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About Me

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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs - Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth

I have a great affinity for Professor Solomon Schimmel (Author of The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs - Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth) because similar to him I was born into an Orthodox Jewish milieu,  placed significance on the importance of truth and left Orthodoxy in my 20's. We both rejected Orthodox Jewish claims for some of the same reasons.  

As a 'young-en'  seeking the truth I spoke to Rabbis, sought 'proofs to our faith', 'proofs of G-d',  and read Orthodox Jewish responses to the challenges they cared to respond to. I still do !. The religious proofs and responses are a failure as has been demonstrated in my posts and will be explained more generally below.

My passion for Emes (truth) was probably instilled in me by my Orthodox Jewish upbringing. To this day I remember the lesson my Father taught to me as a very young child. Why do we so despise the Chazir (pig) ? Because the pig displays it's split hoofs and says see I am kosher. A lie, intellectual dishonesty - what a great lesson. 

The following summary is adopted,  (portions may be copied accidentally as its based on my notes of the book read a while ago),  and inspired by part of a chapter of the book The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs.

Why do gods and religions persist ? What defense mechanisms do believers use to respond to logical or empirical challenges ? What
belief maintenance mechanisms do believers use ? 

Why Do People Maintain and Protect Their Religious Belief ?

Religion may satisfy many needs: Social , emotional, psychological, and intellectual. These reinforce its hold on those socialized from birth and may attract new converts. The latter some of the most ardent defenders of the faith.

To many it provides meaning and purpose to life, hope in the face of adversity, immortality, joyful occasions, a moral code, group identity, and can explain the mysteries of the world.

Family attachment and childhood memories are integrated into the religion, guilt of betraying parents, friends, teachers, Klal Yisrael, the six million, the millions of  our ancestors butchered by (you name the countries) ...

All that results in expending much energy to defending and even using arguments they would reject purely on intellectual grounds.

There are educational, economic and financial forces encouraging the preservation of the religion. 

No doubt religion fulfills a need for many people and many societies and a complete response requires several books. Of course, none of this implies supernatural beings exist.

Why Do Certain Religions or Belief in God(s) persist even when the religion or belief is confronted with valid logical and strong counter evidence ? 

Because religious beliefs that are flexible can be more readily retained. If  there beliefs that are rigid,  there arise a strong mechanism to deny the reliability of the evidence  and admissibility of the evidence.

Here are some examples of this flexibility or rigidity:

G-d is omnipotent. If so why does he allow horrible catastrophic events to happen, like Earthquakes ? 

Religious response may include: Perhaps G-d lets nature take its course and does not interfere. Yet, the claim is made G-d does, can and has interfered. Or perhaps, G-d works in mysterious ways and he has his reasons...

How can the Torah's Genesis  have incorrect cosmology and evolution sequence ?

Religious response may include the Torah is not to be taken literally - it does not mean what it says. It really means...Or perhaps the believers may say science  shmience - the Torah has it right. But if 'science' may conform something in the bible it becomes SCIENCE proves bible had it right over 3,000 years ago.

How can a merciful  G-d allow the Holocaust ? 

Religious response maybe: The Holocaust was punishment for the sins of the Jews, or the intention was to save them from assimilation (with friends like that who needs enemies).  Or G-d allows free will. Or they may say G-d works in mysterious ways.

Archeologist are unanimous there was no mass Exodus; No mass invasion of Canaan by the Israelites; No mass wandering in the desert for 40 years. Therefore, how can Orthodox Jews believe all that ? 

Religious response maybe: Archaeology is not 'real' science (unless some discovery confirms a Biblical verse, then it becomes ARCHEOLOGY proves the bible is accurate).  Or they may say expert opinions can change. 

What Defense Mechanisms do believers use to respond to logical or empirical challenges ?

1) Believers use arguments that cannot be refuted, can not be confirmed, are non falsifiable, not subject to disconfirmation so their arguments are useless. 

Example: The Universe  was not 'created' in six days; it is not 6,000 years old. The Universe is Billions of years old. 

One religious response: God created a universe that has the appearance of billions of years old, but it only came into existence 6,000 years ago.  {ETA 12/3/2014 So god would have had to create one planet to be a certain age, another one much older another one much younger. Same for stars and everything else. There is virtually an infinite amount of ages to be kept track of. It seems very inefficient for God to do that. And why would he do it that way anyway ? The Lord is surely a mystery. It seems more reasonable things look older or younger because that is how they evolved or developed. The earth now billions of years old went thru many stages before it became earth as we know it. It did not come into being in one instant.} {ETA Light comes from stars dead millions of years ago. So these stars did not exist yet G-d made it as if they did exist ? }

Or Gerald Schroeder's use (misuse) of  science and the Torah to argue that from a certain vantage point the Universe is 6,000 years old from another its billions (as in his book the Science of God). After all, according to relativity  time is relative right ? {ETA 12/01/2014 The Torah just should have said the universe is billions of years old. Then it would not require the mental gymnastics of Schroeder 'creative insight' that part of Genesis is from one vantage point and the other part of Genesis is from a different vantage point.}

Or the Torah does not really mean what it says. Its an allegory. Or the "real" interpretation of the Torah is...and now you see it is consistent with science. 

(Note - I would argue the above religious responses can be refuted. But religious people do use non falsifiable arguments.) 

