I enjoyed “The Old Testament and the Truth” by S. Seth Haas. His book deserves five stars. I did not agree with all of Haas’s conclusions from his study of the Five Books of Moses. But this did not detract from my enjoyment. I found, as his readers will, that whether I agreed or not, what he wrote made me think. And thinking improved my mind as well as my understanding of the Bible. The brilliant pagan Greek Aristotle (384-322 BCE) explained that what distinguishes humans from plants and animals is that humans think. He stressed that people who do not use their minds are no better than plants and animals. The brilliant Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204) agreed. In the first two chapters of his highly acclaimed “Guide for the Perplexed,” he wrote that the human mind is the “image of God” that the deity placed in people. He also stressed that we must use our minds. Haas’ book stimulates the mind.
I mailed a book to Gefen Publishing House to be published in the next few months, in which I described over 400 obscure items in the book of Genesis. I wrote that this is very good because it prompts us to think and draw conclusions about what the Bible is saying and wants us to understand. S. Seth Haas list many obscure Biblical items in his book. This is why I liked it. It made me use the divine gift to think.
I am convinced that we cannot understand anything unless we also understand the opposite. Light, for example, is better understood when we realize that it is not darkness. Sweet is enjoyed because we know that it is not sour. Acting correctly makes the most sense when we recognize why we should not misbehave. That is why I even liked reading the few ideas in Haas’ book that I can’t entirely agree with. They made me think.
The following are some examples from Haas’s book.
- He notes that when Pharaoh kidnapped Abraham’s wife in the Biblical book Genesis “the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues” He recalls that another Pharaoh later enslaved Israelites and tormented them, and God again brought plagues to Egypt. Of course, God punishes people and nations in various other ways – such as the burning of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah and the flood in the time of Noah. Why plagues here twice? When I read Haas’observation, I was reminded of Maimonides’s statement in his Guide 2:48 that whenever the Bible says God said or did something. God did not do it; it was a natural event; the Bible attributes the event to God only because God created the laws of nature. I thought that the plagues being inflicted upon Egypt support this view; it was the atrocious actions of the country – most likely the mistreatment of women and the diseases their sexual acts caused during the lifetime of Abraham and the tossing of murdered blooded children’s bodies into the Nile River in the days of Moses – is what caused the plagues.
- Genesis also states that the more the Egyptians worked the enslaved Israelites, the more they multiplied in numbers. This is counter-intuitive. Exhausted enslaved people do not have more children than when they are free. A possible answer is that we should interpret the phrase as the Egyptians feared the increasing number of Israelites in Egypt and attempted to stifle the number by exhausting them. Or this is one of the many examples where the Torah exaggerates to make its point.
- Why did Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, fear that two lowly enslaved Israelites saw him kill an Egyptian taskmaster who beat a Hebrew man and cause him to flee Egypt? We can imagine many different solutions, but the fact remains: the text does not indicate why he acted as he did.
- Why did Moses kill the taskmaster; he was only doing his job?
- Why does the Torah define Moses’ name as derived from a Hebrew word? The Egyptian princess who named him did not speak Hebrew? Why not tell us its meaning in Egyptian?
- Why does the Torah state that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, forcing Pharaoh to continue enslaving the Hebrews and then punishing Pharaoh for what God did? See the first item above regarding 2:48; Pharaoh’s nature led him astray.
- When Moses set out to return to Egypt to rescue the Hebrews, the Torah states, “And it came to pass on the way at the lodging place, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.” This episode seems to make no sense. Why did God, who sent him to Egypt, want to kill him? Why at a “lodging house”? Why did Moses’ wife and not him circumcise his son? Which son?
- When Moses told the Hebrews about his mission to save them, “they bowed their heads and worshipped. Why bow one’s head? Why, how, and where did they worship?
- How did Moses and Aaron gain entrance to speak to Pharaoh?
- God tells Moses that he plans to give the Hebrews “the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, wherein they sojourned. Why is “sojourn” repeated? (Such repetitions frequently appear for emphasis and the beauty of the language, as in another verse, “And Moses and Aaron did so. As the Lord commanded them, so did they.”)
- Why doesn’t God speak to Aaron directly? Again, 2:48 answers this question.
- Why did Pharaoh tolerate so many visits by Moses?
- Why are so many Egyptians killed because Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, including seemingly innocent people? Is this an appropriate punishment even for those people involved in the enslavement?
- The number of Hebrews who left Egypt during the exodus is enormous. Including women and children, the count exceeds two million. Why didn’t they revolt?
- Who were the “mixed multitude” that the Torah writes left Egypt with the Hebrews? Are present-day Jews descendants of both Hebrews and non-Hebrews?
- Before the revelation of the Decalogue, commonly called “The Ten Commandments,” men were told to sanctify themselves, wash their garments, and “come not near a woman.” Why? Do women ruin sanctification?
- Are women excluded from the revelation? Are they even addressed in it?
- Why do we call the revelation “Ten Commandments” when it is clear there are more than ten commands? The Torah does not use this title. It calls them “Ten Statements.”
- Why wasn’t Aaron punished for his involvement in creating a calf, an idol?
- Why, when Aaron and his sister Miriam critiqued Moses, God only punished Miriam?
- God tells the Hebrews to be holy “for I the Lord your God am holy.” How does one become holy? How can humans be as holy as God? What is “holy”?
Haas, who questions whether Moses wrote the Torah, ends his book with the following statement: “These conclusions are meant to inspire rather than give an opinion. It makes little difference who the writers were and when the Torah was written. Truth is more precious than gold, and the search for it is never easy. However, if one perseveres, finding truth opens the door to a world the Creator of all wanted us to pass through in our search for the betterment of life on Earth and in the Universe.”
I agree and repeat that the obscurities in the Bible benefit us. They make what is said more interesting, and most importantly, the obscurities and ambiguities make us think, and thinking is the “image of God” that Genesis states God implanted in us, and we must use it and not act as plants and animals who lack this image.