Did Moses Exist?

The new Encyclopedia Judaica is not so sure, citing the work of historians, archeologists and others. YU’s Rabbi Shalom Carmy responds this way:

Orthodox Rabbi Shalom Carmy of New York’s Yeshiva University grants that historians have so far found no documentation on Moses apart from the biblical writings. He doesn’t find this gap surprising and says scholars who make that argument fail to acknowledge that evidence corroborating ancient texts is very spotty.

Summarizing the Jewish divide, Carmy observes that liberals hold the biblical text "doubted until independently proven true," while for fellow traditionalists "it is true unless conclusively disproved."

Really? A less-than-6000-year-old-universe has been conclusively disproven, yet most of Rabbi Carmy’s "fellow traditionalists" still posit a less-than-6000-year-old-universe. And, one should ask, what would Rabbi Carmy do if large parts of the Torah were proven false? You know the answer to that question. Rabbi Carmy will continue to believe, will continue to maintain even those parts of the Torah are true, and will continue living his Orthodox life.

In Rabbi Carmy’s mind, the Torah can never be wrong and can never be proven wrong. Therefore all proofs are not conclusive. Follow that reasoning? It should sound very familiar to you, especially if you were ever a Moonie or wore orange robes.



Filed under History, Modern Orthodoxy, Torah and Science

29 responses to “Did Moses Exist?

  1. Shmendrik

    You are a twit, for several reasons. First, You know damn well that Rabbi Carmy is not a young earth creationist, and it’s absurd to lump them together. 2nd, here you are blathering on about Moshe Rabbeinu probably not existing, and yet on your biography you whine about how the Lubavitchers won’t give you semicha because of the whole Ethiopian issue you (perhaps rightfully) championed. Jeez, just go to JTS or something, you have no business getting an Orthodox semicha in the first place – or at least stop whining about it.

  2. Anonymous

    Shmendrik, the truth does not matter to this moron. He will live alone and die alone and thats the best punishment God can met out to the likes of him.

  3. Dovid Levine

    If you truly care (and are not just whining like Shmendrik says), there are countless explanations concerning the discrepancies between science and torah (first one off my head, the 6 day periods arent 24 hour days, but called ‘day’ based on accomplishment. Its a well-known concept that god judges time not just by the rotations of earth on its axix).
    If you have any other places where the “torah was proven wrong”, by all means mention them. I am sure all of here will be able to find some sort of explanation.
    And if not?
    Well science has been wrong before. A few thousand of years ago, it was a scientific fact that the sun revolves around the earth. Then it was scientific fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Einstein’s theory of relativity restates that the sun revolves around the earth.
    Just because the torah goes against current ‘fact’ doesnt mean that it is wrong.

  4. Anonymous

    You’ve revealed yourself here. You don’t even know when you’re out of your league, one of the surest signs of a fool. Forget about JTS, try HUC.

  5. Rabbi Carmy did not qualify his statement. He knows damn well most haredim posit young earth creationism. He also knows the same holds true for many, if not most, Israeli National Religious and Chardal. And this movement is growing in American MO, as well.

    What I wrote stands.

    As for David Levine’s comment, I know far more about this then you realize. Try reading the many posts on these issues in the Bans section. (Look on the bottom right sidebar of this page.)

  6. Ad hominem attacks on Shmarya aside, the relevant question is whether or not Moshe existed.
    The fact that historical documentation of Moses has not been found outside of the Israelitic texts means shit.
    Keeping in mind that there is (technically) no homogenous text known as “the Torah”; the character of Moses, both as eponym for the Mushite priestly caste and as “liberator, splitter-of-the-sea, lawgiver” or whatever, exists in a number of ancient Israelitic texts. These texts include, among others; the Yahwistic text (J), the Elohistic text(E), the ritualistic user-manuals of the priestly castes (P), Josiah’s deuteronomistic account (D), and the many court-chronicles of the Judaic and Israelitic kingdoms.
    At present, most of those texts have been censored out of the historical account, and those that remained have been compiled into what many assume to be a homogenous text.

