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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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kuzari Argument Part 4

Updated thru 10/28/2015

Another 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.

This post is going to assume you have read  Kuzari Part 3 , and  is inspired by Theodore Reik’s book  Mystery on the Mountain 1959. (Sources are at  end of post or within it). Reik was a Jewish Psychiatrist who was a student of Sigmund Freud who Reik called his master, his teacher. Freud also wrote a book called Moses and Monotheism which is also worth reading. Both of these eminent psychiatrists provide psychological, historical and academic based  explanations of the origins of Judaism and both are worth reading, even though they are a bit dated. (Side Note: Freud's theories have been unjustly criticized as William Propp explains in The Anchor Bible Exodus.) 

Background Information

1) In ancient times Gods were associated with fire.  Consider  Prometheus. And not just Prometheus there are numerous associations of Yahweh with fire thru out the Tenach. Here are a several examples. Leviticus 10 and Numbers 11 attributes a fire from Yahweh that kills.

Levit 10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

Exodus 3:1  Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said: 'I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' 4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moses, Moses.' And he said: 'Here am I.

Genesis 19:24 Then the LORD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

Exodus 9:23 And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven; and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down unto the earth; 

Numbers 11:1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. 2 And the people cried unto Moses; and Moses prayed unto the LORD, and the fire abated.

{Propp Page 36 “Fire is the medium in which Yahweh appears on the terrestrial plane: in the burning bush (3:2), in the cloud pillar (13:21-22, 14:24), atop Mount Sinai (19:18, 24:17) and upon the tabernacle (40:38).”   “It is possible epitomize the entire story Exodus as the movement of the fiery manifestation of the divine presence (greenberg 1969:16-17)” } [Propp’s verse numbering may vary from other sources]

2) Many scholars give credence to Kenite/Midianite Hypothesis for the Origins of Yahwism. (That hypothesis is not essential to the development of my post though). Those scholars have established a relationship between Yahweh, the Kenites-Midianites and Moshe. The Kenites-Midianites were  smiths and this suggests they would {ETA 10/28/2015  or potentially had reason to }associate a deity with smoke and fire. There are gods associated with smithing for example the Greek Hephaestus or the Celtic Gofannon and others as well.

Page 37 in Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright 1968 - metal working was a specialty of the Midianite group among whom Moses settled.

3) My prior Kuzari posts have repudiated the “uniqueness” argument as a proof that the Sinai revelation is true. Moreover,  Reik suggests the Exodus narrative and Sinai revelation has general similarity to A) Puberty rites and festivals of ancient peoples  B) Initiation rites of secret societies and mystery religions. [I will note circumcision plays an important role in Passover and among some cultures was associated with puberty rites.]

Interested readers may read his book for the many similarities. 

Here are just a couple.  

Reik Page 157 At Sinai covenant there are "very primitive ceremonies and symbolisms... the rites of the sacrificial meal and of the sprinkling of blood on the altar and the people thus uniting
God and his worshippers... The origin of the blood covenant is to be found in the initiation into the secret societies of brotherhoods between members of different tribes. This means that the covenant presents a form developed from the primitive groups united by certain laws and customs and introduced into the cult of gods. We learned that the secret societies are intertribal and comprise members of different dans and people and that a god is regarded as the third participant to the covenant."

Reik Page 91 "The idea of a covenant
between a god or in totemistic tribes, an animal guardian and
individuals is not alien to primitive tribes. In the puberty rites of the
American Indians the young men who obtain such an animal guardian,
or manito, often draw blood from different parts of their bodies
to seal their compact with the totem. The Indians of Honduras
offered their blood to their nagual, ‘whereupon such friendship was
contracted between them that, when one of them died, the other did
not survive.'  We have here a primitive kind of blood union with
the deity. Blood plays a special role in sealing the compact with Yahweh."

4) Reik Page 126 “I remind the reader of the explanation
of B. D. Eerdmans who pointed out the activity of the Kenites, those desert smiths who "stage-managed" the theophany on the Sacred Mountain. They provided the sound and fury of Yahweh's appearance by striking the iron while it was hot.”

