Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Back to “HaTanakh Hayah BeEmet” (התנ”ך היה באמת, דר. ליאורה רביד 2009) which I have commented on several times (here, here and here) over the last couple of weeks. This time Liora Ravid makes the assertion that the term “ויחר אף” means particularly violent anger – which it may but also may not, as I will show.

She is discussing the birth of Ya’akov’s children and the names given them by their mothers. This she uses to continue to portray Ya’akov in a far more negative light than I believe he deserves as a violent man and a fraudster. As for the fraudster, I do think can be said of him. His name says as much, he deceived his father and got his uppance Midah keNeged Midah from Lavan with Leah and Lavan even explains himself on this point. He then successfully uses his skills against Lavan for the flocks.

However I don’t see him as a violent man. She takes the names of Leah’s first children (Reuven and Shim’on) to tell a story of domestic violence and the term “sanuah” to mean literally hated as in the modern usage. Joshua Berman maintains in his book that LeEhov in Tanakh means more in terms of faithfulness and preferentialness than love and gives examples both from Tanakh and outside of the verb meaning to be faithful to a covernant. In contrast he maintains that LiSnoh means to be unfaithful and not give special consideration complete with examples. Thus he explains for example Deut 11.1 or 7:13 or 10:13 or more pointedly for us 21:15 that is talking about a man with two wives; one “loved” and the other “hated”. This becomes one given preferential status over the other.

Liora Ravid goes further to suggest that when Leah says “ראה ה’ בעניי” she is aluding to rape as in what Shekhem will later do to Dinah “ויעניה”. Rather tenuous seeing as marital rape was not a crime, and other uses of the word in Gen 31:42 (Ya’akov describes his hard life looking after the sheep to Lavan) or 41:52 (Yosef calls his son Efrayim “כי הפרני אלוהים בארץ עניי”) which both just mean miserableness.

And so we get to Gen 30:2 where Ya’akov remonstrates with the childless Rahel “ויחר אף יעקב ברחל”. Ravid asserts that this term is otherwise reserved for God’s destructive wrath like when he wants to wipe out the people altogether. It is true that it can, but it also can mean just plain annoyance. It can mean the whole spectrum of annoyance and anger. Here are the examples that prove my point:

Ex 4:14 –
וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה בְּמֹשֶׁה, וַיֹּאמֶר הֲלֹא אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ הַלֵּוִי–יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא; וְגַם הִנֵּה-הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ, וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ. God is annoyed at Moshe’s persistent refusal and excuses not to do his mission.

Num 22:22 –
וַיִּחַר-אַף אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-הוֹלֵךְ הוּא, וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ, לְשָׂטָן לוֹ; וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל-אֲתֹנוֹ, וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ. God is going to kill Bil’am just remind him what the rules are.

Num 24:10 –
וַיִּחַר-אַף בָּלָק אֶל-בִּלְעָם, וַיִּסְפֹּק אֶת-כַּפָּיו; וַיֹּאמֶר בָּלָק אֶל-בִּלְעָם, לָקֹב אֹיְבַי קְרָאתִיךָ, וְהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתָּ בָרֵךְ, זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים. Again Balak isn’t going to kill Bil’am, he is just rather annoyed.

I agree, these are my only examples out of 28 instances where most are of the “God was really angry and smote them” type, but that’s what tends to happen when the Tanakh explains that God was angry. However it does show that the term”ויחר אף” does not need to mean particularly violent anger. It can just mean regular anger.

Come to think of it how does the Tanakh say “anger” in other words than”ויחר אף”? Maybe just that people/God who are angry at all in the Tanakh are generally those who are in a position and diposition to cause a great deal of damage? Any suggestions?

