Monday, February 12, 2007

More [old] material regarding a "Localized" Mabul

This piece by R. Joel Wolowelsky has been out a while and it took a rereading in 'light' of my present outlook to see something chewy, yet chunky in it. I would emphasize the fact that "the World" of which he speaks ("revealed history of the world"), is itself something that is subject to revision every few generations, often dramatically. Torah was "Given in the language of man", etc; in being Spoken to any people at any time, how could it not but speak in a manner that would later seem somewhat "localized" in time and space and general dimension (this would also perhaps militate for a "community of interpretation" that would ensure a continuity of general understanding, i.e. Jews)? If spoken earlier, it would be obfuscating to those who couldn't fathom any of it - due to the difference in kind of perspective it would be giving (on this, see my earlier post on R. Kook and R. Hirsch).

"When we read the biblical Flood story as a contrast to the existing parallel ancient Near-Eastern literature, we hear things somewhat differently than had we read it as part of "the revealed history of the world." We not only see things that we had missed, but begin to notice the relative importance or tangential quality of various details.

For example, we know that when some pagan text says that "every" animal was included in its refugee-boat, we understand that we are not reading a prophetic statement conveying information that could only have been revealed. (The pagans had no way of knowing whether, indeed, every species in the world, including those species from far-away lands unbeknown to them, was saved from a flood.) They were using the word "every" in the same way that we do in the sentence, "He thought no one knew his secret and then discovered that everyone knew it." We understand that this sentence does not really mean to exclude the possibility that someone in room ‑‑let alone the world-- did not know the secret.
If the Torah has a specific educational purpose in retelling the story of the Flood from its ethico-religious perspective, we have little reason to think that its statement that every species was included in the ark was meant to give divine confirmation of that specific detail of the pagan story and to exclude the possibility that some esoteric species from far-away New Zealand (unknown to Noah) had survived the Flood. After all, we do not find it particularly upsetting to be told (Num. 16:32-33) that every member of Korah's family had been killed, only to learn some chapters later (Num. 26:11) that Korah's sons had not been killed."


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