Guest Post by Rabbi Dov Fischer: Responses to Biblical Criticism from Everyday Life

 

Against the backdrop of Morethodoxy’s recent discussion of Biblical truths and Bible Criticism, often some of our own real-time life observations can prove to be among the most potent responses to those who question the veracity of Torah narrative. Indeed, many of the “piercing” criticisms of Torah text that speak of perceived “contradictions” and “inconsistencies” within the Chumash do not require a Rashi, a Rashbam, or a Kli Yakar to harmonize.  Rather, simple observations from everyday life can point the way. As an exemplar, these thoughts respond to some of the comments in Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber’s “Part 3 – Crack in the Edifice: A Personal Reflection” (http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ ):

 

1.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “2. Jacob has 12 children (11 sons and at least one daughter) in seven years (Gen. 29:32-30:25). Although admittedly possible, even with four wives this is a serious stretch. Leah has seven just in this period, and even has time to worry about how she stopped having children (Gen. 30:9)! Something is not quite right about this timeline. To my mind, it is best explained as an attempt to fit two traditions into one narrative framework: Jacob’s many children and the account of Jacob in Aram.”   

RESPONSIVE THOUGHTIdi Amin had 30-45 children.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idi_Amin#Family_and_associates  My first wife had three kids in three years and, but for reasons that are outside the purview of Morethodoxy, had every capability of continuing at that pace.  Several frum families and Catholics have had such numbers as seven children in seven years.  One man can father 12 children with four women over seven years.  It is the woman who needs nine months and more between births, not the man.  The Torah text acknowledges that Rachel had trouble bearing, while Leah had great facility but eventually slowed down.  The Torah even supplies a perfectly rational reason that a G-d of Mercy would have given Leah an opportunity towards leveling her marital playing field.

 

2.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There are a number of name inconsistencies in the biblical text. For example: Who was Moshe’s father-in-law, Reuel (Exod. 2:18), Jethro (Exod. 3:1), or Chovav (Num. 10:29)? Additionally, was his father-in-law a Midianite (Exodus and Numbers above) or was he a Kenite (Judg. 1:16 and 4:11)? What is the name of the mountain of God? Is it Sinai (Exod. 19:20, 24:16, Lev. 7:38, 25:1, Num. 3:1, Neh. 9:13, etc.) or Horeb (Exod. 33:6, Deut. 5:6, 18:16, 1 Kings 19:8, etc.)? It appears that the Torah records competing traditions in all of these cases”

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: What is the name of the fifth New York City borough — Richmond or Staten Island?  If Queens County is called “Queens,” why is Kings County not called “Kings” but “Brooklyn”?  Are they different places? Is this country called the “United States” or is it “America”?  Was the former communist world power called the “Soviet Union” or “Russia”?  Is the European country called Deutschland or Germany or Allemagne?  Was the Civil War battle, where more Americans died in a single day than at any other battle in American history, fought at Sharpsburg or at Antietam?  Is it two narratives being merged?  Was it Bull Run orManassas, and was there really a First Manassas and a Second Manassas?  Was the great Confederate general who was included on the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, named Thomas J. Jackson or Stonewall Jackson? Is Avigdor someone different from Moshe? Were Yasser Arafat and Abu Ammar two different people? Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen? Muhammad Zaidan and Abu Abbas? Prince and #$%&?  George Ruth and Babe Ruth? Simon Persky and Shimon Peres?  Ariel Sharon and Ariel Scheinermann? David Green and David Ben-Gurion?  Golda Meir and Goldie Meyerson? Icchak Jeziernicky and Yitzhak Shamir? And what about the Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences: Lincoln’s secretary, named Kennedy, told him not to go to the play, and Kennedy’s secretary, named Lincoln, told him not to go to Dallas.  Lincoln was killed in Ford’s Theatre, and Kennedy was killed in a Lincolnmanufactured by Ford Motor Company.  Lincoln was killed at a theater, and Kennedy’s assassin was arrested in a theater.  Each had a Vice President named Johnson from a Southern state.  The merger of two narratives?

 

3.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “4. Who sold Joseph? The brothers (Gen. 37:27) or the Midianites (Gen. 37:28)? Who brought Joseph to Egypt? The Madanites (Gen. 37:36) or the Ishmaelites (Gen. 39:1)? Again it appears that the Torah records competing traditions or stories.”  

