June 17, 2010

The Jewish Prophecy of Exile

In a previous post, "An Unserious Response to the Theist's Guide", I poked fun at a religious apologist - apparently a Jewish rabbi -

FYI, I'm not a rabbi, just a typical religious Jew in Israel - who may have the distinction of enjoying discussing and debating religion in a respectful, cordial and friendly manner, with non-Jews.  I extend that courtesy to you and I expect the same courtesy in return.

who made a set of obviously insincere demands for what evidence he would require to become an atheist. So much for that. But our friend the rabbi also thinks that he has convincing evidence for the existence of God. In this post, I'll consider his claims and see how they hold up.

The following quotes were given before the Israelites entered the Land of Israel and promised them that they'd settle into their homeland and get comfortable, but in time they'd pursue other gods and be kicked out of the Promised Land as a result:

(Deut 4:25-26 GW) "Even when you have children and grandchildren and have grown old in that land, don't become corrupt and make carved idols or statues that represent anything. I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today: If you do this thing that the LORD your God considers evil, making him furious, you will quickly disappear from the land you're possess on the other side of the Jordan River. You won't live very long there. You'll be completely wiped out."

...In this case we have a prophesy of Moses predicting that the Israelites would enter the Promised Land and be well situated and in time they'll be expelled from their homes and land. What seer would dare predict doom and disaster and get away with it?

The obvious answer to this question is: a "seer" who was writing after the events he claims to foretell and knew that they had already happened. And that's almost certainly what happened here. Our apologist friend assumes something not in evidence: that this prophecy was given "before the Israelites entered the Land of Israel".

Opps. I neglected to give evidence that this prophesy was given BEFORE the entry of the Israelites into the Land of Israel. Sorry about that. Ok, so I’ll give you evidence that it was not written as a result of the Babylonian Captivity, the reason is that the prophesy of destruction, exile and return to the land of Israel fits far better with the Roman expulsion rather than the Babylonian Captivity. See below.

He goes so far as to uncritically attribute the authorship of Deuteronomy to Moses, something that no reputable textual scholar has believed for decades.

It seems that there are disagreements between archeologists and the Wellhausen school of textual studies:

"The Mosaic tradition is so consistent, so well attested by different Pentaeuchal documents and so congruent with our independent knowledge of the religious development of the Near East in the late Second Millennium B.C. that only hypercritical, pseudo-rationalism can reject it's essential historicity." William F. Albright, "Archeology And The Religion Of Israel" p 96.

 He presents no evidence for either of these claims.

As far as our debate goes, this an irrelevant issue. Whether the Torah or books within it were written by Moses or by multiple authors is not directly the issue at hand. Your challenge to us theists is to provide a document with prophesy, and see if it was fulfilled according to your standards.  As far as your challenge goes it doesn’t matter if 1, 10 or 10,000 authors put their hand to it.  If we establish prophesies within the Torah which meets your criteria AND they turn out to have been fulfilled, then we have met your challenge and answered it according to your requirements.

(Mr. Atheist has introduced this as an issue to reduce the validity of the work, and thus give the impression that God did not write it.  I would like to avoid this issue because it’s really off-topic. However, I’ll give a short summary of the problems of the Multiple Authors Theory since he brought it up.

(As far as reputable scholarship goes, what scholar worth his salt would study an ancient text and concoct a revolutionary theory on the basis of the language of the text, when he can not read the original? What reputable scholar would develop a far-reaching theory primarily on the basis of a translation of the original? Julius Wellhausen did. He put forth his theory of multiple authors despite having at least one serious handicap: fact is that he could not read or speak more than a smattering of Hebrew. Not only was he ignorant of he original language of the Torah he was not alone for at the time that he put together his theory no scholar in Europe studied Hebrew texts in the original language because they were ignorant of the language, scholars studied Hebrew texts in Hebrew much later, so Wellhausen and his students who worked on it were completely dependent on a German translation of the Torah. Now for of us who are fluent in two or more languages we know from experience that different languages impart a different mentality to the speaker or reader. Languages have certain assumptions about life that assumptions are part of the grammar, syntax and construction. So when you shift to another language you change mentalities and assumptions about life. Being that Wellhausen was a cripple in Hebrew how much credibility can be given to him and his work? For reading a text in translation leaves one open to a slew of errors.

 (Those who are able to read, say, Tolstoy in both Russian and in an English translation understand this completely because when they then read the English translations know that is a pale reflection of the original. But it doesn’t take a scholar or one with extreme erudition to recognize this because anyone ho speaks or reads more than one language knows this as a matter of course. (BTW Mr. Atheist have you ever experienced this? Do you speak and/or read more than one language fluently? Czy mówi a pan po polsku? Jeden język nigdy nie wystarcza!) The Italians have an expression that illustrates this from another angle:” traduttori traditori” meaning “translators (are) traitors”. Although it was standard operating procedure in Wellhausen's day to work from a translation of the Hebrew wouldn't fly today and whatever theory that would be based on it would be disregarded as a matter of course because the scholar didn't have an essential tool to work with.

 (When we read the text in Hebrew the Multiple Authors theory just doesn’t fit the text even when one tries hard to see it, it just doesn’t go because there are so many contradictions to it. So Wellhausen developed his core theory of 4 authors and that’s the part of it that was popularized, but as time went on he and his students applied his assumptions to their logical conclusions and “discovered” 30 authors!  So why do the disciples of Wellhausen only mention 4 or 5 of the authors when he discovered so many more? Why to they hide the fact that he improved his theory and carried on his work and took his theory to it's logical conclusions? The reason was that his assumptions and the logic behind his theory was flawed and he himself recognized plenty of contradictions to it, but dismissed them out of hand. To explain the contradictions to others Wellhausen contended that there was a master forger or interpolator at work who rearranged the Torah.  He believed that this self-same master forger anticipated Wellhausen's theory and so he inserted passages and mixed up verses so as to refute it. His students continued to use his assumptions and logic and discovered within their teacher's J, E, P, and D documents at least thirty additional documents! In order to justify this hypothesis they had to rationalize the existence of the many places that contradicted it.  So they assumed a Redactor-Author whom, they claimed, must have hidden the evidence of all the other authors!  Now that's a self-confirming theory.  And BTW, how many of his students were fluent in reading Biblical Hebrew? None. In addition, this theory promotes the notion that different authors can be detected by different styles in the text – the assumption here is that it’s impossible for one author to write in different styles for different purposes. So the Wellhausen Theory is all based on odd assumptions and peculiar logic, combined with a self-sustaining and self-justifying logic that artificially answers all objections to it by inventing more authors.  Besides, there is no independent support of this theory from other texts. So this is conjecture at best. And this you call the “critical" theory?)

