better. See here:
http://tiny.cc/mandan266

"But then again, anything sounds good at first, until you research it a bit (aztec god speaking myth, anyone?)"

I still think it was a reasonable interpretation of the text.

"“Prehistory” is hugely relevant. If these claimed events happened in the premordial stages of development (Milesians for example), then this is exactly the point. They would not be the current people, but a different group, in a different stage entirely."

Hum? The Milesians are the Celts who are to the Irish as the Gauls are to the French as the Hebrews are to the Israelites. They're not referring back to a foreign people and place but to direct decendants who merely transformed culturally. Collective memories shouldn't be less reliable merely because of changes in the culturo-political mileu.

"Samaritans- I love how you present difficulties when are none. The Samaritans were indeed a people who came in from Babylon according to Tanach. Historians confirm this. They also say the Samaritans married in and mixed in with the local population"

Right - except that Rabbinic tradition holds that the Ten Tribes were exiled and that the Samaritans are wholly transplants, i.e. not mixed in. Based on the kinds of arguments you've been offering so far, I thought you would give the traditional Jewish version of history much more credence! Where else, in your view, is our mesorah suspect?

"Covenant- Dude, if the messianics and Christians were completely cut off from the Jewish faith in every way, then their two peoples were severed totally. And if the covenant is with the Jewish people, and the Christians were totally separated from them, then think about it."

There are actual - no kidding! - real Jewish people who also believe in Jesus as the messiah. They exist and are not severed from any apparent divine covenant except in the form of social ostracism. This seems to bother you, but they're still real.

"I did not deny there are 30,000 Karaites in the world- I said the religion itself is all but dead. As my quote said, “Their religion has virtually disappeared…Most are no more than passport Karaites- that is, Karaites by official classification only.”"

No true scotsman, anyone? If you asked your average self-identifying Karaite, what do you think he would say about his religious views?

Orthoprax said...

"As I said, their religious practice is confined to an extremely extremely small number of people- likely in the low hundreds (if that!). And all sources I have ever seen says their numbers are in fact in steep decline, and even this article doesn’t claim they’re in a renewal- merely that there are still people who call themselves Karaites."

Where are you getting this perspective from? Where is your source? 50 years ago their numbers were less than half of what they are today. As I've mentioned, there has been conversions to Karaism for the first time in 5 centuries. I happen to actually know a Karaite personally (from the community in Daly City which migrated from Egypt)and he really has uniquely Karaite religious views and practices.

"There is one Karaite synagogue in the U.S.,"

Wrong.

#2: http://www.orahsaddiqim.org/ (though I don't know if they have an actual building)

#3 in construction: http://www.karaitejudaism.org/Qahal_Benei_Miqra.htm

"and the head of it said in an article that he himself drives 90 minutes on Shabbat to run the service, and that nobody there is a Karaite who follows the religion."

Source?

"This is a debate between Pharisees/Sadducees/Essenes, etc., not those who deny it altogether. It’s not meant to have ‘external’ validation because it’s proving the bible’s view on this topic for those who believe the bible!"

No, this has been a debate between you and me. If you are willing to admit that you cannot offer a convincing argument to someone who does not share your assumptions then we can drop this issue.

"Law: Dude, read the verses yourself. It’s very easy to just ‘challenge’ what I said, and provide zero examples yourself or any meaningful objections. The verses I provided (there are more) are consistent, direct, clear and complete. You provide me biblical passages which refute that."

None of the verses point specifically to the rabbis, much less to a ruling neo-clergy made up of non-kohanim. It was the rabbis who interpreted themselves as fitting the bill and established all sorts of novel things in that wake. Anybody could be a "teacher" and therefore be a valid interpreter, but it was the Rabbis with their unique ideologies who took the reigns and disallowed competition.

Orthoprax said...

"Many peoples have similar basic myth structure. We have many myths that meet the basic myth similarities, but are not comparable to sinai’s claim."

I meant "basic myth structures" in terms of fitting the standard Kuzari's argument's form. It doesn't have to be a revelation in order to be a national unforgettable.

"I don’t know what you mean by ‘transnational,’"

The Kuzari argument relies on myths that form within a tribal or national consciousness for perpetuation. Most religions are transnational - they cross tribal borders - and therefore would be unlikely to foster myths in the form of a tribal story like Sinai.

"There’s every conceivable variable you can imagine among the ancients! There are many similarities to start with- axis mundi, hero stories, national myths, and more. So to suggest there just aren’t enough examples is out of touch with reality."

National myths are the only ones we're talking about, but to be in the form the Kuzari would be relevant requires at least a big chunk of the people to be in one place at one time, while they tended to cover a wide area of territory. Stories involving a big chunk of a tribal group being witness are rare because of normal geography and demography. Further, it requires that the stories take place at a time when illiteracy is the norm and oral transmission persists as a means of myth-making, otherwise the stories are unlikely to evolve and take root in the first place - and most of the societies from that time period had tribal mythic histories that have been completely lost to us. I would love to know the stories that Moab would tell about themselves, for example. The real number of potential rival national myths is actually much smaller than you might think.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax:

As with the Aztec argument, the claim sounds great, until we investigate further.

The claim, just to recap, is that one cannot make a (successful) claim that something central, significant, memorable, happened to all of one’s ancestors, a large, identifiable group, if it were false.

Milesians: The legend about them was not that they appeared on an already-inhabited land, and were seen and witnessed by the entire people, or that the nation experienced or witnessed anything. Ie.- that there was no national experience of any sort.

In fact, the legend says that the invasion of the island happened with a small number of people (about 150), and it was those people who became the ancestors of the Irish.

http://books.google.ca/books?id=U-O0wzFcu2gC&pg=PA331&dq=milesians+mythology&cd=3#v=onepage&q=&f=false

The claim is that they were the ancestors of a Irish, but themselves were a distinct, different people, to be sure. This wasn’t a claim that allowed the Irish to look back at their grandparents and ask about it, because it was claimed to have happened to a small group of people, which was believed to occur in the history before Ireland existed. That’s why I don’t pretend to argue the kuzari about Adam & Eve or the worldwide flood, because it was in the ‘time before time,’ so to speak, to a people far removed from themselves (may be their direct ancestors, but far away and separated by history, culture and identification).

