Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Disease of Anonymous Bloggers


[the hidden bloggers]

From this morning's New York Times:

Anonymity, Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago observes, allows Internet bloggers “to create for themselves a shame-free zone in which they can inflict shame on others.” The power of the bloggers, she continues, “depends on their ability to insulate their Internet selves from responsibility in the real world, while ensuring real-world consequences” for those they injure.

45 comments:

NC said...

"So my question is - how do you do it?"

I will answer your question with a question. I'm serious, too. How do you do it?

I'll say that your summary is about 95% a correct representation of the skeptic's view. Whatever the problems and unanswered question regarding our origins, aren't the problems with an omniscient god who makes mistakes and regrets and gets angry and causes untold suffering, and stories of talking donkeys and snakes and arks containing all the species and a sun that stops moving--- how much greater a credibility problem there is. How do you do it? How do you defend talmudic rabbinic advice about expunging snakes from a woman's vagina as mystical wisdom?

Regarding the origins of religions-- we don't know exactly how Christianity started either. It was probably Paul that started it going, well after Jesus' death. How did he convince people? Your guess is as good as mine. It was a messianic movement.

You are bothered by the following question: How did it come to be, that Jews, going back thousands of years, believe in Sinai and Torah revelation and that it was witnessed by the hoards? Your default answer is: because it actually happened. For some reason that's easier for you, notwithstanding all of the problems I mentioned above. My answer: through a combination of early stories, charismatic leaders and texts, they came to believe it. I believe you could use a kal v'chomer here. If other faiths came to believe the ridiculous claims despite their falsehood, how much easier it would be for Jewish followers to believe their leaders stories. In Talmudic times if a rabbi claimed to have a sinaitic tradition about something, his followers accepted it, even they they had no personal tradition.

So to me it is completely plausible that Judaism evolved from other traditions over time. It makes much more sense to explain the texts using this approach than a backhanded excuse from rashi.

Personally, I find a version of intelligent design attractive. That there is some higher intelligence (but not necessarily the biblical god) that made the universe the way it is and helps move things along. Evolution, relativity and quantum mechanics are just mechanisms.

The god that I believe in is much greater and magnificent than any god that you can imagine from the bible.

I like James Kugel's approach. He speaks of an etiological approach to bible study-- that much of the ancient teachings were meant to answer the question of how a certain existing situation came to be.

jewish philosopher said...

"aren't the problems with an omniscient god who makes mistakes and regrets and gets angry and causes untold suffering, and stories of talking donkeys and snakes and arks containing all the species and a sun that stops moving--- how much greater a credibility problem there is. How do you do it?"

I think basically this is merely begging the question which is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

In other words, the Bible must be false because it contains miracles. Miracles would mean that there is a God. And we know there is no God since the Bible is false.

Regarding contradicts within in the Biblical text, I believe I can find plausible explanations for all of them except one.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2010/01/when-things-dont-add-up.html

"How do you defend talmudic rabbinic advice about expunging snakes from a woman's vagina as mystical wisdom?"

The Talmudic sages comments about science are not part of the Oral Law and are not necessarily correct.

Maimonides wrote in the Guide to the Perplexed part 3 chapter 14: "You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days: and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science."

http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp150.htm

Also, many Talmudic teachings are allegorical, not literal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggadah#Literal-allegorical_teachings

So this type of comment does not invalidate Judaism.

"You are bothered by the following question:"

What really bothers me is that atheism seems to contradict things which are generally accepted as self evident by sane people. We know something cannot come from nothing. We know that purposefulness indicates intelligent guidance. We know that tens of thousands of people cannot be convinced to participate in a unanimous conspiracy without any whistle-blowers. We perceive ourselves to freely choosing. Again, I can't bring my accept to that all these maxims are somehow wrong.

Other religions originated in an obvious naturalistic way. Someone claimed something. A lot of people liked the idea and didn't bother to examine the logic too closely because they liked it so much. We have seen how in the 20th century Nazism and Stalinism rose exactly like that.

NC said...

Sorry if there are multiple posts, i was getting error messages

I am glad to hear that you concede that much of the Talmud is allegorical. I would extend that to include individual statements about olam haba and hell.

The reason that miracles are a problem is not because god must do them. It is because they have not been witnessed since the time that man has had reliable ways of recording history. Remember, as a scientist I use inductive reasoning. So I am extremely skeptical that they ever occurred.

