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A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Proof of God via Jewish Survival, Jewish Suffering, and the Bible Predictor (Part One) ?

Updated thru 3/23/2016 

Some people believe Jewish suffering and survival suggests a god. (The related bible predictor is discussed later on in this post.)

{From the book Ancient Israel in the Sinai by Hoffmeier 2005 

Beginning on Page 79 "The Egyptians wrote history and understood events in the light of divine planning and intervention.";  "Several studies have been made of Mesopotamian Literature to show there was a relationship between history and divine involvement in human affairs."}


The Jewish people have had a fair amount of suffering and more so for the European Jews, especially with the holocaust. The middle eastern Sephardic Jews have faired better, for example being better treated in Muslim controlled territories over all, and not suffering the holocaust as severely as European Jews of all types. In other words, not all Jewish sects have suffered terribly or any more than some non Jewish ethnic or religious groups. My goal is not to judge the relative degree to which ethnic groups, religions or nations have suffered. Lets assume as a whole the Jews have suffered terribly.

Does Jewish survival or Jewish suffering imply there is a (Jewish) god ? Besides being a non sequitur, many nations, religions and ethnic groups have suffered terribly and survived, while others did not survive. The latter case being arguably a worse outcome than for the Jewish people. The gypsies left their homeland about 1500 years ago and have survived. They have also suffered great deal persecution, suffered in the holocaust and have survived. Should we suggest this proves there is a gypsy god ? 

{ETA 8/20/2015 The African Pygmy of the African Congo are essentially prehistoric and their culture has survived to this day. Moreover they have survived in Africa for thousands of years. Are the Pygmy god(s ?) protecting them and ensuring their survival and culture as a people and in their native land ? } 

Similarly, despite numerous campaigns to wipe out rats or cockroaches they have survived. Does this mean there is a God of the Rats or a God of the Cockroaches ? The answer is negative since there are natural explanations for both the gypsy and  Jewish experience as well as for rats and and cockroaches. (The mention of rats and cockroaches is to make a point and there is no intent whatsoever to insult Jews or Gypsies.)

So why did the Jews suffer ? 

Books have been written about it. Some of the reasons offered include xenophobia, racism, scapegoat theory, jews have different customs than the local population, saying they are god's chosen, 
accused of being Christ killer, stole land from and slaughtered various ancient middle eastern tribes ( according to torah), maybe some jews offended their hosts, greedy neighbors wanted their homeland and just about any reason any other ethnic, religion or nation may have suffered. 

{ETA 3/23/2016 The Jews claim their God who has chosen them is superior to other Gods. That their religion is superior to the religions of others. The Jews would not adopt the gods of their conquerors. 

The Jews separate from others. For example can not eat meals of their gentile neighbors, cant marry gentiles etc: This can be interpreted negatively by the gentiles.


A significant proportion of the leadership or active/outspoken individuals  of the  Leftists, Liberals, Anarchists, Communists, and Socialist were Jewish. For example, the early Russian communist leadership, anarchist Emma Goldman,  Abbie Hoffman in the 1960's USA, the civil rights movement in the USA, and today the Socialist leaning Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. This may alienate some people. ETA - Let me be clear. I am not saying most Jews belong to such categories, merely that many outspoken members or leaders happen to have been Jewish.  Nor am I making a value judgments regarding those categories.}

Why did Jews survive ? 

They relocated, went underground (for example in Spain), they bribed, begged, used political machinations, made positive contributions to society, etc:. After they lost Israel, they evolved and changed with the situation. They kept their culture alive, they indoctrinated their children from a very young age. Being in 
a ghetto just made them hunker down - there was no place else to go. Not every one wanted to kill the Jews. In other words there was no world wide plan to kill Jews.  { The Jews had spread to many different geographic regions so it would have required a coordinated effort to exterminate the Jews. But many of the countries the Jews lived in were not on friendly terms with each other, nor did all those countries simultaneously want to kill the Jews. It was inevitable that many Jews would thus survive.}  They enjoyed many peaceful times as well. ( Three more explanation for jewish survival: a) Their  belief that god will eventually restore their kingdom and this gave hope and resolve.  b) Being an outsider as for example during the Babylonian exile gave the jews the opportunity to advance within the government hierarchy because they had no local obligations and could give advice untainted by the diverse native constituent interests. c) Since they had different beliefs and even skills than the native population they could fill niches unavailable to the locals. Items a) and b) have been advocated in the book The Bible and the Ancient Near East by Gordon and Rendsburg 1953). 

{ It was not that a God had any role in the survival of the 'Jewish' people. Rather the 'Jewish' people's belief in the Torah and God helped preserve them.  In other words, it was their belief that eventually God would bring them out of exile/diaspora back to the promised land as per certain Torah passages. The  hope that redemption was just around the corner allowed them survive trials and tribulations. The Rabbinic tradition added the promise of  rewards in an afterlife. This also provided comfort and hope to survive trials and tribulations. In short, the Priests and Rabbis evolved theology that would help Jews survive.}

{Lets read the prescient words and great wisdom from one of the greatest Jewish Philosophers 

A Theological-Political Treatise [Part I], by  Benedict of Spinoza (born 1632)  Translator: R. H. M. Elwes

(99) As to their [Jews] continuance so long after dispersion and the loss of empire, there is nothing marvellous in it, for they so separated themselves from every other nation as to draw down upon themselves universal hate, not only by their outward rites, rites conflicting with those of other nations,  but also by the sign of circumcision which they most scrupulously observe.
(100) That they have been preserved in great measure by Gentile hatred, experience demonstrates. 
(101) When the king of Spain formerly compelled the Jews to embrace the State religion or to go into exile, a large number of Jews accepted Catholicism. 
(102) Now, as these renegades were admitted to all the native privileges of Spaniards, and deemed worthy of filling all honourable offices, it came to pass that they straightway became so intermingled with the Spaniards as to leave of themselves no relic
or remembrance. 
(103) But exactly the opposite happened to those whom the
king of Portugal compelled to become Christians, for they always, though converted, lived apart, inasmuch as they were considered unworthy of any civic honours.
(104) The sign of circumcision is, as I think, so important, that I could persuade myself that it alone would preserve the nation for ever. 
(105) Nay, I would go so far as to believe that if the foundations of their religion have not emasculated their minds they may even, if occasion offers, so changeable are human affairs, raise up their empire afresh, and that God may a second time elect them.
(106) Of such a possibility we have a very famous example in the Chinese. 
(107) They, too, have some distinctive mark on their heads which they most scrupulously observe, and by which they keep themselves apart from everyone else, and have thus kept themselves during so many thousand years that they far surpass all other nations in antiquity. 

(108) They have not always retained empire, but they have recovered it when lost, and doubtless will do so again after the spirit of the Tartars becomes relaxed through the luxury of riches and pride. }


[ETA 3/23/2016 If I have not already mentioned these, here are other factors may play a role in Jewish Survival 

 * Antisemitism

 * The Jews in general would not adopt the gods of their conquerors nor of the people they were in exile with. They considered other gods inferior or false. 

* Family bonds

* Hope in this world - God  eventually help them.

* Hope for reward in the next world.

* Jewish role in the economy of their hosts.

* Medieval Church had a theological interest of vanquished Israel

* The Jewish individual’s decision to live and survive as a Jew.}

But did the Jews really survive ? Depends what Jews means. Depends what "survives" means. The Jewish religion today is very likely not the same Jewish religion practiced in ancient Israel. (Consider the many "Jewish" sects and different interpretations. 
Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, Karaites, Falashas, Rabbanic, and many others.) Also, the genetic make up of the Jews (if there ever was one) has been dramatically changed thru intermarriage/ rape and conversions to Judaism by some other peoples and assimilation (Jews leaving the "tribe"). So even the premise that the "Jews" have "survived" has to be better defined.

Rabbi Kelemen in his book Permission to Believe offers the solution to Jewish suffering and survival as Leviticus 26:3-39 (the Bible Predictor), that states god will punish jews if they break the commandments and protect them if they keep the commandments. 

But I have provided plausible non supernatural explanations for Jewish suffering and survival. Even if somebody does not find these explanations satisfactory, it does not mean there is a god behind it. It could be fortuitous, and that would be a lot more plausible than positing a supernatural being. Lets examine Leviticus 26:3-39. 

The verses seem more like broad warnings rather than a prediction. 

