Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Unreasonable content in Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Some time ago someone gave me a book called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Covincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism by R. Shmuel Waldman, who is described on the book jacket as 'a native New Yorker, [who] studied at Mesivta of Long Beach, the Yeshiva of Staten Island, and the Mir Yeshiva. He has been an educator for many years....[his] interest in the methods of clarifying religious belief stems from the teachings of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt"l.'

Chapter II is called The Divine Origin of the Torah and it is divided into sections: one is called The Origins of Islam, another A Little Healthy Skepticism, etc. Here is an excerpt from the section called Archaeology:
Over a century ago, a new breed of "scholar" came into existence: the Bible critic. These were originally non-Jews, who had a stake in the attempt to disprove the Bible. (Among the early Jewish Bible critics were Reform or assimilated Jews who had already cast off observance of Torah law. In order to create a rationale for their behavior, they set out to find ways of discrediting the Torah.) Without any real bona fide proof, they would make statements like: "The stories concerning Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the brothers, and Egypt, etc., cannot be true. Probably at a much later date, maybe during the times of Ezra, those stories were made up."

How do we respond to their claims? The response today is very simple, surprisingly simple.

Back then, when the Bible critics first made their claims, no one had any real archaeological proof one way or another. That was in the mid- to late 1800's. However, by the early 1900's, archaeological evidence started mounting. All the different discoveries showed that the stories in the Torah were accurate, down to the most minute cultural details-details that the later generations, during which the Torah was supposedly written couldn't have known, since the Biblical stories took place at a much earlier time, a time when the culture wa completelyy different from "theirs." (Whoever the supposed "theirs" is.)

For instance, if the Torah said such and such event happened at a certain time and placee, archaeologists eventually dug up evidence for it. If the Torah said such and such people in such and such locale had such and such customs, archaeology eventually confirmed it.

Virtually all contemporary Bible scholars no longer side with the conclusions of the early Bible critics. Except for a few real "diehards," they have all retracted their claims. They all now agree that the evidence stands overwhelmingly against the Bible critics and their assertions. And, thus, nowadays most of them trust the Torah to be historically true and accurate even where no evidence has been found. (emph. mine)

Of course, I would not expect you to take my word for it...
He then goes on to quote selectively from a couple of scholars, like W. F. Albright, Y. Aharoni. It's sources include Nahum Sarna's Understanding Genesis, John Bright, Encyclopedia Judaica, pseudo-scholarly popular books like Howard Blum's The Gold of Exodus: The Discovery of the True Mount Sinai, described in the footnote as a "non-fiction book," which is true. The chapter deals with Nuzi tablets, the Ipuwer Papyrus, the Gilgamesh epic, etc. It concludes with a quote from "another renowned historian, Will Durant," which, in 1950, put the lid on anything besides the following sentence: "Science is now in a position to state categorically that the Bible is factual till proven otherwise." Then a reference is given to professors at UC at Berkley, Isaac Kilkawada and Arthur Quinn who apparently demolished Wellhausen in 1989.

What's wrong here? Is trying to use assert that the Torah is true wrong? No. Is using archaeoloical findings to understand Torah wrong? No, of course not.

But the entire section on archaeology in this chapter is sheer and utter nonsense. It is close to falsehood. Can someone really say, with a straight face, "Virtually all contemporary Bible scholars no longer side with the conclusions of the early Bible critics. Except for a few real "diehards," they have all retracted their claims. They all now agree that the evidence stands overwhelmingly against the Bible critics and their assertions. And, thus, nowadays most of them trust the Torah to be historically true and accurate even where no evidence has been found."? That's it? Most Bible scholars now say "The history of early Israel and the text of the Torah as understood by Orthodox Jews is correct?"

Anyone who reads a fairly popular magazine like Biblical Archaeology Review, and many Orthodox Jews do, knows that this is such a distorted statement that it is almost a lie. Given that, it is possible that the book is not intended for Jews who do not read even the popular literature on the subject, let alone who engages in or follows actual scholarship. If it is not intended for them, because they know better, then it is intended for people who do not know better. Why is it acceptable to mislead those who do not know better?

I am reminded of a piece in Torah U-Madda Journal by Dr. Moshe Bernstein called The Orthodox Jewish Scholar and Jewish Scholarship: Duties and Dilemmas, a very interesting piece which discusses exactly what the title suggests. A quote:
I often tell the story about a friend of mine, a musmakh of a moderate right-wing yeshiva, possessor of a Ph.D. (in the sciences, of course) who once very proudly asserted to me that the discoveries in the Judean desert known as the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that both Rashi and Rebbenu Tam tefillin existed in ancient times. When I queried him regarding the biblical texts found in the same caches as the tefillin, and their variance from the Masoretic text, he replied that they were obviously placed there for genizah since they were pasul. There is clearly no place for this form of intellectual dis- or non-honesty. We cannot chose to employ Torah u-Madda in Jewish scholarship selectively; we must admit the dilemmas it may raise as well as the solutions with which is may furnish us. We cannot jump for joy over the finding of Rabbenu Tam's tefillin from such an early date, and ignore the other materials which were found side-by-side with them.
I am reminded of that piece, although in fairness I must also reproduce a quote from Encylopedia Judaica's article on tefillin
it would be erroneous to regard the difference of opinion between Rashi and his grandson Tam as to the correct order of the paragraphs in the tefillah of the head as proof that it was a re-innovation at the time, as the discovery of the tefillin in the Dead Sea area shows.
However, the EJ later extensively discusses the nature of tefillin from the Judean desert in all its forms, while reiterating the point that the makhloket Rashi and R. Tam were confirmed to be ancient points of view.

Anyway, I almost feel a little bad picking on a book like this. It isn't trying to be dishonest, I am sure of that. But what right does anyone have to tell unsuspecting people what is in the excerpt I quoted? What if they learn that it is simply wrong? Especially, especially the bit I italicized.

Why can't outreach books stop making these distortions, exaggerations and omissions to make their point? Are there any that deal with this theme which deals with them in a pure and honest manner?

1 comment:

  1. I know Rabbi Waldman personally and he is a wonderful and sincere fellow who has zero intent to mislead or falsify. His problem is that he also has zero training in archeology or any of the other things he's talking about and essentially took all his material from Rabbi Miller's books [many of whom I've read and recognized in his books.] Unfortunately, whether what Rabbi Miller wrote was accurate at the time he wrote or not, I do not know, but I do know that muuch of it no longer is and therefore it wasn't too smart to base his material on Rabbi Miller's.
    He did not know that, of course, and thought he was doing a great service to the Jewish people by condensing Rabbi Miller's works into a readable work.
    I would never give it to people to read and have actively discouraged it's reading because of this problem. Rabbi Waldmand is truly a wonderful person and I have nothing but respect for him, but his book is not worth the paper it's printed on.



Related Posts with Thumbnails