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Rav Avigdor Miller explains it very simply.  It was lucrative, and there were middlemen.  Occam’s Razor.  Others have equally simple alternative understandings.

 

4.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “a. Noah: Is the flood caused by rain (Gen. 7:12) or is it the unplugging of the heavens and depths (Gen. 7:11)?

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Are they different?  When the Heavens and depths are unplugged, don’t rain and surges of water come out?  

 

5.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “Is Noah supposed to take seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals (Gen. 7:2-3) or one pair of each animal (Gen. 6:19-20)?”

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: I tell my child: “Look, it’s cold outside, put on a sweater.”  As he starts walking out, I say, “Y’know what?  Go back in and put on a jacket and grab a cap.”  As we get into the car, I get a bit embarrassed and say to him, “I hate to do this, but please go inside a get a raincoat.” Three different narratives, or does one amplify the previous?

 

6.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “Does the rain / flood last 40 days (Gen. 7:17) or 150 days (Gen. 7:24)?” 

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Why is it problematic to say that it rained for 40 days, but it took 150 for the waters to subside?  After Katrina, was New Orleans dry the next day, with all waters returned to subterranean heights?  After the East Coast hurricane, did the waters recede the next day, or did people have to continue waiting before they could move back into certain places in New Jersey, Staten Island, and elsewhere?  Is this not the simplest understanding?

 

7.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “b. Scouts: Are the loyal scouts Caleb (Num. 13:30, 14:24) or Caleb and Joshua (Num. 14:6-9, 14:30)? Is it Moshe (Num. 13:27, 14:9) or Moshe and Aaron (Num. 13:26, 14:2, 14:26) with whom God and the people speak? Why does God punish Israel twice (Num. 14:20-25, 14:26-35)? Do they go all the way to the north and Hamat (Num. 13:21) or just through the Negev until Hebron (Num. 13:22)?”

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Occam’s Razor. Where is the crisis in faith or the fatal contradiction?  Calev bears extra mention, while Yehoshua is taken for granted, having already been noted.  Hebron is a special stopping point so that the good spies can pray at M’arat HaMachpelah, so it bears extra mention, even as it lays a foundation for understanding why Calev is giving Hebron as an inheritance, further demonstrating a coherence and consistency of text between Sifrei Yehoshua and D’varim.  What’s the problem?  Why turn it into two authors?  Columbus thought he had arrived at India; he called the people “Indians.”  He recorded that he arrived in India.  Others report that he arrived in the Western hemisphere. Two separate narratives?  Two separate explorers?  Did the Nina and Pinta go toIndia, while the Santa Maria went to Cleveland? 

 

8.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “2. The Torah describes some of Israel’s neighbors—Ishmael, Midian, Edom—as being descendants of Abraham, and others of Abraham’s nephew Lot—Moab, Ammon. Firstly, it seems rather improbable to assume that the entire surrounding culture of the area were all descendants of one person, especially if that person arrived in the area when it was already populated.”

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: All of South America already was populated when the Spaniards arrived: Cortez to the Aztecs in Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas in Peru.  Is it believable that they all ended up speaking the same Spanish so soon?  What happened to the languages of the Aztecs and the Incas?  Just because a few conquerors came on ships to deeply entrenched peoples who had spoken their languages for centuries before the Spanish?  After Joseph Smith was murdered, Brigham Young moved his small religious group to the state of Utah.  Is it believable that such a small religious group of outcasts effectively could have turned Utah, a bonafide state within mainlandAmerica, into a state so dominated by Mormonism?  Does it make sense that Jonas Bronck, a Dutch immigrant who lived there only four years in the aftermath of the 1637 Tulip Mania, ended up having the entire borough named for him?  Is it believable that one man led several different countries to independence, as Simon Bolivar did forVenezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia?

 

9.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “More problematic is the fact that stories that occur very soon after Abraham’s lifetime already assume that his son’s have become a nationality.” 

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Until May 1964, there was virtually no such thing as an Arab nationality of “Palestinians.”  They simply were “Arabs,” while most of the world deemed the Jews of Israel to be the “Palestinians.”  (The Israeli Jews’ Anglophonic newspaper was the “Palestine Post.”  They raised funds through the “Jewish National Fund for Palestine” and the “United Jewish Appeal for Palestine.” The pro-Irgun organization inAmerica headed by Peter Bergson/Hillel Kook and by Shmuel Merlin was the “American League for a Free Palestine.”  Even the movie “Exodus” was replete with Paul Newman’s fictional Ari Ben Canaan leading the effort to transport Jews from Cyprus to Palestine.).  A month later, after Ahmed Shukairy convened the First Palestinian National Council that met from May 28-June 2, 1964, he declared his minions to be “Palestinians,” and the “nationality” of “Palestinians” took form virtually overnight.