2) Selective Attention - Believers cherry pick facts or arguments that support their belief while ignoring facts and arguments that challenge it.

Example: With prayer, a 'miracle' occurs and a newly born severely diseased child recovers. This ignores the multitude of others that died. And why was an innocent child born so  ? The ways of the Lord are a mystery.  Or if the child dies he will go straight to heaven.

3) Selective Interpretation - Accept a less plausible interpretation of a certain fact or event because that interpretation confirms your belief.

Example: The numerous Torah anachronisms, contradictions, doublets etc: are  there to teach us deep lessons, are miracles of prophecy or for some other reason.  Actually, the Torah itself never teaches us these reasons. Rather, Rabbis and others  invent explanations. It is more plausible there were multiple authors compiling disparate oral traditions for political and or theological or other reasons.

4) Discredit Contradictory Information - 

What do academic bible scholars know ?  Are not they  anti-Semites anyway ? There is a conspiracy against us. They have not studied all Shas, all the Midrash,  or our holy commentators (meforshim)... they are ignorant. 

Well, many academic scholar have studied ancient near east languages, cultures, myths and rituals and it has illuminated so much of the real meaning and origins of the Torah. Many are Jewish or Israeli with no hint of antisemitism. Many have studied our Jewish holy texts. Peer review, competition , evidence based reasoning all prevent conspiracies.  You cannot dismiss the mountain of evidence they have compiled with ad hominem attacks. 

5) Selective Evaluation -  Seeing congruent events as more important than incongruent events.

One archeology find that may corroborate a Biblical passage is worth ten that contradict it. One event that can be interpreted by some to confirm a "Bible Prophecy" is fulfilled,  is worth more than ten that were not fulfilled. And why did a particular beneficial prophecy not occur ? Because the Jews sinned. Or if the 
prophecy was punishment and failed to occur, it  is was because the Jews repented and G-d did not punish the Jews.

What Belief Maintenance Mechanisms Do Believers Use ?

1) Selective Interaction - Believers associate with other believers which provides mutual reinforcement to challenges. 

They study with each other in Shuls and Yeshivas. Form institutions to defend the faith....

2) Social Forces - Many people benefit in some way from the maintenance of the belief system. This reinforces the belief system and people feel united. Many people rely on 'truth' from Authority figure. Religious rituals reinforce the beliefs.

Orthodox Jews tend to associate themselves in enclaves, almost like self imposed ghettos. They have kosher supplying stores, Jewish owned stores, attend Shuls (synagogues), and socialize with virtually only each other from birth on. Many shun secular studies, while other may study secular material up to a point.

One argument some Orthodox Jews use is - there is this 'Scientist' or Rabbi who believes. You think you are smarter ? You are arrogant. 

This is meant to stop you from thinking for yourself. Also, it does not address the reasons why Orthodoxy is most likely bogus. Why does that authority figure believe ? Is it because of early childhood socialization ? Is the authority figure being intellectually honest ? Does that figure really believe and what is it he believes ?  Has the figure examined  the arguments and evidence against the belief ? Is 
that authority qualified to examine the issues ? What is the consensus of qualified opinion as opposed to this alleged authority’s opinion ?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Proof of God based on Claim of Prophecy of Nazis in the Talmud

The claim is made that the Talmud's Megilah 6a-b commentary of Psalm  140:9, predicts Nazi Germany could 'break out' and conquer the world. The claim is then made this is proof of prophecy.

Here are the passages:

Psalms140:9 O Lord, do not grant the desires of the wicked; do not let his thoughts succeed, for they are constantly haughty.

Megilah 6a

R. Isaac also said: What is meant by the verse, Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked, draw not out his bit,43 so that they exalt themselves, selah?44 Jacob said before the Holy One, blessed be
He: Sovereign of the Universe, grant not to Esau the wicked the desire of his heart, draw not out his bit:

(43) E.V., ‘further not his evil device’.
(44) Ps, CXL, 9

Talmud - Mas. Megilah 6b
this refers to Germamia of Edom,1 for should they but go forth they would destroy the whole world. R. Hama b. Hanina said: There are three hundred crowned heads in Germamia of Edom and three
hundred and sixty-five chieftains in Rome,2 and every day one set go forth to meet the other and one of them is killed, and they have all the trouble of appointing a king again.

(1) There was another Germamia which was probably the land of the Cimmerians. [Rieger, P. (MGWJ. LXXX, p. 455) identifies it with Carminia, the Persian Kerman.]
(2) This word seems to be an interpolation

I am loss to see how this is a proof of prophecy.

Recall the Talmud equates an Esau son with Rome, see an example at end of post.

Germamia of Edom - is the Roman province of Germania per Jastrow's Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrash. We know  the Talmud authors were aware of Roman expansion goals, German provinces of Rome and the problems Rome was having with the Germanic tribes.  It was current events for many of them. The German tribes were acting as the good guys - a 'bit', a restraint on Roman expansion. 

The Talmud authors retroactively read into the Psalms the conflict they were aware of first hand. It is not about Nazi Germany whatsoever. Besides, for us to accept a prophecy as a proof we need to have knowledge of when the prediction was made, when the prediction says the event would occur, clear meaning of what is being predicted etc: etc: None of this is provided or available in the 'proof'. 

Also, Psalms 140:9 is not making a prophecy, and could  be referring to just about any wicked country.

