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. . . unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning. . . . Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning (and so far She hasn't let on).
-Leon Lederman

Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

What if Cyrus Had Not Freed the Jews?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @ 11:09 AM
posted by Roger Price

Over twenty-five centuries ago, Cyrus II, founder and ruler of the Persian Empire, freed the Jews who had been transported forcibly to Babylon and facilitated the reconstruction of their Temple in Jerusalem. Without the intervention of Cyrus, the Jewish People and Judaism as we know it (if that is not redundant) would not exist today. In short, no Cyrus, no Jews. So who was Cyrus, and why aren’t we celebrating his actions?

Cyrus was born into the royal family of the small state of Anshan, located in what is now southwest Iran. Not long after becoming king of Anshan around 559 BCE, Cyrus first conquered nearby Media (550 BCE) and then turned west to capture Lydia (546 BCE) in what is now western Turkey. Next, he shocked the world by toppling the previously dominant empire of Babylonia (539 BCE). Whether his victory after a multi-year siege of the capital Babylon was more the result of brilliant tactics, Babylonian palace treason or some other factor can be debated, but it is crystal clear that Cyrus emerged from Babylon triumphant. And with this victory, Cyrus became ruler of, among other lands, the territory bordering and east of the Mediterranean Sea to and surrounding the Jordan River. read more

Isaac Asimov, Two Foundations and the Jews

Friday, June 21, 2013 @ 09:06 AM
posted by Roger Price

 

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the renowned 20th century philosopher, understood that gaining “control of the world of space” is one of the main tasks of humankind.  The result of the conquest of space is “technical civilization.” But, Heschel argued, “(l)ife goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” For Heschel, time, not space, “is the heart of existence.” (See Heschel, The SabbathIts Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus and Young 1951) at 3.)

Judaism, according to Heschel, “teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.” (Id. at 8.)  Recognizing that a different sensitivity is involved in creating holiness in time, rather than space, he urged that we cultivate that sensitivity in order to achieve the goal of being, rather than having.

If Abraham saw Judaism as a religion of time, Isaac did not. Isaac Asimov, the renowned 20th century writer, had a rather cramped view of religion. Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Russia, he came to America in 1923 as a young child. As he related in his third autobiography (no misprint), however, his parents never made “any effort” to teach any religion to him, even to have him participate in a bar mitzvah ceremony. (Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir (Doubleday 1994) at 12.) Not surprisingly, throughout his adult life, Asimov was strictly non-observant with respect to any known religious practice. At the same time, Isaac Asimov never changed his name as did others to hide his Jewishness, always acknowledged that he was Jewish and seems to have absorbed some Jewish values if not Jewish practices or sense of peoplehood. (See Id. at 13, 15-18, 322.) read more

The Camel’s Nose and the Torah’s Tent

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 @ 08:05 AM
posted by Roger Price

                The time is out of joint – O cursed spite,

                 That ever I was born to set it right!

                 Nay, come, let’s go together.

                              Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, 5

For those who hold that the Bible, and particularly the Torah, is the Word of God, without flaw and inerrant, the last few hundred years have been very frustrating. The development of the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea that the Torah was a compilation of works from several discrete sources, was and, despite scholarly challenge, remains a formidable obstacle to the claim of unitary and divine authorship. But the Documentary Hypothesis is, for all its power and value, just that, a hypothesis. Similarly, the notion that much of the Torah text is pretext, i.e., a series of allegories designed to enhance the image of one or more Kings of Judah, is another provocative and persuasive concept, but again, just that, a concept.

Yet while some would dismiss such broad theories as too sweeping, and not definitive, small, stubborn little problems with the text cannot be so easily refuted and disregarded. One sign that the Torah is not the work of a single writer, much less a divine one, is the presence of anachronisms in the text.    read more

Let My People Know, Let My People Think: Why it Matters that the Bible is Fiction

Sunday, March 31, 2013 @ 12:03 PM
posted by Roger Price

In recent years, in certain circles, it has become fashionable to assert that the Bible is fiction, or that at least key segments of it are fictional. The assertion emanates from two camps. In one of these camps are those who have been described as new or militant atheists. Looking to recent developments primarily in cosmology and archeology, folks like Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Samuel Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have created more than a cottage industry in their efforts to debunk the Bible.

