I just finished reading The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture and I can't recommend it highly enough. Let's just say that this is the second most important book to read after the Bible itself.
I have wondered why my interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is so different from other people's interpretations. This book answers this for me, explaining what I hadn't been fully conscious of. When was younger, I read and rejected Plato. I rejected the concept of an ideal external absolute truth. And so I constructed my own way of looking at the world that is completely different from Western thought. After reading this book, I realize that the way of looking at the world that I had constructed is the same as the way the authors of the Hebrew Bible looked at the world. And this is why I instantly liked the Hebrew Bible so much. But at the same time, I wasn't fully aware of this philosophical agreement when I read the Hebrew Bible. The reason for this is that the translators of the Bible who translated from Hebrew to English also translated the concepts from Biblical Hebrew thinking to Western thinking, and so much of the underlying philosophy has been lost in translation.
The author of this book, Yoram Hazony, understands Western philosophy and understands Biblical Hebrew. And unlike almost everyone else, he understands the Biblical Hebrew way of thinking. This has put him in a position to actually explain what the Hebrew Bible is trying to say at a deep philosophical level. The result is this book.
Quite simply, this book is required reading. Unless you understand Biblical Hebrew and have rejected Plato on your own, you will not be able to understand the Hebrew Bible without reading this book. So read it.
You have got to be effing kidding me. While I can appreciate the idea that platonic influences distort biblical understanding, the Cain and Abel cartoon demonstrates Hazony hasn't a clue what the story is about. God doesn't prefer shepherds over farmers. What! The Israelites were too good to till the soil in Canaan?
And God doesn't prefer innovation & leisure over piety & obedience either. Not everybody gets to be the chief. Indians are needed as well, and their work has value. "The laborer is worthy of his hire."
According to Hazony, Cain pioneered the ritual of sacrifice. But for Hazony's god, this innovation is valueless. Cain didn't innovate in the right area, apparently. When Cain made his offering, Hazony's god despises it because it was the product of mindless menial labor. In contrast, Abel's offering was accepted because it was "creative." The message is clear: Abel was the first Steve Jobs advancing mankind on a path of progress toward a better material future.
This isn't biblical truth; this is unadulterated liberal-progressivist bullshit.
Despite the fact that I value your opinions and find your reasoning insightful, Franklin, I'm NEVER going to read the book. Hazony's credibility as a biblical scholar is completely blown for me.
Before I sign off, here's a suggestion to better understand why God approved of Abel's sacrifice and despised Cain's. Genesis clearly says that Abel offered the "firstlings" and "fat portions" of his flock, while it says Cain offered "fruits of the earth" only. I suggest that the proper contrast is located in the *quality* of the offerings, and hence, the intent of the offerers.
Andrew, are you willing to debate this topic? Because I agree with Hazony and in fact I reached this same conclusion on my own before reading Hazony's book. Here is an article that I wrote before reading the book:
If you are willing to debate, I will answer you point by point.
What would we debate? I happen to agree with your point that God wants to actively engage human beings in order that we may develop strength of character, I.e ., that our wills be confirmed in righteousness through tests and trials. I'm no quietist and agree it's there in Scripture.
If you really, really think I should read Hazony, you're going to have to do some work to show that he, despite the travesty of his promotional cartoon, a) doesn't denigrate the dignity of physical labor and, b) has a sophisticated grasp of the Bible's presentation of ceremonial ritual & the sort of obedience that qualifies as loyalty to sacred covenant.
But, so far, Hazony seems to me just another propagandist in service of the current status quo: the subordination of all the stations of life (including the priestly!) to the pride, hence oversight, of the secular academy.
Now, if you seriously want to argue from the Bible that animal herding is a higher calling than horticulture, or that clever technicism per se is favored by God above submissive piety, have at it.
In my view, both prayer and planning are expected of us, but which has the moral priority and which is properly the secondary consideration?
If you think we differ in some substantial way, Franklin, please identify a proposition (or set of propositions) you wish to defend and that you think I'll oppose.
Okay, let's debate. First, it isn't fair to judge Hazony by a cartoon, but I will give my position which is similar to his.
The core point of the Bible is morality, not obedience. The commandments in the Bible are a means to this end, an instruction regarding morality, but not the end itself. So doing the right thing is more important than obeying simple commandments. Of course disobeying commandments for selfish reasons is totally unjustified, but innovating and even arguing with God in a desire to do what is right is in line with what the Bible teaches.
I don't see how Hazony denigrates physical labor in his cartoon. His point is that innovation is better. In your other post, you said that Abel's offering is better quality. But how could Abel get this better offering to begin with without innovation? The point of the cartoon is that obedience is not primarily what the Bible is about.