To make this more understandable I have added country names to the Talmud tracts.

Megilah 6a

R. Isaac also said: What is meant by the verse, Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked, draw not out his bit, so that they exalt themselves, selah? Jacob said before the Holy One, blessed be
He: Sovereign of the Universe, grant not to Esau [meaning Rome] the wicked the desire of his heart, draw not out his
bit [the resisting German tribes]:

Mas. Megilah 6b
this refers to Germamia of Edom, for should they [Rome] but go forth they would destroy the whole world. R. Hama b. Hanina said: There are three hundred crowned heads in Germamia of Edom and three hundred and sixty-five chieftains in Rome, and every day one set go forth to meet the other and one of them is killed, and they have all the trouble of appointing a king again.

The Talmud never claims or implies that the Talmud itself  is  making a prophecy. (However, some modern Rabbis such as those using the proof advocate that Talmud is in effect prophesying).  Rather the Talmud is  interpreting Psalm 140:9 to apply to a certain conflict.  But Psalm 140:9 is so vague as to apply to just about any wicked desires and of any country and so in no way can it be suggested as proof of a prophecy

I am now going to offer a novel reading of my own. Recall another name for Jacob is Israel. So read Megila 6a as a literal statement. i.e. Israel during the Rome-German conflict is praying, pleading to the Lord to keep Rome restrained, with the hope of Rome's eventual demise.

{ETA 1/12/2015 

Talmud Yoma 10A
Rab said: Persia will fall into the hands of Rome

Lets suppose this did occur. 
The prophecy does not specify when it will occur. 
The chance it could occur increases greatly if the date of the event is not provided.
Even if it did occur it would be not be an extraordinary prophecy.  Could just be a lucky guess.

R. Judah b. Ila'i, said: Rome is
designed to fall into the hands of Persia

Lets suppose this did occur. 
The prophecy does not specify when it will occur.
The chance it could occur increases greatly if the date of the event is not provided.
Even if it did occur it would be not be an extraordinary prophecy.  Could just be a lucky guess.

Notice almost all basis are covered between the two 'predictions'. A third prediction is neither would occur.


Related post Proof of God From Prophecy 


Talmudic sample support that equates Rome with an Esau's son 

Talmud - Mas. Gittin 17a
....and took away their lamp;1 whereupon Rabbah b. Bar Hanah ejaculated: ‘O All Merciful One! either
in Thy shadow or in the shadow of the son of Esau!’2

(2) I.e., the Roman Empire

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Proof / Disproof of God based on Fallow Part One

The proof/disproof for god (Yahweh) involves:

Leviticus: 25:3 Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune
thy vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. 4 But in the seventh year shall be
a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; thou shalt neither
sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. 5 That which groweth of itself of thy harvest
thou shalt not reap, and the grapes of thy undressed vine thou shalt not gather; it
shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. 6 And the sabbath-produce of the land
shall be for food for you: for thee, and for thy servant and for thy maid, and for
thy hired servant and for the settler by thy side that sojourn with thee; 7 and for
thy cattle, and for the beasts that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be
for food....18 Wherefore ye shall do My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances and
do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. 19 And the land shall yield her
fruit, and ye shall eat until ye have enough, and dwell therein in safety. 20 And if ye
shall say: 'What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we may not sow, nor gather
in our increase'; 21 then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year,
and it shall bring forth produce for the three years. 22 And ye shall sow the eighth
year, and eat of the produce, the old store; until the ninth year, until her produce
come in, ye shall eat the old store.

Most, if not all academic scholars interpret Levit 25 (Shemita) regulations as
prescribing that every seventh year the entire country fallows simultaneously.

Shemita is a very complicated topic and I have limited my discussion almost solely
to the proposed 'proof/disproof'.

Before discussing the 'proof/disproof' please read the following important
background material carefully. It also provides academic support for Part 2 and
Part 3 and should be kept in mind while reading them. {ETA 12/15/2014 - A reader who desires to see the proof/disproof go to part 2 and part 3. Think of this Part 1 as supporting documentation to those other two posts.}

Native American Religions - by Paula Hartz 1997

P 53 Regarding Native Americans - "A sacred song can carry prayers to the spirit world, cure illness, and influence weather and events."

P 59  Native Americans believe that prayer and attention to the spirits can
influence the spirit world and therefore nature. Most agricultural tribes
performed a ritualistic dance to bring life giving rain."

African Religion by Aloysius Lugira 1999

P 73 " Rain is so important that there are special rites, and indeed, ritual specialists whose main function is to bring about rain at crucial times."

Religions of the American Indians - by Ake  Hultkrantz 1967, 1979 translation.

Page 274 In March masses of children are sacrificed to the Aztec god Tlaloc. The more they cry the more rain Tlaloc sends.


We have precedent for Jewish legal loopholes to abolish Shemita:

In Talmud Sanhedrin 26A R. Jannai abolishes it for economic reasons.

In Israel today there are available Rabbi sanctioned legal loopholes to plant
during the Shemita year.

What I am suggesting is the Priests or Rabbi's would have found ways to mitigate
Shemita in states of emergency, especially if life was in danger.


Handbook of Life in Bible Times by J.A. Thompson 1986

Page 132 Large government store houses have been excavated in Megiddo, Hazor,
Beer-Sheba and Beth Shemesh, where grain, wine, and olive oil were kept."


