The Issue of Biblical Literacy

Well. Here’s a post that EVERYONE will hate. 🙂

So, as we have previously established, the Liturgical Churches (namely, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Communions) all agree that the Bible is a manual for spiritual growth, and not to be used as a textbook of science or history. The Evangelical Churches, on the other hand (Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc.) all insist that the Bible must be read as if it were literally true. In English, no less.

Now, a full examination of Semitic idiom will be beyond the scope of this post… except to say that if you’re reading more than a few words of something written in Semitic language (as all of the books of the TaNaKh and the Peshitta were), then there’s probably some idiom in there. If you didn’t catch it (note that “catching it” is an idiom in English; can you imagine how that translates into other languages? Exactly.), then you’re not getting the full meaning. Nor will this piece explore the numerical and symbolic content of written Hebrew characters (also important to understanding things written in, for example, Hebrew).

Rather, I’m going to use a couple of stories from the TaNaKh (the Hebrew Bible, or essentially the Christian Old Testament) to demonstrate why modern standards of history cannot be applied to writings from before the invention of history (Herodotus lived during the Fifth Century BC), and how Biblical stories can be true without requiring historical accuracy. To prepare yourself for this, think about the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. Certainly, there have never been talking grasshoppers nor talking ants, nor ants who provided charity to grasshoppers. Therefore, we may readily say that this story has zero historical or scientific value. However, if we understand the meaning of the story, grasp the value of hard work and planning ahead, then we have found that the story is actually a truth (A truth which most of modern American society has forgotten, and is suffering for its loss). This same fact applies to Biblical writings, although they are significantly more nuanced.

Let us begin with the Exodus.

In the story of the Exodus, we begin with a spirtually powerful man, Moshe (Moses), who must lead his people out of bondage in Khemit (Egypt). His people are led through the Reed Sea, which kills the soldiers of the Pharoah, and then follow pillars of smoke and fire through the desert. They remain lost for four decades until, eventually, Moses dies; afterward they find and enter the Promised Land.

Several years ago, I read a book called The Bible as History, I believe by Werner Keller. Significant text is dedicated to proving the historical authenticity of the Exodus; I remember specifically (but not verbatim) a passage about certain gates of Egypt mentioned in the Bible, and when the author travelled to Egypt, he found that those gates were real! Therefore, the Bible must be historically accurate. Of course, while there probably was an Exodus, all that this establishes was that the author of the story of the Exodus was generally familiar with the geography of the most powerful nation in the world at that time.

Let us examine the story from a different perspective. At the time this was being composed (very roughly 4,000 BC), Egypt possessed a number of what we refer to as “mystery cults.” (Most of what we know about ante-Christian mystery cults comes to us from Greek sources, so Greek vocabulary will be used here.) The most common structure of a mystery cult would involve four levels of initiation:

1. The Hylic Initiation, or baptism by earth. This would be the physical birth of a person from the womb. At this level, the person is seen as helplessly controlled by the forces of the world.
2. The Psychic Initiation, or baptism by water. This was a ritual bath, indicating the end of a person’s life of purely material pursuits, and dedication to a new spiritual life.
3. The Pneumatic Initiation, or baptism by air. This was conferred upon those who were seen as spiritually mature, and ready to begin an earnest study of the “mysteries.” “Mysteries,” here, refers to spiritual experiences which could not be expressed verbally. It is important to note that they could not be expressed verbally, not that they should not be; today we would refer to them as “right-brain” experiences.
4. The Gnostic Initiation, or baptism by fire. This should be seen as the same as the Buddhist doctrine of “enlightenment”; death of the ego.

Why explain all of that? Well, let us suppose that Moshe (the spiritually powerful director of the Hebrews) is the ego, and that the Hebrews represent the person’s soul. Khemit is not only the most powerful nation on Earth, but literally translates as “black earth”–and the Hebrews begin the story in bondage to the forces of Khemit. The ego takes over and leads them through an initation of water (the Reed Sea, which frees them from the forces of the world/Khemit), and they then follow air (a pillar of smoke) and fire into a desert. It is not until the ego (Moshe) dies, however, that true enlightenment (the Promised Land) is reached.

So, while again the Exodus was probably a true event, the Biblical account was not recorded for the purpose of exacting historical accuracy which we expect today, but to illustrate a spiritual truth.

How about another favorite from the TaNaKh, the story of “Adam and Eve?”

