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Shabbos reading

For your reading pleasure, here are two blog posts (on unrelated topics) that I adored and think my readers will also appreciate:
If you've also been thinking about higher Biblical criticism, you might enjoy this article: "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars" (Biblical Archeology Review, March/April 2007). I originally posted the link in late March, but I like it enough to post again for anyone who missed it the first time around.

Shabbat shalom!


Once you realize that the Torah is the product of humans, there are two ways to proceed. One is to abandon all previous work regardless of its fruits and just start anew, totally fresh, a new direction. The other way is to learn from the past, build upon good ideas, rework outdated ideas, reject dangerous ideas and hope the project evolves into something bigger and better with goals realized.

I suppose that we could dispose of religion and start anew but then we would be prone to making some grievous errors again. However if we take a long honest look at our religion, recognize its failings, praise its innovations and successes, and then build upon the good while rejecting the ‘morally’ objectionable parts, we can then be a true light unto the nations and feel fulfilled, revel in our cultural history all the while being honest with ourselves.

See my post the Triumph of Life that discusses Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s lecture about the unifying theory of Judaism at http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2007/05/triumph-of-life.html

BTW, I found the works of Richard Elliot Friedman very compelling. Who Wrote The Bible is a must. It is very clearly written and worthwhile.

Also see my overview of the Documentary Hypotheses as described by R. E. Friedman at http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/03/to-dh-or-not-to-dh.html
Thanks for your comment! I'm reading Richard Elliot Freedman's book right now, actually. I haven't gotten very far because I'm also reading a few other books and I like to keep up with the newspaper.

This is really it's own separate post, but I like to think of the Torah as the product of a partnership between people and God. Even the frummest of the frum believe that--even if they think God dictated it word for word to Moshe, Moshe still wrote it down or received it in some way. The question is what the balance is, and if you can even think of it that way and then, of course, as you pointed out, what we do with our conclusions. I think these are two separate issues, actually.

Thanks again for your comment.
I enjoyed reading chatam soferet's thoughts on the social usefulness of various passages in the Torah describing the Mishkan, donations brought by different tribes, the ritual duties of various families, etc. But I don't understand why she (and many commenters there, including Smoo) seem to think that this is related to the question of Torah mi-Sinai vs. higher Biblical criticism. All of the reasons she gives why people would want to include those passages in the Torah, could also be reasons why G-d would want to include those passages in the Torah.

Nor is it easy to define the difference between G-d dictating the Torah to Moshe, Moshe writing the Torah under the inspiration of G-d, and Moshe (or anyone else--maybe I should say "someone else of the same name who lived at the same time"?) writing the Torah with his free will and G-d giving his approval afterward (perhaps by causing the text to eventually be accepted by the Jews as the word of G-d), given that everything that happens is caused by G-d. Sure, there is an exception for human free will, but free will is an awfully slippery concept in itself, whether or not you believe in G-d, as you will be aware if you have been reading the new Douglas Hofstadter book, "I Am A Strange Loop."

In short, I think that a lot of these questions that you and your readers have been struggling with may be ill defined. Which doesn't mean they are not worth thinking about.
I didn’t intend to come across advocating use of passages that demonstrate social utility as a means to support biblical criticism. Obviously much more important factors go into determining the authorship of a particular passage like linguistics, terminology, consistent content, continuity of text, connection with other texts as well as other books in the Bible, relationship among the sources to each other & to history, and convergence of these factors but I will let Richard Elliot Friedman speak to that. An interesting DH site is http://littlefoxling.blogspot.com/index.html (but start from March 18, 2007 and prior because latest posts are unrelated).

I believe that there is a different equation that provides an ever-present linkage between the BC (biblical criticism)-TMS (Torah from Moses at Sinai) debate and discussions of social usefulness. For many people, the conclusion they draw from the BC-TMS debate will ultimately be more PRACTICAL than academic. It may impact on their level of worship or practice of religion. It may impact on the level of credibility and absolute worth they assign to the values they were taught were divine and eternal. Often, I find those people advocating the usefulness of Torah laws and traditions have already reached a conclusion as to just what level of divine revelation they believe was involved in creating the laws of the Torah and they must find alternate reasons to shore up their faith.

I’m still open to some of the points you mentioned (a human writing the Torah and having God’s approval or God dictating to ‘Moses’), and they have been part of the reason I still have ‘faith’ in Judaism. In brief, I believe that a divine cause set in motion a plan of evolution that would increase complexity of life. Those life forms would then achieve a level of comprehension to intuit the divine, if you will. They would come closer to what an image of God would be (and should act accordingly-affirming value of life, social order, equality, etc.). My point was how should we proceed when faced with laws that are inconsistent with the current, and I believe higher, moral zeitgeist. We can and MUST work within this rich system to build a better religion.

I read a wonderful book, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell (actually it is an interview with Bill Moyers. Consider renting the 6 part video from the library to really get a sense of Campbell’s persona). In it, Campbell explains why mythology is so important and serves a very important function yet the travesty is that mythology has lost its meaning for us. The real task is to update or reimagine the mythology to make it meaningful to us today. I would extrapolate that to the allegories, stories, and mythology of the Bible.

Since the starting point of our discussion was texts that were of social use, I’ll add an interesting tangent. In another book, Religion Explained, Pascal Boyer challenges common explanations for the utility of religion (comfort, explanation, or serves social needs). Many concepts of God are quite discomforting (threats of punishment or hell), many explanations are “often more puzzling than illuminating”, and that “all societies have [basic] prescriptive rules that underpin social organization” even though religious ideology is diverse.

Boyer quite effectively shows how the human mind was primed to accept ideas of supernatural beings. Boyer stresses that people DO NOT suspend their reasoning and allow ideas of religion in their minds. Rather, our minds have developed systems that allow religion credible entry into our thoughts.

But now that religion has entered our mindset and has evolved and we have been able to look back and analyze this process, what do we do with that information? Do we find value in it nonetheless and use it as a guide for the future or not?

I vote yea.
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