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Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Taste of Some Warped OJ Thinking

A recent post  called The Long and Winding Road to P'shat -- Part Two by Shel Bassel of the Parsha'l Thoughts blog is symptomatic to the way many OJs think about learning Torah.

He starts off well by saying that:
Any thoughtful student of the Torah is confronted with myriad problems. Even if we can get through some sort of cursory reading of, say, the first chapter of B'reishit, we are then confronted with blatant contradictions to that narrative in the second chapter! One moment you think that male and female were created simultaneously into a world with a whole ecosystem and the next (chapter) you see that a male is created before any female or any trees, for that matter.
This is one screwy story, you might say.
Further perusal of the Torah will yield numerous anomalies including contradictions in the particulars of various commandments, many obscure passages and quite a bit of repetition.
In short, a rather messy book. 
Shokiach, I like it so far. Almost offered him to do a guest post. But then:
If you take the critical approach you'll say that these discrepancies reflect a multiplicity of authors whose stories and versions are stitched together over time. This basic approach leads to the Documentary Hypothesis—and a very fancy hypothesis it is!
Also, to my mind, somewhat dull. 
Is that your criterium for true or false?!
But more than that, it doesn't do a very good job of explaining how we end up with this variegated text. It's all well and good to say that various texts got edited together but then why would anyone put together a text that is so full of problems sometimes even within the same paragraph?
This hypothesis seems to assume that if God had written a book it wouldn't be so messy. 
Oh boy, I am starting to wonder what stuff this guy was smoking?!

It doesn't do a good job explaining how we came up with such messy text? Well, it is a much better explanation to say that this mess is written by God! That sounds blasphemous, keveyachol!

Science does not concern itself with God and that for obvious reasons. Just like that it doesn't concern itself with Santa Claus. The hypothesis is not at all about why God can't have written the text. It tries to understand how such a 'messy' body of text came about from a scientific point of view.

He then goes on to ask us to accept the premise that God wrote the Torah (premise 1: that there is a God, premise 2: that he wrote the Torah). And here comes the crux of his piece. He wants us to believe that the universe is messy as well and maybe we just have the mistaken view that all should be perfect but that God does not work that way.

The same applies for the the Torah, of course:
Maybe it is precisely those parts of the Torah which seemingly contradict or don't fit in with each other very well that point to deeper meanings on other planes?
This is essentially the rabbinic approach.
When one puts his or her mind to it, and struggles with the text, one can actually, albeit usually briefly, hold the contradictory passages simultaneously and see something beyond.
OJ logic at its best. We have a messy Torah and no real good answer as to why. Instead of answering that its Author is imperfect, it is actually a sign of how perfect and unfathomable He really is!

(But I guess we can't expect much from a guy that posted a YouTube video called Why The Destruction of the Temple Was Worse Than The Holocaust...)


  1. As you've presented in your NIra posts, the Torah is an amalgamation of history, legend and regional mythology.

    The cognitive dissonance the author you critique asks us to keep in mind though, has a more colloquial term. It was coined by a British auther in the mid 20th century. It's called: doublethink :-)

  2. > He then goes on to ask us to accept the premise that God wrote the Torah

    But why should we? Sure, God could have written the Torah messily for some inscrutable Divine purpose, but why should we say so? Why not go with the simpler explanation, that the Torah looks like a loosely edited collection of Israelite mythology?

    A lot of religious reasoning works this way: start with the conclusion, then come up with plausible ways to fit the evidence to the conclusion.

  3. Jay: That indeed was 1984 by George Orwell ;)

    G3: It's like painting targets around arrows!

  4. Koifer: Yes indeed it was!!

  5. The reason it had to be left "messy" was that you were trying to unify/merge Israel into Judah into one Kingdom. So you have two sets of somewhat different folk tales and traditions. More importantly two different priestly lines fighting for power, Aaronid and Mushite. Remove/alter too much on either side and you horribly offend one group.

  6. "Orthodoxy" for the most part starts with Josiah and his campaigns to merge Israel with Judah. It's finished by Ezra after captivity. Knowing the story of Joshua/conquests is a complete load of bull, how would such a story be beneficial and what would it inspire? Is it any wonder that both "Joshua" and Josiah start their campaigns in Jericho to "claim the land?" Or that "Moses" and the story of the Torah being "given" at Sinai is very similar to Ezra's "re-dedication" in Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity? Not to mention all the Babylonian myths within the Torah and the Babylonian world model.

  7. After Josiah was killed and Judah fell Deuteronomy had to be completely overhauled. Now instead of pushing Josiah as a messiah savior for a united kingdom it was changed to exile theology.

    And which history account is true? Kings or Chronicles?

    The list goes on and on.

  8. *Deuteronomical history

  9. Apostate: Even orthodox Jews like James Kugel believe that the DH is true or should be dealt with with respect. But believing the DH requires balls...

  10. UK: I have a copy of Kugel's "How to Read the Bible Then and Now," but haven't gotten to it though.

    Friedman's "Who Wrote the Bible?" is probably the best I've read so far. "The Bible with Sources Revealed" is just a Torah color coded by E,J,P,D. The English translation is kind of goofy, but it still makes sense of sorting out the different parallel stories.

  11. Apo: You'll find the book really a joy to read. I read both Friedman's books and like the sources revealed better than who wrote the bible because in the latter there is lots of speculation and the main thing is not who wrote it (can possibly never be traced) but how the DH really works. The introduction to SR is a real eye opener.

  12. When the comment portion of the blog stops being serviced by the blogmaster, and is back up, check out the scandalous comments against Yiddishkeit being made by a kofer on http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/10/marc-b-shapiro-new-writings-from-r-kook.html

  13. Anonymous: Who are you? And which comments are the ones you'd like me to see? I read through all of it once already :P

  14. "there is lots of speculation and the main thing is not who wrote it"

    True. However, I think it's a no brainer to know that the monarchy and the priestly caste constructed the vast majority of Torah and "Orthodoxy." At the very least "refined" it into the theology of today, redacting polytheism folk religions into monotheism.

  15. And of course the rabbis have continued this "refining" process, much to their own benefit of course, throughout the centuries.