5) Reik Page 69 “Pedersen concludes that the [Sinai] story
has an artificial character also, from the ease ‘with which the narrator lets Moses pass up and down the mountain again and again, sometimes quite superfluously, about a matter that has already been arranged.’ There are at least two points that cannot be explained as effects of Yahweh's power upon nature. They have to be considered as produced by human beings: the blasts of trumpets and the torches.”

Reik Page 70 "Our conclusion is dear: the descent of the Lord on Mount Sinai appears in the description of Exodus as a series of human actions."

A Plausible Scenario 

Recall,  after the Exodus Moses and the people were in a severe physical and psychological stressed desperate state.  They were also predisposed to believe in supernatural beings.

They needed a guarantee, a contract that a God would abide with them, save them and provide a home land. I am not assuming the ancient Israelites had accepted Yahweh as their god yet. It is possible the intent behind the ‘revelation’ was to convert the Israelites and the mixed multitude to Yahwism.

Moses, (perhaps with the Levites and or the Elders) together with the Kenites- Midianites (smiths) were going to invoke Yahweh/make him manifest/ bring him down to the Mountain by: having the Israelites prepare for the event (by purifying themselves), making pillars of smoke, making  fires, blowing the Shofar, banging gongs, and hammering molten metal plates on the mountain;  all on a very large scale. By these actions it was believed Yahweh would become manifest, and in the ruckus of smoke, fire, divine sounds  and in desperation it could be believed Yahweh (associated with fire) had ‘revealed’ himself. 

On the one hand I am not advocating pious fraud by Moses and his cohorts. Rather, they sincerely believed in Yahweh and the possibility of invoking Yahweh in a revelation to the people. They even may have believed they accomplished it. They even could have convinced many of the ancient Israelites it was accomplished. On the other hand it could have involved pious fraud- for the sake of giving hope and uniting a rebellious infighting group of people. Leaders have been known to mislead in the public interest.  

Having the Israelites prepare for the event by purifying themselves would allow Yahweh to come down amongst them and psychologically primes them to anticipate and accept a revelation.

One is reminded of the sort of mass hypnosis that Adolf Hitler used to sway many Germans at the impressive Nazi rallies and spectacles. Interestingly many Nazi marches, spectacles and crimes utilized fire ! The Reichstag Fire, Nazi book burnings, and the Holocaust to name a few. Many Germans already had latent antisemitism, many were desperate (lost WWI, hyperinflation, economic depression)  and were predisposed to Hitler’s rantings.

And Exodus supplies us many clues that human agents are involved in staging the ‘revelation’. The event was pre-planned with a three day notice. The people could not approach the mountain on the threat of death by stoning. This would shield the ‘stage hands’, but also protect the people from the pyrotechnics and other special effects. Torches are seen thru the smoke. There was a chorus of voices. Banging gongs, Hammering molten  metal plates. Blowing Shofers (special horns). Smoke ascending as if from furnace(s). For important information and support of these comments see the commentary on Exodus 19-21 below. 

In short, this post has provided another  plausible scenario fairly close to Torah text that results in a small group of people coming to accept the belief in a ‘revelation’ with some divine laws. {ETA 10/28/2015  Actually, many thousands could been involved in witnessing the demonstration and coming to accept a revelation.}There is nothing in the ‘revelation’ that seems un-natural or miraculous. Reik’s (and other academic scholars ) hypothesis of a human  staged event is very plausible especially compared to supernatural explanations. How the story could have spread is explained in Kuzari part 3. 

Important Additional Information and Supporting Comments on Exodus 19-21

Exodus 19: 10 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments, 11 and be ready against the third day; for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. 

Psychologically primes the people for the upcoming event. Also, the people must be ritually clean because Yahweh will not come down to a contaminated people. A staged event would have a planned date. 

12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying: Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death; 13 no hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live; when the ram's horn soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.' 

Primes the people but also creates a shield so that the ‘stage hands’ will not be seen. Simultaneously protects spectators from pyrotechnics and special effects.

14 And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said unto the people: 'Be ready against the third day; come not near a woman.' 

Psychologically primes the people.  In addition, Yahweh will not come down to a ritually unclean people, so Moshe does his best to have the people  purified.

