Tilting at windmills redux

Devadatta

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That’s the problem with saying stuff here – you never know when someone’s going to come along and dig it up again.

I’ve just read through a debate from like 5 years ago between Bob x and BB, all about Redaction Theory or the Document Hypothesis.

It was an interesting debate, though as a lot of these things tend to do it seemed to wind down into mutual incomprehension. But BB was as entertaining as ever. Even when I totally disagree I have to admit he makes his points in a far more lively fashion than most of us do.

As usual for me, it comes down to a question of language. The dispute here is between the discourse of Athens and the discourse of Jerusalem, as BB sometimes puts it.

I guess it’s obvious that every discourse, like every game, has it rules. You don’t apply the rules of chess to basketball, except very selectively. And I guess BB might say that you don’t apply the rules of Athens to Jerusalem, except selectively.

This I think is BB’s most salient point: that within his tradition in particular the hermeneutics have been worked out that are mutually consistent (or consistent enough) and that one can not easily interject a foreign method or logic without damaging or falsifying that consistency.

Bob x, on the other hand, applies from outside the tradition a discourse of reason, or of Athens, that subverts and distorts the discourse of faith that informs the tradition from within.

Here, if I understand “faith” correctly, BB is not talking about “belief” or any notion that requires evidence as such. “Faith” is an inner disposition that allows for certain experiences. If we allow that such experiences are in effect a kind of knowledge, then “faith” like “reason” is a means to knowledge.

The heart has its reasons that the reason knows not, Pascal said. Some contemporary philosopher types like to talk about “embodiment”. That makes sense to me, since it’s just a physiological fact that we are not some little calculating machine sitting atop a marionette, whose strings we pull. We touch reality intimately, at all points, at every instant. Human reason, and consciousness, as not a few have noticed is like a flashlight in the darkness; it can illuminate only a one point at a time.

On the other side, however, Bob x might say that the problem with the heart and its reasons is that the heart can make up any reasons it likes. He might say – if he were as impolitic as me – that it’s the various discourses of faith that have already misapplied themselves, gone beyond their jurisdictions, violated other spheres of discourse. He might say that the faith traditions brought the club of reason on themselves.

It’s a question I guess of the various human discourses and how they interact.

On an individual level, many of us seem able to pass between the most widely divergent discourses with no apparent cognitive dissonance. Most of us live the greater part of our lives as good little Aristotelians, eschewing the excluded middle at every turn. At the same time we’re able to flip a switch and enter a world full of logical impossibilities. I think most of us who are reasonably well balanced can handle this.

The problem I think is far more difficult on the social level. As long as a particular discourse goes along tickety-boo benefiting its participants without harm to others then certainly there’s little call to meddle with its logic. It would be like watching a chess game and complaining to its participants that you didn’t like their rules for moving knights and pawns. (This is on the assumption that what they’re doing isn’t some foul cruelty; there you have every human right to let them know you think they’re foul. Here is the crucial distinction between pluralism and relativism.)

So if Christians and Muslims stuck to building beautiful cathedrals and mosques, administering to the poor and sick and making peace between warring parties, who would ever criticize their theology, deconstruct their holy books or rewrite their founders’ biographies?

Unlike my usual practice, I won’t beat this into the ground. But one other point: BB rightly points out that anti-Semitism played a role in bible criticism, especially in 19th century Germany. But these days it’s more likely to be lapsed or liberal Christians who are really going after other Christians (and Muslims). Unfortunately, to get at their real targets they have no choice but to pass through the bible on the way, it being a founding set of documents. Of course much more must have gone into the creation of these ideologies than simply the bible, so certainly it’s not altogether fair. But there it is.
 
That is quite an insightful post Devadatta. Thank you for that.

Athens and Jerusalem, reason and faith, science and religion (usually Christianity)...so many false dichotomies with eager zealots willing to defend to the death their "magisteria." ;)
 
That is quite an insightful post Devadatta. Thank you for that.

Athens and Jerusalem, reason and faith, science and religion (usually Christianity)...so many false dichotomies with eager zealots willing to defend to the death their "magisteria." ;)


Cheers, Juan. Hope all is well with you. (My own magisterium is held over a tiny expanse firmly located somwhere in the realm of fools.);)
 
i think that's rather a good summary, devadatta - and elegantly written besides. but did you have a question?

b'shalom

bananabrain

Well, not exactly. This was just a response to your interesting debate. And as sub-text there's always that ego-driven desire to be understood.

Shanti.
 
then perhaps one of the questions we might have is "how do i, as a sort-of-traditionalist-who-believes-in-Revelation-as-in-Torah-miSinai-albeit-awkward-squad come to terms with what i think of the DH?

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
how do i, as a sort-of-traditionalist-who-believes-in-Revelation-as-in-Torah-miSinai-albeit-awkward-squad come to terms with what i think of the DH?

well, it's like this:

1. look at what constitutes theological orthodoxy. in fact you'll find that we are a remarkably unsystematic bunch when it comes to theology; it is perfectly possible to reconcile a belief in Revelation with the evidence available without stretching anything really near to breaking point.

2. take a lenient and minimalist viewpoint. for example, the only Text that really requires unalloyed belief in Revelation is the Torah itself. as far as NaKh is concerned, we have many talmudic statements by the great sages which suggest that a) the "traditional authors" of the books of NaKh, like david, solomon and isaiah, are largely a matter of custom rather than proof and that b) they had quite a few arguments over what went in. basically, "Torah mi'Sinai" can mean many different things to different people, albeit in orthodox terms (insofar as that means anything) it means that moses came down the mountain with the words we have now. it doesn't cover the vowels, just the letters and it doesn't say exactly what form they were in, just that they were "Revealed"; we have other statements by the sages which confirm that moses *wrote down* the Text (dictated previously by G!D) over the 40 years in the desert, although there are opinions that say that joshua took down the last few verses, albeit still related by moses. so really, documentary evidence relating to the rest of NaKh is interesting, but has nothing to say to us with regard to Torah proper.

3. be logical. there are a lot of things wrong with the documentary hypothesis as it stands, including:

a. "show me the money". nobody has ever actually produced a document which even vaguely resembles "j", "e", "p" or anything else. that means that this is pretty much all a castle built in the air, based upon entirely circular reasoning - the evidence for the hypothesis is consistent with the axioms, to be sure, but the axioms are no less a matter of opinion than my belief that Revelation occurred.

b. the basic premise is quite unsound - just because one putative source calls G!D "e" and one uses "j", it doesn't therefore follow that the only logical explanation is that there were two original documents which were combined. for a start, traditional authorities are perfectly able to demonstrate with 100% reliability and consistency that when one Name is used, it refers to a characteristic of G!D's Action at that point. secondly, we have the point that my mum has her own name, as well as being my father's wife, my kids' grandma, my grandpa's daughter and, moreover has a number of other appelations depending on what she's doing at the time and with whom. she's still just one person. why this should be considered evidence that "j" and "e" are talking about different gods is beyond me.

c. narrative voice is no guarantee of identity. as pointed out in the early C20th by the late chief rabbi hertz, lord macaulay, in addition to having written the "lays" and a bunch of other literary prose and poetry, also authored the civil code of law for british-administered imperial india. he used quite different language for each type of work. are we to assume from this that there was more than one lord macaulay? i think not. even i myself can write in more than one way, as i frequently do at work, when i'm on the web, or when i'm writing a book review or a translation - and i *know* there's only one of me.

d. modern anthropologists like mary douglas can demonstrate that texts from other cultures make a lot more sense if you understand their context within the culture itself. by way of illustration, there are laws of divorce within the Torah, but no laws about how to get married, yet obviously people used to do so, which implies an Oral Law. consequently, the Oral Law ought to be at least considered as somewhat authoritative when it comes to explaining the Written Law of Torah? yet bible critics rarely have the education or skills to do this, with rare exceptions like the late r. louis jacobs z"l (With whom i fundamentally disagree, incidentally).

e. there are a lot of things in the text that don't make sense when you consider when the bible critics suggest that they were written. for example, why on earth would "p" bother with introducing an entire set of laws which are only applicable to a group of people that lives in a temporary camp? how would "p", at the time at which he supposedly lived, come to the conclusion that the laws should be applicable to this context rather than his own?

to continue:

4. be honest about what your axioms are: for example, i believe that G!D Is and if one accepts that G!D Is, the idea that G!D would be unable to speak directly to humans through Revelation makes no sense at all. i'm not a "deist". if G!D Is "omnipotent", or whatever ghastly word you use, then G!D is perfectly capable of coming up with a Book and giving it to us. all else flows from this as an axiom. the only thing that then has to be demonstrated is that this Book *is* of Divine origin. incidentally, if you dismiss out of hand the possibility of this being true as axiomatic, without any possibility of admitting the alternative, then that is being just as dogmatic.

finally, and this is, i think where it is most personal, the issue of trust.