 

10.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There is no evidence of a massive collapse in Egypt during the Ramasside period, or other periods close to it, and there is no record of any slave revolt or escape in Egyptian texts.”

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: What do Egyptian history books write about the 1956 War?  The 1967 War?  If Messiah has not yet arrived, what will they write in 3,300 years about those wars?  Will there be evidence and proof in the historical record?

 

11.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM:  As a general matter, there are Bible Critics who comment that a book that repeats many prior teachings, as does the Book of D’varim, must have been authored by an alternative teaching source, even as the Critics point to omissions from the Repetition to bolster their claims of competing traditions and narratives.

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT:  I am an Adjunct Professor of Law.  Through 14 two-hour lectures each term, I teach my advanced students, respectively, the Law of Advanced Torts and the Law of California Civil Procedure.  As the term progresses, more and more laws, facts and opinions, aggregate upon each other in my students’ notes.  By term’s end, I always try to make some time to offer them an end-of-term Review session, aiming to put all the pieces together into a really coherent and elegantly crafted final edifice. However, each term’s Review session will different from a previous term’s.  This year, for example, the procedural issue of “standing” dominated much legal discussion as the United Supreme Court moved towards ruling on the Constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that would have refused to recognize same-sex marriages.   Knowing as I anticipated that an important segment of the case appeal would turn on “standing,” I emphasized “standing” more during my Spring 2013 review than I did in prior terms.  In Advanced Torts, some terms I feel that I want to use a review session to help some students better master the concept of securities fraud, while other terms I may feel that an extra word on invasion-of-privacy will be helpful. No two Reviews are identical.  Moreover, given the limits on the human capacity to absorb — and, more practically, reined in by the inexorable ticking of the clock — I may have to leave some things out in order to  be sure to get other things in.  No “repetition” or review of material can be or should be verbatim and identical.  Depending on the listeners’ needs, capacities, and proven actions after having been taught the first time, the focus of the “end-of-term review” has to be modeled differently in some areas while being identical in others.  Where people demonstrably need greater clarity, there is good reason to add detail.  Where people find themselves about to enter a new practical phase of life, those heightened areas about to confront them need greater emphasis.  Where a new generation has come to life, some things need to be spoken “all over again” while other things that already have “taken hold” do not need repetition.  It is like that in every subject, in every legal system.  It just is the natural way of reviewing and repeating a large corpus of information. For Moshe Rabbeinu, having taught a Nation of millions for nearly forty years and now on the precipice of leaving them, the Book of D’varim makes the most perfectly logical sense.  He had taught their parents’ generation, all of whose men and many of whose women now have died during four decades’ peregrination through the Wilderness, and this new Generation is about to be without him.  He is talking to them, teaching them, emphasizing what needs to be emphasized and necessarily omitting what cannot also be fit in within the clock’s ticking of the final moments.  He is reminding them what they have seen and telling them what their parents saw, reminding them of the cause-and-effect experiences that their parents’ mistakes brought about, hoping they will learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to make those mistakes themselves.  As he ascends Mount Nevo, they are prepared for the Final exam: to enter a Promised Land and to create a culture and civilization faithful to his teachings, overseen by his disciple Joshua, but without his personal presence.  It makes perfect sense.

 

Dov Fischer, an Adjunct Professor of Law and former Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County in Irvine, California and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

28 Responses to Guest Post by Rabbi Dov Fischer: Responses to Biblical Criticism from Everyday Life

  1. Yoni says:

    And this, my friends, is why people are going “off the derech” in droves.

    • Lisa says:

      Could you be more specific? Rabbi Fischer is pointing out the illogic of academic biblical cricitism of the sort that Zev Farber is promoting. Are you saying that the only way to keep people from going OTD is to accept academic biblical criticism? Sounds a bit like, “We had to destroy the village to save it.”

      • ruvie says:

        not really. R’ Fischer is offering answers by interpreting the text. nothing wrong with that. – how good are his answers? or does his belief decides which are acceptable not the text and other evidence (or lack thereof). some of them are simply poor.
        btw, this has little to do why people go OTD.

