When I posted the article containing a long list of obscure items in the Tanakh, I heard from many readers who found the list interesting and thoughtful. Some even offered their own interpretation of the obscure item. In view of the interest. I am listing some more of the hundreds of obscure words and events that could be listed.
More unclear verses and events in the Tanakh
- Is the biblical account of creation a parable or metaphor, or was it meant to be taken literally? If the former, why was it composed?
- The word “Elohim” is generally translated “God,” However it also means anyone or anything that is powerful, as Abraham ibn Ezra explains Genesis 6:2 “sons of Elohim” does not suggest that God has children, but these were powerful men. Similarly Exodus 22:8 stating that when people have a dispute they should “come before Elohim” means before judges. Am I correct in interpreting Genesis 1:2, “ruach Elohim hovered over the face of the waters” as “a strong wind blew over the waters”?
- What is the significance of Eve being taken from Adam’s rib (or side according to another translation)? Why wasn’t Eve created as Adam was, from the dust of the earth? Is the verse suggesting that originally Adam and Eve were connected as a single being and then separated? This is the understanding of the creation of humans by Aristophanes in the Greek philosopher Plato’s book “Symposium.”
- Adam called Eve “Ishah” in Genesis 2:23. Why was she later called Eve?
- Is there a place called “The Garden of Eden”?
- Is there any support for the idea that when good people die they go to the Garden of Eden or to heaven?
- Is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden a parable? If so, what is it telling us?
- What did the people who attempted to build the Tower of Babel try to accomplish?
- Is the story of the Tower of Babel a parable and, if so, what is its message?
- Why does the Torah tell us about Abraham’s son’s descendants in Genesis 25:13-16? They are not Isaac’s descendants.
- Why does it inform us in Genesis 22:20-24 that after Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, Abraham’s brother Nahor had twelve children and two grandchildren, and gives us the names of each? If the information is given to inform us that one of his children is Rebecca, who will later marry Isaac, the Torah could have just told us about her birth and not the other thirteen descendants of Nahor.
- When Abram was 75-years old he left his father and traveled to Canaan. Why did he leave his father? Just as with his brother Nahor, there is no indication in the Torah that Abraham had contact with his dad who died 60 years after Abraham left him or with his brother Nahor until about the same time when he was informed that Nahor had children and grandchildren. Was Abraham estranged from his family? If so, why?
- Why does the Bible tell us the faults of all the people in the Bible, including the Patriarchs, Moses, and David?
- Why is the story of Samson told in more detail than all the other tales in the Biblical book of Judges?
- Did Samson help the people of his tribe or any other Israelite tribe? The biblical book Judges does not seem to say so.
- Why does the book of Judges say that Samson “judged Israel twenty years” when the rest of the book of judges and even the rest of Tanakh does not indicate or even hint that he judged people and certainly not all of Israel?
- The numbers 40 and 20 appear frequently. What is their significance?
- Why are there three stories about the patriarchs telling people in a foreign land that their wives are their sister, twice for Abraham and once for Isaac? Shouldn’t Abraham and Isaac have learnt not to make the claim after Abraham’s first experience
- Why did Isaac have sex with his wife near an open window for all to see?
- What did Jacob gain when he only gave his brother Esau food when Esau gave him the birthright he had? Did Jacob act properly?
- What is a birthright?
- Why did Isaac love his older son Esau more than Jacob?
- Isaac’s wife Rebecca loved Jacob more than Esau and talked Jacob into misleading his father to think that he was Esau and giving him the blessing Isaac wanted to give to Esau. Wasn’t this wrong? Even if blessings work, shouldn’t the blessing to Jacob be nullified because Isaac was giving it thinking he was giving it to Esau and a blessing given fraudulently should have no effect, like contracts today?
- Do blessings work?
- Why did Jacob agree to the deception?
- Does the story of the deception indicate that Isaac and Rebecca had a dysfunctional family?
- Jacob agreed to work for seven years for Laban who in turn agreed to give him Rachel at the end of the seven year period. Laban then tricked Jacob into taking Rachel’s sister Leah. Why did Jacob have to agree to work a second period for Rachel? True, he was now married to Leah, but wasn’t Laban bound by their agreement to give him Rachel without Jacob needing to agree to work for her again? Jacob bedding Leah did not nullify the agreement between Laban and Jacob.
- After his father in law Laban tricked Jacob into wedding Leah and not Rachel, her sister, whom he wanted, Jacob agreed to work another seven years for Rachel. Did the marriage to Rachel occur at the time of the new agreement, or did Jacob have to wait to have the woman he loved for seven years?
- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are considered the patriarchs of Judaism. What does this mean?
- Can we list even one act that each performed that clearly shows them to be extraordinary?