5. who do you trust? i can see that judaism exists and that it has existed for certainly 2500 years, so really we're only debating over another 700 or so years going back to abraham. my people has devoted its entire existence to being faithful to this idea and our tradition and i feel i owe it to them to at least give them that respect for having enabled me to be what i am. more to the point, people who i sincerely respect, love and admire and, incidentally, have far better scientific credentials than myself, don't find that Torah mi'Sinai disturbs them, so why on earth should i. now, i freely admit that if someone with first-class understanding of *both* Torah and science became an apostate right in front of me, it might cause me a few wobbles. but so far it hasn't happened. i'm not saying it couldn't, but doubt is an important part of who i am as a believer.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Hi BB.
(response to your point 2) Would it be within the tradition to posit a Moses as already in possession of much of the tradition – particularly creations stories, stories of the patriarchs, most of mitzvot by then already traditional – before he underwent his special revelation that led to his final shaping of all this material over the forty years in the desert? Could one imagine Moses as the one great redactor, post-Sinai, elaborating the tradition (among pillars of smoke & flame), and in collaboration with other leading lights, giving torah its more or less definitive shape, only leaving his descendents like Josiah to fill in the final days? Would that still be in the ballpark?

(response to your point 3) I don’t think your arguments A, B & C preclude DG, but they do demonstrate what most fair-minded people would admit that it’s not a mathematical science. On the other hand, there’s more to the methods of DH than you outline here. Isn’t there lots of supporting linguistic evidence that suggest that the texts may not have been created as tradition would have it? For example, loan words from other languages that provide historical or geographical markers as to where a particular text was composed or written down? And then there are deeper grammatical structures that may include more or less archaic forms, which again may provide historical evidence. I know that even in notoriously unhistorical India Sanskrit scholars can chart progressive stages of the language and even find evidence for the geographical provenance of particular texts following references to local fauna and flora.

Certainly, I agree that there’s always a certain level of conjecture in this kind of thing. But in the absence or bracketing of the monotheistic axiom you mention, its plausibility rests on another set of axioms common not just to bible criticism but also to textual criticism in general. The fundamental, commonsense assumption here is that any text is a human production, subject like all human products to confusions, gropings and mixed motives. Of course that means that our scholarship will have its own confusions, gropings and mixed motives. But again, lacking the most famous deus-ex-machina of all time, I think standard scholarship, in its broad outlines, is basically plausible, especially to the extent it’s rooted in what we know of human beings, their predilections and their history. (And yes, to my way of thinking this includes Anthropology.)

(response to your point 4, etc.) Since you mention Anthropology, we might recall its old distinction between “emic” and “etic”, between a culture-bound perspective and an outside observer. It’s based on the linguistic distinction between the “phonemic” and the “phonetic”, between meanings generated within a given system and meanings developed through exterior criteria and description. So you have an inner as against an outer perspective, two (at minimum) competing narratives, in conflict at some points, overlapping at others, each with its own range of use. The inner perspective is creative, generative – it’s an owner’s manual, telling you how to drive the vehicle. The outer perspective is analytical, classificatory – it tells you where to park this vehicle of tradition among others.

But then, who’s inside and who’s outside, and at what point, and in what sense? To step back from the conflict at hand, I’d like to throw in Joseph Campbell. From the orthodox point of view, he was an outsider. He looked at various religious traditions using criteria derived from psychology, anthropology, philosophy, cultural history, etc., and yet in terms of “mythology” he really was an insider. He spent a career essentially preaching and instructing on the uses and deep spiritual significance of myth, making him a darling of the New Age. Yet owing to his many scholarly sins and extravagances, he was anathema to the academy. (His most unforgivable academic sin was in writing so well.) To both sides he was both “inside” and “out”.

In a sense, even within a tradition, every succeeding generation is to some extent “outside” the previous one, every son is “outside” the father. Narratives are always competing, overlapping.

As I’ve said, I think we do have a capacity to switch between seemingly contradictory narratives, but we also hate and fear ambiguity and uncertainty, and so under pressure the tendency is to take one narrative or another as absolute.

Here you quite correctly identify the pressure point as the monotheist axiom, which sits there, the Ganesha in the room, immovable or indigestible, depending on one’s perspective. The stark, even visceral way you state this axiom underlines this pressure.

Of course, the case for the personal God can be put less starkly and still be inside the tradition. You’ve already pointed out how there may be a variety of explanations on how precisely Moses brought Torah down from Sinai. There’s surely more than one way to describe what a personal God means and the mechanisms by which such a God acts in history.

As an example, there is the Iranian influence I’ve recently brought up. Even Isaiah hailed the Persian Cyrus as a messiah, and by implication an instrument of God. It’s hardly a stretch to entertain the possibility that God sent other messages to the Jews through the vessel of Zoroaster, while still remaining inside the grammar of the narrative. And isn’t saying that everything “Jewish” was already given, in every detail, at Sinai, a kind of limit put on God’s agency and an evasion of history, which obviously didn’t end at Sinai? After all, the Abrahamic God is a god of history, and pre-eminently the history of his people. And if history means anything it means change and development.

Anyway, my only point here is that multiple narratives are possible inside the tradition and that their existence helps bridge the gap with narratives that lie outside.

But I agree that the gap remains. No matter how you slice it, you either believe in this kind of narrative or you don’t. You either find “sacred history” undeniable or unthinkable.

Here I have to bring in the factor of individual mentality. For certain kinds of minds, the problem with the Abrahamic God is rooted not just in the state of the evidence but in a visceral rejection of this particular expression of the divine, of this way of describing the “mysterium tremendum” that many people who take religion seriously feel. I guess it’s only natural that with a personal God, things get personal. The response is necessarily emotional for or against.

So the emotional divide isn’t one-sided. It isn’t just that some of us passionately adhere to this monotheistic God, it’s also that others of us passionately reject the fundamental construct.

Here we’re at the gut level. I’m with Nietzsche on this - not on his death-of-God diversion, but on his idea that all philosophy is rooted in the body. No amount of rationalizing can negate what you feel on the most fundamental level. If it does, then you have division, alienation, self-exile.

Believers pick up the bible and find comfort. They find that its framing narrative makes sense, feels right, reflects the way things are – even if some of the details are perplexing or challenging.

When I pick up the bible I find comfort or validation only in isolated passages, but the framing narrative has always felt wrong, does not reflect for me the way things are – even as I recognize the truth value of some of its individual stories and figures.

On the other hand, when I pick up the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads; when I puzzle over some Vedic mantra, the gut feel is that the underlying narrative is fundamentally right, that it does reflect the way things are, despite the vast cultural gulf between me and the producers of these texts.

Of course I can hear every hardened evangelist out there saying that I’m “resisting God”, that I’m letting my ego get in the way. But notice that I’m not saying that the Indian scriptures are less demanding, or that some form of receptivity or even surrender to the text isn’t necessary to truly “reading” any scripture. I’m saying that for me these Indian scriptures provide the kind of narrative that allow for this kind of receptivity.

So talking inside/outside, I’m inside the Judeo-Christian-Irano-Greco-Roman-Celti-Germanic stream (arranging these elements as you will), and very much conditioned by its convoluted grammar. Yet I’m very much outside this stream in that I can’t accept some of its central narratives. I have the blessing/curse of being a stranger in a strange land, while simultaneously being very much at home.

I don’t have to tell you that your existential situation is equally weird. As a Jew you’re the ultimate insider and the ultimate outsider. You’ve been perennially hammered on by the very majority cultures your ancestors, religious and secular, did so much shape. (Hence the unalloyed blessing: the Jewish comic.)