To begin this section, a word on names: while in modern English usage, we treat “Adam” and “Eve” as if they were given names, in fact, “Adam” is a Hebrew word for “Man”, and “Eve” (actually, “Hawwah”), roughly translates as “mother” or “life-giver”.

When Man is created, he is originally tasked with naming everything in creation. Later, God makes a suitable partner for him from part of his own body. The couple are basically free to do whatever they want, with the exception of eating “the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” At some point, the Life-Giver is approached by a “serpent” in the garden, who convinces her to eat from the Tree, and to convince her husband to eat from the tree. As a result, they are banished from the Garden forever.

Now, if we take this story literally, we have not only God Himself as a physical person walking through a garden, but talking snakes, trees which impart knowledge, and several other significant issues. Let us look at this story from a less-literal perspective:

What was Man’s job in the Garden of Eden? He was to name all of the things in God’s creation. The Life-Giver was made from a part of Man, and was subordinate to him. Her job is to create, and to keep Man from getting lonely and bored–but she is to be subordinate to him. Can we think of any pairs significant to human beings, one of which deals with numbers and language and the other of which deals with creativity?

What we are looking at is probably the earliest examination of left brain/right brain psychology. Again, the modern science would obviously have been beyond the ken of the author(s), but the fact that they were examining the concept is fascinating. What, then is the Garden? The Garden is childhood, or innocence; that time in our lives when we are free to do as we like. The serpent is actually curiosity; that to which our imagination (Eve) is subject, and which leads us to mature knowledge (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). Once we have tasted that fruit, once we understand the concept of good and evil, we are no longer innocents. We must “put on clothes” (be constrained by society), and we can never have our innocence back (we are cast out of the garden forever).

These are only two examples. I challenge you to think about these as you read the Bible, and find more. Studying Hebrew and Aramaic will certainly assist you, as will an examination of early Christianity and the Mystery traditions (many of which survive in modern Christianity, despite vehement denial by people who really don’t understand them). One of the great failings of the modern Church, in my opinion, has been its relentless drive to evangelism and abandonment of mystagogy. It does no good to simply get people in the door and then have nothing substantial to give them when they arrive. Have something savory for the guests, and they’ll show up on their own. (I hope that allegory wasn’t lost on you.)

Update Not that the historicity of the Egyptian bondage has anything whatsoever to do with the content of this article, but for the satisfaction of one poster’s bizarre obsession with my aside comment, here is an article on Israelites in ancient Egypt

And here’s David Wolpe… stating that the best archaeological evidence supports EXACTLY my position at the bottom of page one.

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21 responses to “The Issue of Biblical Literacy

  1. Well, first I would like to point out that “consensus” is a political value, not a scientific one. Even in the social sciences. 🙂

    The position that you are describing is arrived at by taking the mythological description of the exodus as a whole, stating that it is too fantastic to establish without extraordinary evidence, and therefore dismissing the event itself as fictional. I have already explained why it is not proper to read the entire document as a literal account by the standards of modern history.

    However, the Bible, mythologized as it may be, still constitutes a primary historical document. To state otherwise is to invalidate the entire study of history.

    Further, we have a still-existing group who maintain the event as part of their own history–not a legend of gods and monsters, but something that happened to their ancestors. While it is easy to see how a foundational event such as this could be mythologized, it is less plausible that a member of the culture could have concocted a story of Egyptian slavery–which no other member of the culture would have been familiar with–and have it immediately accepted as a fact and enshrined as their most holy writing.

    Finally, there are corroborating Egyptian sources, such as the Ipuwer Papyrus, which describe slaves escaping with their masters’ wealth during a period of great upheaval (famine, mass child death, etc).

    So my question is, stripping away the mythology, what reason is there to doubt the statement that a group of slaves escaped Egypt and established Judaism? Every other origin-story in the ancient world states that the people involved were the children of some god or another–the Hebrews claim to have been slaves who escaped. I see no “extraordinary claim” in that, nor am I aware of any particular counter-evidence.

  2. Great post! While we can debate the merit and usefulness of reading different parts as allusive and allegories, it does illustrate how the reading (and written intentions) need not be literal.

    The difficulty then is parsing apart what is “truth” and what is “false”. It seems like these are applied as needed by those seeking to use the text as their reasoning for acting/thinking/talking the way they do. I think the most useful observation to pull from this is that these stories must be understood with critical thought and not taken at face value even if the basis has some truth. And nor should “literal” truth in one place be used as proof of “literal” truth in another; the cases must be handled by occurrence and not as one.