"What really bothers me is that atheism seems to contradict things which are generally accepted as self evident by sane people."

Let's say that by me saying something came from nothing, and you saying it came from god that always existed (without saying what god came from)-- you bring no more knowledge or understanding to the problem. I admit-- I don't understand how matter came from nothing. So do you, by saying what you say, claim to really understand anything? Why is your explanation any more satisfying? When you give your explanation, can you say "ahh, I see, that's how it happened!"

So you call it self evident to sane people, I call it an easy lame explanation for intellectually lazy people. .

"A lot of people liked the idea and didn't bother to examine the logic too closely because they liked it so much."

Examine that assertion a little more closely. After all, they decided to accept somebody's claim that he was son of god, the messiah, and worked miracles, that were supposedly witnessed by many people. Why would somebody believe a crackpot claim like that?

The answer is obvious: when people are hungry for spiritual guidance from a charismatic leader, they will believe ANYTHING!!!

How much more so would they believe Ezra, a literate, charismatic leader. Remember, these people forgot everything, even about Pesach and Rosh Hashana! Even assimilated American Jews know about those things.

jewish philosopher said...

"I would extend that to include individual statements about olam haba and hell."

The only clear facts known about the afterlife is that first of all there is an afterlife and secondly all good deeds are ultimately rewarded while all bad deeds are ultimately punished. Everything else is pretty vague from a Jewish point of view.

"It is because they have not been witnessed since the time that man has had reliable ways of recording history."

It is true that all pre-modern history is based on very slim documentation, as I've explained here.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/07/is-history-bunk.html

However as I point out, 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.

"Let's say that by me saying something came from nothing, and you saying it came from god that always existed (without saying what god came from)-- you bring no more knowledge or understanding to the problem."

I think the only explanation for the universe is that it was created by a transcendent eternal being. It's not lazy, it's the only rational answer.

"How much more so would they believe Ezra, a literate, charismatic leader."

There are several clear differences between Ezra, Mohammed and Jesus.

First of all, the acceptance of the Torah was apparently instantaneous and unanimous. There is no record of any dispute and struggle. Regarding Jesus, his fellow Jews killed him and to this day deny him. Only over centuries did European gentiles accept him. Regarding Mohammed, he was opposed by many Arabs and he won them over through armed conflict - jihad, which continues to this day unfortunately.

Secondly, Jews and Samaritans never credited Ezra with founding their religion. In fact, I don't believe the Samaritans revere him in any way.

So again I don't think the "Ezra was just like Jesus" really holds much water. I can't swallow it.

Nc said...

I'd say Ezra was more like Paul.

Nc said...

I'm not necessarily doubting the existence of Moses or Abraham. I am doubting their supposed supernatural acts.

jewish philosopher said...

"I'd say Ezra was more like Paul."

According to atheism, Ezra was the real founder of Judaism while Moses, Abraham, the Exodus, Noah, Adam, everything in the Torah is purely fictional. Prior to Ezra, there were simply some Canaanites scattered throughout the Middle East who worshiped idols and believed who knows what various stories, which to some degree Ezra drew upon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus#Historicity_debate

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah_redactor

NC said...

Representing my position in such a manner is a straw man argument. Most skeptics do not claim it is "all fictional". There is debate about when and if these people lived. The historical reality is complicated.

Continuing your analogy, if Thucydides claimed in his history of the Peloponnesion War that that the Greek God Zuess intervened by firing lightening bolts or poisonous snakes at Sparta historians wouldn't believe that either.

JP, I think that your difficulty is your tendency to see things in black or white. You thus set up a false dichotomy and are forced to choose. Either pious fundamentalist orthodoxy or drunken hedonist atheism.

Since we are men I can be blunt. This tendency of black and white thinking is common among baalei teshuva or converts. It is part of their rejection of and emotional detachment from their past. I'm sorry if this sounds condescending, but that is my experience.

20 years ago I myself believed the same arguments (although I was not a baal teshuva). My eyes opened when I started reading about modern biblical scholarship and archeology, and compared their explanations of how Jewish texts evolved, to the rabbis' interpretations. The scholarship won hands down. When I combined that with the theological problems inherent in Judaism and all religions, I made up my mind. There was no "attraction" to atheism per se as a distinct belief. It was simply the default after rejecting the traditional view.

Having said that, I would consider myself more an agnostic or soft atheist. As I said, I could be wrong. But I have no fear of the consequences if I am.

NC said...