Conversely, the Jewish Scriptures go out of their way to specify that it was THEM who were at Sinai (Deut 4:33, 5:23). The Irish legend does not claim it was THEM who invaded the island; it may have been their biological ancestors, but they didn’t claim to have the same traditions, religion, languages or culture, so if they didn’t have any memory of these people, it didn’t matter because these people existed completely before the Irish did. It was a completely different group! It leaves the claim largely unverifiable. Sinai DOES claim it was the same people, the same direct, verifiable ancestors, with the same laws, traditions, etc.

But most damning part is that the sources say that while scholars are still critical of it, there is a general consensus this legend does contain an account of the early history of Ireland. Yes, it’s Wikipedia, but it has links to a number of scholars who say the history of Ireland really did happen with waves of foreign invaders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Ireland#Early_history_.288000_BC_.E2.80.93_400_AD.29).

Historians believe the original Celtic peoples came to Ireland sometime from 700-100 BCE, and came from Gaul (France). So while the claims in Irish mythology may have fabrications, the fact is that the original inhabitants of Ireland were in fact invaders from foreign lands, and so while the legend could have mis-named the ‘invaders,’ it did not fabricate a history from scratch.

Let’s remember my argument. The argument is that one cannot convince an entire people that all of their ancestors, an identifiable, large group, experienced something central, significant and memorable, if it were false. So, the Irish example fails because it was neither large, identifiable, or, dare I say, even central or significant. There was no national, formative event that the people could remember or ask their grandparents about. It was a gradual growth, takeover and inhabitation of the land, which, frankly, is nothing out of the ordinary. And of course, scholars seem to say it was actually based on some historical events.

But what about the flood? Surely that’s a memorable event?

Well, the problem here is that only one man was claimed to survive the flood (Fintán mac Bóchra). So there was only witness.

Anonymous said...

With the Spirit Man example, let’s consider something for a moment.

Similarly, the legend also does not claim to have occurred to these people’s identifiable ancestors- it was to the original people of the world (ie. the Adam & Eve), in a primordial “time before time.” Again, the legend does not claim that these Puget Sound Indians personally experienced this event, or that it happened to their direct and identifiable ancestors, but rather it happened in such a distant past that the people were all as one, etc.

The very first line of this source (“Long, long ago, some of the Puget Sound Indians used to say”) is pretty representative in this legend it doesn’t pretend this event happened to the identifiable ancestors of these people, or to the Puget Sound Indians, but rather to some far-off group who the Puget Sound Indians are descendants of. I understand this source isn’t the legend itself, but it gives an idea that it was long long ago.

The Exodus does not claim anything remotely like this. It claims the events in question happened to the Israelites, the direct and identifiable ancestors of those hearing the legend. Well, it actually says it was the people themselves, not even their ancestors (Deut 5:3), but let’s assume this was a later myth that was ascribed to their ancestors.

Furthermore, the legend, as with your Aztec one, goes out of its way to avoid identifying the ‘Spirit Man’ as an identifiable diety. It gives him impressive details, but goes out of its way to say he was clearly sent BY the god Changer, and, at least according to the legend, looked like a man, with hands, arms and who collected bows and arrows.

And the Mandans: same as both, but particularly the other native group. Their legend is a ‘creation myth’ which allegedly happened in that primordial “time before time,” to a people who lived long ago, etc. As I said, this is like Adam & Eve. I never claimed the kuzari proved Adam & Eve because the story of them is claimed to have happened in that distant past. The example is about a claim one makes to a group about their identifiable ancestors- ancestors who people could draw a connection to and directly verify it.

So all three examples (especially the 2 native ones) would be ‘creation myths’ that are, on that front alone, inapplicable to Sinai.

Regarding Samaritans, as I’ve said before, I am not discussing mesora or Tanach (and I doubt either of us are the historians or scholars who can say definitively no meforshim ever said many of them married in with Israelites). I am arguing for the Sinai claim, and unless you can prove my point incorrect, this Samaritan objection is closed.

Anonymous said...

Messianics- They may be Jews; I never denied that (although most are actually gentiles- a side point). I denied that their RELIGION is Judaism, or recognized as such. The point is this: They can call their religion Judaism until the cows come home, and have all the trappings of it they want, but if they are universally recognized as being part of a separate, non-Jewish religion (evangelical Christianity), then they have separated themselves from whatever covenant was made with the Jewish people, in a clear and distinct way.

If G-d made a covenant with the followers of Judaism, and this group has completely separated themselves from this group, then they are, ipso facto, cut off from that covenant. They can call themselves whatever they want, they can wear whatever they want, but if the entire Jewish world (and the Christians themselves) recognize that this faith they practice is not Judaism and that they are distinct, then they are as separated from the Jewish people as the early Christians.

Karaites- I’ve made the claim from the start that it’s about their adherence to Karaite religion, not a cultural identification or a heavily liberalized version of it. I don't know what their followers would say, but until we take a poll of them, let's not pretend to know. If 99% of Karaites do not observe their own religious faith and are members in name-only, then that obviously proves nothing about the survival of their religious beliefs and practice.

I made clear that people claim to be karaites, but their actual, 'orthodox' religious practise is probably virtually non-existent.

Karaite source: http://www.forward.com/articles/11315/

In the article, the ‘acting leader’ of the only claimed functioning Karaite synagogue in the U.S. says most of their followers intermarry with “Rabbinate” Jews, and despite the explicit Karaite prohibition of no fires or driving on Shabbat (your link says “No fire on Shabbat: Including no driving and no smoking”), this fellow says that not only do people drive to synagogue on Shabbat because it has been “forced on us,” but that he himself comes from 45 miles away. This leader said their only options are to “Lose your children to assimilation or integrate within the Jewish world.” That does not sound like a group that is gaining actual religious adherents. It sounds like there are probably zero practicing 'orthodox' Karaites whom he knows.

So while most Karaites maintain their cultural identity (“passport Karaites…by official classification only,” according to Acts of Faith by Dan Ross), the fact remains that even those who still maintain this have given up on even the core practices and laws of the Karaite religion.

Even a quote from their now-defunct website karaite-usa does not deny that the growth they claim is due to a relaxation of Karaite law about marrying ‘rabbinate’ Jews.

So we have no source that says there is a significant number of actual religious followers of the Karaite faith, and but it does say they are surviving almost totally on inter-marrying with other Jews.