As critical scholars have long recognized, the biblical books collectively known as the Deuteronomic history were only completed sometime after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE. This was a catastrophe where the Babylonian Empire swept down on the Israelite kingdom of Judah, destroyed Jerusalem, and sent much of the population into exile. To account for why an omnipotent God had permitted such a disaster to visit his chosen people, the Deuteronomic historians wrote new verses - such as the one my correspondent quotes above - which explained the destruction and exile as God's punishment for idol worship and other sins the Israelites had not ceased to commit. (See, for example, Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?)

(Again, for the purpose of satisfying your challenge it doesn’t matter if the least if Deuteronomy was written at that late date or at Sinai. If the prophesies that were contained therein are fulfilled according to your standards what of it?

(Again, even though this is off-topic, since it was brought up I'll give a capsule reply. This business about forged verses written into the text of Deuteronomy at that time is pure conjecture. This notion is based solely on the assumption that there was a conspiracy to pull the wool over others.  Fact is that due to the discovery of Deuteronomy the people had new burdens imposed upon them. Considering the stiff-necked and argumentative nature of the Israelites why weren’t there hints of grumbling and protests at a national level by the common people? Where was the resistance or the rebellion?  The Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament") is rife with the prophets complaining about the people not acting as they should and not following the Torah. All of a sudden the burden of observance is increased and no one complains. Again, were they just passive sheep willing to submit without a complaint? That doesn’t jive with the mentality of the Israelite people that is displayed in other parts of the Bible. Israelites were a cantankerous and feisty people. So where is there outside evidence that supports this? More about this below.)

In any case, you’ve done me a favor by admitting that the Torah, the Five Books Of Moses, was in existence around the time of the Babylonian Captivity which lasted from 597-538 BCE. I originally chose to establish the earliest date extant at the time of the translation of the LXX at 246 BCE as I was reluctant to use that earlier date of the 5th Century BCE thinking that you would not accept that as it might be construed as internal evidence. Ok, very good, we both agree on the 5th Century BCE as the time the Torah was extant.

But my correspondent tries something audacious. After establishing that the above verse was in existence by Roman times (which I don't doubt), he argues that these verses were actually a prediction of the later Roman destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 CE, not the earlier Babylonian invasion.

 Deut 28:49 "The LORD will bring against you a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth. The nation will swoop (literally: "descend") down on you like an eagle. It will be a nation whose language you won't understand." The Roman army did this very thing in the first century, and the symbol of the Imperial Rome was the eagle. In contrast to the Babylonians who spoke Aramaic which is closely related to Hebrew, the Latin is in a different language family and was unintelligible even to those Jews who spoke Greek as a second language. This is the same sort of exegetical wordplay that religious apologists and Nostradamus devotees alike have used for centuries, trying to turn a vague prediction into a specific one by identifying "hidden" correspondences in the text. There's nothing to indicate that "like an eagle" is anything more than a metaphor for the strength and fierceness of the enemy. But there are several other things my correspondent has overlooked.

So Mr. Atheist contents that someone wrote predictions about an exile of the Israelite people based on the experience they had in the Babylonian Captivity.  If that be the case then how do those same verses explain the Roman Exile, which started more than 400 years after the Babylonian Exile?  The Israelites had a vastly different experience that resulted in enslavement, exile rather than living a comfortable life as they did in Babylon. I’m really sorry that I didn’t put in the full quote from Deuteronomy that indicates that the prophesy was not limited to the Babylonian Captivity. That was an oversight on my part. Here’s the entire passage so you can get some idea of the context.