  3. So my question is, stripping away the mythology, what reason is there to doubt the statement that a group of slaves escaped Egypt and established Judaism?

    1.A complete lack of archaeological evidence, for one thing. In Egypt or Canaan.
    2.That Egyptologists generally reject the Ipuwer Papyrus parallel.
    3.That if we are obliged to accept the biblical tale we would then have to somehow accommodate all the miraculous nonsense including the destruction of the Pharaoh’s army – unless one is a follower of the late Ron Wyatt school of archaeology?
    4.Then there is the reality of economic collapse should around 2 million people suddenly up and leave.
    5.That irrespective of the terminology one may attach to the word ‘consensus’, the reality is the Exodus story has been rejected by pretty much every relevant scientist and scholar other than those of a fundamentalist bent.
    I very much doubt you would find a single non-orthodox Rabbi prepared to state in writing he believe the Exodus was an actual historical event and if mainstream scientists and scholars of all stripes accept it is fiction, why should any credence be given to those with a theological agenda?

    • 1. A lack of archaeological evidence is of people wandering in an other-wise unpopulated wasteland is not really surprising.
      2. Okay.
      3. I see no particular reason why accepting a plausible historical claim requires me to accept obvious mythological symbolism as literal history, when written by a culture which valued mythology over literal history, in a language which operates in sophisticated layers of symbolism and idiom.
      4. Numbers in Hebrew stories are more often given for impression that accuracy. For example, when characters in the Tanakh are described as having very long lives, that is intended to convey the sense of being very holy. There was no real concept of an afterlife in that culture, so a long life was considered God’s reward.
      5. But they–and you–are requiring that the whole story be taken as literal fact, for any of it to be true. I find this requirement to be without merit.

      I don’t claim that the miraculous events described in the Exodus occurred. If you read my post, I claim quite the opposite. Nor do I have any particular investment in the escape of a group of slaves from Egypt a few millennia ago. But which of these scenarios is more plausible:

      1. A group of Isrealite slaves escape captivity from Egypt. The account of the escape becomes a central piece of their cultural literature, and over the centuries becomes mythologized.

      Or,

      2. A lone Israelite composes a scroll detailing the miraculous escape of the ancestors of all Isrealites from Egypt. Despite the fact that no other Israelite would ever had heard of this before, as a group they are so taken with it that they accept it as fact, and begin teaching it as their most holy scripture. The fact that the miraculous events described line up perfectly with the initiatic traditions of mystery schools FROM EGYPT is completely coincidental.

      As to your last sentence… You think that I am Orthodox rabbi?

      • 1. A lack of archaeological evidence is of people wandering in an other-wise unpopulated wasteland is not really surprising.

        They were not just wandering, were they?
        I reiterate.No evidence has ever been found. Not even where they ‘camped’ as per the bible. Nothing.

        3. I see no particular reason why accepting a plausible historical claim requires me to accept obvious mythological symbolism as literal history when written by a culture which valued mythology over literal history, in a language which operates in sophisticated layers of symbolism and idiom.

        Plausible? There is not a scrap of evidence. In Egypt or Palestine and aside from those of a fundamentalist bent; those whose culture this reflects by and large reject it and consider the tale fictional.
        Stack this view and those of experts such as Devers and Finkelstein Herzog etc, against your view then I would opt for theirs. And, apparently, so does the majority.

        4. Numbers in Hebrew stories are more often given for impression that accuracy….etc

        The numbers quandary has been argued to and for ever, it seems. Some read it literally others do not.
        Yet the bible is quite specific regarding the numbers that fled. If you are able to provide a relevant comparison ( specific source perhaps?) that could clearly show these numbers were substantially lower?

        5. But they–and you–are requiring that the whole story be taken as literal fact, for any of it to be true. I find this requirement to be without merit.

        Again, here we venture into the realm of interpretation. And if we are to accept one part then why not accept it all? Or reject it all for that matter?
        There is no evidence for either scenario. None.

        1. A group of Israelite slaves escape captivity from Egypt….

        etc

        1&2 Could you define ‘a group of Israelites’ – in numbers -and also, could you explain how they escaped baring in mind the time frame and that the entire area concerned was under Egyptian rule?

        As to your last sentence… You think that I am Orthodox rabbi?
        Where does my sentence suggest you are a Rabbi?