But to the case at hand, gut feeling against gut feeling. This is the problem of pluralism stated in its most acute terms. And here you can see how it’s possible to be a passionate pluralist. It’s not just a matter of opinion, not just an intellectual exercise. It’s the idea that the imposition of an absolutist ideology oppresses not just human beings in the abstract, in general, but actual human beings, in particular, in the flesh, at the level of the gut.

But what begins in bodily malaise ends in cognitive dissonance, and so has to be resolved somehow at the level of cognition.

The absolutist solution is to suppress all dissonance by the imposition of a single narrative; the pluralist looks rather to harmonize that dissonance through some form of negotiation.

While that negotiation must end on the cognitive level it must first return to the level of the gut. So much of pluralism is lame because we want to solve it all at once, on a purely cognitive/verbal level. “We’re all one”, say the New-Agers. Meanwhile, the gut roils.

So we have to start at the gut, but then raise it a few chakras. At the cognitive level, we realize the limitations of the gut. In my case, for example, while I can’t personally accept the biblical narrative, I recognize that many others have and do, that they reap benefits by doing so, that the culture does at well; that for many the bible is what the Buddhists call skilful means, despite its terrible dangers and abuses. Not only that, much of my worldview, my mental habits – whether as intended or unintended consequences – have been conditioned by this tradition. To want to banish this worldview categorically would not only be to lapse into a dumb solipsism, it would bring its own brand of alienation.

The reality I think is that we can’t in all honestly make these hard and fast distinctions; that’s where the cognitive dissonance is most damaging. We secretly know the weakness of our own position and the strength of the other. What’s ultimately important is “what’s there”, and that has to evade all our human-all-too-human attempts, whether from the inside or outside.

So I’m compelled to choose the pluralist way, uncertain as that is, negotiating the dissonance as best I can.

In fact, that’s what major cultures have always done, even if under conditions of strict ideological conformity those negotiations have gone on under the radar. One of the strengths of every great civilization I think is that its ruling ideologies are continually subverted.

The musical metaphor may be too obvious here, but it’s also inescapable.

We can suppress all dissonance by banning our fellow musicians from the streets, or by retreating to our corners with our trumpets and blasting out the same modes and scales until the end of time.

Or we can do what we usually do (kicking and screaming), and bridge those dissonances by forming ensembles with other musicians of varied aesthetics, even if the results are less like some grand symphonic Thomistic synthesis, and more like your local pick-up, punk or garage band.

Shanti.
 
Devadatta said:
As I’ve said, I think we do have a capacity to switch between seemingly contradictory narratives, but we also hate and fear ambiguity and uncertainty, and so under pressure the tendency is to take one narrative or another as absolute.

Here you quite correctly identify the pressure point as the monotheist axiom, which sits there, the Ganesha in the room, immovable or indigestible, depending on one’s perspective. The stark, even visceral way you state this axiom underlines this pressure...

...But to the case at hand, gut feeling against gut feeling. This is the problem of pluralism stated in its most acute terms. And here you can see how it’s possible to be a passionate pluralist. It’s not just a matter of opinion, not just an intellectual exercise. It’s the idea that the imposition of an absolutist ideology oppresses not just human beings in the abstract, in general, but actual human beings, in particular, in the flesh, at the level of the gut.

But what begins in bodily malaise ends in cognitive dissonance, and so has to be resolved somehow at the level of cognition.

The absolutist solution is to suppress all dissonance by the imposition of a single narrative; the pluralist looks rather to harmonize that dissonance through some form of negotiation.
It sounds like another way of saying that an intuitive leap is sometimes necessary to stay sane. Is that what you're suggesting?
 
It sounds like another way of saying that an intuitive leap is sometimes necessary to stay sane. Is that what you're suggesting?

Well, no. My point is more pedestrian. I'm just saying that we do have a sort of concrete reality to recognize. Call it mentality, emotional make-up, predispositions, cultural conditioning, the template of the body, the gut - the nine-tenths of the iceberg below (or beyond) our so-called faculty of reason. And I'm saying that there is a recipocral relationship between "the gut" and "reason", and that reason has three ways of handling this relationship: the two absolutist options of either imposing an ideology on the gut or of elaborating an ideology out of the gut, and the pluralist one of recognizing the validity of the gut, of the individual body, while also recognizing its limitations, above all that it is only one among many.

But keep in mind that I'm not setting up this dichotomy as some kind of theory of the human soul. It's only a way of looking at things that addresses how we can get along, each of us having his or her own individually crazy ideas.

Shanti.
 
Boy meets girl, but they can't communicate. They love each other, but they don't. Abusive relationships, etc. All religions are hot water, and we're the tea?
 
Devadatta said:
Would it be within the tradition to posit a Moses as already in possession of much of the tradition – particularly creations stories, stories of the patriarchs, most of mitzvot by then already traditional – before he underwent his special revelation that led to his final shaping of all this material over the forty years in the desert?
well, remember that in terms of the written Torah itself, he's a scribe, rather than a redactor. in terms of the other stuff that makes it into the final synthesis of written and oral Torah, there are many contributors. as far as moses in concerned, remember he had been brought up in the egyptian royal household and was thus familiar with all the things we disapprove of such as sorcery, as well as other things such as esoteric philosophy. the other israelites would be more familiar presumably with the Creation stories and that of the patriarchs, but this had to be mediated through the levites - the other tribes, you see, having become rather assimilated in egypt, retaining only, according to tradition, their distinctive language, dress and a few other things. also, you have to consider the infleunce of his father-in-law jethro, who was another great sage.

Could one imagine Moses as the one great redactor, post-Sinai, elaborating the tradition (among pillars of smoke & flame), and in collaboration with other leading lights, giving torah its more or less definitive shape, only leaving his descendents like Josiah to fill in the final days? Would that still be in the ballpark?
with the levites as keepers of the "common law" traditions, jethro as "management consultant", the Revelation only had to add the overarching structure, authority and remaining content. for the ongoing case-law and applications of the new revealed material to real-life situations, this required the seventy elders, the original "court of 71" (including moses) which functioned as the "supreme court of appeal", whereas other, lesser courts were able to deal with more straightforward and uncomplicated cases. the rest of the bible, the "NaKh", is made up of prophetic and speculative writings like isaiah, ezekiel and proverbs on one hand and, on the other, of "sacred history", like the books of chronicles, judges and so on. there's no actual further revelations of law, only a bit of extra case-law when the occasion warrants; subsequent support for a halakhic decision can then be drawn from anything from psalms to job, but this has lesser authority than a source in original Torah. in other words, just because *Revelation* has its definitive shape, doesn't mean that everything in *law* has been elaborated. an examination of the famous talmudic passage (BT menachot 29b, google it) will show you what the actual implications of that would be in terms of the relationship between moses and, say, a later sage like rabbi aqiba.

I don’t think your arguments A, B & C preclude DG, but they do demonstrate what most fair-minded people would admit that it’s not a mathematical science.
my point being that many critics are not in fact fair-minded people. no, i dare say my arguments don't *preclude* the critical viewpoint, but it does give the lie to any arrogant claims of "scientific truth" and "critical objectivity".

On the other hand, there’s more to the methods of DH than you outline here. Isn’t there lots of supporting linguistic evidence that suggest that the texts may not have been created as tradition would have it? For example, loan words from other languages that provide historical or geographical markers as to where a particular text was composed or written down? And then there are deeper grammatical structures that may include more or less archaic forms, which again may provide historical evidence.
again, i'm not a philologist, but i know there are people who are both philologists *and* pious, observant jews. i've seen a few of these examples and i can't say they are anything more than circumstantial - remember, it's not just about what the evidence *is*, it's about how you interpret said evidence. moreover, such evidence could almost certainly be met with the long-established principle that "the Torah speaks in human language" - in other words, G!D may have used word x or y because it was the most appropriate word to Reveal in order to get the appropriate point across to the audience. i think a better question might be about what message is being sent by the use of these putative loan words.

The fundamental, commonsense assumption here is that any text is a human production, subject like all human products to confusions, gropings and mixed motives. Of course that means that our scholarship will have its own confusions, gropings and mixed motives. But again, lacking the most famous deus-ex-machina of all time, I think standard scholarship, in its broad outlines, is basically plausible, especially to the extent it’s rooted in what we know of human beings, their predilections and their history. (And yes, to my way of thinking this includes Anthropology.)
the thing is, the Torah is not the *end* of the text, so in terms of the final "textual system", if you prefer, that is *certainly* a human production with all that that implies. all the Torah is is the end of the [Divine] Text.

