To our enlightened Master and Teacher, the Grand Rabbi of Guadalajara, may he live many years of inner peace and transcendental serenity.
Forgive our ignorance this one more time, you who know the hiding place of all hidden things! Guide us tiny mice through the maze of confusion, oh solver of all puzzles! Explain to us how we can market to the general public this Great and Awesome Event upon which the foundations of our faith are built, this idea of Mass Revelation at Sinai.
Explain to us the evidence that makes it impossible to deny that before three thousand years a heavenly voice boomed down upon the crowd, saying, "I'm the only G‑d around here, so you better not have any others. And don't let me catch any one of you lying, stealing, killing, coveting or being disrespectful to your Mom and Dad!"
And then open our eyes and let us know the truth of all truths, oh truthful and authentic sage: If such evidence is so clear and absolute, then why, we beseech you, have the tenured thinkers and scribes of many academic institutions rejected it so?
Certainly, as salted surfers of the Web, you are intimately familiar with conspiracy. You have heard that no man ever landed on the moon -- it was all filmed in Arizona. Continental drift was initiated in the 50's by the Pentagon to push Russia off the end of the earth. Prozac was developed by AT&T in an attempt to mold human personality to UNIX protocol. Bill Gates owns the Vatican and the Illuminati own Bill Gates. Kellogg's owns the Illuminati and you don't want to know what's in those golden flakes. Time-Warner/AOL is a front for an international association of nuns committed to directing asteroids at California. Asteroids are communist sputniks In case you have been deluded by the propaganda that communism is dead, Bill Clinton is a communist agent and Santa Claus as well.
Conspiracies are very popular, psychologists say, because they provide simple explanations for a very complex world. But they are absurd. Because, as we all know from Poor Richard's Almanac, three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.
The FBI, KGB, FDA, Microsoft, Vatican, Franciscan nunnery of Homeville, Tennessee -- all are filled with competitive, fumbling, in-fighting human beings just like you and I (okay, maybe the nuns are a little more friendly than the guys at Microsoft. But then, so is the KGB). None of them could keep a conspiracy going longer than a week without wrangling over who is in charge, who messed up, who gets the goods, who gets the blame -- and all those other fun, human games that break up rock bands, countries and corporations every day.
If the FBI would attempt a conspiracy, some branch of the CIA would get all upset because conspiracies are their department and who do those glorified police officers think they are anyway? If the commies or any other enterprising group would find a way to take over the world, Microsoft would buy them out in a snap. Everybody knows what Microsoft is up to -- because everybody else invented all of it. And hey, they can't even conspire to make their OS work consistently.
The greatest conspiracy theory of all time is materialism. The idea that some 1080 particles of matter conspire every day to bring us the orderly form of this world before us. Everybody knows that particles can't agree on anything.
The second greatest conspiracy theory is that the Jews invented the Torah. That millions of Jews over thousands of years could conspire to agree on a single version of a national event that never happened. If nobody else can conspire on anything for more than a week, whoever imagined that Jewish people could get a conspiracy off the ground was totally off his rocker? (Actually, weve tried it. One look at Israeli politics will tell you just how hopeless that was.)
Let's examine what the study of history is. Most of us will say that history is the study of what happened. That's bunk. We barely know what's happening right now. How does anybody know what happened in the past? And what defines what really happened?
Perhaps you know the story of one great Renaissance man, Sir Francis Bacon. Sitting in his room above the tavern, he thought, "I have written on philosophy, science and mathematics. Now I will take on history." As he set his pen to the page, Sir Francis glanced out his window and observed a commotion outside. Then he went downstairs to the tavern, where he heard no less than six highly divergent versions of what had occurred. Sir Francis went back upstairs and tore up what he had written so far. He never wrote a book on history.
I think most historians will agree that history as it is practiced in academic circles can be defined as follows: The search for the most likely sequence of events to explain whatever remnants have endured till today.
Following this paradigm, let us examine our case. The evidence is as follows: Universally, there is a single account of how the Jewish people received the Torah. It states that on the sixth day of the third month of the year 2448 from Creation, an entire nation full of dissidents and skeptics gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and witnessed how G‑d spoke with Moses. Rather overwhelmed by the experience, they asked Moses to kindly fetch all the details of what exactly G‑d would like from them and report on it. Which he did, over a period of forty years wandering in the desert. Moses also charged the people to keep multiple copies of the written record, which they did, and so we have many copies of that record to this day.
Here is the proposed most likely explanation of the existence of this record: Someone made up the whole story. Someone else later wrote it down. A third individual put it together with other manuscripts, and the entire nation conspired to agree that it had actually happened. They agreed to agree on only one version of how it had happened, eradicating any trace of dissent.
