Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study

by Ben Zion Katz

Dr. Ben Zion Katz’s  guest post is the 7th part in a series discussing whether modern biblical scholarship is a danger to traditional Jewish belief. The first 3 parts, two talks and a Q&A session from Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Dr. James Kugel, are available herehere, and here. The fourth part, a very short list of some Rabbinic sources that do not believe Moses is the sole author of the Torah, is available here, and a short look at Dr. Nahum Sarna’s approach to the matter can be found here. Our last post, a thought provoking guest post by rabbinic student Ben Elton, is called Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response. It is available here.

The Torah is the basis of all Judaism. In traditional Jewish thought, the Torah is considered to have been dictated by God to Moses, and the text of the Torah that we possess is considered to be a record of that revelation. It has been claimed that modern, critical biblical scholarship and traditional Judaism are irreconcilable. This book demonstrates that modern biblical scholarship is not as scientific as its proponents make it out to be, while traditional Jewish exegesis is more critical than is commonly appreciated. A synthesis of the two approaches is presented in the concluding chapter.

It has been claimed that modern, critical biblical scholarship and traditional Judaism are irreconcilable. This book demonstrates that modern biblical scholarship is not as scientific as its proponents make it out to be, while traditional Jewish exegesis is more critical than is commonly appreciated. A synthesis of the two approaches is presented in the concluding chapter. (from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Through-Torah-Documentary-Hypothesis/dp/9655240886)

At present, the Modern Orthodox intellectual world is engaging academic Bible study with renewed vigor.  In addition to this website, there is also thetorah.com and the recent comments by Professor Marc Shapiro on the Seforim blog, for example. Perhaps the plethora of books dealing with this topic on an accessible level by authors such as Richard Elliott Friedman, James Kugel, Marc Brettler and others, or the teachings of Rabbis Bin Nun, Leibtag, or Bazak in Israel to name a few, are a factor.  Whatever the reason, I am excited by the current intellectual activity, as I have been thinking about this issue for 40 years.

A scholar by temperament, I cannot shut off my academic brain when I study Jewish texts.  On the other hand, as a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, I require hard data to change my practice.  With this outlook, I believe that Orthodoxy today is less broad than the Rabbinic Judaism of centuries past, but also that modern, academic Bible scholarship is not the hard science its practitioners claim it to be.

As most people reading this blog are undoubtedly aware, the leading academic theory as to how the Bible came to be written is the documentary hypothesis (DH), often associated with the name of Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918).  The DH claims that the Torah was preceded by 4 separate sources (or “documents”), each of which told the history of Israel in its own way.  These purported documents were later edited together, thus accounting for some of the apparent duplications and contradictions found in the Torah.  Of course, these discrepancies had been known for centuries, but were by and large dealt with by the rabbis on a case-by-case basis, rather than with a single, over-arching theory.

There have been attempts to deal with the DH by serious Orthodox Jewish thinkers for over a century.  David Zvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) wrote Biblical commentaries that attacked the DH on its own terms, as well as an entire book Ra-ayot Machriot Neged Wellhausen (Convincing Proofs Against Wellhausen, Jerusalem, 1928; available at Hebrewbooks.org).  Professor Umberto Cassutto also attacked the DH on its own merits in his famous Eight Lectures (translated by Israel Abrahams, Jerusalem 1961).  Rabbi Dr JH Hertz in his monumental English commentary on the Pentateuch also attempted to deal with the DH, mainly in the Additional Notes at the end of each book of the Torah.  The late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer essentially accepted the conclusions of the DH but placed them in a religious context by claiming that they were all authored by God (see for example the chapters related to Rabbi Breuer’s approach in Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations, ed. By S Carmi, Jason Aaronson, 1996).  David Weiss HaLivni, in his books Peshat and Derash (Oxford, 1991) and more fully in Revelation Restored (Westview Press, 1998) argues that the Torah was improperly preserved during the Babylonian exile and had to be restored as best as it could be by Ezra after the return to Judah in the mid 5th century BCE.

In the first 2 chapters of my recent book A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis (Urim, 2012), I critically examine the linguistic and literary evidence for the DH.  In chapters 3-8 I demonstrate that traditional Bible exegetes can be quite analytical.  In the concluding chapter I provide a synthesis that I believe to be both traditional and academically sound.

Since my book appeared, Dr. Joel Baden published The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (Yale, 2012), which focuses solely on the literary aspect of the DH, arguing that the latter is primarily a literary solution to a literary problem.  Dr. Baden also assumes that there was a single, minimalist compiler who edited the disparate sources.  However, as I point out (Jewish Bible Quarterly, in press) there are literary difficulties with Dr Baden’s admittedly clever solutions.  The “documents” that Dr. Baden isolates are not as complete or consistent as claimed, nor is the compiler as consistent or minimalist as advertised.

