A manual of Jewish belief (a guide to real Judaism) for the thinking individual.
Copyright © 1977 by R' Avi Shafran
[Web Page Last Revised: Sunday, June 19, 2005 07:46 PM ]
Chapter 4. The Torah's Authorship
There is not a fact or event in 5,000 years of recorded history that has never been repeated. Savage religion is basically similar. The G~ds are in essence the same, the mythology strongly familiar. Human endeavors are the same. Peoples appoint kings. They draft laws. They fight wars. Even the most original and remarkable achievements are duplicated. The Egyptians built pyramids; the Incas built pyramids. Humans are similar, so too, their traditions.
The Jewish religion is the exception. Out of the hundreds of recorded religions and cults there is not a single one in which the founder claimed that the G~d spoke to everyone – except ours.
G~d spoke to a nation of 600,000 men and their families at one time. This tradition has been handed down from that time to the present. This would be a somewhat more difficult revelation to fabricate than that of Paul of Tarsus, or that of Mohammed. One can tell a person that one has spoken to G~d. But when one tells a person that their entire nation has spoken to G~d, unless it is true, the tradition would not continue. The listener would wonder why his parents and fellows' parents have not mentioned the fact. The Jews have such a tradition and it has been transmitted from generation to generation in an unbroken chain.
It would undoubtedly have been to Mohammed's advantage to claim that Allah had spoken to the entire nation. He could not, however. People would have laughed. Moses however, could make such a claim, basing it on an actual event.
This unique position of the Torah-nation as the mass recipients of G~d's word is unparalleled, and is far from being the only uniqueness of Judaism.
Let us assume, against the evidence, that the Torah is a man-made literary work and code of law. Would it be a good strategy for a human legal code to order masses to refrain from planting any produce in any field every seventh year? And two years in a row, at the end of fifty? The Torah does. It even assures an exceptional crop in the year preceding. This must have occurred as promised, since the people continued to keep the law and did not abandon the Torah as an insanity. Would any human author decree that the entire nation stop whatever they were doing three times a year and make a pilgrimage to a point in the center of the land, leaving their homes and fields unguarded and open to attack by vicious neighbors on every border? He would have to be a madman – unless "he" was G~d. The fact that this happened and reoccurred each year with no harmful effect, until the people began to stray from the Law, rules out the former. Iindeed, these laws came from G~d Who promised and delivered.
There is still another singularity regarding the Torah. It admits to the faults of its people and records their defeats and losses. This will not seem insignificant to one who has read the "history" of ancient peoples as recorded by themselves. In Egyptian historical papyri, no war was lost. But the same applies to Babylonian history and that of Assyria, even though their wars were with each other! Later in history when more sophisticated communication forms made out-right lying difficult, nations began to admit their losses. These however, were attributed to traitors,and unfair enemy tactics. Even modern historians bias their subject with personal prejudices and nationalistic feelings. Upon reading histories of the Second World War written by English, French, American, Soviet and German historians, one almost feels that five different wars are being described.
Yet, the Torah tells of the many times, sad to relate, that the Jews were massacred, overpowered, and taken into captivity, at times due to their own fault. If the Torah was man-made it would have been written differently. A cursory reading of the Prophets reveals an astounding number of stories which recount in merciless detail the faults and sins of the leaders and great men of Israel. No other book of any other nation takes such an honest and truthful view of their heroes.
When approaching our Bible to acquire an understanding of it, one can do so in one of two mutually exclusive ways. One can view it as a book. Or as a Book. If it is a book, the work of humans, then all of the preconceptions that people have with regard to other types of literature apply here too. Analogies may be made. Parallels with other works may be drawn. Nuances in style and terminology may be interpreted as evidence of many different authors. Comparisons may be made with the development of law and myth in other cultures. This is the approach of a Bible Critic. He begins with the assumption that the Torah is just another book and proceeds to apply the standard means of literary analysis to its contents. Seeming contradictions are oversights. Changes in tone are evidence to various authors. Miracles are fabrications. Great events are myths. Men are symbols. Laws are man-made.
But if the Torah is accepted as Divine, the gift of G~d at one particular time to a nation of thousands, there is no reason to interpret these interesting stories and laws, this odd phraseology, these conspicuous repetitions and apparent inconsistencies as anything but intentional parts of the revelation, designed to teach us more and more of that hard to attain goal, Truth. Remember that Bible Criticism is not a method through which to ascertain whether the Bible is G~d given; it is a process which assumes that the Bible is the work of men.
The numerous parallels to biblical traditions found in the lore of other peoples is another area in which Bible Critics are active. Why, they point out, there are so many people with traditions about a Great Flood, and so many "myths" about the fall of the original human couple, so many recollections of a tower built to reach the heavens. So, they claim, these things must never have happened. Yet, if one thinks logically for a moment the fallacy of such an attitude becomes apparent. The prevalence of similar folklore about biblical events emphasizes and attests to the widespread recollection and knowledge of these events by nations other than the Jews.
The universal collective memory of early biblical events is construed by Torah-disbelievers to be "proof" to the contrary. Along these lines, it is also claimed suspicious that there is paraphrasing of verses of the Torah's laws in the pre-Mosaic Code of Hammurabi. Our tradition however, clearly states that the Torah was studied by individuals long before it was given, as early as the time of Adam. Abraham in particular taught the masses about G~d and made many converts to monotheism. Hammurabi had an extensive Abrahamic movement with its Torah-knowledge to draw from when composing his code. The Bible critics themselves place Hammurabi as a contemporary of Abraham
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