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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

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

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Friday, April 07, 2006

More on Hammurabi and Archaeology

RespondingToJBlogs responded to my previous post by saying (among other things):

I still do not see a source, other than your assertion for a later dating of Hammurabi. Your argument basically boils down to "There is uncertainty in the field and therefore the field is unreliable."

With regards to Hammurabi, I am not saying that "There is uncertainty in the field and therefore the field is unreliable." RtJB seems to be the kind of person who automatically associates anyone who takes the Torah seriously as being in the same camp as the creationist types who say things like that, but it's a sign of the very large chip on his shoulder that he'd read it into what I wrote.

It's not exactly rocket science. Two completely different and independent sources of information that say the same thing. A period of well over a thousand years according to any reckoning, in which there is a dead match for the entire duration of the period.

No one can accuse the scholars who have painstakingly assembled the stratigraphic record of the Levant of trying to make it match the Bible. On the contrary: the very fact that they've been assuming incorrect dates for the strata all this time establishes better than anything could that there's been no fudging of the data.
In any other field of knowledge, this would be a no brainer.


  • First urban settlement
  • Brutal, violent culture
  • Fortified cities
  • Pyramid age in Egypt
  • Egypt falls apart
  • New nation appears in the Sinai and Negev and then invades those first urban settlers from the Transjordan, wiping out the first urban settlers
  • New nation destroys all the cities that the Bible says were destroyed by Israel, such as Jericho and Ai, which wouldn't be rebuilt until the Iron Age
  • New nation lives pastorally for centuries and then virtually overnight expands into an empire that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates (the only such empire in all of human history)
  • New nation speaks and writes Biblical Hebrew and is culturally indistinguishable from the Israelites of the Bible
  • Empire falls apart in what archaeologists see as being caused by civil war and invasions from Egypt
  • Remains of empire last for a few more centuries, plagued by more civil wars and external invasions
  • Northern part of former empire is pounded to pieces by invaders from northern Syria and Mesopotamia
  • Northern part of former empire is resettled by Newer nation, which despite copying many aspects of its predecessor, is quite easily distinguishable, culturally speaking
  • Newer nation rebuilds cities like Ai, which had been in ruins for the entirety of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages.


And it's like fractals. The closer you look -- the more detail you check out -- the stronger the match becomes.
Anyone looking at this objectively would match the two. While there is nothing objective that dates the stratigraphic record as it is currently dated.

Whether we want to lower the dates of the stratigraphy or raise the biblical dates, there is no question that the records match. Independently, and deeply. And Hammurabi is dated without any "uncertainty" to the Middle Bronze Age.

As an anecdote, I discussed this debate we seem to be having with a friend of mine who took Bible classes at YU and his professor never said there was any reason to think Hammurabi was post-MT.

The point being? It's interesting that RtJB uses arguments from authority when it leads to the conclusions he wants to see. The association with YU doesn't guarantee correctness. And his professor was teaching from the book. Not everyone spends the time and energy to do research in this field.

Also, I am not using my rules of logic. I looked to scientific consensus in a field with which I have no familiarity.

What's interesting is that RtJB seems to have a definition of "scientific" that means "anything not connected to religion". Because by any reasonable standard, the various fields of ancient history are anything but "scientific". As Robert A. Heinlein put into the mouth of Lazarus Long, "If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion." And as Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "No human investigation can be called true science without passing through mathematical tests. "

I don't deny the excellent scholarship involved in these fields, but science can be replicated. You can start from primaries and derive it all. That's not the case here. Here, we have a field that's a mixture of 18th century Christian biblical interpretation, and the equivalent of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, with most of its pieces missing, that scholars have been doing their painstaking best to piece together plausably. It's scholarship, but it's not science.

Yet by referring to "scientific consensus", RtJB can make it look as though rejecting the consensus is on par with Flat Earth theories, or denying gravity.

Lastly, referring to the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, RtJB wrote:

You can imagine that if these communities were to codify their cultural norms, the documents produced will look quite different from each other, but not that different than surrounding cultures.

