Judaism’s “600,000 person revelation” question
I sometimes see a claim made by Jewish individuals that the revelation by god to the Jewish people differs to the revelation by god to future individuals.
The argument goes (for example) that ‘Joseph Smith claims god spoke to him; Joseph Smith is just an individual; there’s not much credibility to his claim. On the other hand, in the old testament, the claim is that god revealed himself to 600,000 men or approximately 2,000,000 people’.
The conclusion being that Judaism has a stronger basis to claim that god truly revealed himself to the Jewish people at Sinai, because more than 600,000 people witnessed it.
Has anyone else heard this line of reasoning? Does it hold any water whatsoever to anybody? If so, could you explain the position?
To me it seems like a weak argument because there are not 600,000+ people or 600,000 individual sources claiming they witnessed a revelation from god at the same time as others. Rather, there is one source claiming 600,000 people witnessed an event.
There’s your problem. You assumed that the Old Testament was telling the truth about all those witnesses. That is an individual claim much like the individual claim that JS made.
If I claimed that God spoke to me, I would be an individual making a claim. However, if I claimed a million witnesses saw me speak with God, I’m still an individual making a claim.
So why would the former be questionable, yet the latter be acceptable? It’s still me the individual who’s making the claim. I just threw in an extra claim about a million people witnessing it happen.
The extra part about witnesses is the claim, not the proof. Unsubstantiated claims are not proof of other unsubstantiated claims.
This same reasoning is used for the resurrection. The bible tells of 500 people who saw the risen Jesus, and 500 eye witness accounts can’t be wrong. Setting aside the fact that they actually can all be wrong. We here and now don’t have 500 eye witness accounts, we have 1 anonymous, likely third hand account of 500 people seeing something.
I’ve heard that reasoning but have trouble accepting it because it fails under basic scrutiny.
I think the more important message from the idea of national revelation – which, says that all Jews, both those living at the time and at all times in the future, were at Sinai too – underscores the Jewish belief that something as important as the revelation of Torah was not made to a single person or a handful of witnesses, but to every Jew equally.
Were literally all Jews, present and future, at Sinai when Torah was given? No. Did the revelation happen as described in Torah? Probably not. Does that matter? Apparently not. The power of the story to shape the way Jews have seen things has been there since Torah was committed to parchment.
It is a terrible argument, but to give the people who use it credit, it is actually a bit more nuanced than that. The idea is that the entire Israelite population was there, and those who witnessed such an earth-shattering event obviously told their children about it, and their children told theirs, and so on. So, the argument goes, it must actually have happened; if it had not, we would have to posit at some point someone coming along and saying to the people “Your ancestors witnessed this amazing thing”, and the people accepting that despite the ancestors in question never having mentioned such a thing to their descendants.
As I say, still a terrible argument, but I know of at least one person who was converted by that exact line of reasoning.
Agreed … It’d be a good argument if all Jews had all been committed sceptics forever. But yeah … even if someone was like “No way, none of my ancestors ever said they saw this,” would they start a campaign to change how people thought, or would they just go back to their lives? I’m guessing the latter.
It’s circular logic.
The Torah says ~1.5-2 million had God revealed to them. Therefore the Torah is true since ~1.5-2 million had God revealed to them.
That many number of Jews leaving would have cause an economic and demographic collapse in Egypt, of which there is no corresponding record. In fact, the plagues, the death of the Pharaoh, the firstborn being killed, half of the population leaving, etc., would surely have left some sort of mark on Egypt. Yet, despite the numerous papyri, hieroglyphics, and genealogies that we have from Egypt, none can be said to even allude to such an event occurring.
Of course, some may argue that “600,000 men” was exaggerated and much smaller, but there are three problems with such a claim.
First, the Torah is pretty specific as to the numbers, Numbers I states 603,550 in a census. Secondly, if the numbers involved are a lot smaller and the Torah exaggerated, then that quite frankly opens up a whole new can of worms since it casts a doubt onto the veracity of the Torah and what else may be hyperbolic or untrue about it. Thirdly, the events of the exodus out of Egypt still lack corresponding evidence from Egyptian sources.
People today are duped into believing in Scientology, even though the founder L. Ron Hubbard had a driver’s license, a social security card, and is on record as saying that if you want to get rich you should start a religion.
It’s therefore not exactly outside the realm of possibility or even probability that people from the Iron Age could be conned into believing a myth, and that they were all there when God was revealed to them. In fact, most myths work like that, being retconned to give them greater authenticity, and the Torah is no exception to this.
We actually know there’s numeric inaccuracies in the OT, due to the DSS. For example, there’s a corruption in Goliath’s height – he was actually my size at two meters, not a giant.
This doesn’t undermine the whole OT, though, as you suggest, because the really startling thing that destroyed this argument by atheists was the rather extraordinary accuracy of the texts that survived.
