Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don't Worry - There Was No Genocide!

I recently picked up Richard Elliot Friedman's Commentary on the Torah at the local library. If you don't know who Friedman is, he is a professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the U of C (San Diego) and one of the leading proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis. Friedman says at the outset that his commentary is focused on the text itself and not on the history of Bible scholarship. He therefore does not comment on the Torah's authors and sources, but rather attempts to write a commentary in the tradition of the classical commentaries. But don't be so quick to bring this book into shul - there is still a lot of juicy stuff (read apikosus) in it, largely because Friedman relies heavily on the archaeological revolution of the last 200 years. For heaven's sake, at the very least put a fake cover on it (perhaps a suitably trimmed photocopy of the Artscroll Chumash); you are bound to run into folks that know of REF and you'll therefore avoid some major stares.

In last weeks parashah, Ekev, Friedman set my mind to ease with his comment on verse 7:2 which reads [his translation]:

When YHVH, your God, will bring you to the land to which you're coming to take possession of it and will eject numerous nations from in front of you - the Hittite and the Girgashite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite - seven nations more numerous and powerful than you, and YHVH your God, will put them in front of you, and you'll strike them; you shall completely destroy them!

Yuck, wholesale destruction of man, woman, and child. Pretty awful huh? Well here is what Friedman has to say: "Many people have been troubled by the idea of commanding the annihilation of the Canaanite residents of the land. The archaeological evidence is that such a destruction never took place. This passage in the Torah was written long after the period of the Israelites' settlement in the land, and so it is ironic that the author of this text conceived of a degree of violence that appears never in fact to have happened, and then people are troubled by this degree of violence in Israel's history".

So don't be angry at God because you believe "He" condoned genocide. This was simply an after-the-fact explanation for how the Jewish people became so populous in Israel to the exclusion of other peoples. The author was just not bothered by the concept of destroying entire nations, such was the mindset of the time.

And to all of those folks who denigrate the Torah for its genocidal policies, I just have this to say: Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!


nyah said...

nobody cares about the moral standards of ancient books, except for the bible. even this they wouldn't care about, if it weren't for millions of people that say that it represents the highest moral code known to mankind.

it doesn't matter whether it happened or not. that people praise genocide as the command of the highest moral being is where the problem lies.

jewish philosopher said...

Are those people who feel sorry for the Canaanites the same people who support the right to have abortions, killing 40 million babies per year?

Frum Heretic said...

jp: I don't know, why don't you take a survey?

simon said...

I wouldnt console myself just yet. Freidman is (in)famous for creating as all the Bible Scholars are, dates and times via circular reasoning. One assumption which in fact is truly assailable leads him to another assumption then magically he dates things debunks, debriefs and who knows what else.

The entirety of the so called Higher and lower Biblical Critiques lack anything remotely scientific in terms of methodology. Additionally they are entirely arbitrary and opportunistic using facts when they serve them and disregarding these same facts when they can be used with ease to establish Biblical writings as per our mesorah.

The archeology and its interpretation is just as weak as their speculative quests...

As far as The Exodus and Canaan, its very easy to say that the destruction didnt take place when you are looking in the wrong strata.

By considering Ramses in Shemoth as being named after Ramses 11, the misidentification of Shisok as Sheshank in the neveim and changing the accepted years intervening the Exodus and the temple being built (among other things)they posit an Exodus in roughly 1300 BC as opposed to the accepted date of 1500 BC. With that they attempt to tie the time period to canaan. This not being enough, the way theyve dated layers in Canaan is based on false assumptions. The entire thing is a lesson in collateral damage. If anyone wants to get abetter idea of the dating in Canaan, in reality, google lisa liel. Ad Caan.

Cmon guys...we can do better then this, dont just buy in hook line and sinker, read their assumptions and their theories with as critical an eye as you do the Torah and youll have made a mess out of both...I promise.

Frum Heretic said...

Note that although I quoted Friedman, this was not a defense of Biblical criticism (either higher or lower.) Nevertheless, one must at least admit to the fact that the overwhelming evidence - scientific, historical, archaeological, etc - suggests that the Torah cannot be taken as literal history. You are perfectly free to reject all of these disciplines as being faulty, but that is always the result of starting with the premise that Torah is entirely God-given, accurate, infallible, and incorruptible. If one starts from a blank slate and looked at the evidence, I seriously doubt that anyone would come up with such a conclusion.

With regards to your questioning of orthodox (small o, not Jewish Orthodox) chronology, I would have hoped that you would at least quote someone with some credibility, like David Rohl. But since you mentioned Lisa Liel and implied that she is a legitimate authority, please tell me what exactly are her credentials? Scholarly publications? Field research?

By the way, the accepted Seder Olam date for the Exodus is 1313 BCE.

Anonymous said...

The reason for making it up is obvious, it's a deterrent..