|« The Bible
The Jig Is Up! And We’re Dancing to It!Author of this text: Bernard Katz
New York Times (the 1st Arts Page, 3/9, 2002.) had an article that
verifies just about everything we atheists have been saying about the Jewish
Bible. Were Abraham and Moses mere legends? Was the Exodus a fiction? Is the
Jewish Bible to be believed?
the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus
story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the
tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king
who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader — a warlord — whose
reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling
startling propositions — the
product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over
the last 25 years — have
gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt
to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity-until now.
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million
Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and
commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called Etz
Hayim („Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that
incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and
the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it
represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious
mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.
"When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything,"
says Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of When
Bad Things Happen to Good People and a co-editor of the new book. „Today,
they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and
history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible."
by the Jewish Publication Society and costing $72.50, Etz Hayim, was compiled by David Lieber of the University of Judaism
in Los Angeles. It offers the standard Hebrew text, a parallel English
translation (edited by Claim Potok, best known as the author of Chosen),
a page-by-page exegesis, periodic commentaries on Jewish practice and, at
the end, 41 essays by prominent rabbis and scholars on topics ranging from the
Torah scroll and dietary laws to ecology and eschatology (end-times).
essays, perused during uninspired sermons or Torah readings at Sabbath services,
will no doubt surprise and even cause great anxiety to many congregants. And not
just to Jews. For the book will sap the Protestant fundamentalists too. For
instance, an essay on „Ancient Near Eastern Mythology" by Robert
Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on
the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis
originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr, Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia,
the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which
probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian
striking for many readers will be the essay „Biblical Archaeology" by
Lee I. Levine, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. „There is
no reference in Egyptian sources to Israel's sojourn in that country," he
writes, "and the evidence that does exist is negligible and indirect."
The few indirect pieces of evidence, like the use of Egyptian names, he adds,
„are far from adequate to corroborate the historicity of the biblical
ambiguous, Mr. Levine points out, is the evidence of the conquest and settlement
of Canaan, the ancient name for the area including Israel. Excavations showing
that Jericho was unwalled and uninhabited, he says, „clearly seem to
contradict the violent and complete conquest portrayed in the Book of Joshua."
What's more, he claims, there is an „almost total absence of archaeological
evidence" backing up the Bible's grand descriptions of the Jerusalem of
David and Solomon.
notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and
understood among most Conservative rabbis," observes Davis Wolpe, a rabbi
at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to Etz
Hayim. But some congregants, he says, „may not like the stark airing of
it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi
Wolpe frankly said that „virtually every modern archeologist" agrees
„that the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it
happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a „litany of
disillusion" about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities,
chronological lapses, and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he
said, archeologists digging in the Sinai have „found no trace of the tribes
one shard of pottery."
reaction to the rabbi's talk ranged from admiration at his courage to dismay at
his timing to anger at his audacity. Reported in Jewish publications around the
world, the sermon brought him a flood of letters accusing him of undermining the
most fundamental teachings of Judaism. But he also received many messages of
support. „I can't tell you how many rabbis called me, e-mailed me and wrote
me, saying 'God bless you for saying what we believe,'" Rabbi Wolpe says.
He attributes the "explosion" set off by his sermon to „the
reluctance of rabbis to say what they really believe."
the introduction of Etz Hayim, the
Conservative movement relied on the Torah commentary of Joseph Hertz, the chief
rabbi of the British Commonwealth. By 1936, when it was issued, the Hebrew Bible
had come under intense scrutiny from scholars like Julius Welhausen of Germany,
who raised many questions about the text's authorship and accuracy. Hertz,
working in an era of rampant anti-Semitism and of Christian efforts to
demonstrate the inferiority of the „Old" Testament to the
„New," dismissed all doubts about the integrity of the text.
Maintaining that no people would have invented for themselves so "disgraceful" a past as that of being slaves in a foreign land, he writes that „of all
Oriental chronicles, it is only the Biblical annals that deserve the name of
Hertz approach had little competition until 1981, when the Union American Hebrew
Congregation, the official arm of Reform Judaism, published its own Torah
commentary. Edited by Rabbi Gunther Plaut, it takes note of the growing body of
archaeological and textual evidence that called the accuracy of the biblical
account into question. The „tales" of Genesis, it flatly states, were a mix of „myth, legend, distant memory and search for origins, bound
together by the strands of a central theological concept." But Exodus, it
insists, belonged in „the realm of history." While there are scholars
who consider the Exodus story to be „folk tales," the commentary
observes, "this is a minority view." Twenty years later, however, the
weight of scholarly evidence questioning the Exodus had become so great that the
minority view had become the majority one.
we atheists happy? You bet. The biblical jig is up — and
we're dancing to it!
in the 2003 January/February issue of the American Rationalist ©.
« The Bible (Published: 03-06-2003 Last change: 21-09-2003)
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