Thursday, June 26, 2014

"The Revelation At Sinai Was Real" - A Response

I came upon a blog post entitled "The Revelation At Sinai Was Real," by Rabbi Adam Jacobs. The blog is called "Shaken Faithless" and was created earlier this month with the purpose of providing answers to those whose faith in the historical/factual/supernatural veracity of the Torah has been "shaken." The blog owners at least claim to be taking a respectful and thoughtful approach. In their words, they deem: "The inconsistencies in classical Biblical texts described by academic Biblical Criticism," "The challenge posed by science to traditional religious narrative," and "Fundamental questions about the existence and nature of God" to be "important challenges" worthy of addressing. If indeed they take people's sincere questions seriously, that is something which would certainly earn my respect. I have many such questions, some of which I enumerate below, so we will see if they are ready and willing to meet the challenge.

The following is my response to the blog post linked above.


Rabbi Jacobs,

Just a quick introduction - I'm a Jew in the Orthodox community, involved in Torah learning and observance, but who has come to a place of non-belief in the supernatural "backstory" of the Torah. It was my intellectual journey that brought me to these conclusions - nothing to do with negativity or discontent with frumkyte. I just happen to take the "pursuit of truth" - and consequently, the eschewing of falsity - seriously.

If I may, I'd like to address what I identify to be the "weak points" of your argument, which is to say the argument that is often made to prove the factual/historical truth of the Revelation narrative. First, I'd like to start with your analogy to Washington and the Revolutionary War.
"Nonetheless, what’s one facet of the general disagreement that the Colonists and their former patrons across the pond could readily agree on? That the war occurred, the generals led, the battles raged and that the United States was born as a result. No sane person ever suggested that it was all just an elaborate hoax, or a myth."
True, but there are two key chilukim (distinctions) which render this analogy ineffective:

1) Historians of the Revolutionary War do not claim there to have been overt miraculous or supernatural events associated with the war. Therefore, there is no reason to question the veracity of the event, any more so than any other historical account. Whereas, to claim that the Creator of the Universe Himself, God, spoke to the Israelite nation and issued commandments, is an extraordinary - that is to say "well outside the ordinary" - claim, and therefore one which people ought to be skeptical about.

If I were to tell you the story of Christopher Columbus sailing to the New World, but with a horde of angels, celestial superbeings, guiding the way, that would be an entirely different claim than if I told the story the way it is typically presented in history classes. Yes, the history may be mistaken in various respects, and we can debate that, but there is nothing in the story that is inherently suspect - that is, until I introduce the "angels."

Why does that render it "suspect"? For common-sense reasons. The vast majority of us don't see angels around us. I have never seen an angel, and people I know and speak with every day haven't either. Yes, I understand that there are probably tens of thousands of people alive today who do claim just that - that they have "seen" angels. But a reasonable person will say that there is certainly another, more likely explanation for this phenomenon - e.g. that the person was hallucinating, that the human mind is highly vulnerable to imagination, self-suggestion, etc. After all, people claim to see ghosts, Jesus, demons, all kinds of supernatural entities - but that doesn't mean these claims are true in the "objective reality" sense. Reasonable, thinking people should be skeptical when they hear such claims - even (and this is the difficult part) when they come out of their own traditions.

I'm not proposing though that the Revelation was some sort of "mass-hallucination" event. I would argue something different, which brings me to my second point:

2) The Revelation at Sinai is a narrative that harkens back to a very, very different time in human history than the one we live in today, including the time of the Revolutionary War. In fact the entire concept of "history," and the telling of histories, was different. Aside from the dry retelling of "events," just about every culture told legends about its past, often ones involving gods and supernatural intervention.

Doing so imparted a people with kavod (honor). If you were a people of standing, honor, a force to be reckoned with in the world, then you were created and guided by the gods. Or put it the opposite way: To live in the ancient world and not have gods involved in the story of your people, not an integral part of your life and society, would be like saying you have zero worth. It would be completely "unseemly," undignified, an insult to the people. That is how the world worked - everyone had their god(s), served their god(s), told stories about their god(s), received their morality/teachings from their god(s), and were given a sense of self-worth and value through attachment to their god(s).

So yes, history - that is, real events - were deliberately mixed with legend. And people likely believed these legends, since they also believed in gods and in general possessed a mentality entirely foreign - perhaps inconceivably foreign - to the modern mind, the latter of which is utterly consumed with the need for "proofs," "facts" and "logic". Like I say, it was a very different world. And using the modern mind to make sense of it causes us to mistakenly assume that they would not - and could not - have told or written a story if it wasn't "factually" true.

Try to think objectively for a moment. What is the simpler, more plausible scenario: a) That every people had gods, told stories about gods and supernatural happenings, but that only our story actually happened literally/historically as written, whereas theirs were entirely made up, or b) that we are scrambling desperately to find ways to show that our God-narratives are different, "historically true," when in fact our stories were simply a product of the world in which they were told, like everyone else's?

At the very least, can't you see how it would be "reasonable" for someone to choose (b) above? If so, there should be no reason for Orthodox tradition - or its adherents, frum Jews - to look disparagingly upon skeptics as "heretics." We are simply people committed to trying to be objective and truthful about reality, and therefore true to our ideals. We see that as a ma'alah, a positive trait, and we also see it as a ma'alah to follow the path of truth even when others deride us for it.

