Tuesday, February 13, 2018


#1 Aztec "national revelation"

There is another type of story that would not leave evidence for the audience to whom the story is told. This is a story placed so far in the past that no information survives from that time. In this case the story may involve public events. Even if the story describes an event that was supposedly experienced by the whole world, the audience cannot reason that its memory would have been preserved, since nothing at all was preserved from that time. So, for example, stories about a remote time when all people understood the language of the animals and conversed with them will not contradict KP. [See p. 154 of Reason to Believe.]

The Aztec story is not dated in our calendar system, so it fits what I wrote. Also, I checked the original. The migration is in fact true. 

I have received the following sources from David Greenberg that invalidate the entire question:

I found something on the Aztecs:

It seems the Aztec legend is NOT that the god spoke to everyone in a national revelation, but rather that the war god communicated to the priests, who then relayed the message on. Not quite a national revelation. Here are 3 sources:

See pg. 31-32: "Huitzilopochtli, later identified as a god of war, communicated directly with his high priests via dreams and profound trances, bestowing on them omens, prophecies and navigational tools to arrive at their promised land."

2- "These priests voiced Huitzilopochtli’s oracular directions as to where the combined Mexica-Aztec tribe was next to travel."

3- "Huitziton, a person of great authority...heard in the branches of a tree the trilling of a small bird...struck at this, and communicating his impressions to another personage...they both induced the Aztecs to leave their country, interpreting the song as a mandate from divinity."

See pg. 140

So it looks that the Aztec belief was that their war god did not communicate to the people, but rather to the high priests, who then relayed the claimed divine message on to the masses. But according to these sources, the Aztecs did not have a legend that it was the god Huitzilopochtli who spoke directly to everybody. So we can see this is definitely not a national revelation from god, but rather a relayed message from priests. This, unlike a national revelatory claim, is exactly what we’d expect to see in legends.

Added July 3, 2017;
There are three weaknesses in the account of the Aztec “national revelation” as a counter-example to KP – i.e. as a false NET.
1.       First, the translation presented is from A Scattering of Jades published in 2003 by The University of Arizona Press, pp 82-100. It is not mentioned at all in Handbook to Life in the Aztec World Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 3, 2007) by Prof. Manuel Aguilar –published four years later by Oxford. I have written to Prof. Aguilar concerning the authenticity of the Jades text and the validity of the translation and have not yet received a reply. So at present the entire text is in question. And as David Greenberg pointed out there is nothing resembling a direct communication of a god with the Aztec people in Aguilar’s text.
2.     Second, in order to satisfy the condition of NET that requires the tradition record an event that would be expected to be remembered – to create a national tradition – at the time when the tradition started. This requires [at least] two characteristics of the tradition.  
a.    The tradition must specify an appropriate time for the event. If the tradition assigns the event to a date too far in the past, or the tradition assigns an unknown/uninterpreted date to the event, or fails to assign any date to the event then at the time the tradition is formed no one will expect to remember what happened at that time, and then the tradition is not an NET at all. In the Jades document the dates are given as compounds: In section VI "2-rabbit 1286" "11-reed 1295" and at the end "2-house 1325". I asked Prof. Aguilar what is the source of the modern dates 1286, 1295 and 1325? Did the author of the text [in the 16th century] have a modern calendar going back 200 years? Did the translator or the editors insert the modern numbers of the dates? How did they calculate the dates? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar is the Wikipedia page on the Aztec calendar. The phrases “2-rabbit” “11-reed” and “2-house” are days of the year; there is no provision whatsoever for counting years themselves – certainly not modern Christian numbers.
b.    Also, the content of the story must be such that we expect it to create a national tradition. A comparison of the Aztec text with the Torah’s description of the Jewish national revelation reveals a vast difference in this regard: the Torah’s story would surely be remembered while the Aztec story would not surely be remembered – perhaps would not be remembered at all. The Torah’s story included the following elements:  A prediction of the revelation before the exodus from Egypt; detailed instructions to prepare for the event, and positions to be taken during the event; the event of revelation is accompanied by vast pyrotechnics – fire, smoke, cloud, earth shaking, sound of the shofar; the reaction of the people is panic; the revelation includes the commandment of a weekly holiday; the plea of the people that there not be a repeat; repetition of the story in detail in Deuteronomy and at least five separate mentions of the story in the text of the Torah; and a specific command not to forget the event. By contrast the Aztec story reports the god speaking to the people in completely natural terms without any reaction on the part of the people or change in their culture. Indeed, the completely unemphasized nature of the narrative encourages David Greenberg’s suggestion that the sense of the text is not a direct communication from the god to the people but rather communication through the priests though the intermediaries are not mentioned. Calling these communications “Aztec national revelation” and encouraging comparison with Sinai is grossly out of proportion. The same holds for the miracles reported in the Aztec text – the contrast with the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the manna, the destruction of Korach makes comparison grossly out of proportion.

Added July 17, 2017


The Aztec and related peoples of central Mexico employed the cycle of 52 years, constructed, like its Maya equivalent, of concurrent 365-day years and 260-day cycles, any position of the former coinciding with a given position of the latter only at 52-year intervals. Again leap days were not used. At completion of the 52 years, known as “binding of the years,” elaborate ceremonies were held to avert destruction of the world expected on that occasion. The last occurrence before the Spanish conquest was in ad 1507. Although the last creation of the world was designated by a day name, neither that nor any other was in general use in central Mexico as the start of an era. Aztec reckoning is normally from their arrival in the Valley of Mexico, supposedly the year 1 Flint (ad 1168).
There is much confusion in placing events in Mexican history because no system of distinguishing one 52-year cycle from another was employed except by writing every year glyph throughout the period covered, a clumsy arrangement. Each year was named for either its last day (omitting the five-day unlucky period) or for the last day of the fifth month (both choices have distinguished supporters). In either case, only four day names (House, Rabbit, Cane, and Flint), each with its accompanying numeral, could designate a year. The Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés seized the Aztec capital in 1521, year 3 House, but some past event, also assigned to a year 3 House but unlocated in a full sequence of years, might refer to ad 1261, 1313, or 1365, etc. Month positions were rarely given in chronological statements.
Peoples of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Pictorial books of the Mixtec of Oaxaca record events in the lives of ruling families covering seven centuries, but, again, happenings are fixed only by the day on which each occurred and the year in which the day fell. Sequence is usually clear, but at times there is doubt as to which 52-year period is meant when parenthetical material, such as life histories of secondary characters, is inserted.
No era is recognizable. A clouded entry concerning the descent to Earth of the Sun and Venus, perhaps assignable to ad 794, is a logical starting point, but other entries are earlier.
Little is known of the calendar of the Zapotec, neighbours of the Mixtec. Years began on a different set of days, and glyphs differ from those of Mixtec and Aztec. Months are not recorded on monuments, which are numerous, and no chronological system has survived. Most Zapotec texts are early.
Rare inscriptions in western Chiapas, southern Veracruz, and the Guatemalan Pacific coast resemble the abbreviated lowland Maya Initial Series used in script and on a single sculpture in that numerical bars and dots are in a vertical column with period glyphs and month signs suppressed, clearly place numeration, that is, the value of each unit was shown by its position in the column. The linguistic affiliation of their sculptors is unknown.
All texts are either fragmentary or damaged; the two complete ones, unlike Maya Initial Series, open with days signs (and different ones at that). If, as one may reasonably assume, the series of bars and dots departed from those day signs, a fixed era is questionable. Nevertheless, some scholars postulate use of the Maya era ( 4 Ahau 8 Cumku). This little understood system may have been ancestral to the Maya Initial Series, the Maya perhaps developing a fixed era, for they alone seem to have been interested in an exact chronological system.

Added July 30, 2017:
A friend writes: It's worth mentioning that I searched a bit on youtube, and the only documentary on the Aztecs that I found which was done by an organization with name recognition was National Geographic. Professor Aguilar-Moreno is actually one of the experts that speaks during the documentary. The documentary makes no mention of the document allegedly authored by Montezuma's grandson, and it makes no mention of any Aztec myths about a national revelation or miracles. It simply says that after they made a human sacrifice out of the daughter of a nearby tribe leader on her wedding day to an Aztec, they were chased by the other tribe away from the mainland and onto the uninhabited island that they settled and made into the capital of their eventual empire. No mention of any fighting or casualties even, just chased away from the mainland. So that further strengthens points 1 and 3 that you make.

#2 The Fatima Vision

Added June 3, 2018
Revised June 4, 2018

My comments in double brackets [[]].

Kuzari Argument Part 13
Updated 7/14/2017 for several typos for the date of the Sun miracle.

This is  a continuation of of my Kuzari Posts begun here.  It might be helpful to skim my prior Kuzari argument posts, but this post is more or less a stand alone, at least for people who have some familiarity with the Kuzari argument.

This post will flesh out an alleged  miracle and it’s consequences I very briefly cited in June  2014.

Lets examine one version of the Kuzari 'proof' that the Exodus with all the miracles and the Sinai revelation really occurred.

Rabbi Gottlieb (RG) Principle: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred.

This can be briefly restated as: If  people believe an event occurred, then evidence must exist for the event's occurrence.

[[Let’s call the last paragraph AK.

This is a gross mistake: RG and AK are very different in content. AK implies that if people believe that Muhammad ascended to the sky on a fiery horse, there must be evidence that he did. RG does not imply this. His mistake is to leave out the qualification: “event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence.” Muhammad’s ascent does not meet this condition.A great deal of his argument below is undone by this mistake.

In addition, he has omitted the rationale for RG. Since this will be important below I will insert here material from previous publications.

From Living p to the Truth 8 years ago:


   Now let’s examine the principle itself. What kind of principle is this?  At base it is a principle of empirical psychology.  It is a principle describing  how people come to believe things. It says that under certain conditions, beliefs won’t form.  People will not come to believe in events that the Kuzari’s principle forbids. 
        Why should we accept this principle?  After all, everything relies on this principle.  Could we defeat it?  Here is one way not to go about it.  We should not say: “You are telling me that just because it is an event that if it had happened would have left behind enormous, easily available  evidence, that you can’t get people to believe it?  I don’t think that is right.  I can imagine very well that a very influential priesthood, or a very powerful leader, or a person whom you would think has magical powers, convincing people to believe in even things like that.  I don’t think there is any limit to what the populace can believe.  I think I could even write a very convincing novel describing such a case and get it published.” 
     Does your ability to imagine such a case defeat the principle?  The answer is no.  This is a principle about real people in the real world.  The principle doesn’t say anything about your imagination.  People can imagine all sorts of things.  They can even imagine impossible things. People have imagined squaring a circle;     it just happens to be mathematically impossible.  I know people who imagine machines that run without loss of any energy.  There are people who design them every year.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that it is impossible, yet they do it anyway. 
      The limits are on your imagination are is of no interest.  The question is: Do real people in the real world accept beliefs like that?  The only way to defeat the Kuzari’s principle is to find real cases.  Real cases of communities that have come to believe events which if they had happened would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence, and didn’t happen, and therefore the evidence wasn’t present.  I have never yet come across such an event, nothing even remotely resembling such an event. 
From Introduction to the Kuzari Principle three years ago:
    The conclusive reason that the critic’s story is unacceptable is this. Even if it were plausible, that does not mean that it really happened that way. Many ideas are intuitively plausible and turn out to be wrong. It was plausible that the earth is flat and stationary. It was plausible that the heavens always existed. It was plausible that no machine heavier than air can fly. All these ideas turned out to be false. So plausibility is not enough. We need reason to think that the gradual transformation really caused the belief in national revelation.
            What kind of reason could that be? The very best reason would be direct evidence that it happened that way. We might for example discover the diary of the deceivers that created the story. But that is very unlikely. So we will have to settle for indirect evidence.
            How much evidence can we ask for? Here it depends upon what the critic claims. If he claims only that his scenario [or any alternative scenario] is possible, then we should agree with him: we set no limits on what is possible. But we do not have to give up our position due to other possibilities – no matter what you believe there are always other possibilities. Only if the critic claims that his scenario [or an alternative] is probable does he present a real challenge to our position. How much evidence must he produce to justify his claim that his scenario [or some alternative] is probable?
The very minimum indirect evidence would be for the critic to find some cases in which we know that this type of transformation did in fact happen. If he can prove that it has happened in some cases, then he can say that it is reasonable to think it happened here too. On the other hand, suppose he cannot find any cases in which his explanation is known to have worked. Then he is saying that something that no one has ever seen happen is the explanation of the belief in Sinai. That is unacceptable.
So here is the challenge to the critic. You say that the belief in Sinai was produced by a gradual transformation of a natural event. And this transformation happened in spite of the fact that the belief in Sinai is an event that would be very hard to forget. You need to show us somewhere this has happened – somewhere a natural transformation of a natural event produced a false belief in an event equally unlikely to be forgotten.
            [And – finally! - this is the answer to our persistent critic in the brackets. You say that perhaps our claimed self-knowledge is a mistake. Perhaps we are more impressionable than we think. Perhaps we would accept false stories that would be rarely forgotten. Well, the only way to see whether we are so impressionable is to find real cases in which we have accepted such stories. If you find real cases, then we will admit that it is a natural part of our psychology to accept such stories. But if you cannot find any real cases, then we will have overwhelming evidence that our psychology works the way we say – we will not accept stories that are rarely forgotten.]
            Here the critic meets a major problem. There are no parallel beliefs at all. There are no beliefs in fictitious national events of a kind that would be rarely forgotten. So the critic will not be able to show us cases in which his gradual transformation process produced such a belief.
            This is surprising, but true. In all the myths that people believed, or still believe, not one is a national event that would be rarely forgotten. The critic cannot show us even one case where his transformation produced such a belief, because there are no such beliefs.
            [So we are not impressionable as the brackets critic claimed. There are no known cases of a nation accepting a belief in a false story about a national event of a type that would be hard to forget.]
            So, as we said at the beginning of this section, there is no reason whatsoever to think that the critic’s explanation has ever worked. Therefore it is unreasonable to think that it is the real explanation in the case of the national revelation at Sinai.
(End of insert.)
It is also a fact that there I move to the formulation of a national tradition which is central in my Book Reason to Believe. I will not stress that change here.]]

[RG means to say a mass of people. RG does not mean if a only a few people.]

Lets try to apply this principle to the ‘Event’ = On October 13,1917 in Fatima, Portugal:
The Sun miraculously  danced or performed other miracles in the Sky. Other miraculous things occurred:  wet clothes became suddenly and completely dry; wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling became dry.”

The main source I will use is the book The Sun Danced - Myth, Miracles, and Modernity by Jeffrey S. Bennett 2012.  He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Religious studies.  Some Sociologists study origins of myths, their evolution, use in society etc: Such disciplines have much more relevance to religion and myth formation as opposed to Math or Philosophy or Math Philosophy.

[[For specialists in debate: this is meant to discredit my qualifications on this subject. But of course I never appeal to my qualifications: my arguments must stand on their own.]]

Beginning in the spring of 1917, three  shepherd children living near Fatima reported apparitions of an Angel, and apparitions of the Virgin Mary, who the children described as the Lady of Fátima. They also claimed a miracle would occur.

Page 113 -  The children claimed a miracle would occur in order that all should believe.  70000 to 100000 people gathered near the children. [ I have seen sources that had figures as low as 30000. There was a large mass of people at the event.]

Page 116 - And indeed an alleged supernatural events happen on  10/13/1917 “For the vast majority of those present, there was no doubt that something supernatural had occurred.” 

[[Here is a crucial mistake in logic. At no point do I say, imply, suggest, hint or otherwise indicate the judgment of the witnesses as to whether the event was a miracle. In my view that is irrelevant. All I take from the witnesses is their account of what they experienced. It is our judgment that the described phenomena are miraculous. They say the mountain was aflame, the ground was shaking under their feet, there was cloud and smoke, the sound of a shofar, and they all heard a voice. It is our judgment that if they really experienced all of that it was a miracle.

Similarly, we should accept the testimony that they saw something happen in the sky that astonished them and created the impression of a miracle. Since they do not report (so far as I have seen) how long the vision lasted, and how long they were in an ecstatic state afterwards, there is no difficulty in accepting their statement that the wet ground and clothes became dry. It is then up to us to decide whether having that experience is evidence that a miracle occurred.

And note that a vision of a religious figure is claimed only for the three children. The tens of thousands see astonishing behavior of the sun and perhaps other items in the sky. There is no reason to doubt that some natural phenomena can cause such an experience.]]

[I want to stress some very important points. We have eyewitness testimony of thousands who believe that something miraculous occurred at Fatima, just like Kuzari proponents claim there were eyewitnesses at Mt Sinai. But there is a big difference. We actually know for a fact that there were many thousands at Fatima who claimed something supernatural occurred, while we have no evidence of anybody even being at Mt Sinai.]

[[If you understand that the basis of RG is the absence of any examples of false traditions of our type, then you understand that we don’t need evidence of the number of people who witnessed the event.]]

If you read the book it describes more mythology develops around the story: For example Page 167 - 168 Hundreds of sick and dying came to the apparition site for miracle cures and alleged success stories circulate - many more come.

[[But not all at the same time……….]]

 Claims that soil from the site cure people. Page 178 A bomb placed beside the azinheira failed to explode.  (Page 94 Azinheira - an oak tree - apparitions had occurred there. See my post Tree animism in the Bible ).  Page 120 Vandals cut down the Azinheira or so they think ! They cut the wrong tree down a sign God protects it and his people from anti-clerics.

[[None of these stories describes an experience of large numbers of people. So they are irrelevant to an evaluation of RG.]]

[I have no doubt many people at the site  did not accept the miracle of the sun.  But is that really relevant ? We don’t know every alleged witness to Mt Sinai accepted it was a revelation from G-d.  Besides the RG Principle does not require every person accept the story. For the Sun Miracle the vast majority of witnesses believed that on October 13, 1917 the supernatural had occurred. Can thousands of eyewitnesses  be wrong ?

[[Of course they can – if they are offering a speculative judgment about an event. But for RG that is not the issue. He should ask: can thousands of people be wrong about the description that they looked at the sky and saw something that astounded them and created the impression of a miracle? I am inclined to agree they cannot be wrong about that. Likewise our witnesses cannot be wrong about the descriptions of what they witnessed.]]

 Moreover the fact that some at Fatima experienced the supernatural event somewhat differently does not disprove the event.  Eyewitness testimony is like that, and perhaps God chose some to see  the miracle one way and others to see it somewhat differently.]

Page 124 The apparition claims spread beyond the local sphere, becoming translocal and national-level realities. 

[[This certainly does not mean that on the occasion in question, or on a subsequent occasion, there was an internationally witnessed vision. I don’t know what it means since I do not have the book. But it seems it must be irrelevant to RG.]]

Page 1 More than twenty million participate in the apparition cult. Every year several million travel from around the world to the apparition site.  The Sun miraculously danced proving the children visions were of divine origin.

The miracle is sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

The story eventually is used to fight communism. 

[[All of this is irrelevant to RG.]]

Page 4 - It is a National Miracle

[[From the detailed description given above this is flatly false.]]

Page 117 Accounts of the miracle are passed down as family history. [Just like the Sinai story was allegedly passed down from alleged witnesses to an alleged  supernatural seminal event to their children. Would my father lie to me about the supernatural events of October 13, 1917 ?  Plus, thousands of children hear other children talk about the supernatural events of October 13, 1917 as those other children heard from their Uncles or Fathers. And so after many generation millions believe the miracles of October 13, 1917. If millions believe a supernatural event can millions be wrong ?]

[[Of course they can, and RG clearly allows this. Only AK is in trouble here, not RG.]]

[What is interesting about the story: The children had  primed people for the anticipation of a miracle. Many of the witnesses  already  believed in the supernatural already. {And as I have written in my prior Kuzari posts priming of the witnesses and prior belief in supernatural by the witnesses were also present at the alleged Mt Sinai event.}  The story is rooted in religious and political subdivisions in 1917 and earlier Portugal. {Could the the Mt Sinai story have similar kinds of roots - religious and political subdivision amongst the ancient Israelites ? Propaganda purposes for one reason or another ?} The intertwining of a popular religious movement with Portugal History and the appropriation of a religious movement for political purposes and the cults relationship to the rise of Authoritarianism Politics. {hmm}. Religions and Mythology don’t develop or operate in a vacuum like  Event--------> Belief in Miracle/Religion/Mythology. It is a much more nuanced as the book explains for this Fatima miracle.] The Miracle of the Sun is UNIQUE as far as I know.
If it is so easy to fool people with a Sun miracle why have
not other religions made use of it ? And arguably is was a Nation
changing event for  Portugal and was used to fight communism. It
must be a true miracle. Convinced ?

[[Let’s summarize his argument and its refutation.

He starts with AK and describes an event that is believed by millions of people – an event we assume did not happen. The event is the miraculous appearance in the sky witnessed by tens of thousands of people. Millions of people believe it happened. Now AK says that if a large number of people believe an event happened then they must have had evidence that it happened (and indeed it must have happened).  But he assumes we agree that they had no evidence of a miracle and that no miracle took place, so AK must be wrong.

And so it is: AK is definitely wrong. But as I pointed out above, RG is not the same as AK. In particular, RG only applies to an event that we would expect to leave behind enormous easily available evidence of its occurrence.  Let’s try to apply his argument to RG.

The first thing to note (as I mentioned above several times) that there are two different events in question here.

A.   The experience of the people of a phenomenon in the sky that awed and inspired them and appeared to them miraculous.
B.   G-d caused the phenomenon in the sky miraculously.

Let’s now try his argument for each event separately.

A: Would the event of tens of thousands of people having a vision that inspired them and seemed to them to be a miracle be expected to leave behind enormous easily available evidence? Sure! The people will tell it to others and a great many will believe that it happened. And that is indeed what happened. And therefore millions of people believe that event A happened. And they are right – event A really did happen.

B: Would the event of G-d causing the phenomenon in the sky be expected to leave behind enormous easily available evidence of its occurrence? Not at all. We believe that G-d is causing many things all the time in a hidden manner. [Even the people who had the vision believe that.] B is a free add-on to A without any expected evidence of its own. That being the case, RG says nothing about people believing it. Thus their believing it is no challenge to RG.

Are you convinced that he has refuted RG?]]

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Kings II - the found sefer

Kings 2, chapters 22-3
The discovery of a sefer in the Temple and the resulting reform eliminating the widespread avoda zara [idol worship] in Israel has prompted some to think that during the period of avoda zara there must have been a complete loss of the original tradition. The newly found sefer must be introducing a new ideology/religion. Some think that this is the origin of sefer Devarim [Deuteronomy]. And then they conclude that since at least in this case the old tradition was completely lost, we have no reason to think that our tradition, which goes back certainly no farther than this incident, represents a tradition from Moses.  Indeed, they say, if the tradition was forgotten on this occasion, it may have been forgotten on other occasions as well.
We should note that the suggestion that the found sefer is the book of Devarim is directly contradicted by earlier references. Namely:
Kings II 14: 1- 6
     Amatz-yah of Yehuda, son of Yoash, became king in the second year of King Yoash.  He did what was pleasing to G-d, but not like his ancestor David....  After consolidating his hold on the kingdom, he put the servants who had assassinated his father, the king, to death.   However, he did not put their children to death, as written in the Book of Moshe's Torah, where G-d commanded: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins."
[Deuteronomy  24:16
     Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins.]
So chapter 14 makes a clear reference to Devarim.
In addition:
Kings II Chapter 17:10.
     And they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim in every high hill, and under every green tree; 12. For they served idols, about which the Lord had said to them, you shall not do this thing.13. Then the Lord warned Israel, and Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the Torah which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets….16. And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, two calves, and made an Ashera, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 
Kings II Chapter 18:1.
     And it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.  2. Twenty five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah.  3. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.  4. He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the Ashera, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for in those days the people of Israel burned incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan.
[Deuteronomy 16:21.
     You shall not plant you an Ashera of any tree near the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make.]
So the destruction of the ashera took place before chap 22, even though the only prohibition of ashera is in the book of Devarim.
[These references are due to Rabbi Yehuda Albin.]
Below there is a summary of certain details of the text of chapters 22-3 showing that the idea of discontinuity in the tradition has no more substance that the emperor's new clothes.
Chap 22
3ff - the sofer is sent to check on the money; he is given the sefer and reads it; he reports to the king on the money and then reads the sefer to the king.
4 - the king calls the house "beis Hashem"
So even the king, who participates in idol worship, refers to the Temple as the house of Hashem, using G-d's proper name from the tradition.]
8 - the finder of the sefer is "kohen gadol" [a title from the tradition] and he calls the sefer "sefer haTorah" ["The book of [the] Torah" - Malbim points out the the "ha" means "THE sefer Torah" which means the known, unique one, so the title and the concept were certainly not forgotten. He suggests that this refers to the Torah written by Moses. That would explain why it made such an impact. [See below.] But even if one does not accept that is was the sefer written by Moses, it still means that the concept of a special sefer Torah was well known.]
10 - Shafan says he received a sefer
11 - when the king heard the words of sefer haTorah....[The king too identified it as the special sefer Torah, even though it was not identified that way to the king.]
13 - "this found sefer"
[Presumably they could tell the age of a sefer by the condition of the parchment so they could see that it was really an old sefer. Is it possible that it was a forgery on specially prepared old parchment, or that they had a way of counterfeiting old parchment? Yes, it is possible. But possibilities play no role in a serious investigation. We would need positive evidence of forgery before we could consider mere possibilities of possessing or counterfeiting old parchment.]
14 - Chulda hanevia is a true prophet of Hashem and is a resident of Yerushalayim and known to the king's advisors [So the population of the capitol was not only adherents of avoda zara.]
chap 23
1ff - the king gathers all people of Yehuda and all the inhabitants of Yerushalayim and reads the "book of the covenant" to them.
3 - they make a covenant to perform all the commandments in the sefer. [if the tradition were really forgotten - if this sefer is a forgery with new content - then this would be an unknown old book with unknown ideas - why should they agree to follow it? And see next comment.]
4ff - they destroy all elements of avoda zara.
[Note: there is no local catastrophe to motivate this wholesale religious revolution - no attack by enemies, famine, pestilence, etc. - why do they take it so seriously?]
9 - the only kohanim [priests] allowed to serve the alter are those who ate matzos among their brethren. [So there was a group of kohanim publicly identified as loyal to the old tradition.]
21 - the king commands to make Pesach as is written in "this sefer habris" [book of [the] covenant] [So it could not be sefer Devarim – the detailed instructions for Pesach are in Exodus and Leviticus. The only new element in Devarim is restriction to the place shosen by hashem. But since the verse here says that the Pesach was kept in the time of the Judges, and that pre-dates the choice of Jerusalem, it cannot be that new element that the text here is referring to. And see next comment.]
22ff - no Pesach like this was made since the shoftim [Judges]. [Malbim: No explanation is given of what made this Pesach so unique, unless verse 24, which means that this Pesach was accompanied by the uprooting of avoda zara, unlike the Pesachim of previous years, in which case this is an allusion to the link between Pesach and the elimination of avoda zara which is reasonably explicit in the story of the exodus in Exodus - which means again that the found sefer cannot be Devarim.]

If the idea of discontinuity is utterly inconsistent with the text, what is the correct understanding?
(1) The practice of avoda zara did not mean abandoning the old tradition, it meant adding to it. This is called syncretism. The Temple is still Hashem's house, but other gods are worshipped there as well. Indeed, one form of false prophecy is when a prophet says that Hashem wants us to worship other gods in addition of Himself! And we have at least one explicit reference to syncretism in 1 Kings 18:21 where Elija tells the people: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Hashem is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." Elija’s critique of the people is precisely that they were practicing syncretism.
(2) In addition, the population was mixed: some accepted the new syncretism and some did not.  So there never was a complete discontinuity with the original tradition.
(3) It remains to explain why the king was part of the idol worship of the times. He was eight years old when he became king. His father was a leader in the idol worship. Even though he knew of Hashem and the original tradition [as did the vast majority of the population, if not all of them], he regarded the syncretism as natural, and perhaps even not in contradiction to that tradition. Hearing the contents of the sefer, and knowing that it is the unique, genuine sefer Torah [perhaps even going back to Moses], made its absolute prohibitions against idol worship, and the curses resulting from idol worship, impossible to ignore.

Hello Rabbi! How is everything? I really hope everything is going well with you and your family. I am emailing you regarding a few questions that have come up.

