Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on Noah and Orthodox Apologetics



Last week, I asked What Do Orthodox People Really Believe? Several commenters argued that many Orthodox people believe that Noah's flood was merely a regional flood and not a global one and that certain Orthodox authorities have stated that this belief is acceptable within Orthodox Judaism.

This is what drives me nuts. The story is obviously mythological, so obvious that it's hard to believe anyone who has read it wouldn't immediately see that. It's also pretty obvious that the story comes from sources alien to Judaism. Let's look at some other parts of the story, all directly from the Torah:

  1. Noah was 600 years old.
  2. Beings called "the sons of gods" (בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙) married "the daughters of men."
  3. God decides that from now on people would live only to a hundred and twenty.
  4. By the way, there were giants in those days.
  5. Also, there were giants later, when the "daughters of men" bore children to "the sons of gods."
  6. God became sorry and grieved that he had created men.
  7. So he decided to kill all of them except Noah -- and to kill all the land animals and birds, too.
  8. He tells Noah to build an ark, 300 x 50 x 30 cubits, with three levels.
  9. He declares that everything on Earth and under heaven shall die.
  10. He tells Noah to bring two of every kind (מִינָ֔הּ) of land animal and bird and enough food to feed them.
  11. He tells Noah to bring seven of every kind of pure animal and of all birds and two of the rest.
  12. The fountains of the deep and the "windows of heaven" (אֲרֻבֹּ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם) opened.
  13. All the high hills under the entire heaven were covered. Then all the mountains.
  14. The water began to recede after 150 days.
  15. Noah opened the ark after 40 days.
  16. God promises never to do that again.
  17. Noah just happened to father the ancestor of all Canaanites, who he later cursed along with all of his descendents for "uncovering his nakedness."
  18. Noah died at 900.
  19. Noah's sons have sons who all formed their own peoples as well!
  20. Then we enter the story of the Tower of Babel.
What a story! In a single narrative, we have impossible claims about humans' lifespans, a God who isn't happy with his work and kills virtually every living thing on earth, actual giants, indications of some sort of polytheistic/demigod mythology, hints at multiple authorship, hints of a flat-earth cosmology, just-so stories about how all the nations came to be, all leading up to a just-so story about how different languages came to be!

For those Orthodox people who take the whole thing as a sort of parable or myth, I have no real problem, other than questions about how they know when not to take something in the Torah as parable or myth. (And why the precise measurements of the ark?) I'm mystified, though, about those people who take the story as more-or-less history, even if it's "really" talking only about a regional flood.

Have they never read the story? Did they just settle on the first pat answer to a troubling question? What do they make of all the great sages of old who obviously took the story as history? Do they just try not to think about this stuff too much? Again, I'm wondering about the educated, intelligent, "modern" Orthodox people. What do they really believe?

(Cartoon via Stardust Musings.)

28 comments:

Baal Habos said...

>other than questions about how they know when not to take something in the Torah as parable or myth

That's easy. When it is no longer possible to rationalize, it becomes a parable.

Ezzie said...

I don't understand - when you grew up, were NONE of these addressed?

Why do find about half of these questions difficult to fathom?

Why are longer lifespans so difficult to fathom? What are "giants", anyway? (Goliath was called a "giant", and according to some was around 8-10 feet tall.) Would a huge regional flood without sewers, etc. cause a backup that could last 150 days? You can trace almost anyone as the forerunner of a good chunk of the country if you go back a few generations. Heck, even Cheney and Obama are cousins! Back then, if each formed their own little tribal nation-states, that would be unsurprising, particularly if the rest of the region were wiped out.

Sure, it could be a parable, and maybe it is. But why is it so outrageous to believe it to be true?

Jewish Atheist said...

Ezzie:

Are you kidding me? 900 years? 8-10 feet tall?

You can trace almost anyone as the forerunner of a good chunk of the country if you go back a few generations.

Yes, but these are all siblings who each founded their own, separate nation which shares their name and lasted for centuries!

Sure, it could be a parable, and maybe it is. But why is it so outrageous to believe it to be true?

Seriously? 900 years old. 8-10 feet tall. Two of every kind of animal in the world (or region.) In an ark. Being fed.

Do you think that "maybe" the Tower of Babel story is true?