- Why does the Torah tell us that King David was a descendant of a Moabite woman Ruth and the child resulting from Jacob’s son Judah’s sex with a woman he thought was a prostitute?
- Tradition contends that Ruth converted to Judaism, but neither the biblical book Ruth nor the stories of David in Kings and Chronicles even hint of this, and even calls Ruth a Moabite at the end of the book Ruth.
- Similarly, Jacob’s son Joseph and Moses married the daughters of pagan priests with no indication of conversion. In fact, conversion is not mentioned in any biblical book, and its first appearance in history was when the Judean king John Hyrcanus forcefully converted a nation after conquering them around 150 BCE.
- Why have Jews ignored the prohibition in the Decalogue against making a graven image of anything on earth, the sky, and the water?
- Why does the Decalogue state that children of fathers who act improperly will be punished unto the third and fourth generation? This seems to imply that even innocent children are punished. Also why third and fourth, which one is it?
- The Decalogue promises that if children honor their parents their days will ‘be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Is this a referral to the land of Canaan/Israel and, if so, why do we see many children who honor their parents die young? If it refers to life after death, is there such a thing as a short life after death and a long one?
- What is the most important day in Judaism? Is it the Sabbath or Yom Kippur?
- What is the second most important day or days? Is it Passover or Yom Kippur?
- What is the Torah telling us to do in the two versions of the Decalogue? One in Exodus 20 says shamor, keep the Sabbath. The other in Deuteronomy 5 says zachor, remember the Sabbath. How do we remember or keep the Sabbath?
- Are the two versions of the Sabbath rule in the Decalogues saying the same thing, or is there a difference? If there is a difference, which one did God command? Abraham Ibn Ezra notes in his commentary to Exodus 20 that the rabbis claimed that God said both words simultaneously. He mocks this view by saying that if the two were said at once, the communication would have been garbled and not understandable. Is he right?
- Deuteronomy 22:29 commands that if a man rapes an unmarried virgin girl, “The man who lay with her must pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she will be his wife. Since he debased her, he can never have the right to divorce her.” Is this a terrible way of treating a girl who was raped, that she has to become the wife of the man who mistreated her?
- Near the end of the prophet Elijah’s life, he runs to the mountain Horeb where God tells him that the divine message is not given in a loud sound, but in a kol demama daka. The literal meaning of the words are “a silent sound.” How is this possible? What is God telling him?
When Rabbi Jacob Isaac Ruderman ordained me as a rabbi in 1957 he advised me: Israel, know that you do not know everything. Therefore do not be afraid to say “I do not know.”
In the his book “Apology,” the Greek philosopher Plato relates that Socrates explained that he was wiser than any other person because he does not think that he knows what he does not know.
Your list made me think about the creation account. The Bible is so obscure. For example, Genesis 1:2 reads: “Now the earth was tohu vavohu and darkness was upon the face of the tehom and the ruach elohim hovered over the face of the waters.” We could analyze those words forever. What does it mean? What does a formless earth even look like? Also, a “day” in Genesis 1 could not mean a twenty-four hour period because that’s not the literal definition of a “day.” Creationists who insist that a day is 24hrs are actually not literalists at all! They are putting their own definition of what a day is. Furthermore, a day is not 24hrs necessary. A day on earth is 24hrs because that’s how long it takes the earth to rotate around the sun on its axis. But a day on Pluto is 130hrs, for example. So the term “day” depends largely on what planet you’re on!
How does one even draw a picture of the formless earth suspended on a void without a sun? We have no idea. Therefore we can’t assume that a “day” was 24 hours. This only begs the question, how exactly long was a “day?” The Bible is unclear. Indeed, one could spend their whole life studying those first two sentences.
I agree. In fact, I think that everything in the Torah is obscure even the mitzvot. This is good. It leaves so much to us to interpret.
My grandfather used to tell his sermons in an intriguing way. He would set them up in contemporary times. For example, he would tell the story of Noah in a contemporary setting. People really enjoyed his sermons. But if people want to read the Bible they will find many obscurities, which is why I like your list because it helps pins down some obscurities and makes us think about possible solutions. We might ask ourselves, for example, how did the ancient Israelites pronounce G-d’s name y-h-v-h? What does the term tzefardea, during the second plague of Egypt, mean? Does it refers to frogs or was it describing a crocodile? ibn Ezra notes the disagreement. And why does the Torah not give signs to distinguish kosher birds from non-kosher birds? The commentators differed, but the disagreement proves that these terms remain obscure.
PS I liked how you brought up Socrates: that the only thing we know for sure is that we know nothing for sure. But this is actually a double negative because in saying you know nothing for sure, how do you know that for sure? Even Socrates seems obscure.