Basically, a conspiracy theory. This time, involving huge numbers of people over a very long period of time.
History is not laboratory science -- you can't test it and make observations. But you can still check a theory for inconsistencies. A few bumps here and there are excusable, but with the Jewish conspiracy theory we have some blatant contradictions. For instance:
(a) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the most ingenious people ever. Out of all the peoples of the ancient world, this nation of shepherds and fig-growers came up with the classic work of all time. The work that changed all of history, brought us the concepts of creation ex-nihilo, history, purpose, monotheism, providence, human rights, gave rise to both Christianity and Islam and triggered the Reformation and modernization of western civilization when those gentiles started actually reading it. A supremacy dogma if I ever heard one!
(b) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the stupidest and most gullible people in the world. They fell for a story that restricts their diet, their domination over their slaves, their weekly work habits and their sex-life beyond what any other nation would tolerate. They bought into a lose-lose situation for everybody all 'round: The King's power is restricted, the priestly class cannot own land, and the commoners can't sell it.
They abandon their fields and towns three times a year to the mercy of the hostile nations surrounding them, let those fields lie fallow once in seven years, let their slaves go free after six years, don't charge interest -- and just trust year after year that everything will be okay. After all, G‑d promises that when you're planning to leave your land fallow in the seventh, He'll give you a bumper crop in the sixth. So tell me, what happens when one year this just doesn't work out? Do you leave that in the books you're writing?
Furthermore, this theory has the Jewish people making up fables about their blunders in full detail. They declare that they descend from slaves! They tell nasty stories about the forefather of their priestly class, Levi -- even though the Levites were supposed to have written the book. The original high priest gets his hands dirty in the biggest scandal of their history. Who is this fable serving, anyway? Why on earth would anyone want to make up such a story? And what sort of crazy people would want to preserve it?
(a) According to this theory, Jews are capable of agreeing on a single version of history. Obviously, to conspire together for so many years in delivering this grand hoax to the entire world, they must be highly cooperative, submissive to authority and like-minded. They must fit well into Eric Fromm's description of the True Believer.
(b) According to this theory, Jews have purposely painted a picture of themselves as recalcitrant, argumentative, scorning of authority and primed to kvetch at the drop of a hat. Not the sort of comrades you would want involved in your classic conspiracy. A personality described by Myers-Briggs Passive-Aggressive Disorder. Of course, this purposeful self-incrimination may be part of the plot. You may decide empirically which description suits best.
The Foundations of Conspiracy
All in all, the conspiracy theory stinks. It doesn't explain anything. There's absolutely no evidence that it's true. And its about as elegant as a walrus in a tutu.
So what does it really stand on? On the very definite assumption that Sinai could not have happened.
Think for a minute: Did those 19th century German historians who introduced us to J, E, P and D (the supposed authors of the Pentateuch) ever examine the evidence and demonstrate scientifically that Sinai could not have happened? Of course not. They didn't need to. They just knew it couldn't happen. Why? Because G‑d, if there is one, doesn't speak to Man. Especially lots of men. Period. No discussion.
You know, in the 18th century, astronomers did not believe in meteorites. Museums all over Europe threw out their precious meteorite specimens as humiliating reminders of superstitious mythology. Why? Because, as Antoine Lavoisier, father of modern chemistry declared, "Stones don't fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky!" Period. End of discussion.
Hold it! There's one piece of evidence the biblical critics will hold up: The Pentateuch is written in third person. As in "And then G‑d spoke to Moses, saying..." as opposed to, "So then I had this chat with the Boss and He said..." Moses wouldn't write about himself in third person. Right? And Moses couldn't have composed the last eight verses describing his passing. So Moses couldn't have composed the Torah.
Right. We all agree on something. Moses did not compose the Torah. Nobody ever said he did. G‑d composed it. Moses just wrote it down.
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) writes in his introduction to his classic commentary on the Torah that this is the reason the Torah is written in third person: Because Moses is no more than a scribe copying from a primeval document. The Torah exists before creation, before time. It is G‑d's wisdom, containing the original proposal, concept paper and design notes from which He created heaven and earth. Abraham knew it, Noah studied it, even Adam had the Torah. Moses was the first who was able to channel the Torah down to earth, to resolve it into ink on the page. If Moses had perceived himself as an author, as anything more than a transparent channel for G‑dly wisdom, he would have been incapable of such a task.
To the point that, at the end of his transcribing, Moses attained the ultimate degree of self-abnegation: He writes about his own passing from this world. As the Talmud tells us, "G‑d dictated and Moses wrote with tears."