        By the way, for the record, are you a Christian?
        If so, what type?

      • “They were not just wandering, were they?
        I reiterate.No evidence has ever been found. Not even where they ‘camped’ as per the bible. Nothing.”

        So, in response to a post in which I state that the written account of the Exodus is mythologized and should not be taken literally, you argue that I should accept a less-plausible origin of the myth, because no archaeological evidence has been excavated to support taking the mythologized account literally?

        “Plausible? There is not a scrap of evidence. In Egypt or Palestine and aside from those of a fundamentalist bent; those whose culture this reflects by and large reject it and consider the tale fictional. Stack this view and those of experts such as Devers and Finkelstein Herzog etc, against your view then I would opt for theirs. And, apparently, so does the majority.”

        At this point, I am unclear–what exactly do you think that “my view” is?

        “The numbers quandary has been argued to and for ever, it seems. Some read it literally others do not.
        Yet the bible is quite specific regarding the numbers that fled. If you are able to provide a relevant comparison ( specific source perhaps?) that could clearly show these numbers were substantially lower?”

        You want me to cite specific numbers in response to my explanation that ancient Aramaic writers did not record numbers for the purpose of historical accuracy?

        “Again, here we venture into the realm of interpretation. And if we are to accept one part then why not accept it all? Or reject it all for that matter?”

        Historical-critical methodology. Ignore any religious precepts which have developed around the literature, and read it as a member of that culture at that time would have intended it for other members of that culture at that time.

        “There is no evidence for either scenario. None.”

        Well, yes there: the book exists. So, what is the most plausible explanation of its creation?

        “Could you define ‘a group of Israelites’ – in numbers”

        You’re asking me to give explicit numbers of an event recorded thousands of years ago, by a culture which I have already explained did not use numbers literally in their stories?

        “-and also, could you explain how they escaped baring in mind the time frame and that the entire area concerned was under Egyptian rule?”

        Any attempt to explain the mechanism of escape would be pointless speculation. Perhaps there was an Underground Railroad, and they escaped over a period of many years. Perhaps a sympathetic prince talked a Pharaoh into letting them go. We don’t know how Damascus steel or Greek fire were made; that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. I simply find that “an escape of Israelite slaves from Egypt” is a more plausible basis for a scroll about an escape of Israelite slaves from Egypt, than “no escape” would be.

        “Where does my sentence suggest you are a Rabbi?”

        Because you stated that you didn’t know anyone except an Orthodox rabbi who would put in writing that he thought the Exodus was real–as part of an argument you started in response to my putting in writing that the Exodus probably happened.

        “By the way, for the record, are you a Christian?
        If so, what type?”

        Why would this matter?

      • “They were not just wandering, were they?
        I reiterate. No evidence has ever been found. Not even where they ‘camped’ as per the bible. Nothing.”

        So, in response to a post in which I state that the written account of the Exodus is mythologized and should not be taken literally, you argue that I should accept a less-plausible origin of the myth, because no archaeological evidence has been excavated to support taking the mythologized account literally?
        What I am saying it is fiction, period. And so does the majority of relevant scientists and scholars.

        “Plausible? There is not a scrap of evidence. In Egypt or Palestine and aside from those of a fundamentalist bent; those whose culture this reflects by and large reject it and consider the tale fictional. Stack this view and those of experts such as Devers and Finkelstein Herzog etc, against your view then I would opt for theirs. And, apparently, so does the majority.”

        At this point, I am unclear–what exactly do you think that “my view” is?
        I think you believe that there a core of truth to the biblical story.

        “The numbers quandary has been argued to and for ever, it seems. Some read it literally others do not.
        Yet the bible is quite specific regarding the numbers that fled. If you are able to provide a relevant comparison (specific source perhaps?) that could clearly show these numbers were substantially lower?”

        You want me to cite specific numbers in response to my explanation that ancient Aramaic writers did not record numbers for the purpose of historical accuracy?
        I did not say specific numbers I said a relevant comparison. Can you do this?
        If the bible figure amounts to around 2 million what figure would you suggest?

        “Again, here we venture into the realm of interpretation. And if we are to accept one part then why not accept it all? Or reject it all for that matter?”
        Historical-critical methodology. Ignore any religious precepts which have developed around the literature, and read it as a member of that culture at that time would have intended it for other members of that culture at that time.
        I can ignore the religious precepts but they would not likely have.