But scientist and skeptics are not alone in their contention that the Bible is fiction. In another other camp are scholars of the Bible, including notable rabbis. For instance, during Passover week a dozen years ago, Conservative Rabbi and prolific author David Wolpe set off a firestorm when he spoke to his Los Angeles congregation about the lack of hard evidence for the Exodus story. According to a writer for the Los Angeles Times, after reviewing revolutionary discoveries in then current archeology, Rabbi Wolpe told them:  “The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” (A subsequent summary of Wolpe’s thinking may readily be found on the Internet in a piece he authored called Did the Exodus Really Happen? (“Did It?”).) read more

Ten Commandments from the Past, Ten Principles for the Present

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 @ 11:02 AM
posted by Roger Price

The theophany at Sinai is one of the grandest and most compelling stories of all time, a story written for the silver screen – before there was a silver screen or any screen for that matter.  It is a story that is found in the weekly Torah portion (parashah) traditionally titled “Yitro” (Ex. 18:1-20:23). But it is a story that really deserves top billing.

The revelation of God to the people is one of the three core themes of traditional Jewish theology, along with creation and redemption. But it is more than even that.  It is a story whose influence over the course of the last three thousand years or so cannot be overstated.

The thirteen verses announced at Sinai, in the form of Ten Commandments, according to parashah Yitro, are embedded in our broader political community as the essence of morality and social order. They are symbolized by tablets that are physically enshrined in multiple locations, including at least two places in the courthouse of the highest court of our land. read more

The Curious Consensus of Jews on Abortion

Thursday, January 10, 2013 @ 10:01 AM
posted by Roger Price

That different Jews have disparate views is not news. What is news is when most Jews agree on a particular idea or approach. And so it is with the curious consensus of Jews on abortion.

In mid-2012, the Public Religion Research Institute (“PRRI”) published its findings from a 2012 survey of Jewish values (the “Jewish Values Survey”). The survey sought to measure the opinions of American Jews on a wide variety of political and economic issues, both domestic and foreign, as well as with respect to certain religious beliefs and practices. Some of those opinions were analyzed internally by Jewish denomination and externally by comparison to those of other faith or ethnic groups.

While Jews varied considerably in their views of a wide range of topics, on one – abortion – they were not only reasonably cohesive in their attitude, but strikingly different from other groups. Given the emphasis in the Jewish tradition on valuing life, on equating the preservation of one life with the preservation of a world and, conversely, the destruction of one life as the destruction of the world (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5), this result, on its face, seems as anomalous as it is clear. read more

Eyes and Evolution: Why Do Some With Eyes See Not?

Saturday, November 17, 2012 @ 08:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

In the great satirical movie Duck Soup (first released 79 years ago to the date of this post),  Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), the financial underwriter of the nation of Freedonia, recruits Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) to be the insolvent country’s new president. The opposition then retains two spies, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx), to work for them. Toward the end of the film, in a bedroom scene with Teasdale, the spies both dress like Firefly in order to secure the combination to a safe.  After she gives the combination to one Firefly (the disguised Pinky), Mrs. Teasdale watches him leave the room, but suddenly another Firefly (the disguised Chicolini) appears. Teasdale confronts Chicolini who denies leaving and blusters “Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” He knew that Teasdale had convincing evidence against him. She was, after all, an eye-witness. And yet, she did not understand.

Perhaps more than on any other of our senses, humans rely on sight. Our camera eyes allow massive amounts of information to enter our brain, first through the lens at the exterior of the eye, and then from the inverted image on the retina at the back of the eye by way of the optic nerve.  In the plains of Africa, our ancestors stood to gather information about their surroundings. Today we focus on ironically named smartphones, not so much to hear audio transmissions, but to stare at screens with text or other visual data.