Regarding my anonymity:

I harm no one.

jewish philosopher said...

First of all, I want to explain that I am actually asking for help here, not looking for an argument, this time (although without a lie detector test, there is of course no way you can know that).

Atheists do have a problem coming up with a naturalistic explaination for Judaism, I suspect because there isn't one. What I have written above, and this is based on years of researching atheism, seems to be about the best that atheists can do, however again I just can't see how it's plausible.

Bear in mind as well, that once the Watchmaker Analogy proves that there is a god, then it's seems quite possible that at some point in history he would make an appearance telling us who he is and what he wants. This means that the first half of book of Exodus is not really incredible.

Other problems I have are, how to explain the structure of rabbinical literature in a naturalistic way.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2010/03/jewish-literature-seeing-effects-of.html

NC said...

"Atheists do have a problem coming up with a naturalistic explanation for Judaism"

Have you read James Kugel's book? He is not an atheist, but he gives an excellent and detailed review of the subject.

Let me take a different track, also not to debate. Regarding both question of the origins of life and of Judaism. I approach those questions they way I approach everything else: I have an admittedly strong preference for a natural explanation. If my bicycle where to disappear, I would strongly prefer the explanation that somebody stole it, rather than aliens came and transported it to their mother ship. Or that God made it magically disappear.

Now ask you ask yourself this question: do you prefer naturalistic or supernatural explanations for things? Suppose I gave you a plausible natural explanation for Judaism, although I couldn't prove it. Then, a supernatural explanation that can't be proven either. Which do you prefer? I think some people prefer the "spiritual" supernatural explanations for things. It is a way of thinking.

Regarding God's appearance onto the theatre and then his disappearance--theologically it makes no sense. (if I were an all-powerful king would I show up for a few years than disappear for thousands more?) Scientifically and historically, the beliefs fit into the pattern of religious beliefs of surrounding people, who had parallel stories but with different actors. And it fits other religions trick of revelation having happened at a certain place and time with a certain person, then requiring everybody else to believe it.

Although I think the revelation is just bunk, I do value the moral messages contained in Judaism.

jewish philosopher said...

I assume you're referring to "How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now"? Kugel has 19 books in print.

However Kugel is a not an atheist; rather he is a modern Orthodox Jew who, as might be expected, is therefore trying to blend the atheistic and Jewish approaches. In doing so, he may not be making anyone completely happy.

Again, as far as I can tell, the straight atheistic approach to Jewish origins is somewhat vague; archeologists fight in Israel and there are really many versions of the Documentary Hypothesis. However the basic concept seems to be this:

Everything in the Torah is fictional. In reality the Israelites were tribes of Canaanites native to Palestine. Those from Judea were exiled by the Babylonians and would be forever know as "Jews" after their area of origin. In northern Palestine some Israelites remained in place and became known as Samaritans. These Jews and Samaritans worshipped various gods (including YHWH) and believed in various origin legends which have been long forgotten. Then Ezra came along, wrote the Torah and all Jews and Samaritans instantly forgot all other religious beliefs, practices and legends and accepted Ezra's Torah apparently instantly without objection. In fact the Jew's devotion to the Torah was so strong that shortly afterwards, when the Greeks attempted to Hellenize the Jews, they rebelled and carved out an independent kingdom. Later, when the Roman's tried to Romanize them, a ferocious rebellion under Bar Kochba caused a mobilization of a large sector of the Roman military.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba_revolt

To me this story is simply incredible and doesn't at all resemble the origins of Christianity, Islam or Buddhism or any other religion.

If Judaism did have a naturalistic origin, then Jewish history would have to include a story something like this:

“The Jews and Samaritans lived for centuries in an age of darkness and confusion. The Truth had been forgotten! Then, along came our brilliant leader Ezra, who found hidden in a deep cave, the Truth – the original Torah of the True God YHWH which had not been seen in a thousand years! At first, many Jews and Samaritans were unconvinced. There were many scoffer s and doubters, priests to Baal and Ashera who denounced Ezra as a fraud. There was fighting between the Torah believers and the believers in the earlier lies. However, after much fighting and the staunch support of the Persian government, Ezra finally prevailed. The temples to other gods were destroyed, their false writings burned, their priests killed and the Jews and Samaritans entered a new era of enlightenment! Praise be to YHWH!”

In reality no Jewish, Samaritan or Persian document ever found mentions anything of this type, which, if true, would have been the most important event in Jewish history and a story know to all Jews just like Christians are familiar with Crucifixion or Muslims are with the Hegira.

