o .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

My Photo
Name:

"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Ancient Near East

So... over at Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer's blog, there's been some talk about Assyria and Egypt, and how their chronologies appear to show an unbroken historical chain of events and artifacts that stretches back past the Flood.

I've written (on my website) about issues in ancient history, and I don't think this is an issue. But I'm happy to discuss the matter here. So I'm posting this in order to have the comments section be a discussion on the issues, for those who are interested.

22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa:

R. Bechhofer is secretly censoring his blog, so you won't see responses there anytime soon, as he deletes them. That's who you're dealing with there.

I posted this response to you, but he deleted it:

Anonymous said...
Shavua tov, Lisa-

I really don’t understand what I’ve said that you find arrogant, baiting or offensive. Please point out where I’ve done that. I’ve merely said that, and shown how, I have doubts about your redating as a solution to the flood problem. Surely it is permitted to express doubts.

> You know, Anonymous, some people have the courage of their own convictions. I'm well aware that many of my views are not mainstream, and I'm still willing to put my name on them. And I've made an exception to a longstanding rule of mine by even responding to you. I dislike talking with people who are hiding behind anonymity.<

As to my discussing things without using my real name, perhaps you haven’t followed the thread of this discussion from its beginning and learned the ground rules of Rabbi Bechhofer’s blog. I suggest you go back and read it through. I will summarize it for you.

You see, someone named Saul Shajnfeld raised serious questions about the historicity of the Torah’s literal account of the flood. Rabbi Bechhofer started throwing long excerpts from various websites at Saul, which Saul showed actually proved his own point. Then Rabbi Bechhofer enlisted the aid of a Yale-educated Orthodox Egyptologist. Saul proceeded to show that his views were unreasonable.

In desperation, Rabbi Bechhofer announced that the Yale fellow’s views, which Saul had shown to be basically absurd, were the most reasonable. A few readers called Rabbi Bechhofer on this. One even called the Rabbi’s remarks “wacko,” and threatened to finally throw away his yarmulka if a rabbi could make such an unreasonable statement. Rabbi Bechhofer deleted him. Saul kept pressing, to which Rabbi Bechhofer stubbornly attempted to pander to his audience by declaring that the view Saul was decisively defeating was the most reasonable (after Saul clearly demonstrated it was totally UNreasonable).

Not liking to have his viewpoint trounced on his own blog, Rabbi Bechhofer decided to transfer the discussion to Avodah, and banned further discussion of the topic on his blog. Saul retaliated by reminding the audience that Rabbi Bechhofer’s view had be refuted. Rabbi Bechhofer responded with this:

“Frankly, this is my blog, and I will take the privilege of the last word. I will delete all subsequent posts you make here on the topic.”

So Saul was banned, and the discussion “transferred” elsewhere. But, transferring the discussion elsewhere, and banning posts from Saul, did not stop Rabbi Bechhofer from posting your post, which happened to support his position. You see, in Rabbi Bechhofer’s eyes, the discussion is better carried on in Avodah—that is at least as long as Saul is taking part in it. Once Saul is banished, and once Rabbi Bechhofer has you to represent his view, the discussion can carry on on his blog, and it has. So long as Rabbi Bechhofer feels he’s winning, it’s OK for the discussion to continue. Those are the ground rules.

As for my anonymity, I learned a lesson from Saul’s experience: use your name, and show Rabbi Bechhofer he is wrong, and he will banish you. I’d gladly use my name if Rabbi Bechhofer had the decency not to resort to such inappropriate behavior.

As I said, I don’t believe I was being disrespectful to you. If I was, please show me where.

You now identify the flood with the ice age. But Chazal say that the residents of Eretz Yisrael were killed by the enormous HEAT generated by the flood. (I'm not an expert on ice ages, but I doubt that they work like air conditioners, taking heat out of Mesopotamia by blowing it into Israel.)

And do you really believe that the ice age occurred as recently as 2105 B.C.E.?

In fact, would you yourself believe much of what you’re saying about the period c. 2105 B.C.E. if the Torah did not claim there was a flood in that year?

>Furthermore, I think you're baiting me. Your tone has gotten progressively more antagonistic and rude. I don't think you're interested in answers to questions at all. I think that you think you have all the answers, and are merely throwing challenges at me until I "inevitably" have no answers. I think you're performing.<

I don’t know what you mean by “baiting.” Based on my understanding of history, I disagree that there was a major flood that destroyed all of Mesopotamia c. 2105 B.C.E. I am indeed interested in answers, but I reserve the right to challenge the answers if they seem wrong to me. Surely I have that right. And I don’t think you have any basis to attack me as “performing” or “dissing.” It seems to me you don’t like having your views questioned.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He also deleted this:

Lisa, you said: "You know, Anonymous, some people have the courage of their own convictions."

