Bible Critics

Moshe Ben-Chaim

"The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel."

(Maimonides, Guide, book II, chap. xiii) 

As our Rabbis embodied in their confession above, reason must guide each of our analyses and decisions. We are not biased towards people, even our Rabbis. 

How do we approach the matter of Bible disputations and critiques? Some people suggest multiple Torah authors, that Biblical facts and characters are really fiction, and other notions that violate traditional Torah understanding. Torah tradition is no more devoid of an intellectual approach than the sciences. How might we intelligently respond to such claims?

We have a long tradition of Torah leaders from Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Kings David and Solomon, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and other prophets, the Men of the Great Assembly, Talmudic Rabbis, Tosafos, through Ramban, Radak, Sforno, Rashi and Maimonides, and afterwards seen in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rav Chaim Brisk, Rav Yosef B. Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe Feinstein. Without producing the scope and depth of a Rav Moshe Feinstein, for example, we would be amused by any person today claiming he holds a candle to Rav Moshe zt"l, let alone to a Maimonides, King Solomon or Moses. Yet, rare individuals do contend with singular Torah fundamentals accepted by these giants, back to Moses.

These great, unparalleled beacons of Torah never doubted Moses' exclusive authorship of the Torah. They accepted that each of his words were inspired by God, and therefore absolute truths, not compromised by any consideration. Our Talmudic Rabbis severely condemned alternate views of Torah authorship. Our Torah authorities understood all Biblical people, places and events as literal. We must understand what unanimously convinced such great minds of these views.

Bible – Torah – derives its absolutely truthful status from Revelation at Sinai. This proven event is no different than any other historical fact. Whether or not artifacts exist, a unanimously-accepted history (i.e., masses of attendees) cannot be fabricated, accepted and successfully transmitted as the single version of a history, unless it truly occurred. While false "beliefs" do exist widespread, such as beliefs in other religions and in the supernatural, we easily distinguish between a "belief," and "historical fact", the latter possessing mass witnesses. Belief, however, contains no evidence or credible witnesses. This is why it is referred to as a self-incriminating "belief."

Our great Rabbis understood this principle, and recognized that God gave His Torah on Mount Sinai in year 2448 of the current 5774-year count since Adam. They understood that God wishes mankind to possess truth; thus, a mass-attended event. He punishes sinners and those who wish to abrogate the Torah, or its leaders, seen in the Gold Calf worshippers' deaths and in Korach's demise. Thus, God's condoning of Moses' teachings throughout his life endorses all Torah content as literal truths, as Moses taught, and that Moses alone authored the Torah. Had Moses lied about any element, God would not have sustained the public miracle of Moses' glowing face until he died.

We must remain true to reason. And when we hear others suggesting alien and unproven notions, we must realize that such theories cannot undermine facts and proofs. Sinaic Torah is fact; it is defined today by what the Rabbis transmit, and they transmitted fundamentals unanimously agreed-upon by the above list of leaders. God further promised we would never lose the Torah (Isaiah 59:21). Therefore, what we possess is God's truth. But if one wishes, he may not take God's prophetic oath as truth; but he must be consistent and also abandon all of Torah. Thereby, we have no common ground on which we might engage him in dialogue. And it would also be sinful to engage with such a heretic.  

Our stand is a trust in God and in the unanimous transmission, while few others trust in their creative, inconclusive critiques, denying all Rabbis and God's promise.

"…man should not rashly engage in speculation with false conceptions, and when he is in doubt about anything, or unable to find a proof for the object of his inquiry, he must not at once abandon, reject and deny it; he must modestly keep back, and from regard to the honor of his Creator, hesitate (from uttering an opinion) and pause. (Guide, book I, chap xxxii)