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I now know why I am still reading Liora Ravid’s book “HaTanakh Hayah BeEmet” (התנ”ך היה באמת). See my previous posts about her book here and here. She keeps making the most preposterous mistakes and outrageous claims but in order to check that I am in fact correct she is sending me back to the texts and making me think about why she is wrong.
The latest problem is chapter 10. All of it. This chapter explains the chronology of Jacob’s sojourn with his uncle Lavan in Haran. Her thesis goes like this. The text says that Ya’akov worked for seven years fo Rahel, got Leah, worked another seven for Rahel, this time got Rahel. Only then did Leah start giving birth. In the next six years 11 children were born. She has two problems with this. Firstly the ages of the Rahel and Leah where she assumes they were aged 8 and 9 at the start of the story and would therefore have been aged 24 and 25 when they started giving birth – which in those days was very late. Secondly physically fitting so many births into such a short time would be impossible and alternatively if you extend the period of time of the births they get way to old to have children. Therefore she cuts the amount of time that Ya’akov worked for each of them and gets to something more reasonable. She then claims that 7 being a magical important number doesn’t need to be understood literally.

All very good, only her analysis is based on a misreading (did she even read it?) of the text.

The story goes thus. Gen 29:18-22 describe how Ya’akov works seven years for Rahel, verses 23-26 tell of Lavan’s deception by switching Rahel for Leah, Ya’akov’s indignation and Lavan’s mild amusement. Verse 27 then says this:

כז מַלֵּא שְׁבֻעַ זֹאת וְנִתְּנָה לְךָ גַּם-אֶת-זֹאת בַּעֲבֹדָה אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲבֹד עִמָּדִי עוֹד שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת.  כח וַיַּעַשׂ יַעֲקֹב כֵּן וַיְמַלֵּא שְׁבֻעַ זֹאת וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ אֶת-רָחֵל בִּתּוֹ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.  כט וַיִּתֵּן לָבָן לְרָחֵל בִּתּוֹ אֶת-בִּלְהָה שִׁפְחָתוֹ לָהּ לְשִׁפְחָה.  ל וַיָּבֹא גַּם אֶל-רָחֵל וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם-אֶת-רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה וַיַּעֲבֹד עִמּוֹ עוֹד שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת.

Or in English:

27 Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the work that you do for me for another seven years. 28 And Ya’akov did so, and fulfilled her week; and he (Lavan) gave him (Ya’akov) Rahel his daughter as a wife. 29 And Lavan gave to Rahel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her handmaid. 30 And he (Ya’akov) alsocame to Rahel, and he loved Rahel more than Leah, and served with him another seven years.

Quite clear. After the first seven years he gets Leah, then seven days later Rahel, then he works another seven years.

The next problem is what happens after the end of the 14 years. In Gen 31:41 Ya’akov says “These twenty years have I been in thy house: I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock and you changed my wages ten times”. That’s OK, only it says in 30:25 that after Yosef was born Ya’akov went to Lavan and requested a wage for continuing to work for him. The implication is that this is where the second seven years ended and the further six started.

What’s the problem? Well the first problem is that Ravid ignores this and assumes that the text is saying that all the children were born in that six years (according to her misunderstanding, he only got Rahel at the end of the 14th year and only then did Leah start giving birth). She says this is impossible.

YaakovsChildrenIn7The other problem is that if we go according to the correct reading we are still only left with seven years for all these children to be born. This is not impossible as the chart on the right shows (click it to enlarge) but not easy. The chart is based on the text giving the order of births as presented. I am assuming here (a very unlikely) 9 months only between births for each mother. I will also assume that there is no necessary connection between birtyhs by different mothers. Thus when Rahel saw that Leah was giving birth and she wasn’t it doesn’t necessarily mean that this was after the birth of Yehudah, only that Dan was born after Yehudah. This is not enitirely necessary as it is possible that the Torah just wants to finish with one story (Leah’s births) before it starts then next, but let’s leave it as it is. In any case we need a large gap between Yehudah and Yissakhar as “Leah saw she ahd stopped giving birth” before she gave Zilpah to her husband and she had two children before Yissakhar.

In any case, the whole scenario is still rather tenuous.

The key to the door that will give us our way out would be the statement by Ya’akov that I quoted above that Lavan switched his wages ten times. The text does not list these ten times, so maybe the conversation between Ya’akov and Lavan starting at 30:25 was not necessarily at the fourteenth year.