"I have an admittedly strong preference for a natural explanation."

I would say that I am impartial. I would choose whichever cause seems to be supported by the preponderance of evidence.

"Regarding God's appearance onto the theatre and then his disappearance--theologically it makes no sense."

It doesn't sound bad to me. First of all, in my work experience, I am generally given instructions by the management once. There are not daily refresher courses in the company policies. Why should God be different? Secondly, if all God's motives were clear to us it would mean that God is no more intelligent than we are.

NC said...

"I would choose whichever cause seems to be supported by the preponderance of evidence."

And here we have a huge disagreement about what constitutes evidence. I use induction to extend existing data points (which admittedly assumes only natural phenomena). You use analogies and logic arguments which really don't constitute evidence in my view.

"It doesn't sound bad to me. First of all, in my work experience, I am generally given instructions by the management once. "

Great analogy. Does management then disappear, giving no updates, reviews, feedback, plans? Do employees then rely on their immediate bosses (by analogy, rabbis) who have no communication with the senior management? Is the organization left to deal with crises, changes and challenges without management's active input, left to rely only on memos, rules and regulations written long ago?

"Secondly, if all God's motives were clear to us it would mean that God is no more intelligent than we are"

True. However, if so, how in God's hell (pardon the euphemism) are we supposed to know what he really wants of us? He sends down seemingly random rewards and punishments, and doesn't tell us anything about what they mean. Kal vachomer how are the gentiles supposed to know what he wants?

"Kugel..is therefore trying to blend the atheistic and Jewish approaches. In doing so, he may not be making anyone completely happy."

Yes, its complicated and subtle. Like life. So? You don't need to make anybody happy.

jewish philosopher said...

Of course numerous questions can be asked about Torah from Sinai, as questions can be asked about any event. Why would God reveal Himself only once - why not every millennium, century or half hour? Good question. But then again why, when we are fighting two wars against Muslims, would Americans elect a president who had two Muslim grandparents and a Muslim name? Go figure.

One major problem I am having with atheism however is the concept that Judaism is ultimately a scam no different than Christianity or Islam and Ezra was basically our equivalent of Jesus or Mohammed. (Our Paul would probably someone like Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai .)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yochanan_ben_Zakai

Among Jews, Ezra is a moderately prominent figure, however I imagine that if you would stop a few Jews on the street in Brooklyn no one could tell you more than a few sentences about him. I don't believe Samaritans have any knowledge of him. A devout Christian or Muslim could probably spend all day discoursing about Jesus or Mohammed.

Based on all available evidence it seems to me that the Torah is simply what Jews have always said it is. Paleontology and archeology have challenged this, however I believe I have found answers to those challenges.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/09/how-i-understand-genesis.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/10/biblical-deluge.html

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

NC said...

To be politically correct, we don't call religions "scams" :)

They are "faith based movements".

In the last chapter in Kugel's book he attempts to reconcile the problems. It took me a couple of reads to get what he is saying. Basically, if a people experienced something and retained it as part of their collective memory, it is as real as anything else. He makes an analogy to songs, words and art. The "original" intention or meaning by the author is irrelevant; what matters is how people have come to think of it.

I think at some level the Kuzari argument bothers Kugel, too. Although on purely historical terms it can be disputed, it still hovers. He is an orthodox Jew and insists on retaining the core values and practices. I agree that he is straddling the fence. But intellectually I like it and I think its honest.

I agree that ways to reconcile religious claims contradicting established fact can always be found. The Catholics are really good at this. These reconciliations will only seem reasonable if you really want to reconcile in the first place. I think that is like any other beliefs that we have--political, economic, etc.

NC said...

A slight tangent--I would add that I recognize that intelligent people of all walks of life embrace faith (Jews and Gentiles) and that they do this for all kinds of reasons. I have a friend who is a modern orthodox convert, and she is a very thoughtful and smart person (and very mentally normal!). I wouldn't dream of saying that she believes in a "scam". I would say that the more enlightened of the orthodox recognize that many of the stories and narratives in Judaism, while not strictly true, carry a moral, social and philosophical message, and this is what keeps them in the community of believers.

jewish philosopher said...

I look at Judaism the way I would at any other historical issue - let's say the Kennedy assassination. I think Oswald did it. There are many arguments against that, I believe those arguments can be answered and the preponderance of evidence remains with Oswald. Conspiracy theorists would say I have been duped and I'm in denial.