Anonymous this time said...

I swear I can't tell if Ezzie is kidding. He's usually quite sensible, but that comment is so bizzare.

Holy Hyrax said...

I think its myth

But the question of what nephilim or anakim were is up to question. Anak in hebrew means large/tall. But linguistically, I guess it could be anything.

G said...

So long as you allow for a little exaggeration over time in regard to the specifics, most of these are not really big deals.

Which kind of answers your to your point of whether people take it literally.

Ezzie said...

What's wrong with 8-10 feet tall?

Again, it would make sense for a family of talented people in a region where there's now nobody to each become "leaders" of "nations".

Even nowadays with hundreds of millions of people around you see powerful families make their mark; back then, they made their mark by founding and leading their own communities. I really don't get why that's so surprising. Heck, the Jewish people were subdivided into 12 tribes for what - a thousand years?

I've said before I don't know enough about the Ark.

Or the Tower of Babel, for that matter, though I don't see what's so big about that one either. They built a skyscraper-type building, and it was destroyed. Okay... so? Nothing miraculous there.

Anonymous this time said...

Please, please tell me it's not the real Ezzie. :-(

Jewish Atheist said...

What's wrong with 8-10 feet tall?

The tallest man in the world now -- out of over 6.6 billion people -- is 8'5". Anyway, the question isn't so much if it's possible but if it's reasonable to believe it.

Even nowadays with hundreds of millions of people around you see powerful families make their mark; back then, they made their mark by founding and leading their own communities.

I can see a few Kennedy brothers being politicians, but I can't picture that a few hundred years from now there would be three distinct ethnic groups each with a large nation-state of their own called the Roberts, the Teds, and the Johns, descended from their namesakes. I suppose it would have been possible back then, but again, the parsimonious explanation is that it's a myth.

You know, like Romulus and Remus.

Or the Tower of Babel, for that matter, though I don't see what's so big about that one either. They built a skyscraper-type building, and it was destroyed. Okay... so? Nothing miraculous there.

Aren't you leaving out the bit about how that's why there are different languages?

Other said...

The whole idea of trying to make Torah sound less miraculous is dumb. Torah makes a point of describing miracles so it should be believed, so God should be feared from historical cases, to instill faith in people, to explain why the rest of the Torah needs to be obeyed, to teach vivid moral lessons because they are based in events that actually happened and ways the Cosmos operates (supposedly). These "stories" are the basis of Emuna, the cornerstone. In slichos there is a mention of the story of Noach and the Flood. Obviously that story is an important part of judaism.

Jewish people get the Torah by tradition from the earlier generations who accepted it from previous generations. This generation's Torah is whatever the previous one's was. Otherwise people would be making stuff up that has no claim to truth and divine revelation altogether. Divine revelation happened to then, not today. Their ways of interpreting the Torah are the only ligitimate ways of interpreting it, theologically. Their Torah is timeless.
The Talmud calls gentiles, Sons of Noach. Obviously Noach was not taken to be a mythological figure.

David said...

Ezzie,

You are so caught up in believing these fables, that you don't understand that you can't back up one fable by using another one. Who told you that Israel really had 12 tribes descended of one man? The fact that the minority Yahweh Alone party decided to write this in their books in the 7th century doesn't make it the truth. In fact, no expert in the field really accepts this anymore as anything else than a story, that may have some facts mixed in with much fable.

Mark said...

JA,
You ask,

Again, I'm wondering about the educated, intelligent, "modern" Orthodox people. What do they really believe?

I'd recommend that book by Kass, Beginning of Wisdom. Kass is educated, intelligent, "modern", and Jewish ... although I don't know of what "flavor".

jewish philosopher said...

If you want real mythology, read "Origin of Species".

BEAJ said...

Jews were probably real short at the time of David, probably 5 foot 1 or two. Goliath could have been 6 foot 8 and still considered a giant:)

Ezzie, not knowing enough about the Ark means you really shouldn't accept it. To add to what JA stated in his post, there is also the issue of 2 of each species. Koalas, playpus', kangaroos???? Think about it. Think about all the insects that can't live in water for or in air for 40 days and think about the fact that Moses would have had to have had more zoological knowledge then anyone on the planet today to figure out all the species that were needed to go on the ark. And how did he get the crocodiles on board.

