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No longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview and understanding of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. 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. IF YOU GET A MESSAGE THAT THE POST IS MISSING - LOOK FOR IT IN THE INDEX or search or the date is found in the address.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Explanations of Pagan Customs in Judaism with some notes on Maimonides Part 2

It is essential to read this post  Explanations of Pagan Customs in Judaism with some notes on Maimonides Part I before proceeding. Sources and Documentation are listed throughout or at the end of this post.

This post will continue with- 

Some Torah and Pagan comparisons;  A critique of some of Rambam’s explanations; Related Issues

J) See this post Circumcision and Maimonides  where Rambam reasons for circumcision are challenged, and also for some additional critique of the practice.

K) Citing Rambam Page 331

"We are told to offer up prayers to God, in order to establish firmly the true principle that God takes notice of our ways, that He can make them successful if we worship Him, or disastrous if we disobey Him, that [success and failure] are not the result of chance or accident. "

Other ancient near east (ANE) religions also prayed to the gods. Rambam states that god interferes in the world because somebody prays to god.  How is this different than other ANE religions who believed likewise ?

L) Citing Rambam Page 358

“The anointing oil (Exod. xxx. 22-33) served a double purpose : to give the anointed object a good odour, and to produce the impression that it was something great, holy, and distinguished, and better than other objects of the same species ; it made no difference whether that object was a human being, a garment, or a vessel. All this aimed at producing due respect towards the Sanctuary, and indirectly fear of God.”

( - This custom was older than the Hebrews. El-Amarna Tablet No. 37 tells of the anointing of a king.)

[Other cultures also had rituals involving anointing. For example see this post Passover]

M) Citing Rambam Page 358

"Since many beasts were daily slaughtered in the holy place, the flesh cut in pieces and the entrails and the legs burnt and washed, the smell of the place would undoubtedly have been like the smell of slaughter-houses, if nothing had been done to counteract it. They were therefore commanded to burn incense there twice every day, in the morning and in the evening (Exod. xxx. 7, 8), in order to give the place and the garments of those who officiated there a pleasant odour."

{(  It is an open question whether the ancient Hebrews ascribed to this incense any special efficacy in banning demons (comp. Tobit vi. 1-7); but in any case the offering of incense was widely practiced in the ancient Oriental religions. That it was a common adjunct of Egyptian worship is evident from the fact that in the representations of worship the king is nearly always pictured with a censer in his hand offering incense. Enormous quantities of spices were used for this purpose every year by the temples. According to one list, King Rameses III. presented during the thirty-one years of his reign 368,461 jars and 1,933,766 pieces of incense, honey, and oil (Erman, "Egypten," p. 407). Incense is mentioned just as frequently in the Babylonian-Assyrian cult.)}

Moreover, the Torah could have reduced  the number of animal sacrifices and thus significantly decreased the odor, if there was indeed an objectionable one.

It is possible the incense  may have had a psychoactive effect, but this needs further research. For example from  "A 2008 study 
reported that frankincense smoke was a psychoactive drug that relieves depression and anxiety in mice." 

The Anchor Bible Exodus 19-40 William Propp 2006 discusses incense Beginning on page 512 provides numerous reasons and facts about incense including: 
“In Mesopotamia an incense burner was placed directly before the divine presence...”

“The Mesopotamians believed that aromatics could dispel impurity and attract the divine..."

“Canaanite temples similarly featured incense installations before the sacred cellae or niches housing the divine image....”

Incense can placate god and avert a plagues - as in Numbers 17:
12 And Aaron Took as Moses spoke partner network, and ran into the Midst of the assembly; and, behold, the plague was Begun Among the people; and he put on the incense, and made ​​Atonement for the people.
13 And he Stood Between the dead and the living; and the plague was Stayed.
 Clouds are a medium for gods manifestation as in Levit :16:2

Leviticus16: 2 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Speak unto Aaron thy brother, That he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover Which is upon the ark; That he die not; for I Appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover.

Propp explains sizzling flesh has an appealing odor and so incense was not to cover stench. There was the possibility for it as an insect repellent or to perfume the environment to attract god. Also to scent and thus remind people of the Temple.

N) Citing Rambam Page 359-360

" Ye shall bring your offering of the cattle [viz.], of the herd and of the flock (Lev. I. 2). Thus the very act which is considered by the heathen as the greatest crime, is the means of approaching God, and obtaining His pardon for our sins."

Rambam writes that in general cattle are not sacrificed by Idolaters.

Yet we know other ancient cultures also sacrificed cattle such as oxen and sheep {ETA and goats }no different than the Torah.

