Beliefnet
The story is told of a scientist studying a flea, one he had carefully trained to jump on command. In the interest of his lifelong research into insect hearing, he pulled off one of the flea's legs and ordered it to jump. The insect complied, despite its handicap. After a second amputation, its response to the command was somewhat less impressive; after a third, even less so. Finally, after being deprived of all of its legs, all the flea could do when ordered to jump was buzz about ineffectually on the table.

Solemnly, the scientist recorded his findings in his journal: "Fleas apparently hear with their legs."

One by necessity approaches the Torah--what Christians call the Old Testament and Jews consider the only one--with one of two assumptions: either the document is the word of God, or it is the product of men. These are two mutually exclusive, entirely diametric ways of regarding the Torah, and, contrary to popular misconception, there is no conceivable way of "proving" either approach correct or in error by examining the text itself. One simply brings one's prior assumptions to the analysis and proceeds from there.

Thus, oddities like the use of one name for God in some verses and another name in others are, to the reader who believes in the divine origin of the book, indications of different "modes" (Hebrew: "middot") of God's interaction with mortals. To one who assumes the Torah to be the work of man, such things are as good an indication as any that more than one man's work is represented in the text. Similarly, peculiar or recurrent patterns of language, depending on one's pre-analysis point of view, are either sublime indications of wisdom to be mined or further "evidence" of the interjection of the words of this or that human author.

Or take the Torah's textual predictions of future events. To those who accept the divine origin of the Torah, they are prophecies. To those who consider the very idea of prophecy untenable, they are conclusive evidence that those passages were written after the events they describe. How else, after all, could the writer have known?

Both the "Higher Bible Criticism" invented at the turn of the previous century by theology professor Julius Wellhausen and the "Lower Criticism" of more recent decades, take as their alpha-point the implausibility of God's having ever communicated with mankind. Thus, the text of the Torah, to Wellhausen and those who followed him and expanded on his theories, is a ready target for "deconstruction"--for assigning parts of it to one "author" and others to others.

In his work "Critique of Religion and Philosophy," philosopher Walter Kaufmann imagined such Bible critics analyzing Goethe's Faust, with its "inconsistencies in style and thought and plan," and easily concluding that it, too, must have had a multitude of authors.

Consider, for that matter, any human mind. What would an observer from the star system Alpha Centauri make of a mind's seeming guises and even contradictions? After all, I relate to my children differently than I do to my peers, and my interaction with those I regard as my superiors reveals a "different" me entirely. Does that make me three people? God, to be sure, does not change in essence; He is perfection. But His interactions with humanity reveal--at least in the lens through which we mortals necessarily regard Him--"different" modalities of relationship. And those modalities are reflected in the Torah--a book of words, after all--by different modalities of language.

Archeology, too, is a woefully imperfect tool for "proving" or "disproving" the Torah's divine origin. It relies exclusively and inherently on speculative interpretations of evidence, on theoretical reconstructions whose veracity can never be conclusively confirmed. Shards, bones and papyri that are thousands of years old can certainly suggest things, at times even convincingly; but they can never prove anything--and their absence most certainly cannot constitute disproof.

What is more, much "harder" sciences than archeology have endured radical revisions of their once-declared "truths," even in modern times. Newtonian physics, after all, was overturned by relativity, and the early model of the subatomic world has been entirely upended by quantum theory. The biological sciences have seen new, once unimagined doors open onto surprising facts like the existence of DNA and once-discounted theories like "punctuated equilibrium." By contrast, archeology, its speculative nature entirely aside, is in its relative infancy as a science.

When I look at the Torah, I do so as a Jew whose parents entrusted him - as theirs did them, and theirs before them, back to the day when the Torah was entrusted to all Jews' ancestors on Mt. Sinai--with the solemn historical tradition of the Torah's divine nature. I approach it--both the text itself and its unwritten "key" (what Judaism calls the Oral Tradition)--as God's word.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus