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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Myth of National Revelation

I can't believe that I never picked up on this before.

None of the first four books of the Pentateuch give us any indication that the whole nation of Israel received direct revelation from God. Indeed, the story in Exodus indicates that Moses went up the mountain and received his direct revelation alone.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” (Exodus 19:9-15)

Others do go up the mountain, but do not receive revelation.

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

Read the first four books of the Pentateuch, and you will realize that there is no indication of any sort of national revelation. God revealed the Torah to Moses in private, and spoke to Moses and to small groups. Moses then relays the information to the people of Israel.

In the Wilderness
The book of Numbers has two different events where Moses takes a census of the people of Israel.

The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. (Numbers 1:1-3)

This is the census taken at Sinai. In it, there is an important passage.

These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers' houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550. But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 2:32-33)

The Levites are exempted from this census. However, it does not mean that Moses failed to take their numbers into account.

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers' houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.” So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded. (Numbers 3:14-16)

All those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000. (Numbers 3:39)

They were not counted, but they were listed.

Rebellion of the Spies
Moses sent spies out to check out the Promised Land. Only Caleb and Joshua gave a positive report. The other spies said that the land could not be taken, and the people agreed.

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)

Not just the Levites but the whole congregation of Israel rebelled against God. One might think that the Levites were exempt, but it was common in those days to kill off the men by the sword and to take the women and children as booty.

God initially threatened to punish the whole of Israel by killing them.

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)

Notice that God held everyone responsible, not just the men of military age. God threatened to wipe out everyone, not just the men. Moses interceded, and God changed the punishment.

But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. (Numbers 14:21-24)

No distinction is made between the Levites and the rest of Israel. With two exceptions, nobody who saw the signs that God did in the wilderness would see the Promised Land.

Dovid Gottlieb has replied that the people under 20, the Levites, and the women did not die. There is nothing in the text to say that the Levites did not die. In fact, the entire congregation of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:1-2). Gottlieb's conclusion that a considerable majority of the people who left Egypt were still alive is implausible given the life expectancy at that time. The average lifespan for Ancient Egyptians was 20-30, and the average lifespan for someone who made it to adulthood was 30-40. Even if the women were spared the curse, and everyone under 20 was spared the curse, it follows that everyone from that generation would have been over 40. Since children under 5 would not have possessed reliable memories of the event, this means everyone in that group would have been in the over 45 category and female.

This is less than 5% of the population, and that assumes that there were no major wars, famines, or plagues, which there were. Even if the Levites were exempt, they were a small tribe of only 23,000. If we include them, then the number jumps to 8% of the population. Hardly a majority of the people.
Age pyramid
But that's not all. Remember that women and children at this time in history were not considered valid witnesses. Even in Second Temple Judaism, the testimony of a woman was considered so worthless as to be inadmissible in court. It follows that even if we grant that women and children were not part of that curse, it still follows that none of the people who were considered valid witnesses were around for the speeches in Deuteronomy. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses then took another census.

After the plague, the LORD said to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers' houses, all in Israel who are able to go to war.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Take a census of the people, from twenty years old and upward,” as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 26:1-4) 

 These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. (Numbers 26:63-65)

And all the witnesses who were alive at the time of the Sinai revelation (except Joshua, Caleb, and Moses) were now dead. Only when Moses is about to die does he give his final word to the people of Israel. In this address, we see the passages that kiruv rabbis use in order to sell the idea of national revelation.

And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. (Deuteronomy 4:11-14)

The LORD Alone Is God “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. (Deuteronomy 4:32-36)

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said: (Deuteronomy 5:2-5)

“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ (Deuteronomy 5:22-27)


It's hard to see what Moses means by saying that the people of Israel had heard a voice speaking out of the fire. All who would have been considered valid witnesses to that event were now dead. One rabbinic interpretation that I heard was that all Jewish souls were present at Sinai, so even though nobody remembered hearing the voice of God, their souls did.

This is a fine explanation, but it shows that the national revelation is indeed unverifiable, killing the main thrust of the Kuzari Principle argument.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 85

1 Corinthians 7:18-20, "Is any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." In the Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 5:3, he also says, "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised that he is a debtor to do the whole law." These words ought to be kept in constant remembrance by those Christians who urge us to abandon our holy faith and adopt their religious observances. 
 Galatians was a letter written by Paul to the people of Galatia, which is in modern Turkey. These were non-Jews who were battling a party who said that these Gentiles must follow the observances of the Mosaic Law in order to be true Christians. They demanded circumcision of non-Jews in order that one might have salvation. As Luke states in Acts 15:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
Paul's response to this is decisive. Anyone who holds to a theology of "faith plus something else equals salvation" does not have faith at all, and therefore does not have salvation at all. This applies not only to the Mosaic Law but to all other observances as well. Anyone who thinks that one has to undergo baptism in order to go to heaven, will himself not go to heaven.

This is why Paul argues in Galatians that one needs faith, rather than stating that the Circumcision Party demands the wrong set of observances. Asher Meza himself argues that Rabbinic Tradition is not concerned with going to heaven after you die.

Even according to the rabbis, a Jew does not have to be circumcised to go to heaven, because the Mosaic Law has nothing to do with whether someone goes to heaven!

A. Lukyn Williams writes "Gentile believers had already found full liberty in Christ, and to yield to these persuasions would involve much more than the bare act of circumcision, even bondage under the whole Law of Moses. For a believer in Christ to be circumcised would imply that he had made up his mind to be saved by the works of the Law, instead of by Christ, that he had in fact fallen away from Christ altogether."

Paul was by his own writings a very strictly observant Jew.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:3-6)
These are not things one can be honestly mistaken about. If Paul was not a Pharisee and not a persecutor of the church, then he was a flat out liar. Paul had nothing to gain by lying about any of this (even Shabir Ally admits this), and underwent great loss and persecution for his beliefs. He could have recanted and ended the persecution, but he was to committed to what he believed was the truth.

Williams concludes:
We believe in religious liberty, more sincerely perhaps than do Jews. For indeed we fear, that in places where they have much power, as in Palestine, New York, and even in the East of London, they employ no little pressure and unfair compulsion to prevent members of their race from listening to the words of the Gospel. We Christians acknowledge with shame that Jews have suffered much from persecution in the past. But we cannot help seeing signs that they themselves are beginning to persecute Christians (only Jewish Christians, so far) in the present. We sometimes wonder whether Jews, notwithstanding the terrible lessons they have received, have even yet learned the elements of toleration in the modern and Christian sense. It is easy for the few and the down-trodden to be tolerant; the test comes when they are many and strong. Then is seen the presence, or the absence, of humble and sincere faith in the God of righteousness and love.
 I can attest to this. Orthodox Jews exercise great control over their members in ways that Fundamentalist Christians do not. Chosen People Ministries has apartments set aside for Jews who get kicked out and lose their livelihoods for their belief in Jesus. The reverse is not true. Christians who become Orthodox Jews are generally accepted by their families and friends. They are not kicked out, and are still accepted and have connections to their livelihoods.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Was Paul the Inventor of Christianity?

I am currently in the dissertation phase of my PhD in Historical Paul Studies. I am amazed at how easily that Jewish and Muslim apologists resort to conspiracy theories that even the most ardent atheistic scholars refuse to consider. No scholar doubts that Paul was a Pharisee and was a persecutor of the early Jesus movement. This is because he states it in his own writings, and because this information was embarrassing to his case.

I will eventually get to doing my own video series on the Historical Paul, including a minimal facts case about Paul and his conversion. One of the key differences between doing history and weaving conspiracy theories is the level of ad-hoc-ness. The more stuff you have to posit in order to make your theory work, the more likely it is to be mere conjecture rather than truth.

For example, Haym Maccoby, Shmuley Boteach, and even Michael Skobac believe that the early Jerusalem church was an Ebionite church. Not only is there zero evidence that the Ebionites existed in the first century, but we also have the source of the Ebionite attacks on Paul: a book called The Ascents of James, which was composed between the years 150 and 200. Only a century after Paul's death did such charges against Paul, such as him not being a Pharisee or him being opposed to the original followers of Jesus, take root.

One key factor that separates real history from conspiracy theories is the degree to which such theories are ad hoc, or contrived. Real historians do not rescue their theories by positing things for which we do not have independent evidence. Conspiracy theorists such as proponents of the moan hoax, 9-11 truthers, holocaust deniers, proponents of black helicopter theory, and JFK assassination theorists all have to posit all sorts of additional elements in order for their theories to hang together.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 84

1 Corinthians 6:3, Paul says, "Know ye that we shall judge angels?" Great must have been the Apostle's presumption if he believed that corporeal man should be the judge of incorporeal beings! The greatest prophets of Israel admitted that the angels were beyond the comprehension of our finite sense. How could the invisible be summoned before the tribunal of the visible?
What presumption the apostle must have to think that in the days of resurrection, that we will be great enough to judge angels! It's true that the greatest of prophets thought that angels were beyond us, but none of these prophets has experienced the glory of resurrection.