The inner perspective is creative, generative – it’s an owner’s manual, telling you how to drive the vehicle. The outer perspective is analytical, classificatory – it tells you where to park this vehicle of tradition among others.
this is a helpful way of looking at it. to my way of thinking, the critical perspective appears to tell us everything about where the critic thinks the ore for the steel in the chassis was mined, but the religious perspective is there to tell us how to get from a to be safely, quickly and fast. the critical perspective has no concept of even such things as traffic lights, all of which are inherent in the "driving system". i tend to use a musical instrument or painting as a metaphor, but clearly we understand each other.

But then, who’s inside and who’s outside, and at what point, and in what sense?
i think here you might be best advised to utilise the much-abused and maligned concept of stakeholders. we are the drivers, mechanics and passengers of the aforementioned car, but we are not the only people on the road and, moreover, there are other cars and completely different transportation systems out there. only the Divine has, as it were, an integrated transport policy as well as responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the users of the system.

as for campbell, he had, to my mind, the same failing of many of the observers of this subject, namely a prejudice about the unitary direction of "progress" from "primitive" to "sophisticated". modern anthropology now rejects this viewpoint as insufficiently nuanced.

Of course, the case for the personal God can be put less starkly and still be inside the tradition.
and indeed it is by many. my point tends to be that my own empirical experience would tend to indicate that they are tap-dancing around important issues of personal affiliation. actually, the thing that you get with succeeding generations is the issue of *legitimacy* and from whence that derives. we deal with that via the "chain of tradition", first detailed in the mishnah, by which legitimacy can be traced from sinai to the (then) present day.

As I’ve said, I think we do have a capacity to switch between seemingly contradictory narratives, but we also hate and fear ambiguity and uncertainty, and so under pressure the tendency is to take one narrative or another as absolute.
which is why in my opinion, a healthy, mature and sophisticated religious outlook includes the ability to deal with and appreciate, even draw strength from a) paradox and b) simultaneous multi-dimensional perspectives.

There’s surely more than one way to describe what a personal God means and the mechanisms by which such a God acts in history.
for us, this is about a) "hashkafa" or outlook, as well as b) "hashgakha" or providence, the theories about which are legion, whilst also not being a matter for psak (legal ruling), mostly because they are internally focused.

It’s hardly a stretch to entertain the possibility that God sent other messages to the Jews through the vessel of Zoroaster, while still remaining inside the grammar of the narrative.
it is if we suppose that G!D didn't think of making the first Revelation sufficiently comprehensive.

And isn’t saying that everything “Jewish” was already given, in every detail, at Sinai, a kind of limit put on God’s agency and an evasion of history, which obviously didn’t end at Sinai?
well, that's precisely the point. we have any number of ways of establishing that G!D Wants us to develop things further and that Revelation is not an end to history, but rather a beginning.

And if history means anything it means change and development.
i disagree; for me, it means perspective from the point of view of distance.

Anyway, my only point here is that multiple narratives are possible inside the tradition and that their existence helps bridge the gap with narratives that lie outside.
this is, in a nutshell, my theory about the necessity for "religious biodiversity", or portfolio development, or orchestra, if you prefer. fundamentalism, by its procrustean "one size fits all" approach, is viscerally opposed to this kind of divergence, which they see as contradiction. that's the "absolutism" you talk about below.

You either find “sacred history” undeniable or unthinkable.
er, not entirely - you can also find it helpful, whilst not being a complete answer to all questions. by the same token we have no psak (legal rulings) on what happens after you die, just a number of different opinions, some more authoritative and/or credible than others.

For certain kinds of minds, the problem with the Abrahamic God is rooted not just in the state of the evidence but in a visceral rejection of this particular expression of the divine, of this way of describing the “mysterium tremendum” that many people who take religion seriously feel. I guess it’s only natural that with a personal God, things get personal. The response is necessarily emotional for or against.
my question is almost always to dig into where these emotions are from. in many (but not all) cases they stem from one's experience of G!D and religion having stopped in the very early teens, so one's encounter with these things continues at the level of maturity of a 12-year old, whilst one's other critical faculties continue to progress and develop. the adult, then, ends up seeing religion as "childish" or unsophisticated and, necessarily, unfair.

No amount of rationalizing can negate what you feel on the most fundamental level. If it does, then you have division, alienation, self-exile.
yes, but nietzsche was far better at diagnosis than he was at solutions. with him, it was all about a conflict, which you either won or lost, whereas the reality is somewhat more complex.

When I pick up the bible I find comfort or validation only in isolated passages, but the framing narrative has always felt wrong, does not reflect for me the way things are – even as I recognize the truth value of some of its individual stories and figures.
that is precisely because its framing narrative is intended for us, not for everyone. we may be universalists in one sense, but we're completely particularist in others. it is the attempt by subsequent traditions to shoehorn someone else's message into a mould which restricts it to preparation for a subsequent, improved message which has somehow to be tacked on, that distorts. in the same way, you can replace the chassis on the car around the engine, but all the piping and interfaces on the engine are not really intended for the new container, with consequent loss of efficiency.

On the other hand, when I pick up the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads; when I puzzle over some Vedic mantra, the gut feel is that the underlying narrative is fundamentally right, that it does reflect the way things are, despite the vast cultural gulf between me and the producers of these texts.
perhaps (and i'm assuming here, so feel free to disabuse me) that is because the things that are being discussed are far less tangible. what ticks people off about Torah is the fact that stuff is so specific - even though people don't really understand the specifics, because they don't understand the language and, moreover, they don't really understand how the car is driven, or the rules of the road. by the same token, all the new ager is really saying is that the road exists and that cars drive on it sometimes. there's not really enough content there to really agree or disagree.

I don’t have to tell you that your existential situation is equally weird. As a Jew you’re the ultimate insider and the ultimate outsider. You’ve been perennially hammered on by the very majority cultures your ancestors, religious and secular, did so much shape.
hence the need to appreciate paradox and simultaneous viewpoints, such as being able to handle both universalism and particularism simultaneously. islam and christianity, historically, haven't, with the consequent outcome that they have felt that they are "the" solution for everyone, with the inevitable concomitant of evangelism, aggressive proselytising and all-out religious war to "spread the truth". we are severely limited in this area, fortunately.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
well, remember that in terms of the written Torah itself, he's a scribe, rather than a redactor. in terms of the other stuff that makes it into the final synthesis of written and oral Torah, there are many contributors. as far as moses in concerned, remember he had been brought up in the egyptian royal household and was thus familiar with all the things we disapprove of such as sorcery, as well as other things such as esoteric philosophy. the other israelites would be more familiar presumably with the Creation stories and that of the patriarchs, but this had to be mediated through the levites - the other tribes, you see, having become rather assimilated in egypt, retaining only, according to tradition, their distinctive language, dress and a few other things. also, you have to consider the infleunce of his father-in-law jethro, who was another great sage.

Hi BB. Thanks for some of the inside scoop on this stuff. Several questions here:
When you say Moses was a scribe, I guess you mean he took down what he heard word-for-word. (I’m assuming there were no previous written texts.) That raises the question of where he heard it. I think this already came up in your debate with Bob x, but wouldn’t much of the law already be in practice? And so God’s version, given directly to Moses, would have in that sense been a ratification, a final draft? Doesn’t this open up an uncertain intertextual realm of God/His people with highly variable lines of division?
Now I guess the presumption is that God’s people in conditions of bondage had forgotten or diluted the law and needed the refresher course of Torah, and the deeper the state of ignorance the higher would have been the scale of the event. Was Moses the bringer of the radically innovative, or was he only a Socratic midwife, facilitating the emergence of what everyone already knew?