I will answer this with a Bible quote:
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
“What are all your sacrifices to Me?”
asks the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams
and the fat of well-fed cattle;
I have no desire for the blood of bulls,
lambs, or male goats.
When you come to appear before Me,
who requires this from you—
this trampling of My courts?
Stop bringing useless offerings.
Your incense is detestable to Me.
New Moons and Sabbaths,
and the calling of solemn assemblies—
I cannot stand iniquity with a festival.
I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals.
They have become a burden to Me;
I am tired of putting up with them.
When you lift up your hands in prayer,
I will refuse to look at you;
even if you offer countless prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood.
“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves.
Remove your evil deeds from My sight.
Stop doing evil.
Learn to do what is good.
Correct the oppressor.
Defend the rights of the fatherless.
Plead the widow’s cause.
1. The cartoon was made for mass consumption, while the book less so. A lot more people are going to see the cartoon than read the book. The book was probably written as an excuse to make the cartoon, which contains the real message Hazony wishes to propagate. The message is essentially that God considers obedience a little thing and that human beings are free to modify the content of the commandments. Hazony doesn't believe God established firm laws or that there are punishments for their transgression. For him God is but the Grand Facilitator of mankind’s improvement by means of a progressive transvaluation of values.
2. You falsely oppose morality and obedience. Because God is good, the commandments were given with the intent to bless mankind. Morality is, rather, the perfection of obedience: to actually perform the will of God. God gave Cain explicit command to suppress his resentment, “do well”, and master sin. Cain disobeyed these commands and so disobeyed the Lord. If he was such a good little obedient robot, why didn’t he continue to obey? Apparently, he isn’t the poster boy for obedience and piety after all.
3. I agree that the commandments are not an end in themselves, but they are not up for debate either. The great challenge is to wisely determine which commandment has priority and to perform it according to the purpose for which the whole Law was given, the good of man. Hazony downplays (if not denies) the obligation to obey and so neglects any mention of the incredible life-transforming potential of this endeavor.
4. "The desire to do what is right." To claim to have this desire is not the same thing as actually having the desire. The human heart is very mysterious and dark motives lurk within. We must be very careful never to suggest, much less imply, to the ignorant masses that they have some radical degree of flexibility with regard to the keeping of the commandments.
We may not argue for what is contrary to the express will of God under the guise of “doing what is right."
Your endorsement of arguing with God for "what is right" presumes that people generally know & want what is right. I do not grant this presumption, and therefore find your point ill-conceived. You don’t differentiate between reasoning with God by appealing to his mercy, commitments, or laws in contrast with presumptuous disagreement with God about the intrinsic justice of his laws and/or judgments. The former is permissible; the latter ain’t.
5. Hazony clearly denigrates physical labor when he unfavorably contrasts Cain’s more strenuous occupation with Abel’s. The value of Abel’s innovative career choice was that it was labor saving and afforded him more time for leisure.
BTW, who says that the horticultural efforts of Adam and Cain weren’t innovative? As the world's first farmers they were engaged in the work of discovering the principles and methods of how to work the soil. So, Hazony belittles horticulture with respect to another branch of agricultural science.
6. “His point is that innovation is better.” So, therefore God rejected Cain? Why? This wasn't some winner-take-all contest. God could have accepted both sacrifices and just praised Abel’s more. Why he should make a big deal about it and rub Cain’s nose in it is beyond me! Abel already had his reward: He had risen above his elder brother’s occupational station and was able to enjoy some perks he couldn't.
7. Abel's offering was better quality not for the superficial reason that he was a successful innovator, or even had bettered himself intellectually. He offered the best of what he had: the first fruits, the fat portions as Scripture says. Cain didn’t. Cain didn’t care enough to offer to offer God the highest tribute he could bring.
Innovative or not, even if Cain had only been able to produce a few sickly carrots at first, if he had offered to God the original batch along with the best of a poor crop, his sacrifice would have been accepted too.
8. “The point of the cartoon is that obedience is not primarily what the Bible is about.”
Well, the Bible seems to think obedience pretty important:
“Sacrifice and oblation thou didst not desire;
but thou hast pierced ears for me.
Burnt offering and sin offering thou didst not require:
Then said I, Behold I come.
In the head of the book it is written of me
That I should do thy will: O my God, I have desired it,
and thy law in the midst of my heart.”
(Ps. 39/ 40: 7-9)
“Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims,
and not rather that the voice of the Lord should be obeyed?
For obedience is better than sacrifices:
and to hearken rather than to offer the fat of rams.
Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel:
and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey.
Forasmuch therefore as thou hast rejected the word of the Lord,
the Lord hath also rejected thee from being king.”
(1 Sam. 15: 22-23)
9. I looked in vain through the passage you quoted to find any indication that planning should precede prayer. It's unclear to me how obedience and giving God our best is inconsistent with upholding the rights of the fatherless or pleading the cause of widows.
This reminds me of an important objection I thought of earlier. Your use of the term "obedience" is totally biased. Why on earth would you expect me (or anyone else) to be limited by your false caricature of obedience? He who controls the definitions of words rules the world. True obedience isn't superficial, mindless following of simple directions! It requires the use of reason, discernment, and the expense of real effort. In the quotations above, David and Samuel use the term differently than you do.
Maybe this is just a debate over semantics?
Thank you for the detailed reply. I think we will be able to resolve this. I will answer point by point.
1. Having read the book, I personally can guarantee to you that Hazony's main message is his book and that the cartoon is a silly afterthought.
2. One can only obey an explicit command. It is impossible to obey God directly since no one can completely know God. The real question is what is God's (or the Bible's) will, to obey the explicit commandments or to apply the principles? There is an issue here because most are not smart enough to properly apply the principles, and so are better off either obeying the commandments or obeying some priesthood's understanding of God's will. But there is a balance needed between blind obedience and thinking for oneself. I see from your blog that you are Christian. Orthodox Judaism and Islam have gone out of balance on the obedience side, while Christianity has gone out of balance on the thinking for oneself side, so this reflects the difference in your concerns from Hazony's concerns. The Talmud tells Orthodox Jews how to tie their shoes. Hazony is rebelling against this absurd level of obedience.
3. In the book, Hazony better displays the balance I just mentioned. Hazony is an Orthodox Jew and I can assure you that he obeys many more commandments than most Christians do. But his point is that there are times to wisely question obedience. Since you are Christian, I will give you a great example of someone who questioned obedience to assumed authority without ever deviating from the intent of the Bible, and that was Jesus.
4. I agree with what you wrote here, and so does Hazony.
5. I am not going argue over a silly cartoon, but Hazony's book makes it clear that this is not his position.
6. Okay you have a good argument here. So what is your answer to your own question?
7. There is no evidence in the Bible for your explanation. I don't know the answer to #6 but I will think about it.
8. I am not arguing that obedience isn't important, what I am arguing is that morality is the main thing and that the commandments and obedience are a means to morality. In my article on diet I explain why I do not keep the explicit dietary law of the Torah, but I do apply the principles. In this case, I am not being obedient to the text in the Bible but I am trying to apply the principle behind the text.
9. I don't know what "planning" has to do with our discussion. The point of my quote was that morality comes first, and prayer and obedience are secondary. If prayer and obedience fail to produce morality, then they are useless.
And returning again to "obedience", as I said, obedience to God is a meaningless concept. One can obey an explicit command. So maybe the problem is partly semantic, but I don't understand your semantics here. You quote from Psalms doesn't even include the word "obedience" but rather talks about God's will. No religious person will argue against God's will, the question is whether God's will is strict obedience or applying principles, actually the balance between these two. Your Samuel quote compares obedience to ritual sacrifice and I think it is obvious that obedience is more important. The case where obedience to the literal text Bible should be rejected is where it conflicts with the basic principles of morality which are found in the Bible. In all examples that Hazony mentions, this applies.
In my post What is Biblic Judaism? I list my 5 criteria for being a Biblic Jew and promise to explain them all over time. The first one is "Follow the Bible as you understand it." This is going to be very difficult for me to write because I need to address the question of balance between obedience and independent thought. I don't yet have an answer and I honestly think that no religion has managed to find the right answer yet. I think the Protestant Reformation basically failed in the end (giving us liberalism) because of the idea of a priesthood of all believers which gave too much authority to the masses. But the (old/traditional) Catholic Church and Orthodox Judaism err in the other direction. Hazony's book is valuable to those who are qualified to try to understand the meaning of the Bible, and this book is one of the reasons that I am currently studying Hebrew so that I can better understand the Bible.
In reply to this post by Andrew Matthews
1. I accept your guarantee that Hazony cares more about the book than the cartoon. My comment was overly cynical, but was meant to highlight the importance of the cartoon’s content. Hazony derives his concept of shepherd ethics from the Cain & Abel story, so it in fact presents what he felt most important to convey to the general public.