16 And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were quoloth [see comments below] and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [see comments below] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. 

17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. 

{Propp:  Page 164  translates quoloth as sounds, but then suggests thunder. He also writes  “The noun qol may denote human voice, the sound of an instrument or any noise at all.” Horns sound - “Perhaps there were many.” }

Cassuto page 231 - regarding quoloth - literally Voices. But he translates it to thunders.

{Reik Page 70 “The sounds that are heard are called "quoloth," a word meaning sounds caused by men, animals, wind, and so on. The translation ‘thunders’  is arbitrary since no thunderstorm is described. “}

19 And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. 
Shofer (horn) or certain other noise making instruments are  associated with the gods.  A voice or a chorus (from the Kenites-Midianites and or the Levites and or the Elders)  may have answered Moses. Veiled by mountain outcroppings and a smokey fiery blaze: perhaps a chorus in a trance shouted; gongs were banged and molten metal plates hammered; Shofers blown. All or some are interpreted as Yahweh’s voice. In a seance it is claimed the person’s spirit is speaking. Some Christian sects speak in tongues. 

Reik Page 83 “The great philosopher Maimonides (1125-1204) argues that the Lord spoke to Moses, not to the people who heard only a mighty sound, "a great voice" and not distinct words. The Israelites perceived only the first two commandments in the same manner as Moses.”

Reik Page 84 “Another commentator, the Jewish theologian, Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865) is not satisfied with Maimonides' explanation: if people heard only sounds, they did not hear the first commandments either. “

{Reik Page 76 “..the  curved horn of the ram called
shofar plays a role in Judaism quite similar to that of the bull-roarer
in the ceremonies of the Australian natives. It is a sacred instrument, which women and children were originally forbidden to hear. Thisvery primitive wind instrument sounded terrifying on Sinai before law was given to the Children of Israel.”  

“It does not need much sagacity to conclude that the voice the people heard out of the fire is the very sound of the ram's horn. It will not
contradict, but rather confirm this conclusion when other biblical
passages state: ‘And the Lord God shall blow the trumpet’(Zech.
9:14). The sound of the shofar is the sound of the God Yahweh
of the Hebrews just as the sound of the bull-roarer is the voice' of
Daramulum or Balum of the Australian aborigines.”

“We shall not follow here the track leading back to the comparison
of the totemistic god of the Australian primitives with the prehistoric
belief of the Hebrews in a horned deity, a bull or a ram. It is,
however, God's voice that sounds through the shofar, the ram's horn.
‘Yahweh roars,’ says the prophet Amos.
The Kenites blew the trumpets on Mount Sinai as later the rabbis
.were to blow the shofar on festival days, thus unconsciously imitating
Yahweh who is calling all Children of Israel. “

“The god of the Kenites with whom the Hebrew tribes fused was Yahweh, the fire-god of
Sinai. But the Kenites traced their origin back to Cain and to Cain's
descendant who was Jubal, the first musician (Gen. 4:21 ). His name
has the same root as jobel which signifies ram's horn or trumpet.” }

Reik Page 70 “The trumpets, the
torches, the fire, lead to the suggestion of the human origin of those sounds by hammering on metal plates [recall - Kenites as smiths] or gongs.”

20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. 21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. 

Indeed get burned - from the smoke and fire of the staged event.

22 And let the priests also, that come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.' 23 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'The people cannot come up to mount Sinai; for thou didst charge us, saying: Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.' 24 And the LORD said unto him: 'Go, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest He break forth upon them.' 25 So Moses went down unto the people, and told them.

‘...lest He break forth...” as fire emanating from Yahweh  as in Levit 10, Numbers 11?

Exodus Chapter 20

1 And God spoke all these words, saying:  2 I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. 3 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;...13 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors's house;  thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. 

14 And all the people perceived the quoloth [see comments  above], and the lappidim [plural of lappid -see comments below], and the voice of the horn [see comments above], and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. 

Chabad translates lappidim as Torches.