What I am suggesting is that during his long stay in Haran, Ya’akov had become one of Lavan’s household and that after completing his 14 years, he was working for the family not for any specific wage. When he wants to leave he comes to request a severance grant. This is in my opinion supported by the text (Gen 30:25-35):

כה וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה רָחֵל אֶת-יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-לָבָן שַׁלְּחֵנִי וְאֵלְכָה אֶל-מְקוֹמִי וּלְאַרְצִי.  כו תְּנָה אֶת-נָשַׁי וְאֶת-יְלָדַי אֲשֶׁר עָבַדְתִּי אֹתְךָ בָּהֵן וְאֵלֵכָה  כִּי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֶת-עֲבֹדָתִי אֲשֶׁר עֲבַדְתִּיךָ.  כז וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לָבָן אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ נִחַשְׁתִּי וַיְבָרְכֵנִי יְהוָה בִּגְלָלֶךָ.  כח וַיֹּאמַר  נָקְבָה שְׂכָרְךָ עָלַי וְאֶתֵּנָה.  כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר עֲבַדְתִּיךָ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה מִקְנְךָ אִתִּי.  ל כִּי מְעַט אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לְךָ לְפָנַי וַיִּפְרֹץ לָרֹב וַיְבָרֶךְ יְהוָה אֹתְךָ לְרַגְלִי וְעַתָּה מָתַי אֶעֱשֶׂה גַם-אָנֹכִי לְבֵיתִי.  לאוַיֹּאמֶר מָה אֶתֶּן-לָךְ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לֹא-תִתֶּן-לִי מְאוּמָה אִם-תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אָשׁוּבָה אֶרְעֶה צֹאנְךָ אֶשְׁמֹר.  לב אֶעֱבֹר בְּכָל-צֹאנְךָ הַיּוֹם הָסֵר מִשָּׁם כָּל-שֶׂה נָקֹד וְטָלוּא וְכָל-שֶׂה-חוּם בַּכְּשָׂבִים וְטָלוּא וְנָקֹד בָּעִזִּים וְהָיָה שְׂכָרִי.

Nowhere is it suggested that he will work for six years, but rather that he will get a wage for work already done. Ya’akov then spends a season or two “engineering” spotted sheep and then gets out. This assumption will allow us to extend the period of time where the children are being born.

YaakovsChildrenIn13The new chart on the right shows this new timeline. Here I am asuming 1.5 years between births. I am also assuming that Leah seeing she wasn’t giving birth means she waited a year before giving Zilpah. The only liberty I am taking is to disregard the order that Dinah was born in. My assumption is that it is not important to the teller only that she was Leah’s last child, not that she was necessarily born before Yosef. If we insist on her being born before Yosef,  then we can do that as well.

In my new timeline Ya’akov has two years to do his spotted sheep stuff and amass his herd. If we make the births closer then we can give him more time for that, but let’s leave it like that.

Anyway in conclusion what I can say is that the chronology here is a bit tight whichever way you go. Tzarikh Iyun as they say. I can also say that I have confirmed once more that Liora Ravid doesn’t know her Tanakh.

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I am still persevering with the book “HaTanakh Hayah BeEmet” by Dr. Liora Ravid (התנ”ך היה באמת) that I wrote about a couple of days ago. But I’m not sure for how long.

Turns out that not only does she misquote Tanakh but she also has some strange ideas about theology. Admittedly as she is not a religious person, this is forgivable but I would have expected her to keep her misunderstandings to herself.

Chapter 7 discusses “The Concept of Fertility in the Ancient World”. She explains that pagan gods were a bunch of freeloaders who liked partying and eating offerings sent them by humans. In return they ocassionally gave gifts to the humans but more often than not just ignored them. Superficial but so far so good.

She then describes the Hebrew God as being similar in many aspects (that he liked eating offerings) but seeing as he was alone he didn’t party much and was attributed with being the God of pure justice. Only justice. Thus if Sarah was barren it was seen as being her fault. HaZaL certainly didn’t understand it that way. She points out herself that the book of Job challenges her view but doesn’t take the hint that therefore she may be wrong. God is seen as being a God of justice, mercy, retribution, testing, rewarding, etc, etc. He has a rather complex character. certainly more complex than what Dr Ravid suggests.