Deu 28:14  Do everything I'm commanding you today. Never worship other gods or serve them.
Deu 28:15  Obey the LORD your God, and faithfully follow all his commands and laws that I am giving you today. If you don't, all these curses will come to you and stay close to you:
Deu 28:16  You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
Deu 28:17  The grain you harvest and the bread you bake will be cursed.
Deu 28:18  You will be cursed. You will have few children. Your land will have few crops. Your cattle will be cursed with few calves, and your flocks will have few lambs and kids.
Deu 28:19  You will be cursed when you come and cursed when you go.
Deu 28:20  The LORD will send you curses, panic, and frustration in everything you do until you're destroyed and quickly disappear for the evil you will do by abandoning the LORD.
Deu 28:21  The LORD will send one plague after another on you until he wipes you out of the land you're about to enter and take possession of.
Deu 28:22  The LORD will strike you with disease, fever, and inflammation; heat waves, drought, scorching winds, and ruined crops. They will pursue you until you die.
Deu 28:23  The sky above will look like bronze, and the ground below will be as hard as iron.
Deu 28:24  The LORD will send dust storms and sandstorms on you from the sky until you're destroyed.
Deu 28:25  The LORD will let your enemies defeat you. You will attack them from one direction but run away from them in seven directions. You will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms in the world.
Deu 28:26  Your dead bodies will be food for all the birds and wild animals. There will be no one to scare them away.
Deu 28:27  The LORD will strike you with the same boils that plagued the Egyptians. He will strike you with hemorrhoids, sores, and itching that won't go away.
Deu 28:28  The LORD will strike you with madness, blindness, and panic.
Deu 28:29  You will grope in broad daylight as blind people grope in their blindness. You won't be successful in anything you do. As long as you live, you will be oppressed and robbed with no one to rescue you.
Deu 28:30  You will be engaged to a woman, but another man will have sex with her. You will build a house, but you won't live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you won't enjoy the grapes.
Deu 28:31  Your ox will be butchered as you watch, but you won't eat any of its meat. You will watch as your donkey is stolen from you, but you'll never get it back. Your flock will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue it.
Deu 28:32  You will watch with your own eyes as your sons and daughters are given to another nation. You will strain your eyes looking for them all day long, but there will be nothing you can do.
Deu 28:33  People you never knew will eat what your land and your hard work have produced. As long as you live, you will know nothing but oppression and abuse.
Deu 28:34  The things you see will drive you mad.
Deu 28:35  The LORD will afflict your knees and legs with severe boils that can't be cured. The boils will cover your whole body from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
Deu 28:36  The LORD will lead you and the king you choose to a nation that you and your ancestors never knew. There you will worship gods made of wood and stone.
Deu 28:37  You will become a thing of horror. All the nations where the LORD will send you will make an example of you and ridicule you.
Deu 28:38  You will plant many crops in your fields, but harvest little because locusts will destroy your crops.
Deu 28:39  You will plant vineyards and take care of them, but you won't drink any wine or gather any grapes, because worms will eat them.
Deu 28:40  You will have olive trees everywhere in your country but no olive oil to rub on your skin, because the olives will fall off the trees.
Deu 28:41  You will have sons and daughters, but you won't be able to keep them because they will be taken as prisoners of war.
Deu 28:42  Crickets will swarm all over your trees and the crops in your fields.
Deu 28:43  The standard of living for the foreigners who live among you will rise higher and higher, while your standard of living will sink lower and lower.
Deu 28:44  They will be able to make loans to you, but you won't be able to make loans to them. They will be the head, and you will be the tail.
Deu 28:45  All these curses will come to you. They will pursue you and stay close to you until you're destroyed, because you didn't obey the LORD your God or follow his commands and laws, which I'm giving you.

Deu 28:46 These curses will be a sign and an amazing thing to warn you and your descendants forever.
Deu 28:47 You didn't serve the LORD your God with a joyful and happy heart when you had so much.
Deu 28:48 So you will serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you. You will serve them even though you are already hungry, thirsty, naked, and in need of everything. The LORD will put a heavy burden of hard work on you until he destroys you.
Deu 28:49 The LORD will bring against you a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth. The nation will swoop down on you like an eagle. It will be a nation whose language you won't understand.
Deu 28:50 Its people will be fierce-looking. They will show no respect for the old and no pity for the young.
Deu 28:51 They'll eat the offspring of your animals and the crops from your fields until you're destroyed. They'll leave you no grain, no new wine, no olive oil, no calves from your herds, and no lambs or kids from your flocks. They'll continue to do this until they've completely ruined you.
Deu 28:52 They will blockade all your cities until the high, fortified walls in which you trust come down everywhere in your land. They'll blockade all the cities everywhere in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
28:53 Because of the hardships your enemies will make you suffer during the blockade, you will eat the flesh of your own children, the sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you.
Deu 28:54 Even the most tender and sensitive man among you will become stingy toward his brother, the wife he loves, and the children he still has left.
Deu 28:55 He will give none of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all that he has left, because of the hardships your enemies will make you suffer during the blockade of all your cities.
Deu 28:56 The most tender and sensitive woman among you-so sensitive and tender that she wouldn't even step on an ant-will become stingy toward the husband she loves or toward her own son or daughter.
Deu 28:57 She won't share with them the afterbirth from her body and the children she gives birth to. She will secretly eat them out of dire necessity, because of the hardships your enemies will make you suffer during the blockade of your cities.
Deu 28:58 You might not faithfully obey every word of the teachings that are written in this book. You might not fear this glorious and awe-inspiring name: the LORD your God.
Deu 28:59 If so, the LORD will strike you and your descendants with unimaginable plagues. They will be terrible and continuing plagues and severe and lingering diseases.
Deu 28:60 He will again bring all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you.
Deu 28:61 The LORD will also bring you every kind of sickness and plague not written in this book of teachings. They will continue until you're dead.
Deu 28:62 At one time you were as numerous as the stars in the sky. But only a few of you will be left, because you didn't obey the LORD your God.
Deu 28:63 At one time the LORD was more than glad to make you prosperous and numerous. Now the LORD will be more than glad to destroy you and wipe you out. You will be torn out of the land you're about to enter and take possession of.
Deu 28:64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all the people of the world, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will serve gods made of wood and stone that neither you nor your ancestors never knew.
Deu 28:65 Among those nations you will find no peace, no place to call your own. There the LORD will give you an unsettled mind, failing eyesight, and despair.
Deu 28:66 Your life will always be hanging by a thread. You will live in terror day and night. You will never feel sure of your life.

 Deu 29:22  Then the next generation of your children and foreigners who come from distant countries will see the plagues that have happened in this land and the diseases the LORD sent here.
29:23  They will see all the soil poisoned with sulfur and salt. Nothing will be planted. Nothing will be growing. There will be no plants in sight. It will be as desolate as Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, cities the LORD destroyed in fierce anger.

The above verses that were highlighted in yellow are the ones that do not match the Babylonian Captivity but they have been part and parcel of our present Roman Exile.

(Note: these Biblical verses were obtained by a program called E-Sword, a free downloadable program that can be had from www.e-sword.net. Not that I endorse this program or approve of any of the translations therein, I don't. I'm only offering it for the sake of our discussion and to allow you easy verification of the verses I cite.)