        “There is no evidence for either scenario. None.”
        Well, yes there: the book exists. So, what is the most plausible explanation of its creation?
        Harry Potter exists. It is fiction. It is evidence of Harry Potter but its contents are fiction. Is there a point?

        “Could you define ‘a group of Israelites’ – in numbers”
        You’re asking me to give explicit numbers of an event recorded thousands of years ago, by a culture which I have already explained did not use numbers literally in their stories?
        Again, a round figure would suffice. I imagine you have given this some thought, yes?

        “-and also, could you explain how they escaped bearing in mind the time frame and that the entire area concerned was under Egyptian rule?”
        Any attempt to explain the mechanism of escape would be pointless speculation. Perhaps there was an Underground Railroad, and they escaped over a period of many years. Perhaps a sympathetic prince talked a Pharaoh into letting them go. We don’t know how Damascus steel or Greek fire were made; that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. I simply find that “an escape of Israelite slaves from Egypt” is a more plausible basis for a scroll about an escape of Israelite slaves from Egypt, than “no escape” would be.
        Well, it is a point of view, certainly. But not one, it seems, shared by many other than those of a fundamental religious bent.

        “Where does my sentence suggest you are a Rabbi?”

        Because you stated that you didn’t know anyone except an Orthodox rabbi who would put in writing that he thought the Exodus was real–as part of an argument you started in response to my putting in writing that the Exodus probably happened.
        Yes, I could see why you might have got confused. No, I do not think you are.

        “By the way, for the record, are you a Christian?
        If so, what type?”

        Why would this matter?
        Because a religious worldview will inevitably affect how one reads the bible.
        If you accept it, no matter how you interpret it, you will likely be ( in this case) Christian.
        So, are you?

      • “What I am saying it is fiction, period. And so does the majority of relevant scientists and scholars.”

        Well, neither argument from authority nor argument from numbers carry any weight with me. I would be happy to entertain a more plausible explanation of origin than the one I currently posit, of course. 🙂

        “I think you believe that there a core of truth to the biblical story.”

        But every objection you raise is against taking the entire account as if it were meant to be read as a modern history text. “How did this happen? How many were there, really?” Those details would not have been important to the author, nor the audience. They are not the point if the story. Nor is the truth of the story to be found in its historical accuracy. I simply find it unlikely that this book became accepted history, with no history to base it on. After all, it’s not just a couple of characters who might have lived in the next town over; every Israelite family existing at the time of it’s writing would have been descended from the slaves in Egypt. Or NOT have been descended from them. And it seems like something which would be mentioned.

        “I did not say specific numbers I said a relevant comparison. Can you do this?
        If the bible figure amounts to around 2 million what figure would you suggest?”

        I “suggest” that Semitic writers make up numbers, even when writing about things that actually happened, for the emotional impact of the story. There is no way to estimate the actual number, nor is it important to understanding the meaning. It’s like asking how many ants were really in the ant-nest in “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”

        “I can ignore the religious precepts but they would not likely have.”

        “They” who? Are you confusing the mythological symbolism of the story, with the religion that developed incorporating it?

        “Harry Potter exists. It is fiction. It is evidence of Harry Potter but its contents are fiction. Is there a point?”

        Yes. Nobody believes that “Harry Potter” describes historical events. But if there was no escape from Egypt at all, then we must believe that an entire nation–noted for its practice of maintaining detailed patrilineal histories for a period of centuries–somehow accepted as historical an event written by one man, and recorded in no other source. Including all of those family histories. And accepted it so thoroughly that they canonized it.

        “Well, it is a point of view, certainly. But not one, it seems, shared by many other than those of a fundamental religious bent.”

        Well, my opinions are based on research and reason. Not what other people–and certainly not what any group of a specific ideology–might “believe”. Although, at least in my case, I endeavor to shape my beliefs with reason, rather than limit my reason with beliefs.

        “So, are you?”

        You have the relationship backward, at least in my case, but to clarify for you:

        I was raised Presbyterian. In college, I decided that all religion, and Christianity in particular, were nonsense, and became an atheist. During my years in Japan, I became enamored with the local non-theistic liturgy and became a practicing Buddhist, and to a lesser extent, a Daoist. Several years later, after returning to the U.S., I developed an interest in Joseph Cambell’s work on mythology and the developing Jungian-inspired field of transpersonal psychology. At the same time, I found a rich historical antecedent in Gnosticism.