{ETA 3/22-24/2014 It is known goats, bulls, cows and sheep  are were sacrificed by several  cultures  in the ancient near east - see for example page 347, 348, 358 the book Ancient Near East Texts Relating to the Old Testament by James Pritchard -1955 second edition corrected and enlarged . That book also provides numerous ANE Bible parallels.} 

Furthermore, Numbers 15:3-16 says burned flesh produces an odor pleasing to god. (Page 313 of  The Jewish Study Bible Berlin And Brettler editors 2004). 

Why should cattle sacrifice obtain pardon of sins ? Wouldn’t charity be better ?

On Page 360 Rambam writes the Idolaters did not sacrifice unleavened bread, thus the Torah prohibits leavened bread sacrifices. 

But on  Page 169 of  Sparks he mentions the Ugaritic Festival of First Wine and one of it's  features is the use of  UNLEAVENED Bread in sacrifices.}.

O) Citing Rambam Page 366

"The goat [of the Day of Atonement] that was sent [into the wilderness] (Lev. xvi. 20, seq.) served as an atonement for all serious transgressions more than any other sin-offering of the congregation. As it thus seemed to carry off all sins, it was not accepted as an ordinary sacrifice to be slaughtered, burnt,
or even brought near the Sanctuary ; it was removed as far as possible, and sent forth into a waste, uncultivated, uninhabited land. There is no doubt that sins cannot be carried like a burden, and taken off the shoulder of one being to be laid on that of another being. But these ceremonies are of a symbolic character, and serve to impress men with a certain idea, and to induce them to repent; as if to say, we have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible."

Here Rambam seems to disregard the actual Torah words see verse 22 in the next paragraph.. The goat actually bears the iniquities. This is no mere symbolism. See my post on Azazel and Yom Kippur for more ANE parallels.

Leviticus 16: 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness. 22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness

P) Citing Rambam Page  366

"As regards the offering of wine (Num. xv. 5, seq), I am at a loss to find a reason why God commanded it, since idolaters brought wine as an offering."

Rambam is correct that some Idolaters did use wine in their ceremonies.

Numbers 15:3-16 says burned flesh produces an odor pleasing to god. (Page 313 of The Jewish Study Bible Berlin And Brettler editors 2004). 

I will note that included within in the above verses is the suggestion that wine offering also produces a pleasing odor which may mean to god as in verse 3.  Verse 3 is about flesh and it states "..producing an odor pleasing to god."  This would provide one reason for the wine sacrifice.

Another reason is a possible Dionysus connection.  Recall wine is used in many Orthodox Jewish rituals.

Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, wine making and wine. According to an article in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament June 2011 vol. 35 no. 4 387-415: Was Yahweh Worshiped in the Aegean? by Nissim Amzallag - Here is the abstract - "A comparison of Aegean and biblical sources reveals striking similarities between Dionysus and Yahweh: both are characterized by the same symbols, the same mode of action and the same theophany; both provoked a comparable doubt concerning their divine nature and/or their actual powers; and both had the same subversive effects with regard to the official pantheon. The homology between Yahweh and Dionysus is confirmed by their common vestigial link to copper metallurgy. From Greek literary sources and reflections about the continuous metallurgical influence of Canaan on the Aegean world, it is concluded that during the Bronze Age Dionysus was probably the Aegean counterpart of Yahweh, the mysterious Canaanite god of furnace metallurgy. Further examination suggests that the popularization of the cult of Dionysus in Greece, from the ninth century BCE, underwent a similar process leading in Canaan to the emergence of the Israelite alliance. These findings open new horizons of investigation, both of the ancient Aegean civilization and of the nature of the popular cult of Yahweh in Canaan prior to the monotheistic reform."

In ancient times grapes and wine were closely connected with gods.

Q) Citing Rambam Page  372

"The object of Nazaritism (Num. vi.) is obvious. It keeps away from wine that has ruined people in ancient and modern times." "In the law about the Nazarite we notice even the prohibition,he shall eat nothing that is made of the vine tree (Num vi. 4), as an additional precaution, implying the lesson that man must take of wine only as much as. absolutely necessary.”

Three restrictions are imposed upon the Nazarite, according to Num. vi.: he may not take wine, or anything made from grapes; he may not cut the hair of his head; he may not touch the dead, not even the body of his father or mother.
Note (Parallels to the long hair of the Nazarites are found in many parts of the world (comp. W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., pp. 332, 482; Frazer, "Golden Bough," 2d ed., I. 362-389)}

[Clearly Rambam's explanation can not be the complete explanation because grapes and not just wine are restricted, and thus his suggestion that this is too teach a precaution about excess wine does not fully follow. And why the hair cut prohibition which Rambam ignores. The latter is an ancient superstitions and is found in the Nazarite code.]