One more thing - I'd just like to respond to the claim that mass-revelation is unique, and that it proves the "historical truth" of the event.
"[W]hen large groups of people experience an event together ... it becomes part of the collective conscious of that people, or groups of people and is passed on as what we later call 'history'."
Let me cite another alleged "group experience" and see how you respond. Here's an excerpt from an article entitled "Jesus Feeds the 5000 - Bible Story Summary: The Miracle of Jesus Feeding the 5000 Proves He is the Messiah."
Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down in groups of fifty. He took the five loaves, looked up to heaven, gave thanks to God his Father, and passed them to his disciples to be distributed. He did the same with the two fish.

Everyone—men, women and children—ate as much as they wanted! Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes so there was more than enough. Then he told his disciples to gather the leftovers so nothing was wasted. They collected enough to fill 12 baskets.

The crowd was so overwhelmed by this miracle that they understood Jesus was the prophet who had been promised. Knowing they would want to force him to become their king, Jesus fled from them.

Points of Interest from the Story of Jesus Feeding the 5000:

• This miracle when Jesus feeds 5000 is recorded in all four Gospels, with only slight differences in details. It is a separate incident from the feeding of the 4,000.

• Only the men were counted in this story. When the women and children were added, the crowd probably numbered 10,000 to 20,000.
Jesus performing miracles in front of thousands is indeed part of the "collective consciousness" of Christians throughout the world, and for believers it is taken as "historical truth." The author of this article in fact presents it as a "proof" that Jesus is the messiah. After all, how could that many people have witnessed this event and the story simply be "fabricated"? How could the gospels, written just a few decades after the death of Jesus, have all told a story that no one had ever heard of before? Clearly the story was well known. When then was it "made up"? How could it have been made up?

Now, as a reasonable, discerning person (or at least one striving to be), I would say that the very fact that the story includes such an extraordinary, outlandish claim is itself enough to tell us that there must be a simpler, more down-to-earth explanation for how this story developed. In other words, before I even begin to offer an alternative, I am already skeptical - and for good reason: You can't make fish and bread appear out of thin air!

So notwithstanding all the "proofs" offered, there must be another explanation. It must indeed be possible for these kinds of stories to develop and spread organically over time, such that large masses of people believe them - and yes, even when thousands of people are alleged to have "been there" when it happened. It could be that there was a real event which was subsequently embellished over time with supernatural "trimmings," or maybe not. It's an interesting question to ponder, but it doesn't have any bearing on whether I, as a rational thinking person, actually "believe" the story as it's told.

Now let me ask you again, which is more plausible: a) That the story of the Revelation at Sinai, which is alleged to have occurred some 1300 years prior to the story of Jesus, has details to it that offer so much greater "proof" than the Jesus story, proofs so strong that they "trump" what reasonable people (including you) otherwise dismiss out of hand as myth, so powerful that we're willing to put aside everything we know and experience about how the world works, that we're ready to violate the rules we apply in all other cases for distinguishing fantasy and myth from reality, or b) that in truth, we are all very much susceptible to being nogea b'davar, being so attached to certain beliefs (as our whole lives have been constructed around them) that we cannot see that we are simply rationalizing the irrational, and that our beliefs are not so significantly more "reasonable," more of a "proof", than those of our Christian brothers and sisters, that in fact we are all simply choosing to overlook the obvious in order to justify our beliefs?

And again, even if you think you are being completely objective, that everybody else is falling victim to being nogea b'davar whereas you alone are immune to that, can you not see how a skeptic like myself might be a bit... skeptical? Can you see how my line of thinking - far from constituting blasphemy or rabble-rousing - is in fact reasonable, or dare I say, even commendable?

At the end of the day, one has to decide whether to be a "committed theist" (as you identify yourselves on the blog) or a "committed truthist," and by the latter I mean someone who is committed to the search for truth wherever it brings them. If you wish to be a committed theist, you may live a fine and even exemplary life, but know that your search for truth will necessarily be skewed, tainted. Why? Because you have already decided that your "search" must lead you to a predetermined destination. Which makes it not so much a search for truth as a search for rationalizations and justifications. You cannot be in the "truth" business when at the outset you are forced to conclude X and not Y, which is what the idea of "core beliefs" is really saying. And if you call it "truth-seeking," not only does that mock the idea of truth, but you run the risk of turning many earnestly truth-seeking individuals away from Judaism.

Looking forward to your response,
AJ

36 comments:

  1. Well reasoned and presented. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - Kuzari-niks just don't get this and thus can make such absurd historical comparisons. I took a look at the Shaken Faithless blog and don't see much value there; the most recent post - Academic Bible Critics Don't Have the Goods - actually implies that biblical criticism is somehow invalid because politicians consulted with R. Moshe Feinstein and not academic Biblical scholars. Huh??

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  2. Well-said. I have added it to the Kuzari page on OTD resources: https://sites.google.com/site/otdresources/topics/kuzari-principle

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  3. You write better than I. I wrote 3 posts on the Kuzari - please check them out. I also plan to write more about. Great post. Daat Emes

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  4. Hi AJ (I like your initials),

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my post. Here are my general thoughts on what you've raised:

    Point 1

    You seem to be arguing that since it seems implausible to you and others that a supernatural event occurred - therefore it didn't. From my vantage point that does little to compromise the argument. Many things seem implausible until they are shown not to be. The structure of this argument is such that it forces a reconsideration of what is nowadays considered "implausible."