Life In Biblical Israel by King and Stager 2001

Page 91 There were granaries, silos, for grain storage both private and publicly
owned. There were storage pits, collard pithoi and large vessels.


The Economic Life of the Ancient World by Jules Toutain 1951

Page 9 Regarding Homeric and Hesiodic Society - To reduce soil exhaustion -  each
year one half of the land would fallow and the other half was sown.

Page 38 Greece by the  6th to 4th century B.C. fallowing was no longer the only
method to rest the soil. They had developed ways to obtain better yields than just
fallowing as in page 9.


The Scale and Nature of the Late Bronze Age Economies of Egypt and Cyprus by
Keith Padgham 2014

P 17 Cypriot Agriculture - It was customary to fallow up to 50% of cultivated
land. Also they practiced Bare Fallowing - Land was cultivated only once every
two to three years. Garnsey suggests that for dry or semi arid conditions: Year
one wheat or Barley. Year Two Legumes. Year Three Fallow.


From Debt - Slavery in Israel and the Ancient Near East by Gregory Chirichigno  1993

P 304 There were examples of 7-year cycles in the ancient near east which already
had religious and cultic associations before similar Israelite Sabbatical was
instituted, although it is not entirely clear the Israelites borrowed this ancient
practice from any other culture.

Page 310 From Hopkins - a practical way an ancient Israelite Farmer could satisfy
Shemita with biennial rotation.  He divides the land into two plots. {Notation - C -
crop, F - Fallow, S - Shemita Fallow the whole country.} He plants as follows. In
the first year Plot 1 is cropped, while Plot 2 is fallowed. The sequence starting
from year one is:

Plot 1 C F C F C C S  F C F C F C S
Plot 2 F C F C F C S  C F C F C C S

[This is similar to the ancient Homeric and Hesiodic Society
crop-fallow-crop-fallow etc:  system mentioned above.]

Hopkins suggests that Shemita would promote social cohesion and enforce
elasticity of agricultural production.


Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 5 1992

Regarding Sabbatical Year page 857

The existence of a seven year cycle of nature is found in Ugaritic Texts (Gordon
1953). "Its purpose was connected with the victory of Baal over Mot, and was to
ensure agricultural prosperity."  There are some parallels (particularly the seventh
year) which indicate the close association of religious belief and agricultural


The EERDMANS Bible Dictionary 1987

P 898 "It is not certain whether the Sabbatical Year was ever consistently
practiced" After citing several Tenach verses goes on to say "This suggests that
the actual observance of the Sabbatical year had been dropped before the exile..."


The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 1988

P 252 "Observance of the Sabbatical year possessed agricultural and economic
value, for it prevented continuos tilling of the land (Levit 25:4)"

"...for almost 500 years before the exile of Judah in 587 B.C. the Sabbatical
regulation seems to have been widely disregarded..."


The Anchor Bible Leviticus 23-27 by Jacob Milgrom 2001

P 2156 "As argued by Cohen (1979:45-49), The Sabbatical year was rarely observed..."

P  2182 Reaping is forbidden in the Sabbatical year, but every Israelite is permitted
to benefit from whatever happens to be growing in the field.

P 2158 Regarding the after growth of verse 5 "There is ample evidence that the
after growth during the first fallow year is so abundant that at times two or three
harvests are obtained from one sowing in the Galilee highlands in Wadi Artas,
near Bethleham (Kalisch 1867-72)."

P 2246 "From earliest times Farmers would have realized that fertility was a
coefficient of periodic fallowness...Also  there was an  economic advantage to
accumulate surplus during the first six years to be consumed in the seventh and
thereby obviate the need to engage in a money economy.  And as demonstrated by
M. Hildenbrand and Hopkins (1985, see comment C), leaving the entire land fallow
for the seventh year, provided there had been judicious rotation during the
previous six, need not have resulted in economic stress."


Ancient Israel by Roland Der Vaux 1965 edition

Page 173 Regarding Sabbatical Year - Seven year periods also occurs in Oriental


My Sabbath post discusses the mythological  importance of seven.

Sabbatical Cycle or Seasonal Pattern ? Reflections on a New Book  (Kapelrud's
Baal in the Ras Shamra 1952) by , C. Gordon in Orientalia Volume 22, 1953

From Ugaritic Literature:

Mot's death at the hands of Baal (or Anath) lasted 7 years.

"...Seven years may Baal fail, yea 8 the Rider of Clouds; let there be no dew, no

Text 52 deals with the ushering in of a 7 year cycle of plenty.

"Moreover, other texts  such as  'seven years the god is ful' (75:II:45) tie in with
this 'cyclicity', regardless who the god may be."

"Seven-year famines result from the  slaying of a hero such as Gilgamesh, Aqhat
and probably Saul and Jonathan.
People feared unseasonable drought, locust plagues, blight, ....
When a succession of sterile years occurred life became unbearable. "Such
catastrophes were coupled in the minds of the people of Mesopotamia, Ugarit,
Israel, Egypt etc. with the seven-motif and therefore it occurs to us that while
seasonal pattern is ruled out, Sabbatical Cycle fits the facts. The land is to lie
fallow in the seventh year so that the next Sabbatical Cycle will be a fertile one.