In the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 93a, Rav Jonathan states "The righteous are greater than the ministering angels, for it is said, He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the son of God"

So even Rabbinic tradition agrees with Paul's statement that there are people who will judge angels, because they rank above them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Introduction to Jewish Apologetics

For those getting started in Jewish apologetics, this 70 minute video covers the basic topics.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 83

1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul reproaches his followers that "there be fornication among them, and that one of them had committed incest by marrying his father's wife."

If Paul, as all his writings indicate, considered the Christians dispensed from observing the Mosaic Law, where was their boundary of religious duties or transgressions, seeing that Jesus had not promulgated a new code of laws? Surely, no permission had been granted by the founder of Christianity, so that his followers should observe part of the Mosaic laws, and reject the remainder. 
Troki can be forgiven of contradicting rabbinic tradition, since he is a Karaite. In Rabbinic Judaism, Maimonides himself made the distinction between the Mosaic Law and the moral law. There are certain temptations, such as the temptation to eat pork, which a Jew is allowed to entertain, stating that he would love to eat that pork, but his creator forbids him from doing so. A Jew is not allowed to entertain temptations to violate the moral law. He cannot say that he would love to have an affair with a woman, but his creator forbids him from doing so. This shows that Maimonides believed in such a distinction.

Paul did as well. He writes in Romans:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
(Romans 2:12-16)
Gentiles, who are not bound by the Mosaic Law, are still bound by a moral law, which is written on the hearts of everyone. Not only does Paul not oppose the moral law, he supports it. Paul repeatedly warns his readers about avoiding sin and encourages them to seek holiness. This would be puzzling if Paul believed that the moral law had been abrogated.

Another take is from the rabbis, who said that non-Jews are to follow the Seven Laws of Noah. The fourth law says not to engage in sexual sins. Even if the Mosaic Law were totally abolished, this moral law remains, since it precedes the Mosaic Law.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 82

Romans 16:20, "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly," etc. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Paul says, "We would have come unto you again, even I, Paul, but Satan hindered us."

The Christians, in consequence of the above quotations, maintain the belief that the power of Satan was broken by the death of Jesus, who "bruised the head of the serpent." If so, how then did it happen that Satan, after the death of Jesus, had such sway as to obstruct the very apostles of Jesus in the pursuit of their ministrations? 
Let me first answer this challenge with a cheap shot. In Romans, Paul said that God would soon bruise Satan under the feet of the Roman Christians, meaning that he had not done so yet. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul said that he was hindered by Satan. Troki's entire case hinges upon the assumption that Romans was written before 1 Thessalonians. Was it? Let's take a look at a chart based on very liberal scholarship:

So no, 1 Thessalonians was written a good 7 years before Romans. Troki's argument merely reflects his ignorance of New Testament scholarship, which can be forgiven considering how long ago he wrote his work. Recently, I have been watching lectures by Jews for Judaism rabbis on New Testament subjects, and their ignorance of this topic is obvious. For Example, Michael Skobac dates Acts in the 90-120 A.D. range, even though no contemporary scholar dates Acts later than 95 due to Domitian's persecution of the church in that era. Atheist scholars like James Crossley date Acts around 75, and conservative scholars such as D.A. Carson and Doug Moo date Acts in the late 50s-early 60s.

The challenge regarding Satan would be better answered by a preacher than a biblical scholar. It is a misinterpretation to say that Jesus crushing the head of Satan means that Satan is immediately annihilated and has no power to do anything. The cross and the resurrection has mortally wounded the enemy, and now he is trying to do as much damage as possible before his final defeat.

Again, the rabbis keep making this assumption that upon the arrival of Messiah, all prophecies will be completely fulfilled within one lifetime. There is no reason to expect this, and the story of the mustard seed tells us that we should expect a slow and gradual fulfillment of prophecy over a very long period of time until all is complete. We need to be patient and think in terms of long-term strategies instead of thinking that Jesus will return in our lifetimes..