I think that Anonymous has a point in staying anonymous here. Like you, Shajnfeld had the courage of his convictions and used his real name. And RYGB kicked him out of his blog.

If you don't like anonymous posts, tell RYGB to stop banning people who give their names.
Posted by Moshe

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa:

If you have such high standards of not corresponding with anonymous blog posters, why don't you write to RYGB and tell him you do not find it morally right to post on a blog that censors out things the blogger disagrees with?

12:17 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Look, Nonny. I can understand R' Bechhofer refusing to permit offensive statements against Judaism on his blog. For crying out loud, it's his blog. If you, or Saul, or anyone else, wants to rant against Judaism, there are places you can do that with impunity.

I don't know if you have a blog. But speaking as someone who does, I think that one of the reasons I made it was to present my thoughts and my ideas. Not to create a forum for discussion. Y'all have taken advantage of R' Bechhofer allowing extended comments and replies to replies to replies to... and have tried to make it a de facto discussion group.

I'm a regular poster on the soc.culture.jewish.moderated newsgroup. You can go there and post to your heart's content. You'll find no shortage of people who agree with you, or even go beyond what you're claiming. Personally, I'd prefer to have this kind of discussion either on a newsgroup or an e-mail list or an online forum.

R' Bechhofer is not equipped to have this argument with you. That's not a slam against him; this isn't his area of expertise. So you cut him to bits (maybe; I haven't read through the hundreds of comments on that blog entry, and I don't intend to). Big whoop, as my little sister would say. If I were to get into an argument with him about, say, the finer points of sfeik sfeika, he'd probably rip me up and down and sideways. Not because I'm dumb, but because his expertise is most likely far greater than mine in that area.

In any case, I can't imagine banning someone from my blog comments unless they were really being personally offensive. So posting as Anonymous here is only going to tick me off. I'm responding to your three comments here solely because you deserve to hear that from me first.

For the record, I first heard about this discussion because someone let me know that it was happening on the Avodah list. I'm not actually a member of that list, but the posts are public, and I responded to them anyway. The moderator chose to allow them on the list. It's not the first time this has happened, and I suspect it won't be the last.

I don't understand you. Are you frum? Are you observant? You talk about a local flood in Mesopotamia, but if you're saying that the flood described in the Torah didn't cover the whole world, you're rejecting the Torah.

As far as the midrash about the heat from the flood... maybe it happened that way, and maybe it didn't. The Rambam had some fairly choice words about people who take all midrashim literally. But that doesn't extend to the actually text of the Torah itself.

Now... I'm of two minds when it comes to your post. I think it goes over the line into lashon hara. And that bothers me. But deleting it and leaving my comments seems wrong as well. So I'm going to leave your post there for the time being. Maybe I'm wrong to do so, but I'm going to risk it.

As to my not liking to be disagreed with, that's not really true. If it was, I wouldn't bother posting in places where I know I'm going to be disagreed with. What I dislike is being disagreed with in a somewhat childish way. Give me hard data, if you like, but don't waste my time with arguments from authority.

If you respond to this, you're going to need to do so with a name. I couldn't care less if it's actually your name or not, but don't bother posting here as Anonymous next time, 'kay?

1:17 PM  
Anonymous saul shajnfeld said...

Lisa:

This is Saul. I was not arguing against the Torah or Judaism. If you'd read the thread on RYGB's blog, you'd see that I was arguing for a non-literal interpretation of the Mabul story, because I felt that a literal reading made the Torah into a laughingstock. I am an observant Jew.

The story about RYGB's actions that "anonymous" posted on your blog is, unfortunately, true.

I respect the fact that you post using your own name.

>You talk about a local flood in Mesopotamia, but if you're saying that the flood described in the Torah didn't cover the whole world, you're rejecting the Torah.<

Apparently a number of Orthodox rabbis have suggested that the flood was not universal. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem entirely, as there is geological evidence that no flood covered all of Mesopotamia within thousands of years of the date the Torah gives for the flood. And the flood described by the Torah is truly massive, and cannot refer to some mere local flood. Hence the conclusion that either the story is metaphorical, that the Torah's dates are not intended literally, or that there is some other non-literal explanation.