Also, what about free will? Free will would basically imply the existence of a God given soul. Atheists believe our freely choosing is merely a false perception or delusion. I find that hard to believe.

NC said...

" I find that hard to believe."

Why?

"I look at Judaism the way I would at any other historical issue -"

But yet you are willing to adopt a "conspiracy theory" attitude regarding the beliefs of Christian, Muslim, Buddhists and Hindus. All of these people have been duped. I just add one more to the list...True, Jesus was just one man saying he was son of God, but for some reason all of those people believed him, and later on, many more.

I guess what I am stuck on in trying to understand your point of view is that, basically, ancient people were superstitious and illiterate. As such, a coherent and consoling message of faith would be very attractive, and I have no problem seeing how it came to be believed. I don't think that the distinction you make between Judaism's tradition and other religions is valid, in so far as making it not believable to followers.

jewish philosopher said...

If Judaism did have a naturalistic origin, then Jewish history would have to include a story something like this:

“The Jews and Samaritans lived for centuries in an age of darkness and confusion. The Truth had been forgotten! Then, along came our brilliant leader Ezra, who found hidden in a deep cave, the Truth – the original Torah of the True God YHWH which had not been seen in a thousand years! At first, many Jews and Samaritans were unconvinced. There were many scoffer s and doubters, priests to Baal and Ashera who denounced Ezra as a fraud. There was fighting between the Torah believers and the believers in the earlier lies. However, after much fighting and the staunch support of the Persian government, Ezra finally prevailed. The temples to other gods were destroyed, their false writings burned, their priests killed and the Jews and Samaritans entered a new era of enlightenment! Praise be to YHWH!”

In reality no Jewish, Samaritan or Persian document ever found mentions anything of this type, which, if true, would have been the most important event in Jewish history and a story know to all Jews just like Christians are familiar with Crucifixion or Muslims are with the Hegira.

NC said...

You suggest one scenario, but one could imagine many others. This was another eye opener for me. Jewish history is replete with civil wars! Just pick up a bible and talmud and read. One can see a number of scenarios involving Jews defining themselves. In fact we know of the conflict between the Perushim and Zedukkim. The Maccabis vs the Hellenists. etc etc. We know that there were multiple sects during the second temple era that fought each other in the streets. We know of the mortal conflict between the northern and southern kingdom, who were fighting over very fundamental issues in the life of the Israelites-- who were the priests, where is the temple supposed to be, where to bring sacrifices, etc. The books of Joshua, Judges and some of the prophets clearly describe the kinds of struggles you are talking about. So it was an ongoing process of defining a national and religious identity, modes of worship, and legitimacy of competing religious and political leadership.

I think this fits the bill for an evolving religion.

To me, the supposed chain of transmission mentioned in perkei avot says it all. There is supposedly an intact transmission from Sinai. Yet clearly dispute arose as time went on. Now what is the source of this dispute?

If you say that it resulted from things being forgotten-- how could it not, especially since it wasn't written down. How could there have been any other outcome? And if they forgot so much, how can they be relied on at all?

OTOH, you can say the the differences resulted from customs and traditions that developed differently in different places de novo. That there was in fact no common tradition from Sinai. I consider this possibility much more plausible.

If there was such an unequivocal event at Sinai that everybody supposedly saw, but yet a few years later people are already worshiping idols-- we can conclude that the revelation and transmission was faulty or vague from the beginning.

jewish philosopher said...

As far as disagreements go, Jews are legendary in that area. You, two Jews three opinions.

As far as traitors and quislings go, again we have always had a fair share. It's probably true, tragically, that the holocaust could not have succeeded without Jewish collaborators.

NC said...

""It's probably true, tragically, that the holocaust could not have succeeded without Jewish collaborators."

Perhaps, but its very problematic to analyze "what would have been" scenarios.

BTW I wish to emphasize that I don't consider that the only choices are that the bible is true or false. I consider it to be an authentic representation of people's memories and traditions, but not necessarily of fact.

Consider even a modern biography or historical account. It can be generally correct but filled with inaccuracies or interpretations of events that represent the authors point of view. How much more so before people had printing presses and telephones.

That's how I see the bible. I've discussed this with my son in law, who is a rabbi (orthodox). He basically admits, that the evidence for a critical approach towards the Torah is very compelling. But, he has simply made the decision not to "go there". He feels that Judaism provides an answer to his spiritual needs (including a belief in the afterlife), so he accepts it with all its lumps. I have no argument with that at all.

jewish philosopher said...