So yes, I find it plausible the theory that it originally said 6000 families, and got corrupted over the years.
Not to mention logistics.
The Burning man which would be comparable as it is a temp/nomadic event requires a dedicated team of volunteers with experience to ensure food, water, emergency and other essentials are available to the people attending. Not to mention security.
And that is only for 50-60K people.
Imagine trying to do that back in those days for 600K, don’t even think about 2Million which would have included babies and aged people. It really is outlandish to believe that actually happened.
Furthermore, why did that god limit itself to that location.
Would it not make sense to appear to the Egyptians as well, so as to completely stop conflict?
for most events of ancient history we have very limited sources, eg maybe 1 or a handful for the greco-persian wars, although thousands were involved.
And I would not get wrapped up in the 600k amount. It would make sense that the number is much lower. But the point remains that it is recorded as history that this national event occurred, and it is compelling because if it did not it would be difficult to implement a fabrication in this nation and not only that but that there would be no competing history (of which none is known).
And yet we don’t have 600000 written accounts or 60,000 or 6,000 or 600 or 60 or 6. One. We have one account telling us that 600k people witnessed an event. There are one million people ALIVE today that will testify that they witnessed the miracles of Indian guru sathya sai baba. Saw him bring people back from the dead, levitate, fly, cure baldness and so much more. Will you believe them? Your argument holds zero weight and it’s sad that this is the best go to argument that kiruv people use to “prove” the religion is true. There was no mass exodus. No torah given on sinai. There is zero archaeological evidence that a single event from that story occurred.
So your argument is based on an admission that there is only maybe a single source of evidence that can’t be taken as literal, and that the only people that saw it were previously believers in the actual religion that the revelation affected and all belonged to the same nation – in saying, the only evidence for it is within the borders of a single country, to a single group of people?
Free Will, God’s existence, and Undeniable Proof
Many theists claim that God can’t undeniably prove his existence to people because it would destroy their free will. Satan apparently has been in God’s presence and conversed with him directly like you and I would, but still has free will to not follow God. Satan clearly isn’t an atheist – so why can’t God similarly reveal himself to atheists to prove he exists and make being an atheist impossible? He did to Paul and many other biblical characters.
Wouldn’t God making his very existence impossible to prove be antithetical towards his supposed goal of a relationship with us, and lend further credence to the rationality that he he doesn’t even exist in the first place? If God doesn’t exist, it would work exactly like it works now – there would be those who believe he exists, but have many arguments to justify the belief that fail to back up that claim of existence.
The prominence of horrible, empty life conversion stories encourage harmful stereotypes and beliefs
Stop me if you’ve heard something like this before in a sermon. The pastor talks about a story they heard or a person they knew. This person had a horrible life. Maybe their home was broken. Maybe they were criminals and into hard drugs. Maybe they were a prostitute. Whatever the specifics, there are two things that are always true: they are not christian and they have a horrible life. Some way some how, these people convert to Christianity. It’s generally painted as miraculous or unexpected because of how bad the person and/or their life was. The person experiences a complete turnaround in their life. Now they’re much more Moral. They don’t do drugs or prostitution or whatever anymore. Their life is much better. They have a good support group of fellow Christians. They’re extremely devout to the point that most people would never guess where they came from.
Stories like these are extremely prominent in the Christian community, especially in the west. They’re inspirational. They show the power of god. They show how being a good Christian and having a relationship with Jesus can completely turn someone’s life around.
They’re also harmful stories that lead to negative stereotypes. Importantly, there’s a distinct lack of other stories to contrast these with.
1. Atheists have hollow, horrible lives
You almost never, and I say almost just to be fair and not because I’ve ever seen differently in reality, hear stories about people who had a good life and were happy before they became a Christian. The closest you get are people who looked happy but secretly were sad and depressed. The only conversion stories you hear are ones where before converting, everything was horrible.
The fact is that atheists are and can be just as if not happier than religious people. Plenty of atheists have good, fulfilling lives and don’t wish things were better. By the same token, there are Christians who are sad, struggle with things considered immoral, and who have a tough life. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make your life better and being an atheist doesn’t automatically make your life worse.
There are several reasons why this stereotype is harmful. Firstly, it encourages Christians to have a negative view of atheists. When they find out someone isn’t a Christian and doesn’t believe in god, their mind goes to the stories of atheists who have horrible lives full of drugs, prostitution suffering, crime, violence, etc. I don’t think it needs to be said that when you see someone in that way, you have negative beliefs of them and you will not treat them the same as someone who you don’t think has those issues.
This is also harmful for the Christians themselves in terms of them staying Christian. Much of my deconversion process was spurred on by seeing a reality that did not reflect with what I was told reality looked like. I met atheists who had a good life and were happy. Seeing things like that made me question the veracity of other things I was taught as a Christian. That’s the thing about false stereotypes; they’re hard to maintain when you’re confronted with people who defy the stereotypes.
