Friday, August 01, 2014

Idn Ezra's Four Verses

A comment by Ibn Ezra at the beginning of this week's parsha is one that some fear opens the doors of heresy beneath our feet. With something approaching a wink and a shrug he broadly hints that four Torah verses were added after Moshe died.

From a literary perspective his point is compelling. All four verses are slightly "off" One sounds like a parenthetical that the original audience would not have understood; another sounds like it was written on the Israel side of the Jordan, and so on. From a theological perspective his point is terrifying - until you remind yourself of a few things:

1) This is Ibn Ezra we're talking about. Do you really want to excommunicate a Rishon? Are you prepared to suggest ibn Ezra was in the grips of false ideas?

2) The idea that every word and every letter we have today was part of the original revelation is a relatively new one. Its not hard to find old-time authorities who didn't accept this claim, or who didn't think denying it was heresy.

3) For centuries the Torah was copied by hand and all sorts of weird things happen, over time, when you copy something by hand.

4) We can concede that the Torah we have today is not a letter for letter match with the original revelation and absolutely nothing bad will happen. Accepting ibn Ezra's point is not, in of itself, license to stop keeping commandments or to start eating pork.

It's merely religious permission to embrace the beginnings of a critical understanding.

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