29 June 2008

Re-evaluation.

I was doing my usual Shabbos morning thing yesterday, being Maavir Sedra with my Chavrusa the REF, Rav Eliyahu Friedman, the Baal Mechaber of Hatorah Im Mekoros Niglu.

I was reading about the quite ingenious separation of the Korach story into two separate tales, when all of the sudden the absurdity of it just hit me. This is not a standard doublet. With standard doublets, one can posit that two separate traditions of the same event needed to be maintained and as such was repeated or combined into one. This Korach story is almost the reverse! Why would a redactor feel the need to combine two completely separate stories into one when he could have included both intact? The mother of all absurdities!

It was a combination of recent posts that led to this sudden questioning on my part. It was the Hirhurim dialogue this past Friday with respect to the DH and lot's of the talk by Yus and company on XGH.

In brief, maybe there was simply a different way of looking at all these issues!? (History, Creation, Science, Textual sources DH, archaeology). Who's to say that the secular way is correct?? The stakes were suddenly enormous and I was going to rethink everything.

But the sad reality is that this lasted for less than two minutes. Firstly, I realized almost immediately that I would come to the same conclusions on each separate issue as I had come to in the past. But what really dawned on me was a truth that I had heard a while back that I never fully appreciated before. And that is as follows.

Yes, there are two opposing worldviews . And neither seems to have any rock solid proof to convince the other side (There is enough wiggle room in OJ as to be almost unfalsifiable, unless you adopt the full Chareidi viewpoint and wear blinders). So why is one POV more powerful? Why should I not be like Yus and be loyal to my people despite the reasonable evidence to the contrary?

It's simple. There is a major difference between the secular and OJ perspective. And that is "How do we know what to believe". Again, I've heard this before but never fully appreciated it. The secular, or skeptical viewpoint is that we take nothing at face value. If a claim is made it needs to be backed up. The religious perspective, on the other hand, feels free to endorse claims simply on prior authority and nothing more. To illustrate this, I listened very closely to the Hashkafakic and Halachik aspects of the shiurim & speeches I heard since yesterday morning. Without exception, they are based on simple unquestioning veneration of words attributed to prior generations. Outrageous claims and statements are made on past authority. Today's leaders marshall the names of the Eastern Europeans sages, the Chazon Ish, the Chofetz Chaim, the Nodah B'Yehuda, etc. It's in affect always passing the buck. The Achronim venerate the Rishonum , who in turn look up to the Geonim and so it goes. No one is ever taken to task and called up to the plate for any accountability. And if it's in the Gemara, fuhgetaboutit. It's like Torah Misinai and can not be questioned. And like TMS, unless, there is rock solid contrarian proof, it cannot be questioned. And even if there is contraproof, such as generation of Lice, well, I don't want to discuss everything in one post. No religious claims are ever bolstered, only defended against when need be.

Let's apply this difference to textual criticism of the Bible. I'm a far cry from being knowledgeable (in anything), so pardon me if I mis-state anything. Believers charge that the skeptics are simply trading in one set of textual problems for another. But they miss the whole point. Modern day scholars are not simply buying into a viewpoint that exists. This viewpoint has evolved and been shored up over the course of several hundred years with liguistic and other evidence. Biblical scholars do not just blindly accept what has been passed down in academic circles. On the contrary, scholars do attempt to uproot commonly held beliefs, such as the dating of the sources. Yet, without solid evidence, their words are ignored. Sometimes, a contrary opinion does break through, yes, but only by providing sufficient evidence (Think Kaufman & P). Furthermore, because we see there is progress and legitimate debate, it's an outrageous charge to claim that academics are biased. So here we have a situation that the secular viewpoint does not take anything for granted, including the possibility that the Bible is single sourced. But no scholars have been able to present a strong convincing rational case for that.

On the other hand, the believers' claim of divinity is taken for granted without any evidence. It relies simply on authority of the past which gets it's authority from the same texts in question. This is not very authoritative. The rest of the OJ story is in defending that claim of divinity, not providing evidence. Furthermore, attempts at providing evidence seem to backfire.

Believers will protest that the secular viewpoint also starts with an assumption, the non-divinity of the Torah. But that is missing the point. It is not a matter of assumptions. It is a matter of backing up the claims that are made.

OJ has no claim other than tradition. Bible Critics rely on the text itself to build a case. OJ simply has a claim. You don't like what the Bible critics say, then dispute it. You don't like the OJ claim? Well, you're a Koifer.

But what about the unanswered textual problems in the secular viewpoint? Answer: It makes not a whit of difference. Not having an answer is better than making one up.

I can walk through the same steps above in explaining the origin of man, but there's no need for me to do that. You can do it yourself.

The same analysis of claims can be applied to all areas in which science and religion don't see eye to eye.

Yes, buying into scientific claims is buying into a diffent worldview, and an almost unbelievable one at that. Man morphing from other creatures? That's Kukoo. Round earth? Pheh. Stationary sun? Laughable. 4 billion year old earth? Crazy! These are/were preposterous outlandish claims. But the claims are based on evidence. The evidence is there and may be proven, debated and disproved. You don't want to believe it? Fine. But there is evidence. On the other hand, religious claims are just that. Claims. Claims without evidence.

Believers love to point to unexplained phenomenon such as dreams as if that is evidence. But it's not. You don't get from a talking fish to Yetsias Mitzraim. And you don't get from a miraculous recovery to the Malach Rephael. Unexplained phenomena? Yes! But that's all it is. And you can't get from that to TMS. Maybe there is a God who will pull invisible strings because forty women bake challah. But it is no more likely than a God who responds to 40 Hail Mary's.

So what about the claim of Korach being two separate stories merged into one?

I can think of two possible explanations. But it's sheer speculation on my part and nothing more. However, with this speculation, it's no longer absurd. And furthermore, let me state this. If the Bible critics did not have a good reason for splitting the Korach story, they wouldn't have done so. They needn't have done so! They could have left it all alone and said it's all a single source, such as P! Why expose themselves to a charge of being absurd?

Thus, my original question highlights a strength of the DH not an absurdity. Despite the oddball outcome, the split was probably done based on some evidence, linguistic or otherwise.

And amazingly, having split it out, the text becomes that much clearer.


V'kal Lehavin.

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