      • Yoni says:

        The “answers” are shallow and childish. (Look at the Noah answers for example.) Lisa, at least you deal with these issues intellectually.

  2. Lisa says:

    After my brother was born in 1965, my two sisters were born in 1967 and 1970. My cousins got married, and one of them had two daughters, in 1986 and 1990. Another had two daughters, in 1990 and 1992. And the third had a daughter 1994. I had a daughter in 1992. Finally, in 1994, I had a son. For 29 years, my family had only girls.

    Weird coincidence, no doubt. If someone like Farber were to read about it 2000 years from now, he’d probably assume it wasn’t true.

    When I was living in Israel, I ran into someone who didn’t believe the US had 50 states. So I started going around asking people how many states the US had. I got mostly answers of 49, 51, and 52. When I told people it was 50, they told me I must be wrong. 50 is too much of a round number, they said. When people talk about 50 states, they don’t mean it exactly — it’s an expression. An approximation.

    The Soviet Union is interesting. Its “Treaty of Creation” was in 1922. Its official dissolution was in 1991. Since we count start years and end years as full years (like we do with the 8 days for a brit milah), that means the USSR existed for 70 years. Or if you like, you can count it from 1917 (the Russian Revolution) to 1986 (Perestroika). Either way, it’s 70 years. Like Babylon. I have no doubt that future historians will see that Babylon, which destroyed the First Temple, and the USSR, which banned the teaching of Judaism, both lasted 70 years, and figure that’s an obviously schematic number that can’t actually be real.

    (The one kvetch I have with this article is that Utah was not a state when the Mormans showed up in 1847. In fact, it wasn’t until the Mormons banned polygamy in 1890 that the US was willing to grant Utah statehood, which happened in 1896. But that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the valid points Rabbi Fischer makes.)

    • Charlie Hal says:

      Not only was Utah not a state as of 1847, it was still part of Mexico and would remain so for another year!

  3. David Sher says:

    Yoni, Why would your write such a disrespectful answer. If you have issues with what he wrote, why not simply address them. Many of the people who reply on this site are just way to snarky.

  4. zach says:

    There are really two separate issues that you mention in the first paragraph but conflate under the rubric of academic biblical scholarship (the DH and related multiple document theories.) Those issues are the “veracity of Torah narrative” and the “perceived contradictions and inconsistencies”. The former is much harder for Orthodoxy to defend on a rational basis since the scientific evidence against its veracity is just so overwhelming. The problems with the Mabul story as written could fill books and must be allegorized – as with most of the first 11 chapters of Torah – unless one wants to rely on laughable ideas promulgated by the Creation Museum, which challenges every firmly established radiometric procedure, every single piece of fossil & stratigraphic evidence, DNA studies, animal distribution, etc. Or a fideist will say something like “the desert is a big place and one wouldn’t expect to find pottery remains from a wandering group of nomads that lived day to day by miracles” without recognizing that the Torah speaks of 600,000 men – a CITY THE SIZE OF CHICAGO when one takes into account women & children – traveling for 40 years with forges & tools & dye vats & weaving & everything else needed to build a mishkan, weapons, tents, jewelry, implements needed to carry water (even if one believes that the humans ate only mann they needed utensils; note also that I leave out clothes), plus many animals and the accoutrements needed for them, etc. Oh, yeah, all of the dead bodies since almost the entire first generation died in the desert. Yet not a trace of any of this has been found after more than 100 years of concerted efforts (and mostly by Christian archaeologists trying desperately to do so.)

    Believers begin with a priori assumptions of an inerrant God-given book. Just admit that it is completely faith-based, or rely on Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria”. Arguing the science is futile.

    Regarding the latter issue that deals with document sources, this is likewise a futile endeavor for the same reason (even though I would never classify Biblical Scholarship as a science). We’ll just let Moshe Bernstein make the case: “What if anything would cause me to say, well maybe I’m wrong? So the answer is if somebody showed me a piece of J from the 8th century BCE and there was no P with it, and I was convinced that it was from the 8th century and that this was an individual thing… and I believed that, so I’d look up and I’d say, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, why are you testing me? … If it’s a question of emunah, I am perfectly willing to be a fundamentalist… and to say that those are the parameters within which I operate. I may push the envelope as far as I can, I may choose to operate in a broader way than many others whom I know, but that’s where I draw the line.”