I’m not clear on everything you’re saying. Here’s what I’m pulling out:
1. That oral Torah did not arrive with the written, but was elaborated later.
2. That Moses’ familiarity with the practices of Egyptian religion led to the strong proscription against such practices in Torah. (Otherwise, I’m not sure why you bring this in here.)
3. That the Levites mediated creation stories, etc., but then what does that mean in relation to the versions in the written Torah? Also, wouldn’t these stories have been floating around the common folk, for example, Moses’ secret mother/wet nurse Jochebed? And with Jethro, what kind of influence do you mean?

with the levites as keepers of the "common law" traditions, jethro as "management consultant", the Revelation only had to add the overarching structure, authority and remaining content. for the ongoing case-law and applications of the new revealed material to real-life situations, this required the seventy elders, the original "court of 71" (including moses) which functioned as the "supreme court of appeal", whereas other, lesser courts were able to deal with more straightforward and uncomplicated cases. the rest of the bible, the "NaKh", is made up of prophetic and speculative writings like isaiah, ezekiel and proverbs on one hand and, on the other, of "sacred history", like the books of chronicles, judges and so on. there's no actual further revelations of law, only a bit of extra case-law when the occasion warrants; subsequent support for a halakhic decision can then be drawn from anything from psalms to job, but this has lesser authority than a source in original Torah. in other words, just because *Revelation* has its definitive shape, doesn't mean that everything in *law* has been elaborated. an examination of the famous talmudic passage (BT menachot 29b, google it) will show you what the actual implications of that would be in terms of the relationship between moses and, say, a later sage like rabbi aqiba.

Okay, this is a little more clear for me. But here I assume we’re talking about the oral Torah?

again, i'm not a philologist, but i know there are people who are both philologists *and* pious, observant jews. i've seen a few of these examples and i can't say they are anything more than circumstantial - remember, it's not just about what the evidence *is*, it's about how you interpret said evidence. moreover, such evidence could almost certainly be met with the long-established principle that "the Torah speaks in human language" - in other words, G!D may have used word x or y because it was the most appropriate word to Reveal in order to get the appropriate point across to the audience. i think a better question might be about what message is being sent by the use of these putative loan words.

Again, on purely scholarly principles the arguments are never-ending. The dividing line is the presence or absence of your monotheist axiom.

the thing is, the Torah is not the *end* of the text, so in terms of the final "textual system", if you prefer, that is *certainly* a human production with all that that implies. all the Torah is is the end of the [Divine] Text.

But you’re only circling back to the same divide. The existence of an originating divine text is a question of belief.

as for campbell, he had, to my mind, the same failing of many of the observers of this subject, namely a prejudice about the unitary direction of "progress" from "primitive" to "sophisticated". modern anthropology now rejects this viewpoint as insufficiently nuanced.

Well, I do remember one of the opening lines of Hero with a Thousand Faces, referring to the “mumbo-jumbo of witch doctors”, which I personally found offensive. But in Campbell’s defence I would say that the basic thrust of his work really points in the opposite direction, toward the notion that the same transcendent reality has been addressed throughout human history, and through a myriad of valid means.

i disagree; for me, history means perspective from the point of view of distance.

True enough. Of course, there are many ways to skin this, depending on context and perspective. In my beady little head is a sort of élan vital, Heraclitean notion of history as creative pulse, always in movement. Hence my way of phrasing things.

my question is almost always to dig into where these emotions are from. in many (but not all) cases they stem from one's experience of G!D and religion having stopped in the very early teens, so one's encounter with these things continues at the level of maturity of a 12-year old, whilst one's other critical faculties continue to progress and develop. the adult, then, ends up seeing religion as "childish" or unsophisticated and, necessarily, unfair.

Valid point. But this is delicate territory. As you know, generations of Pauline evangelists have used similar arguments the way emotional bullies do, to break down their victims. You don’t intend it that way, I’m sure. But I think such lines of arguments should require a special license.

yes, but nietzsche was far better at diagnosis than he was at solutions. with him, it was all about a conflict, which you either won or lost, whereas the reality is somewhat more complex.

Sure, he was a train wreck. But he left some telling fragments behind.

that is precisely because its framing narrative is intended for us, not for everyone. we may be universalists in one sense, but we're completely particularist in others. it is the attempt by subsequent traditions to shoehorn someone else's message into a mould which restricts it to preparation for a subsequent, improved message which has somehow to be tacked on, that distorts. in the same way, you can replace the chassis on the car around the engine, but all the piping and interfaces on the engine are not really intended for the new container, with consequent loss of efficiency.

To say nothing of unsafe fuel-to-air mixtures! My agreement here is dangerously close to absolute.

perhaps (and i'm assuming here, so feel free to disabuse me) that is because the things that are being discussed are far less tangible. what ticks people off about Torah is the fact that stuff is so specific - even though people don't really understand the specifics, because they don't understand the language and, moreover, they don't really understand how the car is driven, or the rules of the road. by the same token, all the new ager is really saying is that the road exists and that cars drive on it sometimes. there's not really enough content there to really agree or disagree.
 
(continued from above)
Well, I agree that this fits the bill in regard to some of the evasions of New Age, and to the extent New Age largely draws its inspiration from India and the East – and obviously it does – then these evasions reflect to some degree Indian religion as well. But here again is the danger of falling into the old evangelistic canards and the usual East/West mutual incomprehension and culture war. Sure, you can say that people are drawn to Eastern religion as escape from engagement, and even from ordinary life. Some probably are. But you could just as easily say that people are drawn to Abrahamic religion because of its engagement with power, out of their will to power. And you’d be equally right, that some are.

But with your indulgence, let me try a fair but very schematic comparison between these two broad traditions that inform what a vast majority of humankind think religion is or should be, based on fundamental texts.

For me the most straightforward comparison is that between the textual pole stars of each tradition: Torah/Tanakh for the Abrahamic tradition, and Sruti (“what was heard”), i.e., the collections of Vedic hymns and their attendant literatures, culminating with the Upanishads, for the orthodox Indian tradition. The elaboration of these two textual traditions are roughly contemporaneous, covering a similar span of time; both locate a major focus in the practice of sacrifice; both are divine revelations “heard” and transmitted by sages; both are considered divine root texts whose every word, syllable and sound is meticulously studied. And yet the substance of their concerns, the mental climate is profoundly different. Torah/Tanakh is vitally concerned with making distinctions, drawing dichotomies, establishing authority and with transcendent power as a guarantor of order; Sruti with making analogies, finding identities, explicating authority and with immanent power as the guarantor of order.
It’s worth looking – again, very schematically - at the impact of each tradition at the point of greatest difficulty, religious war on the one hand, and the caste system on the other. In both cases, criticism is usually over-broad, over-simplified or misdirected.

In the case of the Indian caste system, for example, all that existed during most of the Vedic period were the four varnas, a nearly universal human class division that splits society into rulers, priests, producers and workers – distinctions that largely hold to this day, under various names. The Vedic and Upanishadic sages weren’t obsessed with the fine detail of caste. The problem (I speculate of course) was not in taking social/power relationships too seriously, but in not taking them seriously enough. Why take such relationships seriously when they don’t ultimately matter in terms of spiritual understanding or human happiness? Barring the occasional necessity of fighting some great evil (as in the Mahabharata), which demands an incarnation to set things right, the tendency in the face of social conflict must be not to revolution but to accommodation. That means merely ratifying social distinctions/particularizations as they occur, preserving stability; for the more stability there is the more we can think/meditate on what really matters. Besides, beneath this surface diversification there is always identity. So one can imagine the accretion of jati (cast divisions) over the centuries as each new threat to order is given a sublet in the vast complex of the dharma. So we have the paradox of a mental culture not much interested in social/power arrangements contributing to the creation of one of the most hierarchically detailed societies ever to exist.

Of course, the perennial difficulty of the Abrahamic tradition is that it takes social/power relationships very seriously indeed. And unlike the case of India, where caste seems almost a by-product of the mental culture, an unintended consequence, religious war would here appear to be engraved in stone, beginning with the Decalogue and its injunctions to destroy all competing representations of God.

So I could say that here’s the smoking gun, the genetrix of absolutist ideology, the original singularity in the big bang of imperial religion. But then an outsider like myself has to consider not only the assertions of Torah but also what these assertions are directed against. Who are these idols, these false gods? The emphasis is usually on the fact they’re mere stone, wood or clay, etc., that they have no real power, and finally that they’re likely connected with some abomination or another. Above all, it’s their lack of power that everyone from the church fathers to Muhammad has ridiculed (this emphasis in itself is telling on the true preoccupations of these critics). But it seems to me (and I’m sure this is an old story) that among the intensely political/social/legal concerns of Torah the true concern, the true sin, was not that the idols were powerless, but that they served power, that they served empire, that they diverted what should have been means to approach God (concrete representations) into means to serve empire, through the collusion of priests and rulers, and to oppress God’s people.