Consider the above block of verses from Deuteronomy 28. Notice that the passage predicts the destruction of Israelite cities by siege (verse 52), which involved starvation to the point where women ate their afterbirth and fathers also ate their own children (verses 55-58), once captured they would have to endure extremely hard labor (verse 48). Note also that it prophesies that the Israelites will be expelled to the far ends of the earth (verse 64). These prophesies were unusual even at the time they were given (even if it was produced after the Babylonian Captivity) because conquering nations, especially empire-building nations, saw no advantage in  out the population they were out to conquer.  They weren't out for wanton destruction just for the sadistic cruelty of it.  Such nations conquered in order to receive economic benefits from the nations they conquered, benefits mostly in the form of taxation. This as the method of Rome, Babylon an Assyria. Their method was to destroy the army of the defenders, since the defending army was a small %age of the population, so when the conqueror subdued of dispatched or the defenders the conquerors then took over and taxed the population. Subduing the population by starving or working them to death made them useless economically and even resulted a great burden upon the attacking country. It was dumb to destroy a people because there was no profit from them after that, and the Babylonians weren’t dumb.

Know that the Babylonian Captivity did not involve this kind of merciless cruelty against the cities that involved slaughter of the inhabitants, not to the extent that Rome inflicted.  The Babylonians held Jerusalem in siege for 2 years but after the Israelites surrendered they were handled fairly amicably after that as the conquerors wanted them for their benefit. The Babylonians told the Israelites that they were to be transferred as a whole to Babylon because the Babylonians wanted the economic benefits from the Israelite population. So a while before the actual population transfer happened, the Babylonians welcomed representatives from the Israelite community who went to Babylon and set up social infrastructures so that when the Israelites arrived they picked up their lives with a minimum of fuss, got on with rebuilding their lives, then they literally got down to business and helped develop the Babylonian economy and empire. The Israelites were successful and found Babylon quite a comfortable place to live. So much so that after the 70 years of their stay in Babylon, when the Persian King Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to the Land of Israel only about 10,000 made the trip back, a very small minority.  The vast majority stayed behind because they were very comfortable and content living and making money in Babylon.

Furthermore, these prophesies above foretell of being scattered to the ends of the earth (verse 64), but that didn’t apply to the Babylonian Captivity because the known world at the time was far bigger than the stretch of land between Israel and Babylon. Israelites also knew of India, Africa and southern Europe, so hat prophesy wasn't fulfilled in Babylon. If the writer of the prophesy knew that their exile would have been Babylon it would have made sense to specify that detail in the prophesy to make it seem like a sure thing, but this didn't happen. Thus the prophesy couldn't have been created with the Babylonian experience in mind.

Instead the Roman occupation and destruction of the Land of Israel was nothing more than sadistic ruelty and so it was the complete fulfillment of them. Since you agree that Deuteronomy was extant in 4th Century BCE, it means the prophesies were in writing at least 400 years before their fulfillment by the expulsion by Rome in 136 CE, and obviously the events that led up that period were not an already existing trend that the author could extrapolate.

So what’s the probability of all that having happened? Well, being conquered is not unusual. Every nation gets conquered sooner or later. But back then nations were conquered neighboring nations. So in ancient days it was standard stuff to understand and speak languages of nearby peoples, so logically, at the time of writing it was standard to expect a conqueror to come from nearby. So what’s the likelihood of a far-away nation doing it? Not likely at all. The Romans sent in 3 separate waves of their legionaries to destroy the Judean State. We lost all 3 of those battles. For the 3rd and final round, the Romans brought an entire legion from the British Isles to do the fighting. The commanding general of that Roman legion was a Briton and the soldiers who did the conquering were Britons, and at that time the British Isles were at the end of the known world. What’s the probability of a nation conquering whose language was unknown? Even less likely. In the case of the Romans, Jews spoke Greek, not Latin, so they had to talk to the Romans via Greek interpreters. On the third round of the war the Judeans were utterly clueless about the language of the attacking Britons. Not only that, the legion of Britons came from the every end of he known world back then, in explicit fulfillment of Deut 28:49. So these highly unlikely prophesies were fulfilled. Like I mentioned earlier, it was dumb to destroy a nation, the Romans weren’t dumb considering the extensive empire they had built. Yet they completely lost their rationality when they decided to destroy Judea.  They wasted resources of the Roman Empire to a serious degree, and it was almost childish for the Romans to have put down the cantankerous and feisty Judeans. In the end it was a stupid move, and highly extremely unlikely from a probability standpoint.  Who would have thought, at least 400 years before, that a foreign nation from the end of the earth would stupidly go for wanton and complete destruction of the Israelite nation in such a way that caused serious harm to themselves? No one with any rational sense. So the criteria of Mr Atheist which demands an unusual prophesy - and I say this wasn't just an unusual prophesy it was a prophesy to the point of absurdity - was fulfilled by Imperial Rome.

First: The official language of the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not Aramaic but Akkadian, a rather different tongue which was derived in part from ancient Sumerian, a language isolate unrelated to Hebrew. Akkadian could easily stand in for the "language [the Jews] won't understand".

Second: Even if we do interpret the "eagle" reference as meaning something about the identity of the conquerors, it's still an ambiguous clue. Of particular relevance is that the Bible specifically compares Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar to an eagle [Ezekiel 17], as well as comparing Babylon's horsemen to eagles [Habbakkuk 1:8].

Feel free to call it an ambiguous clue. Although, having mentioned that the blocks of the prophesy of the curses and blessings allow for multiple fulfillments, did you notice that it’s even more coincidental that both of the countries that involved in two separate expulsions had both their national symbols as eagles? Obviously not a conclusive prophesy but oddly ironic just the same. Or maybe it's just that conquering nations in ancient days preferred to have a predatory bird as their symbol.

Third: The facts of the biblical prophecy fit Nebuchadnezzar's invasion much more closely. The chapter my correspondent quotes goes on to say that the Israelites will be punished by being returned to Egypt [Deut. 28:68], and that's just what happens in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion [2 Kings 25:26]. In sum, my correspondent has no clear evidence that this or any other passage is meant to refer to Rome, and that fatally weakens his argument.