>So you cut him to bits (maybe; I haven't read through the hundreds of comments on that blog entry, and I don't intend to). Big whoop, as my little sister would say.<

His problem was that, notwithstanding his not being knowledgeable in the area, he was bold enough to flatly reject my views, he enlisted the aid of a frum former Yale Egyptologist whose explanations turned out to be absurd, and then he pandered to his audience by claiming that those absurd explanations made the most sense. You can read it all for yourself.

>The Rambam had some fairly choice words about people who take all midrashim literally. But that doesn't extend to the actually text of the Torah itself.<

Rambam also felt parts of Bereishis were not to be interpreted literally.

Kol tuv,
Saul Shajnfeld

4:02 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

This is Saul. I was not arguing against the Torah or Judaism. If you'd read the thread on RYGB's blog, you'd see that I was arguing for a non-literal interpretation of the Mabul story, because I felt that a literal reading made the Torah into a laughingstock. I am an observant Jew.

I hear you, Saul. Here's the thing: I think it's sad that you feel a literal reading makes the Torah into a laughingstock. I think you need to learn to have a little more self-esteem where Judaism is concerned.

Consider lightning rods. The rabbis ruled that it was permissible to put up iron bars in a chicken coop. That it didn't count as a superstition. But until Benjamin Franklin "invented" the lightning rod centuries later, it was seen as a superstition by everyone. And even after Franklin, many people considered them "evil".

Don't fret so much about what other people are going to think. Honestly.

The story about RYGB's actions that "anonymous" posted on your blog is, unfortunately, true.

But so what?

I respect the fact that you post using your own name.

I appreciate that.

>You talk about a local flood in Mesopotamia, but if you're saying that the flood described in the Torah didn't cover the whole world, you're rejecting the Torah.<
Apparently a number of Orthodox rabbis have suggested that the flood was not universal.


I don't think that's actually true. But those who did say such a thing... I suspect that they were saying it for someone like you. No offense, but someone who is so frightened by what other people will say if Judaism seems "primitive" needs to hear that the Mabul wasn't universal, there are plenty of rabbis who will fulfill that need. Personally, I'm more the Kahane type than the Riskin type. I think blunt truth is generally the best way to go about things.

Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem entirely, as there is geological evidence that no flood covered all of Mesopotamia within thousands of years of the date the Torah gives for the flood.

There is, however, evidence of a world-wide Ice Age. And little or no evidence that it was caused by ice, rather than water.

One again, incidentally, you're appealing to dates that are themselves a matter of question.

And the flood described by the Torah is truly massive, and cannot refer to some mere local flood.

Yup. I'm glad we can agree about that.

Hence the conclusion that either the story is metaphorical, that the Torah's dates are not intended literally, or that there is some other non-literal explanation.

It doesn't follow. I mean it still doesn't follow. There are other possibilities.

>The Rambam had some fairly choice words about people who take all midrashim literally. But that doesn't extend to the actually text of the Torah itself.<

Rambam also felt parts of Bereishis were not to be interpreted literally.


I don't think that's true. Remember what the Moreh Nevuchim was for. It's a moreh for nevuchim. He says things in it that contradict things he wrote as a matter of halakha in his Mishneh Torah. Not because he was confused, but because it was helpful for the intended audience of his book.

Saul, I'm sorry this is so hard for you.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Milhouse said...

FWIW, my zaida AH, who knew a little more how to learn than either of us, thought it likely that the mabul only covered the region where humans lived, which might have been quite a restricted area.

That would explain the unique fauna of countries such as Australia - the animals were created there in the first place, and were not affected by the mabul. It would also explain Eretz Yisrael not being flooded, if we suppose that it was uninhabited.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I hear you, Milhouse. But with all due respect to your zaida, that doesn't really jibe with killing off "kol basar". Or really any of the story:

And HaShem said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.' (6:7)

And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; every thing that is in the earth shall perish. (6:17)

And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered. (7:19)

That's "under all the heavens".

And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark. (7:23)

Human habitation may have been limited, but not animals. And I guess you could say that it's all made up (though obviously I disagree), but there doesn't seem to be any support for the Mabul having been local.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Lisa that the Flood of the Torah cannot be seen as local. It makes no sense.

I disagree with Lisa that the Flood of the Torah was a universal flood c. 2200 BCE. It would turn on its head archaeology, history, geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology, etc.

Lisa: you are taking issue with numerous disciplines, and based only on the literal interpretation of one document, the provenance of which is unproven. I don't think you can pull it off.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Milhouse said...