So in this view the priests of empire, through their idols, created ideology avant la lettre, and ideology not just in the basic meaning of “rationalization of power” but in the sense some modern noodlers have dubbed “false consciousness”, where “idols” divert human aspiration from ultimate goods and ultimate reality and even from their own reality to serve mere earthly power, i.e., Babylon, empire.

So where the Upanishadic sages would have seen little point in linking ultimate reality with earthly politics, but were content rather to track it through the forests of its immanent manifestations, Torah brings ultimate reality, transcendence starkly into view, urgently, as the only remedy to empire and the idols who serve it. (There’s no way of exactly explaining the genius of either tradition, but the contrasting historical conditions are impossible not to notice. India never even experienced empire until near the end of the age of Struti; even then, its empire was homegrown, though no doubt influenced by Persian and Greek incursions. Similarly, when you look at ancient China, you find a predominance of homegrown empire. Like everywhere else, these cultures knew all about war, but internecine, civil war, not the wars of alien occupation. On the other hand, the Hebrew/Jewish peoples as we know have wrestled with/suffered/served/shaped/resisted a whole dreary and endless succession of glorious and mostly alien empires. The ideological cast of Abrahamic religion is no doubt unique for solid historical reasons.)

I mentioned the irony of Vedic religion, hierarchy and caste, but the ironies of the Abrahamic shapings of power far exceed anything imaginable by the grandmotherly wisdom of Indian sages – which for me is a clue to why the West is so mysterious. Power is pressed into so many concealments.

The foundational irony is that the anti-imperial text of Torah, written against the idols of empire, was captured (Harold Bloom’s apt word) by imperial religion - and what could go wrong with that?

Everything. Here’s the mind-boggling nightmare of history we’d all like to awake from, an endless rogue’s gallery of pretenders pretending to renounce power in the name of God while in fact renouncing one power in the name of another, a dirty laundry list of anti-imperial empires and their civilizing missions, a Pandora’s box of ironies, absurdities, inanities – among uncountable examples in the present, we have radical atheists denouncing the idols of consumer capitalism in the tones of prophesy, along side Christian conservatives who embrace the same market idols as signposts to the New Jerusalem.

And there’s the question of power itself. Is the renunciation of worldly power, the smashing of its idols, merely in favour of some greater power, a bigger king? That’s the view of imperial religion. But there’s the deeper view that the breaking of idols is the unravelling of power itself, which in the end is only a human construct and an impious one to apply to ultimate reality, which is beyond such clumsy notions and impulses. This other, deeper impulse is generally obscured under the weight and lip service of creeds, institutions, holy emperors, caliphates, but it has always operated. If it hadn’t Abrahamic religion would have collapsed and disintegrated long ago under the weight of its own ideologies. It’s the Leninists of the tradition, like Paul of Tarsus, who get the credit for holding it together with authoritarian creeds, bizarre theologies and evangelistic manipulations, but the real heart of what keeps it all going and gives it value isn’t found in dogma or shariah but in the sufferings of Job, the sufferings of that radical Jewish preacher, Yeshua, and his true followers, and in the historical sufferings of the Jewish people.

hence the need to appreciate paradox and simultaneous viewpoints, such as being able to handle both universalism and particularism simultaneously. islam and christianity, historically, haven't, with the consequent outcome that they have felt that they are "the" solution for everyone, with the inevitable concomitant of evangelism, aggressive proselytising and all-out religious war to "spread the truth". we are severely limited in this area, fortunately.

Amen.
 
Devadatta said:
When you say Moses was a scribe, I guess you mean he took down what he heard word-for-word.
yep - forty days and forty nights on top of the mountain, G!D delivered a "lecture". the Written Torah is the lecture notes, whereas the Oral Torah includes the contents of the lecture.

I think this already came up in your debate with Bob x, but wouldn’t much of the law already be in practice? And so God’s version, given directly to Moses, would have in that sense been a ratification, a final draft?
well, of some stuff - the Oral Law about stuff like marriage (including levirate marriage), circumcision, prayers and so on would be, to your way of thinking, ratification, because it predated the giving of the Torah, but other stuff, such as many of the ethical, agricultural, sexual and cultic commandments were new and intended to be fulfilled in the land of israel.

Doesn’t this open up an uncertain intertextual realm of God/His people with highly variable lines of division?
if i understood that sentence, i might well say, er....yes?

Now I guess the presumption is that God’s people in conditions of bondage had forgotten or diluted the law and needed the refresher course of Torah, and the deeper the state of ignorance the higher would have been the scale of the event. Was Moses the bringer of the radically innovative, or was he only a Socratic midwife, facilitating the emergence of what everyone already knew?
both. on one hand he was saying "guys, it's OK, G!D wants you to keep doing x and y, that's not something you picked up in egypt, but z is new, because you're now a 'kingdom of priests and a holy nation' and you have to start imitating G!D from now on" (which is why it repeats: I Am HaShem" and "I Am Hashem your G!D" so often, that's what that refers to).

1. That oral Torah did not arrive with the written, but was elaborated later.
in many cases it *predated* the Written.

2. That Moses’ familiarity with the practices of Egyptian religion led to the strong proscription against such practices in Torah. (Otherwise, I’m not sure why you bring this in here.)
that's my interpretation, i expect i could find traditional support for that point of view without having to try too hard.

3. That the Levites mediated creation stories, etc., but then what does that mean in relation to the versions in the written Torah?
it means that the vocabulary and symbology in the Written Torah would be familiar to the people, i expect.

Also, wouldn’t these stories have been floating around the common folk, for example, Moses’ secret mother/wet nurse Jochebed?
well, remember, he's from a levite family, so she would have had more knowledge anyway.

Again, on purely scholarly principles the arguments are never-ending. The dividing line is the presence or absence of your monotheist axiom.
or, if you will, the presence or absence of the scholarly axiom that insists that all non-rational or supernatural explanations must be dismissed a priori.

But you’re only circling back to the same divide. The existence of an originating divine text is a question of belief.
well, perhaps. put it this way, the evidence that points to it being Divine for me is intensely personal and private; the only way i can back it up is by pointing to the millions of others who have come to the same conclusion, but obviously that's not "good enough" for scholars.

But this is delicate territory. As you know, generations of Pauline evangelists have used similar arguments the way emotional bullies do, to break down their victims. You don’t intend it that way, I’m sure. But I think such lines of arguments should require a special license.
i kind of agree with you, we have our own intra-evangelists, you know. the blunt answer is "i don't have to stick my head up a hippo's bottom to know i wouldn't enjoy it", but there will always be people who take advantage of one's ignorance. the key is not to be ignorant in the first place and to give some basic credence to the point of view of the articulate and sophisticated, even if you're going to disagree in the end.

Well, I agree that this fits the bill in regard to some of the evasions of New Age, and to the extent New Age largely draws its inspiration from India and the East – and obviously it does – then these evasions reflect to some degree Indian religion as well. But here again is the danger of falling into the old evangelistic canards and the usual East/West mutual incomprehension and culture war. Sure, you can say that people are drawn to Eastern religion as escape from engagement, and even from ordinary life. Some probably are. But you could just as easily say that people are drawn to Abrahamic religion because of its engagement with power, out of their will to power. And you’d be equally right, that some are.
the thing is, that not all abrahamic religion is the same. for example, the mystical tradition in judaism is far closer to india and the east, so much so that there are some authorities who point to the "gifts" that abraham gave his second family by keturah as being the origin of those strands of eastern thought that we share. in fact, i reject the notion that judaism is a "western" religion entirely; certainly it has western influences in many places, but those are largely recent by our standards - it is significant that much of the development of the mystical tradition took place in the middle east. and, of course, the kabbalah has been extensively colonised by the same sort of new agey people that are open to the apparent vagueness of eastern traditions. i say that meaning, of course, that many eastern systems may look vague, but have extremely rigorous and disciplined lifestyles attached - look at confucian ritual, or tao-influenced martial arts, or yoga!

