Thursday, April 03, 2008

The [rather specific] Argument from [the base of Mount] Sinai [etc]

[This is still raw, to be edited]

I was just reading one of Aish's presentations of what seems to be a streamlined presentation of the renowned Kuzari Principle, and more than evidencing the Divine nature of Torah, it evidenced the value of hazarah, reading the sources and reading variant presentations of the Principle... When rabbis Zeldman and Coopersmith give posukim to back up the statement that the whole of the nation Israel heard something at Sinai, he brings Devarim - the narrative that is Moshe Rabbenu speaking - telling Israel that they heard something - he does not offer the posukim where HKBH Speaks to Israel (And they would be...Exodus 20:1-17?...). Why? Too much debate?

They then present the "bold prediction" (this is their loshon, I'm not claiming it's not bold or a prediction);

'You might inquire about times long past, from the day that God created man on earth, and from one end of heaven to the other: Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard and survived?' (Deut. 4:32-33)

I don't think there is enough verse-context given to show the actual parameters of the claim "who heard the Voice of Hashem". Indeed, no other nation has made that claim - the verse actually says "Elokim"...But there have been other claims for mass revelations from other powers and by other means than hearing - and the internet skeptics are glad to bring examples, some more challenging than others, to that affect. This may seem trivial, but it is important, - since they claim, in the piece, "the author of the Torah predicts that there will never be another claim of national revelation throughout history!" - and this is exactly the kind of loshon that skeptics jump on. Other national 'revelations' have been claimed - but what is meant by 'revelation'?. It's not clear from their presentation if they mean by 'revelation' exactly what is stated by the posukim. This matters because specific parameters are given in the verse regarding the 'revelation', and Who gives it. Have others made the claim that Elokim spoke to them? The verse does not say 'YKVH', our God, the God of Israel. We reasonably infer this, but it is not the actual loshon of the challenge, and as it is from Torah, shouldn't we assume the specific name is used for a specific reason? The loshon of elohim is not exclusively used regarding HKBH, and is discussed [] as implying God's general authority, as he relates to the Klal of creation. This would seem to be a coorelary to the term 'Higher Power'. Again, there have been examples of collective 'revelations' from deities - but how many have been claimed as coming from THE Higher Power - that upon which all else depends for existence (even the Gods)?

The greater context of this verse is several challenges, and I think they render it more specific and subtle a claim. After verses 32-33, it continues;

Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

If these verses are to be a 'proof' I think the proof is localized to the experiences of the Jewish people, a challenge phrased specifically to that generation to be taught to later generations. I don't know that it is really intended to be used as a philosophical proof removed not only from the textual context, but removed from the specifically "Israel as one person" context. there are proofs and evidences that are strong for individuals (KJ Clark, etc), but weak when asked to apply to the (diversely experiencing) minds of many. I think it is a 'weak' argument in the philosophical sense of not making a strong, general claim - but it is a strong argument for and a specific individual - as its "challenge" loshon is applied to one person - here, the person Israel, who would over time, be in the situation of doubting. Elsewhere in Tanach, verses state that others knew of what Israel went through, and it's not denied. Here I think a tradition is being fixed as truth-bound. The evidence of the experience is being emphasized to those who buoy the Tradition through time; the People Israel are the context of Truths not bound to 'tradition' (in a soft use of MacIntyre's language in "Whose Justice, Which Rationality?", as presented in Ian Markham's Ontological Argument). They are a Truth-bound Tradition in a world of tradition-bound 'truths'. But such certainties as theirs are dangerous when held beyond parameters (divine parameters). The other nations are not in the same Covenant with HKBH as Israel (Derech Hashem, etc), do not have Torah, etc. When 'absolute'-oriented worldviews are held by Klal, epic consequences transpire (the epic scopes of communism, Messianism, etc). There are consequences to Monotheism - and there's reason behind arguments that are 'for' us and not for others, covenants that we are under and not others, laws we are bound to and not others. more to come?

There is a great point made by r. Sacks (also here, specific to myth), on this additional context of the challenge, of the anomalous nature of Deity violating the mythic maxim "as above, so below" -"the supreme Power intervening on behalf of the supremely powerless, not (as in every other culture) to endorse the status quo but to overturn it." - plucking a 'divinely-ordained' servile people out of the 'divinely-ordained' social order - completely anomalous as a claim for the ancient world. It also seems to be denying that his authority is "mythically-bound" - he is 'bound' by his own Will! (he is also Willed that he be bound by covenanting with this former slave people!) - He takes them out not in accord with their 'expected' divinely-ordained time scale, but by His own decision - as if He's trying to shake the slavery-inculcated 'mythic mindset' from Israel by shattering the usual expections - even about Him. It continues;

35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.

That YKVK is the Elohim - the Highest Power. It wasn't simply some deity speaking to a nation or doing miracles - it was THE God.

There may be other claims, but given the parameters above, they would be few. The reason for the experiences, about which the claim is made, ups the ante even more; does any other claim make this point - that the deity speaking to them is The Deity - the source of all everything?

I hope to I"H post some of my thoughts on the general criticisms of national revelations as made by the professor from the University in England, as they are applied to the Kuzari Principle, and the Torah's claims.


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