This idea is what causes me to be skeptical of, to quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (referring to another mythical legal concept), a "brooding omnipresence in the sky, but the articulate voice of some sovereign or quasi sovereign that can be identified." That phrase perfectly sums up how I feel about the Mesorah.

And yet, despite the cultural differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, we all agree on the halakha. We all agree on what's d'Orayta, what's d'Rabbanan, and to the extent that we have differences that came into being after the close of the Torah, we recognize those as being minor.Your focus on cultural similarities doesn't make sense. Anyone looking at Jews today would see cultural similarities between us and the people among who we live. But these are surface qualities. I suspect that RtJB is not so shallow as to be unable to see past surface details. Rather, his fundamental position seems to be a denial of God and a desire to find an excuse, any excuse, to reject the Mesorah. And that's really unfortunate.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Seth Gordon said...

I'm still lost on the original premise: why should similarities between the Torah and Hammurabi's code cast doubt on the divine origin of the former? It's not like God was bound by copyright restrictions or anything...

7:43 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

You have a valid point, Seth. I don't really think it does. But if you're already of a mind to toss the Torah in the circular file, the similiarities could be considered corroborating evidence. At least that's how it seemed RtJB was using it on his blog. Did you look at it there?

3:13 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

With regards to Hammurabi, I am not saying that "There is uncertainty in the field and therefore the field is unreliable." RtJB seems to be the kind of person who automatically associates anyone who takes the Torah seriously as being in the same camp as the creationist types who say things like that, but it's a sign of the very large chip on his shoulder that he'd read it into what I wrote.

Easy there, your ad hominem is showing. You have yet, despite that list you put together, to show that there is any reason to day Hammurabi after matan torah, yet you continuously make that assertion without proof. As best I can tell your arguments point out shortcomings of archaeology. Don't blame me for the shortcomings in your argument. If you have a source for your assertion, provide it. Instead of doing that, however, you dance around the point.

It's interesting that RtJB uses arguments from authority when it leads to the conclusions he wants to see. The association with YU doesn't guarantee correctness. And his professor was teaching from the book. Not everyone spends the time and energy to do research in this field.

Again you stoop to an ad hominem. I very clearly identified that anecdote as, well, an anecdote. Not an argument. I threw it in there, because I was unaware that dating Hammurabi was a controversial topic.

What's interesting is that RtJB seems to have a definition of "scientific" that means "anything not connected to religion".

You're right. Science has nothing to do with religion.

I don't deny the excellent scholarship involved in these fields, but science can be replicated. You can start from primaries and derive it all. That's not the case here. Here, we have a field that's a mixture of 18th century Christian biblical interpretation, and the equivalent of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, with most of its pieces missing, that scholars have been doing their painstaking best to piece together plausably. It's scholarship, but it's not science.

Again you attempt to cast doubt on the entire field.

Yet by referring to "scientific consensus", RtJB can make it look as though rejecting the consensus is on par with Flat Earth theories, or denying gravity.

I am not an archaeologist. If I want to know an archaelogical fact, I go to an encyclopedia.

You reject the consensus for reasons as of yet unknow to me. If you know something Wikipedia doesn't, why don't you edit their article, or at the very least share it with the rest of us.

And yet, despite the cultural differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, we all agree on the halakha.

You should do standup. Your assertion is absurd on it's face. How many Passover meals will you be having at sephardim this year?

Your focus on cultural similarities doesn't make sense.

Only because you apparently do not understand it. My argument is that cultures codify their cultural norms. That's why the Torah reflects the surrounding cultural norms (either in support of those norms, or in direct contradistinction to those norms- e.g., let's have slavery [like everyone else]! let's not sacrifice our kids to some idol [unlike everyone else]!).

Anyone looking at Jews today would see cultural similarities between us and the people among who we live. But these are surface qualities.

Correct. Jews in America believe in Apple Pie, while Jews in Ethiopia believe in harems.

I suspect that RtJB is not so shallow as to be unable to see past surface details.

This can only be an ad hominem, since you attack me but make no argument.

