The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

The "argument from uniqueness" - quotes by Kaufmann

A recent post at Brandywine Books turned into an extended discussion of arguments against the reliability of the Bible set forth by Thomas Paine in his work, The Age of Reason.

About the time the discussion seemed to be coming to an end, I said I would offer a few "choice quotes" from Jewish Bible scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann, which in my opinion lend support to what I call the "argument from uniqueness" - that the utter uniqueness of the basic nature of biblical faith is a piece of evidence for its truth. I'm not calling it a "proof", just a piece of evidence. Certainly one could propose many theories to explain the rise of a religion uniquely different from all the religions of its neighbors. But I would propose that a unique religion suggests a unique origin, such as a real encounter with the Living God. Lots more could be said, but I'll just give you a few quotes I've selected from Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960:

The store of biblical legends lacks the fundamental myth of
paganism: the theogony. All theogonic motifs are similarly
absent. Israel's God has no pedigree, fathers no generations;
he neither inherits nor bequeaths his authority. He does not
die and is not resurrected. He has no sexual qualities or desires
and shows no need of or dependence upon powers outside himself

(pp. 60-61)

Nor is YHWH ever portrayed as world congueror in the cosmogonic
legends of the Bible. There is no biblical parallel to pagan
myths relating the defeat of older gods (or demonic powers) by
younger; no other gods are present in primordial times ...
There is no hint, however, that YHWH's defeat of Rahab, the
dragon, etc. was the beginning of his rule, nor ar his antagonists
portrayed as primordial or divine beings coeval with him. They
are all mentioned explicitly at one time or another as creatures
of and subject to YHWH (Gen. 1:21; Amos 9:3; Pss. 104:26; 148:7).
The battle is not, then between primordial divine powers contending
over world dominion, but between God and certain of his creatures.

(p. 62)

One of the remarkable aspects of the religion of pre-exilic
Israel is that it failed to transmute either its ancient pantheon
or the gods of the nations into demons. It is sometimes asserted
that the pagan gods became angels, appointed over natural phenomena
or patrons of nations ... if biblical angelogy has pagan antecedents,
it has lost every trace of mythological features. No angel has a
sufficient identity to enable us to see in him his pagan original ...
The non-derivative character of Israelite angelology is indicated
by the fact that the names of the angels have no antecedents in the
old Israelite pantheon or among the gods of the antions.
(p. 63)

Israelite religion conceived a radically new idea: It did not proclaim
a new chief god, a god who ruled among or over his fellows. It
conceived, for the first time, of a god independent of a primordial
realm, who was the source of all, the demonic included.
(p. 66)

... a fundamental difference between the biblical and pagan
conceptions of the temporal process arises. Theogony makes the
birth of the gods part of the eternal, self-operating process of
becoming that governs the universe. Hence the gods-like the rest of
the universe-are subject to a succession of ages (ending frequently
in annihilation) which are beyond their control. The biblical
God, however, is outside of the flux of becoming and change; he
controls times and sets seasons
(p. 73)


Anonymous Dave said...

That is a very well-presented argument by Kaufmann.

I read through the thread at Brandywiine Books and enjoyed your able apologetics.

Even though I face opposition to Christianity and even simple theism on a daily basis, it is from kids between the ages of 11 and 16. Like shooting fish in a barrell. Some of the arguments in the Brandywine thread are based on the same assumptions, but at least they are crafted in a somewhat more sophisticated way.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey, thanks, bro! I don't remember if it was Kaufmann or someone else who said that the ancient Biblical faith was an "emancipation from myth".

7:23 AM  

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