[b-hebrew] Language, migration and Jewish identity

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Nov 10 17:12:13 EST 2007


On Nov 9, 2007 3:48 PM,  Jim Stinehart wrote:
>
> Yitzhak  Sapir:
> 1.  You wrote:  "I see nothing in  the quote you brought above about
> Lebanon."
> That would be page 177 of Gerhard von Rad's  book:
> "[T]he Amorites...are usually understood in  the Old Testament to be much
> farther north…"
> I take the reference there to "much father  north" to mean Lebanon, or at
> least the area near  Lebanon.

It is important not to put words into the scholars' text.  Before you
can disagree
with what a study writes, you have to understand what he meant, and where
he comes from.  Sometimes, this means rereading the text several times to
see where he placed the obscure footnote that clarifies the all thing
up.  Reading
other things the same scholar wrote might also help.  But just because he writes
that Amorites were "much farther north" does not mean you can assume that it
refers to Lebanon.  Furthermore, it is not given that what he writes on p. 177
has to do with what he writes on p. 187.  Thus, here, Amorites probably does
mean the pre-Israelite population of Canaan.  I really doubt any scholar would
doubt this meaning.  This is the general concept conveyed by the text --  Jacob
went into exile, and the land was given to others -- "Amorites" for the purpose
here -- while Jacob's descendants were enslaved.  Because the new peoples
of the land had now standing in the land -- even if it wasn't properly
theirs because
the Biblical account views the land as having been granted already to Abraham
by divine order -- , they couldn't just be displaced until their sins
had accumulated
to such a level that it warranted their being exiled from the land as
well.  Of course,
(from the point of view of the Biblical account) they never would
return to the land
because they never had a right to the land to begin with, but until
their sins had
accumulated, they had standing and no reason to lead them to exile.  The land is
thus holy and granted to Israel who are the only ones worthy of maintaining the
degree of holiness that the land requires.  When Israel fails, they
are exiled, and
others take their place, but the others can never reach the same degree of
holiness, and eventually will be displaced as well.  This view is
reiterated not just
in the text here, but also in other places in the Bible.  The iniquity
of the Amorites
therefore refers to the sins that the non-Israelite inhabitants had
committed after
they took over the land.  It must refer to all the non-Israelite
inhabitants and not
to some population elsewhere, in Lebanon or elsewhere.  Amorites is a term that
originally meant "Western."  In the Amarna letters, it refers to a state north
of Byblos (and of course, also north of Sarpend, Sidon, and Tyre).  It
might also
refer to nomadic peoples, perhaps ancestors of Arameans, in places from
Northeastern Syria to Mesopotamia.  This interpretation of what it means for
the "iniquity to be complete" is not just the scholarly
interpretation, it is also the
traditional interpretation.  I don't know anyone who suggests anything
else.  Just
because Amorites, given the data that we have, may refer to a state north of
Byblos or to peoples even further north, does not mean that here it
does too.  Here
the traditional as well as probably the academic view of the text is
that it refers to
the non-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan that had displaced them after Jacob went
into exile.  Aside from this, the important thing to remember is that
when reading
something a scholar or anyone writes, it is important not to put words
into his mouth
(definitely not when you then follow up by proving that particular
interpretation wrong)
and also, not to confuse a general comment he makes in one place with something
else he might mean elsewhere.

> 2.  You wrote:  "In any case, the book is 46 years old.  That's old!  You
> really should use more recent commentators, and you should  avoid the word
> "secular scholars" for actual names, especially when it might  just be one opinion
> amongst many."
> I try to read every scholarly commentary on the Patriarchal narratives  that
> I can get my hands on.  I have  seen no published contrary opinion.  There is
> some question as to whether the Amorites' iniquity is primarily  sex, or is
> just moral corruption in general, not limited to sex.  But that is the only
> range of scholarly  opinion that I myself have seen.  On  the Internet, a Biblical
> Minimalist once opined that the Amorites' iniquity was  that they were
> polytheistic.  That  does not make sense to me, as virtually everyone in the world
> except the Hebrews  were polytheists.  I have not seen a  non-Biblical
> Minimalist make that argument.

Why do you capitalize "Biblical Minimalist"?  Why not give a name?  What does
biblical minimalism have to do with the sins of the pre-Israelite
inhabitants of
Canaan as the Biblical text views them?

> Let me quote here another source, although once again it's a little old.  But
> I myself have not seen anything more recent on this particular topic, and I
> do try to read everything.