Cut off from the Law: the Tanach says the curse for breaking the Law is being cut off from it, clear and direct. All these groups accepted these texts as divine, so I can’t say that they would have ever admitted anything of the sort, it’s direct that if they believed this text which said punishment is being cut off, and that they knew their group would be cut off, then they would have recognized it as divine punishment. Whether they would actually admit it is separate.

Anonymous said...

I never said rabbis are mentioned by name! I said the passages gave the right of arbitration to the leaders of Israel, and when this was established in Egypt, there were no kohanim at all. The rabbis were accepted by the people of Israel, and as the accepted leaders of the Jewish people, they had the right to interpret the Law. The fact remains that they were the accepted leaders of Israel by the people (the other groups, essenes and Sadducees, disappeared, so they were certainly not followed by the people).

Back up that up transnational claim. There are still thousands which are national, even if your claim is correct. Cultures may have interacted (eg. Israel), but to suggest they typically did not have independent national myths of their own sounds exaggerated, and even if true, does not explain a complete lack of such legends.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, I reviewed your definition of a transnational myth (crosses tribal borders, mixes), as opposed to a 'tribal' one (form within a tribal or national consciousness for perpetuation).

It seems apparent to me that according to your definition, even the Israelite mythology would fall under transnational. After all, the Israelites believed themselves to have lived in a totally foreign nation for 210 years, and then they sojourned in the desert for another 40, coming into contact with various groups, including the Amorites, Amalekites, Midianites, Moabites, etc. etc.

Now, outside of the mythology itself, and into established history, we know the Israelites came into contact with many other groups. After all, they were under Egyptian occupation of Shishenq, and had contact with various Canaanite tribes, Edomites, Philistines, and had contact with the Hittite empire also, not to mention probably plenty of others who I haven’t even mentioned. I list these to point out that it is inaccurate to say this Israelite myth about Sinai developed in a “tribal” bubble. According to the Doc. Hypothesis, the Sinai episodes came about somewhere from 900-800BCE, so that would have included all the above groups, plus some others. That’s just not true they were alone or isolated. In fact, this entire time they were under Egyptian occupation!

So if most nations have transnational mythologies (as you claim), then by your own definition, Israel’s history has been as transnational as any other, coming into contact with many peoples and civilizations due to Israel’s geographic location and strategic importance.

So that seems to call into serious question the assertion that few peoples could have legends like Israel because Israel was a rare group which had a ‘tribal’ mythology. Israel's history in the Early Iron Age was as transnational and mixed as any other.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Re: Milesians - the 150 number you lifted from your casual shooting from the hip analysis of the legend was only the number from the first scouting mission. Sources say, and the original text implies, that they sailed with a fleet of 65 ships to conquer the island. 65 ships equates into thousands of people. The conquering group was not small and the (traditional) Irish all trace their ancestry to this group. It is also extremely foundational and important in Irish culture since it is the source for everything that came later on - including the Irish people in toto, and explains that the faeries and such from innumerable legends are in fact the transformed conquered people, de Danaan.

There is no reason to discount supposed ancestral memory, ala kuzari, with these facts.

"and so while the legend could have mis-named the ‘invaders,’ it did not fabricate a history from scratch."

Well that's my argument about Sinai! It's not damning in the least. My argument is not that it was invented from scratch later on but that *something* really occured and was subsequently magnified and changed through natural human oral transmission over many years.

"Again, the legend does not claim that these Puget Sound Indians personally experienced this event, or that it happened to their direct and identifiable ancestors, but rather it happened in such a distant past that the people were all as one, etc."

Why should this matter? The point is that it happened to their ancestors and when introduced to the narrative, shouldn't they have asked grampa if he'd ever heard of it?

"And the Mandans: same as both, but particularly the other native group. Their legend is a ‘creation myth’ which allegedly happened in that primordial “time before time,” to a people who lived long ago, etc."

Actually no. The story they tell is particularly about them, the Mandans. They say that after they left underground they were immediately lead by the same chief who lead them to the surface to Missouri. It was there where they got into conflict with the Cheyenne and the same chief instructed them how to make war. It's all about them and their particular tribe.

This has all ben a nice show of you not reading even the short texts I provided. Shootin' from the hip...

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"but if the entire Jewish world (and the Christians themselves) recognize that this faith they practice is not Judaism and that they are distinct, then they are as separated from the Jewish people as the early Christians."

Or...it is the rest of the Jewish people who are not following "Judaism" and the majority of self-identified Jews are the ones ready to be cast off... You can't determine a true covenant with God by popularity.

"I made clear that people claim to be karaites, but their actual, 'orthodox' religious practise is probably virtually non-existent."

Ah, so it's only so-called orthodox Karaism that counts? How many "conservative" Karaites are there? We could keep going at this ad nauseum, but I think we both agree that the group still exists, even though it is small. I happen to believe that they are actually undergoing a revival of sorts (perhaps not of 'orthodox' Karaism, but of some variant) but that is immaterial to the point to which they were raised. They exist and have not been cast off - therefore you cannot say that their interpretations are invalid.

"I never said rabbis are mentioned by name! I said the passages gave the right of arbitration to the leaders of Israel, and when this was established in Egypt, there were no kohanim at all. The rabbis were accepted by the people of Israel, and as the accepted leaders of the Jewish people, they had the right to interpret the Law."

So if new leaders were chosen today by majority vote then all the Rabbinic stuff could go back to square one? Can non-rabbis seize leadership?

Re: transnational myths. My point was not about cultural interaction, but of the characteristic of the myths of popular religions today. By their natures they were unlikely to be nationally-based because they were aimed at a broader audience - or otherwise became dominant mythos *because* they were not provincial in nature. The spread, popularity and dominance of these religious myths - of like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, etc undermined the tribal myths which lost connection to the source. That, plus the fact that most tribes that date back to the Iron Age which set the right kinds of conditions for Kuzari-type likening to exist, are no longer extant and their cultural fortune lost forever! The cultures that persist from that illiterate, axial age tend to be large ones that covered big territory - like the Chinese or Indians - from whence the people could never be in one place at one time to have a kuzari-like experience.

Tribal groups do have survived kuzari-like mythos, and I've shared a few, even though you are unlikely to accept them. But they are few and far between. I mostly have to rely on relative newcomers to national consciousness like Native Americans to provide for kuzari-like stories. The Old World tends to destroy small tribal identities - the ones most likely to have particular tribal myths about themselves as a group.

Anonymous said...

Myths. Recall my claim. I said one cannot make a claim that such a significant, central, formative event occurred to one’s ancestors, a large identifiable group, if it were false.

Now you say you do believe “something really occurred” to the Israelites. Not sure why you didn’t make that clear before, especially since your Samaritan and other examples are trying to prove that it IS possible to invent a claim with no basis in history. So apparently you are not challenging my above claim that it not possible to fabricate one with the above broad criteria.

Of the examples you’ve given me, most haven’t met the criteria by a long shot. And some of the aspects of the examples, such as the Milesians invading, are actually seen by historians as referring to a real event!

So we’re back to square one, where we have no examples of a people who fabricated such an event that was untrue, under the above broad criteria. Of the myths we have, of the ones which appear to have some basic criteria, we have legendary development- ie. growth of a myth. That’s what you say happened at Sinai.

Let’s address the specific examples you gave first:

“The legend does not claim that these Indians personally experienced…” You said “Why should this matter? The point is that it happened to their ancestors...”

It HUGELY matters. It means that the foundational core of their myth was that it DID NOT happen to their identifiable grandparents- it was at the very beginning of time itself! He claim is thus greatly diminished in verifiability. The Sinai claim is EXACTLY the opposite- it claims this event happened to the Israelites, the people who are the direct, identifiable ancestors, who spoke the same language and who are not separated by a vague “long long time ago.” The Sinai myth does not leave room open for any kind of huge gap in time- it’s telling the people- “this happened to your direct grandparents, who speak your language, and who didn’t live so long ago!”

The sources which discuss the Mandan myth also makes quite clear that their myth was not only about their nation, but is a creation myth about the creation of the world- all peoples, not just their own.

So the Mandan myth fails as a parallel because:

1/ Unlike Sinai, it claims to have happened in the beginning of time itself, not in the fairly ‘recent’ history that the people could verify directly. This leaves out any possibility of drawing a direct connection, and by nature makes it a much more unverifiable claim.

2/ This myth does not claim that it occurred to a singular large, identifiable group, who people to point to, and say it was them. Yes, it says they were Mandan, but the myth also says these were “the first people in the world,” so they were the descendants of ALL the world’s people and thus the ancestors of everybody, not just one group. The legend does not say this was an entire nation of people, but merely a village, so not even necessarily a large group, either.

Anonymous said...

3/ There is no memorable, central or significant event in the story which was of any national nature. The most is that they climbed out of their cave (and half the people died afterwards). And even the recorded legends often make only passing reference to this, indicating that this was more a detail than something so massively huge.

4/ The legends themselves are not clear as to where the people ended up. Sure, one legend says the Missouri River. Another says the Heart River. Their explanation is that it’s because when the Lone Man made the land, “he also made the land to the south as far as the ocean.” So that seems to indicate that this legend is in a far-away, distant time when the people were one, etc, and not necessarily in their present state.

5/ Even if, according to one interpretation, it was only to their people, that fails because its at the creation of the world. That means that even if the myth happened to their ancestors, not only is it claimed to be separated by all of time, but by all significant events since then. So the people wouldn’t necessarily remember this particular event since there were many other formative periods since then. Maybe the language changed, etc.?

Milesians:

1/ Historians do not deny there is significant historical reality to the claim of foreign invasion by multiple, foreign groups. This says nothing about the ability of a group to fabricate an event.

2/ There was no singular, significant central event which would be remembered. The legend has to do with the gradual takeover of the land- nothing supernatural or memorable. It was a battle where one people took over from another, and another, and another…

3/ There is no number specified as to how many people were on the ships, and it is equally important to point out this was only one group, and was not a national event. The Milesians were only one group who came to the island after it had already been occupied. Furthermore, of the 65 ships, it’s clear that at least some of them (perhaps most) did not survive the storm at sea anyway.

Anonymous said...

4/ The legend is about the Milesians, not the Irish per se. The Milesians were, albeit the physical ancestors, a people with a different language, culture, etc. Irish culture wasn’t even claimed to exist until afterwards! Sinai, conversely, claims it was the same group of people, not some mythical “ancestor people” who the people knew little of. The Sinai claim opens itself up to MUCH more verifiability.

As I said, if Sinai had a naturalistic explanation, we would expect to see some form of it repeated elsewhere (not just the national divine revelation part, but a fabricated claim about a national history).

You’re trying to explain why you can’t produce any meaningful parallels, and you’re setting very artificial boundaries. The peoples do not have to be in the Iron Age. They just need to be (according to you) illiterate people with national/tribal identities- it’s just that you claim most of these groups are long extinct, hence limiting our search options. Sounds good so far.

The problem is that there were/are so many ancient illiterate peoples who still exist (or have recently disappeared) and who have tribal identities as per your definition! And there’s no reason they have to be from the Iron Age, either- as long as they fit the localized, tribal, identity.

The native tribes you provided, and many many others, were just as illiterate as the ancient ones, and so that lets us see very similar group structures. They were not huge empires, but “national” identities, they were illiterate, they had ‘tribal’ concerns, etc. If those are our criteria, we have plenty of examples from the Americas and Africa who still exist today (or at least a good record of them). And that’s only relatively recent ones. So, even once accepting your narrow criteria, to suggest we have very few workable examples, is just not accurate.

So we can see that none of these examples demonstrate that a people can fabricate a national claim which meet the basic criteria of the kuzari. At most, as you say, a legend can develop.

I don’t deny it sounds very logical and reasonable that, since we see myth formation in history, it would make sense if it were the case with Sinai. The problem is, of all the myths we have recorded (and there are plenty), none meet the basic criteria I’ve mentioned. These are not tremendously complex criteria, and they certainly would be attractive to a group making a claim, so how is it that, even though we have plenty of examples of myth formation, they have never ended up with the basic claim that Sinai makes?

You’re telling me that under certain conditions, with a certain cause, we have a certain effect (if a, then b). The problem is, we have many many cases under these same conditions where a leads to c, or d, or anything else, but never anything like b. So once again, while it’s “possible” Sinai could have developed as a myth, since we’ve never seen a myth form in this way ever before, there’s no basis to make the claim that it happened here.

The fact is, we have myths that started in similar circumstances, but never ended up like this at all. As I said, it may be “possible,” but we’ve never actually seen it happen before. So you’re entitled to believe that explanation if you want, but it’s not the most logical.

Anonymous said...