In my personal opinion, and maybe this is what your're saying, the most plausible naturalistic scenario might be something like this:

A group of a few thousand Semitic slaves escaped from Egypt about 3,300 years ago under the leadership of an Egyptian nobleman named Moses. After they settled in the highlands of Palestine, these Israelites as they called themselves, began retelling and embellishing the story of their escape. [Which is in itself a little bizarre – wouldn’t escaped slaves rather not advertise that fact?] Numerous different versions arose. Other Canaanites joined the Israelite community. The community grew. Versions of the story became more and more fantastic. Moses became a great lawgiver and miracle worker. Ten Plagues struck the Egyptians. Ten Commandments were given at a mountain in Sinai. In the time of Josiah, these stories, as well as Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, were edited and became closer to their present form. Finally, a couple of centuries later, Ezra the Scribe finalized the Hebrew Bible, which was then universally accepted by Jews (Nehemiah 8:1) . Ezra had the power (Ezra 7:26) to punish all those who disagreed with him. The Samaritans as well, enemies of Jews (Ezra 4:1) , for some reason decided to accept the Pentateuch, although no other writings.

The main problem with this story is, if this is true, why were all the earlier versions, which were in the possession of the tens of thousand of Jews throughout the Persian Empire, and the Samaritans too, immediately, totally and silently disposed of once Ezra presented his scroll? There should have been “Pentateuch police” busy for many years destroying other, not canonical, writings. We know that the early church leaders had to suppress many apocryphal gospels and some have survived to the present. Something similar even happened with the Koran. In Judaism as well, certain books, such as the Book of Ben Sira, were excluded from the Biblical canon and banned. However there isn’t even a record of any command to disregard other versions of the Pentateuch; they are simply unmentioned anywhere, as if they never existed. We again must violate the Anti-Conspiracy Principle and say that all Jews, and Samaritans (!), unanimously and immediately agreed to lie and to say, “This is the only scroll of the Law of Moses which we received from our forefathers”, although they knew that it wasn’t. There was a perfect, empire wide cover up.

NC said...

This is a perfect good question, but in my view answerable. Firstly, the Torah and Nach actually frequently refer to other books which no longer exist. (book of the wars of the lord, Josiah's book, etc). Second, this formative period was way before Christianity. We're talking about 450 years. That alone would make it more difficult to locate precursor documents. This assertion is strenghtened by the fact that we haven't found ANY Torah scroll going that far back. By the time of the founding of Christianity, there are scrolls and documents galore.

Second, there WAS a suppression of texts. The talmud mentions the apocrypha. How about Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1
כל ישראל, יש להם חלק לעולם הבא--שנאמר "ועמך כולם צדיקים, לעולם יירשו ארץ" (ישעיהו ס,כא). ואלו שאין להם חלק לעולם הבא--האומר אין תחיית המתים, ואין תורה מן השמיים, ואפיקורוס. רבי עקיבה אומר, אף הקורא בספרים החיצונים,

I'd say that's evidence of suppression.

JP, because so few people were literate and there was no printing press, you didn't need police to suppress documents like you do today. You promoted your own document as authentic, got the powers to be to authorize it and copy it, and that's it. You just let the others wither away since there was nobody to copy them. Its not like today when any Joe Shmo can copy or print whatever he wants.

NC said...

Regarding the Samaritans, I don't know very much about their history. However, if they plagerized/adopted the Jew's book a few hundred years earlier or later, what difference does it make? I don't understand your point about what this proves. We don't know what text if any the Samaritans used during the time they are mentioned in Nach. All it says is that they accepted Yahweh. They could have adopted their existing text at any time, based on surrounding influences. We have no physical evidence of Samaritan texts from biblical times. Remember, the oldest manuscript of the Samaritan Torah is from the 1200's.

jewish philosopher said...

Still, the fact remains that there were thousands of Jews dispersed over the Persian empire, besides the Samaritans who were Ezra's enemies. Various other leaders would have had vested interests in their books and would have said "Ezra shmezra! F--- him!" Perhaps over centuries dissent would have been quashed (as was later dissent against the Talmud) however surely an atheist cannot claim Ezra had some magic wand.

jewish philosopher said...

I think the Talmud says rabbi akiva is referring to Ben sira.

jewish philosopher said...