Torah/Tanakh is vitally concerned with making distinctions, drawing dichotomies, establishing authority and with transcendent power as a guarantor of order; Sruti with making analogies, finding identities, explicating authority and with immanent power as the guarantor of order.
the mystical tradition is in fact, what squares the circle. it would be more correct to say that judaism contains within it both of these tendencies, both the rationalist precision of halakhic interpretation and discourse and the passionate emotional power of the aggadah and mystical tradition. if you want another pole to "sruti", you ought to pick western rationalism, not Torah.

So in this view the priests of empire, through their idols, created ideology avant la lettre, and ideology not just in the basic meaning of “rationalization of power” but in the sense some modern noodlers have dubbed “false consciousness”, where “idols” divert human aspiration from ultimate goods and ultimate reality and even from their own reality to serve mere earthly power, i.e., Babylon, empire.
you know what, devadatta, you really need to read rav joseph d. soloveitchik's two masterworks, "halakhic man" and "the lonely man of faith", because they give a really good typology which sounds very similar to what you're talking about, except expressed in terms of "homo religiosus" and "cognitive man" as opposed to "halakhic man", "majestic man" as opposed to "covenantal man". look him up on the web and you ought to see what i mean.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Hi again:

Regarding the relationship between (let’s say) the two textual sources of Jewish historical experience on the one hand and the direct communications of God on the other I think the way you’re putting it here seems plausible in the context. But again it seems to me to open up considerable uncertainties. There’s no hard and fast distinction here between God and his people as popularly thought by many Christians. As far as that goes, there’s no simple identity either. Take the question of Moses and the practices of Egyptian religion. If there were a simple distinction between Moses and his God then his personal feelings about these practices should not have been a factor in Torah. If these practices were wrong in God’s eyes then it was His job (Job!) in Torah to say so, irrespective of the views of Moses. Of course the solution presents itself that God, cognizant of Moses’ travails in Egypt gave in Torah what Moses and his people needed, strong proscriptions against Egyptian ways. And I have no doubt that tradition could adduce similar solutions to other fuzzy borderlines between God and His people.

I guess for me this shows how genuinely personal the Jewish god really is. It’s not a question of rational demonstration but of explaining a relationship. I’ve often had the impression that for Jews God is a kind of revered uncle who lives in the flat above (for secular Jews, he’s a crazy uncle, but still family after all). For Christians, of course, God was rationalized Thomistically into a pale figure of the empyrean and personal relationship was transferred to the figure of Jesus, and certainly rationalizing tendencies later came into Judaism as well. But the bedrock in Judaism has to be the original family relationship - at least, that’s my perception from the outside.

Regarding the east/west distinction. I did put things in an over-simplified way, mostly because as usual I was trying to cover too much ground all at once. After all, who knows what tomorrow may bring! So let me try to clarify.

First, this question of early Indian influence on “western” religion and philosophy. I didn’t know that people within the tradition of Judaism point to India as well, but I do know that people have mentioned Pythagorism, the mystery cults, Neo-Platonism, Mithraism, etc., as possible results of Indian influence. And sometimes the similarities are so obvious that one would think there had to have been such influences. At the same time, it’s all very vague, there’s still no smoking gun, and there remains a kind of geographical divide between the two mental spheres.

Take Neo-Platonism, for example. Its emanationist thinking seems very close to strands of Indian thinking. At the same time, it takes a peculiarly rationalist turn quite distinct from Indian philosophy. As well, I think we have to remember that Greek and Sanskrit share deep linguistic roots. I don’t think it’s an accident that in India we find the closest parallels to the standard thought categories and tendencies of Greek thought and that India has always been seen as the tradition closest to practicing philosophy in the Greek mode. To me that suggests that the two traditions could easily arrive at similar systems in parallel, following their internal logics, which might include the idea of emanations.

But where they differ is equally instructive. Where the Greek is rational, the Indian is experiential. Where the Greek divinizes rationality, especially in Pythagorism and Neo-Platonism, the Indian is always positing some yet finer-grained experiential state; where the Greek is about axioms, the Indian is about consciousness. So it’s not surprising that Western scholars, those neo-Greeks, are forever expressing frustration with Indian thought, the way it falls constantly from the sublime to the obscure, from the essential to the seemingly pointless. From the Greek perspective, this is philosophical abuse; from the Indian, it’s simply a different game.

As for Indian influence on Judaism, I just don’t know. As with other suspected influences of India, it’s very suggestive but impossible to nail down. (You may know as well that there’s a nutty theory running around that influence runs decisively the opposite way, that Vedic religion is a distorted mirror of the Abrahamic tradition, that the goddess Saraswati is a distortion of Sarai, Brahman of Abraham! Imperial religion knows no bounds.)

Regarding the distinction I was trying to make between the respective mental cultures of Vedic and Abrahamic religion. Again, I might have left a wrong impression with my brevity. The distinction is not rational/non-rational but ideological/non-ideological. It’s true that rational and ideological thinking have a broad overlap, but ideological thinking, especially in its absolutist mode, is in effect an extrusion of political/social pressures, of the type I discussed regarding the existential dilemma of Jews under the shadow of empire. This ideological strand made for a powerful ally with Greek rationalism, decisive in what we call the “West”. In India, the rational strand found its counterpart in experientalism rather than in ideology.

Regarding Judaism as a “Western” religion. I agree, that just as Christians captured Tanakh for their own purposes, the “West” in a sense captured the meanings of Judaism for its own ideological ends. And I agree that the Kabbalah and other mystical strands show that there’s much more to Judaism than I’ve suggested here. But I go back to the idea of suffering I ended with above, which is in line with the mystical thought you speak of; all Abrahamic traditions in my view find their ultimate justification and survival value in these deep strands, wherever they originated from, and not in their surface ideologies.

I will have a look at your Rabbi Soloveitchik at a less hurred moment. (No problem, he’s in Wikipedia!)
Shanti.
 
Devadatta said:
Of course the solution presents itself that G!D, cognizant of Moses’ travails in Egypt gave in Torah what Moses and his people needed, strong proscriptions against Egyptian ways. And I have no doubt that tradition could adduce similar solutions to other fuzzy borderlines between God and His people.
maimonides does this quite a lot when discussing the "mishpatim" (commandments with a logical or rational basis), whilst allowing for the "huqqim" (commandments with an authoritative "because I Said so" basis) but it is helpful to note in this context the prophetic admonitions of jeremiah and others, to the effect that "G!D Cares how you behave to each other - how you sacrifice animals is neither here nor there", as well as the maxim of the talmudic sages that "G!D doesn't Care what direction you slit the animal's throat in - the sacrifices were established to purify *people*".

I’ve often had the impression that for Jews God is a kind of revered uncle who lives in the flat above (for secular Jews, he’s a crazy uncle, but still family after all).
hah, you're closer than you know. that's very much one of the ways we relate to the Divine, almost a sort of "ach, will You stop bothering us, we're doing it already!" (see the discussion about the oven of achnai) but we also have other ways of relating to G!D, depending on the context, as Ruler, Lover, Principle, Place - all of these are alluded to by the relevant Divine Names.

For Christians, of course, God was rationalized Thomistically into a pale figure of the empyrean and personal relationship was transferred to the figure of Jesus, and certainly rationalizing tendencies later came into Judaism as well.
that's true, starting with philo and other people that were influenced by plato and aristotle both first time round and second time round, the "G!D of the philosophers" has been a subject of debate for two millennia, making periodic resurgencies depending on the intellectual fashion of the day. ditto the "Infinite Divine" of the mystics, the passionate tribal Deity and the Loving Companion - all of which are well-trodden paths for not just us but other religions too; the G!D of st teresa of avila is very different from the G!D of martin luther and the G!D of pio nono. as we say, "Torah has 70 faces".

But the bedrock in Judaism has to be the original family relationship - at least, that’s my perception from the outside.
it is instructive to think of G!D as a rock star and as us being the people who get passes to the after-show party, even if not all of us have "access all areas". see also maimonides' parable of the castle in the "guide".