I'd say that "all flesh...under all the heavens" refers to the area of human habitation. Despite pashtut haketuvim, I think you'll agree that it's unreasonable to take literally the claim that the animals were morally corrupt and deserved to be punished. Animals are not moral agents, and are incapable of deserving either reward or punishment; that's what makes them animals. So both the pesukim and maamarei chazal that say otherwise must b treated as somewhat metaphorical. The people were so corrupt that they corrupted their surroundings, and God decided to throw it all out and start afresh. The areas without human habitation, however, cannot have been corrupt, (ve'adam ayin leshachet et ha'adama, so to speak,) and there would be no reason for them to be flooded.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It clearly says that the animals were killed in the flood due to the sin of inter-species sex. So animals DO have bechirah and can choose between right and wrong.

That is not to say that ALL animals engaged in this sin. But even so, the innocent ones were also punished, perhaps because they didn't stop their fellow animals from sinning.

Or perhaps when Hashem decides to kill evildoers, He kills whomever is around too. Sort of "collateral damage."

10:12 PM  
Blogger Milhouse said...

I can't tell whether you're joking or serious. It is beyond question that animals are not moral agents. Therefore any pasuk or maamar chazal that implies otherwise must be understood metaphorically.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Sorry, Milhouse, but you don't actually know that. All you can say is that animals today don't have bechira. I'll admit, I find it unlikely that they had it then either, at least in the sense you're thinking. For one thing, we say that only Bnei Adam have bechira. But the Torah does say "ki hish'chit kol basar", and it clearly does not mean only human beings.

What I wonder is why this is so important to you. It's painfully obvious that we don't have any concrete information on the way things were back then. For all we know, the Kronians are right, and the Earth orbited Saturn prior to the Mabul. Not that I'm suggesting that, but there is no evidence to the contrary.

Why can't you just say, "We don't have enough solid information on those times to talk intelligently about it."

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>It is beyond question that animals are not moral agents.<

On the contrary. The sun and moon were moral agents, the moon resenting the sun's prominence.

The angels were moral agents with bechira, challenging Hashem to send them to earth and swearing they could resist the temptations of earthly women.

The mountains vied to be the one on which the Torah was to be given.

The universe was teeming with bechira back then. Even inanimate objects had it.

Perhaps the gedolim will explain that nature must have changed since those times. Or perhaps these tales are archaic nonsense.

What do you think, Lisa?

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>What I wonder is why this is so important to you.<

Lisa, you keep asking that question.

The answer is that these old tales suggest primitive precursor belief systems from which ours may have evolved, which casts doubt on the divinity of our own belief system.

That's it in a nutshell. That's why it's important to folks seeking truth.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

The answer is that these old tales suggest primitive precursor belief systems from which ours may have evolved, which casts doubt on the divinity of our own belief system.

But they do nothing of the sort. They only have that effect if you're already looking for some way to "disprove" the Torah.

That's it in a nutshell. That's why it's important to folks seeking truth.

I disagree. It's important to those who feel a need to try and knock Judaism down. Otherwise you wouldn't resort to such inane arguments as the ones you're using.

You want to feel safe. You want to feel that everything now is as it always has been. That way you can be comfortable in the belief that everything will always be as it is now. You don't like the idea that next to Hashem, you're not only small, but you can hardly be said to exist at all.

There's nothing new in what you're trying to do, Nonny. Chazal tell us that it wasn't long after the Mabul that some bright boy (an ancestor of yours, perhaps?) came up with the theory that the world floods every 1656 years. That it's simply a natural phenomenon, and nothing to get all theological about.

Check out my next post on the blog. I decided that this is important enough to warrant a blog entry, rather than just some comments.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Nonny said...

>>The answer is that these old tales suggest primitive precursor belief systems from which ours may have evolved, which casts doubt on the divinity of our own belief system.<<

>But they do nothing of the sort. They only have that effect if you're already looking for some way to "disprove" the Torah.<

I'll respond that they do not have that effect on you likely because you're already looking for every way possible to "support" the Torah. In other words, you have an agenda, and do not look at the evidence objectively. That's how it appears to me.

>There's nothing new in what you're trying to do, Nonny. Chazal tell us that it wasn't long after the Mabul that some bright boy (an ancestor of yours, perhaps?) came up with the theory that the world floods every 1656 years.<

And you are a spiritual heir to Chazal. Nothing new here either.