        Today, I am still a Gnostic, but I also attend an Episcopal Church–which provides a vehicle for liturgy and sacrament without demanding much in the way of specific theology.

  4. ‘’Well, neither argument from authority nor argument from numbers carry any weight with me. I would be happy to entertain a more plausible explanation of origin than the one I currently posit, of course 🙂 ‘’
    This is the beauty of choice and free will. You can believe whatever you like. The evidence reveals what it reveals and people are generally encouraged to follow it.

    ‘’But every objection you raise is against taking the entire account as if it were meant to be read as a modern history text. “How did this happen? How many were there, really?” Those details would not have been important to the author, nor the audience. They are not the point if the story. Nor is the truth of the story to be found in its historical accuracy. I simply find it unlikely that this book became accepted history, with no history to base it on. After all, it’s not just a couple of characters who might have lived in the next town over; every family existing at the time of it’s writing would have been descended from the slaves in Egypt. Or NOT have been descended from them. And it seems like something which would be mentioned.’’
    Odd. You say details to the author or the audience were not important yet, you then state that there would have been no reason to go into so much detail if there was no validity to the tale.
    I accept that you (and others) find it unlikely. However, it appears the majority – including most of Judaism do not.

    ‘’I “suggest” that Semitic writers make up numbers, even when writing about things that actually happened, for the emotional impact of the story. There is no way to estimate the actual number, nor is it important to understanding the meaning. It’s like asking how many ants were really in the ant-nest in “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” ’’
    Yet, you make a point of mentioning – “’every family existing at the time of its writing would have been descended from the slaves in Egypt.’’ So here it should be possible to arrive at an estimation. Others have. You are firm in your conviction that it did ( after a fashion) happen yet are vague on any details to the point you seem reluctant to speculate. Why?

    “They” who? Are you confusing the mythological symbolism of the story, with the religion that developed incorporating it?
    If it was told/developed for the ‘people’ about their ancestors pertaining to their claimed birth-right then the religious aspect as well as the historical aspect would have been important. And it was the religious aspect that gave it authority; otherwise they were being fed lies and were simply a horde of Bronze Age barbarian butchers.

    ‘’But if there was no escape from Egypt at all, then we must believe that an entire nation–noted for its practice of maintaining detailed patrilineal histories for a period of centuries–somehow accepted as historical an event written by one man, and recorded in no other source. Including all of those family histories. And accepted it so thoroughly that they canonized it.’’
    You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you choose to believe. And although it might seem plausible to accept this tale, the evidence tells us another story.

    ‘’Well, my opinions are based on research and reason. Not what other people–and certainly not what any group of a specific ideology–might “believe”. Although, at least in my case, I endeavor to shape my beliefs with reason, rather than limit my reason with beliefs.’’
    As do the likes of, Finkelstein, Devers, Herzog , Wolpe and myriad others, I am sure.
    As the view that it is fiction is now taught it would suggest this is the mainstream view. I can think of no reason why they would not shape their belief from research and reason as well. Are you suggesting their powers of research and reason is somehow inferior to yours?

    ‘’You have the relationship backward, at least in my case, but to clarify for you:’’ …..
    Got it. Thanks.

    • “Odd. You say details to the author or the audience were not important yet, you then state that there would have been no reason to go into so much detail if there was no validity to the tale.”

      You’re still trying to read it like modern Western writing. Including details is important in Semitic writing for conveying feeling. There was no concept of including details for historical accuracy. When Moshe delivers Ten Commandments which perfectly express Israelite morality, they are “written with the Hand of God.” When someone speaks with great authority, he “stands as tall as the sky.” These are all details, they just aren’t literal details. I’d like to give you some more relevant examples; unfortunately my Aramaic library is in storage just now. :-/

      “Yet, you make a point of mentioning – “’every family existing at the time of its writing would have been descended from the slaves in Egypt.’’ So here it should be possible to arrive at an estimation. Others have. You are firm in your conviction that it did ( after a fashion) happen yet are vague on any details to the point you seem reluctant to speculate. Why?”

      Because, used in THAT fashion, the details are irrelevant. You’re staring at a finger that’s pointing to the moon.

      “If it was told/developed for the ‘people’ about their ancestors pertaining to their claimed birth-right then the religious aspect as well as the historical aspect would have been important. And it was the religious aspect that gave it authority; otherwise they were being fed lies and were simply a horde of Bronze Age barbarian butchers.”