This suggests original fertility rites in conjunction with the  Sabbatical Cycle. That
the institution goes back to pre-Israelite origins is evident from the extrabibilical
texts we have cited, especially those from Ugarit."


The Sabbatical Year
A Eugene D. Owen in e: Agricultural History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1938), pp. 32-45

The following is directly quoted from Owen.

It is reasonably certain that the practice of fallowing land in some systematic way is much older
than the Mosaic legislation and that it was not confined to theHebrews but belonged rather to a stage of agricultural development.

It may be questioned whether the spontaneous crop of a coun
try would be sufficient to sustain its population for a year. How-
ever, there was no command against storing for the sabbatical
year and thus diligence and thrift were rewarded.

There was also a promise of a much greater crop in the sixth year, which
could not be a result of natural causes since then the ground would
be more nearly exhausted than at any other time in the seven-year
period. Furthermore, there is at least one account in ancient
literature of some such system. It is said that in early times
there were many places in Albania where the land when sown
once produced two or even three crops, the first a crop of even
fiftyfold and the others coming up without additional plowing.
Though Palestine was not usually reputed to be an exceedingly
fertile land, making allowances for the probable exaggeration
of hearsay with regard to Albania, some return should be ex
pected from natural seeding of grain left in the field.
The references in ancient literature to returns from seeding fall
naturally into two groups: one, in which yields are about what
would be expected from the same sort of soil today; and the other,
in which they are so large as to be considered impossible by Ellen
Churchill Semple.

In the former group is the statement of Marcus Tullius Cicero
(106-43 B.C.) referring to Leontine in Sicily, which reads: "On
an acre of Leontini ground about a medimnus of wheat is usually
sown, according to the regular and constant allowance of seed.
The land returns about eightfold on a fair average, but in an
extraordinarily favourable season, about tenfold," and that of
Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 ? B.C.) who said, "the influence
of the kind of soil in a district is so great that the same seed yields
in some places ten-fold, in others fifteen-fold, as in several parts
of Etruria."

Of the second group of references, in addition to Strabo, may
be mentioned the Biblical comment, "Then Isaac sowed in that
land, and received in the same year an hundredfold." Herodotus
(484?-423 B.C), referring to Mesopotamia, wrote: "This
territory is of all that we know the best by far for producing
corn . . . it is so good that it returns as much as two-hundred-fold
for the average, and when it bears at its best it produces three hundred-
fold." He said, moreover, of Libya: "when it bears
best it produces a hundred-fold, but the land in the region of
Kinyps produces sometimes as much as three-hundred-fold."
Varro claimed that, "In Italy too, in the country about Sybaris,
they say that the usual yield is a hundred fold, and in Syria near
Gadara, and in Africa in Byzacium from one peek the return is
likewise a hundred pecks." In the parable of the sower, Jesus
spoke of certain good ground which brought forth thirtyfold,
sixtyfold, and even a hundredfold. Caius Plinius Secundus
(23-79 A.D.), better known as Pliny the Younger, stated that in
ordinary years land in Byzacium yielded one hundred and fiftyfold.
In another place he said that the Byzacium crop that
yields so remarkably is common wheat.

No references have been found to ancient yields so low as fourfold
and fivefold. Cicero mentioned a yield of eightfold to ten
fold in Sicily, and Varro tenfold to fifteenfold in Etruria. Against
these Strabo spoke of a yield of fiftyfold in Albania, and there
are two Scriptural references, separated by hundreds of years, to
yields of one hundredfold in Syria with additional mention of
sixtyfold and thirtyfold in the later instance. Varro mentioned a
yield of one hundredfold in Syria near Gadara and in Sybaris,
Italy and Byzacium, Africa. Herodotus said that Libya at its
best produced one hundredfold and mentioned a yield of two
hundredfold to three hundredfold in Mesopotamia and three
hundredfold in Kinyps in Africa, and Pliny cited a yield of one
hundred and fiftyfold for Byzacium.

There are only two references to small yields, and they refer
to land in Italy and Sicily; to yields of fiftyfold or more there are
ten extending over three continents, being mentioned by six
authors one Hebrew, two Greeks, two Romans, and one Hebrew
writing in Greek. It is plausible, therefore, to presume that
there is some truth back of the latter statements.

Data compiled by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the
United States Department of Agriculture show that the average
return from wheat in the United States for the period 1928-1933
was 862,645 bushels harvested from 85,126 bushels of seed, a
little less than tenfold, and from corn, 2,522,065 bushels from
17,408 bushels of seed, or more than one hundred and fortyfourfold.
These figures are well within the range of the more
extravagant ancient claims.

Apart from the spiritual implications of the sabbatical year,
the curtailing of grain production necessitated a septennial
reduction in the number of livestock which, by culling out the
unfit, resulted in improvement in the quality of the remaining
animals. Furthermore, the decrease in the quantity of grain
reduced the tendency of the people to trade with neighboring
countries and served to prevent the accumulation of unwieldy
wealth. The people thus became more nearly economically
self-sufficient and capable of meeting their own needs at all
times. The year of fallow was also of unquestioned value to the
land. Fallow is a preventive of exhaustion, weediness, and larvae, and in dry
regions a conserver of moisture.


Studies in the Economics of the Bible by  Eli Ginzberg ,The Jewish
Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Apr., 1932), pp. 343-408

The following is directly quoted from Ginzberg.

