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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, June 23, 2014

Kuzari Part 3

Updated Thru 8/23/2015

A Plausible Natural Explanation for the Eventual Acceptance by Some Jews of the Exodus-Sinai Story

This is a continuation of  my discussion of the Kuzari argument begun at Kuzari principle or argument part 1.

{ Kuzari proponents claim the Sinai revelation was unique therefore it is true. Besides other fallacies here are two that should be stressed 1) They draw a target around the Sinai conditions to exclude every other myth. But you can do the same for almost every other myth. (The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy). 2) A hypothesis is not accepted as true because we have failed to provide a counter example}

Through out all periods charismatic leaders or ruling parties (politicians, kings, and the clergy) can influence the public and even sometimes deliberately mislead the public. This is true today, but was easier in ancient times where the ruling party controlled the press (including holy books) and information was not as widespread or easily checked.  People would welcome stories about their history or stories explaining predicaments. They may not have been as skeptical especially if the official story was "encouraged" or sounded good.

A small ruling party  may believe a story or even utilize a  known false myth. And the ruling party has the ability to eventually gain wide acceptance of the myth.

The introduction above is self evident and hardly controversial.

I am going to apply similar reasoning to provide a plausible natural explanation for the evolution of the Exodus-Sinai stories and their eventual acceptance by many Jewish people. 

Contrary to what Kuzari proponents argue, there are an ample number of religion givers, law givers, leaders and or reformers in Israel's history including: Abraham, Moses, Aaron, King Hezekiah, King Josiah and Hilkiah (the scroll finder), Ezra the Scribe-Law giver, and Nehemiah (Governer). Ezra had the power backing of the powerful Persian empire to enforce a dogma.

Before proceeding lets establish a few relevant ancient near east Torah parallels (support is provided here and in Kuzari Part 2,  which should also be read).

1) "The various religions of ancient Israel, [ and some] of its neighbors: (1) knew of divine covenant partners; (2) used blood to
consolidate kinship groups; (3) engaged in bloodletting
curse rituals; and (4) knew of divine meals." From Covenant and Blood Rituals: Understanding Exodus 24:3–8 in Its
Ancient Near Eastern Context by Theodore J. Lewis, Department of Near Eastern Studies, The Johns Hopkins University

2) Split Sea Parallels 

2a) Roman Soldiers during the capture of  New Carthage saw their comrades wading through a lagoon believed the sea-god was opening a way for them thru the water. (Page 460 Folk Lore in the Old Testament Volume 2  by James Frazier 1919).

2b)  “In 479 BC, when Persian soldiers besieged the Greek city of Potidaea, the tide retreated much farther than usual, leaving a convenient invasion route. But this wasn't a stroke of luck. Before they had crossed halfway, the water returned in a wave higher than anyone had ever seen, drowning the attackers. The Potiidaeans believed they had been saved by the wrath of Poseidon. But what really saved them was likely the same phenomenon that has destroyed countless others: a tsunami.” ( I am relying on wiki for this and need to check sources).

3) The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament by Richard Clifford 1972 

[Exodus 24: 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said: 'Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you in agreement with all these words.' 9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness. 11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; and they beheld God, and did eat and drink.]

Page 112 In Exodus Moses and the elders eat and drink - a feast on the mountain like those given by Baal and El. In Exodus beneath the feet of God is Lapis Lazuli. And we find Baals palace in Zaphon also has Lapis Lazuli. [Clifford uses Lapis Luzuli instead of sapphire in his translation.]

Page 125 A Hittite version of a Canaanite myth represents El as living in a tent; similarly "Israel's early tradition represents Yahweh manifesting himself in a miskan and ohel"

4) Gods and God theophanies were associated with mountains, storms and fire. For example in the Ras Shamra texts El the supreme god of the Canaanite and Ugaritic pantheon inhabited the mountain of the North. 

5) Other cultures had claims of  a divine sanctioned code. 

6) From the Bible and the Ancient Near East by Gordon and Rendsburg 4th edition page 144 Several Egyptian texts refer to Yhw in the land of the nomads in the same general region as Sinai, Edom... Yhw=Yahwe was a diety associated with the desert region separating Egypt and Canaan. There are Tenach verses that also support that notion. 