On the other hand, it is not as if modern scholarship has nothing to teach even the most Orthodox of Bible students.  For example, the tragic story of Yiphtach and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) cannot be understood without realizing that houses in ancient Israel were constructed on 3 sides of a courtyard, where the animals were kept; thus when Yiphtach rashly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house after his battle with the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-31), he undoubtedly thought the first thing that would come out to greet him would be an animal  from his courtyard, not his daughter.  Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means “sustainer of life” an apt name for the one who saved Egypt from famine, and that Moses’ name means born of (water), just as Ramses’ name means born of Ra.

Academic Bible scholarship offers the same serious challenges to traditional Judaism as did evolution.  The latter, however, was backed by hard evidence (fossils, DNA, etc., etc.) and most of the intellectual Modern Orthodox world has accepted evolution in some manner and Torah as two different manifestations of truth.  Until such hard evidence becomes available to support the DH (eg finding an ancient scroll in the Judean desert resembling one of the purported Pentateuchal sources, for example), I do not believe we need to swing open “the gates of figurative interpretation” (Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Book II, chapter 25) quite that far.

Ben Zion Katz M.D. is author of A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis [Urim, Jerusalem, 2012]

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28 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous, Tanakh/Bible

28 responses to “Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study

  1. Madel

    It surprises me that in the academic world Occam’s razor doesn’t govern. If we took Yerachmiel ben-Yishye’s perspective (as expressed in his brilliant novel HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), you’d find a very persuasive critique of the DH in the simplest of arguments among others in his book (Gefen Publishing of Jerusalem): the Torah, having been written by Moses over the 40 years of desert wanderings (and not solely at Sinai) reflects in its discordant parts NOT different writers or editions melded together, but a single writer (Moses) who matured in technique and skill over the 40 years and was plagued by the normal inconsistences that occur even today in publishing and which are hopefully caught by editors before publication…something Moses didn’t have. Not only does ben-Yishye put to rest the DH, but he also finds the Big Bang and evolution in Moses’s writing of Genesis, destroying scientific arguments creating supposedly further discordance and forcing an unnecessary adoption of a duality in truths when only one, composite truth is evident in the Torah .

    • david a.

      I don’t think your idea works very well.
      (a) The Torah is supposed to have written by an immutable, infallible God. What does Moishe’s maturing have to do with anything.

      (b) DH aside, Devarim reflects a different Judaism that the rest of Chumash.. As I commented before, so I’ll just cut and paste…

      Off the top of my head,
      The theology is different, the character of Moishe is different, the concept of kapporah and yom kippur (i.e. the Kohens’ power to affect expiation of sins),and teshuvah and Chatas are non-existent; blood rituals and cleansings are nonexistent, many mitzvoth are contradictory, the 10 C’s text is different, the name of Mt. Sinai is totally absent, Aaron is nearly absent, everything about the building of the Mishkan is non-extant. There is NO ornate Ark, the attitude to idols is more extreme, the narratives are repeated yet contain many differences in some details, and contradictory in some others; there is no mention of 10 “makot” (plagues) and thus the importance of first born is overlooked or missing; the attitude to kedusha, tumah and taharah is very different, the attitude to life pleasures and enjoyments is different, kohanim can be from all of Levi, there is no concept of koret, while concept of rewards for positive commands repeatedly promised in Dev. is NOT found in the rest of Chumash, there is so much more….
      Of course, the commentators and Chazal knew about all of this. But even if all their comments and explanations might be satisfying (which many aren’t), I personally (and many others) cannot get over the fact that these contradictions and differences are there in the first place, creating an incredibly maculated document.

      • Madel

        Hi david,
        The funny thing is that everything you raise substantiates ben-Yishye’s position. But first, let’s address your premise in (a): no where other than on the writing of the Decalogue does the Torah state that G-d wrote anything in the Torah. To the contrary, numerous times the Torah DOES state that Moses wrote it (e.g., see Dev. 31:24), and nothing suggests it was by dictation from G-d. The fact that references to Moses’s writing the Torah over the 40 years of wandering in conjunction with the fact that many laws were given in the Ohel Moed and reflect events that occurred way after the Sinai Revelation further support Moses’s sole authorship. Add to that Joshua’s frequent statements about observing the laws in the books that Moses wrote confirms that a WRITTEN Torah was given to Joshua by Moses before Moses died.