As for the Karaites: All the available evidence, from the articles, to perusing their websites, does nothing to indicate that there are almost any actual, practicing Karaites around. If the people who are currently ‘practicing’ karaites do not hold by the central core of their faith, that is, a literal interpretation of Scripture, then however they may justify it, the fact is they’re far away from the central doctrine of Karaite religion. Not even the details- but the core central doctrine of the religion, man!

As I said, there are some thousands of Karaites by cultural identity (primarily Egyptian or Crimean), and even the small number who are affiliated with the community have apparently given up on the core foundation of their faith.

The very core of their faith is an orthodox, literal reading of Scripture, and so if these heads of the community admit to making large accommodations here (as their ‘rav’ says about lights, which of course the Torah proscribes the death penalty for), then I’m not sure how we could say this group is following even the core doctrine of what their own religion says. So once we recognize that even those small numbers who are the leaders are at this level, we can logically extrapolate that there are probably an incredibly small number of people practicing the Karaite faith as itself claims to be.

Of course neither of us have any stats (their community apparently forbids this), but from everything available on them, it seems reasonable that the number of actively practicing Karaites, who hold to the orthodox Karaite faith, is very very low- my personal estimate might be a couple hundred- and that might be high.

As for the Messianics, I will only say this. They have separated themselves from the Jewish community in a very clear way. If the Covenant is with the Jewish people, and these people (who may be of Jewish mothers), have completely ingratiated themselves into a separate group universally seen to be well outside the Jewish fold. I’m not sure how any rational observer can say they are still considered by anyone (except themselves) to be part of it. They have very successfully (although entirely unintentionally) made themselves a separate group. Their “synagogues” are not considered to be synagogues by any organized branch of the Jewish community- they are completely and totally separate.

Now, maybe they’re the ‘real’ Jews, and others aren’t, you suggest?

The problem here is that they don’t deny the other Jews are really Jews, and neither does the Christian community. The messianics don’t claim to be the Jews that the others aren’t- they consider all of them Jews. They’re the ones trying to get “in the tent,” not the others.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Myths. Recall my claim. I said one cannot make a claim that such a significant, central, formative event occurred to one’s ancestors, a large identifiable group, if it were false.
Now you say you do believe “something really occurred” to the Israelites. Not sure why you didn’t make that clear before..."

Because I actually DO believe that it is still possible for a people to have made themselves a fraudulent history, but I also believe that most mythic histories of tribal peoples are indeed based on real events. The Aztecs did really migrate from the north and founded their city. The Greeks really did have a war with Troy. The Irish ancestors really did sail to their island. The Israelites really did leave Egypt. What is suspect in all these stories is the fantastical aspects of them.

"It HUGELY matters. It means that the foundational core of their myth was that it DID NOT happen to their identifiable grandparents- it was at the very beginning of time itself! He claim is thus greatly diminished in verifiability....The Sinai myth does not leave room open for any kind of huge gap in time- it’s telling the people- “this happened to your direct grandparents, who speak your language, and who didn’t live so long ago!”"

How do you figure? There's no telling when the Sinai story was introduced to the people from the story itself. There could have been ignorant farmers for centuries who knew little of their
history and eagerly accepted the story from the first man they thought was knowledgeable. Complementarity, these Indian descendants should have been properly skeptical when first told about this Spirit Man - and yet they were not.

"The sources which discuss the Mandan myth also makes quite clear that their myth was not only about their nation, but is a creation myth about the creation of the world- all peoples, not just their own."

What are you talking about? That's not true at all. The sources plainly say that this is a particular tribal myth about themselves. They cite their same chief who lead their tribe from under the ground, who lead them to their home, who lead them against their enemies. They keep his skull as a relic! Show me your sources.

"Yes, it says they were Mandan, but the myth also says these were “the first people in the world,” so they were the descendants of ALL the world’s people and thus the ancestors of everybody, not just one group."

Wrong. The myth is that they were the first people created. Period. Then all sorts of other people were created afterward - but are not their descendants. They then lived underground for awhile when all sorts of other peoples lived in all sorts of other places.

"The legend does not say this was an entire nation of people, but merely a village, so not even necessarily a large group, either."

Sources report the people as either being a tribe or a nation. Not necessarily a small group either.

"There is no memorable, central or significant event in the story which was of any national nature. The most is that they climbed out of their cave (and half the people died afterwards). And even the recorded legends often make only passing reference to this, indicating that this was more a detail than something so massively huge."

What are you talking about? This was how they came to their new home. It explains their place in the world. It is a key event. It also wasn't just a cave, but a whole underground world. What passing reference? This is the story.

"The legends themselves are not clear as to where the people ended up. Sure, one legend says the Missouri River. Another says the Heart River."

First of all: SO WHAT? Where did God speak to the Israelites? Sinai or Horeb? Second: Heart River is a tributary of the Missouri. Heart River meets the Missouri at a place called - you guessed it - Mandan, ND.

In summary: you have no clue what you're talking about and speak wholly out of your butt about the Mandans and their mythos.

Orthoprax said...

Milesians:

"Historians do not deny there is significant historical reality to the claim of foreign invasion by multiple, foreign groups. This says nothing about the ability of a group to fabricate an event."

Sure, but it does say something about the fantastical aspects that get added to the story.

"There was no singular, significant central event which would be remembered. The legend has to do with the gradual takeover of the land- nothing supernatural or memorable."

What are you talking about? The whole invasion story has to do with who they're fighting against - a magical, godlike people. They made the island appear to be invisible, conjured up a storm, and the Book of Invasions says that they fought against demons. The whole story is memorable.


"There is no number specified as to how many people were on the ships"

So? It is evident that it was a large group?

"Furthermore, of the 65 ships, it’s clear that at least some of them (perhaps most) did not survive the storm at sea anyway."

That's not clear at all. The story does not say that any ship was lost - only that individuals died.

"and it is equally important to point out this was only one group, and was not a national event. The Milesians were only one group who came to the island after it had already been occupied....The Milesians were, albeit the physical ancestors, a people with a different language, culture, etc. "

Occupied by magical creatures who, as the story goes, transformed themselves into the faerie people of Irish fame. The only humans of the island were the Milesians - who are the Irishmen. The Milesians are the same people who became the Irish. Milesian is actually understood as a euphemism for Irishman.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Milesian

There is a strong identity between the Milesians and the Irish. They are not a foreign people of another culture and language as you argue. According to legend, the Irish nation grew directly from the Milesian people.