Leviticus 25.2

"In a later discussion of theories of land ownership we shall have
occasion to deal with the concept that the god or king is sole owner
of the land. This was a very widespread theory especially in Africa.
Cf. Breasted, Records of Ancient Egypt, Volume II- Lowie, Primitive

"In [Josephus's] Antiquities xiv 16-2 during one of Herod's wars it
is stated that the army was badly in need of provisions
for there was a famine in the land because it was a Sabbatical

Regarding Maccabees I-VI: 49:54 "Here is clearly
undeniable evidence that Jerusalem did make provision
for a seventh year. Likewise it assumes that the districts
around the city which supplied it with food must also have
observed the law to that degree at least that they did not
have any excess produce to sell."

"If the attempt be made to arrive at an estimate as to
what extent the agricultural part of the Sabbatical Laws
was observed, for there can be no doubt that it was not
entirely disregarded, one must not lose sight of the following

1. There is good reason to assume that at the time of
the Second Temple, Palestine was no longer the ideal land
flowing with milk and honey. The ravages of war must
have left their marks.
2. The population during the last hundred years before
the destruction of the Temple has been estimated at an
almost unbelievably high figure.
3. It is without an historical analogy anywhere that a
country not specially productive, possessed of a large
population, with comparatively primitive methods of agriculture
could have been able to remain idle for almost two years. "In the seventh you eat
the harvest of that which
was sown in the sixth, and as you are not permitted to sow
that year, it must also suffice for the eighth."
4. There are no historical records to show tremendous
importations of grain, nor is there any way of conceiving
how these could have been paid for.

In view of the foregoing arguments one is forced to
admit that it is totally impossible even to dream that all
Palestinian Jewry could have observed the Sabbatical Year.
It does not seem unlikely in view of the frequent reference
to Jerusalem in connection with the observance of the law,
and its relationship to a discussion of war in both Maccabees
and Josephus that a small observant minority around the
capital city permitted part or perhaps all of their fields
to lie fallow during this year.
The discussion of the second part of the law pertaining
to the Sabbatical Year can be much shorter than the
question which was just considered. Historical evidence
of the remission of debts during the seventh year is entirely
lacking. The very conservative nature of Jewish Law
and the reluctance of any individual, even a Hillel, to
inaugurate changes, leaves one but a single alternative in
attempting to explain the Prosbul.

Disregard of the regulation must have been almost universal and to ease
the conscience of a few law-believing if not law-abiding
individuals, Hillel finally officially permitted the law to be
disregarded by a technicality. It would not be surprising
that once again a small minority actually observed the
law. But it is out of the question that the rank and file of
a commercial nation could have lived a normal economic
life with such an institution actively in force. And there is
no reason to assume that they led an abnormal existence."

Continued Part 2

Proof / Disproof of God based on Fallow Part Two

UPDATED THRU 11/26/2014

The 'proof' consists of three questions and one premise.  I will state  the questions and premise and then provide brief responses to each. Additional refutations and details are fleshed out in Part 3.  I suggest reading Part 1 now since it provides academic and other support. .

 Later on, I will use Shemita to provide a  'proof' that the Torah is not divine. 

Question 1) How could the Torah make the Shemita law risking the starvation of an entire nation, unless it could back it up with the guarantee of extra yields as in verse 21  ? 

Answer 1a) Risk could be minimized greatly or eliminated.

Answer 1b) Potential benefits of Shemita out weigh the risks. 

Answer 1c) Even if Shemita was risky, leaders/religions make outrageous or dangerous claims regardless if they can back it up or not. For example the Indian Ghost Dance. 

Answer 1d) If extra yields did not occur in the sixth year or the risk of starvation was real, Priests/Rabbi's could issue a suspension of the law or provide legal loop holes.

Answer 1e) Logical fallacy of argument from incredulity or ignorance. 

Question 2) Why would the Torah write such a risky law into  the Torah ? 

Answer 2a) Risk could be minimized greatly or eliminated. 

Answer 2b) Other religions/cultures had/have dangerous rituals/laws.

Answer 2c) Logical fallacy of argument from incredulity or ignorance.

Answer 2d) Mythology of Seven is common in Ancient Near East and could provide basis of the law.

Answer 2e) There are certain benefits (agricultural, social, economic..) that accrue if the whole country fallows at the same time. I.E. Better pest and diseases control, encourages national self sufficiency, encourages international trade,...)

Question 3) Why would the people accept such a risky law ?

Answer 3a) Risk could be minimized greatly or eliminated 

Answer 3b) Many religions had dangerous or risky rituals.

Answer 3c) Logical fallacy of argument from incredulity or ignorance.

Answer 3d) The Israelites as a whole may not have accepted Shemita.

Answer 3e) Mythology of Seven is common in Ancient Near East and could provide basis of law.

Answer 3f) If extra yields did not occur in the sixth year or the risk of starvation was real, Priests/Rabbi's could issue a suspension of the law. 

Answer 3g) Shemita probably had economic and agricultural benefits.

Premise  4)  If triple yields did not occur it would 'prove' the Torah was false, hence the fact that the Torah makes a testable claim proves the Torah is true. 

Answer 4a) People  may have initially had no way to verify the Torah claim of triple yields, and the Torah authors knew this. 

Answer 4b) Torah authors may have had no concern about testablity , at least when the law was first written.