Imagine that I find an ancient document which reads, "A great American president will be assassinated by a lone gunman." If I want to prove that the author had miraculous foresight, it's not enough to prove that the document was written before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After all, it could also have been written after the death of Abraham Lincoln as a false "prediction" of that event. To disprove this, I'd either have to show that the document was specifically intended to refer to Kennedy, or that it also predates the death of Lincoln. My correspondent has done neither.

Finally, my correspondent makes one last attempt to argue for the veracity of a biblical miracle:

"What I call the Sinai event was where the Israelites were at Mt Sinai and the entire nation was recorded to be ear-witnesses to God having spoken to them from the top of the mountain, and where God gave the Ten Commandments to the entire Israelite nation... Now one may argue that the Children of Israel experienced a mass hallucination. Well, if everyone had a hallucination there was nothing to make certain that 2+ million people had the exact same hallucination. How could something like an identical mass hallucination occur?"

Have you ever noticed that religious apologists only ever consider the most improbable natural explanations for their myths, even when much more probable ones are available?

I have a much simpler explanation: no identical mass hallucination is needed because the Sinai event never happened. There is no archaeological evidence of either an Egyptian captivity of the Israelites or an Israelite conquest of the Promised Land - and Moses' supposed conversation with God falls right in between those two events. The overwhelming likelihood is that it's part of the myth, a pious fiction invented by later authors and editors as the Hebrew Bible took the shape it has now. The written account may be based on oral folklore, but regardless, there is no evidence for it or for any of the surrounding events in the story it's part of.

Regarding the prophesy about the destruction of the land (Deut 29:22 - 23), the infertility of it once the expulsion happened is also a prophesy that is wildly absurd yet was fulfilled.  Before the Romans expelled the Jews the Land of Israel was fertile and supported a population of at least a half million people. The Jews were exiled and the land went completely stale. Considering that Israel is a geo-political gem, the strategic crossroads between the 3 continents, it was a highly desirable land for any nation to conquer and control.  Eight separate times since the beginning of the Roman exile, Jerusalem was conquered by various nations, sometimes twice over, but none of them could hold onto it for long and establish a permanent occupation. One reason was that the land of Israel had undergone an ecological disaster and nearly nothing grew.  Mark Twain, in is travels to this area described the complete destruction and desolation of the land. www.mtwain.com/Innocents_Abroad/57.html    Wrote Twain: “ "...[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse....A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action....We never saw a human being on the whole route....There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” “Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?"

The Report of the Palestine Royal Commission Report, p. 233. quotes an account of the Maritime Plain in 1913: "The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts...no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne] (a distance of 48 km or 30 miles - Narabelad)....Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen....The ploughs used were of wood....The yields were very poor....The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist....The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert....The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants. www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths/mf1.html#13  Then in the late 1800s the Jews started to return to the land and within 60 years they made the dessert bloom – also in the sight of the nations. 

As far as evidence for the Sinai Event goes, there are plenty of historical experiences in history that have left their mark on a nation, to the point were the story of the event was handed down.  When an entire nation witnesses or experiences a mass event AND it changes their lives thereafter, the people typically remember it and a vast majority of the time they will pass stories about it down for generations to come. Now this doesn't have to be a religious experience, it can be a war, a natural disaster or even a man made disaster at the scale that we can produce them today with our technology.  In the case of the Israelites it was a unique religious experience. Such transformative events became part of our nation's history, both oral and written. More about this below.

One reason that was popular in the minds of ancient writers is that they did not want to leave records that were unfavorable to the ruling monarch. So there's a strong tendency for ancient historical records strongly tend to ignore shameful defeats. The escape of a million-plus slaves from Egyptian control would have been highly shameful and reflect badly on Egypt, so there was would have been a strong tenancy to ignore and try to forget the Exodus, or change the account of the event so that Egypt would have been justified in kicking them out.  There are a few records left behind. Note Wikipedia on "Exodus":

 "The earliest non-biblical account of the Exodus is by Hecataeus of Abdera (late 4th century BCE): the Egyptians blame a plague on foreigners and expel them from the country; Moses, their leader, takes them to Canaan, where he founds the city of Jerusalem.[41] More than a dozen later stories repeat the same basic theme, most of them with a marked anti-Jewish tendency.[41] The best-known is that by the Egyptian historian Manetho (3rd century BCE), quoted by the 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus in two passages. In the first Manetho describes the Hyksos, their lowly origins in Asia, their dominion over and expulsion from Egypt, and, according to Josephus, their subsequent foundation of the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Josephus (not Manetho) identifies the Hyksos with the Jews.[42] Josephus later quotes a second story from Manetho which tells how 80,000 lepers and other "impure people," led by a priest named Osarseph, join forces with the former Hyksos, now living in Jerusalem, to take over Egypt. They wreak havoc until eventually the pharaoh and his son chase them out to the borders of Syria, where Osarseph gives the lepers a law-code and changes his name to Moses.[43] Manetho differs from the other writers in describing his renegades as Egyptians rather than Jews, and in using a name other than Moses for their leader[41] - many scholars regard the identification of Osarseph with Moses as a later addition to the text,[44] although the question remains open.[45]" In the early 19th Century an ancient papyrus was found in Egypt. It was taken to the Leiden Museum in
Holland and interpreted by A.H. Gardiner in 1909. The papyrus describes violent upheavals in Egypt, starvation, drought, escape of slaves (with the wealth of the Egyptians), and death throughout the land. 

The papyrus was written by an Egyptian named Ipuwer The account has a strong parallel to the Book of Exodus where it describes the Ten Plagues. This is an abbreviated list of the Ipuwer Papyrus, for complete details go to www.cbcg.org/franklin/The_Plagues_Of_Egypt.pdf

 “If the miraculous history of the Sinai experience and the Exodus from Egypt were contrived by story tellers who spun the tale around a campfire, or an act of deliberate myth-making then asking the elders for confirmation would be fatal to the contrivance. If it didn't happen then grandpa would say "My grandparents said that they never heard of such a thing. It's bogus."