"As I said, if Sinai had a naturalistic explanation, we would expect to see some form of it repeated elsewhere"

And I believe there is, as I have demonstrated.

"The native tribes you provided, and many many others, were just as illiterate as the ancient ones, and so that lets us see very similar group structures. They were not huge empires, but “national” identities, they were illiterate, they had ‘tribal’ concerns, etc. If those are our criteria, we have plenty of examples from the Americas and Africa who still exist today (or at least a good record of them)."

Sure, and hence why I take example from these more recent peoples. The flipside of the issue though is that these mythos may also need time for oral transmission to percolate for long while before they becomes more like the Sinai story. I believe the Aztec story, for example, had great potential but they were cut down in their prime after only a few centuries of cultural growth.

I also suspect that the patterns of thought found in the Bible was more common in the ancient near east rather than in very foreign cultures like the Americas or Africa and I think the best potential for finding Sinai like stories would be in the tribes surrounding the Israelites themsevles! It is that goldmine that has been completely lost to us.

In short, I do believe examples exist, but they are fewer and farther between than Kuzari proponents give credit.

"So once again, while it’s “possible” Sinai could have developed as a myth, since we’ve never seen a myth form in this way ever before, there’s no basis to make the claim that it happened here."

Lastly - even if we suppose, for argument's sake, that the Sinai story is truly unique in all the stories of the world for xyz reasons I cannot conceive why you would presume it is less likely to merely be a unique form of myth formation rather than an accurate rendition of real supernatural events.

Orthoprax said...

"As I said, it may be “possible,” but we’ve never actually seen it happen before. So you’re entitled to believe that explanation if you want, but it’s not the most logical."

Right. Do you listen to yourself? It would be MORE logical to assume that illiterate Iron Age farmers and goat herders actually heard God speak, experienced numerous supernatural events, etc rather than understanding these stories as a unique mythos,as we only have several examples of similar mythos but nothing exactly like this one.


Re Karaites: You have your estimate, I have mine. We both agree that they still exist and pose as a monkey wrench in your argument. If they should be cut off why do they persist? Why have they persisted for centuries?

"Now, maybe they’re the ‘real’ Jews, and others aren’t, you suggest?
The problem here is that they don’t deny the other Jews are really Jews, and neither does the Christian community. The messianics don’t claim to be the Jews that the others aren’t- they consider all of them Jews. They’re the ones trying to get “in the tent,” not the others."

Sure. The Messianics agree that the other Jews are really Jews, but that they are doctrinally wrong and may be "cut off" because they left the covenant. You see, the knife cuts both ways.

Anonymous said...

So in fact, what you are demonstrating with this example is that in fact when we see a historical claim like this, it’s not possible to fabricate it entirely, only at most to expand it. So you are proving that there really WAS an exodus and a Mt. Sinai.


Milesians- As I wrote multiple times, they may have been the physical ancestors, but they were a different people entirely. You said yourself they were magical. They didn’t speak the same language, culture or practises as this later Irish people. They may have been the ‘ancestors,’ but they were totally unavailable to be verified to the Irish hearing the story. They didn’t know any Milesians- not a single one. They were in that vague “pre-history” category of the Mandans and the other example- ie. There are too many spaces to be able to verify it, either because it was “too long ago” or because it happened before a major change (ie. When the magical Milesians became the totally unordinary Irish).

Not being memorable:

- What are the memorable aspects. A storm in the sea? Fog? That’s not something that would look anything unordinary to anybody.
- The invisibility example is quite interesting because the people who were alleged to have been there would have actually witnessed nothing at all! They had trouble finding the island because it was invisible! That’s not really anything unremarkable to see- they saw nothing! Who saw the Milesians using their magic? Well, no one. They only saw a storm, or fog, etc.
- The Milesians looked like nothing unordinary. They looked like human beings.

Seeing the Sinai story repeated elsewhere- I find it very hard to believe you see these examples as even basic parallels. The most basic elements are missing in all of them. Even you recognize this when you say “well, if only these myths had more time to develop” or “if only we had more records” or “if only….” The fact is, none of these myths you have provided are workable parallels.

Anonymous said...

Your question sounds very logical intuitively. The problem is, I don’t want to know if we can imagine possible scenarios where this could arise- I want to see if such a legend can actually develop among a people. There are plenty of illiterate peoples in the world, with varying myths, and none of them have anything even close to this. You know that I never asked for exact parallels, but when every example you provide is missing one or many *basic* criteria, then they’re disqualified.

Don’t be so quick to assume there’s virtually no knowledge of these ancient groups. In the last 100 years, a lot has been discovered about the Canaanite groups, Ugarit people, Philistines, Phoenicians, etc.

If we don’t understand how this myth developed, we need to see if it’s ever happened elsewhere, and if so, we can ascribe a possible naturalistic explanation to it. But with Sinai, the “naturalism” doesn’t work because we’ve never seen this happen anywhere else. On what basis, then, is it naturalistic? Because of a presupposed anti-supernatural bias?

So while your question about whether an illiterate group can come up with a legend like this is more likely than a god speaking to them is a non-starter because we’ve never witnessed either anywhere else. In fact, one could point out that there was an early record of written literacy among at least the priestly class 3,000 years ago (ostracons), and that as we see from the Masoretic texts, they kept an extremely close watch on any corruptions.


Karaites- They most certainly don’t present a monkey wrench at all! Quite the opposite. The fact that this formerly-prominent group has virtually no members who adhere to its faith is pretty conclusive. As I pointed out, even the very few who are involved do not hold to the central tenets of the religion, so I think we’re beating a dead horse with this.

The messianic groups may claim the other Jews are wrong, etc., but they certainly do not claim they’re not Jews or part of the original Abrahamic covenant! Nobody says the mainstream Jews aren’t the “real” Jews, but the messianic ones are instead- they just claim to be part of it also. The messianic groups also do not say the Jews are cut off from the covenant. Nobody denies the mainstream Jews are the “real Jews,” not even the messianic themselves!!!

Anonymous said...

You keep saying you think it’s possible for a nation to fabricate a story with the above criteria, and despite your bluster, you’ve been unable to produce a single example that actually meet the basic criteria! Let’s see examples of this- that meet the above criteria- NOT something that sounds good at first but is missing many central key claims!