7) { Volcanoes may also be associated with Gods. For example "The Maasai people live near an active volcano 
called Oldoinyo Lengai (meaning ‘mountain of God’; cf. Exod. 3.1), and they worship a deity called Engai or Enkai. When the volcano erupts, the Maasai think their god is angry. In order to expiate Engai’s anger, the Maasai people dance and placate him with prayers" From A God of Volcanoes: Did Yahwism Take Root in Volcanic Ashes? Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 2014 38: 387  by Jacob E. Dunn}

{W. F. Albright suggests the Sinai  theophany could have been influenced by folk "memories of volcano
eruptions (preserved in myth or metaphor), combined with more
recent recollections of terrific thunderstorms in the mountains of
Northwestern Arabia or Syria."   From the Stone Age to Christianity, p. 262.}

{Numerous cultures associated volcanic mountains, volcanoes with supernatural beings/gods. For example here are just two. The volcanic Hawaiian goddess Pele has a mountain named after her. The Roman god Vulcan - a volcanic and fire god.}

{ETA 8/23/2015  We should not be surprised that ancient people would attribute thunder to be the voice of god. For example the Pygmies of Africa sometimes attribute thunder to be the voice of god. Page 202 Revisiting My Pygmy Hosts by Paul Schebesta 1936 translated by Gerald Griffin}

Now lets proceed with our task. For the Exodus - Sinai stories we solely have a story in the Bible and no witnesses to question. We are quite certain there were not 600000 plus people at a  revelation. (Overwhelming consensus of archaeologists and historians - there was no mass Exodus Kuzari Part 2 ). There may have been some Canaanite/Semetic and other peoples that over time were enslaved in Egypt.  Some of those people had kindred tribes, kin and tribal members that resided in Canaan and the surrounding regions.

Thus there may have been a small tribe and or small group of people that escaped Egypt even during plagues with the help of  the charismatic leaders Moses and Aaron. Moses may even have led them thru a desert trek with some narrow escapes.  Moses and the people were in a severe physical and psychological stressed desperate state.  A volcano and or a violent storm could convince these ancient distressed people it’s a revelation of  god. Moses could then claim a divine sanctioned code.  God has chosen them as his people and will protect them. Moses need not have been lying. He may have been in deep meditation which could have been associated with divine communication. Moreover, Moses was trying to literally save a rag tag group of unruly rebellious desperate people. It is not far fetched that out of desperation Moses came to believe or created a story that was given to the people. Given their condition it is not far fetched they would accept the hope being promised to them.  I am providing a plausible scenario fairly close to Torah text that results in a small group of people coming to accept the belief in a revelation with a divine text. Nothing miraculous or unreasonable so far.

Recall this small group of people had kin in Canaan.  They may then have settled peacefully or thru skirmish/minor wars into parts of Canaan. (Overwhelming consensus of archaeologists and historians - there was no mass conquest of Canaan see Kuzari Part 2 )The Exodus-Sinai  story may then have spread to other tribes - thru tribal skirmishes/minor wars  and or peacefully like the spread of urban myths.  Or the small tribe may have rose to power and dominated the ruling / priestly class of Canaan or perhaps just influenced it greatly. That class had the means to spread acceptance of the stories. Or perhaps the small tribe just increased in population over time. No doubt intermarriage was taking place that also help spread the stories. Threats of or actual  invasion by larger civilizations could have led people to believe in such stories (see Ghost Dance Kuzari Part 2). Myths could  unite the various tribes and denominations in ancient Canaan. Perhaps some combination above  gave rise to a wider acceptance of the stories. 

There were many ancient Israelites who worshiped other gods which lends support to the notion there may have been resistance to the myth acceptance (this is well documented in the Tenach). Over time the recalcitrants were eliminated or disappeared - and the Torah encourages just that.

There is nothing unreasonable in my outline. It is fairly consistent with the Tenach;  ancient near east culture; human societies. It provides a plausible scenario for the eventual acceptance of the Exodus- Sinai stories by some Jews. Given the choice between any reasonable natural explanation and a supernatural explanation, the former is to be preferred. 

And there are other plausible scenarios as well, perhaps to be discussed in future posts. 

{The scenario would also work if there were thousands of witnesses to the Volcano event. Ancient people, even thousands of them could ascribe a Volocanic event to a God.  Group think and 'encouragement' by the Leaders would reduce objectors.}

Some May Raise an Objection Why Hasn’t Another Revelation Story Happened  ? 