    Point 2

    To quote you "Try to think objectively for a moment. What is the simpler, more plausible scenario: a) That every people had gods, told stories about gods and supernatural happenings, but that only our story actually happened literally/historically as written, whereas theirs were entirely made up, or b) that we are scrambling desperately to find ways to show that our God-narratives are different, "historically true," when in fact our stories were simply a product of the world in which they were told, like everyone else's?"

    Ok, I'm being as objective as I can be and I still think that despite the fact that older cultures mixed their history with stories of their god/s that due to our (yes) wholly unique claim of national revelation and our introduction of monotheism to the polytheist world (who had mistaken notions about divinity and what it was) leaves the claim quite intact and frankly un-addressed by you. You have essentially just given me two examples of "come on, doesn't this all seem just a bit ridiculous?" to which I reply no, it doesn't. Please explain to me how an entire nation of people came to believe in a specific EVENT of this sort occurred in their history and if it didn't than why is it a singular example in the history of religion when we should expect copycat versions.

    Your Jesus example demonstrates that you have not yet fully absorbed (or understood perhaps) the argument that is being put forth. It is not an example of a national revelation but rather only of a man doing some tricks or wonders or whatever but so what? We have many examples like this in Jewish literature - rabbis and holy people doing the seemingly miraculous - it has nothing to do with what's being discussed. Additionally, given the fact that there is a large gap in the Christian "mesora" between when that event was said to have taken place and when it was recorded it's significantly more plausible to assume that it was made up - ie: it was not passed on as national history given that there was no Christian nation until hundreds of years later.

    Everyone thinks he's a truth-seeker and I continue to be open to someone offering a reasonable disproof of this argument. I don't see one here...

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    1. Rabbi Jacobs,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply. You made a number of statements I'd like to relate to, but for ease of discussion I'll limit it to just one:

      You have essentially just given me two examples of "come on, doesn't this all seem just a bit ridiculous?"

      You can speak flippantly about common-sense reasoning, but this is the very same rationale you yourself - like all reasonable people - employ 99% of the time to distinguish between myth and reality.

      Except - and I would add "tellingly" - here, where it pertains to your own belief.

      So here's what I'd like to ask.

      Given that:

      a) The 1% where appearing "ridiculous" is not a concern to you just happens to relate to the divine revelation of the Torah...

      b) The only people for whom the mass-revelation argument seems so overwhelmingly forceful that they're willing to accept something that they would otherwise (e.g. in another religion) certainly call a "myth" just happen to be a select group of frum Jews, who are certainly "nogea" to the matter...

      c) The same people you agree with 99% of the time regarding all other supposed supernatural claims are telling you that your argument sounds to them to be just as rationalized and contrived as all the rest...

      1) Can you concede that this might indicate that the "99%-ers" are indeed correct here too?

      2) If not, can you at the very least concede that the way this "looks" is cause for a reasonable person to be skeptical?

      If you can try to answer "yes" or "no" to the above - in addition to any explanation, that would be very helpful, just for clarity's sake.

      Regards,
      A fellow "AJ" :-)

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    2. "Many things seem implausible until they are shown not to be." Is there any way to show that the revelation at Har Sinai was plausible? All I've seen was "the book says so."

      Perhaps as an aside, I see Yoshiyahu as reintroducing the idea of the Torah... not quite sure how that fits in.

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    3. Hi AJ,

      As you seem like a well-mannered and interesting guy I'll take one more crack at this and then probably chalk up the lack of consensus to fundamentally opposing axioms about life and theology and what constitutes plausibility.

      I get the series of hoops that you want me to jump through but I find the whole approach un-moving. I don't regard the Revelation as fundamentally implausible as it fits in neatly with other facts about life and theology that I hold to be axiomatic. For me, once one concedes that there is a Creator (which I guess I don't get if you do given your moniker) it logically follows that a Creator would create for a purpose and therefore if the universe was purposeful He would want to make its purpose known as clearly as possible.

      I view the unique history of the Jewish people (and the corroborating predictions written about it in the Torah) as evidence of a metaphysical dimension to the Torah - which would work well with the Revelation narrative.

      I see the Hebrew language as unique in its ability to convey information and concepts in ways the other languages lack. I don't believe that this unique ability is coincidental nor do I believe that it's the product of linguistic evolution. As such, a supernatural language would befit a Divine document - one that would be the product of Revelation.

      I see the nature of the Text of the Torah itself with its many sub-themes and hidden threads of information, it's knowledge of human nature and national characteristics (not to mention its global influence) to be supernatural and thus supporting the Revelation narrative.

      I also find he Historical Argument to be compelling - air tight in fact. And the list goes on.

      I understand that you will most likely dispute each and every point and c'est la vie. After 20 years of exploring and living with these books and ideas I feel quite settled with the notion - so for me the 99%/1% divide does not exist.

      It's also not the case that only frum Jews have or do accept this idea. Scores of millions the world over have and do now.

      In any event I thank you for your thoughts and Shabbat Shalom to you.

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    4. Rabbi, thank you for responding.

      In your article, I think you set up a false dichotomy. Either Torah from Sinai did not take place and someone invented it and sold it as true, or Torah from Sinai did take place as described in Tanach. We know from memory studies that there is a third possibility that accounts for nearly all existing memory: that what is remembered is not "what happened," but is instead an interpretation of perceived events that is distorted in the process of interpretation. The initial memory is an interpretation, and the memory is subsequently re-interpreted to keep it relevant. This is true for individual memory, and also for memories accepted by groups as "social memory."