In my humble opinion, Ramban's opinion seems much more internally consistent. It also makes fairy dust out of every other piece of evidence biblical critics will cite. And this is the traditional history stated clearly in the Torah: That an entire nation witnessed G‑d speaking to Moses the Ten Commandments:
G‑d said to Moses, Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever! (Exodus 19:9)
G‑d spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets. (Deut.4:9-13)
Once the people had witnessed this, they believed Moses. As Maimonides writes:
Israel did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the miracles he performed. When you base your faith on miracles, you're still in doubt. Maybe these miracles were done through magic and witchcraft...
So why did we believe him? The revelation on Sinai which we saw with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, not having to depend on the testimony of others... (Mishne Torah - Foundations of Torah 8:1)
Here we have it. A simple and elegant solution to why, of all nations, this nation ended up with the most counter-intuitive set of rules and customs that have by now overthrown the hierarchy of power and world-concept of most of human society. It was a mass revelation from Above. G‑d said it, they had to do it.
Problem is, this doesn't fit with our definition of history: the most likely sequence of events to explain whatever remnants have endured. Divine revelation, especially to a crowd, cannot be called likely. I mean, have you seen one lately? When was the last time you were in a crowd, say at the mall, and a booming voice came out of the heavens to speak to the people?
So, the historian, as we have defined him, must reject it.
Digging a little deeper: Accepting G‑d speaking to us at Sinai and instructing us in our daily affairs doesn't sound right to the materialist mind -- even if it believes in G‑d. G‑d is infinite. The world is a finite place made of finite, real things. G‑d just can't fit in here. And so, even if we showed the materialist an onsite video certified by peer review, he would have to reject it. Because it just can't happen.
The human mind, when faced with a choice between the absurd and the impossible, will invariably choose the absurd. The absurd is far less frightening and easier to live with than the impossible. To accept the impossible is to undermine the very basis of the rational world we must live in. And here you are faced with just that choice: To accept an event that is totally out of the question to one who lives in a materialistic world, or simply explain all evidence away as artifacts of an absurd conspiracy.
The world a Jew believes in was created by G‑d speaking. And it is sustained in that way over and over at every moment. Every second of the day, a Jew experiences G‑d speaking to him or her -- through the events of life, through the mitzvahs that come our way, and especially through the Torah we learn each day. And so, what is so impossible if at one point in history the volume was turned way up and all of us heard the same thing at once? But for the materialist and his version of history, none of this is possible.
So we need another definition of history. As Thomas Kuhn would put it, a new paradigm.
History, the Other Way:
In Torah Law, history is defined by the testimony of eyewitnesses. When there are no witnesses available, testimony of a court that accepted the testimony of eyewitnesses is accepted. But if something cannot be corroborated by witnesses, as far as Torah is concerned it did not happen. It is simply not part of reality.
The simplest explanation for this reliance on eyewitnesses is because the Torah is not conspiracy-paranoid. Two witnesses in a decent court will have a very difficult time conspiring together if they have to describe the details of what they saw. Two people can tell the same story, but to describe the same scene precisely is next to impossible.
But if we were quantum physicists, we could philosophize about this a little. Perhaps eyewitnesses are vital because the human observer is a necessary element to all events. After all, this dichotomy of event and observer is a subjective one. Torah provides an objective view, in which event and observer are a single unit. Therefore, one does not exist without the other. In fact, this is the way most quantum physicists prefer to understand the universe. Interestingly, if you were a gentile theoretical physicist living in Germany after 1933, you were labeled a white Jew. Hey, maybe Moses was a physicist!
Furthermore, the idea of searching for the most likely path to arrive at the present smacks of causality-worship. Our white-Jew friend, Heisenberg, knocked that idol off its pedestal a long time ago. According to his way of thinking, anything could happen. In fact, as Schrodinger puts it, until an observer is there, anything did happen.
Having two accounts is also a good scientific approach. Any observation must be confirmed by more than one party in order to get into a textbook. Because a single observer could be reporting on no more than his own perceptual distortion, or the particular conditions of his frame of reference. Accordingly, the best testimony to any event would be that of a large and highly diverse audience.
Torah demands two witnesses. The court drills the witnesses separately to check for discrepancies in their reports. They make certain that both saw the same event at the same time from corresponding perspectives. They make sure there isn't another set of witnesses that has a conflicting eyewitness report. And then their testimony is accepted as fact. And if what the witnesses tell us is the most outrageous and preposterous event unimaginable, we must accept that as the truth.
Within this paradigm, there is no more certain event in the history of humankind than the revelation at Mount Sinai. We're not talking about a couple of broken shards, or an excavated building for archaeologists to argue over. We're not talking about the account of a single individual, or of a handful of ready-made believers. We're talking a mass eyewitness account of a wide spectrum of observers, passed down in an unbroken chain through multiple paths without distortion. We have the consensus of an entire nation for over 3000 years on a single version of that event (Jewish people actually agreeing on something!).