        As to your (b), if there were multiple redactors of an oral tradition that were finally put together by someone like Ezra, wouldn’t you think that all those inconsistencies would have been reconciled in the final edit? The fact that THEY ARE THERE IN OUR TORAH tells me that Moses, as an immature writer (having spent years with the Midianites in the desert), began with one writing style (Genesis) that transitioned to an entirely different one (Deuteronomy) by the time he dies forty years later. Look at something you wrote as a freshman in high school and wonder as I have how I could write that stuff. And that extends NOT ONLY to the writing style BUT TO the content. After so many rebellions and disappointment, Moses WAS a different person when he wrote Devarim in relation to who he was in writing Beraishit. So all those inconsistencies melt away with Moses’s evolving insightfulness in getting the Israelites to become the people of the Covenant.

        As brilliantly put by ben-Yishye in HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), it was part of G-d’s design to ALLOW Moses’s human thought process and writing skills to pervade the Torah to create a document with inconsistencies that would try the Jew’s faith constantly so that our free-will choice to follow the laws of Moses would be the supreme sanctification of G-d’s name.

        • david a.

          >>>> if there were multiple redactors of an oral tradition that were finally put together by someone like Ezra, wouldn’t you think that all those inconsistencies would have been reconciled in the final edit?

          Obviously, we just don’t appreciate the tremendous awe and respect that the people had for sacred texts. Ezra’s scribes would not dare alter existing text. They were however permitted to add. And also, since the trust in the leadership that proclaimed this as God’s word. was very strong, contradictory text never was a problem.

          Consider even to this day. For over 2500 years we have had 2 contradictory “ten commandments” read year in and year out and heard by hundreds of thousands of people. And most simply accept without question the overt contradiction. Most don’t notice, and those that even bother to think about it, probably say to themselves that the contradiction is there for a reason. I just don’t know what it is.

          >>>> …. that Moses, as an immature writer (having spent years with the Midianites in the desert), began with one writing style (Genesis) that transitioned to an entirely different one (Deuteronomy) by the time he dies forty

          So, you concur that Moses as stenographer of God, as portrayed traditionally, is not the way it happened. The Torah was written by Moishe.

          >>> As brilliantly put by ben-Yishye in HAAZINU (LISTEN UP),

          I didn’t read the book yet, so maybe I shouldn’t comment, but I would be hard pressed to call this idea brilliant.

          >>>> so that our free-will choice to follow the laws of Moses would be the supreme sanctification of G-d’s name.

          I’ve seen similar “silliness” expressed to explain why we have fossils that appear to be millions of years old by those who believe in a young universe. Its to test our emunah.

          Well..

          After 120 years, I expect to come before Bet din shel ma-loh, and they will ask why I disbelieved the divinity of the Torah.
          I expect to answer: Its like this, God tricked me into believing it wasn’t his Torah, and the con worked. I was completely fooled.

          Now, does that makes a lot of sense.

          • Madel

            Let’s start with Moshe as THE author of the 5 books bearing his name. The very point of Ben-Yishye’s hypothesis is that our traditional view IS wrong and the p’shat of the Torah substantiates that (as well as the Big Bang and Evolution!). He uses a tripod to support this: 1) Moses’s writing style changed over the 40 years through maturing and his experiences with the people, 2) the human Moses had a combination of memory lapses (as in the 2 iterations of the Decalogue, one written by G-d, and the second by him) and different audiences and objectives. Again with respect to the Decalogue, the first audience (to G-d’s iteration) was those of the Exodus, and the second (Moses’s iteration) was to the second generation conquerors, and 3) Moses, even with the best of Egyptian science, could not comprehend the Big Bang and Evolution so with a time lag in recording Genesis and a lack of understanding, Ben-Yishye proposes 2 references to those subjects in the first 6 chapters of Genesis, and I can see his point.
            As to the awe and respect issue on sacred texts, first of all, the premise you argue from is that a senior editor like Ezra wouldn’t know the source of the documents he was editing other than G-d, and, therefore, wouldn’t change them. But that belies your original presumption that they WERE changed at all and were really an amalgam of different sources or that they were sacred texts rather than an oral tradition reduced to writing like the Talmud eventually was. In fact, if you truly believe they were sacred texts that so ante dated Ezra’s work (5th century BCE) that he didn’t know the original authors, doesn’t that support the likelihood that the original author WAS the Moses that Ben-Yishye says he was?
            As to G-d’s tricking you into believing the Torah was not divine, I think you should read Ben-Yishye’s novel, and I predict you come away with an entirely divine understanding of how true the Torah has been throughout our history as the Jewish people, and how likely we are to repeat our history because we don’t understand it as Ben-Yishye does. By the way, if you do read HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), don’t read the Author’s Note at the back of book UNTIL you FINISH the book. You’ll be amazed at how intricate the plot is, how much you missed that was right in front of you, and how brilliant it is.