Answer 4c) Indian Ghost Dance - claim was made for immunity from white man's bullets. This claim could be tested. Same for numerous other religions. 

Answer 4d) If triple yields do not occur Priests/Rabbis can say the Israel sinned or the law was not fully observed or Yahweh did not provide for one reason or another. Excuses and Apologetics.

Shemita Disproves Divinity of Torah 

A) Although fallowing is a good agricultural practice, the Torah's approach six years of production followed by a fallow year would eventually result in soil exhaustion. 

B) The Torah fails to teach superior methods of agriculture. For example, grain followed by legume followed by fallow. 

C) No evidence exists that triple yields (in sixth year) occurred in ancient Israel or are occurring in Modern Israel as promised. In fact just the opposite.

{ETA 11/25/2014 Even if the entire Israel did not observe Shemita those that did should get the triple yields. An omnipotent god could achieve this through natural means. For example, god could infuse extra nutrients from underground, or provide extra water via rain patterns.}

We would expect ancient people to develop a sub optimal fallow system and that is what we find in the Torah.  G-d would be a less likely to give a faulty system. So we go with the human authorship of the Torah fallow system. 

Continued Part 3

Proof / Disproof of God based on Fallow Part Three

UPDATED THRU 12/01/2014

Prior to reading this post it is essential to read  Part One and Part Two. This Part will provide more details, more support and some additional arguments that refutes the Shemita’proof’.

Agricultural Practice

1) From experience some ancient cultures could and did determine fallowing was good agricultural practice and gave better long term yields than without fallowing. Fallowing was practiced in ancient times by many cultures. 

The ancient Israeli leaders may have been aware or through experience learned first hand of the benefits of fallowing . However, some of the peasants may  have been well less informed or did not want to risk the shortfall of the fallow year and were reluctant to fallow. Some of the Israelite slaves who entered Canaan would probably not be aware or have faith in the fallow practice.

Knowing of the better yields occurring with fallowing, the leaders could assert to the reluctant peasants - you will not starve and attribute the higher long term yields to a supernatural being and the Sabbath mythology.

It should be noted some ancient agricultural methods utilizing fallowing are much more effective than the Torah's. For example some planted grain then legume and then fallowed.  This cycle is very similar to that now advocated by many in modern agriculture. The Torah had the opportunity to educate about improved agricultural practice and failed. Worse, it locked the ancient Israelites into a worse scheme. Shemita could result in food shortages as populations increased and farming land could not be expanded. 

2) Given 7 plots, each year let a single plot fallow a year. The total yield over 7 years is 7*6 = 42. Alternately let  all 7 plots be fallow in one year every seven years. Total yield over 7 years is 7*6 = 42. (I am assuming all other things  being equal). So either approach provides the same yields. From an agricultural standpoint letting all plots fallow in one year may be a superior method as it provides less of a reservoir for diseases and pests, yet it does increase risks of food shortages in the Shemita year. 

According to Torah the world was created in 6 days and god rests on day 7. And verse 4 relates Shemita to Sabbath the day of rest for the fashioner of the world. This could motivate a theological reason to rest all fields simultaneously.

Why seven ? - There is widespread use of 'seven' and in ancient near east mythology. 

3) During the fallow you could still eat from the plants that self seeded in the fields,  vineyards, olive groves, cattle, kosher insects, hunt wild game, fish, resort to international trade, gather wild edibles roots and nuts in fields and forests, on mountains and live off of previously stored foods. Some farmers by legal loopholes or otherwise may have farmed, as we find in Israel today. In anticipation of the Shemita year, farmers could have increased the number of farmed plots greatly reducing the risk of starvation. (Technical note a) : for example Rashi explains in more detail - the produce of the Shemita year is allowed to be eaten as long as it is made available to anyone. Eating produce from the fallowed fields is an accepted interpretation by virtually all if not all academic scholars  as well as Jewish traditional interpretation. Technical note b) Although ancient Israel had enemies they did engage in international trade. Even in times of 'embargos' or trade sanctions, countries find ways to import goods. Arguably, Shemita would encourage self sufficiency and that could have been one of the motivations.) 

{ ETA 11/26/2014  Some Rabbi's argue but Israel was surrounded by enemies - there could not be trade. Yet the fact is Israel did trade with neighbors and is confirmed in the Tenach.  Also, the law could have started when the Israelites had some friendly neighbors. Or if the law originates prior to entry into Canaan Israel, there was no reason to anticipate every neighbor would be hostile.} 

4) Shemita could have originated very early when there was only a small  population and so the risk of starvation was minimal. (At such an time farming was supplemented by scavenging, fishing, hunting, herding. etc: etc: Increasing the number of farmed plots was feasible, There was no large leisure or merchant classes, temples, support). The practice was retained even as the population grew and eventually became codified in the Torah. There was no sudden thrust of a risky law onto a large population. 

5) The argument assumes that information about yields were widely available and easily checked. But according to Orthodox Judaism the law is given at  Mount  Sinai, before the Jews enter Canaan and practice land farming. Moreover, there was no centralized Temple or Monarchy (to tally yields) until many years after entry into Canaan. Thus the Torah authors could boast  the triple yield claim knowing it would be difficult to check yields even if the Jews conquer Israel and even after they are farming in Israel. To encourage the acceptance of Yahwism, boasting his powers is expected and is found throughout the Tenach. 