    • Charlie Hal says:

      As an Orthodox Jew I do not believe in the historical inerrancy of the Biblical narratives. That is for Christian fundamentalists. Rabbinic commentaries often stray far from the literal meaning of the Biblical text, and no less a figure than Maimonides was willing to treat Biblical narratives as allegories when he could not accept their literal historicity. This really is not an issue.

      • zach says:

        We’re obviously defining inerrancy differently then. The basic assumption of Orthodoxy is that Torah is God given and cannot by definition be deficient. Suggesting that the Torah can be in error is anathema to chazal, rishonim, acharonim, etc. Which is why they worked so hard over the millennia to try and resolve contradiction (sometimes successfully, but often not.)

        Allegory is a separate topic. The whole need to allegorize by Rambam and others was because certain ideas strained the limits of the science of the day and perhaps his Aristotelian ruminations. So what do we do today when the problems are so much greater because of increased knowledge gained through hard sciences, archaeology, linquistics, etc? Not much, because unfortunately Orthodoxy has set in stone what is fair game to allegorize (as mentioned earlier, it’s usually restricted to the first 11 chapters) and one is simply “out of the club” (with cries of “Heretic!”) by suggesting that the exodus story, for example, may be largely mythical.

  5. Joebug says:

    Rabbi Fischer – than you for a nicely presented post. You are right, especially with the rather weak textual examples that R Farber presented. Biblical criticism is a form of interpretation, and when interpreting a text there are different possibilities, and in terms of interpretation yours, and indeed those of Chazal, are from an objective viewpoint (if this is possible) just as good.
    However, R Farber, for reasons best known to himself, picked some rather weak examples. There are much more difficult critiques. One of which R Farber and yourself do touch on – that of the Exodus.
    The Torah and Tanach themselves state that these events reverberated around the area, if not the world. They were huge mindblowing events – G-d’s outstretched arm shook the world, and everyone knew about them according to the Torah’s narrative.They were not the 1956 or the 1967 war, they were the the most astounding events the world had ever seen. Yet we hear nothing of them not just in Eygpt’s records, but nowhere else either. Even when we do see records of much “smaller” events, including in fact other defeats in the Egyptian record itself. We also see no evidence of 600,000 wandering in the desert, despite decades of looking and despite easy evidence of much smaller nomadic wanderings by other people. Remember, when archaeologists started surveying the Sinai in the 19th century they were amazed that they saw no evidence. Of course we can argue that absence of proof is not proof of absence. We can argue that the midrash suggests that the Jews left no record due to divine intervention/design – the manna, clothes that never wore out etc..

    Yet this is only one instance – when you put the evidence from textual analysis, archaeology, comparative religion in particular, linguistics together, then it becomes difficult to respond in the way you try to do without seeming apologetic. The point is, if we assume for a moment that we don’t know whether the Torah is true (in the traditional TMS sense), that we cannot be sure of a reliable chain of transmission, then how does the evidence look? To anyone outside, it is overwhelmingly against. Yet you expect those on the inside to look at it differently.
    There is no individual knockout blow to be sure. Noone has come up with the supposed separate books of J,P.D etc accurately dated by a meteoric event to before the date of matan torah. You can still make your arguments, and in a way, who is to say one way or another with certainty what happened over 3,000 years ago. FIne for you, but to expect anyone else to believe you, to expect our children to go to university, to see the fruits of the Enlightenment, to see the evidence against TMS, and then agree with you and not with the biblical scholars. That’s frankly not on.
    This is the point that Yoni, in shorter and less respectful (and perhaps he is right to express his anger) form is making.

    • Lisa says:

      Joebug, it’s interesting how you deal with midrash. On the one hand, you assign the manna and the fact that their clothes ran out to midrash (and say that the midrash only suggests this), when both things are textual. On the other hand, there’s no evidence outside of the midrash to think that the Israelite camp that went from place to place over those 40 years was any different than Shilo eventually was, and Jerusalem. You’re looking for a concentrated population on the basis of nothing but midrash. Once we got the Torah, we spread out, and got back together for the chagim. Unless you think כל העדה means the entire nation, which is a reach.

      As far as the Flood is concerned, the evidence of what’s called the Ice Age is considered to be the result of glaciation, because that fits with the picture of a very old world. But ice moves things slowly in the same way that water moves them quickly, and there is a lot of evidence pointing towards it having been fast, rather than slow. Animals quick frozen, with no decay, and with the contents of their stomachs still undigested, for example. What’s more reasonable to you, that a mammoth got hit with a huge wave and frozen, or that the same mammoth stood there peacefully as a nearby glacier engulfed him?