2. If you do convert, you are encouraged to view your past life in a negative light
Remember the previous example of an atheist who only seemed happy but was secretly sad and felt their life was hollow until they found Jesus? Here’s the thing. It’s easy for people to change their memories and create false ones. If everyone around you says that you and those like you used to have hollow, empty lives, you can easily start to think that about your own past. You convince yourself that yes, you really were empty on the inside back then even though you actually were happy. In essence, you create past trauma where there wasn’t any. It should go without saying that having trauma is a bad thing that hurts you.
3. Christians will have a hard time actually converting atheists
This reason is here to try to convince Christians reading this to actually go along and try to change these views in their community. Let me make an analogy.
Imagine someone has some rare infection. However, a doctor misdiagnoses them as having a cancer. The patient keeps getting sicker. They do chemo, but it doesn’t help. It only hurts. They spend months and months treating a cancer that isn’t there. The patient doesn’t get better because the actual problem isn’t being treated.
This is what it’s like for a Christian trying to convert an atheist who is happy but who the Christian thinks is sad and empty. The Christian approaches the problem with the mindset that the atheist has a horrible life and needs Jesus to get back on track. They talk to them in certain ways. They use certain strategies. And just like the doctor giving his patient chemo, it doesn’t work because the Christian has false starting assumptions.
I have experienced this firsthand. Christians tell me god will fill the void in my life when I don’t feel like I have one. They act like I don’t know basic information about christianity because I wouldn’t be exposed to it in the circles I run in when in reality, I was a Christian for almost two decades. They say that god will accept me even though I feel that I’m too worthless, too sinful, too evil, etc when in reality I see myself as a generally good person who has value. They say there’s nothing too bad I could do to make god stop loving me when I don’t think I’ve ever done anything horrible or truly evil.
Safe to say I’m still an atheist. Those people haven’t come close to bringing me back because they don’t actually see me for who I am. They only see the stereotype of the atheist who must have a horrible, empty life.
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All cosmological arguments are fallacious
There are several variations of the cosmological argument, but they all go something like:
1 – nothing begins to exist without a cause
2 – the universe began to exist
3 – therefore, the universe has a cause
There are two major problems I see with this argument, and I’ve never seen them refuted this way (post a link if I’m wrong).
The first premise assumes we know what something beginning to exist looks like. I’ll use a watch as an analogy since “watchmaker” is a common placeholder for God, but I think this applies universally. If a watchmaker has a pile of watch parts in front of him and he assembles them into a watch, at what point does the watch “begin” to exist? Didn’t everything exist beforehand, and the watchmaker just rearrange parts into a watch? That watch “existed” for as long as we know, as raw materials, or space dust that was fused into the elements in stars beforehand. In other words, we have no idea what it means to “begin” to exist, all we can do is rearrange stuff into new stuff which “begins” to take on the properties of some new word. Apologists typically use the word “contingent” to imply that all beings require a cause which must be traced back to some being that doesn’t depend on something else. But all “contingent” beings we know of also depend on the pre-existence of their matter.
For the second premise, the “beginning” of something assumes a time beforehand when the thing wasn’t. This gets a little philosophical, but as timely beings we have no other way to describe or think about the beginning of the universe, but since this would be the beginning of time itself, it wasn’t really a “beginning”. I’ve seen apologists (like William Lane Craig) set this premise up something like if time stretched back to infinity, then it would take an infinite amount of time to reach today, therefore time “began”. This could be a valid argument for time “beginning” to exist at some point, but it doesn’t truly mean time had a beginning in the way we think of it. If the universe isn’t infinite, it just started to exist. Before time, there was nothing, so there was no time before time, so time couldn’t have “began”, it was a completely unique event.
In other words, before time or space (stuff) existed, nothing, including the laws of logic or physics existed, and therefore we cant stretch logical or physical arguments to before the universe existed. Perhaps this argument would work if you also forced the “supernatural” to follow natural laws and time, but then the cosmological argument implies that the governing rules for the universe (including time) always existed, and it doesn’t have any explanatory power. I don’t think its possible to know if/how/when time “began”, but I’m curious what you all think!
If Christianity is true, then it’s okay to torture animals.
Within Christianity, the most common reason given for why it is wrong to torture and kill humans is that humans are made in the image of God. This is also, incidentally, why humans have souls, moral duties, and go to Heaven or Hell.
Animals, however, are not made in the image of God, nor do they have souls etc. Therefore, it is not wrong to torture animals. If being made in the image of God is what prohibits us from torturing and killing it, then torturing and killing any animal is not immoral.
Yes, animals are creations of God, but so are trees, and most Christians are fine with carving their names into trees, and even chopping them down completely. If Christianity is true, then there is no moral difference between carving up a live tree, and carving up a live animal.