What is Hazony’s shepherd ethic? From Goldman’s Tablet review it is, ‘“the vantage point of an outsider” who “owes nothing and has committed to nothing that cannot be reconsidered in light of one’s own independent judgment as to what is really right.”’ The shepherd ethic is key to Hazony’s program.
2. “One can only obey an explicit command. It is impossible to obey God directly since no one can completely know God. “
Did Abraham directly obey God when he took Isaac to the holy mountain?
“The real question is what is God's (or the Bible's) will, to obey the explicit commandments or to apply the principles?”
It’s both. Both faith (obedience) and reason (applying principles) are what God wants. He created reason after all! The problem is, just saying that “finding a balance between the two” isn’t very helpful for helping people figure out how to apply what when.
I very much appreciate what you have to say in the rest of this section. We do indeed react against the imbalances in our various faith communities. A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting a girl who had been raised in Jewish Orthodoxy. It was interesting to compare notes, since I was raised in a fairly strict Protestant sect.
So, how best to achieve balance between obedience and independent thought?
3. “Hazony is an Orthodox Jew and I can assure you that he obeys many more commandments than most Christians do.“
Yes, but where is Hazony headed? How many commandments will his children obey? What about his grandchildren?
Jesus told the people to obey the Jewish rulers because they “sat in Moses’s seat.” Since I believe Jesus is the divine Son of God I believe he had authority (“this man doesn’t speak as one of the scribes”) to actually change the law. But these changes were not motivated by an evolving sense of justice, they were necessitated by the inauguration of a new covenant.
4. I am glad you do, but am less optimistic about the author. The following quotation is from the author bio on Amazon:
“Reading the Bible as reason, instead of revelation, I find a text that praises human disobedience and initiative, warns against unthinking piety, and presents a God who is not perfect at all, but imperfect and changing.”
6. #7 was my explanation.
7. No evidence? The text describes the quality of Abel’s sacrifice. It also says God had no regard for Cain or his offering.
8. Fair enough.
9. Sorry. “Prayer and planning” is an old adage used in the Protestant group I was raised in. “Planning” is used as a catch-all term for the application of reason.
“The point of my quote was that morality comes first, and prayer and obedience are secondary. If prayer and obedience fail to produce morality, then they are useless. “
This is incoherent. Either men are moral because they were first pious, or they’re pious because they are already moral. I take the former position.
“And returning again to "obedience", as I said, obedience to God is a meaningless concept.”
You mean, actual obedience to God is impossible because he doesn’t speak to us directly?
“One can obey an explicit command.”
The Bible records instances where God gave explicit commands. In your view, does the Decalogue contain explicit commands?
RE QUOTE #1: David did the will of God because the law was in his heart, as the psalm says.
RE QUOTE #2: “Your Samuel quote compares obedience to ritual sacrifice and I think it is obvious that obedience is more important. The case where obedience to the literal text Bible should be rejected is where it conflicts with the basic principles of morality which are found in the Bible.”
Actual cases where obedience conflicts with the “basic principles of morality” would seem to be pretty rare. Can you give me some examples?
Excellent! Good luck with your studies.
1. Hazony’s shepherd ethic is to always maintain enough independence from those in power so that one can maintain one's integrity. The farmer can't do this because he is bound his land, so those in power can force him to submit. But the shepherd can just leave to find freedom elsewhere.
2. Okay I accept your Abraham example. One can obey God if God speaks to one directly. This doesn't happen to most of us.
On the question of balance, what do you suggest when reason and obedience conflict? Am I wrong to interpret dietary law differently from other Jews?
3. I think Hazony is headed in the right direction. Orthodox Judaism is headed in the direction of Islam, towards blind thoughtless obedience. Hazony is trying to prevent this.
"Jesus told the people to obey the Jewish rulers because they “sat in Moses’s seat.” Since I believe Jesus is the divine Son of God I believe he had authority (“this man doesn’t speak as one of the scribes”) to actually change the law. But these changes were not motivated by an evolving sense of justice, they were necessitated by the inauguration of a new covenant. "
But then Jesus rejected the command to wash his hands. Why? I believe the answer explained in this video, that your quote above from Matthew is actually a mistranslation from Hebrew, and that Jesus actually said to obey Moses as represented by Moses's seat. Much of what Jesus says in Matthew is actually very similar to the arguments that Karaites use against Talmudic law.
4. “Reading the Bible as reason, instead of revelation, I find a text that praises human disobedience and initiative, warns against unthinking piety, and presents a God who is not perfect at all, but imperfect and changing.”
So my position would be:
“Reading the Bible as reason, instead of revelation, I find a text that SOMETIMES praises human disobedience and initiative, warns against unthinking piety, and presents a God who encourages independent thinking.”