            • I have not read Ben-Yishye’s Haazinu. That being said, several comments may be pertinent:
              1. Most of the differences discussed above are between Deut. and the 3 preceding Torah books. As discussed in my book (p. 74, note 4) it is quite possible that Moshe had more to do with writing Deut. than he did the 3 preceding books, which abound with the statement “God spoke to Moses saying”. The Talmud in Bab Batra 14b when stating Moshe katav sifro (Moses wrote his book) could be referring to Deut. because it was felt that God “wrote” the preceding 3 books in some way. There are also rabbinic statements to the effect that the rebuke in the book of Deut. is worse than that in the book of Lev. because the rebuke of man (Moses) is worse than that of God, also implying Moses’ more direct authorship of Deut.

              • Madel

                Ben, it seems to me that the failure here is in starting with the premise that the DH has legitimacy and must be disproven rather envisioning an environment in which Moses could have been the sole author of all five of his namesake books. The latter is what Ben-Yishye does. To see the discordance in the Pentateuch as support for a multiple-author hypothesis that must be addressed rather than building a storyline which explains the discordance in terms of the complexity of Moses’s character, skillset, and environment in which he spent his last 40 years, gets Modern Orthodoxy nowhere.

            • david a.

              >>> a senior editor like Ezra wouldn’t know the source of the documents he was editing other than G-d, and, therefore, wouldn’t change them.

              The crucial assumption (and it’s just an assumption as all else in this discussion must be) is that, irrespective of what the scribe thought about the document, that once any oral tradition was written down, it became part of the sacred documentation, and then it was forbidden to be altered.

              A superb example of this notion of respect and the non-alteration of an existing text can be seen from the error found in the listing of the 12 spies that Moishe sent (Num 14). Joshua is named as Hoshea, an obvious scribal error (since prior texts already had him as Yehoshua). So then, why not just add the missing Yud?. Likely because it was forbidden to do so. Instead they inserted a verse at the end of the listing with the fiction that Moses renamed him Yehoshua.

              >>>> But that belies your original presumption that they WERE changed at all and were really an amalgam of different sources

              Well no, it doesn’t. As long as the “Torah” was oral, it changed, intentionally or unintentionally (i.e. transmission errors), as it was repeated (orally) from generation to the next.

              >>> In fact, if you truly believe they were sacred texts that so ante dated Ezra’s work (5th century BCE) that he didn’t know the original authors, doesn’t that support the likelihood that the original author WAS the Moses that Ben-Yishye says he was?

              Why? Two reasons, why not. One, because the evidence is clear from the Book of Samuel that there was NO written Torah as yet at that time of the Book of Samuel. Moishe may have contributed, but it would then have part of the oral tradition. Or, maybe, there were “Luchot” in the ark written by Moishe. But a Torah, per se, did not exist until later.

              And

              2) the differences between Devarim and the earlier portions are just too extensive to be attributed to aging or forgetfulness.

              Besides, to me it seems this idea just doesn’t fly:

              Example of a conversation overheard:

              Moses (Deut 18:6, announcing) to the Levites: Know ye, that any of you may volunteer to be a Kohen.
              Aaron: But my dear brother, did you not promise me an exclusive franchise, that only my progeny will be priests.
              Moses: Oh ya, I kinda forgot, my bad.

              Question: I don’t understand, if you accept that God is not the author, why does it matter if Moishe wrote all or any of it or if some other prophet(s) did all the writing??

              I’ll try to get hold of the book and read it.

              • Madel

                Question: I don’t understand, if you accept that God is not the author, why does it matter if Moishe wrote all or any of it or if some other prophet(s) did all the writing??

                Of course it matters. The fact that G-d related His laws to Moses during the 40 years of desert wandering is critical to accepting the divine nature of the Torah, and that fact is called into question if the declarations in the Torah itself attesting to MOSES’S writing it are false. It’s funny that you use Samuel as proof that no written Torah existed when the Book of Samuel says no such thing, and the Torah and the Book of Joshua are explicit on the WRITTEN Torah’s existing.

                You mock the changes that occurred over time in Moses’s writing skills and memory, but when you’re dealing with primitive animal skin scrolls over a 40 year time period, you’re unlikely to go back to a prior writing to see how you said something before, when in Devarim your intent is solely to encourage a new generation to have courage and not fall prey to the fears and failures of the prior generation.

                David, it’s not my place to say it, but I think you’d be better off seeing the Torah in the real world terms of Ben-Yishye that works (at least for me) as a coherent storyline for how the Jewish people got where we are today (which is what HAAZINU (LISTEN UP) is all about) than in being a naysayer on the Torah, opposing its very own words which define it.

  2. Rami

    I should preface my remarks by saying that I have not read Dr. Katz’s book nor some of the others he has referenced. Nevertheless, I think there is a fundamental flaw in what he has written here. While it is convenient to state that “the leading academic theory as to how the Bible came to be written is the documentary hypothesis” and then attempt to disprove it (which Dr. Katz very well may have done in his book)– it is to no small degree a ‘straw man’ argument.