On page 788 Frazer VI- "Again we see that in folk tales a mans's soul or strength is sometimes represented as bound up with his a hair, and that when his hair is cut off he dies or grows weak." He includes for example the natives of Amboyna who thought their strength was in their hair which deserts them if it were shorn.

R) Citing Rambam Page  379

"It is prohibited for an Israelite that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off (Deut. xxiii. 2), to marry an Israelitish woman ; because the sexual intercourse is of no use and of no purpose ; and that marriage would be a source of ruin to her, and to him who would claim her."

Deuteronomy Chapter 23:2 He that is crushed or maimed in his privy parts shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD. 

1) If  Rambam’s has provided the understanding and reasons for the law I would argue the law is unjust for at least 2 reasons. Procreation is not the sole reason for marriage. The Torah writes  in Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said: 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. Second, this law is discriminatory towards certain injured and or disabled people.

2) Rambam’s understanding of the law may be incorrect and this lead him to incorrect reasons. The verse may actually be referring to a sort of public legislature and not to the greater society. Eunuchs served as officials in near east bureaucracies and so are prohibited. (JPS page 418). 

This post is continued in Explanations of Pagan Customs in Judaism with some notes on Maimonides Part 3


Sources additional Documentation and Information - REPEATED from Part I.

Beginning Page 207 Ancient Texts For The Study of The Hebrew Bible - Kenton Sparks 2005)
Regarding Leviticus 11-15-

The dietary laws: Clean .vs. Unclean - very close to ancient near east views. The Clean species - animals of domestic flock and herds. The unclean - Dog, swine in Hittite.

Body fluids discharges - Normal biological or Illness creates ritual uncleanness in The near east. 

Hittite priests - if engage in sex it creates unclean and needs a ritual bath. Similar to Leviticus 15:16-18

Skin Infections, Fungus on things - like the ANE neighbors you consult a priest. Mesopotamia and Israelites - priest diagnoses based on fungal color and prescribe treatment and PERFORM elimination rites like in Levit 13:47-50, 14:33-57

Regarding Levit 17,21,22 "Hittite priestly instructions include many rules of this sort as well as similar warnings about DIVINE PUNISHMENT THAT WOULD RESULT IF  THE RULES ARE CONTRAVENED". [My capitals]

Regarding Levit 24:1-9 perpetual presentation of 12 loaves of bread. This pa parallels to Mesopotamia practice a) 12 loaf offerings b) presenting meals to gods on trays


Religions of the Ancient Near East - Helmer Ringgron (TRANSLATED by J. Sturdy) 1973

Page 159 - "A number of Temples display a ground plan similar to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem"

Page 121 REGARDING Assyrian and Babylonian religion:
" It is known that life or the BREATH of life is a gift of the gods, who also have the power to take it back." [My capitalization. Such a notion is found in Genesis ...]

Page 160 From the Ras Shamra texts of the Baal myths - To give authority he needs a house or place usually called Bait or Bet the usual word for Temple. "This shows clearly that The Temple was treated in The first place as the dwelling  of the god or his official residence". Like the jews, the Temple Atargatis held 2 sacrifices per day.

Page 166 From the Ras Shamra texts - Baal has Khnm priests like Kohnim Hebrew. Kohen in Phoenician and Punic inscriptions.


Religions of the Ancient Near East - Helmer Ringgron (Translated by J. Sturdy) 1973

Page 159 - "A number of Temples display a ground plan similar to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem"

Page 121 Regarding Assyrian and Babylonian religion:
" It is known that life or the BREATH of life is a gift of the gods, who also have the power to take it back." [My capitalization. Such a notion is found in Genesis ...]


JPS  - Jewish Publication Society Jewish Study Bible 2004 Berlin and Brettler

OTP - Old Testament Parallels  by Victor Mathews and Don Benjamin 

Frazer VI - The Golden Bough by  James Frazer Volume I abridged edition 1922, 1979 - fifteenth printing.) 

Kugel - How to Read the Bible by James Kugel 2007

Rambam - Maimonides (Rambam 12th century) in his Guide for the Perplexed ( my edition translated from the original arabic edition, revised throughout (Eighth Impression) second edition published 1904, reprinted in 1956)

Sparks - Ancient Texts For The Study of The Hebrew Bible - Kenton Sparks 2005)

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