Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Torah is a myth

Our Torah is a myth.

The idea that an all-powerful God shaped our world in six days? A myth.

The idea that God led our people through a split sea? A myth.

The idea that God dictated the Torah, word for word, to Moses? A myth.

But, I believe in them all.

I recently came across a book review, entitled The Orthodox rabbi who considers Torah a ‘myth’. It's about the book Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith, by Rabbi Norman Solomon. In it, Rabbi Solomon takes the (hardly new) position that the Torah could not possibly have been handed down directly by God to Moses. From the review:
It is no longer possible in the wake of academic research to believe that the text of the Torah is God’s precise word-for-word dictation, he argues. We cannot read as the ancients or medieval did. “The classical doctrine of Torah from Heaven, such as that of Maimonides, with its erroneous historical claims and occasionally questionable moral consequences, cannot be upheld by the serious historian, scientist or philosopher,” he writes.
People often refer to religion as "a myth," but they include the word "just." As in, "religion is just a myth." But, there is nothing "just" about a myth.  The World English Dictionary defines "myth" as:

  1. a story about superhuman beings of an earlier age taken by preliterate society to be a true account, usually of how natural phenomena, social customs, etc, came into existence
  1. a person or thing whose existence is fictional or unproven
  1. (in modern literature) a theme or character type embodying an idea: Hemingway's myth of the male hero
  1. philosophy  (esp in the writings of Plato) an allegory or parable

So, colloquially, we tend to use "myth" in the sense of definitions one and two – a false, probably primitive story. But, it's those other definitions which I'm thinking of, when I call our Torah "a myth." A myth, at its core, is a story (true or not, factually speaking) which embodies and transmits some higher value, and which stands near the core of some larger tradition. A myth is a story which we tell about ourselves, in order to tell something deeper about ourselves.

There is nothing "just" about a myth.

People who argue about the accuracy of the Bible (probably any Bible) are missing the point. I've often said that I firmly believe that if our Torah contains a single accurate fact, it's only by accident. The Torah (probably) doesn't contain any facts. The rest of the Bible contains many accurate facts, and almost certainly many which are inaccurate, as well. But, through and through, our Torah, and our Bible, contains Truth. Meaning. A way to understand our world.

God gave the Torah to Moses. That's a myth. And, like all myth, it's very, very True.

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