Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More on Mass Revelations-the killer argument against?

JP continues to banter on in his post and comments about the Kuzari argument, and equating non-believers with holocaust deniers and believers in conspiracy theories. Most of you who have followed discussions such as these have seen the following counterarguments:

1. There are other examples of claims of mass revelations but without any historical basis.

2. There is no independent corroborating evidence.

3. All religions started with a myth which spreads, and people believed it.

While these are good arguments, they are subtle and also subject to endless debate by believers who will make all kinds of claims to circumvent them. So I tried to think of something else.


I think that I have a novel way of rebutting this argument. I call this the "who gives a shit argument". Here it goes:

We argue about the past, because anything from the past no longer exists. It isn't here now, so we can argue in circles forever whether or not something existed. The important question is, what does it matter now? Now apply this to any religious claim. Lets take the revelation at Sinai. I'm not saying it happened, but for argument's sake let's say it did. But where did it go? God revealed himself 3500 years ago, then disappeared. There is no revelation now. Did the Holy One, Blessed Be He, go on vacation? Did He die? Did He convert to another religion? Is He sleeping? Did he say "I don't give a shit about the world?" So if the revelation no longer exists, why should I care? Does it matter to me now?

Think about how we Jews apply this to other religions claims. Of course, we usually claim that their stories are false, but that, of course, is unprovable because they relate to events in the past, which as I said, can't be DISPROVEN with certainty. We can't prove that Joseph Smith DIDN'T find the Golden Plates and translate them. We can't disprove the claims of Mohammad. We simply wave it off as irrelevant, without going through much of an exercise to prove or disprove it. We say, "who cares?" Of course, other religions do this to Judaism, too. The original Christians, of the Holy Land, may have believed that there was a revelation, but that it was no longer relevant (in their present). They had something new. So the revelation didn't matter, it was just history.

There is another aspect. Suppose someone did see a UFO. Most of us people don't give a shit. We're the non-believers. Maybe they saw something, maybe they didn't. The ones who do care become the Believers. In ancient Judea, not everybody believed in revelation or Torah. (That is clear from archeology and the Torah text itself). The ones who accepted the claims, we called "Jews". The ones who didn't, we called heathens or Christians. We didn't start off with Jews who believed in nothing and suddenly someone came along and made up a story. It happened in reverse order. The believers became Jews. This is a powerful element of the rebuttal, because the Kuzari argument emphasizes that credibility of Jews regarding their own story, but it ignores all of the people who DIDN'T accept or believe it or care about it. The Kuzari argument hinges on that ALL Jews accepted the story. But by definition only those who believed in the story were called Jews. In otherwords, we can define Jew as "he who believed in the Torah revelation story and cared about it". Gentiles were "those who didn't believe or care about the Torah revelation story". What would the Kuzari say about all of those ancient inhabitants of the land who said, "the Torah revelation story is bullshit"? We know they existed. Ditto for the Christian and Muslim stories.

An interesting element in all religions is that many of their claims are either things in the past or in the future, neither of which exist now. But, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence which in the case of religion, is lacking. If they make claims about things now (or in recent, verifiable history) , they would be subject to verification or being disproven. But by emphasizing some unknown future or hazy past they can claim whatever they want.

What do you guys think?

17 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

Whats up Dr. :)

In ancient Judea, not everybody believed in revelation or Torah. (That is clear from archeology and the Torah text itself). The ones who accepted the claims, we called "Jews". The ones who didn't, we called heathens or Christians. We didn't start off with Jews who believed in nothing and suddenly someone came along and made up a story. It happened in reverse order. The believers became Jews.

Oh. I think there is a LOT of conjecture here. You seem to be jumping from different periods here. From biblical times to Christian times. Even early Christians believed in revelation and archeology can't tell you what people believe in. Only what the practiced. It's clear from archeology — but then again Nach tells us— that there was idol worshipping. But you can't go from there to saying they didn't believe in revelation. We have NO information on those Hebrews that did not believe in revelation. They either existed, or not. So saying those that didn't, simply were not Jews is a statement, really, coming from a speculation. Nach hints that the people new of YHWH, they new of the exodus and they new of the commandments, hence, the prophets ridicule was possible. The written record says nothing about groups of people that believed it to be bunk.

DrJ said...

Hi HH,

As usual your comments are sharp and perceptive.

But I would respond with 2 points. Note that I specifically said believe OR care about it. While you are correct that we can't know what was in their minds, we do know that they practiced idol worship. Hebrews (or others) who practiced idol worship either did not believe in revelation (which clearly requires the God be the only God) or they did not regard it too highly. IMHO, your comment actually strengthens my argument. The Nach documents long periods where the population seemed to forget about the Torah, either in theory or in practice.

Secondly, if you think about Jews today, I think that you would find a direct strength correlation between devoutness of observance and intensity or degree of belief in divine revelation. I don't see why that would be any different in ancient times.

The Nach has clearly differing points of views in different books. The Navi obviously writes from his perspective. Melochim and Shoftim reflect a different period and perspective. Clearly some kind of tradition existed, it just isn't clear exactly who followed it or believed in it. We know that there were Canaanites, and among them were Hebrews. Before Canaan we simply have no archeological evidence of Hebrews. You are correct that I referred to two different periods, but in both of those periods there were clearly believers and non believers. By the time of the Jesus, they had evolved from an ethnic "Hebrews" identity to "Judaens" or "Jews". Even the "Yehudim" of Megillat Esther-- its not clear what they believed, based on their behavior. The text only says that Haman claims they believe in their own God.

I would say that it is even greater conjecture to assume that biblical Hebrews/Jews believed in what we know as Rabbinic Judaism today, which of course fundamentalist Jews claim they did.

And I would also return to the first section of the post which is the main theme: If revelation did happen, and if ancient Jews believed or not-- why should we care? There is no revelation now. Just as I would say to Shalmo-- lets say that Mohammad was right-- god gave him the real update prophecy to mankind. Do I care? Why should I?

DrJ said...

Let me clarify the "why do I care?" question. This is not an issue apathy or arrogance. It is an issue of revelance. What god may or may not have said to some people 100 years or 3500 years ago-- why is that revelant to me, if there is no revelation now?

Holy Hyrax said...

I want to respond to your above comment, I just dont have time at this moment...but in regard to your "why do I care" comment...that is how my dad feels about Torah. He beleives in it, but says that is something back then.

Off the Derech said...

Great post.

>Suppose someone did see a UFO. Most of us people don't give a shit. We're the non-believers.

Noooo. They're just *angry*. Or obsessed with sex. Of course!

Off the Derech said...

But I think that point ("We didn't start off with Jews who believed in nothing and suddenly someone came along and made up a story. It happened in reverse order.") is brilliant.

DrJ said...

OTD, as HH pointed out, there is some degree of conjecture, but think about really how all cults, religions, and movements begin and grow. They don't just grow just by natural birth, but rather people joining a clan and adopting its belief and customs. In the early biblical version, it was just family, but from that period we really have no extrabiblical sources

DrJ said...

I think that we must be pushing JP into a corner. As Onionsoupmix pointed out, his posts have been becoming increasingly incoherent. His latest one about Aborigones and space aliens was pretty bizarre, and not really worthy of a specific rebuttal post. He seems to be suffering from projection, by accusing his detractors of "massive denial" when it is clear that that is what he is doing himself.

Joshua said...

There's a more fundamental problem with the mass revelation argument: Descriptions in both the Tanachand the Talmud make it quite that there were multiple times when only a very tiny number of people remembered. So this notion of an unbroken, large-scale tradition of mass revelation is contradicted in the texts themselves.

DrJ said...

Joshua--

This is true. Again a key element here is not whether they remembered but whether they CARED. It simply wasn't relevant for them. Even during the periods there was "tshuva", as in the time of Ezra, the people were clearly being told things they didn't know about, but believed it (at least the ones the bible writes about...).

DrJ said...

All of these arguments assume that the burden of proof lies with those who make a claim, not those who deny it. Therefore, we can summarize:

1. According the text itself as well as archeology there were large numbers of Torah non-observers in Judea, and at times most of the inhabitants appared to be unaware of the Torah.
2. We can deduce from the practices of these people that they either did not believe in the Torah, did not know about it, or did not care. They may have believed in YHWH, but seemed to not have the Torah tradition that we have now.
3. At some point the belief in the revelation and Torah became more widespread but not universal. Given the lack of writing and documents among the populace such a belief would be easy to propogate. Those who accepted that belief became known as Jews. Those who didn't were gentiles.
4. There is no revelation now.
5. Given #4, and given the unreliability of the ancient accounts, there is no reason to attach any simportance to claims of a revelation.

E-Man said...

I don't understand the whole "Why should I care." Do you care about what is truth and what is false. If it happened then it is true and if it didn't then it is false. It is like saying that you don't care about gravity existing, if the revelation is true. I mean, if it is true then there are real consequences for you. Also, I don't understand your idea of whoever believed in it was a Jew and whoever did not was a gentile. I thought only people born to jews or converts were Jews. Even if a gentile believed in the revelation they could still be a gentile.

I understand doubting the veracity of the claim, but admiting that it might be true, but saying who cares does not make sense to me. If it is true then G-D exists and then we have to live out lives accordingly, if not then anything is fair game. No?

DrJ said...

E-man,

I am glad you asked these questions.

"I mean, if it is true then there are real consequences for you."
Why? Lot's of things happened thousands of years ago, and make no difference to me now. Gravity exists now, but revelation does not.
The Muslim would say to you-- if Mohammad's revelation is true than it has real consequences for you, too. What if that is true?

"Also, I don't understand your idea of whoever believed in it was a Jew and whoever did not was a gentile. I thought only people born to jews or converts were Jews"

That's how it is now. But in biblical times, religions were forming, spreading, growing and competing with each other. Are all Christians decendents of "original" Christians? Obviously, not. Same with Jews. Conversion (forced or voluntary), intermarriage, assimilation, etc. A group forms with an idea. Other people like the idea (or not) and join the group, even if they have no personal "revelation" tradition. This process happens over hundreds of years, when the line between "Israelites", "Hebrews", Canaanites, and Jew blurred and evolved. Just as Jew and Israeli is becoming blured now, and will become more so over the next decades.

"If it is true then G-D exists and then we have to live out lives accordingly, if not then anything is fair game. No?"

The claim that God exists and the claim of biblical revelation are two seperate things. The first doesn't imply the second.

Anonymous said...

It is absurd to suggest that a small enclave of well-above-average ancient whoever-they-may-be's managed to sustain a lie long enough for the simpletons, who feed them, to breed the concept into their future generations who then somehow manage to extricate themselves from this viscious cycle, this tradition, and commit it to writing - thereafter faithfully copying that canonized lie from generation to generation for at least as long as the oldest known scroll until this very day when people, more now than at any other time in history, are going out of their way to debunk the one claim that is a foundation for all subsequent religions far and near; all of this is what makes the hatred of the jews practical and applicable. It's a kal vachomer, if they are capable of this, then what more? This is why it matters.

ShSh said...

Hi,

I mostly agree and have come to the same conclusions on my own. Your argument (and mine) is not true in general since if a revelation says something like (this is going to be fictional and silly) if you are buried face up you go to hell, otherwise- heaven (and of course defines some heaven and hell), then it can never be irrelevant.
Take mohami's revelation (or the modern islamic faith (or my media fed, meager understanding of it)), being a non muslim is does not promise a very pleasurable afterlife...
i love this argument, but it is flawed.
PLEASE PROVE ME WRONG, i really hoped this argument is good when i thought of it :)


good day (hope this post will actually be read)
regards

Simeon

hb said...

someone on this blog mentioned that there have been other mass-revelation stories, can he/she or someone else please tell me what they are, and who/what caused them. I know that Jesus is allegedly to have fed like 6 thousand or so people bread (sea of gallilee??) thanks.

Dan Epstein said...

Is the following accurate: You are proposing that a reason the Mass revelation argument is fractured is because the Torah is not a relevant document in world history?

“We argue about the past, because anything from the past no longer exists. It isn't here now, so we can argue in circles forever whether or not something existed.”


I disagree with you

“because they relate to events in the past, which as I said, can't be DISPROVEN with certainty. We can't prove that Joseph Smith DIDN'T find the Golden Plates and translate them. We can't disprove the claims of Mohammad.”

I disagree with you