It's true that Hazony presents God as imperfect, I disagree with this. But what I want to explain is the problem with reason. Reason becomes a big problem when people are arrogant and overconfident. This is the point of the tower of Babel story. When reason is combined with arrogance, you get liberalism. To counter liberalism, you can attack either reason or arrogance. Much of Christianity (and Islam) attacks reason. But I prefer attacking arrogance. Science is an example of reason without arrogance, and I think it is a good thing. I believe that the Hebrew Bible shares this view, and never attacks reason (as Tertullian did), but rather focuses on attacking arrogance. So this is the danger of Hazony's view that God is imperfect, that it can encourage the arrogance to feel superior to God (or science). My ideal religion would stress both reason and humility.
7. About Abel's offering, all the Bible says is:
In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering.
There is no comment about the relative worth of Cain's and Abel's offering, or about God's reason for His preference. All we can do is guess.
9. "Either men are moral because they were first pious, or they’re pious because they are already moral. I take the former position."
Piety doesn't necessarily include prayer. Members of Eastern religions can be pious and moral without praying to God. Prayer is only one means to piety and morality. It's interesting that there isn't a single commandment in the Bible to pray.
The Ten Commandments are more general principles than specific commands. I will give an example. In the story of the Maccabees, there was a group of warriors who refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath because fighting is work. They were slaughtered. The remaining warriors decided that there should be an exception to the Sabbath in case of self-defense. This is technically disobedience of the Ten Commandments, but it is the right thing to do.
Hazony provides a list of examples of "arguing with God" which includes my Moses example and many others. Even if you disagree some of Hazony's views (as even I do), I still hope that you will read his book. At the least, I promise that it will make you think about things that you haven't thought of before.
1. “The farmer can't do this because he is bound his land, so those in power can force him to submit. But the shepherd can just leave to find freedom elsewhere.”
Before commenting on this, I want to make clear I engaged you on Hazony’s book, not because I had an ulterior motive to challenge your views or try to persuade you of my views, but because I found the cartoon objectionable. I like what I’ve read of your material so far, and hope to learn more about the Bible from your efforts.
I have two objections to the shepherd ethic, one historical the other moral:
a. According to Scripture, animal flesh was given to human beings only after the Flood. So, it appears shepherds in the antediluvian era were completely dependent on farmers for physical nourishment.
b. Being bound to the land is good because people are forced to live stable lives and contribute to the well-being of a larger community. I believe agriculture is at least a prerequisite for civilization, for civilized life, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
2. Great. I haven’t read a lot of your material, so wasn’t sure if you believed that God has verbally revealed truths to mankind.
a. Regarding when reason & obedience conflict, I’d suggest looking for what criteria Scripture provides for determining which commandments are more weighty, i.e., which have highest priority.
b. Regarding dietary law, I believe these were given for reasons that included, but went beyond, health considerations. Just to warn you, I’m motivated to think this mostly because of information found in the New Testament. However, it does seem the prohibition against blood, because it contains life (Lev. 17:11), would be an exception to the “solely for health” argument.
3. I’m against blind thoughtless obedience also, so am sympathetic to Hazony here.
a. Regarding Jesus’s rejection of Pharisaical ritual hand washing before meals, I haven’t been able to watch the entire two hours of Gordon’s presentation yet (but I will). Provisionally, I’ll say I think it was an important object lesson and not to undermine Pharisaic authority. Jesus’s stated reason for abrogating the tradition (it’s not found in the HT), was to emphasize the critical importance of giving alms (and other Torah requirements) for true interior purity over hypocritical outward purity (Luke 11:39-41). Jesus could nullify the tradition because he exercised a superior authority to the Pharisees (Matt. 7:29).
b. I will get back to you on Gordon’s interpretation of Matt. 23:2.
c. One of the great challenges Christian theologians face is distinguishing between what Jesus actually changed versus what he merely corrected. How this cashes out holds serious implications for how Christians should live. I’m absolutely fascinated to learn what insights Karaite Judaism may offer to illuminate this problem.
4. Please consider modifying your position to:
“Reading the Bible as REASONABLE revelation, I find a text that sometimes praises human disobedience and initiative, warns against unthinking piety, and presents a God who encourages independent thinking.”
a. I’ve got problems with the last clause still, but don’t have any recommendations.
b. Your thoughts about attacking arrogance instead of reason are excellent, and I quite agree.
c. I think it’s intrinsically arrogant to say God is imperfect.