So important is sight to us that over two-thirds of the sensory cells in our bodies are the light sensing cells in our eyes. So energy consuming is the human retina that it uses more oxygen per gram than does the brain.  (Shubin, Your Inner Fish (Pantheon Books 2008), at 150; Lane, Life Ascending (W. W. Norton 2009) at 175.) read more

The Cosmos, Oneness and Judaism: Are Pantheism and Panentheism Kosher for Jews?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 @ 06:06 PM
posted by Roger Price

The psalmist and the skeptic and the prophet and the professor look at the universe in which we find ourselves, see the same stars, feel the warmth of the same sun, hear thunder pealing from the same sky, understand the processes by which nature unfolds in spring, retreats in fall only to regenerate again the following year, and yet often draw different conclusions from the same observable data. So, for instance, in response to the emergence of humankind, a non-theist might merely record the evolutionary data or might, like cell biologist Ursula Goodenough, marvel at the improbability, the mystery, and the grandeur of our existence. (See, e.g., The Sacred Depths of Nature (Oxford University Press 2000).) The traditional Jewish believer, by contrast, might offer a prayer to the Supreme Being: Blessed are You, sovereign of the universe, who has fashioned us from the dust of the Earth in Your image and breathed our soul into us.

Is there another way, a way to attempt to understand one’s place in the cosmos that is consistent with current scientific knowledge, and yet recognizes the miracle of our presence without dependence on some supernatural being? Is there an approach to the cosmos which might be attractive to many, perhaps most, American Jews who do not believe in the traditional personal God who dominates the Torah, but nevertheless accept the existence of (and may even yearn for) some extraordinary power, force or spirit which pervades all that is? (See Post March 14, 2012) And, if so, is that path kosher? read more

Jews, Genes and Genetics: A Look at Family, Haplotypes and Peoplehood

Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 10:05 PM
posted by Roger Price

In the United States today, the freest and richest nation on the planet, a country characterized by opportunity and mobility, the reality is that most Jews are Jews, if at all, by choice. For some, that choice is relatively easy, a coincidence of birth, culture and acceptance. For others, the situation is more complicated, involving perhaps disaffection with the faith or circumstances into which one was born and raised or, conversely, an attraction to a set of beliefs or patterns of behavior newly encountered.

Regardless of one’s position, in the open and fluid society that is America, most adults are not forced to be Jewish, i.e., to engage in conduct commonly understood to be specifically Jewish, such as attending shul, keeping kosher, studying sacred texts or simply identifying as a Jew. Nor are they forced to believe in a particular collection of ideas or ideals, including whether God exists, or, if they think that God does, what attributes or aspects that God may or may not have. Certainly strong social pressures can operate on an individual to motivate him or her to behave or believe one way or another, but most individuals still retain the ability to choose whether to be Jewish.

There is, however, one matter that is not open to choice, much less dispute or revision, and that is one’s genetic structure. And here, as elsewhere, advances in science in the relatively recent past have allowed us to investigate, to probe, to attempt to provide science based perspectives, if not answers, to the most basic questions: “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?”.    read more

The Hebrew Bible, thanks in large part to the often literal translation of it in the King James Version, is a source of scores of English idiomatic expressions. We may not know much about biology and history, but we do know, for instance, that a “leopard cannot change its spots” and that there is “nothing new under the Sun.” (See Jer. 13:23; Eccles. 1:9.)

Someday, no doubt, if it hasn’t already, Google will track the frequency with which we use these expressions and determine the rank order of their popularity. Surely high on the list will be “written in stone.” The phrase comes from the Book of Exodus where we are told that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and received from God two stone tablets which were engraved by God with God’s teachings and commandments. The initial set of tablets was then smashed by Moses when he saw that the Israelites had fashioned an idol, a golden calf, when he was away up the mountain. God then met with Moses a second time, resulting in the production of a second set of stone tablets with the laws. (See Ex.24:12; 31:18; 32:15-19; 34:4; 34:28.)

From these references comes the notion that something written in stone is fixed for all time, immutable. The writing is a statement from and by authority, possibly even sacred, but certainly to be followed without modification.  Conversely, something “not written in stone” is a statement of lesser seriousness, one subject to challenge and change. read more