Even if the Exodus-Sinai story is unique and nothing like it has ever been recorded (in our very incomplete record of ancient myths), it does not mean the Exodus- Sinai story  is true or even likely true. But as has been previously documented and will be mentioned  later in this post there are actually some parallels to essential parts of the Torah story.  Also see Kuzari part 1 White Buffalo Calf Women and  Kuzari Part  2  Castor and Pollux for two examples of claimed supernatural revelations.

Moreover, every claimed revelation or miracle is unique in some fashion - that does not make them true or even likely true. It just means they are unique.

Nor is this a laboratory experiment with controlled similar conditions where we expect repetition of outcomes. It involved a small group of ancient superstitious escaped slaves; desperate in a desert; led by a charasmatic leader; having kin in a relatively small country; threatened by invasions, actual invasions, exiles.... How often do such situations occur that we can make meaningful calculations ? Nevertheless, some features of the Exodus-Sinai story can be found in other cultures. 

Myth acceptance happens but the myth details vary. Each culture is unique and develops its own mythology which may or may not include a revelation but has other false or miraculous features. Moreover, there was only a brief period in history when these kinds of myths could have developed and we are not aware of many of them. Many of myths were passed on orally and there are few ancient texts that are preserved. In short, our sample size may be too small to draw strong conclusions. Nevertheless, the Exodus - Sinai stories and the Torah share elements with other known myths and so are not as unusual as Kuzari proponents claim. 

Even more recently there have been phenomena that have been attributed to divine revelations, therefore we should be that much more suspect of the Torah claims when we can not question the witnesses. 

Our Lady of Zeitoun, Our Lady of Assiut, Our Lady of Warraq, Our Lady Fatima: include mass Marian apparitions, sick and blind claimed cured in one, and a prophecy that came true in another. Arguably these are superior claims to Sinai because they occurred in modern times and we also know the head counts. Also, some witnesses who were not Christian converted to Christianity as a result of at least one of the revelations.

Even in modern times people accept miracles even when scientific evidence is presented that no miracle has occurred ! See for example 

Humans can be misled, mistaken and gullible. An argument based on how humans may have reacted in ancient times when people were superstitious and lacked science does not provide a strong base for an argument.


A 2013 fact : A normally 4000 year old stationary statue that was an offering to the God Osiris  has been spinning without anybody moving it.

Imagine something like this happening a few thousand years ago. They would say we have never heard of something like this before. It is unusual, it is unnatural, so it must be supernatural. Let us worship Osiris. 

First, maybe in their limited experience it has never happened before, but if they possessed information over many  countries, many periods, many various sized statues on many types of pedestals maybe  it would not be so unusual. In short too limited sample size.  Second, they were ignorant and were unable to investigate  the matter scientifically. For example is there something special about the statues material such as high iron ore concentrations ? Was the Earth’s magnetic filed particularly strong at the location of the statute ? Were there very minor tremors causing the statue to spin on it’s smooth pedestal ? I am not offering magnetism or tremors as the explanation of the moving statue, but showing lack of knowledge can lead to incorrect conclusions. Third, they should not be plugging supernatural explanations for lack of knowledge - this is known as the fallacious argument from incredulity: ‘We  can't imagine how an occurrence could occur or be explained by natural causes. Hence the occurrence must be supernatural.'

The Kuzari argument suffer from similar flaws.}

Lets assume we have a sufficient sample size of myths and we accept the claim the Exodus Sinai story is in a class by itself. We can then calculate the actual probability of the Exodus Sinai story as  unity divided by some large number - this would be a very low figure.  The Kuzari then proceeds to argue since the Exodus-Sinai story has such a low calculated probability it is "unnatural" (meaning it is supernatural).  I will still argue we should not accept the Exodus-Sinai story as true !

This is because that calculated probability must be compared to the probability of supernatural intervention which for the sake of argument lets assume is unknown. Since it is unknown it may be higher or lower than the calculated probability of the Exodus Sinai story.  Therefore we are stuck and can not make a decision. Moreover, I would argue the probability of supernatural intervention is extremely low and lower than the calculated probability of the Exodus Sinai revelation because there is no scientific evidence for any supernatural beings or supernatural interventions. It's calculation is zero from an empiricaly verifiable standpoint. (Also no "philosophical" proof withstands scrutiny).  

In addition, "unique" events or low probability events do occur in history and it does not imply supernatural. We can split hairs over what unique means.

 Continued Kuzari Argument Part 4

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