>You want to feel safe. You want to feel that everything now is as it always has been. That way you can be comfortable in the belief that everything will always be as it is now.<

And you want to feel safe in the belief that things back then were NOT as they are now, and that nothing we find can be tested to confirm/disprove the Torah's claims.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Nonny said...
>>>The answer is that these old tales suggest primitive precursor belief systems from which ours may have evolved, which casts doubt on the divinity of our own belief system.<<<

Lisa replied...
>>But they do nothing of the sort. They only have that effect if you're already looking for some way to "disprove" the Torah.<<

Nonny said...
>I'll respond that they do not have that effect on you likely because you're already looking for every way possible to "support" the Torah. In other words, you have an agenda, and do not look at the evidence objectively. That's how it appears to me.<

All I can say is that you don't know me. Nonny, I'm a lesbian. And I wasn't raised frum. You think I want the Torah to be true? Please.

>>There's nothing new in what you're trying to do, Nonny. Chazal tell us that it wasn't long after the Mabul that some bright boy (an ancestor of yours, perhaps?) came up with the theory that the world floods every 1656 years.<<

>And you are a spiritual heir to Chazal. Nothing new here either.<

I appreciate the vote of confidence.

>>You want to feel safe. You want to feel that everything now is as it always has been. That way you can be comfortable in the belief that everything will always be as it is now.<<

>And you want to feel safe in the belief that things back then were NOT as they are now, and that nothing we find can be tested to confirm/disprove the Torah's claims.<

And how exactly is that supposed to make me feel safe?

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Nonny (not my real name) said...

>All I can say is that you don't know me. Nonny, I'm a lesbian. And I wasn't raised frum. You think I want the Torah to be true? Please.<

Lesbian or not, something along the way made you want the Torah to be true. When did it happen? Tell me you were raised by wolves and one day saw the light. Tell me no one did a job on you.

>>And you want to feel safe in the belief that things back then were NOT as they are now, and that nothing we find can be tested to confirm/disprove the Torah's claims.<<

>And how exactly is that supposed to make me feel safe?<

It makes you feel safe that no archaeology or geology or genetics can disprove the things said in the Torah, and that probably makes you feel safe in the shelter of God.

>You want to feel safe . . . . You don't like the idea that next to Hashem, you're not only small, but you can hardly be said to exist at all.<

I'm so small compared with the universe itself that the existence of God wouldn't make me feel particularly smaller. I don't think you're reading me correctly.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Nonny (not my real name) said...

>Lesbian or not, something along the way made you want the Torah to be true. When did it happen? Tell me you were raised by wolves and one day saw the light. Tell me no one did a job on you.<

Okay, I'm telling you just that. And rather than give you the details in these blog comments, I'll post a blog entry with the whole story. And maybe you'll learn that it doesn't always happen the way you think it does.

I'm guessing you were raised frum and chafed. Am I warm?

>>And how exactly is that supposed to make me feel safe?<<

>It makes you feel safe that no archaeology or geology or genetics can disprove the things said in the Torah, and that probably makes you feel safe in the shelter of God.<

Heh. My relationship with Hashem is a little like the relationship of a toddler with a doll it keeps doing weird things to. I'm looking forward to the day when Hashem gets bored of me and finds a new toy to play with. Try again.

>>You want to feel safe . . . . You don't like the idea that next to Hashem, you're not only small, but you can hardly be said to exist at all.<<

>I'm so small compared with the universe itself that the existence of God wouldn't make me feel particularly smaller. I don't think you're reading me correctly.<

Oh, I think I am. You give lip service to being small compared with the universe, but as large as the universe may be, you like the idea that it's all clockwork. That everything is predictable. It's all controlled, Nonny, and as long as it's controlled, it's not overwhelming.

Hashem, by contrast, seems capricious to you. Your judgements of what He should or should not do are utterly irrelevant. You can't define Him in equations, and that seems dangerous to you.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a website that may be of some interest to some of your readers. Within the pages of the Bible, you will find numerous passages pertaining to the ancient history of Mesopotamia. I have done and extensive study on the genealogy of the Bible and created a database that contains the information of every individual mentioned. I used numerous other history sites to compile and expand the information of the surrounding areas at the time of each Bible character. You will be able to see all the Egyptian dynasties, Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians and many more. If you are interested, you can find this information at http://www.BibleFamilyTree.com.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Lisa, you (or your readership) may find this post on my blog to be of interest:

http://vesomsechel.blogspot.com/2006/10/ten-generations-and-problem-of.html

3:23 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

 

Google