6) In Canaan, the danger of drought was real. The Torah authors may have realized it was risky to rely on annual farming yields for survival. Shemita would encourage food storage, alternate ways of obtaining food besides farming (for example international trade, fishing...), and motivate people to bring more land into production. 

7) Farmers could have brought more land into production prior to Shemita make up any short fall during the Shemita year. The risk of starvation from a simultaneous Shemita would be greatly reduced. Eventfully as populations rose and farming land could no longer be increased the risk of food shortages could develop. But this would only occur long after the Torah was written. 


1) Indian Ghost dance - Native Americans thought they would be  invisible to  bullets. How could their leaders make this claim ? Wer'nt they afraid their people  would die from  the bullets ? Weren’t the leaders  afraid of being proved wrong ? There are leaders who will make claims without the concern of being 'proved' wrong in the future.

2) Just because a certain text/religion/person makes a claim that could potentially disproved in the future does not mean they would not make the claim. They may have certain reasons to make the claim then deal with potential refutations in the future even if that is a consideration. Maybe they really believed it was true when writing it. When it turned out to be incorrect nobody ever went back to correct the texts. Maybe the authors of the text or the religion are deluded.

3) There is no end to the practices advocated by religions/cultures that are purported to provide benefits. Sometimes the original motivation maybe unknown.  How could the Aztecs sacrifice masses of children to their god(s) in the hopes of certain benefits like rain ?  This was a testable claim.


1) To modern skeptical people it does not make sense to pass a law that risks starvation, but to ancient people that believed that spirits would save them it could make sense. (Yet, as  previously mentioned the risk of starvation from Shemita was may not have been significant.) 

2) Perhaps the Torah authors were not concerned their claim would not be  fulfilled.  If yields were low they could claim that the people had sinned in some way and therefore are being punished. 

3) Just because the Torah has risky / strange / ridiculous notions and customs  (according to modern standards) it does not remotely suggest the Torah is god given. Just because the Torah may make a claim that could be disproved in the future does not remotely suggest the Torah is god given or the claim did in fact occur.

4) Why did/does any culture create difficult laws: Human Sacrifice, Mutilation,  Animal Sacrifice... some with testable promises of great benefit  ? Interestingly, often the promised benefits do not materialize yet the practice continues. Consider the rain dance that purports to end drought. How can religious leaders make this claim ? Aren’t they afraid the rain would not materialize ? Aren’t the leaders afraid of being proved wrong ? 

5) The argument assumes the sudden introduction of Shemita laws. However, it is  plausible the custom was in effect in earlier less populated times and was retained as the population grew. Then it was finally codified in the Torah. We have Torah precedent for this where various practices pre-exist Mt Sinai and prior to a large Jewish population. The practices are later codified in the Torah. Examples include circumcision, sacrifice, sinew prohibition...

Historical evidence

1) On the one hand I have never seen data demonstrating that Shemita was associated with  triple yields. {ETA 12/1/2014 - If there such triple yields would not the Talmud or Tenach wax poetic about them ? Yet they do not. This suggests the triple yields were not common at all. }On the other hand we know  that there are instances in Jewish history where yields were not tripled prior to  Shemita. From I Maccabees  6:48 Then the king's [Antiochus's] army went up to Jerusalem to meet them, and the king [Antiochus]  pitched his tents against Judea, and against mount Sion. 6:49 But with them that were in Bethsura he made peace: for they came out of the city, because they had no victuals there to endure the siege, it being a year of rest to the land.

So Bethsura was observing shemita, yet had no extra yields as promised in the Torah.

See Part 1 where Josephus documents that at times Shemita resulted in hardships.

In Israel today farmers following Shemita laws, on average do not reap extra yields. (Israel has difficulty maintaining food levels during Shemita years because many Israeli farmers practice actual fallowing of the land and do not utilize legal loopholes.)

Some Rabbinic authorities assert Shemita laws no longer apply others disagree.  This provides an explanation why Israeli farmers today do not have the extra promised yields according to some Rabbis. But what about the other Rabbi's ? They may respond, the Shemita requires the entire land be fallow or perhaps Israel is a sinful nation. This is apologetics and excuses since observant jews will be disenchanted  to observe causing the Shemita law to  lax even further. Are we to assume Yahweh is up in the heavens tabulating the percent of farmers fallowing ! ? In addition,  is this how a divine promise works ? Heads Yahweh win, Tails the Jews  lose.

{ETA 11/25/2014 Even if the entire Israel did not observe Shemita those that did should get the triple yields. An omnipotent god could achieve this through natural means. For example, god could infuse extra nutrients from underground, or provide extra water via rain patterns.}

2) Historically Shemita does not seem to have been widely practiced.

Ancient Near East Religions and Mythology

1) There is evidence Shemita's 7 year cycle is shared in the ANE

2) Theologically it emphasizes Yahweh's role in fertility ( as opposed to say Baal's). 

Torah Laws 

One premise of the argument is that the Jews encounter Shemita for the first time as a Torah commandment. But there is the possibility Shemita type laws were  already part of the Canaanite practice. Put another way, Shemita was already a pre-ancient Israelite practice that the Torah is continuing (perhaps modifying) and codifying.  This may be compared to other commandments like circumcision or the sinew prohibition which predate the alleged Mt Sinai revelation and began when the were many fewer 'Jews'.