"However, if they plagerized/adopted the Jew's book a few hundred years earlier or later, what difference does it make? "

But why would they, if ezra's Torah was just one more phony book being kicked around the middle east? They did not like Ezra or his Jews.

NC said...

Modern samaritans may not be the shomronim mentioned in the bible. They and their texts were probably an offshoot of second temple era Judaism and as such adopted a variant of the Torah. Their claim to be the shomronim is probably a retrojection. The fact that they claim to be the "original Jews" reinforces this idea, since The biblical shomronim made no such claim. The talmud refers to Cutim, which were probably the Samaritans living in talmudic times.

Why would they adopt the text? Why did the Christians adopt it? Why would Jews adopt Babylonian gods names for their calendar? Because they were influenced by it. Even the Muslims used the Torah texts to invent their own stories. During those times it was common to plagerize somebody elses narratives and call it their own. It granted legitimacy to the story (because it was similar to what people already heard, rather than just inventing something totally new.) Remember, the Samaritan torah has a few critical differences that make THEM the real descendents of Abraham while we are the fakes.

jewish philosopher said...

"Modern samaritans may not be the shomronim mentioned in the bible."

I don't think anyone questions that they are.

"Why did the Christians adopt it?"

Because the first Christians were all Jews, in contrast to Islam for example.

"Why would Jews adopt Babylonian gods names for their calendar?"

For the same reason American Jews name the days of the week after Norse gods. It's just convenient.

"During those times it was common to plagerize somebody elses narratives and call it their own"

What happened to their own document - the E text or something?

jewish philosopher said...

I think the simplest and best answer is that the Torah is exactly what Jews always claimed it is.

NC said...

"I think the simplest and best answer is that the Torah is exactly what Jews always claimed it is"

I guess "best" depends on what you look at. If one has no problem seeing supernatural events and anthropomorphism and god as "simple", then I guess it is the best answer. To me it is far from simple. Natural is much simpler to me. Its a different starting assumption.

BTW, if supernatural and god is simple to you, than you should have no problem believing in other religions either. So what Jesus was said to work miracles? What's the big problem? If he did, you should believe in him as son of god.

Do you find the God concept simple? To this day when somebody says "god" I haven't got a flying f*** what they're talking about. I think I understand string theory and relativity better than god theory. Does ANYBODY understand god theory? If they don't I just wish people would stop talking about him. I only promote things I understand. Why do some people promote things they really don't understand? I'm serious!!

jewish philosopher said...

I'm not sure how exactly you distinguish between natural and supernatural. Are natural things those things we can predict? No one predicted this recession. Subatomic particles may behave in ways that are impossible to predict.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle

I do have some ideas about God's nature 

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/12/higher-power-as-i-understand-him.html

However what's really the difference. You may sometimes work for a manager about whom you know personally almost nothing. But you do know what his instructions are and if you do it, you get paid, don't do it, you get fired.

Maybe Jesus did do a few minor miracles. So did Elisha.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisha

It's no proof of divinity. 

NC said...

natural= consistent with the known laws of physics

supernatural== outside of and inconsistent with the known laws of physics.

Granted, these things are subject to change as we learn more. But at least according to my last check snakes and donkeys can't talk, people can't rise from the dead and the sea can't split.

"I do have some ideas about God's nature"

But since your concept has many internal inconsistencies, as well as contradicting biblical texts, you can't say you really understand him.

If you admit you can't understand him, and he doesn't communicate with you, how can you (or anybody) presume to know what he wants??? I am really stuck on this one. Even if I grant that he did speak 3500 years ago, then stopped, how do we know specifically how he wants us to behave now? Yes or no separate men from women on buses, yes or no zionism, yes or no 2nd day of yom tov? Maybe the rabbis got it all wrong!!!

jewish philosopher said...

The accelerating expansion of the universe violates the known laws of physics,
 
http://ezinearticles.com/?Expanding-Universe-Violates-Conservation-Laws&id=5371834

apparently proving by your definition the reality of the supernatural.

I think the validity of rabbinical tradition is demonstrated by the structure of rabbinical literature.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2010/03/jewish-literature-seeing-effects-of.html

NC said...

"I think the validity of rabbinical tradition is demonstrated by the structure of rabbinical literature."

Something can't validate itself. It can be internally consistent, but that doesn't validate it!

