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HolyGround >> Refuting Biblical Criticism


12/7/10 2:42 PM
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770mdm
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Edited: 12/07/10 2:42 PM
Member Since: 7/24/08
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 http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/joshua-berman-interview/

 

 

 

  
12/7/10 2:46 PM
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770mdm
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 Joshua Berman of Bar Ilan University/Shalem Center spoke at Davar in Teaneck two weeks ago. He discussed his new project of reassessing Biblical source criticism from an academic and Jewish perspective. When I probed him, he was nice enough to agree to answer a few bigger questions. Now we can return the favor and help him produce a better book by offering comments on his proposed project.

Berman attended Princeton University, and holds a doctorate in Bible from Bar-Ilan University. He studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and received his ordination from the Chief Rabbinate. His prior book is Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought . Go read it. It has gotten favorable reviews and even those who criticize parts of the book have been extremely charitable. It claims that the Pentateuch is history’s first blueprint for a society where theology, politics, and economics embrace egalitarian ideals, by reconstituting ancient norms and institutions. Created Equal is a popular work that used much of the current scholarly literature comparing ancient Near Eastern religion and Israelite religion, including those of Norman K. Gottwald who blurbed the book.

12/7/10 3:26 PM
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770mdm
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 Question 4: If the flood story appears to be based on the Mesopotamian accounts, then why look for moral teachings and deeper meanings in the Torah version? Why did the Torah teach the flood story at all?

Answer: I don’t know what really happened with the flood, Noah, or the animals. Even the Rambam allowed that it might not be literal.

I do know, however, that when we compare the flood narrative of Gen 6-9 to the Mesopotamian flood traditions we see one thing: that the Genesis account is engaged in theological polemic with the other known story.

The Mesopotamians were caught in a bind: since the gods created men to be their servants, why is there famine and disease in the world?  The Mesopotamian flood story gives the answer: the gods were troubled by overpopulation of the world, because – and this is what is says – there were so many humans, making so much noise, that they were disturbing the sleep of the gods!  So the gods sent all manner of suffering to kill off people, culminating with the flood, and following which, the gods introduced fertility problems into the world, to solve the problem.

The Torah spins all that on its head: humanity suffers not because it disturbs the gods’ sleep, but because of its misdeeds.  In the Mesopotamian story, the “Noah” figure escapes only because a rogue god tipped him off, and told him to build an ark. In the Torah, saving a remnant of humanity was always part of the plan, and the choice of whom to save was based on righteous deeds.  The Torah’s flood story ends with a ringing affirmation of human reproduction: “And the Lord said to Noah and to his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land.”

Question 5: Do you have any thoughts on the classical positions on Revelation?

I know that the classical sources of Machshevet Yisrael pursue this topic great length.  In a personal admission I will say that I was never very good at Machshevet Yisrael.  When reading the Torah or the Nevi’im I proceed from a supposition that the only way that I will properly understand the message of the text is if I take it literally.  An analogy: I know, intellectually, that it is pointless to describe the Almighty as “angry” “loving”, etc.  I know that mouthing the words of the tefillah is unnecessary for God to know what I’m thinking.  Utilizing these terms, however, is the best way for me to relate to the Almighty. Over-speculation on what He is really like, will actually detract me from the proper service of Him.  I don’t know what it means when the Torah says, “God spoke to Moses saying…” – but I do know (or, this is my operating belief, anyway) that I will only be able to grasp the Torah’s message (dare I use the Christian term “kerygma”?) if I relate to that phrase in its simplest manner.



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