The verses often have almost the exact wording of  legal contracts in the ancient near east (ane) and therefore should not be considered prophecy anymore than the verses found in other ane contracts. They were admonishing threats for contract violation.

From the Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation 2001 by Richard E, Friedman Page page 411 Regarding Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28:

“The blessings and curses are not rewards and punishments. They are a formal part of the biblical covenants (Levit 26, Deut 28) - with exact parallels in legal contracts of the ancient near east.”

From the Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary Leviticus by Baruch Levine 1989  beginning on page 275  Regarding Levit 26:3-46 “The Epilogue to the Holiness Code is patterned after other biblical blessings and curses and after other similar ancient near eastern compositions”. The author also writes concerning  Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 epilogues that the Biblical curses and ancient near east curses are related in their diction. Levine offers several examples. These examples include among others - ‘scattering of the people’ common in ANE diction. The code of Hammurabi uses the same term. Levit 26:37 the inability to stand before enemies is paralleled in the vassal treaty of Esarhaddon: ‘may you not be able to stand before your enemies’.  Levine writes it is clear even from the sample he provided (see his book for others) the epilogue represents a genre of ane literature.

How To Read The  Bible James Kugel 2007  page 348-349 provide many comparisons Levit 26 and Deut 28 to the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon. Here are just a couple from his text..

From the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon  “May all the gods...turn your ground into iron, so that no one may plow it. Just as rain does not fall from a bronze sky, so may rain and dew not come upon your fields and meadows.”

And so Deut 28:23 The sky over your head shall be copper, and the earth under you iron

and Levit 26:19:... and I will make your skies like iron, and your earth like copper.

From the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon “May Shamash....deprive you of the sight of your eyes, so that they will wander about in darkness.

Compare to Deut 28:28-29  The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness, and confusion of mind, you shall grope about at noon as the blind people grope  in darkness, but you shall be unable to find your way.

Kugel writes “All these resemblances suggest to scholars that the imprecations at the end of Leviticus and Deuteronomy were themselves rooted in the standard curses of the ancient Near East - not only the general idea of such curses, but the specific things the treaties invoked.” }

{From the Anchor Bible 2011 Leviticus by Milgrom Regarding Levit 26:33 I will scatter.. on page 2322 Violation of the Code of Hammurabi also threatened scattering people.}

{ Jewish Publication Society Deuteronomy by Tigay 1996. 
Page 491  "Siege, cannibalism, and exile were common experiences in the ancient world. They are mentioned in ancient near east treaties...". 

Page 495 From Hammurabi - "May Enlil...order...the destruction of his city, the dispersion of his people."

"May Enlil order...the scattering of his people."

From the Vassal treaties of Esarhaddan" "Keep this treaty...lest...you deliver your land to destruction, your people to be deported." Tigay lists many other parallels and states: "The forgoing parallels make it abundantly clear that the promises and predictions of blessings and curses were a common feature of ancient parctice and literature." }

Furthermore, those versus may have just been propaganda. 

Also, the predictor is stating the obvious, religion can be a uniting factor, i.e united we stand divided we fall. 

The predictor talks about rain and reasonable people do not believe rain fall is controlled by gods just because you do not or do not follow his laws. Furthermore, god would have to make it not rain just in Israeli's borders. The rain would have to miraculously stop just there and no place else. 

Same for fruit bearing miracles. The verse(s) are saying make god happy by following the commandments and in return you get all these goodies. This is similar to many ancient superstitions such as sacrifice to the gods to obtain favors.

Rabbi Kelemen's argument that Leviticus 26:3-39 makes valid "predictions" needs to be fleshed out much more into a testable hypothesis. This is almost impossible. For example: how do you figure out just when jews are not keeping enough laws and which 
specific ones to bring on gods wrath. When did the non observance occur - did god actually keep track of every commandment non obeyed by every jew in every second. Are there examples when jews did follow the law yet suffered anyway ? Are there examples when jews did not follow the law yet did not suffer ? You 
have to test each separate prediction - like no rain, no fruit etc; Because maybe jews get killed, but it rains anyway. We can not go back in time to see when it did or did not rain. We have to go back and examine each time the jews suffered. You get the point. 

Also, nobody has shown the bible predictor to be valid from a statistical viewpoint, therefore it can not be accepted.