"The accelerating expansion of the universe violates the known laws of physics"

I'm not a physicist, I'd like to hear what a physicist says about this, I don't understand that article. I'm not sure how different laws apply on different scales (like how quantum mechanics conflicts with classical mechanics and relativity)

Just show me a talking donkey or snake and I'll be happy:) Better yet, show me somebody who rose from the grave!

jewish philosopher said...

Judaic literature was written in five primary stages with authors in the later stages never contradicting those in the earlier stages:

- The prophets; 1300 BCE to 300 BCE.
- The early rabbis; 300 BCE to 200 CE
- The Talmudic rabbis; 200 CE to 500 CE
- The Talmudic commentaries; 500 CE to 1500 CE
- The commentators on the Talmudic commentaries; 1500 CE to present.

In my opinion, this is clearly proof of the great spiritual level which the Jewish people were elevated to 3,300 years ago at Mt. Sinai and from which they have been gradually descending ever since.

There a plenty of things which contradict the known laws of physics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitation#Anomalies_and_discrepancies

Why is a talking animal much stranger than a carnivorous plant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_flytrap

or an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus

And people have risen from the grave too.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2000-12-07/news/0012070298_1_kazakstan-shallow-grave-man-rises

Anonymous said...

NC:

The existance of the Universe is a bigger miracle than a talking snake. Scientists are resorting to supernatural explanations to explain the fine tuning of the Universe to accomodate life. Multiverse theory says that there are unicorns leprechauns, etc. Thye just exist in different Universes. And talking donkeys is nothing compared to a bunch of small molecules coming together and forming a cell. And how five pounds of meat can think and feel is still a mystery.

I just can't what the scientists say without question because I am too much of a realist.

Anonymous said...

And a lot of the stabge things we read about in the Talmud are very similar to things we see in the naturalists of the time. This was the cutting edge science of the day. If the Rabbi's rejected it, you would say they were wrong for questioning the authorities. What modern scientists say is much more unbelievable than anything we might find in the Talmud, yet you expect us all to except it without question.

jewish philosopher said...

NC, as far as I can tell, you beliefs are primarily founded on two things:

Number one, if most scientists believe something, it must be true even if it seems illogical to me. They know better.

Number two, if the Bible says something happened three thousand years ago, however it hasn't happened since, then it never happened.

I personally would say this represents an appeal to authority

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority#Examples_of_appeals_to_authority

and an argument from incredulity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance#Argument_from_incredulity_.2F_Lack_of_imagination

NC said...

I guess we've reverted back to argumentation mode...anyway;

" if the Bible says something happened three thousand years ago, however it hasn't happened since, then it never happened."

That's not it at all. It's really very simple and you're evading. You don't need to quote logical fallacies to me. If it is your experience or opinion that god can and does cause one-off deviations from laws of nature, then you have no problem believing he did it then, too. I (along with most scientists) see no evidence of such phenomena, at any time in history. So I refuse to believe that it happened 3000 years ago either.

It is a whole class of phenomena that I don't believe in, and you shouldn't either. Just like I don't believe in UFO's, ESP, homeopathy, witchcraft and psycholocomotion, I don't believe in miracles (in the biblical sense).

And the scientific beliefs don't seem at all illogical to me, at least the ones that are within my expertise to understand.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, if I'm making total, life changing choices, I don't simply call up the National Academy of Sciences regarding controversial subjects and ask "Hey, do you guys believe in this at the moment?"

I believe in anything where the preponderance of evidence indicates it happened. Things which are more extraordinary, require more evidence, more ordinary things less. Therefore, I'm still going with Judaism for the reason explained in this post.

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

NC said...

Fair enough. Really, I mean it.

I go with Judaism, too. I have found what I think is a middle ground and am happy with it.

JRKmommy said...

It's been 19 years since I studied Ancient Israelite History from a secular POV at university, complete with Documentary Hypothesis, but I don't think your brief summary was entirely accurate. From what I remember, the reference to the book discovered during King Josiah's reign was thought to be Deuteronomy, which predates the Babylonian exile.

I was also taught that the Samaritans weren't Israelites, since the style of Assyrian conquest was to do total population transfers when they conquered a nation (in contrast to the Babylonians, who didn't bother exiling all of the non-elites). The Samaritans were members of the replacement population who had been taught by priests brought back by the Assyrians to teach the new population how to worship the local diety.

jewish philosopher said...

So why do they have the same Torah we do (the most significant difference being a reference to mount gerizim in their ten commandments).