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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Exaggerations? How about ‘Lies’!

I ran into a nice article this week on The Skeptical Review Online, just in time for parshas Noach, called The Numbers of the Book, by Fred Titanich (now how ironic is that name?!).

He introduces his article as follows:

Every now and then, I run into someone who believes that every word in the Bible is true. If the Bible says that men lived for 900 years and that 5 linear miles of water fell on the earth, then it must have happened. There is really no way to prove that these events did not happen, since by definition, a "miracle" is something extraordinary.

However, sometimes the Bible writers slipped up. When they told a story, nothing but superlatives would do. More than anything else, the numbers that are tossed around in the bible show this to be true. Apparently, mathematics was not their strong point, because on numerous occasions, the Bible writers made statements that simply could not have happened. The following are some of the Bible’s numerical claims that are physically impossible.

He goes on to speak about Solomon’s offerings, the Temple’s gold and silver, the quail (‘slav’), the size of the city of Nineveh and the wall of the city of Aphek. Read more here.

His conclusion fits well to this week’s parshah as well:

So when the Bible says that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, can we really take it at face value? In fact, if it can be conclusively proven that the Bible is filled with exaggerations, we have to wonder what else it lied about.

Amen!

PS Subsequently, I found an article called Those Amazing Biblical Numbers, on the same website. Read it.

Update: Nira sent me the following required watching in preparation for your Shnayim Mikra ve’Echad Targum for the week:

8 comments:

  1. That;s pretty good! Both the post and the Video!

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  2. Rabbi: Hysterical but definitely not historical! ;)

    BHB: Pretty good? How about ferking awesome?

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  3. Thanks for the link - it was a great read. But, I don't see anything wrong with calling them exaggerations. If I told you I had a million things to do today, would you call me a liar? It is a good reminder though not to take things so literally.

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  4. Liked the article and it raised very good points to show that the Tanach shouldn't be read as an accurate description of historical events. However, I would not classify them as lies. I have been watching the excellent lecture series you posted on the Hebrew Bible from Yale (thanks btw) and in the 6th class the professor said this:

    Still, many people have clung to the idea of the Bible as a historically accurate document, many times out of ideological necessity. Many fear that if the historical information in the Bible isn't true, then the Bible is unreliable as a source of religious instruction or inspiration. And that's something they don't want to give up. This is all really a very unfortunate and heavy burden to place on this fascinating little library of writings from late antiquity. People who equate truth with historical fact will certainly end up viewing the Bible dismissively, as a naïve and unsophisticated web of lies, since it is replete with elements that cannot be literally true. But to view it this way is to make a genre mistake. Shakespeare's Hamlet, while set in Denmark, an actual place, is not historical fact. But that doesn't make it a naïve and unsophisticated web of lies, because we accept when we read or watch Hamlet that it is not a work of historiography, a work of writing about history. It is a work of literature. And in deference to that genre and its conventions, we know and accept that the truths it conveys are not those of historical fact, but are social, political, ethical, existential truths. And the Bible deserves at least the same courteous attention to its genre.

    http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/introduction-to-the-old-testament-hebrew-bible/content/class-sessions/transcripts/transcript06.html

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  5. Skeptitcher shlit"a: I agree in a way. Of course, the authors of the Torah did not intend to lie, they just tried to understand the world around them. But it's a lie in the warped OJ worldview where the Torah is supposed to be true. I appreciate very much Professor Haynes' respectful approach and I see it like her (and you). I have actually ordered some books now to prepare for her 'shiurim'.

    Thanks!

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  6. I agree that much of the OJ worldview is a naïve and unsophisticated web of lies.

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