Furthermore, since the bible has a lot of nonsense 
(contradictions, anachronisms, doublets, myths like women coming from Adam's rib/ (side in a minority of translations),  talking snakes...) the burden of proof is that much greater on the person saying we can deduce god from it. It is a credibility issue. Virtually all academic bible scholars say the bible was written by people and much of its history is suspect. Also, we have to examine every time the bible makes a prediction and see how well it was fulfilled. Kelemen's book only focused on one passage. If the over all predictive value of the Bible is poor then it could just be luck one passage got it right more times than other passages.

Rabbi Kelemen even asserts the preposterous Idea that the holocaust occurred  because many Jews began to abandon 
orthodox judaism. There are books written about the causes of WWII and the holocaust. The loss of WWI and heavy burden placed on the German people after WWI, world wide depression and German hyperinflation, xenophobia, racism, scapegoat theory, religious bigotry, many thought jews may have helped cause 
Germany's loss in WWI, some jews affiliation with communists, antisemitism had prevailed in Europe for centuries, many Germans believed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Jews had different dress and customs, hatred was being used to unite a country, differences of Ideology,..... 

We then deduce from Kelemens theory that god caused millions of innocent non Jewish people (as well as observant jews) to be killed, just because some Jews decided not to practice Orthodox Judaism. (Side note: There was no  holocaust of  the Jewish Community in the USA, and Orthodox Judaism was and still is a minority branch of Judaism in the USA. If Kelemen  is correct then god should have heaped his wrath against the USA Jewish community, but did not.)

{ NOTE: Orthodox Jews were clearly the majority of the European Jews killed in the Shoah, somewhere between 50% and 70%. From page 22 Battling for Souls by Alex Grobman.} 

We have two explanations of Jewish Suffering and Survival. 
The bible predictor with god versus natural explanations. The more reasonable explanation is the latter. It explains the story in the context of human affairs and natural phenomena. The former explanation implies something supernatural and miracles which adds a level of unnecessary complexity. It creates more questions 
and more unsolved problems than it solves.

{From The Bible and the Ancient Near East by Gordon and Rendsburg 1953 

Page 264 "Long before Isaiah there had been a school  of Egyptian prophecy that dealt with a punishment to Egypt for offending gods. The punishment was to be in terms of foreign domination, widespread destruction, and in social upheaval. whereby classes would no longer retain their former relationships. These woes would be terminated by a godly king would be victorious  in temporal and spiritual affairs, so that he would  inaugurate the divine order".

Page 249 Regarding Assyria 745 BCE "The god Assur had willed that his country and his King should achieve world domination; and all other gods, kings, and peoples had to be subservient to Assur's will."
s
[This should sound familiar to Orthodox Jews.] }

{ Page 176 The Evolution of God by Robert Wright 2009 "The Assyrians had laid waste to Babylon in the early seventh century....the Babylonians ascribed their catastrophe to their chief god's displeasure with them." 

[Again, this should sound familiar to Orthodox Jews.] }


The interested reader may want to read the following articles at www.talkreason.org that address similar issues.

Do We Need God to Explain Jewish Survival
PROHIBITION TO THINK
Explaining the Unclear by the Incomprehensible 

And the book Bondage of the Mind by Gold.

{ From Gold - here are some salient issues regarding Jewish Survival:

A) The Basques have survived  even in their own homeland. The Parsi and Armenians have also survived. Are we compelled to posit a God to explain why those cultures and peoples survived for such long periods ?

B) Any people's history can be described as highly improbable. Consider the course of the British history where they defeat Rome and go on to become a world empire. 

C) Any given 10 year period of Jewish history requires no miracles for it's explanation. Rather each period can be explained thru natural explanations and events. So by adding up all the 10 year periods you have natural explanations for the entire Jewish history. }

Continued in Part Two

Related Posts Proof of God from Prophecy , Proof of God from Israel 

3 comments:

John Sanders said...

Nice essay. You make some good points.

fizzix said...

Falasha is considered a very derogatory term. I recommend changing it to the preferred term, Beta-Israel

Alter Cocker Jewish Atheist said...

@fizzix - I meant no derogation to the Beta-Israel - as you can see in the Post. It was the term used when I grew up and I had no Idea about the new political correct term. Apology to anybody I may have offended.