Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is History Bunk?


[Henry Ford]

One objection which is occasionally made against belief in the divine origin of the Torah is that there does not exist any additional documentation supporting the account of the revelation at Mount Sinai other than the Torah itself. Some argue that in order for an historical event to be accepted as authentic, there must be numerous books, government records, journalistic accounts, diaries and so on attesting to it. One book is not reliable evidence of anything.

That’s an interesting point; however it seems to me that applying this standard of evidence would mean that little if anything can be known about pre-modern history.

Bear in mind that prior to the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in the 1450’s, books were almost nonexistent. For example, in 1424, Cambridge University library owned only 122 books—each of which had a value equal to a farm or vineyard. The ability to read in medieval England was a proof that one was a member of the Catholic clergy. Our entire knowledge of pre-modern history is based on only a handful of texts which were recopied by monks hundreds of times by hand.

There is a school of thought that so few physical records have survived hundreds, let alone thousands of years that it casts even the most conventional understanding of what really happened into doubt. The dominating historical discourse in its current state was essentially crafted in the 16th century from a rather contradictory jumble of sources such as innumerable copies of ancient Latin and Greek manuscripts whose originals had vanished in the Dark Ages.

Henry Ford famously said “History is more or less bunk. It's tradition.”

Few people, however, would go that far. It seems clear that if one is willing to accept that Aristotle and Alexander the Great were real people, there is no reason to doubt the existence of Moses and Abraham and if one can believe that the Peloponnesian War happened, there is no reason he cannot believe that the Exodus and the Mount Sinai revelation happened.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

When people want outside documentation of Sinai, one should ask them exactly what they're looking for.

Ancient civilizations typically didn't record the travels of other nations, nor did civilizations record their defeats in battle or war, so right off the bat it's unlikely to even EXPECT anything.

Anonymous said...

Please pardon my going off topic, but tis is interesting:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=weak-link-fossil-darwinius

Now Ida's not a missing link. It all happened so fast.

alex said...

"That’s an interesting point; however it seems to me that applying this standard of evidence would mean that little if anything can be known about pre-modern history. ... if one can believe that the Peloponnesian War happened, there is no reason he cannot believe that the Exodus and the Mount Sinai revelation happened."

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Could it be that the claims in the Bible are a bit more extraordinary than the Peloponnesian War? Now, the Kuzari approach is one type of evidence (discussed in detail at R' Gottlieb's site, along with rebuttals and counterrebuttals), but this post of yours talked about outside books. If the Bible had no extraordinary claims in it, I might not care if there weren't any outside books that verified it.

jewish philosopher said...

"Could it be that the claims in the Bible are a bit more extraordinary than the Peloponnesian War?"

Actually, no, as I've explained elsewhere.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

Anonymous said...

I'm back with more problems for evolutionists:


http://live.psu.edu/story/38686

Ahavah Gayle said...

Yes, but there's actual archaeological evidence for the Peloponnisian War, wheras the Masorite translation of the Torah claims that the number of people who left Egypt in the Exodus is greater that the entire Bronze Age population of the entire Near East.

Of course, I have read that the paleo-Hebrew word the Masorites translated as "thousands" in the Babylonian script has cognates in related Semitic ancient languages that simply mean "chief" or "war leader." Looked upon in that light, the text fits with known historical evidence - but that's not the way it's translated now or taught now.

Our "tradition" contradicts known facts of history - so why should any secular reader take the existence of Moses or the Torah and the revelation on Mt. Chorev seriously? (And you do know Midian was in what is now Saudi Arabia, right? - nowhere near that tourist trap on the Sinai peninsula).

Our history seems to be bunk, but perhaps that's only because we made it that way. Would you be in favor of putting it back the way it should be, then?

jewish philosopher said...

"there's actual archaeological evidence for the Peloponnisian War"

Such as?

"the entire Bronze Age population of the entire Near East"

Which is known from what?

"Midian was in what is now Saudi Arabia"

Who says?