None of your examples demonstrate that a people can fabricate a history. All of these “national” examples, aside from their other fatal flaws, are all based on some historical reality. Fine- so then the Sinai claim is based on some historical reality. More on that below.

Sinai is hugely different from Mandan one because the other claims do not even CLAIM that it was a recent event. The fact is none of these sources even try to claim that these events happened in the recent past- they leave much less room for verifiability- they outright say- “well, this did happen long long ago in the beginning of time…” Sinai most certainly does not claim that- it says it was their direct, not-so-distant, identifiable ancestors. You are very quick to insult, and yet seem disinterested in the details.

The Mandan legend:

- Does not claim that it happened to a large group- the “village” could easily be very small. I’d like to see your source that said it’s a large group. Every source says they lived in a “village” underground. Hardly a large group. It doesn’t even claim to be, and I’ve seen zero examples which says it was a large group.
- Their own claim says it occurred not in some relatively recent time, but in that murky “beginning of time” period, much less verifiable to anyone hearing the story. I don’t know where you get the idea that it was ever considered to be recent. Every scholar calls it their “creation myth.” They, as you point out, call themselves the “first people in the world.” That is hardly a ‘recent’ event.

Those details alone (particularly the 2nd one) rule out the parallel with Sinai immediately!

Furthermore, the legends often refer to the creation myth as happening to “the people of the underworld.” Some say Mandan, some are ambiguous. It also makes no claim that there are

But just for fun, here’s a fun little tidbit:

“Villagers had long constructed elaborate underground bell-shaped food caches to preserve corn…when Ordway accompanied Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor’s detail…he observed that large amounts of corn were taken out of the underground pits.”- Lewis & Clark Among the Indians

So we can see from this, and other references, plus the fact that many tribes in these areas had myths about underground origins, that they extensively used the underground as large storage areas, hiding in battles, etc., so there is a sound historical “basis” for this. Now, you’ll say that this only shows the myth formation of the “fantastic” details, but we can see that there is in fact a historical basis for this story. The main points are that:

1- Of course we see this does NOTHING to prove that one can fabricate a history of a nation- the most it can prove is that it can exaggerate it. That is definitely not what you said in the beginning of the discussion, especially when you made reference to the Samaritans. More on that below.
2- When there are parallel backgrounds (ie. Many groups, not even necessarily in the same geographic location, used underground storage, etc.), one invariably sees the underground myths popping up similarly. So when A, then often B. And yet, while there are plenty of peoples with the basics of the Sinai story (migration, etc), we oddly enough have zero other myths which have anything remotely like the Sinai revelatory claim, a large, memorable event. If this has a naturalistic myth formation explanation, very odd that there’s nothing even comparable.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"So in fact, what you are demonstrating with this example is that in fact when we see a historical claim like this, it’s not possible to fabricate it entirely, only at most to expand it. So you are proving that there really WAS an exodus and a Mt. Sinai."

LOL! I don't know if its possible to fabricate histories purely from whole cloth, but the stories can surely be very far removed from the kernel of fact. I never claimed there was never any formative events at Egypt or Sinai - in fact I very much suspect there was! I just question all those details that you take for granted.

"Milesians- As I wrote multiple times, they may have been the physical ancestors, but they were a different people entirely. You said yourself they were magical. They didn’t speak the same language, culture or practises as this later Irish people."

LOL! The Milesians aren't the magical folk - it's the De Denaan - the people they defeated who are the magical ones. The Irish people are the same people as the Milesians according to the story. Neither different language, practices or culture except from natural cultural evolution.

"(ie. When the magical Milesians became the totally unordinary Irish)."

LOL! You have no idea what you're talking about!

"Even you recognize this when you say “well, if only these myths had more time to develop” or “if only we had more records” or “if only….""

I was referring to stories besides these - not these stories.

"Not being memorable:"

Ok, so you don't think what they experienced was memorable - so what? - they did! And they recall it in mythic detail. Besides for the simple fact that the De Denaan never actually existed and no such battles took place.

"You know that I never asked for exact parallels, but when every example you provide is missing one or many *basic* criteria, then they’re disqualified."

You go searching for little cracks and pretend to turn them into huge holes. The conditions are well satisfied.

"Don’t be so quick to assume there’s virtually no knowledge of these ancient groups. In the last 100 years, a lot has been discovered about the Canaanite groups, Ugarit people, Philistines, Phoenicians, etc"

I'm not assuming - I do not know any sources about their tribal mythos. Period.

"So while your question about whether an illiterate group can come up with a legend like this is more likely than a god speaking to them is a non-starter because we’ve never witnessed either anywhere else."

Ha! Are you serious? This is what the vaulted Kuzari argument comes down to, eh?

"Nobody denies the mainstream Jews are the “real Jews,” not even the messianic themselves!!!"

Of course there are. You are ignorant, my friend. Read up a little about the Khazar theory.

Orthoprax said...

Re Mandans:

"Their own claim says it occurred not in some relatively recent time, but in that murky “beginning of time” period, much less verifiable to anyone hearing the story. I don’t know where you get the idea that it was ever considered to be recent. Every scholar calls it their “creation myth.” They, as you point out, call themselves the “first people in the world.” That is hardly a ‘recent’ event."

You are not reading the sources carefully - if at all. They were the first people created but didn't leave the world underground until much later. They report that the same chief was present when they climbed as well as when they went to war with the Cheyenne. This war in their history, as reported to the colonials, was only in their recent past.

"Does not claim that it happened to a large group- the “village” could easily be very small. I’d like to see your source that said it’s a large group. Every source says they lived in a “village” underground. Hardly a large group."

As per Lewis and Clark's report: "The whole nation resided in one large village underground near a subterraneous lake..."

http://www.legendsofamerica.com/NA-Mandan.html

A large village sounds large to me. When they made their first alliance after the war with the Hidatsu they said that they had to spread apart from each other because the land could not sustain both of them. Sounds like a sizable group to me.

"So we can see from this, and other references, plus the fact that many tribes in these areas had myths about underground origins, that they extensively used the underground as large storage areas, hiding in battles, etc., so there is a sound historical “basis” for this."

Whatever floats your boat.

Anonymous said...