      It is quite true that social memory influences (and can be said to "correct") individual memory. It is quite true that certain memories cannot become social memory, because they don't "ring true" to the individuals in the group. But it is certainly not true that the memories adopted by groups must be true. Groups can and often do adopt memories that seriously distort the truth. In fact, the power of the group can easily overwhelm the individual who claims to remember something different. Either that individual may gradually adopt something close enough to the group's memory to allow the person to remain in the group, or the person leaves the group.

      To be certain, there are well-documented cases of group memory being wholly manufactured. But I believe these cases are relatively uncommon, and I don’t think that Torah from Sinai was manufactured memory.

      Unfortunately, it's difficult to talk about the mirror-image, of cases where religious revelation is preserved with 100% accuracy in social memory. The nature of religious revelation does not easily lend itself to the same kind of analysis as, say, the identity of the general who led troops into battle. Those who argue for the objective veracity of religious revelation are, in my experience, only willing to accept the veracity of the revelation on which their religion is based (I've experienced the same thing with Christians). Even if I could accept that one religion got revelation 100% right and the others got it 100% wrong, I’d still be unable to move forward, as I cannot see a way to prove the truth of a unique and incomparable experience. If Judaism's experience of Divine revelation is the only such (true) experience there ever was, then its uniqueness renders it impossible to prove, because nothing like it ever happened before or since. We can’t say, “See, it must be true, because we know that these other like things are also true.” Mi kamocha.

      The strength of your argument is that no other religion is based on the claim that hundreds OF thousands (perhaps millions) experienced the same Divine revelation. But Christianity is based on the claim that hundreds OR thousands experienced the resurrected Jesus. Yes, our numbers exceed theirs, but I can’t easily employ your reasoning to show how social memory can be false when based on the claimed experience of thousands, but must be true if the numbers are greater.

      Please understand, I'm not saying that all social memory is false, nor am I saying that Jewish social memory is false. I'm not saying that, and I don't believe that. What I am saying is that its social nature does not necessarily make it true.

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    5. Larry, very nicely expressed about the false-dichotomy, and especially the point that "group-memory" can in fact overwhelm individual memory. Thanks for contributing that.

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    6. Rabbi Jacobs,

      Once again, I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I understand that you didn't relate to the questions I posed. But in effect you offered an answer:

      I don't regard the Revelation as fundamentally implausible as it fits in neatly with other facts about life and theology that I hold to be axiomatic.

      1) "Not fundamentally implausible" simply means "possibly plausible". It's a far cry from saying that there "must" have been a Divine Revelation, that this is the "only" plausible explanation for the Torah narrative. (I realize that your language reflects my position, not yours, but I wanted to point out the huge difference in the level of assertion between "not implausible" and "the only plausible explanation," a distinction that too often gets blurred in these discussions.)

      2) You say that you hold certain "axioms" about the world regarding God, the Divine plan, and Divine intervention, and that this forms the basis for your belief in Divine Revelation. Implication: You do in fact concede that for someone who does not hold these axioms, it is fully reasonable for them not to accept the notion of Divine Revelation. Not only that, it's reasonable for them to consider it "fundamentally implausible". That is in effect an answer (albeit indirect and perhaps unintentional) to the second question I posed above.

      3) I appreciate you articulating your perspective. It's important to point out the wider context that lends internal coherence to your beliefs. But it's also important - I feel - to point out that this speaks more to the coherence of the "religious experience" than it does to intellectual matters. Because what you've laid out is a near-perfect example of circular argumentation: The God-axiom serves as the basis for the "evidence" which is then used as a "proof" for the God-axiom.

      So you're right - we do end up with a lack of consensus. But even if we don't "agree," that doesn't mean we can't grant one another "reasonableness." I empathize with religious believers. I understand that they perceive life through a certain "lens" that causes them to see the signature of God in the world, in the Torah, in their lives. It's entirely "reasonable" for them to look at the world the way they do, given their set of axioms.

      I would only suggest that you also make the effort to grant people like me just a modicum of "reasonableness". I realize it may seem like shooting yourself in the foot from a "kiruv" perspective, since you don't want to give the misimpression that you're granting any legitimacy to "heretical" positions. However, not to show empathy to sincere truth-seekers and their desire to think rationally only displays a "closedness" which in the end will make many people move further away from Judaism, not closer.

      Again, thanks for engaging.
      AJ

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    7. > For me, once one concedes that there is a Creator (which I guess I don't get if you do given your moniker) it logically follows that a Creator would create for a purpose

      Yes, but that purpose might just be that He was bored.

      > and therefore if the universe was purposeful He would want to make its purpose known as clearly as possible.

      That doesn’t follow at all. There are any number of scenarios which wouldn’t require the Creator informing His creations of His purpose. For instance, if He was bored, and we’re His entertainment, He wouldn’t necessarily need to tell us.

      > the corroborating predictions written about it in the Torah

      There are no predictions that weren’t either written after the events they’re “predicting” already happened or are vague enough to fit a large number of similar events, one of which was likely to happen.

      > it's knowledge of human nature

      The God of Tanach, particularly of the Chumash, has a poor understanding of human nature.

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  5. Why would the ancient Israelite god reveal himself at Mount Sinai using Canaanite deity traits and at a mountain like in the Ugaritic myths of gods abode and like the Hammurabi theophany ?