    While academic tendencies and trends often vary between the USA, Europe, and Israel (not surprisingly the main centers of academic Bible studies) and different Universities, I think it is simply incorrect to say that DH as crafted by Wellhausen represents any kind of current academic consensus in regards to the Bible and its composition. Indeed, while some aspects of DH are still accepted (for example, a division between the P and non-P schools, which is based in Wellhausen, is still en vogue), the scholarship of the Bible has moved on in the past century. Any attempt to grapple with the Biblical Criticism cannot just ignore such important elements of Biblical scholarship such as Gunkel’s (d. 1932) Form Criticism and use of ‘Sitz im Leben’ or, to choose a contemporary contribution, Avi Hurvitz’s use of Biblical and post-Biblical linguistics to date various parts of the Bible– to name only two.

    I do not think this is the forum to give a detailed outline of current Biblical scholarship– nor am I at all qualified to do so– but any attempt to critique Biblical Criticism based on a critique of DH is insufficient at best and disingenuous at worst. Such arguments, to my mind, cannot be considered a serious approach to Biblical Criticism and the questions it raises. The same can be said for the picking and choosing of tidbits from among the wealth of biblical and archaeological scholarship in order to create historical ‘vorts’ on various biblical passages, as one of Dr. Katz’s example shows. Indeed, as Dr. Katz observes, “Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means ‘sustainer of life'”. However, as Sarna notes in “Understanding Genesis” (p221), a honest reading of the sources may raise questions about the historical reliability of the Biblical narrative as this type name of name as well as that of Joseph’s wife do not appear in Egyptian sources until long after the time of the Exodus.

    Speaking for myself, an Orthodox Jew who is currently taking classes in the Bible Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (though my major is Jewish Thought and not Bible), I believe that anyone who is willing to approach Biblical scholarship with the same seriousness that he treats other academic subjects will likely need to deal with difficult questions– such as the reliability of the traditional conception of the Bible’s compilation. While these question need not cause one to question his religious commitment– interestingly enough many of the lecturers and perhaps most of the students in the Bible Department. at Hebrew University are religious– they may lead to conclusions which some are uncomfortable with. As such, I do not fault those who say they are simply unwilling to go down that road and engage in such study. However, I firmly believe that those who do must do so with intellectual honestly and rigor.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your comments.
      In a 4 page post of course I could not go into the same depth I do in my book. Many of the issues you address are dealt with (linguistics, etc.) there.
      That being said, the 1st 2 chpaters of my book are not meant to “disprove” the DH, merely to show that it is not as scientific as its proponents claim it to be. In my post also tried to tackle the latest literary elaboration of the DH by Dr Baden (which was published after my book).

  3. Yitzchak Sprung

    Hi guys,

    Dr. Katz said he’d be happy to receive any questions or comments you might have at BKatz@luriechildrens.org

    Best,

    Yitzy

  4. david a.

    To Madel above…

    >>> Of course it matters. The fact that G-d related His laws to Moses during the 40 years of desert wandering is critical to accepting the divine nature of the Torah,
    We know (as reasonably as can be known about the ancient past) that the Torah contains narratives that are NOT real history, i.e. the flood, the tower, Chava and the snake, maybe even the creation story. And a rational person sees these all as allegory. So why is it not possible that many other narratives or details within narratives are also mythology (mythology, in the academic sense of the word) built on kernels of history.
    >>> and that fact is called into question if the declarations in the Torah itself attesting to MOSES’S writing it are false.
    Moishe is a messenger of God. And the term “Moishe” is then a euphemism, representative of God communicating.
    Thus, the ubiquitous phrase “v’yedaber Hashem el Moishe etc.” means “and God communicated to the designated messenger of that era”.
    >>> It’s funny that you use Samuel as proof that no written Torah existed when the Book of Samuel says no such thing,
    you’re correct, it does not say it overtly, but it implies it by omission. Kings on the other hand mentions a written Torah and the books after that do as well and the do so often.
    >>> and the Torah and the Book of Joshua are explicit on the WRITTEN Torah’s existing.
    The book of Joshua was not written by the same author or at the same time as Samuel. In fact, I’ll though its not relevant here, nearly all biblical scholars place the book many centuries after the events it purports to describe.
    >>>> You mock the changes that occurred over time in Moses’s writing skills
    I’m apologize, I should not have assumed the same sense of humour as me.
    >>> but when you’re dealing with primitive animal skin scrolls over a 40 year time period, you’re unlikely to go back to a prior writing to see how you said something before,
    OK, but to repeat, how does that explain contractions in practices between Devarim and earlier text.
    >>> David, it’s not my place to say it, but I think you’d be better off seeing the Torah in the real world terms of Ben-Yishye that works (at least for me)
    I’ll honestly give it thought after I read the book. But, know ye, that I grew up in the Chareidi world and attended such yeshivot, so I am fully cognizant of the blind faith that many Jews maintain.