      There really isn’t any evidence

      • Joebug says:

        Thanks for your post Lisa.
        I did not mean to imply that the manna was midrashic, rather that the position that the manna was not processed in to waste products is an interpetation not in the text. I’m no torah sage so apologies, but it’s not there in Beshallach and Rashi says nothing about it, so I assumed its midrashic.
        I’m not sure what you mean when you imply that 600,000 is not in the text – surely it is clearly there – “600,000 on foot, the men” for example in Parshat Bo.
        With regards to the Mabul, I’m unclear what point you are making – that you don’t think there was an Ice Age? The scientific evidence is clear that there was no global flood, although a localized one is possible. Either way you seem to argue the case for my substantive point – by all means engage in apologetics or obscurantist views on science and evidence, but don’t expect anyone else to believe you, don’t expect it to be an edifice to build yirat shamayim on. I know all this is difficult, I find it just as difficult, but it won’t go away, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, not unless we retreast to Mea Shearim, which I don’t think is an invalid option. After all, we could say, what is the enlightenment offering us – Simon Cowell joking about getting another man’s wife pregnant? Celebrity Culture? Nihilist materialism? But we can’t have it both ways.

      • Lisa says:

        Okay… let me take these a few at a time.

        It’s true that it’s the midrash that says there were no waste products. But it isn’t a far stretch from נעליכם לא בלו מעליכם.

        Certainly the 600K is there. But that doesn’t mean that all 600K camped together for 40 years. I mean, it’s possible that they did, and we just haven’t found evidence of it yet — you’d be amazed at the percentage of the Negev that has not been subject to digs, or even surveys. And surveys are skin deep. Like they say, lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack, however frustrating that may be to those who want absolute answers right now.

        What I’m saying is possible (probable, maybe) is that the only time during the year when the entire nation was present in the machaneh was during the shalosh regalim and yamim nora’im. At least after the first year or two.

        The Ice Age. Take a step back and consider it. We didn’t always know there was an Ice Age. How do you think we figured it out? By looking at the physical evidence and saying, “Hmm… this could have happened as the result of an Ice Age.” Nowadays, images like the cave men in the movie Ice Age are what people think of when they think of those times, but that’s “common knowledge”, and not science. Does the evidence support an Ice Age? Well, it supports the movement of some or other medium across the world which broke mountains and left its marks. There are places where you can see gigantic boulders in a huge curved line, and common knowledge is that those were left there when glaciers reached their farthest and began to retreat. But the fact is, all of that evidence is equally consistent with a worldwide flood. In fact, it looks exactly like what we’d expect from a worldwide flood. Now… if I could get into a time machine and go back, and I were to see tens of thousands of years of glaciation rather than 40 days of the world being inundated by an insane amount of water, I’d say, “Okay, there was an Ice Age.” But it doesn’t actually follow.

        There’s scientific data supporting the idea that the Pacific Ocean came into being when a comet or some other massive body of ice in space slammed into the earth. That’s ordinarily dated millions and millions of years BP, but it needn’t be.

        Nor am I saying that’s exactly what happened. Unlike some, I’m well aware that we don’t know the answer to how things got to where they are now. I’m just saying that a global flood is not less plausible than an Ice Age.

        If you think we need to have solid answers about how everything happened in prehistoric times in order to build an edifice of yir’at shamayim, then we are well and truly screwed; no question about it. But I don’t think we need to. I think there’s a problem in modern sociology of science where certainty is so desperately needed, they’re willing to demand that something is certain even when it might be wrong.

        I’ll leave you with a little anecdote. I did grad work in Assyriology at Hebrew U back in the late 80s. I remember looking at Grayson’s Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. When it comes to a certain period of Assyrian history, there are two documents: Assyrian King List A and Assyrian King List B. (We Assyriologists are creative that way.) Anyway, King List B is much shorter than King List A. The information it contains fits better with a lot of the evidence we have, too. But it’s shorter, which means that for some of the period, it gives us no information whatsoever. Which means that it’s a foregone conclusion that King List A is the one that’s considered more authoritative. Not because there’s any reason to actually prefer it based on content. On the contrary. But because if we go by the King List B, we have a gap in which we have to say “I don’t know.” And if we use King List A, there’s no such gap.

        Think about that, because that’s how a lot of scholarship works, even in the sciences, particularly softer ones.