7. You say Scripture makes no comment about the relative worth of Cain & Abel’s offerings. Please hear me out a little further on this matter. About the offerings, the Bible says:
In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering.
a. Okay. So, Scripture says God approved of two things: both Abel and his offering. So, there was something he liked about Abel and something he liked about Abel’s offering. Similarly, there was something he didn’t like about Cain and something he didn’t like about Cain’s offering.
b. Now, we have no information here about the internal dispositions of each brother. However, we have information about the offerings. Scripture clearly says Abel offered of the firstborn and of their fat (finest) portions and makes no mention that Cain offered first fruits or finest portions of his harvest. It just says Cain presented “some” of the ground’s produce.
Why would Scripture present us information about the quality of Abel’s sacrifice if it wasn’t significant for why God approved of it?
c. Furthermore, given the commandments regarding firstborn Ex. 13:1,2 & first fruits Ex. 23:19 (Cf. Lev. 23:10), plus the information below from Easton’s Bible Dictionary regarding the Hebrew word for “fat”, I don’t see how my argument can be so readily dismissed.
(Heb. heleb) denotes the richest part of the animal, or the fattest of the flock, in the account of Abel's sacrifice (Gen 4:4). It sometimes denotes the best of any production (Gen 45:18; Num 18:12; Psa 81:16; 147:47). The fat of sacrifices was to be burned (Lev 3:9-11; 4:8; 7:3; 8:25; Num 18:17. Comp. Ex. 29:13-22; Lev 3:3-5).
d. It occurs to me that at least some dietary laws have to do with ancient sacrificial ritual. We know that animals were distinguished between clean and unclean in Noah’s time.
9. "Piety doesn't necessarily include prayer. Members of Eastern religions can be pious and moral without praying to God. Prayer is only one means to piety and morality. It's interesting that there isn't a single commandment in the Bible to pray.”
I’m not interested in what counts for piety in Eastern religions when it comes to figuring out what is required or what is a best practice in Bible based religion.
So, are men moral because they are first pious, or are they pious because they’re already moral?
10. “The remaining warriors decided that there should be an exception to the Sabbath in case of self-defense. This is technically disobedience of the Ten Commandments, but it is the right thing to do.”
a. Well, as a Christian I agree with the result. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).
b. “General principle” versus “specific command” seems like a useful distinction. I’d like to see some meta laws for how to apply these principles though.
11. Maybe I will read Hazony's book someday, but need reasons beyond “it’ll make me think about things I hadn’t thought of before.” I read books all the time that do this.
1a. I don't know the technical details, but maybe Abel mostly lived on sheep's milk.
1b. Benjamin Franklin's quote comes to mind: "Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither." There are always plenty of people willing to sacrifice freedom for security, so there will never be a shortage of farmers. I personally do not want to be forced "contribute to the well-being of a larger community" if I find that larger community to be immoral. America is a good example. I am careful not to do anything that ties me too strongly to America because I want to be free leave if things get bad. America is an immoral society, so I feel no attachment to it.
2. Just to be clear, it doesn't matter to me whether or not the Bible stories literally happened. What I do believe is that the authors of the Bible had far more insight into moral issues than we do today, so we should do our best to understand morality based on these stories. Whether God is a supernatural being or just a personification of Natural Law, God does represent in the Bible the highest authority. To reject God's direct commandments is to make oneself the center of the universe, and this is wrong.
2b. I agree that specifically eating blood goes beyond being a health issue. I believe that this was a pagan practice at that time, which is the other reason that it was prohibited. But I don't think it was ever prohibited to the degree now kept by kosher Jews. Try eating a kosher steak. I'll have the non-kosher steak with a little blood in it.
3. We can discuss this more when you finish the video. But I will say that Pharisaic authority, which is now Rabbinic authority, has caused me personally a lot of problems. This is why I will join the Karaites, to be able to follow the Bible without the burden of Pharisaic/Rabbinic authority which I disagree with.
4. “Reading the Bible as REASONABLE revelation, I find a text that sometimes praises human disobedience and initiative, warns against unthinking piety, and presents a God who encourages independent thinking.”
This works for me.
7. "So, Scripture says God approved of two things: both Abel and his offering." "Why would Scripture present us information about the quality of Abel’s sacrifice if it wasn’t significant for why God approved of it?"
Why would the Bible mention approval of both Abel and his offering if it was only the offering that mattered?
I am not saying that Hazony's intepretation is right, I am just saying that there isn't enough information here to make a strong case for establishing God's motive, so we will just choose the explanation that appeals to us.
9. "So, are men moral because they are first pious, or are they pious because they’re already moral?"