 The problem with this apologetic is that it explains too much. You could use a similar argument in favor of every miraculous event recorded in the annals of every people, from the Roman rain miracle of Marcus Aurelius to Native American stories about invulnerable shamans. How did any of these stories get started?

As far as the Rain Miracle goes, there's little to compare it to the Exodus Event.  It originated from of a group of soldiers, not an entire nation, and they spread this story. That’s very easy to pull off.  Soldiers are under command; they're given orders they're supposed to obey those orders.  It's easy for a commanding officer to order his troops to spread this story, all he had to do was give the order.  However, nations are not like that. There can be plenty of dissenters within a nation and tyrant's must have Thought-Police to keep contrary ideas from spreading. Besides, it's entirely likely that the soldiers were under orders to promote this story. That story would have been extremely useful as a psychological warfare tactic against other enemies.  Psychological tactics were common methods in ancient days.  The reason for circulating this story wanting to warn their enemies 'Don’t mess with us! The gods are on our side! They’ll use lightning bolts to defeat you!' And the fact that the leaders were telling it without confirmation by the actual soldiers themselves does not compare with the Sinai Event of the Israelites. And the fact that this miraculous occurrence did not make an impression sufficient to cause the soldiers who supposedly witnessed it to convey it as a family tradition or story down through the ages also says much. It suggests that the story was invented for a short term purpose, such as a psychological tactic, and once it fulfilled its purpose there was no need for the story as it was no longer an issue.

Mr. Atheist lumps the Sinai Event, which we claim had 3 million witnesses, with Shamans interpreting events about single individuals in maybe multiple events to a small group of hearers who were not about to ask questions. (Say, didn't anyone of the listeners to that shaman think to request that  all the other warriors should have a magic headdress like the chief had?  Boy, if all the braves had a magic headdress like the chief they'd all be invincible in battle!  I dunno about you but I'd regard that as an obvious question for the shaman while sitting around the campfire. Maybe in their culture no one dared ask questions, but  our Hebrew Bible encourages us to query our elders.)  Those were a headdress that produced miraculous events AND miraculous claims by a small group of soldiers. The reason Mr. Atheist's examples do not compare with the Sinai Event is that the difference between them is also profound.  Oral traditions of this kind are about historical events are passed down through the generations of a nation when the ENTIRE NATION experiences it AND it significantly changes the lives of all the people. The Exodus from Egypt combined with the Sinai Event did just that because they were not only profound experienced in their own right, they also changed the lives of every individual in the nation from then on.  The Exodus event transformed an entire nation from one of abject and abused slaves to free people.  At Sinai, for example, the Ten Commandments were given then and at that time it was established that the Israelites were commanded to have a holiday every seven days, on Saturday, forever. If only for that one law the Sinai Event changed them all down to this day, and then consider the other nine commandments and how they changed the nation. Historical events that are witnessed and experienced by entire nations AND they change the living patterns of that nation are the ones that are passed down orally. It isn’t just claimed events of claimed experiences of a mass religious
experience, because natural disasters do that and so do wars.  Are any of you going to disbelieve the American Civil War? Oh, there are a few books about it that were written at the time but it's possible that could have been mere campfire stories, folklore.  There were also a number of documents that are claimed to have survived from the time about the event, but they could be forgeries obviously written much later. There was a photographer who CLAIMED to have taken pictures of battle scenes, the photographs displayed at the Antietam battlefield I once visited comes to mind, but they could have been battles that occurred in some other country. The thing that makes the US Civil War credible was not simply because of the books and surviving documents. Those documents are credible to us 140 years later because people that experienced it also passed down personal stories and vignettes of the Civil War event to their descendants.  They didn't have to be detailed accounts. “Your great great granddaddy fought under General Sherman" would have been enough. In fact, even if we don't hear specific oral traditions about the Civil War how many of us have heard statements that contradicted the accounts? How has heard their grandparents discount or disbelieve this event saying something like: "Civil War?  Who says? Never heard of it in my day, then when I was in my 30s they started claiming there was this 'Civil War' what started back in 1860. Well, I told 'em I never heard of such a thing. Musta been made-up. It was just a crock, nuthin' but BS"?  The people of Atlanta, Georgia, still have oral traditions about how General Sherman wantonly burned down their city.  In my home area in the US a Civil War colonel bought land and built a farm and his family thrived there. His farm house built in the 1860s has been recently restored. The man’s descendants once lived there and have since moved on, but they told their neighbors and friends about what their father experienced. We knew the man’s regiment, some of the battles he fought in. It’s part of the area history, an oral history, not gotten from books or records, but from the descendants of the colonel who lived those experiences as part of the overall American experience. If there were only documents and books about the Civil War, without family stories passed down the Civil War could be easily doubted as "folklore" or "myth".

I suggest you confirm these words and the prediction that that no other nation would even create a rumor that God produced a revelation to an entire nation.  For example, you can go to Bullfinch’s Mythology and look through it and see if there’s even one myth that had an entire nation was said to have eye- or ear- witnessed a god or goddess perform some act and lived to tell about it.  But I’ll save you the trouble, because I know someone who has already done that – gone through all 700+ pages – and found nothing done en masse with any god.

If it's so easy to invent a myth that claims that an entire nation witnessed God or a god appearing to all of them, all at once, it stands to reason that if other nations should have done it, and would have done it often and again.Ok, to further illustrate this lets try to invent a myth. Let's assume I am at a party with friends and acquaintances and I start to tell others that it's a fact that the United States, by the year 1640, successfully conquered all of Central and South America and held it under US rule for 50 years. How credible would that be? What would Americans say? They'd say they never heard of that in school nor as stories passed down from grandparents. Although Americans aren't big on history there are those who pride themselves on their family origins and pass it down. The Daughters of the American Revolution do just that. Who will argue that that the stories about arriving on the Mayflower or great granddaddy so-and-so having fought the British during the Colonial Occupation in the 1700's are all utter fabrications, just campfires stories told by shamans or priests? If I would sit down with my English friends and could I tell them with a straight face that in the early 1700s England conquered western Europe from the shores of France all the way east to the Urals? How would that go over? Would they accept it blindly? Now I?m trying to convince them of an event that supposedly happened to their own people, I?m not trying to convince them of what other countries or peoples did. The British are big on tradition and history, unlike many Americans. It's easy for, say, the Italians to make up stories about the Chinese centuries back because the Chinese usually aren't around to argue these things one way or the other. How far would I get?  It’s such great way to establish credibility. Why has the Sinai Event been the only mass-revelation to a whole nation on record where the nation has lived to tell about it?