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  6. AJ: "Many things seem implausible until they are shown not to be." Yes, but miraculous events such as are described in the Torah have zero basis in modern experience and scientific understanding. Do you really not understand the distinction between stories told by a pre-literate society and ones that are scientifically feasible? The former events are not simply "implausible" - they cannot be "shown not to be [implausible]" except as a matter of faith!

    Your claim that the events of the NT were not passed on until "hundreds of years later" is simply laughable (unless you happen to believe that the Talmudic dating of Yeshu in Sanhedrin 43 to about 150 BCE is accurate). Many of the books of the NT represent independently written accounts dated to 50 years or so after the death of Jesus. Read some Bart Ehrman.

    As for "Please explain to me how an entire nation of people came to believe", the fact that you can ask this question suggests that you haven't done the research on why the Kuzari principle fails.

    Finally, please don't insult us with this "objective" nonsense. You are taking an a priori view of the veracity of the events of the Torah. You say you are "open" to a reasonable disproof. Really? You would abandon your lifestyle based on convincing evidence? I doubt it. But what would objectively convince you that it wasn't literal? Would ANY evidence to the contrary suffice (except for hearing a voice from heaven)?

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  7. To impugn the validity of a "national revelation" claim one merely need look at recent mid-East events. The Palestinians have, in modern times before an active electronic media, created a national narrative that is at odds with basic known facts. Not only has the Palestinian nation swallowed this hook, line and sinker, but so have large swaths of the great population of the world.

    A narrative that self-aggrandizes a group of people, especial one perceived as being an underdog, receives little in the way of critical analysis.

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  8. Kuzari proponents Sinai revelation was unique therefore it is true. Besides other fallacies here are three more 1) They draw a target around the Sinai conditions to exclude every other myth. But U can do the same for almost every other myth. 2) An hypothesis in not accepted as true because we have failed to provide a counter example. 3) There are reasonable natural explanations of how the Sinai stories formed and we accept those as possibilities over supernatural explanations. FOR goodness sake read my 3 posts on Kuzari carefully.Rabbi Adam Jacobs

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  9. My writing is sometimes cryptic. There are deeper levels to it and sometimes I need to be brief. For example I mention the Idea of propaganda. BUT if you know the history of ancient israel you can build an entire narrative that the creation of the Torah probably had strong political overtones from Genesis 1:1 and on. The entire Exodus Sinai may just have been part of a foundation myth. This is a serious possibility according to some scholars.

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  10. Rabbi says "Please explain to me how an entire nation of people came to believe in a specific EVENT of this sort occurred in their history and if it didn't than why is it a singular example in the history of religion when we should expect copycat versions." I explain just these things at my Kuzari blog posts. I give only one plausible scenario among others how the story came about. I also refute totally this uniqueness argument.

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  11. I am providing some comments at the Rabbi site but he only published one. He gave a reponse, and never published anything else from me. I will give him some time to digest it.

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  12. Excellent post i was one of these we orthodox yishivash folks have THE truth espousers and was convinced that if the evidencecould prove otherwise i would leave well after a couple Google searches and going through the thought process that AJ has spelled out so well I conceded that the biblical stories are myths however despite my claims that i would leave i have been uninterested and unable to walk away from this yishivish lifestyle that i am so comfortable in so I try to ignore the stupidity that is espoused as theology and try to nudge us in the direction of the truth

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  13. Atheodox eloquent, precise, well thought out and you hit the bulls eye. I am going to link your post from my blog spot in my Kuzari arguments.

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  14. I said this on his blog and I'll say it here too.

    "The reason this is, is due to the fact that when large groups of people experience an event together (details and feelings not withstanding) it becomes part of the collective conscious of that people, or groups of people and is passed on as what we later call 'history.'"

    That's not how history works. The history of the Revolutionary War was written based on massive piles of contemporaneous documents (eg, military files, public proclamations, diary entries, periodicals, treaties, laws, etc.) that we all have access to. As far as I'm aware, the Revelation at Sinai is based on a single document which is, at best, a secondary historical source.

    Serious historians do not write history based on "collective conscious" or what people believe. They might write about those beliefs existing, but that doesn't make them fact.

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  15. AJ, a bone to pick about your analogy to the New Testament's feeding of thousands. The analogy doesn't work, because (oversimplifying) those thousands never claim to have been fed. Our best understanding is that very few of those thousands became Christians. They are not the Christian story-tellers. The New Testament does not claim otherwise. In contrast, Tanach asserts that the multitude present at Sinai were our ancestors, the parents of those children who entered the land of Israel and proceeded from Sinai to create the same Jewish people to which you and I belong.

    A better Christian analogy is the apparently widespread phenomenon of early Christians reporting that they experienced the resurrected Jesus. Present-day scholars (prominently including Larry Hurtado and Bart Ehrman) believe that this widespread experience accounts for the development of Christianity and Christian doctrine/theology. This line of thought is called "Early High Christology." The key distinction from the feeding of the thousands is that Christianity traces its development from this widespread experience of the resurrection, in much the same way as Judaism traces its development from the widespread experience of Torah at Sinai. And Christianity claims that those people who experienced the resurrected Jesus became Christians, and told the stories that eventually (within 40-80 years) became recorded in the New Testament, just as Judaism claims that the people who experienced Torah from Sinai became Jews and are our spiritual (and possibly genetic) ancestors.

