Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Heart's Eye

The foundation of all knowledge is "empiricism". I see a swan so I assume swans exist. I jump in a lake so I assume that this lake exists. Many observations can lead to indirect form of knowledge like scientific theories.

But the huge corpus of human knowledge is all based on something so frail and fallible. Everything we humans claim to know comes from our senses. We attribute "Reality" to the observations of our senses but the truth is that these senses are far from infallible and we humans live in a world dominated by a persistent Cartesian doubt

There is another sense. Perhaps we can call it emotion. Feelings. Faith. Scientists generally reject such things as sources of truth. Just because you FEEL that you are Napoleon doesn't make you into a conquering dictator. Just because you FEEL that an invisible man gave you a holy book doesn't make a revelation at Sinai happen.

Or at least that's what the scientist will say.

But why are the impressions made on our senses any better than impressions made on our hearts. Why is the former a more valid source of truth in many people's eyes. Maybe I actually am Napoleon if I feel like it. Maybe God does exist if I feel it in my heart. If my eyes fail to confirm God perhaps my heart can.

Perhaps the feelings of the heart are just as much a window to this thing called "Reality" as the observations of the eyes. 

One obvious advantage of empirical observations vs. "emotional observations" is that empirical observations have proven themselves useful. The advance of technology, improvement of human living conditions, medicine, science all the foundations of modern society all come from accepting "empiricism".

Have the feelings of the heart proven as useful? That is a matter which needs further study.

But we have to keep in mind that it is the heart that originally validated empiricism. The human heart is certain that it is surrounded not by an illusion - but by something real - something with an independent existence. Philosophers can prattle all day about whether or not this world we live in is not some sort of solipsistic delusion. But even the most skeptical philosopher will go home to eat supper - unafraid that his home is but a delusion. But all of  this is merely a feeling an "observation of the heart". Before we had invented tools or dabbled in technology we did not know that empiricism would prove useful. But we felt that it was true. We felt that what we saw is what there is. Without questioning....

This is perhaps a variation of the lame blogger argument that can be summed up as "I don't know other people exist but I assume they do and same goes for God." Most people, myself included, have laughed at this argument. But perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye.

If you feel God exists. If your "heart's eye" literally screams that he is there watching you. Then is it any worse than believing that the car parked outside your house is actually there....

Monday, 16 May 2011

Avoiding the Nitty Gritty

Is it not somewhat interesting that no Orthodox (that I know of - except maybe Cassuto) - TMS supporting - scholar has ever sat down and methodically discussed and given alternative explanations for the textual variations in the Pentateuch - the likes of which are used to establish the veracity of the Documentary Hypothesis. Sure, I think everyone has taken a crack at explaining the differences between YHWH and Elohim, or the differences between Yaakov and Yisrael - but I'm yet to see an Orthodox scholar sit down and explain the convergence of evidence surrounding these variations.

I've discussed the evidence of the DH in detail in the past. By convergence of evidence I mean the fact that not only does God's name change but also different sets of vocabulary and terminology accompany each name change AND name changes often correspond to parallel accounts.

So even if Umberto Cassuto, or M.Z. Segel give alternative explanations as to why God is sometimes called YHWH and sometimes called Elohim - AFAIK they have never explained WHY these changes are accompanied by other textual variations. When you find three or more types of variations all occurring in tandem - you have to wonder if there isn't some sort of pattern....

Orthodox "rebuttals" of Biblical criticism always deal with generalities. They will try to knock down general principles of the DH without even referring to the "boring", pedantic word lists which the theory is based on....

Part of the fault here is that of modern, popular supporters of the DH who fail to make their case. Richard Elliot Friedman's - Who Wrote the Bible - presents the conclusion of Biblical criticism - clearly explaining who is J who is E etc. But he barely makes any sort of convincing case for these divisions, he just assumes they are true. It is sad that I was only convinced of the (basic idea) of the DH by referring to books from the 20's. Maybe modern Biblical scholarship (or at least the type of Biblical scholarship available to us laypeople, perhaps in the academic world there is more discussion about the nitty gritty) suffers from misplaced confidence that it's theories are well established facts and no longer feels a need to try proving it...

 Either ways I laugh every time I hear a response from Orthodoxy to Bible Criticism . Sometimes friends of mine confront me and ask me if I realize that it's all rubbish made up by Protestant antisemites. I invariably ask them if they sat with a Chumash and a word list and highlighted word and name variations in the different chapters of Genesis.

Most of them grudgingly have to admit they haven't. 

 For some reason these confident critics of Biblical scholarship never found the time to actually do the dirty work and check how many times it says והקימותי את בריתי or ויעצב  אל לבו in Genesis.

Leave the Bible scholarship to those who are willing to sit and read word lists.

And don't trust the Kiruv Klowns because they are too busy looking for Torah codes to open up S.R. Driver....