Jewish Philosopher, you are a complete wilfully ignorant moron.

BEAJ said...

Forget the Ark, the Exodus could never have happened either.
For those interest, watch the Bible Unearthed series, it is fascinating.

jewish philosopher said...

"Jewish Philosopher, you are a complete wilfully ignorant moron."

Right. And you believe that people came from fish. Sure, that happens all the time. My daughter's goldfish have turned into polar bears. After I tried LSD.

But a flood, WHOA, that can't happen. That's clearly baloney.

jewish philosopher said...

And don't get too excited about the Bible Unearthed.

Baal Habos said...

>I don't understand - when you grew up, were NONE of these addressed?

Sure, they were all addressed. When I was 10. When you're that young anything goes. Looking at everything afresh with a critical eye, it's almost impossible to buy into it as factual. And as "Other" stated at 7:48 PM, October 24, 2007, it's obviously intended to be taken as non myth.

.

jewish philosopher said...

"When I was 10. When you're that young anything goes."

Same age I was taught evolution.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

The Talmud calls gentiles, Sons of Noach. Obviously Noach was not taken to be a mythological figure.

I'm not a Talmudist, but I don't think the quote need be interpreted so pedantically. Gentiles are under an obligation to obey the Noahic laws; hence, "sons of Noah". That would be my guess.

As to JA's question:
How do you know when to interpret a story as myth and when to take it literally? I must admit, I don't have clear criteria for that.

But I approach scripture from a completely different direction. For me, the scriptures record a process by which the nation of Israel came to certain convictions about God; convictions that developed over many generations.

It is clear, for example, that the LORD was initially regarded as a tribal god; then he was elevated to the head of a pantheon; and finally he was acknowledged as the only God in existence. If you ask me where I get that idea, JA is quite right: the Noah story itself assumes a plurality of gods/demigods.

I'm suggesting that it doesn't really matter whether we can draw a definitive line between myth and history. What we have is a record of Israel evolving toward ethical monotheism. The question is whether those ethical and monotheistic convictions are credible.

That's a whole other debate, of course.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Who told you that Israel really had 12 tribes descended of one man? The fact that the minority Yahweh Alone party decided to write this in their books in the 7th century doesn't make it the truth. In fact, no expert in the field really accepts this anymore as anything else than a story,

How does modern scholarship go by an prove or disprove this assertion of one man fathering the ten tribes.

BEAJ said...

JP, I only can laugh at you. I mean, I find you to be totally useless, and I can only mock you.

Stephen, Jews became monotheistic sometime between 700-450 BC. Prior to that, Judaism was non existent. There were Zoroastrians who came close to believing in one invisible God, but it is hard to trace back when they started.
You could argue that there were ethnic Jews before there were religious Jews.

Half Sigma said...

"Noah just happened to father the ancestor of all Canaanites, who he later cursed along with all of his descendents for "uncovering his nakedness.""

It was the evil blood of Cain, whom God punished with a black mark, arisen again.

Half Sigma said...

And reading between the lines, Ham homosexually raped his dad, which explains why Noah was so pissed.

Other said...

Stephen, and people are called the sons of Adam because they have to obey the laws of not eating from a tree?

Anonymous said...

I am just so saddened by these posts. The Bible (as I, a Follower of Jesus, call it) is 100% true. Every but if it is God Breathed. Oh please odn't take God out of God.

Ben Avuyah said...

the most upseting dichotomy of the flood is the dischord between the efforts to justify ergonomic physical constraints, and the complete lack of any effort to justify moral issues.

When it comes to questions of: how could god fit all the animals in the ark? how did plants survive under water? how did God get animals to different continents?

God is allowed broad powers, infinite powers, to bend nature and accomplish these tasks through miracles.

When asked why god had to drown every innocent child in the world when he is supposed to be omnibenevolent, God seems to shrink, and it appears, he had no better way to get the job done.

chuck said...

So to sum up
creation is really an evolution story simplified for ten olds
noah is a myth
Moses was a scientific genius who played the locals

To me it just sounds like a juvenile attempt to rationalize everything in order to do away with God
Why live with the fear of the Devine when you can "explain" away everything
there are none so blind as those who refuse to see