    Now ... did Jesus really appear to hundreds or thousands of early Christians? Or was this an illusion, a delusion, a hallucination, an honest mistake, a deliberate deception? My own unorthodox Jewish view is that there's no reason to believe that Jews have a monopoly on divine revelation or experiences of the divine, though I imagine that such experiences are legitimately difficult to understand and are prone to later exaggeration. For present purposes, it does not matter. Groups have reportedly experienced strange things. Jews are not unique in this, though doubtless the strange things we've experienced can be distinguished from the strange things others have experienced, and the question then comes to whether this distinction makes a difference.

    My own feeling is that something happened at Sinai. I may be less certain about where and when Sinai was, and perhaps even about how often Sinai happened, but I do believe that Judaism is based on experience of the Divine. Where I get in trouble is in my belief that the same is probably true for most religions.

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    1. Ugh, correction. I should have said "recorded in the Gospels" instead of "recorded in the New Testament," as the New Testament is not put together as canon until much later.

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    2. Part of the reason I quoted this article is that it asserts that this public-miracle narrative in the Gospels constitutes a "proof" for the truth of Jesus' messiahood. But you make an important point. It would be like God revealing Himself in Raamses to thousands of Egyptians, where a few of those went on to form the Jewish people. Which is to say that the classical mass-revelation argument has two components - the "mass" part and the "masses being the the storytellers" part. Good clarification!

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    3. Rabbi:" I view the unique history of the Jewish people (and the corroborating predictions written about it in the Torah) as evidence of a metaphysical dimension to the Torah - which would work well with the Revelation narrative. "

      I wrote a long post refuting this argument here http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/08/proof-of-god-via-jewish-survival-jewish.html

      Rabbi: "I see the Hebrew language as unique in its ability to convey information and concepts in ways the other languages lack. I don't believe that this unique ability is coincidental nor do I believe that it's the product of linguistic evolution. As such, a supernatural language would befit a Divine document - one that would be the product of Revelation."

      What evidence is there for this ? Hebrew was proceeded by protosemtic language. I did not write a blog about the origins of Hebrew.

      Rabbi: "I see the nature of the Text of the Torah itself with its many sub-themes and hidden threads of information, it's knowledge of human nature and national characteristics (not to mention its global influence) to be supernatural and thus supporting the Revelation narrative."

      Not sure what this means.

      That is not what the evidence shows. See http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2014/04/some-reasons-to-reject-orthodox-judaism.html

      If you assume a text is divine you can find or should I say invent all kinds of secrets, sub-themes...

      Rabbi: "I also find he Historical Argument to be compelling - air tight in fact."

      It has more holes than Swiss cheese. I wrote 3 posts on it. AJ has written eloquently as some others here.

      You say it is air tight, because you are ignoring our refutations.

      Rabbi: "It's also not the case that only frum Jews have or do accept this idea. Scores of millions the world over have and do now."

      The Ad Populum fallacy. But if we are counting numbers billions of people do not accept the story.

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  16. Those who I haven't responded to yet - zdub, G*3, JewishRebel, Alter Cocker, Anon, Mike, vafsi ode, omgwtfbible - thanks for your comments and links.

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  17. i think the simple arguments make some sense:

    Judaism comes out of an oral tradition. Judaism is way older than Xtianity or Islam. Before authorship was a concept. Oral stories are subject to change.

    Jews were different than some other religions. Tribes may tend to have spiritual experiences together. It makes more sense for "one people" to have spiritual experiences together. We get the myths we need.

    I do wish that G-d would try to let us know better what to conclude. From what I understand, if you cherry pick prophecy in the Torah, it can look very true. Same thing, from what I understand, can make other religions look very true. If you look at all the prophecy, it doesn't look as true.

    I do think the next test is moshiach. I do think that in 226 we will know definitely whether we can say Judaism is really what it says it is. I do think we will likely NOT see a resurrection of the dead in Jerusalem, and then (I believe) forty years later, the resurrection of the dead in all the world. (Or is it just the righteous dead from every generation?)

    I wish we were all around to discuss the ramifications if the year 6000 rolls around without supernatural events. I do think we will see Jews try to force the issue (out of anxiety) and put forward candidates for moshiach. I do think it will be a confusing and fraught time.

    I would love it to come true.

    One thing unaddressed: how much we want to believe. Is it true? I don't know. I don't think so. But we are all so desirous of being correct. That to me is the real story. We are so desperately desirous for our religion to be true (Xtians and Islam feel the same way) that we are just incapable of saying "who knows?" and perhaps doing the mitzvoth anyway.

    Instead, terrible, horrible ideas bounce around our religion -- ideas that most everyone rolls their eyes at. But the terrific need to be part of this group goes way beyond any rational reason.

    We SHOULD be allowed to be skeptical. But there is just so much fear that skepticism leads to death of the Jewish people that the frum have erected a wall. What goes on inside that wall can be crazy from an intellectual stance, and ugly from a moral stance. But it is the only way anyone can figure out to keep the core religious from questioning. And questioning the core is just not workable at this time.

    I often feel pretty terrible about it. I find orthodox Jews to be very interesting, but often very narrow. They are so excited about frumkeit, but they are totally against discussing anything core. It is a great deal of fun and warmth and good times, but at the expense of openness and fearlessness and respect for the individual.

    It is a very sad time for Judaism intellectually. But perhaps we will have to wait 226 years before we come to any conclusive findings.

    Tuvia

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  18. For every argument, there is a counter argument, otherwise we wouldn't have free choice whether or not to believe. The more we explore, the more we learn and understand. Of course, there is always more to learn and a lot we don't understand, like when NASA finds something that makes them question their last theory.