Contrary to popular misconception, Jews don't believe the Torah is Divine because they are gullible, or because it sounds cool and resonates with their inner soul. We know the Torah is Divine because we empirically experienced that to be so. And ever since, we trust the testimony of our teachers and parents who all agree on the same, single version of that empirical event. If you can't trust them, who can you trust?
To put it in terms of Talmudic logic: If one set of witnesses says, "We speculate that it happened like this", and the other says, "We definitely saw that it happened like that", you must believe the second set. The biblical critics speculate -- and they all argue with each other on those speculations. Our tradition states with certainty -- in a single version.
Perhaps the story was exaggerated over the centuries? Also extremely unlikely. We have a single version in our hands. To conspire at making the same exaggerations over centuries is even more preposterous than making the whole thing up together at once and fooling the world.
So here's the paradigm score:
Unbroken tradition from mass eye witnesses.
Sounds outrageously impossible.
Myths in General
Now you're going to say, "Does this mean that if any nation tells us the legends of their people, we must accept it as truth? What if they claim that G‑d gave them the truth and that their ways are the real path?"
If any people will tell you with consistency that a significant portion of their nation witnessed G‑d speaking to them, believe them. We're not talking here about a legend about one hero who slew a monster. Or a wise man who heard an angel in a cave. We're talking about an account that states how a nation experienced its history.
In fact, many such legends are true. Just because anthropologists don't think they can get grants for proving native history as authentic doesn't affect history. 19th century historians offhandedly assumed Homer's account of the Trojan War to be a fable, until Heinrich Schliemann went and dug up the evidence. Now the Iliad is looked to as a source of historical data. Anthropologists discounted the legends of the Hopi People of Arizona that described how some of them had travelled to a northern land of rock and ice -- until very recently a lone researcher found the unmistakable traces of their journeys in the frozen north. If a people are telling you something about their origins or their history, listen up. This is important data to them, and it is generally accurately preserved.
Nevertheless, nobody ever really thought of these legends as historical fact. Until recently, most peoples never even had any concept of historical fact. Aside from the ancestral history mentioned above, they told stories to build common identity and entertain the family around a bonfire at night. Stories that happened in mythical time, long, long ago in a land far away. Back to the Hopi, for instance: They tell a story of how they originated in the bottom world of three worlds that reside below this one. When? How did they get there? That is irrelevant to the story. This part of their story reads not like history, but as a metaphor. The proof is that nobody ever asks those questions.
The Bible is unique among documents of its time in this regard. Egyptian Hieroglyphics are not history but fabulous propaganda. Even Homer was not intending to write a history, but a drama full of metaphor. From reading these things, you have no sense of real time, change and progress. The Bible, on the other hand, tells a story where there is a beginning, a middle and a result. Its narrative is within a context of definite time and space, with precision of names, quantities, dates, because those events are of themselves vitally important. In a fable, for example, you don't give precise measurements for a tabernacle that will never be built again, or the exact details about a one-time ceremony to inaugurate it. When telling history, you do.
But I still contend that if a nation tells you that G‑d spoke to all of them at once, and they all give the same version, you should believe them. However, search the globe and you will find only one such story. Why? Isn't that a great way for the spiritual leadership to get their flock in line? I mean, there's only so far that you can go telling the masses a story about a single individual who had a dialogue with an angel. Or a small group that heard a divine voice. Wouldn't it be so much more powerful to tell them that everyone eye-witnessed the event?
Sure it would. Problem is, as we explained, nobody could ever pull that off. It couldn't even gradually evolve over the centuries. Because it's a conspiracy, and conspiracies don't work.
The very fact that no other people ever made up anything similar to the story of Sinai should be enough evidence that it must be true.
Choose Your World
In case you are planning to use the above as debate material, everything I've told you is useless. No matter what arguments you give, don't expect to convince those entrenched in a materialist reductionist view of reality. Our world is not their world. Our world is a world into which the Infinite may enter, and Sinai is a space where the Essence of that world is heard. Our Sinai cannot enter their world -- you must choose between the two, but you cannot keep both.
So here is my point: To accept Sinai is to reject absolutely the concept that there is a world and there is a G‑d, and that the two exist as distinct entities. But those who live in a world that is so real the infinite cannot enter, the Divine must hover beyond -- they are left to accept the absurdity of conspiracy in its most implausible form.
When G‑d created all things, He made two versions for you to choose from. He created, and the earth was chaos and empty -- an absurd world where light cannot enter. And He created a heaven and earth of "Let there be light." A world of wonder, a place for the Infinite to dwell.
You choose in which you wish to live.
For a follow up to this article, see Is there an independent source that can verify the events recounted in the Torah?