Monday, April 30, 2007
[Egyptian papyrus with hieroglyphics c. 1200 BCE]
According to the commentary of Rashi on Genesis 11:1, at the time of the Tower of Babel, c 1765 BCE, everyone spoke Hebrew. Today, archeologists have discovered that other languages such as Egyptian and Sumerian were spoken long prior to that time.
One question I have is: How do we know that the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians did not in fact speak Hebrew?
Until about 1800 BCE, writing was primarily pictographic. This means that each character represented a word, not a sound. This system is still used in eastern Asia today. Therefore, how do we know what ancient Egyptian or Sumerian sounded like? For example, today, Japanese writing is derived partly from Chinese characters, although the two spoken languages are entirely different. The written language may have no connection to the spoken language in some cases.
I don’t know what the answer to this question is. I’m just asking.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 9:19 AM
Thursday, April 26, 2007
[kefirah – Hebrew for "denial", as in denial of Judaism]
“Practically all advanced opinion in Europe believes that the world’s ills can only be cured by socialism.”
Bertrand Russell famous socialist and atheist; article in New Republic 3/22/1922
Posted by jewish philosopher at 10:15 AM
Friday, April 20, 2007
[Moses with Tablets by Marc Chagall]
According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Exodus story, one of the foundations of Judaism, is primarily based on the E document. So it is interesting to explore, who wrote the E document?
Richard E. Friedman in “Who Wrote the Bible” page 48 writes that at the time of the schism of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, “At Dan there existed an old, established priesthood founded by Moses’ grandson according to the book of Judges. It probably continued to function there.” On page 79, Professor Friedman explains that one sign that the E author was descended from these priests is the favorable light that Moses is shown in the E document. After all, in E, Moses is the savior of Israel.
Now all this is written as if it were well know established facts. No sources or footnotes are given. We are just told that in the Kingdom of Israel there functioned a sect of Levite priests who were descended from Moses and that’s that.
But what is the actual source?
As far as I know, the source is Judges 18:30 where Danites set up an idol at Dan served by Jonathan son of Gershom son of Manasseh, a Levite. How is Moses connected to this? The Talmud Bava Basra 109b says “Manasseh” actually means “Moses”, however scripture wrote it incorrectly because Jonathan was as wicked as King Manasseh.
In other words, apparently what happened is this: Bible critics for whatever reason decided that the Exodus story is a separate “document” called E. They then began wondering who wrote this document. They had to find some group in ancient Israel which was particularly sympathetic to Moses. So someone discovered the Talmudic statement that the descendents of Moses were priests to an idol in Dan. This Talmudic statement happens to contradict I Chronicles 23:16 and 26:24 where the son of Gershom the son of Moses is named Shebuel not Jonathan, but no matter. Since this Talmudic statement supports their theory, it is accept as historical fact, although under other circumstances no skeptic would dream of taking it seriously. And then this “fact” is included in popular books like “Who Wrote the Bible” without any explanation. The innocent reader may assume it is based on clear archeological findings.
I think this demonstrates the quality of scholarship involved in Bible criticism. The moral is: Question everything.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:53 AM
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Bertrand Russell, icon of atheism
If atheism merely meant the lack of belief in the monotheistic God of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran, then truly atheism would not be a religion any more than not believing in the tooth fairy is a religion. Atheism would just be an opinion about one particular question and seemingly there should not even be a special word for it. There is after all no “atoothfairyism”.
However, in the sense that the word “atheism” is generally used in modern times, which is as a synonym for naturalism, determinism and materialism, atheism is a metaphysical belief system or, simply, a religion. It is a religion that denies the existence of the supernatural, however it is a religion nonetheless.
Atheists themselves almost invariably are upset by this analysis; I think this is basically for a couple of reasons:
- Being a religion means that they have to prove the truth of a long list of beliefs, just like all other religions must.
- Being a religion means that all atheists are accountable for the behavior of their coreligionists. Considering the fact that many of the worst criminals in history have been atheists, this is a problem.
Well, I’m sorry to make them uncomfortable, however they are a religion.
I would say that someone who is indifferent to religion or agnostic could be considered as “non-religious”. He is taking a “don’t know” or “no opinion” position.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 10:11 AM
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I’ve been trying to take stock a little and sum up what I’ve learned from blogging so far, over the past 15 months.
What I have concluded is that there are two primary arguments in favor of Orthodox Judaism: The watchmaker principle and the Kuzari principle.
Atheists refute them with Darwinian evolution and the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis. [The two fundamental anti-Jewish texts are “Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin (published 1859 in England) and “Prolegomena” by Julius Wellhausen (published 1878 in German). Nothing very signifigant has been added since.]
I realize that there are virtually endless additional arguments on both sides; however the above arguments appear to be the most fundamental. If one accepts Watchmaker and Kuzari, then one is an Orthodox Jew. If one accepts Darwin and Wellhausen, then he is an atheist. Other issues are not crucial.
Whether a person will choose to believe the Jewish arguments or the atheistic counterarguments seems to depend primarily on:
- What his peers and teachers believed during his high school and college years.
- To what degree he feels a need for spirituality, as opposed to personal freedom, at this time in his life.
I am personally convinced that if an impartial judge (something which does not exist) would weigh the evidence, he would decided firmly in favor of Orthodox Judaism.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:08 AM