      You are confusing religion and mythology. Culturally-identifying stories, such as the Exodus saga, are mythology. They use symbolism to instruct in both cultural values and the human condition (see original post). Religion is a practice–worship, marriage, funeral rites, etc. Usually related but not identical.

      “You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you choose to believe. And although it might seem plausible to accept this tale, the evidence tells us another story.”

      What you have said previously is that there is no evidence at all. Disregarding the fact that you are ONLY allowing physical evidence, and not rational examination of the literature itself, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Also, I have suggested “accepting this tale” (by which, I must assume, you mean ‘as a literal history’). I only state that the escape from bondage was probably a real event–not that the story which developed was factually precise.

      “As do the likes of, Finkelstein, Devers, Herzog , Wolpe and myriad others, I am sure.
      As the view that it is fiction is now taught it would suggest this is the mainstream view. I can think of no reason why they would not shape their belief from research and reason as well. Are you suggesting their powers of research and reason is somehow inferior to yours?”

      I am stating that you are making an appeal to authority. I have posited a plausible position. When you can state an equally- or more-plausible position, I will consider it.

      • If not an appeal to authority,then to whom must I make an appeal? God? You?

        I only state that the escape from bondage was probably a real event
        Fine. You think it was a real event, Great I get it. So what are we talking about?
        A few families, say a dozen?
        Couple of hundred people. Ten thousand?
        Did the Egyptians allow them to leave or did they make their break a la those from Colditz?
        How did they bypass all the Egyptian forts?

        Did they sneak out a few at a time then amass on the Cannanite border and then invade?
        Or was there no invasion and all the bits in between were just make believe?
        Did Moses really exist or was he a composite as Noth suggested?
        As the books in question are generally acknowledged not to have been written by anyone called Moses, who ( do you think) wrote them?

        If you are going to diss my appeal to authority and all you have to offer is what youconsider a plausible theory then it does little to further the credibility of your argument and until you are prepared to offer some reference to back this belief then why must I or anyone take it seriously?
        It is opinion ( which you are perfectly entitled to hold, of course) based on hearsay text which you can believe but has no evidence to back it. None.

        The more plausible position is it simply did not happen – and after all this time of digging no other position has presented itself.

      • I started to compose a serious reply to this, but as I read it, it became obvious that you are no longer interested in having a civil conversation. This is why I hesitated to answer your question about religion; I was pretty sure your next post would look something like this.

        I extended you the courtesy of benefit-of-the-doubt; you disappointed me. Perhaps we can have a more productive argument in the future.

        Be well.

  5. Pingback: Literally Speaking | Amusing Nonsense·

  6. You appear to consider to have taken the position that if a point of view differs from your own it has no validity?
    On another post I noticed you are a defender of an Aramaic primacy and state your case as though this, too, should be obvious to anyone .

    This type of approach is what tends to get people’s back up and smacks of a certain amount of arrogance.
    Even if your point of view was held by the majority a degree of humility in explaining it rather simply assuming it should be obvious would encourage dialogue, and who knows, maybe someone might take you seriously?

    Opinions are like bottoms – we all have one.

  7. When the Japanese describe the quality of something, they often refer to it as ‘ichiban’ (‘number one’, the best), ‘sanban’ (‘number three’, tolerable), or ‘juban’ (‘number ten’, awful). Do they actually have a rating scheme of ten increments for all goods, services, and persons? If so, why are numbers 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 never seen?

    Because the numbers 1, 3, and 10 are not part of a precise ordinal scale. They are simply used to elicit an emotional response in the listener.

    There is a story in which Yeshua Ben Yosef is described as feeding “5,000 people” with five loaves of bread and two fish. Is the target audience of first-century Hebrews expected to believe that the author took the time, while a miracle was being performed in front of his eyes, to take an accurate census of 5,000 people–and got a perfectly round number?

    No, because that is not how first-century Hebrews wrote. Numbers were used for their emotional impact, not their historical accuracy. Why don’t I give numbers? Because the numbers offered are present for emotional impact. They do not constitute sufficient information to create an estimate, nor would such an estimate be anything but an irrelevant detail for you to quibble over.

    They certainly do not change the fact that the best interpretation of the original evidence–the primary source document–is that of a mythologized historical event.

    Of course, I’ve already explained this several times, including in the original article…

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