    • Madel

      david, you are soooo funny! you say that as much as we can know of ancient history, there was NOT a flood or tower etc.. but, of course, you MUST be aware of the documented ancient flood traditions that exist all over the world, or that in modern Iraq there are still vestiges of towers that were built by ancient peoples. to say that the mere possibility that some torah narratives might not be true and be only parable renders the torah definitively non-divine, i.e., mythological, is ludicrous. why not take the high road until there is clear, definitive proof to the contrary and believe in what the torah says it is. that’s why I immensely enjoyed Ben-Yishye’s novel…it gave me a BRILLIANT storyline on which to premise my faith, much of which truthfully is INCONSISTENT with the rabinnic Judaism we know.

      where do you come up with this stuff about Moses being the euphemistic messenger, and not the Moshe drawn from the water?

      give me a break! you base the dating on the book of Joshua on what the rabble-rousers say about the torah as dh. not only is it the blind leading the blind, but it’s merely the deconstructers further deconstructing.

      contradictions between devarim and earlier books are readily explained by Ben-Yishye based on a number of things: 1) the better clarity in writing skills developed over 40 years, 2) memory lapses on what was previously written,
      without the benefit of an editor (as we have even today) to highlight and clean up the inconsistencies, 3) memory lapses in writing down as part of the torah the subject matter of discussions with G-d months or years after they occurred, and 4) and most importantly, Moses’s tailoring what he DID remember saying to the generation of the exodus (and wrote in the earlier books of the torah) to the needs of the new generation about to enter and conquer the land. Moses had experienced over the 40 years many failures and rebellions, including the ill-fated excursion of the 12 spies, so he detailed all these disasters in a different framework (inconsistent with the prior failure) so as to boost the morale of the new conquerors, recognizing that what had been done before didn’t work.

      ben-yishye doesn’t preach blind faith. he argues the validity of the torah as written while trashing much of what we call tradition and oral law. in fact, in his Author’s Note (which you should NOT read until AFTER you finish the book), you see how he has used tanach/Zohar to refute much of what our tradition counts as gospel.

      • david a.

        >>>> david, you are soooo funny!
        Most pleased to give you a laugh.
        >>>> you say that as much as we can know of ancient history, there was NOT a flood or tower etc.. but, of course, you MUST be aware of the documented ancient flood traditions that exist all over the world, or that in modern Iraq there are still vestiges of towers that were built by ancient peoples. <<<<<>>> to say that the mere possibility that some torah narratives might not be true and be only parable renders the torah definitively non-divine, >>>>
        yep…it’s fact of life, the Torah was not authored by an all-knowing God.
        >>> why not take the high road until there is clear definitive proof to the contrary
        Ah, but there is clear, maybe not 100% definitive and compelling proof.
        just because you don’t see it as such, many others (shomrei Torah u’mitzvot, like myself) do

        >>>> give me a break! you base the dating on the book of Joshua on what the rabble-rousers say about the torah as dh. >>>>>
        Nope, not on the DH. I base it on archaeology. Whoever wrote the book obviously didn’t seem to know many facts about the actual events that occurred during the purported period. That’s likely because he wrote it many centuries later and based it on legends about the great Joshua.
        There are many reasons based on archaeology, some prominent ones are:
        a) the generally accepted consensus of Arch. is that Jericho was destroyed circa 15-16th Cent. BCE and not rebuilt until 9th century. Seder Olam (our mesorah) has Josh. arriving at Jericho circa 1275. He destroyed a city that wasn’t there.
        (b) the generally accepted consensus of Arch. has the Egyptians and the Hittites having hegemony of Canaan between them circa 1500-1100 BCE. It would have been patently impossible for B’Y to conquer Canaan without engaging Egypt. There is no mention of any battles between Egyptian forces and B’Y in Josh. Many of the cities captured in the Book Of Joshua were under Egyptian or Hittite suzerainty.
        (c) The myriad of archaeological surveys do not indicate a sudden influx of 3,000,000+ people and their animals during the late bronze age (circa 1200-1300).
        (d) No evidence (as yet) has been uncovered of the sudden massive appearance of Egyptian style artifacts during the late Bronze era.
        For me this is enough.
        >>>> where do you come up with this stuff about Moses being the euphemistic messenger, and not the Moshe drawn from the water? >>>
        I made it up as a suggestion to explain the phrase “V’yedaber…”. Since I am convinced that many passages in the Torah documenting additional mitzvot were inserted much later (during 2nd Temple times). This might explain as to why the scribe used this particular expression, simply as a euphemism.

      • david a.