A similar God-encounter is the very thing that Mr. Atheist would like in order to be forced to believe in God.  He would need to experience a God-event together with a whole nation because that's what it would take to confirm it in his own mind. He would need a vast number of other witnesses that would confirm that they had experienced the same revelation, then he would be convinced that he hadn't been hallucinating.

My correspondent's confident claim that the Jews wouldn't accept a newly-invented law or story, because they had no historical traditions of such a thing, is disproven by an example from the Bible itself: King Josiah's "discovery" of the "book of the law" (probably Deuteronomy) hidden in the temple [2 Kings 22:8]. According to the text, Josiah's discovery made him rend his clothes in grief, because it contained so many laws that had been forgotten. Did the Jews reject this book because they had never heard of it before? On the contrary, it's now part of their canon. All this goes to show is that when those in power find it convenient to wage a propaganda campaign to convince the people to believe certain things, they very often succeed.

(Despite the fact that this issue is off-topic I will give a reply. Ok, so how did anyone then know that the found book was in fact the “Book of the Law by the hand of Moses” (Deuteronomy, it is assumed) and was an authentic document? Mr. Atheist assumes that there was no way that they could have confirmed the authenticy of the book. The historical context about the discovery of the book is an important factor in this whole story and to ignore it is to rip it all out of context, and removing it from the historical setting can easily result in spurious conclusions. Manasseh of Judah reigned for 55 years and in that time he completely eradicated all religious worship and practice in Judea and the Temple was in very serious disrepair. After he died in 643 BC King Josiah took over and he reversed the extreme policies of Mannasseh. When clearing out the Temple a book was found and it was recognized as a lost book. Now Mr. Atheist just assumed that because the book was found that caution was thrown to the wind, belief took over and they uncritically accepted the book as the 5th in the Five Books of Moses as a pure act of faith. Now you also assume that the book must have been a forgery.  To justify that you also must assume that they had no historical traditions about that book.  Now it’s not told exactly how they knew it was authentic, and there’s also no indication from the text that they just laid down their rational thinking and accepted it on the basis of blind faith.  But as far as traditions go,there was a common practice, one that was part of many ancient societies back then, that would have given them good and rational reason to accept that book. Since there were no printing presses nor computers back then, books were scarce and very expensive. We all know that they had to be laboriously copied by hand. To illustrate this know that even today we copy Torah scrolls by hand, they're copied by scribes by the same methods that were used 2,500 years ago.  It takes the scribes working full-time 2-3 years to complete one handwritten copy - just to give you an idea how rare and expensive manuscripts were back then. Due to the rarity of books there were people who committed entire books or large sections of books to memory. This was not just in the Jewish world, the Greeks also committed their epic stories and lengthy poems to memory. The Iliad and the Odyssey were transmitted strictly by memory early on. We know that their epics would be converted into hundreds of pages of text. One ancient Greek intellectual notable (I forget who) who even boasted that he could recite the Iliad BACKWARDS he knew it so well. Be that as it may, it was just common for people to commit large portions of important books to memory even at an early age.  And remember, a maximum of 55 years passed that Deuteronomy would have been out of circulation so enough people would have been alive to remember that book and the days before Manasseh. It's not as if 250 years had passed that they had been without that lost book and everyone who could have confirmed it was long dead and gone. With this in mind it’s quite reasonable that many people remembered many different sections of Deuteronomy sufficient to confirm that it was authentic without having to resort to blind faith.  

(In fact the mere presence of so many elders who could remember sections of Deuteronomy would have been the thing that would keep people from even attempting a forgery.  The fact that some of the laws were indeed forgotten means that not all was committed to memory, ok fine, no problem there, but enough of Deuteronomy would have been remembered to at least allow them to authenticate the found book. The fact that the people undertook some hardships because of laws that were reinstated means that our stiff-necked and cantankerous Israelites had to be convinced as a nation that it was authentic.)

To summarize, I want to match Mr. Atheist's criteria for prophesy and their fulfillment and consider how the prophesies I have provided measure up to his standards.

1. The prophesies I have provided are clear and unambiguous.  Prophesies within Deut 28-29 explicitly foretell the destruction of a national home and the exile of its people.

Other prophesies first describe the Sinai Event and then in Deut 4:32-33 it predicts that never again would a nation experience a first-hand encounter with God and live to tell about it, neither would anyone make a similar claim.  Not even rumors of a similar God-encounter to a whole nation ever surface. This has been fulfilled from the time of it's giving, at least 2,500 years ago, to the present.

2. The prophesies are far from trivial. The destruction of a nation and the exile of its people are profoundly painful events for all.

Mass kidnappings of Jewish children and them having been sent to the far corners of the world by the Romans as well as King John of Portugal, who shipped all Jewish children they could get their hands on to St. Thomas Island in the Caribbean, were far from trivial events, Deut 28:32.

The Sinai Event has been unique, in fact the essence of the prediction in Deut 4:32-33 is that it would remain unique for all time.

3. The prophesies and their fulfillments must be unusual.  The prediction of wanton destruction of Land of Israel by foreigners from the ends of the earth goes beyond the unusual, it was completely absurd at the time it was given. The prophesy that the people would then be exiled all over the world was also absurd.  The prophesy that the Jewish people would be abused, persecuted, yet survive within that exile as a recognizable people very small in number living amidst hostile nations borders on the impossible. The fact is that the Jewish people survived under such extreme conditions that we should have disappeared. The fulfillment of all of those prophesies is not just unusual, they have been events that have been completely unprecedented in all of human experience.