Ha! The milesians were as ‘magical’ as anyone else in the Irish mythology, stopping the storm by reading poetry! If that’s not some mythical magical people, then I’m not sure what your definition is. The other group made the island invisible, and the Milesians stopped it with their words- “The Milesians were skilled in magic too…” Oops =)

The own milesian myths don’t give any legends that anyone could see as significant! They saw a storm, or fog! Any of these things can be fabricated, because it’s a storm! There’s nothing memorable about that. And so a claim about an event that appears normal and completely out of the ordinary is not a memorable or central event that would stand out.

But as I said, the fatal flaw of the Milesians was that it was not the Irish themselves. It was some mythical, ancestral people of them.

You know darn well the conditions are not well-satisfied:

One cannot make a claim of one’s own ancestors, a significant, identifiable group of people who experienced a central, memorable event , if it were false.

None of the Milesian claims have anything out of the ordinary or that could be verified, and the Milesians, to the Irish hearing the story, were all gone. Totally gone. They could only hear it from a people who later grew out of them, but the Irish were of a different language, culture. They had virtually no way to ever connect to them.

The Mandan claim, as mentioned (and ignored unfortunately) makes quite clear it happened at the beginning of the creation of the first people. That makes it quite clear it was long ago.

Just because you know nothing of these middle eastern groups doesn’t mean scholars don’t. Ignorance is not an excuse. We know much of their beliefs about divine councils, etc. etc.

I don’t think you quite understand how naturalism in history works. If you’re claiming a “naturalistic explanation” for the Sinai myth, but are unable to produce any workable parallels, then there’s no basis for claiming it as naturalistic. In fact, it forces you to explain why we haven’t seen it anywhere else if it’s such a natural human reaction to events. That is what has caused you to defend the very forced distinctions you’ve made above (literacy, iron age, etc.).

Anonymous said...

If you are calling the khazar theory anything mainstream among messianic groups, then you are out to lunch, buddy. Nobody, no mainstream messianic leader or leader, gives any credence to that. There are people calling themselves “british Israelites,” but that doesn’t mean their claims have been accepted or believed by these messianic groups The fact remains that the messianic groups do not deny that the mainstream Jews are “real Jews,” nor that they remain part of the covenant.

Samantha Cohen said...

Speaking of the khazars, here's a messianic leader speaking out against that claim:
http://www.midnightcall.com/articles/prophetic/the_khazars_and_the_jews.html

More proof that the messianic Jews don't doubt the 'mainstream' Jews are real Jews, nor that they are part of the original Abrahamic covenant. They don't doubt the 'legitimacy' of the mainstream Jews, so to speak.

Orthoprax, before you call me "ignorant," perhaps you might want to actually do a little research instead of shooting off your mouth?

Orthoprax said...

Anon/Samantha,

"Ha! The milesians were as ‘magical’ as anyone else in the Irish mythology, stopping the storm by reading poetry! If that’s not some mythical magical people, then I’m not sure what your definition is."

The Milesians were real people who used magic - little different from reports in the Tanach about people using magic. The De Denaan were actual magical people who are the faeries of later Irish myths.

"The own milesian myths don’t give any legends that anyone could see as significant!"

The whole thing is significant. The whole story of them fighting the De Danaan is not real history and is a key aspect of the mythos.

"But as I said, the fatal flaw of the Milesians was that it was not the Irish themselves. It was some mythical, ancestral people of them."

You're just wrong about this. You keep saying it, but it just ain't so. The Irish claim direct identity with the Milesians, direct ancestry, same language, derived culture.

"The Mandan claim, as mentioned (and ignored unfortunately) makes quite clear it happened at the beginning of the creation of the first people. That makes it quite clear it was long ago."

This is simply false. I didn't ignore this, I countered it already.

"Just because you know nothing of these middle eastern groups doesn’t mean scholars don’t."

Heh. Alright, so teach me about their historical mythos. I don't know sources for these peoples.

"I don’t think you quite understand how naturalism in history works. If you’re claiming a “naturalistic explanation” for the Sinai myth, but are unable to produce any workable parallels, then there’s no basis for claiming it as naturalistic."

Point: I don't believe I need to provide any direct parallels to make a compelling case for naturalism. Point 2: I believe the cases I do bring are very good examples of similar mythos formation.

"In fact, it forces you to explain why we haven’t seen it anywhere else if it’s such a natural human reaction to events. That is what has caused you to defend the very forced distinctions you’ve made above (literacy, iron age, etc.)."

I think the kind of mythos of Sinai requires illiteracy (as oral stories are much more pliable), a particular cultural bent towards past events and recording of history within the people, a nice period of time for oral transmission to percolate, a true historical kernel where the people was small enough to witness one event together - and apparently I paradoxically also need a people to record themselves as being very numerous to satisfy your ever-more increasingly strict conditions. The records of these people also need to survive until modern day for me to know about them. These are not easy conditions to meet in general and I encourage you to try finding mere examples of peoples - not even mythos - that fit these conditions. The Jews may not just have a unique mythos, but probably possess a unique historical position as well.

"If you are calling the khazar theory anything mainstream among messianic groups"

I'm not. You said that "Nobody denies the mainstream Jews are the “real Jews”" when there are plainly people who do. My argument earlier was a theoretical one where they could just as easily cast you off as you cast them off. What they really believe is immaterial. There is no objective test for you to rely on.

"Orthoprax, before you call me "ignorant," perhaps you might want to actually do a little research instead of shooting off your mouth?"

Maybe I should also comment about your weakness in reading comprehension?

Yiddle said...

I have never seen, and I hope I never do again, such outright heretical apikorsis and scoffing at Torah even with all the secular so-called proofs and other nonsense.
There is only 1 way out of all this, and that is unfettered, un questionable faith and belief in our Holy Torah, as is, and was given to Moshe on Sinai. The very same scroll we read from 3 times a week is the same one given to Moshe, letter for letter, regardless of what you call Masoretic errors and confusions. No frum Jew doubts this at all. The Mishna was given to Moshe on Sinai as well, letter for letter, and what we have today is exactly the same as Moshe had, without any doubts whatsoever.
All questions regarding creation have been addressed to completion by noted FRUM scientists such as Harold Gans and Andy Goldfinger. Their answers are beyond satisfactory. Now stop this apikorsis immediately!
To believe otherwise or have any semblance of a doubt is kefira mamash.

Orthoprax said...

Yiddle,

Then you probably ought to keep away from most of my blog.

Being as unjustifiably certain as you are about these subjects is not a sign of correctness, but merely represents a profound ignorance.