Usually men are moral because they are first pious. But sometimes it is the other way around. I think the 2 sources of morality are piety or being so hurt by immorality that one becomes moral. The second was my case. After seeing my best friends driven to insanity and suicide by the immoral modern world, and my other friends becoming increasingly nasty and untrustworthy, I just rejected it all and start looking for morality which led me to religion.
10. "“General principle” versus “specific command” seems like a useful distinction. I’d like to see some meta laws for how to apply these principles though."
The contrast between the rest of the Bible (Old Testament) after the Torah and the Talmud is quite stark. The Talmud is obsessed with specific commandments and is very legalistic and bureaucratic. But the rest of the Bible is all about principles and how to apply them.
I see 3 ways to find and apply principles. One is to look at the rest of the Bible and see the context in which a commandment is discussed. The second is to look at history and see which principles are associated with rising cultures and which with falling cultures. You can choose almost any commandment in the Torah, and I will give you a principle behind that commandment that positively correlates with rising cultures and negatively correlates with declining cultures. And the third, and least important way is to use reason to find a principle that makes sense to explain the reason for the commandment.
11. I can count the number of books written in the last century that are really worth reading on one hand. Besides The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, they are "Sex and Culture" by Unwin (out of print), Mein Kampf (to understand WW2 and the Holocaust), The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Going back a bit over a century, I would add The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Thanks again for this discussion. I have been banned from virtually every forum that I posted to for having the wrong opinions. It's nice to discuss things here on my forum where I won't be banned. And I welcome other opinions here. Also, please feel free to link to your blog in your signature.
1a. …maybe Abel mostly lived on sheep's milk.
I’m no nutritionist, but this seems highly improbable to me. What makes sense to me is that Abel contributed the product of his labor—sheep’s wool and, possibly, clothing made from it—for food to eat.
1b. “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither,” etc.
Franklin’s sentiment shouldn’t be taken absolutely, but in a limited sense only. For most people, there is a trade-off. If one wishes to enjoy the protection a larger community’s resources affords he must surrender a degree of liberty & agree to live according to the community’s rules. Inevitably, some degree of loyalty is expected, and rightly so.
“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto Jehovah for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
1c. I personally do not want to be forced "contribute to the well-being of a larger community" if I find that larger community to be immoral.
This is a very American sentiment! A theory of mine is Europe was weakened by the loss of resourceful groups who preferred adventuring in the new world. But these groups had previously experienced a decline in loyalty to European forms of Christianity.
Look, if you choose to live in a particular society you choose to accept the obligations inherent to whatever status you enjoy within said society. Even the most moral of societies will have flaws and so someone can always excuse disloyalty—and even work to actively destabilize—society on the basis of “immorality” or “injustice” or some such.
1d. America. Oh yes, America. Without a doubt, America is a source of immorality in the world today. Our government actually propagates & assures legal protection for evil around the world, not just at home! So, America’s a special case.
Yet, in no other Gentile nation have Jews been better treated, at least since Egypt in Joseph’s day. It has a lot to do with sectarian (not state) Protestantism. I wonder how long it will last.
A fact you may find interesting: the only Christian church to officially acknowledge the permanency of the Jew’s divine calling and election is the Catholic Church.
2a. Just to be clear, it doesn't matter to me whether or not the Bible stories literally happened. What I do believe is that the authors of the Bible had far more insight into moral issues than we do today, so we should do our best to understand morality based on these stories.
Excellent! The Bible stories are important vehicles for moral education. As such, shouldn’t be discarded. However, don’t neglect the critical function they serve as pieces of the larger narrative that informs your ethnic identity! If there’s no literal aspect, if God doesn’t have (or never had) a special relationship with your people, you’re opening the door to the subversion of Jewish culture.
Whether God is a supernatural being or just a personification of Natural Law…
If God’s a personification, he’s not a person. I think it’s nice you personally want to follow the Bible and am sure this will benefit you greatly. I just don’t see impersonal principles being capable of inspiring much loyalty among average people or in future generations.
But if human nature can change due to evolution, and perhaps very quickly through self-induced technological means, natural law itself can change…
2b. I believe that this was a pagan practice at that time, which is the other reason that it was prohibited.
That’s your opinion, but it’s not the reason the Bible gives.
But I don't think it was ever prohibited to the degree now kept by kosher Jews. Try eating a kosher steak. I'll have the non-kosher steak with a little blood in it.
Ha ha! I’m with you there. Life without a little red meat every once in a while isn’t worth living.
3. Still haven’t finished the video.
7. Why would the Bible mention approval of both Abel and his offering if it was only the offering that mattered?
I never implied only the offering mattered. If Abel gave the best gift he could and Cain gave a mediocre gift, such indicates something about their internal dispositions, does it not?