    Lack of extra-biblical evidence for his existence does not conclusively prove that he did not exist.
    …And don’t click here.

  7. formallyfrum

    “Summarizing the Jewish divide, Carmy observes that liberals hold the biblical text “doubted until independently proven true,” while for fellow traditionalists “it is true unless conclusively disproved.”

    This statement is simply false. If one believes God wrote the Torah no amount of evidence will change their mind. (Well science has been wrong before.) Simply, a believe is just that a believe it is not based on evidence or fact. If there where evidence it would cease the be a believe and then be a fact.

  8. za

    This would be my last comment on any of Shmaryah entries because he revealed his true colors in the last few days and I do not want to have anything to do with him anymore. I went in last time to see if he bothered to answer many people who’d protested and I may see he didn;t so I guess I have my proof (others saw it earlier, but they continue to visit this site.)
    To the subject, I’ll give you a story. Several years ago an Israeli secular archaelogist wrote a pseudo scientific article disproving the event of the plague that destroyed the Assyrian army that put a siege on Yerushalaim. The guy admitted that the bible and the royal library of Nineweh (the Assyrian capital) agree on all the events and their dates. They differ on one event and we miss the dicument describing the end of the siege from the assyrian side. Based on these facts the guy had the audacity to say that the bible has been proven wrong. Now, if you think about it, one difference in one event that happened some 2700 years ago!? Maybe you misinterpreted the Assyrian document, maybe the Assyrians made a recording mistake in this particular case? And the plague that ended the siege… such plagues would be common in the ancient times and you may not disprove it so why not assume it actually happened? But naw, we have an openning to disprove the bible, we must use it, don’t we?
    And this is considered to be TRUE SCIENCE!

    I am ready to hear arguments that disprove the bible, the mishnah, the Gemara, etc. alright, but you have to be better then that to do so.

  9. Bava Kama Sutra

    Absence Of Evidence Is Not Evidence Of Absence

  10. Dovid Levine

    Forgive me if i came off as bashing you. I was merely trying to say that most (which i say instead of “all” for I am sure I have not heard every argument) “proofs against the torah” can be reconciled. If there is any particular proof against the torah that bothers you, please post it and we will try to come up with an answer.
    However, no proof of is not proof against.

  11. ab

    za, where can I read about the royal library of nineveh talking about the siege of jerusalem?

  12. C-Girl

    “Einstein’s theory of relativity restates that the sun revolves around the earth.”

    That’s a mistaken conclusion to a very taken-out-of-context sound bite (which, btw, Chabad seems to propagate with alarming frequency- as in newsflash! yeshiva students all know “game theory” research that won Nobel Prize!…). Read here for more information

  13. Dovid Levine

    Thanks for the link. I wasnt aware that theye was any controversy concerning the matter. However, from reading the article, and googling the guy’s book, it seems more that hes re-interpreting, not fixing a misinterpretation. I do not know enough on the matter to take opinion of one Donald L. Hamilton vs everyone else.
    (and, even if this Dr Hamilton is right, it just reinforces my point that science is constantly subject to change. What we think is right now may be proven wrong in 10 years, so to be too troubled with the validity of the torah if you cant match it to the current “truths” of science.)

  14. Ichabod Chrain

    I don’t see why you’re picking on Rabbi Carmy. He’s just describing the dispute. Besides it’s no skin off anyone else’s nose for Rabbi Carmy to believe what he wants. The real issue is the truth of the Exodus story.

  15. Yochanan Lavie

    Moshe is an Egyptian name, as are Aharon and Miriam. The torah shows evidence of knowledge of Egyptian language and customs. Whether or not the exodus happened the way Cecil B. Demille depicted it, there is internal evidence that the proto-Jews sojourned in Egypt. (Don’t forget the Semitic Hyksos, who conquered Egypt and were later turned out). It seems to me that biblical minimalists are as intellectually dishonest as the fundies they revile. They just wish to discredit Judaism, religion in general, and the peoplehood of the Jewish people (not just “Zionism”). I am not a strict literalist, so I won’t quibble over details. But like the fundies, the minimalists have an agenda.