        >>>> you say that as much as we can know of ancient history, there was NOT a flood or tower etc.. but, of course, you MUST be aware of the documented ancient flood traditions that exist all over the world, or that in modern Iraq there are still vestiges of towers that were built by ancient peoples.>>>>>>

        What do these ancient legends have to do with the veracity of the Torah’s narratives. The Torah states that circa 2100 BCE the entire world and life was destroyed. This is emphatically contradicted by all kinds of fairly solid evidence. The torah states that circa 1750 BCE is when languages came into being in some extra-natural manner. Again this is contradicted by loads of evidence. The author of the creation story obviously was ignorant of the structure of the universe.

        • Madel

          Anthropologists give substantial weight to uniform “legends” from diverse population centers, and the “flood” is one of them. As far as language is concerned, the story of the Tower of Babel NEVER states that those building the Tower were the ONLY humans on the planet, and it was only THEIR common language that was diversified. In fact, Moses, as the writer of the creation story, was ignorant of the scientific foundations of our universe and humanity. Ben-Yishye handles Moses’s ignorance brilliantly in coupling verses of the first 6 chapters of Breishit with what we scientifically know today, showing how an “ignorant” prophet, having been told the true scientific basis of creation and humanity by G-d, delivers only ambiguities in finally writing it down (Shemot 24:4-7) with a time lag and minimal understanding of what he was told. Ben-Yishye then goes on to cogently explain why G-d would be comfortable with those ambiguities in HIS revelation.

          • david a.

            >>> Anthropologists give substantial weight to uniform “legends” from diverse population centers, and the “flood” is one of them >>>

            Seems you’re evading the question. Do you read the Torah literally: i.e. that a flood occurred 4000 years ago and wiped out the earth? Or is the narrative just Moishe’s error in thinking a flood destroyed the world 800 years before his time?

            >>>> As far as language is concerned, the story of the Tower of Babel NEVER states that those building the Tower were the ONLY humans on the planet, and it was only THEIR common language that was diversified. <<<<>>> minimal understanding of what he was told.

            To sum up…all the flaws in the Torah text were due to Moishe’s ineptness (or misunderstanding).

            Fine. It’s an explanation. Doesn’t agree with the traditional view. In any case, I like multiple authors over time better (as do all biblical scholars, barring the fundamentalists).

            BTW, how do we know that Moishe didn’t err in conveying God’s mitzvoth, errors that are not obvious. Maybe tzitzit belongs on a 3 cornered cloak?

            • Madel

              I take the flood story literally, and a backward geometric progression from today’s world population REQUIRES that it have started from Noach’s family about 4300 years ago.

              YES–To sum up…all the flaws in the Torah text were due to Moishe’s ineptness (or misunderstanding), OR INABILITY TO COMPREHEND THE BIG BANG OR EVOLUTION AS ACCURATELY TOLD TO HIM BY G-D OTHER THAN AS EXPRESSED IN THE RUDIMENTARY ATTEMPT WHICH DOES APPEAR IN CHAPTERS 1-6 OF BERAISHIT.

              >>>>BTW, how do we know that Moishe didn’t err in conveying God’s mitzvoth, errors that are not obvious. Maybe tzitzit belongs on a 3 cornered cloak?

              Because YHVH blessed (not literally, but figuratively) the final product. Ben-Yishye beautifully explains why G-d allowed all the inconsistencies.

              >>>>Fine. It’s an explanation. Doesn’t agree with the traditional view. In any case, I like multiple authors over time better (as do all biblical scholars, barring the fundamentalists).

              Why not follow the philosophy of OCCAM’s RAZOR and adopt the simplist explanation that works. By accepting Moses’s fallibility, while inconsistent with tradition, we can find our way back to believing again. Shabbat Shalom!

              • david a.

                >>>> I take the flood story literally, and a backward geometric progression from today’s world population REQUIRES that it have started from Noach’s family about 4300 years ago. <<<<>>>> By accepting Moses’s fallibility,

                it’s just not that simple.

                While admittedly, this notion accounts for the maculation of the text and the many flaws of the Torah, it doesn’t account for many other problems.

                1) the non-historicity (despite your personal beliefs) of many narratives, supposedly written by Moishe prior to his “aging”..

                2) the many anachronisms throughout the Chumash.

                3) the seemingly unnecessary duplicated passages within each book.

                4) the fact that an objective and literal reading of the books of N’Kh support an evolutionary Torah.
                (to further explain this point, you can read what I posted here. http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2013/05/the-arguments-from-nkh-part-ii-of-2.html#more)

                5) the apparent immorality based on today’s world view and that this morality concurs to a large degree with first millennium (BCE) morality.