First, this question of early Indian influence on “western” religion and philosophy. I didn’t know that people within the tradition of Judaism point to India as well, but I do know that people have mentioned Pythagorism, the mystery cults, Neo-Platonism, Mithraism, etc., as possible results of Indian influence.
there's a spectrum. on one extreme there are the people who say "anything these guys have, we thought of first and better" and, on the other extreme, there are the people who cannot imagine that there is anything original in judaism whatsoever and that everything of ours must have been borrowed from somewhere else or a survival from some more primitive time, from the code of hammurabi to the piety of the mediaeval monastic orders. needless to say, i agree with neither, although both sometimes have a point.

At the same time, it’s all very vague, there’s still no smoking gun
except for the sort of people that think they know the answer to everything, of course.

To me that suggests that the two traditions could easily arrive at similar systems in parallel, following their internal logics, which might include the idea of emanations.
karen armstrong often says "mystics tend to agree", to which i would often add "rationalists too."

So it’s not surprising that Western scholars, those neo-Greeks, are forever expressing frustration with Indian thought, the way it falls constantly from the sublime to the obscure, from the essential to the seemingly pointless. From the Greek perspective, this is philosophical abuse; from the Indian, it’s simply a different game.
actually, this is surprisingly similar to how the greek perspective sees judaism, "ok, you have these great universal, sweeping, majestic waves of ethics, morals and logic, but everyone then ends up having four sets of cutlery and crockery and wearing leather boxes on their heads, it's mad!" non-orthodox jews tend to see it that way too, due to their comfort zone being closer to the greek. the traditional jew, of course, responds by saying "ok - we've figured all this out, but nu, now so what? how do i respond? how shall i live my life? and what shall i have for dinner?"

You may know as well that there’s a nutty theory running around that influence runs decisively the opposite way, that Vedic religion is a distorted mirror of the Abrahamic tradition, that the goddess Saraswati is a distortion of Sarai, Brahman of Abraham! Imperial religion knows no bounds.
deary me, yes, i'm familiar with the syndrome. according to this theory, i don't think anyone has ever invented anything ever.

It’s true that rational and ideological thinking have a broad overlap, but ideological thinking, especially in its absolutist mode, is in effect an extrusion of political/social pressures, of the type I discussed regarding the existential dilemma of Jews under the shadow of empire. This ideological strand made for a powerful ally with Greek rationalism, decisive in what we call the “West”. In India, the rational strand found its counterpart in experientalism rather than in ideology.
hmmm. yet i see no absence of ideology in indian thought - even non-ideology is an ideology. moreover, interpretation inevitably results in some form of emergent ideology, whether it is as benign as satyagraha or as malevolent as the mosque-razing programme of the rss.

Regarding Judaism as a “Western” religion. I agree, that just as Christians captured Tanakh for their own purposes, the “West” in a sense captured the meanings of Judaism for its own ideological ends.
indeed - viewing judaism solely through the prism of the west ignores the considerable period up until relatively recently when the centre of gravity of jewish thought was in the islamic lands of the middle east.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
maimonides does this quite a lot when discussing the "mishpatim" (commandments with a logical or rational basis), whilst allowing for the "huqqim" (commandments with an authoritative "because I Said so" basis) but it is helpful to note in this context the prophetic admonitions of jeremiah and others, to the effect that "G!D Cares how you behave to each other - how you sacrifice animals is neither here nor there", as well as the maxim of the talmudic sages that "G!D doesn't Care what direction you slit the animal's throat in - the sacrifices were established to purify *people*".


I demand mercy, not sacrifice, as Yeshua quoted. Following on what you’re saying here, it occurs to me that the persistence of sacrifice in the tradition was perhaps in part a recognition of the shortfall in the moral payments required, that in the absence of such payments some kind of compensation had to be made; hence, the sacrifice.


hmmm. yet i see no absence of ideology in indian thought - even non-ideology is an ideology. moreover, interpretation inevitably results in some form of emergent ideology, whether it is as benign as satyagraha or as malevolent as the mosque-razing programme of the rss.




I know that “ideology” has a kind of bad smell, and I understand why you’d be wary of it. But I’ll try to clarify what I’ve been saying.

First, I should distinguish between two basic senses of the word. There’s “ideology” in the broadest sense, as the collection of notions and ideas formative, normative or constructive of a given society, and which really devolves into vague notions like “worldview” or even “folkways”. In that sense, every society is of necessity “ideological”.

But there is also “ideology” in the stricter, modern sense, which really only goes back to the 18th century, and this is a self-consciously worked out, dynamic set of ideas intended to transform society. In its origins I believe this is a peculiarly “Western” mindset, and that while it has only became fully conscious in modern times it’s biblically rooted, especially in textual sources like the Decalogue. (Notice that many societies have produced social theories, the Greeks in particular; most have some notion of divine sanctions; but no other traditional society produced such a powerful and influential fusion of these two elements, which found their effective realization in Christianity and Islam.) I would also point out that ideology in this sense is hardly purely negative; it’s not just social repression but also social reform not just authoritarian states but also movements like Abolitionism, the Suffragettes, unionism, environmentalism, the SPCA, for that matter! And aren’t these some of the first things we think about when we think of the “West”?

As for your modern day Indian examples, let’s consider the context. For centuries, India has survived the pressures of the ideological faiths of Islam and Christianity. It’s not surprising that some Indians have produced modern ideological movements of their own in defense. After all, this is part of “Westernization”, and can be charted historically. The real point is how much of traditional culture and mindset India has retained, despite these enormous pressures.

Shanti.
 
Devadatta said:
I demand mercy, not sacrifice, as Yeshua quoted.
himself quoting, in turn, the prophets amos, hosea, jeremiah et al.

Following on what you’re saying here, it occurs to me that the persistence of sacrifice in the tradition was perhaps in part a recognition of the shortfall in the moral payments required, that in the absence of such payments some kind of compensation had to be made; hence, the sacrifice.
on the contrary - it was the shortfall in the moral payments that made the sacrifices so repulsive. to put it another way, it's like cheating on your wife and then expecting flowers and chocolate to heal the relationship. flowers and chocolate are all very well when you're doing all the important stuff, but they are not a substitute for a genuine love and caring.


First, I should distinguish between two basic senses of the word. There’s “ideology” in the broadest sense, as the collection of notions and ideas formative, normative or constructive of a given society, and which really devolves into vague notions like “worldview” or even “folkways”. In that sense, every society is of necessity “ideological”.
agreed.

But there is also “ideology” in the stricter, modern sense, which really only goes back to the 18th century, and this is a self-consciously worked out, dynamic set of ideas intended to transform society. In its origins I believe this is a peculiarly “Western” mindset, and that while it has only became fully conscious in modern times it’s biblically rooted, especially in textual sources like the Decalogue.
in that sense, judaism has *always* been ideological, rooted in social change and moral advancement. where i think the difference is is where the ideology is based not upon a selection of the "good" from amongst the inherent drivers of human nature, but upon theoretical utopianism, especially in cases where this is based upon faulty perceptions of these drivers, as in the case of communism (every child's second word is "mine!")

(Notice that many societies have produced social theories, the Greeks in particular; most have some notion of divine sanctions;
Divine sanction is philosophically necessary for authority in many cases where, for example, the "constitution" or "crown" is unable to function in this respect.

it’s not just social repression but also social reform not just authoritarian states but also movements like Abolitionism, the Suffragettes, unionism, environmentalism, the SPCA, for that matter! And aren’t these some of the first things we think about when we think of the “West”?
well, perhaps, but abolitionism was certainly originally a religiously inspired movement, as was much of unionism. socialism is certainly first prefigured in the law of pe'ah (leaving the corners of the field for the poor) and the injunction to oppress neither widow, orphan nor foreigner.

As for your modern day Indian examples, let’s consider the context. For centuries, India has survived the pressures of the ideological faiths of Islam and Christianity. It’s not surprising that some Indians have produced modern ideological movements of their own in defense. After all, this is part of “Westernization”, and can be charted historically.
i don't disagree, given that, as karen armstrong says, all ideological fundamentalisms are essentially modern responses to the challenge of the outside world, although this thesis is a little less tenable when it comes back to mediaeval islamic funtamentalisms like that of the almoravids and almohades.

The real point is how much of traditional culture and mindset India has retained, despite these enormous pressures.
hmm - this begins to sound like the beginning of a dialogue about "authenticity".

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
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