    Always more to learn and we should keep digging and learning more. There are some things though that are extremely difficult to grasp, like consciousness. Some say it has to do with the soul, and some feel it's just another mechanism of the brain. However, since we can't really measure it, we can't prove or disprove it.

    Judaism has a lot of information and we can and should keep trying to understand more. It's a rational faith in that it doesn't say just follow what one person said, but what whole nation experienced from G-d. Of course, while there are certain things that we're able to understand, there are some things that we are Not able to comprehend. That's why we need to have both reason and faith together.

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    1. Sharona, thanks for the comment. I appreciate what you're saying, and I think it reflects what many religious people feel about the idea of "belief" - that it's reasonable but ultimately not something you can "prove". Notwithstanding whether the mass-revelation argument is in fact the most "reasonable" explanation, I think what you're saying is a far healthier and more honest approach than the one put forth by people claiming to have "proofs" for the truth of the Torah.

      Re: "Not able to comprehend" - For me, the ability to comprehend is relative. Of course there are things beyond human comprehension, the same way that there are things that we humans can comprehend that chimpanzees simply cannot. Meaning, the universe undoubtedly holds secrets that are way above our intelligence and awareness - at least at this point in our evolution. But that's different than saying that something is "unknowable" in an absolute sense. I wouldn't say that, and I realize it puts me at odds with the normative religious perspective.

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    2. Yes, I agree. We can't comprehend things and that is relative. It just shows you the wisdom that Hashem created the human being with in that it can understand things as more information is discovered. Our ability to grasp abstract concepts distinguishes us from animals and gives us the ability to theorize, hypothsize, and fit pieces of information together to come to an understanding or a conclusion. According to Mesorah this ability stems from our Neshama. In reality our Neshama knows everything but it is limited by its being occupied in a physical brain. This is why it is relative- because it will be understood at a later point whether through the discovery of new information or after death (when the neshama leaves the body). According to our Mesorah consciousness comes from the neshama, while according to you the very fact you don't understand where it comes from is relative. If consiousness could be tested like or with one of the five senses and was a physical entity then you can argue that it is relative, but it can't (since it is a spiritual entity.) Therefore, it is uknowable to you. However, we have a mesorah that gives insights to the secrets of creation as it relates to the spiritual realm. Go learn all of Tanach, Talmud, and Zohar and let me know if you figured out that it is something "knowable."

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  19. If the Torah was composed by man, then tell me why any rational human being would put Chukim (that have no logical reason) and make so many prohibitions and restrictions on every area of life. If you want to sell a religion wouldn't it make sense to write laws that would appeal to the audience and make their life more comfortable. If the mass revelation were not true then people would scoff at the laws and reject them without a reasonable doubt. Noone would ever accept upon themselves so many restrictions when life offers so much taava, etc. Furthermore, jews are one of the most stiff necked people in the world, the idea that the religion evolved over time wouldn't be applicable or plausible. The very fact that you are posting on this blog and trying to make an argument against the Divine origion of the Torah shows that you are stiff-necked, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This trait is what kept our religion going for three millenia. We have a genealogy of the first man (if you deny the Torah then where did humans come from?) to Noach (10 generations). Mind you, they had some form of Torah (the laws) as well since we know that Shem and Ever had a yeshiva. The flood gives an explanation for the splitting of Pangea into different continents (Zohar) and also gives a reason for the climate and environmental change of the Earth (drop in sea level). Then 10 generations later we arrive at Avraham and 6 generations later until Moshe. Then you have the entire history with Egypt, the desert, Canaan, the kings, prophets, etc. and everything in the Nach. Mind you, that every generation and their main offspring, the years they lived, etc. is listed in the 26 generations between Adam and Noach. We have works from David and Shlomo and recordings of the first Beit Hamikdash and second Beit Hamikdash. We still have the western kotel which remains from the second (bc David built it). Then when we have the period of the tanaim, amoraim, geonim, rishonim, and acharonim. Are you just going to abandon such a wondeful and sophisticated lifestyle? Are you going to deny the existence of all the avot, leaders, prophets, kings, and the great tsadikim. Can you look into the face of a tsadik and say his life is meaningless and his toil was in vain? Can you give me a reason for why we have so many halchot that encompass every detail in our lives and the way we should eat, sleep, live, marry, bathe, put on shoes, purity, etc. Which people would stick so dutifully after so much oppression and persecution to a religion that according to you was man made? Does it logically make any sense? No. If it was so clear that Judaism was the correct faith and there were evidence to support it then there would no longer be a nisayon in life, would there? If we were created for this world, then did Hashem do a bad job, since why is there so much pain and suffering?

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    1. If I were to tell you that a person is placed at a certain place, born into a certain family, at a certain time, with a certain life span (ending with death), then would it occur to your mind to say that he was put there with no purpose and was put their to enjoy his life with no restrictions? Then why do humans have the abiltiy to choose to do good or to do bad? Just create us as animals who live by instinct and can't distinguish between good and bad (not that there is good and bad by animals, which proves that they were created for this world- for survival). It is very brazen of you to question the veracity of a religion that has been prosecuted for millenia and that has shown its loyalty to Hashem and His Torah. The only reason you wish to do so is because you don't want to be restricted. You want to live your life freely like an animal. But we both know that subconsciously you know are worried for the fact that you might be wrong and the consequences of your decision will outweigh the small pleasures you wish to chase after. If the Torah evolved over time and was written by men then why is it that every sefer torah has the same text and is pasul if it altered even by one letter? If it evolved over time or was synthesized by man then it only makes sense that it would be like Christianity and Islam who have many versions of their "holy" works. Just think about a situation where a loved one dies: what occurs to your mind? Do you think about what happens next? Do you think about your own future and what will happen when you pass after 120 years? Just because you reject the logical proofs other people offer doesn't make you right nor does it disproove the veracity of the Torah. They are simply trying to show you that a religion as beloved as the one we have is not something you should think of letting go of bc if you were to just dedicate time to learn the Torah and the Talmud, your neshama will feel spiritual elation and you will know that Moshe Emet Vetorato Emet. Forgive me for my english. I wish you Hatslacha and urge you to learn more about our past and the greatness of the Tsadikim we had in every generation. Also, I recently heard that they did an experiment where they showed that there is a special aura around Jews when they do mitsvot such as donning tefilin. If you look at Divineinformation.com you will see a video on the front page that offers differenct prooves that the existence of the world is only thousands (not billions) of years old. There are also amazing stories of open miracles of people who have recovered from fatal illnesses (which doctors admit to the open miracle) through the tefila and teshuva of others. There are also stories of Hashgacha peratit that you should research and consider whether it is the yad Hashem or whether it is coincidence. If youd like to receive emails of emuna you can look up emuna daily and subscribe so you can receive emails 5 days of a week of chizuk and hashgacha peratit. I wish you hatslacha on the path you choose and hopefully you will choose the right path (think about your future).

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    2. Hi, thanks for taking the time to write.

      I'm going to offer a couple of pieces of eitza: First, you seem like a sincere person who's happy in your beliefs. Why then start engaging with online skeptics? Yes, I know you're trying to do some good, but think of what you're prompting me to do - come back to you with a set of rational refutations to every one of the points you made. I imagine your rebbeim would likewise strongly discourage you from exposing yourself to this stuff. Because it's dangerous territory for people who want to hold onto their emuna.

      Second, you can make all the arguments you like, but when you start to say things like, "You want to live your life freely like an animal," that's over the line. Offsides. Flag thrown. Seriously, you can't know what's going on in someone else's head. You don't live there. And you totally misread my motivations, which are truth-seeking and intellectual. I know the "animal" idea gets a lot of mileage in mussar schmoozes and hashkafa shiurim, but it doesn't reflect the reality for a lot of people, including me.

      One last thing, if you read my posts (which I *don't* recommend you do), you'd know that I haven't "abandoned" Judaism or the observant lifestyle. My whole thing is about trying to work out how to live a meaningful religious life while being intellectually honest.

      So don't be too worried about me. :-)

      All the best,
      AJ

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  20. The reason for the absence of counter example is actually found within the HB itself.

    The Israelites themselves requested not to hear God's voice directly anymore, and not to see such awesome manifestation fearing they would die. They further said that it was a miracle that such a thing happened, and no mortal could hear such a thing and survive, with the exception of certain people, like Moses. They then asked Moses to be their intermediary with God "Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey". In Deut4:32-33 the author writes a prediction that over the course of history no such phenomenon will occur again.

    As to the national revelation of Sinai, it becomes, to those that did not directly witness it even among the community itself, nothing more than a story, passed down like any folk tale, without proof for the claim other than an oral tradition (a tradition far from being reliable and unbroken) and written account of one (Moses) of those that supposedly were present. Even the number of the alleged eye witnesses becomes, down the line, nothing but a tall claim without evidence (and actually against archaelogical and reasonable evidence). There is also the well known pattern, established in their books and history, of them forsaking their religion and tradition since very early on after receiving the Torah, due to several factors including passionate attachement to idolatry and their ancient polytheistic ways, intermarriages, envy and influence from their pagan neighbors as well as strategic alliances with them. Down the centuries their own books describe a point where there were reportedly only about 7000 remaining within the faith. Some reverted in their lifetime, others died apostates or neglected their religion, influenced by their alliances, marriages, successive years in exile, or in order not to compromise their wordly benefits aqcuired under foreign rule. Such neglect even happenned under Israelite kings, to the point the ruler and the people had to be reintroduced to the Torah after it was accidentaly found while undergoing renovations of the Temple. There were thus many occasions and intervals of time were no tradition was being transmitted, at least to some, if not the vast majority of people, who had to be re-educated and told in a vacuum what had happenned to their own forefathers, either by a tiny righteous remnant or by reading the text on their own, reducing the notion of transmitted tradition, to faith like any other. This is not even getting into the discussion of the proportion of descendants of converts to Judaism, either forcefully through conquests and subjugation, by appeal or various other reasons, and who were consequently also either introduced to the story by consulting the written document on their own, or were "told", by an equally unknown party (from the point of view of its origin, ie descendant of native Israelites that witnessed the Torah or of a line of converts), how the nation they are now part of began.

    Also, if the Creator's aim was to express His universal will for all mankind through a chosen nation, by establishing the experience of Sinai as the blueprint of truth and falsehood from the point of view of its superiority and undeniability compared to any other claim of divine revelation, then foreign nations (or at least a few of them) that were not to be included within the covenant of Sinai had to be called to witness the event and their independant testimony should be available just as the alleged transmitted testimony of the Jews that were present. Otherwise, the claim remains subjective, one-sided, tainted with communitarian pride and even prejudiced. That is not even getting into the issue of textual criticism and the reliability of the HB itself, the primary written source attesting to the event.

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