The Kuzari principle has probably been the strongest intellectual reason for me to believe anything the Torah says, but I have been revisiting it. I have also been reading up on the many kashas that are brought against it. I was wondering if you could elaborate on a few points I have found that seem to seriously challenge the principle, especially since I am heading back to America for the first time since I have become religious, and I think I’ll really need an intellectual approach to fall back on when things get difficult. Here [is a] few question:

1. The statement in Nechamia 8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:

2. The statement in Nechamia: 8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths:for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim?

Have an amazing week Rabbi!


Below I try to answer your question. It has been posed to me many times over the years, but your letter prompted me to analyze it in detail. As usual, the problem stems from reading without sufficient care and scholarship. I would be interested in hearing from you how the answer strikes you.

In context, those verses read:

8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: 8:15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
8:16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

I suggest that the word “so” refers to the passages above in bold - it refers to the universality of performance, not the mere fact that it was performed. If that is even a possibly correct understanding, then there is no reason to say the text implies that the institution was forgotten.

Furthermore, the phraseology “since the days of ...” is found earlier, in the book of Kings:

2 Kings Chapter 23
1 And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. 3 And the king stood on the platform, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people stood to the covenant. 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Beth-el. 5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to offer in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that offered unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beer-sheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand as he entered the gate of the city. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brethren. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. 11 And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nethan-melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars that were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, did the king break down, and beat them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the detestation of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men. 15 Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and stamped it small to powder, and burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount; and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said: ‘What monument is that which I see?’ And the men of the city told him: ‘It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Beth-el.’ 18 And he said: ‘Let him be; let no man move his bones.’ So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria. 19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke [the LORD], Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el. 20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there, upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them; and he returned to Jerusalem. 21 And the king commanded all the people, saying: ‘Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.’ 22 For there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; 23 but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. 24 Moreover them that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the detestable things that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.

And here too only a limited comparison is meant – look at the words in bold. That is: the text does not say “there was no other Passover at all” but only “there was no other Passover like this one”. [The explanation may be, as the Malbim writes, that the destruction of idol worship accompanying the Pesach was unlike the previous generations - that is what v. 24 is explaining.] So too, in Nechemiah, only a limited comparison is meant.

Furthermore, Yeravam pretty clearly moves Succos from the seventh month to the eighth:
1 Kings Chapter 12

32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah,

which means that at least at his time Succos was celebrated.

It remains only to explain the words And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses - it sounds as if these words [and their content] are newly discovered. But let us compare that phrase with the similar phrase in the book of Esther:

Esther - Chapter 6

Chapter 6
1. On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.
2. And it was found written that Mordecai had reported about Bigthana and Teresh, two chamberlains of the king, of the guards of the threshold, who had sought to lay a hand on King Ahasuerus.
3. And the king said, “What honor and greatness was done to Mordecai on that account?” And the king’s servants who minister before him said, “Nothing was done for him.”

Now since Mordechai’s report took place only four years before, this could not be the discovery of an unknown event. It seems that it was unexpected that it should be found now. Similarly in Nechemiah, “found” should mean “found unexpectedly in this context’, not “found when utterly unknown”.

Furthermore, it is very unclear exactly what they were reading when the text of Succos [which must be Vayikra 23 since that is the only place where the Torah prescribes living in booths]. How did they get to that passage on the second day of Rosh Hashanna? [And what did they read on the first day - for half the day?] [And notice that it is the people who initiate the reading - they ask for the scroll to be brought and read.] So I do not understand the reading at all [nor does the critic understand it], and within that event I do not fully understand the “finding” of Succos. But a passage we do not understand does not provide a proof of anything.

Finally, I have trouble understanding the critic’s reading of the event. So the rabbis of the time invented Succos on the spot? But then what could it mean to say that there never was a performance of that holiday over the last 1200 years? That in the generation immediately following Moses the entire people stopped keeping the mitzva? That would be impossible to prove to their audience, and impossible to explain to them. And the prophets, who inveighed against all sorts of infractions, never mentioned it? It is a very peculiar reading of the event, I think.

“Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim? “
I hope you can see from the above that this conclusion does not follow.