Thursday, August 08, 2013

My response to Fisher's response to Farber

You know how in the Chosen (or was it the Promise?) Malter's father and rebbe duel it out in competing publications? Though I knew they were arguing about Higher Criticism, Potok never told us exactly what was in those essays. As a kid I couldn't figure it out -- and thank you Chiam Potok for planting the seeds of heresy by telling me about scribal errors and textual emendations. I still remember the jolt I felt when Malter told his rebbe that most everyone had misunderstood a particular Talmud passage because no one  had recognized that the Breita was using a Greek word.

Anyway, when I got into bible study, of course I groked what Potok was depicting, but reading Dov Fisher's new piece on MoreOrthodoxy is like seeing it live. 

In his post, Fisher replies to some of the complaints celebrity-heretic Zev Farber has made about the bible. In truth, nothing Farber says is new. Its all stuff that scholars have discussed for ages. Some of it has even been covered on this blog. But I guess its all new to Fisher, who writes as if he's just discovered America. Perhaps as a result, his replies aren't as polished as they might be. For example:

In some places he misses the point entirely:
2.  THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There are a number of name inconsistencies in the biblical text. For example: Who was Moshe’s father-in-law, Reuel (Exod. 2:18), Jethro (Exod. 3:1), or Chovav (Num. 10:29)? Additionally, was his father-in-law a Midianite (Exodus and Numbers above) or was he a Kenite (Judg. 1:16 and 4:11)? 

RESPONSIVE THOUGHT:....Were Yasser Arafat and Abu Ammar two different people? Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen? Muhammad Zaidan and Abu Abbas? Prince and #$%&?  George Ruth and Babe Ruth? Simon Persky and Shimon Peres?  Ariel Sharon and Ariel Scheinermann? David Green and David Ben-Gurion?  Golda Meir and Goldie Meyerson? Icchak Jeziernicky and Yitzhak Shamir? 
Certainly,  Jethro may have had lots of names, just like Golda Meir had more than one name. The problem isn't that the Torah says one person had more than one name. The problem is that Torah DOESN'T say this, instead presenting multiple versions of the same tale, with a different main character in each one. 

In some places he appears not to have consulted the verses
THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “Is Noah supposed to take seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals (Gen. 7:2-3) or one pair of each animal (Gen. 6:19-20)?” 
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: I tell my child: “Look, it’s cold outside, put on a sweater.”  As he starts walking out, I say, “Y’know what?  Go back in and put on a jacket and grab a cap.”  As we get into the car, I get a bit embarrassed and say to him, “I hate to do this, but please go inside a get a raincoat.” Three different narratives, or does one amplify the previous?
The issue here is not that God modified his command, but the original command appears to have been discarded, without explanation. In 7:2-4  the text says: Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” 5 And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

But by 7:7 we see that Noah, in fact did not do "all that the Lord had commanded him"  In fact that command has changed: It now says: And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.

A point re-emphasized in 7:15: They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in.

So what happened to the original command to bring seven of each animal? Did Noah disobey? Did God change his mind? And why doesn't the text provide the explanation?

While in other places, he simply doesn't seem to have thought the matter through
THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There is no evidence of a massive collapse in Egypt during the Ramasside period, or other periods close to it, and there is no record of any slave revolt or escape in Egyptian texts.” 
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: What do Egyptian history books write about the 1956 War?  The 1967 War?  If Messiah has not yet arrived, what will they write in 3,300 years about those wars?  Will there be evidence and proof in the historical record?
Perhaps, Egyptian history books won't tell the truth about the Six Day war, but the evidence of a great battle is there in the desert, visible to anyone who knows where to look. Future archaeologists will find the wreckage of planes and tanks. They'll see the trenches and the ruins of villages. If future historians have access to Egyptian newspapers and diaries they'll discover additional evidence of an upheld; moreover the war itself will be mentioned, even if the details in Egyptian sources don't match the details given by Israeli reporters. The problem Farber identifies, a problem Fisher elides,  is that as yet no evidence of a mass exodus has been discovered. None at all. The issue isn't merely that the Exodus isn't specifically mentioned in Egyptian sources, but that no sign of it can be found in the ground. The Torah says millions of people moved through the Sinai desert. Where are the archaeological remains? Nothing has been found - not a tent, not a campsite, not refuse pit. And though arguments from silence are poor arguments, Fisher does himself no favors by so cavalierly ignoring the real issue. 

The rest of Fischer's examples of "Responsive Thought" aren't much better. In general he offers explanations and interpretations that smooth out the difficulties Farber reports, without seeming to realize that interpretation and analysis are two different things. Farber is analyzing the text and identifying contradictions or anomalies in the presentation. Fisher is using his skill as an interpreter to make the anomalies disappear, but without bothering to consider what the text, as it appears on the page, is actually presenting. This doesn't mean the Documentary Theory is true; it means that Fisher hasn't adequately addressed its claims. 

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