In contrast, an interesting point she develops in chapter 8 is that Sarah’s infertility was probably a direct result of the conditions she endured in her 20 year journey and that it is no coincidence that she got pregnant only after they settled down in Hebron after completing their journey. She complains that Sarah’s infertility is seen as a test of Avraham and not of Sarah – obviously because of the patriarchal view of the “writers of the Tanakh”, whereas it was a incredible trial for her as well. Point taken although I think that the Torah would support viewing her as being tested as well, though she would appear not to have passed with flying colors (Gen 18:12-15).

However an interesting perspective I thought of is that Avraham knew full well that Sarah’s infertility was a result of their living conditions but still continued their twenty year journey and trusted in God that he would make good with his promise. Otherwise what test is there in the infertility? To have a test there must be an action that he could have done differently (and fail). This was the test.

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להלן הערות על הספר התנ”ך היה באמת מאת ד”ר ליאורה רביד (בסידרה “יהדות כאן ועכשיו”, ידיעות ספרים וספרי חמד 2009). עוד לא קראתי את כל הספר, אבל הגעתי לקטע שמראה לדעתי חוסר הבנה וידיעה של המחברת ורציתי לרשום את הדברים כשהם עוד תריים בראש. המשך הדברים באנגלית ועמכם הסליחה.

For those of you who didn’t understand the above introduction, I am currently reading a book called HaTaNaKh Hayah BeEmet (התנ”ך היה באמת) or in English “The Bible Really Happened” by Dr. Liora Ravid (Yediyot Sefarim and Sifrei Hemed, 2009).

The book is published as part of the “Yahadut Kaan VeAkhshav’ series and is an popular academic kind of work written by a non-religious doctor of Bible studies. The book is aimed at the non-religious audience who are not necessarily conversant with the Bible. It’s stated aim is to discuss the the various stories in the Bible and show how they are congruous with the habits, customs and lifestyles of the ancient near East and that the places mentioned existed and to tell about them. She points out at various junctures where she believes the Bible is guilty of exageration or plain lying and where she is of the opinion that later scribes embellished or distorted the original story (which she believes to be mainly conceivably true). An interesting book.

The first few chapters discuss Avraham’s journey from Ur to Kena’an via Haran and with an excursion to Egypt. I found these chapter insightful and interesting.

Then I got to chapter 5 – “Terah and his Family – a Family Profile”. Here she puts forward a theory that Terah‘s family was already in Ur in a bad way socially because we can see that Avraham married his half-sister and Nahor married his niece. This is not normal and shows that the family must have been isolated. So far so good.

She then get into a discussion about the nature of Isurei Biyah and ‘Arayot (forbidden sexual relationships) and here she goes completely off track.

She tries to put forward an evolutionary theory that the prohibition of adultery in Shemot 20:13 precedes chronologically the ‘Arayot (incest) in Vayikra 18 which predate the ‘Arayot and Issurei Biyah in Devarim 24 (which were written in her opinion much later). On this she then builds her case that the laws were widened as time went by and as the number of available women went up. In Avraham’s time the number of women was very low so he could do what he wants, at the Exodus it was higher and then later on even higher so more ‘Arayot were added.

The first problem is in her understanding of Tumah (impurity) and how it relates to forbidden sexual relations and how it relates to the Land. She puts forward some idea that the forbidden marriages exude an impurity (almost something physical) that soaks into the Land thus causing God to be angry with those that defile the Land. This is a very simplistic and superficial way of looking at it. All corruption defiles the Land as we can see from various places including Devarim 24 talking about using inaccurate measures in trade. The Land being holy cannot stand corrupt or disgusting behavior on it that dirties it and therefore it ejects the perpetrators of the behavior.