Alex said...

AG writes: "(And you do know Midian was in what is now Saudi Arabia, right? - nowhere near that tourist trap on the Sinai peninsula)."

R' Aryeh Kaplan writes: "Midian:
A well known nation, living to the northeast of the gulf of Aqaba on the Arabian Peninsula, in what is now southern Jordan."

Ahavah Gayle said...

Any of these things can be verified both online and in archaeological textbooks. They're not secrets, they're facts taught in every secular college in the world. They have just as much validity, if not moreso, than the story of Moses.

Multiple cross disciplinary evidences prove the P. War, Bronze Age Near Eastern settlements and population, etc., etc.

Anthropolitical studies regarding climate change in the last few years, for example, has tracked the movements of various populations, including during the Bronze Age:

http://books.google.com/books?id=WTCwIWNCveUC&pg=PA142&lpg=PA142&dq=bronze+age+population+of+the+near+east&source=bl&ots=Hmf7453jwq&sig=hAxuaXLZy09jXtkNERWeLkCJ4WU&hl=en&ei=as1oSoyAO4KCtgfG6KSXCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1

Other disciplines include metalurgy, animal husbandry, hydrology, as well as the usual antropoligical and archarological studies. These things yield evidence above and beyond the written accounts of other nations, such as census data from Egyptian sources and so forth.

But there are NOT multiple cross-disciplinary sources for the story of Moses.

That was, of course, the whole point of your post.

So you didn't answer the question. WHY should any secular person believe the story of Moses when it contradicts what their college textbooks say, on grounds that have nothing to do with religious faith?

I believe that Moses lived and brought the people of Israel to Mt. Chorev - that's a religious article of faith. I don't believe there were millions of people - that's a translational issue and such a population simply did not exist and could not have given the ecological constraints (even with Manna). The biological "byproducts" alone of such a population would be evident in the soil strata, for another cross-disciplinary evidence.

That Midian was in Saudi Arabia is even on Wikipedia - and studies of midianite pottery production are available:

Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. http://catalog.library.ksu.edu.sa/digital/151994.html

The point is, scholars in plenty of other disciplines, not just history, agree that such-and-such were the conditions, events, populations, locations, ecology, whatever, take your pick, which back up secular historical claims for events of the Moses-era.

All we have is the Torah, which as currently taught doesn't stand up to secular scrutiny.

Is History Bunk? Ours is - at least the way we're telling it.

And I notice you didn't answer my last question, either.

jewish philosopher said...

Could you bring some actual sources?

I think the population of the anything in ancient times is just an estimate based on certain assumptions about agriculture during the period. So those estimates are wrong.

I also don't know what the archaeological evidence for the Peloponnisian War is.

"WHY should any secular person believe the story of Moses when it contradicts what their college textbooks say"

Did you know that some people are not honest? For example, here is a scientist in action.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2007/09/portrait-of-scientist.html

So WHY should I believe college textbooks? I think I need a little more proof.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Archaeological evidence for the PW includes both the construction of various battlements and defensive structures and corroborating cessation of non-military projects matching the written historical accounts:

http://books.google.com/books?id=xoLMeXZhdPkC&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117&dq=peloponnesian+war+archaeology&source=bl&ots=yiO6IxPtDK&sig=XCBnGaUmmMYfRGKgEortEWIcVvc&hl=en&ei=At1oSpLqBNmwtgewk_y6Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2

As for why you should believe college textbooks - for the same reason you want them to believe Torah. If not, then your argument is circular.

The question was why should THEY believe that what they are being taught in inaccurate, when there are so many complimentary sources, and what you say is the proper interpretation of Torah is the correct one, when there is nothing else to back it up?

They have MULTIPLE sources of inquiry, you have one. Theirs contradicts yours. Just saying "ALL their sources from ALL their scientific disciplines are wrong and my ONE source is right" is NOT going to convince anyone. It just makes you sound like a religious nut who can't deal with factual reality. UFO and Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts have the same amount of objective credibility as your argument has.