              • Madel

                Hi david,

                I was going to write a thorough response to your 5 points, but when I read through your dovbear exercise, I realized you are so filled with anger about something that it will forever cloud your ability to accept even a compromised view of the Torah as the writing of Moses, a humble prophet of G-d. Just looking at your first attempt to justify a parallel between kings/chronicles and d/eln. In all references you misconstrue the verses cited to arrive at the support you need for your premise. But nowhere do any of your cites ACTUALLY say that ANY Levite not a Kohen (I.e., not b’nai Aharon) can aspire to be a priest (kohen). No such thing, no where, no how in the 5 Books of Moses. That was, in fact, the argument of Korach that ended in disaster for him and his rebellion. The Levites do have an elevated role, as expressed in your citations, but certainly not, IN ANY OF THEM, to become a Kohen if not already born into that restricted group. If you’d like to read something that delves into the poisonous roots of rabbinic Judaism, which would seem more consistent with your beliefs (and mine), read Ben-Yishye ‘s HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), and you’ll get an eyeful.

  5. david a.

    Is the following a reasonable translation of Deut. 10:8

    8 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today.

    • Madel

      david, there’s no problem with your translation. THE PROBLEM IS IN YOUR INTERPRETATION OF THE VERSE. Keep in mind that ALL the Kohanim ARE Leviim. In fact, Korach was a FIRST cousin of Aaron, having the same grandfather, so Korach’s argument had some merit in questioning why Aaron’s line and not his should have the Kehuna. The Levites were elevated above the other Israelite tribes in transporting (carrying the Ark, holy utensils, tent etc.) the parts of the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle), in ministering to G-d through their service in the Mishkan (which DID NOT include any priestly functions and excluded the Kohanim) and through their service as teachers of Torah and judges (which latter service the Kohanim did as well). Finally, as to the last part of your translated verse (D. 10:8), it was ONLY the B’nai Aharon part of the Tribe of Levi that blessed in G-d’s name through the priestly benediction while the other, NON-Kohen Levites sang psalms to G-d during their Mishkan service. So your interpretation of the verse as supporting the premise that ANY Levite could aspire to and become a priest is entirely off-base.

      • david a.

        >>>> david, there’s no problem with your translation. THE PROBLEM IS IN YOUR INTERPRETATION OF THE VERSE.

        That’s irrelevant. You stated that there is no verse in Chumash that explicitly states that Levites performed priestly functions. I provide one that clearly and unambiguously states just that. And you dismiss it because Chazal interpreted the verse different than its literal reading. Of course, they would, else they are faced with a contradiction in Chumash. But who says there are right. What 3rd party evidence is there? OTOH, my suggestion that non-B’nei Aaron served, aside from the fact that the term B’nei Aaron is absent from Devarim, Samuel and Kings, I’ve given half a dozen hints from verses within these 3 books that support this contention.

        >>>>> So your interpretation of the verse as supporting the premise that ANY Levite could aspire to and become a priest is entirely off-base.

        “off-base”. Only, if one religiously (and dare I say blindly) accepts Chazal’s view of history. A view that is replete with exaggerated details and some outright fabrications.

        • Madel

          I accept the literal reading: the Levites DO bless in G-d’s name, but the Levites who are assigned to do so are the KOHANIM. The Levites are broken down into clans, and each clan is assigned an exclusive responsibility like carrying the Ark. There was a time before the Golden Calf when the first born were the priests, but that function was subsequently transferred to the Levites, then to Aaron and his sons, then to Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson. The divine nature of the Torah with Moses as G-d’s sublime prophet can be derived merely by reading the Tochaicha in relation to Jewish history through the 1948 resurrection of a Jewish state. That a document of such antiquity, whether from the time of Ezra or an actual Moses, could be so precisely prophetic should quiet all doubters. In the meantime, you should get some anger management.

          • david a.

            >>>> In the meantime, you should get some anger management.

            Once, I took it as a joke, albeit silly. But a second time, it’s just plain insulting. It doesn’t lend itself to dialogue and has nothing to do with a search for “emes”.

            So, find someone else to give gratuitous advice.

            • Madel

              >>>“off-base”. Only, if one religiously (and dare I say blindly) accepts Chazal’s view of history. A view that is replete with exaggerated details and some outright fabrications.

              Ben-Yishye’s view of Jewish (Biblical) history (which I have adopted) is further removed from Chazal’s view of history than yours. Yet because I’m unwilling to acquiesce to your DH view of Biblical history and have found an interpretation that maintains the literal integrity of the Torah while denying Chazal’s traditional view, you have thrown me, blindly, in the Chazal camp. It seems that you have established a ME and THEM approach to discourse, and anyone unwilling to accept your theories is THEM (Chazal), and that does need anger management.

  6. Pingback: How Many Biblical Authors?: Rabbi Emanuel Rackman | ThinkJudaism

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