Then, the appropriate way to deal with this is to say something of the sort:
"Traditionally, various moral sins were attributed to the 'Amorites'.
During the
60s, some Biblical commentators suggested that these sins refered
specifically to their sexual practices.  However, recent commentators have
not adopted this approach."

See?  That states the facts but also does not class all commentators as
taking this view even in the 60s, and gives an accurate picture of when the
opinions were voiced and whether they were voiced afterwards.  Just because
a commentator does not comment on an issue does not mean he agrees
with everything other commentators wrote.

It also avoids the terms "secular scholarly" or "Biblical Minimalist"
that really
don't add anything to what you say.  Who cares if he is a minimalist,
or secular?

> ... Nahum M. Sarna, "Understanding Genesis"  (1966), at p. 124.

>From what I understand, the above is a book written by an academic for
the popular
audience.  If you want to dispute what a scholar says on the academic level, you
have to read the views written in academic publications, not popular ones.

> I have never seen an academic secular scholarly explanation of Genesis  15:
> 16, other than by a Biblical Minimalist, that differs substantially from the
> above.  Note that Nahum Sarna  himself says that such explanation is "amazing".
>  That is to say, the academic  understanding of this passage makes no sense.

Huh?  Is the sentence above "That is to say, ..." again putting words into the
Sarna's mouth who just said the explanation is "amazing."?

> The people of Canaan, including Lebanon,  weren't any different than any
> other people in the ancient near east in terms of  sexual practices or moral
> corruption.  Were such pagan practices going to change while the Hebrews allegedly
> were to be in Egypt (not my view of the case)?  Or if such pagan practices
> were not  going to change, then why wait so long before displacing the native
> population  of Canaan?

The difference is that Canaanites lived on the holy land -- granted to Israel --
where moral expectations were higher than elsewhere.  Thus, even if their
practices were the same, the fact that they practiced them on the holy land
was cause for them to be displaced.

> (400 "years", in stated 6-month  "years"),

You have not proven this point.  This is an assumption, which already others
have shown to be rather unlikely, but it is an assumption that you build into
your theory.  Thus, to accept your theory, someone has to accept an unlikely
assumption.  The more such unlikely assumptions you build into your theory,
the less likely your theory turns out to be.  You may think that this theory
makes all the sense in the world -- but you do so only after you accepted all
these unlikely assumptions.  It is like saying that a Picasso looks totally
realistic, as if you had just shot the scene with a camera, if you only twist
 your eyes one way and then another and then another, and then add some
color filters, etc.

> See how the historical explanation works perfectly?

The Picasso analogy is appropriate for how I see your theories -- you had
so far failed to convince me and your long posts, in general, only make your
case worse as they add more unlikely assumptions.

> To the best of my knowledge, not a single academic secular scholar from a
> leading university in the West has ever given a moment's consideration to that
> historical analysis of Genesis 15: 16.

How do you know?  Maybe they gave it a moment's thought and it seemed all
too unlikely?  Just because they didn't publish anything doesn't mean they did
not consider the approach.  The assumption should always start out from the
point of view that the scholar wrote what he wrote after he had considered many
other, likely and unlikely, approaches.  In fact, a good innovative scholar does
consider all kinds of wild ideas.  But he knows when to discard one when it
seems too unlikely.  Only those that withstand many tests and turn out to
still be viable in spite of their "wildness", are published.

I hope you see here that I dealt with only the methodological problems in your
approach -
1) Representing a scholars' position accurately and not putting words
into his mouth,
or mixing something he writes in one place with something different he writes in
another because you haven't gotten totally into his frame of mind.
His position must
make sense to you, before you can see any possible weaknesses in it (if it has
such).
2) Representing the state of research accurately, and not taking some
40 year old
views, that have since been abandoned, and arguing that this is
current research.
3) Using proper academic sources and not sources written for a popular audience,
even if written by a scholar.
4) Assuming that scholars had considered all alternatives, even and
including the ones
you suggest.
5) Refraining from attaching additional unlikely assumptions to your theory.
6) Using actual names for scholars, and not labeling them as "secular
scholarly" or
"Biblical Minimalist" or the like.  Labels don't add but detract from
your position.
7) Being willing to discard a wild idea when it seems too unlikely.
There are many
other wild ideas waiting to be entertained.  A very limited few will
turn out to actually
make sense.

Yitzhak Sapir



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