My position is that when translated and interpreted properly, the written Torah matches secular science. Your argument is apparently that secular people should just pretend it doesn't exist. And your methodology is to ignore or brush off evidence which doesn't match with your interpretations and translations. I don't find that to be a sound methodology. If you can't provide and intelligent answer as to why science should be "wrong" other that the fact that you don't like science's conclusions, then you are guilty of the same hubris you accuse non-believers of having.

jewish philosopher said...

I also have MULTIPLE sources of inquiry, not just one.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/06/gods-wisdom.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2007/03/extraordinary-history-of-jewish-people.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/10/judaic-literature-providing-proof-of.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/06/holocaust-clear-evidence-of-gods-hand.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/06/spies-narrative.html

And there is archaeological evidence for the Torah:

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/02/torah-and-archaeology.html

So I don't see what's wrong with my statement "if one is willing to accept that Aristotle and Alexander the Great were real people, there is no reason to doubt the existence of Moses and Abraham and if one can believe that the Peloponnesian War happened, there is no reason he cannot believe that the Exodus and the Mount Sinai revelation happened".

Alex said...

AG writes: "My position is that when translated and interpreted properly, the written Torah matches secular science."

Wouldn't it more accurate to say, "My position is that when translated and interpreted and ignored-in-the-right-places properly, the written Torah matches secular science."

jewish philosopher said...

My position is that when translated and interpreted and ignored-in-the-right-places properly, secular science matches the written Torah.

Ahavah Gayle said...

JP - I think all we disagree upon, really, is what are the "right" places to ignore.

jewish philosopher said...

The only real alleged conflict between science and Torah is regarding evolution, which I don't consider to be science at all.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/03/evolution-science-hijacked-by-atheism.html

Anonymous said...

Big deal.

There are writings attributed to Aristotle. While we find some merit to these writings, we know they are fallible. Some wisdom in there, but also some BS.

Same with writing attributed to "Moses," "god," "David," "Ezra," "Paul of Tarsus" and so on. Maybe these were real people, maybe not. Maybe they were like some of what the books claim (How tall was Moses, exactly? Read your bible!), maybe not.

Ultimately, even if we accept that a kernel of historicity had been wrapped in in exaggeration, legend, fantasy and lies, we have no good reason to think these mere words are divine, divinely insipired, or otherwise holy. They are just the words of ordinary Herberts like you and me.

Try again. Your desperation is showing.

-Larry-

jewish philosopher said...

"we have no good reason to think these mere words are divine, divinely insipired, or otherwise holy"

Sure we do.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/06/gods-wisdom.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2007/03/extraordinary-history-of-jewish-people.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/10/judaic-literature-providing-proof-of.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/06/holocaust-clear-evidence-of-gods-hand.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/06/spies-narrative.html

Yeshivish Atheist said...

JP, I tried to get you into HNH, but I don't think it's going to happen. However, if you want a similar medium, you are more than welcome to join http://jpsintervention.blogspot.com

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Ok, I sent the invitation to jstein@ghi.com

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

The problem with finding contemporary literature to prove what happened in the Bible is compounded by all pre-deluge material having been destroyed. There can be no contemporary literature that deals with what happened before other than the Torah.

Ahavah Gayle said...

RE: evolution. I am generally ok with the idea that it could have been used as the mechanism of creation, but I admit there are holes in it big enough to drive a truck through. Serious holes. I've been in some discussions of them on other blogs and it's fun to watch the athiests get all bothered - inevitably, however, they are reduced to ad hominem attacks (the last refuge of the losing side). Scientism (the belief that science can know everything and is 100% reliable) is a false religion.

Anonymous said...

Henry Ford was a virulent anti-semite and one of Hitler's collaborators and friends.
There are photos of them together. It is a well documented fact.

Oh, wait, history is bunk. I forgot.

Haha. Idiot.

jewish philosopher said...

Nobody's perfect.