9. You gave a great answer here. In your view, what’s the difference (if any) between following a religion and following a philosophy? If there is a difference, what’s distinctly religious about religion?
10. I see 3 ways to find and apply principles.
10a. One is to look at the rest of the Bible and see the context in which a commandment is discussed.
Makes sense. But who determines the classifications which control contextual boundaries?
10b. The second is to look at history and see which principles are associated with rising cultures and which with falling cultures. You can choose almost any commandment in the Torah, and I will give you a principle behind that commandment that positively correlates with rising cultures and negatively correlates with declining cultures.
Excellent. I think your elucidation of Gen. 1:28 as mankind’s “primary evolutionary directive” in your article on “Human Evolution” to be full of potential for my own understanding of an essential theme in Scripture. So, thank you very much for this.
10c. And the third, and least important way is to use reason to find a principle that makes sense to explain the reason for the commandment.
This would be the method of last resort, then?
11. I hadn’t heard that any of the books you listed belonged at the top of any greatest works list. So, I’ve been grossly misinformed, and not having read any of them, must be terribly uninformed! ;)
I appreciate our discussion also. I’ve learned quite a lot in the course of exploring & thinking about these issues with you so far. I’m also grateful to have the chance to learn about Karaite Judaism and your particular point of view. Sounds like you’ve been burned in the past by people with limited capacity to examine their fundamental commitments.
You’re obviously in the process of founding your own sect of Karaite Judaism, or even, a new religion if you go the non-supernatural route. Opposition is to be expected in any such undertaking. Most people are comfortable where they are and extremely uncomfortable when the principles they’ve based their lives on are questioned.
1a. Even if you are right, that the shepherd trades with the farmer, it doesn't change the core point that shepherds are mobile and can move to another area and trade with different farmers. This gives shepherds independence which means that they do not have to bow down to evil rulers.
1b. One should give loyalty to a society for its morality, not for security. Those who trade their freedom for security in an immoral society are doing wrong, this this is Franklin's point and the Bible's point.
1c. If I could find a moral society to live in, I would move there. But since I can't, I live where it is convenient and I feel not the slightest degree of loyalty or obligation to that society. I obey the law to stay our of trouble, and that is all. I don't see why I owe society anything more than this.
1d. "Yet, in no other Gentile nation have Jews been better treated, at least since Egypt in Joseph’s day."
Egypt changed, and so did America.
2a. I completely reject the concept of the Israelites as an ethnicity. I am against modern Jewish racism and I will write about this eventually. In biblical times, a nation was a group with shared values who lived together, not a race or ethnic group.
"I just don’t see impersonal principles being capable of inspiring much loyalty among average people or in future generations."
I agree. For me, the ideal religion should be flexible and allow people to view God as best suits them. For most people, this would mean a personified God. But for some like me, this means a force of nature.
"But if human nature can change due to evolution, and perhaps very quickly through self-induced technological means, natural law itself can change"
This would take a very big change and I just don't see that happening.
2b. No reason for not eating blood is given. I suggested that it might have been a pagan practice, but it is also possible that this law was for health reasons. Either way, I will continue to eat steak.
7. We will never resolve the Cain and Abel story because there isn't enough information in the Bible. Your explanation may be plausible, but so is Hazony's. I don't think Hazony's book should be judged on this one story.
9. I think the difference between philosophy and religion is mostly about emphasis, with philosophy being mostly intellectual and religion being mostly practical, about how to live.
10a. I discussed the "who" part of biblical interpretation in Follow the Bible. It is a tricky question.
10c. I said reason is least important but it shouldn't be a last resort. One should try to apply all 3 methods to all commandments. It turns out that almost all biblical commandments fit into their context and are supported by history and by reason. This is quite impressive and is unmatched in any other moral system that I know of.
I'm not so ambitious as to try to found a new religion or sect, I just want to find a home for people like me. My first step is to move to Daly City and join the Karaite synagogue there, which I hope to do early next year. Then I will reach out to the few people I know who I think would benefit from being part of this community and encourage them to join.
I'm glad this is available as an ebook (another book you recommended wasn't and since I live in Taiwan, that meant I can't read it) so I've bought it and am going to give it a read.
It's true that an English interpretation of the bible does suggest that God prefers piety and obedience over whatever the other things the second poster mentioned (I can't see them now that I'm replying which is awkward). I'll just throw in here that I once had a striking dream where God shocked me by telling me that he doesn't need loyalty, it was an experience that has colored my thinking for a long time.
|Free forum by Nabble||Edit this page|