 4. The prophesies were not contrived for other reasons.  Who would want to contrive prophesies that foretell such a miserable course of events like exile, slavery and abuse?

Why contrive the story of a God-encounter at Sinai when all the rest of the world has been content with inventing their gods with myths and stories that are unconfirmable?  Especially considering that Israelites/Jews do not proselytize as a matter of principle what was there to gain by it?

5. The prophesies must not be self-fulfilling.  No nation would willingly provoke and antagonize another nation with the hope that their army would rise up to destroy it, plunder its land, enslave them, and then happily send them off on a lengthy exile of abuse and death.

What people would work to have their children kidnapped en masse? 

In the case of the Sinai Event, the prophesy is that no other nation will ever dare to claim witnessed the appearance of God to a whole nation and survive to tell about it is out of the hands of the Jews. If other religious groups would like to try this out, or make a similar claim, that an entire nation all witnessed an identical mass-revelation and lived to tell about it, then they're more than welcome to try.

6. The prophesy didn't predict an event that was about to happen or happened.  Even if one maintains that the prophesies in Deuteronomy were written and inserted around the time of the Babylonian Captivity, that doesn't explain their greater fulfillment in the Roman Exile that started approximately 400 years later and has continued until this very day.

 Who would expect beforehand that a deity would lead their nation to a mountain and deliver a revelation in the form of a colossal display - especially because it never happened before then?

7. The prophesies I cited have been verified by independent agents.  Enough non-Jews have written histories of Rome and Babylon and have confirmed the experiences of the Jewish people many times over. Flannery, a Catholic priest, wrote the book "The Anguish Of The Jews" was quoted in my original post. His book details the extreme abuse of anti-Semitism throughout the period of this Roman Exile.

Consider that his church, the Roman Catholic Church, was responsible for a large measure of that abuse.

8. Those aren't lone success amidst plenty of failures.  All of the curses in Deuteronomy chapter 28 and 29 have been fulfilled in the sight of the nations, if it wasn't the nations that fulfilled them!

The prophesy that no one will ever try to fabricate that a similar mass-God-experience occurred, or create a rumor similar to the Sinai Event, and also claimed to live through the experience. So Deut 4:32-33 remains fulfilled to this day.

The ball, Mr. Atheist, is now in your court.


  1. The last 2 verses of the curses were not included, verses 67 & 68. 67 "In the morning you shall say 'Oh, that it were evening!' And at evening you shall say, 'Oh, that it were morning!' because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see. 68 "And YHWH will take you back to Egypt in ships, by the way of which I said to you, 'You shall never see it again.' And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you." If all the curses of the prophecy of Deut 28 have occurred, please explain when this event happened.

  2. The claim that "The prophesy that no one will ever try to fabricate that a similar mass-God-experience occurred, or create a rumor similar to the Sinai Event, and also claimed to live through the experience. So Deut 4:32-33 remains fulfilled to this day." Is untrue as far as I can tell (though maybe I misunderstand something?).

    For example, Greek Mythology offers us the story of the foundation of Athens, in which: "Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens after a competition with Poseidon. Yet Poseidon remained a numinous presence on the Acropolis in the form of his surrogate, Erechtheus.[2] At the dissolution festival at the end of the year in the Athenian calendar, the Skira, the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would process under canopies to Eleusis.[25] They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and the Athenians would choose whichever gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprang up; the water was salty and not very useful,[26] whereas Athena offered them an olive tree.

    The Athenians or their king, Cecrops, accepted the olive tree and along with it Athena as their patron, for the olive tree brought wood, oil and food. After the fight, infuriated at his loss, Poseidon sent a monstrous flood to the Attic Plain, to punish the Athenians for not choosing him. " (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poseidon#The_foundation_of_Athens)
    As far as I understand, this event was suppose to have happened in view of all of the city's inhabitants.

    Also, the Deuteronomy passage you cited was written as a warning, hence why it was written despite being so apparently unfavorable. It basically told the people "if you disobey us (the priests), these terrible things will happen to you, so don't disobey", and as we see, fear is a very strong form of social control. Also, a lot of its prophecies, as you have cited them, have failed to come true.

    The following passages from the warning have (thankfully) not occurred:
    "Deu 28:22 The LORD will strike you with disease, fever, and inflammation; heat waves, drought, scorching winds, and ruined crops. They will pursue you until you die.
    Deu 28:23 The sky above will look like bronze, and the ground below will be as hard as iron.
    Deu 28:24 The LORD will send dust storms and sandstorms on you from the sky until you're destroyed."
    These passages seem to predict that the Jews will be exiled primarily to desert areas, which didn't happen. The exiles were rarely threatened with sandstorms, and the sky never looked like Bronze. Instead, they were deported as slaves to areas around the Mediterranean, where there were no sandstorms, though plenty of other horrors and hardships.

    "Deu 28:28 The LORD will strike you with madness, blindness, and panic."
    Didn't happen, as far as I know.

    "Deu 28:44 They will be able to make loans to you, but you won't be able to make loans to them."

    Overall, it seems to me that Deuteronomy threw prophecies at the wall, for various terrible things that could (and often did, at that time also) happen to the people of a conquered nation. Many of them did happen to the Jews, though their fate was not unprecedented (see the Roma, who wander Europe still and were also victims of the holocaust http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_people, or Native Americans, who have preserved their unique culture despite facing persecution, occupation, destruction and disease).

    1. Indeed, given that Deuteronomy predicts that "At one time the LORD was more than glad to make you prosperous and numerous. Now the LORD will be more than glad to destroy you and wipe you out. You will be torn out of the land you're about to enter and take possession of."

      Wouldn't the modern successful and prosperous existence of the state of Israel falsify it?