The next problem is that she puts ‘Arayot in the same basket with the prohibition of marrying Canaanite, Moabite, Amonite and Egyptian women (page 72). She even claims that the text does this which is false as the text in Devarim 23 (4-10) quite clearly gives historical reasons for not marrying those peoples and never classes them as abominations. It is talking about allowing these people to join the community, not discussing sexual abomination. Not only that, but the text quite explicitly permits Egyptian women (after three generations from the Exodus) as opposed to the others she mentions, and I couldn’t find the prohibition of marrying Kena’aniot at all. 

Not only that, but there is the issue of how Bo’az could marry Ruth. The Midrash explains that “Ploni Almoni” didn’t want to marry her because he was worried about her being Moabitess, but Boaz explained that you can only not marry a Moabite (if you are a woman that is) but you can marry a Moabitess (as a man). This admittedly is a later Midrash, but certainly a big question on Ravid’s theory of evolution of ‘Arayot. According to her, this marriage should have been forbidden.

So what do we have? Not only are these marriages not ‘Arayot, but they are not concerning most of the nations she mentions and not only that, but they only relate to marrying Jewish women to men from the remaining nations and not women.

She then goes on (page 72) to claim that Moshe married an Egyptian woman when in fact Tzipora was Midianite (although there is a Midrash that has Yitro as an adviser to Par’oh). Later she berates Shlomo for defiling the Temple he built by the act of marrying foreign women whereas what the text says (Melakhim I 11) is that the women defiled it with their pagan practices.

She then explains (page 74) that Avraham could marry his half-sister because his choices were few and similarly to marry the Egyptian Hagar as could Yosef marry Asnat (although the historical prohibition of marrying an Egyptian woman was irelevant at those times). She says the same for Yehuda marrying the daughter of Shua’ and Moshe marrying the (this time) Midianite Tzipora. She claims (page 74) that the “writers of the Tanakh” would have condemned them all if they had lived in a later age. I doubt it, because no evidence is presented that they caused their husbands to go astray, and that is the criterion not the actual marriage.

The final nail in the coffin is the description of the episode of Lot and his daughters. First she claims they were rescued because they were righteous (page 74) whereas the text says specifically that they were only rescued for Avraham’s sake (19:29).  She claims that the Torah does not censure Lot’s daughters and therefore shows that it approves of this incestuous relationship. I would suggest that it does not censure them because they were not descendants of Avraham, so it doesn’t see a need to. As she herself agrees, this just proves how corrupt the Moabites and Amonites are and therefore it serves its purpose without the need for explicit censure.

Bottom line; doctor or no doctor, I think she needs to go back, check her sources and reformulate her theory.

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Joshua Berman just published a new essay on his site in which he more or less summarizes his book “Created Equal” and then proposes a “watchmaker argument” for the existence of God that firstly the intellectual quantum leap to come up with Jewish theology in the ancient world was just too big, secondly the theology serves no interest group, so who would have promoted it and thirdly that whoever wrote the Torah didn’t sign on it or leave any evidence of his existence which is unlike what people tend to do.

Personally I don’t like this kind of argument. What is obvious to one person is not obvious to another and presenting the case for the existence of God or a god as a probability exercise, I think rather misses the point.

God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven. In fact should he exist, then his existence would not be what we call an existence. A transcendental omnipotent everlasting will/intellect/conscience that is everywhere yet nowhere both within and without of the dimensions of space and time – and even there I haven’t even touched on what he really is. Any concept you have of him is pitifully partial and a metaphor. Proving God’s existence is unhelpful religiously, pointless scientifically and in my opinion unnecessary to the man of faith who integrates God’s messages to his life. If I was waiting for divine retribution or reward I would have given up doing mitzvot long ago.

Reading Berman’s book I came to a different conclusion. To me it seemed all of a sudden more understandable where the Torah was coming from and why it is the way it is. It is the state political manifesto of a nomadic people who believe in independence and dignity and reject hierarchical tyranny. An antithesis of all political thought before it.

The Torah is truly a remarkable document way ahead of its time and revolutionary to this day. The interest group that it served were the non stratified nomad clans that comprised the Hebrew public and were determined not to create another Egypt. The fact that “authors” of the Torah remain anonymous is just witness to the greatness of the vision of a divinely ordained code of equality for a divinely freed nation servant to no other than their God and to which no human can sign his name.

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