Monday, May 22, 2017

The Kuzari--a Proletarian Approach.

     Reading through the first chapter of the Kuzari again, I have tried to come to terms with his hypothesis for why Judaism is the Truth.  Some version of his rationale is one of the simpler arguments commonly used in the kiruv industry when trying to convince people to be Jewish.  Between that and Pascal's Wager, I've seen even educated people fall into a sophistic claptrap and be unable to pull themselves out.

           Before I continue, I would like to firmly state my intention.  I come not to tear down the walls of the yeshiva.  For those who genuinely believe, and for those who use their beliefs to bring light into the world, I say render unto yourselves that which you find sacred.  But for those who use pseudoscience and fallacious logic to try to impose your views on others, I am speaking to you.  I, the self-righteous heathen, speak to you.  And to those of you on the fence, I encourage you to read up on those more learned than me.  

           There are many people more learned than me who can take apart the common kiruv arguments using math, using logic, using science, using archaeology, using many disciplines I don't have the sitzfleisch to master.  So I will attempt to deconstruct it using my proletarian understanding of the subject.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A WORD.  The word was spread throughout mankind.  But mankind could not seem to remember the word.  They eventually began to use their words to create new words.  And with those words they worshiped other entities.  The word begat other words, and the one begat many.

             Along came an archetype, a shiekh called Abraham.  He was very likely a Northern Semitic expatriot from Ur or Elam.  From there his family migrated to Haran.  And from there, he moved to the land of the Canaanites.  In that land, there were many local deities, and some grand ones.  The one he chose to worship was known by many names; He revealed Himself to Abraham as El-Shaddai.  He stayed with Abraham for many years.  Abraham begat a son named Isaac, and Isaac a son named Jacob.  Jacob begat 12 sons.  Eventually, the 12 sons migrated to Egypt to escape a famine.  The second-youngest, Joseph, became a vizier named Zaphnath Paneach.

            As far as I know, there is no actual archaeological or historical evidence to back up much of the above.  That there was a Semitic influx around the time, that is true.  That a group commonly called the "Hyksos" ruled Egypt for a time is agreed upon.  Modern scholars doubt that the Hyksos were the Hebrews.  There was another group called the Hapiru (or Habiru).  That sounds more like Hebrew (or Ivri), but the jury is still out on that one.

            Our story really begins with an Exodus of 600,000 men, roughly 2 million people total.  The Exodus was spurned by one Moses.  Moses bore the name of a deity who claimed to be the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He was known by many names.  He revealed himself to Abraham as El-Shaddai.  He told Moses "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh", or as Popeye would say, "I 'yam what I 'yam."  He revealed to Moses his ineffable name YHWH (perhaps Yehovah, or one really knows).  Bearing this name, Moses and his brother Aaron sent 10 plagues on Egypt.  When that was over, the Pharaoh let the 600,000+ slaves go to their promised land.

               There are many holes that can be poked into this one.  For starters, a slave rebellion of that size would not go unrecorded.  The population of Egypt itself was barely larger than a million at the time.  If that many people actually escaped Egypt, it would have been a bigger deal.

               Assuming the Exodus happened around the time it allegedly happened, then Egypt would have ruled Canaan at the time, and would have had garrisons throughout.  It would not have been safe to run away there.

               They were afraid to escape the route of the Phillistines.  But the Phillistines would not have been in the picture yet.  Clear anachronism.

               I am purposely leaving out the problems brought up by higher criticism, such as the notion that Moses and Aaron were rivals, that the P narrative is supporting Aaronid, and D supports the Mushites (supporters of Moses and a monarchy, not a priestly caste).  I am also leaving out the split narrative of J (Judah, the southern tribes), and E (Joseph, the Northern tribes).  I will address those at a different time.  

          And so, the Children of Israel wandered in a desert for some time before approaching a mountain alternatively known as Horeb or Sinai.  It was on this mountain that the Children of Israel had a massive epiphany.  It wasn’t like when Jesus went in the desert all by himself, got tempted by the Satan, and overcame him.  It wasn’t like when Muhammed went up the mountain all by himself and heard the word of Allah from the angel Jibril.  No, it wasn’t like any other epiphany in recorded history.   All 600,000 men, plus the women and children were there in front of Horeb/Sinai.  Each and over one of them heard the word of God as He recited the Decalogue.  And oh yeah, the midrash takes it further.  Not only that, but did you know that the souls of every Jew who would ever be born was there too?  Yep, it was a spectacular epiphany.
          And then came the Golden Calf.

A brief pause.
          Ladies and Gentlemen, let us pause to soak in the magnitude of this epiphany.  600,000 people saw the same thing.  Not one.  And thus, this narrative must be true.  Why?  Bear with me. 

          I am purposely reducing the elegant argument to its bare bones, so please feel free to provide me with a link to a more fleshed out version of the argument in the comments.

          So we have a choice.  A dichotomy if you will.  Either the story happened, or it didn’t.  True or false.

          Let’s say it’s false:  If only one person saw it, then you only need to falsify one person.  If two people saw it, that’s two people to falsify.  600,000 men is pretty effing hard to falsify.  Because I could lie about one person or two people or even ten people seeing something crazy.  But to lie about 600,000 people seeing something crazy such as a big fire on a mountain?  No one in their right mind would buy that.

         OR WOULD THEY?

I propose a few thought experiments for those who think that the Kuzari hypothesis is incontrovertible.

1)      Never underestimate human gullibility.  As Einstein allegedly said, “two things are infinite: the universe, and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I don’t know if Einstein ever really said that, but bear with me.
a.      Are you familiar with Stanley Milgram’s experiments? If not, here is a good link.  Humans will believe all sorts of asinine things when told by a well-modulated authoritative voice.
b.     Nickelback has sold over 50 million records worldwide.  That means how many people out there actually think Nickelback sounds good?  (I kid, but seriously?  Nickelback?)
c.       Another post for another time is how many people every year get sucked up into cults.  Don’t get me started here. 
2)     But it’s impossible!  600,000 people can’t be deluded into believing something false?
a.      Consider this.  If you are a Jew, then you think that your way is the only authentic way.  Given that, 2.17 billion people worldwide identify as Christian; 1.6 billion identify as Muslim; 1.13 identify as unaffiliated; 1.03 identify as Hindu, and only 0.01 billion identify as Jews.     (source:  Pew Forum)

How could such a large chunk of the world believe in “false idols”?  If theirs is such a lie, and is so much more easily falsifiable than Judaism, then why do so many more people believe in it?
b.     Ever played a game called telephone? 

You know the rules.  Everyone sit in a circle.  The first person in the circle gets a message.  He or she whispers it to the person next to them.  That person whispers it to the person next to them. Keep going until everyone in the circle hears the message.  The last person must say aloud what they heard.

In the end, the last message is rarely ever the same as the first.  At least I’ve never seen it happen.

Now let’s change the game a bit.  How stories change over generations. 

Assume, if you will, that the Torah was not finalized until the 6th century B.C.E (or so).  Perhaps by a man named Ezra.  Before that, there were many competing traditions.  Is it plausible, then, that over the 2 millennia or so between the alleged epiphany of Sinai and the times of Ezra that some parts of the story were embellished, perhaps made to be more grandiose? 
This is just the groundwork for what I hope to be a larger and more drawn out answer to those who try to shake my lack of faith.

Have a great week,


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