Rather, his fundamental position seems to be a denial of God and a desire to find an excuse, any excuse, to reject the Mesorah. And that's really unfortunate.

Also an ad hominem. My post only spoke to the idea that the Torah was an expression of cultural norms. Folks like Seth apparently can live with that. Others go even further and attempt to integrate these facts into their belied (see the Rambam and Ibn Ezra references in my post). Others seem to react instinctively and throw up a lot of a chaff in an effort to diffuse attention from serious issues.

If you are ready to unveil your evidence for Hammurabi existing after MT please post it. If you have an article cite, post it.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

You need to read more carefully, then. I have pointed out that an objective view of two distinct and independent sources that match in their details would be to align them in such a way that they do match. When this is done with the archaeological record and the biblical narrative, Hammurabi falls out in the period between the Exodus and the Davidic monarchy. And this is so whether you change the dates that are currently attributed to the archaeological levels, or whether you choose, instead, to dispute the dates given in Tanach and stretch the events in the biblical narrative out to match the archaeology. For this point, it doesn't matter which you do.

I have not said anything about "shortcomings of archaeology", though if I had, I'm certainly in a better position than you are to make that judgement.

As I said, you've redefined "scientific" to mean "outside of religion", and you've done so for the purpose of using a subset of ad hominem arguments called "argument by intimidation".

The way it goes is like this: You start by defining anything associated with religion as non-scientific, and anything not associated with religion as scientific. You then accuse anyone who argues against what you've defined as "scientific" of arguing against science. Which, of course, makes the person a benighted loon, or bible-thumping ignoramus.

It's very easy, but it's not very honest. Archaeology is not physics. It's not biology. Hell, it's not even psychology. You can't experiment. You can't repeat anything. You find one set of data, and you interpret as best you can. Not scientifically, but as best you can. You strive for a reasonable interpretation, and you keep an open mind, so that if new ideas come around, you're able to see/hear them. But it's not science.

Let me repeat that for you, because you don't seem to be hearing it:

It is not science.

Now, if that's the "shortcoming" you're claiming I'm asserting for the field, then fine. I don't see it as a shortcoming. It is what it is.

Now let's deal with logic for a moment.

I wrote:
What's interesting is that RtJB seems to have a definition of "scientific" that means "anything not connected to religion".

You wrote:
You're right. Science has nothing to do with religion.

Read it again, please. You're creating a false dichotomy. The fact (which I'll stipulate for the sake of argument) that science has nothing to do with religion does not mean that everything which has nothing to do with religion is consequently scientific.

Painting pictures need have nothing to do with religion. Is it a science? Playing a tune on a kazoo has nothing to do with religion. Is it a science?

Science is a well-defined term, RtJB. And as the saying goes, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

So going back to your attempt at argument by intimidation, you've determined that my saying that this field is not science is "casting doubt" on the field. That respecting the scholarship in the field is impossible if I don't at the same time raise it up to the level of science.

That's lame.

And with regards to the question you asked about sedarim, I haven't been invited to any Sefardi families for seder. I'd go, though. My rav told me years ago that I don't need to pay heed to the kitniyot minhag. I keep that minhag in my home solely so that people who also keep it can eat here. When I was living in Israel, I ate things that were kosher l'pesach without worrying about kitniyot, and I'd do so here in Chicago as well if anyone put a hechsher on kitniyot stuff.

See what happens when you assume?

What I find most amazing about your entire response is the way in which you see ad hominems where none exist, while engaging in ad hominem arguments yourself, over and over.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Seth Gordon said...

I skimmed the RtJB post.

It looks like I'd better respond to his response here...

My post only spoke to the idea that the Torah was an expression of cultural norms. Folks like Seth apparently can live with that.

You misunderstand my point.

I would say that the Torah was given to people who already had cultural norms, including some kind of legal tradition, which may have been similar in some respects to Hammurabi's code. It therefore would make sense for God to write the Torah in a way that would sometimes implicitly refer to, and sometimes contrast with, the legal principles that its audience was already familiar with.

10:09 AM  

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