      • ruvie says:

        “To believe that the entire world was destroyed
        some four thousand years ago and that we and all the animals are descended from Noah and those in his ark (similarly to believe that we are all descended from a first man named Adam who lived 5000 years ago)
        is not merely to dispute a certain historical fact, or to deny the
        existence of say Alexander, Caesar or George Washington. On the contrary, it is this and much more. One who believes in the flood story literally (or in the five thousand year history of the world) rejects
        the entire historical enterprise. He denies history itself and places
        himself outside of time. It is pointless to even discuss, never mind argue, with someone who adopts this view since there can be no point of reference between the fundamentalist and the historically minded. Indeed, it makes no sense for the fundamentalist to even attempt to show the historical veracity of what he believes, since as I said above, his very position is a rejection of the validity of all historical meaning. As such any discussion is pointless.”

        “These facts are the fundamentals of
        biology, physics, astronomy, history, anthropology, geology,
        palentology, zoology, linguistics etc. etc. etc. Belief in a 5000 year old world and a flood which destroyed the world 4000 years ago is a denial of all human knowledge as we know it. It is a retreat into a world of belief, rather than one based on any sort of fact, and one who believes can believe anything he want to.”

      • Lisa says:

        That was kind of pathetic, ruvie. And it displayed astounding closed-mindedness, particularly for someone claiming to be pro-science. Your claim that certain views constitute a denial of history and placing the person with those views “outside of time” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) is nothing but argument by intimidation. On of the more noxious rhetorical fallacies.

        Since what you posted had no actual content, but only the equivalent of “if you say that, you’re a poopy-head!”, I’ll leave with a mere: “Meh.”

      • ruvie says:

        lisa – I was just quoting marc shapiro on folks that hold similar views as yourself. there is no evidence that a flood occurred 4,100 years ago. If you believe in the literal understanding of creation and/or the flood (as well as the bible timeline being historically correct) then the comment applies.

        The flood issues revolves around 2 major issues. 1)scientific improbability (some would say impossibility) of the event – how animals survived and later got to their respective places in the world…. 2) evidence contra to an event 4,100 yrs ago including complete histories of people with no break thru that event, fossil strata records…
        see more here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html

        add to above the epic of gilgamesh: that the stories are similar point by point in its order is one thing but the literary non historical similarities is another. dating, even in the most generous of terms, puts the writing of the story pre biblical moses time. Why would God look around and take the gilgemesh epic and tweak it for His telling of a historical event? that doesn’t mean that the story has no meaning – to the contrary the story is there for its meaning. see
        http://www.traditiononline.org/news/_pdfs/0041-0048.pdf

      • Lisa says:

        Ruvie, you wrote: The flood issues revolves around 2 major issues. 1)scientific improbability (some would say impossibility) of the event – how animals survived and later got to their respective places in the world…. 2) evidence contra to an event 4,100 yrs ago including complete histories of people with no break thru that event, fossil strata records…

        You can’t comment on the probability or possibility of the event without making major assumptions about the nature of the event. Anyone who claims it’s improbable or impossible has a picture of the event in his head that he’s declaring improbable or impossible. For such a judgment to mean anything, you’d have to first establish that said picture reflects what is claimed to have happened.

        There are no complete histories of people with no break through that event.

      • ruvie says:

        Lisa – “said picture” is what is stated in the chumash. You are obfuscating.
        According to Gerald Schroeder – “lines of Native American civilizations show no break at the time of the biblical flood.”
        This not an exhaustive list or questions – see the links i provided above for many more(especially the science questions). Its the totality of problems with the story as depicted in beresheit that questions its historicity and timeline.
        the gilgamesh epic is especially problematic for other reasons.
        KT

      • ruvie says:

        another quote from shapiro on this issue:
        ” with the exception
        of some hasidic trends, anti-intellectualism has no roots in recent Jewish history. The people advocating fundamentialist positions are the most intellectual we have. People often say that they can hold the positions they do because they are ignorant of science and history. This is incorrect. It is not that they are ignorant of all these fields, it is rather that they reject them. There is a difference. The proper word to describe this is obscurantism. ”

        If this is your shoe – wear it proudly with all its implications for what it is. All the best.