{Propp  Page 184 Lappidim - torches. Deities may bear torches, or are themselves flambeaux (Akkadian parallels). Rabin supports the derivation from Hittite Lappiya - shining object, torch and also Greek Lampas - torch. Propp explains “The description of Sinai -Horeb as swathed in furnace smoke (19:18) and lit by torches (20:18) recalls Genesis 15:17, where the conventing divine presence is represented by a smoking oven and a fiery torch.” Alternatively Lappidim here connotes lightning. } 

{Cassuto page 253 translates Lappidim as flames, but goes on to say lightnings. }

Reik - Page 69 “Through the heavy smoke the people saw the glimmering of torches.”  Reik explains ‘lappid’ which, in all passages where it occurs, means ‘torch’.  “The translation ‘lightnings’ is not correct. The flickering of torches points to the presence of men. So does the thick cloud on the mountain described as smoke caused by a great fire. It was, of course, not a cloud descending from the sky, but a cloud of smoke ascending into the sky like the smoke cloud of a furnace.” Reik cites from Leiden's books: ‘This suggests one or more ordinary fires.’

15 And they said unto Moses: 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' 16 And Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.' 17 And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.  18 And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 19 Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you. ...22 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not uncovered thereon.}

Reik references as further support of the staged event hypothesis and Yahweh’s association with fire:

Exodus 34:29 . And it came to pass When Moses descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand When he descended from the mountain and Moses did not know That the skin of His face had become radiant while He had spoken with him '   
30th . That Aaron and all the Children of Israel saw Moses and behold! the skin of his face had become radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.And it came to pass When Moses descended: When he brought the Latter [second] tablets on Yom Kippur.

{Reik page 80 “The shine on Moses face is to be understood
rather as the hardening of the skin that is exposed to fire for a long
time. Moses was together with the fire-god and his skin wears the
reflection of that prolonged stay with the Lord. Eerdmans' interpretations
seem to me to be a great extent
plausible. His emphasis on the nature of Yahweh as of an original
fire-god of the Kenites is, however, less important than his reference
to one source of the tradition in which Moses appears as a "demigod."
Other passages of the Scripture present a similar portrayal of the
"man of God." Eerdmans could have added to the biblical passages
supporting his hypothesis a psychoanalytic interpretation that leads
the concept of "shining" or hardening of Moses' face to its logical
conclusion. The changed face is the replica of Yahweh's face. In
 other words, it is a mask of the tribal god. It frightened the Children
of Israel, who were in awe of the Lord and who had asked Moses
that God should rather speak to him than to them directly because
they were frightened by the sight of Yahweh. Already Gressmann
interpreted the veil of Moses as a mask which is the countenance of
God. The veil is, so to speak, the second phase of the disguise,
following the first form of the shining countenance. According to
the concept of antiquity, in taking over Yahweh's attributes Moses
becomes the dazzling, frightening God Himself.}

And there is further support for Reik in 

{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

“William Propp argues that the usual translation of [kuf-reish-nun] (Exod. 34.30) should not be ‘horns (of light)’ or ‘radiance’, but rather ‘to blister’ or to become ‘calloused’, resulting in the following translation: ‘the skin of his face was burnt to the hardness of horn’. Thus, according to Propp, ‘[this] story honors Moses as the human most intimate with Yahweh, but it also species the price he paid’." <[William H. Propp, ‘The Skin of Moses’ Face––Disfigured or Transfigured?’, CBQ 49 (1987), pp. 375-86 >”

"If indeed Sinai is understood as an active volcano, Moses’ 
facial disfigurement no longer remains a mystery. In other words, the scorching heat from the volcanic vent near the summit likely caused his facial skin to melt, or to blister.” 

[I will clarify  - Yahweh was associated with fire whether from a volcano or otherwise hence Moses face would blister from being with Yahweh .]

Continued Kuzari Part 5

Sources and Additional Sources Cited

Cassuto - A Commentary on the Book of Exodus by U. Cassuto (Translated by Israel Abraham ) 1967 

Chabad - from Chabad’s website “15. And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.” retrieved on 7/13/2014 from

Propp - unless otherwise stated refers to The Anchor Bible Exodus 2006 by William Propp

Reik - Mystery on the Mountain by Theodore Reik 1959. 

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