  6. HK says:

    Rabbi Fischers “answers” are off the mark. Even if we could make a modern day analogy to authors, find me an author who in the same chapter or book uses different names and genealogies for the same character, without saying they are the same person. What reason in the world could there be to create that confusion? And it just so happens that the different names fit in with the different sources- is that a coincidence?
    Also regarding Devarim- its not that its modeled differently or emphasizes and omits different points, it CONTRADICTS things in the rest of the Torah. Different role of Leviim, different story about Edom, different place where Aaron was buried, different wilderness itinerary, different story about the the scouts, different 10 commandments, etc- etc
    I am sure Rabbi Fischer would not confuse his law students with that kind of review.

    • Reb Yid says:

      “Also regarding Devarim- its not that its modeled differently or emphasizes and omits different points, it CONTRADICTS things in the rest of the Torah….I am sure Rabbi Fischer would not confuse his law students with that kind of review.”

      Are you joking? The law is full of “contradictions”, and we have established procedures for ironing out the differences. Many of these “contradictions” have the same author.

  7. Charlie Hal says:

    “in seven years”

    One doesn’t have to look to people with non-standard lifestyles to observe high fertility. Canada’s former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was the 18th of 19 children from the same mother and father. His parents were married in 1909, and he was born in 1934. That is 18 children in less than 25 years. (Unfortunately only eight of his siblings survived infancy.)

    “What happened to the languages of the Aztecs and the Incas? ”

    They are actually still around! Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and Quechua, the language of the Incas, are still widely spoken. Nahuatl has a million speakers in Mexico (almost all of whom also speak Spanish), and Quechua has around 8 million speakers in several countries in South America (many of whom are monolingual).

    ‘Until May 1964, there was virtually no such thing as an Arab nationality of “Palestinians.” ‘

    This is a common misconception. Palestinian nationality was officially created with the British Mandate in the 1920s, and even in Ottoman times Arab Nationalists in the region used the term “Filistin” to refer to the region and to themselves. Later, in 1948, a “Filistin” government in exile was created by the League of Arab States; it actually performed some governmental functions in Gaza for about a decade (per the dictates of the Egyptian government).

    That said, I appreciated the essay. While I do believe that academic study of Bible and Talmud is important, we need to recognize the limits. Much is not falsifiable in any reasonable sense and therefore not subject to proof or disproof.

  8. Atheodox Jew says:

    > Indeed, many of the “piercing” criticisms of Torah text that speak of perceived “contradictions” and “inconsistencies” within the Chumash

    Maybe this is where BOTH sides have it wrong. The assumption on both sides of the debate is that identifying inconsistencies in the Chumash necessarily poses a problem for the Chumash. But has anyone considered that this way of thinking might be foreign to the mindset that went into writing the Torah?

    Even if the Chumash had a single author, and even if one were to posit a Divine author, why are we so sure that the author was concerned with “consistency” the same way we are? If the main point of the Torah is to impart teachings and laws, to have a positive influence on the people, then perhaps we’re hyper-focusing on details which author never expected would have to be “reconciled”. Maybe the whole notion of “squaring inconsistencies” is a product of the *modern* mindset!

    Indicative of this change in mindset is the way we understand the word “emet” today – i.e. as “factual truth”. In Tanach however (and even in Chazal’s time), the word was understood to be related to “emuna” and pertains to *faithfulness*. Torah is “emet” not when it’s “factually true” (as we tend to mischaracterize the term) but rather when its teachings and laws “stay true”, stand the test of time, make good on their promise to be a blessing for Am Yisrael.

    Torah can therefore be factually inconsistent and still be “emet”.

    Just a thought.

  9. […] Responses to Biblical Criticism From Everyday Life […]

  10. shlomo zalman says:

    Missed the best example:
    The people of Holland live in the Netherlands and speak Dutch.

  11. Reb Yid says:

    In yeshiva in eretz yisroel we were taught never to debate the xtian missionaries that hung out on Ben Yehuda st., because whatever you presented them, they always new what you were going to say and had some prepared snappy comeback.

    Basically, either you know God gave us the Torah or you don’t know it. If you don’t know it, it might be an uphill battle to convince you, but it’s doable. if you do know it, you’re not going to be dissuaded by arguments along the lines of Moses’ father-in-law having more than one name. And if you are so easily dissuaded, you’re probably in a category of not being held responsible for your actions, anyway.

  12. […] Kadish: Orthodoxy and the Humanities, a Response to R. Yitzchak Blau, Fischer: Responses to Biblical Criticism from Everyday Life, Waxman: Judging kefira. From a political perspective, it looks like the official responses from […]

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