  16. C-G

    “The real issue is the truth of the Exodus story.”

    Why? Does it really make a shred of difference one way or another in the gigantic scheme of things? My second grade class always asks me if the parasha I’d just gone over is true or not. I reply: “what do you think?”, because that’s probably the best answer we’ll ever have.

    Time to stop trying to reconcile science and Torah. It’ll never work and we’ve got much better things to do with our time.

  17. Anonymous


    That would mean that then without truth we can all believe as we wish. This would lead the world to anarchy.

    It is also obvious that there is only one solution, to found our societies on truth (true knowledge of reality) rather than past myths and customs.

    Some wise Quatations;

    ‘Thought is merciless to privileged, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought is great and swift and free.’ (Bertrand Russell)

    ‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.’ (Rene Descartes)

    ‘The wise have always said the same things, and fools have always done just the opposite.’ (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    ‘Do not allow yourselves to be deceived: Great Minds are Skeptical.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche)

    ‘Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.’ (Leo Tolstoy)

    The reason that God had to be the giver of knowledge and the laws, was that man was inacaple to attain the truth because man is falible, and that only God is infalible.

    Well it has been proven that God seems to be falible and therefore he must be a man.

    “They just wish to discredit Judaism, religion in general”

    The counter to this would be that, they wish to to keep us from the truth so that they could maintain the comfort of living with lies.

  18. Rabbi Carmy did not qualify his statement.

    The quote is half paraphrase. He did not say “fellow traditionalists,” the reporter used those terms, which is itself an ambiguous phrase. For all we know he could have been referring to fellow RIETS rabbis.

  19. Anonymous

    I think it was Sigmund Freud who said “only in religion would someone believe the most outlandish without any evidence.” (or something close to that)

  20. C-G

    “That would mean that then without truth we can all believe as we wish. This would lead the world to anarchy.”

    We already do and it already is (although one probably has little to do with the other).

    If your faith system falls to pieces if I or anyone else refuses to believe that the Torah is 100% historically accurate, I’d reason that it’s pretty flimsy to begin with.

    I don’t mean to discredit Judaism one iota. I simply propose basing faith on what one knows rather than what one refuses to disbelieve.

  21. Anonymous

    “If the Galileo Affair had taken place after Einstein had framed his General theory, it would have resulted in an even draw out of physical and mathematical necessity” (Sir Fred Hoyle)!

  22. C-G

    I realize that my last paragraph isn’t clear.

    What I meant to say is that I know that Torah exists and I think I know why.

    But I don’t know “who” wrote it, when or where (there are no video clips available on youtube and the ny times must’ve had a lot of other news to cover that day). Should I just go ahead and believe what I wish? Does this constitute a crisis of faith? Should I order up a lobster roll while I contemplate my next move?

    I don’t think so. Like I said, I know that Torah exists and I know that it’s sustained us for a heck of a long time. Anything beyond that is conjecture.

  23. Anonymous

    ” I know that Torah exists and I think I know why ”

    So what is it that you know? and how do know it ?

    It may that the torah exist as a sycnorized-document made up of various texts from many ancient sources, the problem is that it is presented as a divine document that tells us we must forgo all the beauties and wonders of the world, for our one life in this world for the possiblity of some better world that is to come. That is quite a demanding aspect of religion to insist on without having its foundation based on some truths.

    What kind of world would this of been without all the inquisitive minds that searched for truths and knowledge, and in turn helped us understand and know our world better.

    If we are allowed to believe what we wish without allowing and passing the test of scrutiny than anyone can believe what they wish without the burden of proof, and demand that it be respected on an equal par.

    Truth must be the basis for knowldge and the essence forming ones life.

  24. EbA

    If you put all the pieces together, the torah is truth. Look at the jewish people. Look at the torahs predictions for the future of the Jewish people (really look at them; there are some amazing unique events that have only occurred to the Jewish people, and they occurred way after any of the biblical scholars claim the torah was written). Look at Jewish accomplishment. Look at the history of this small people. When you look at this abundance of unexplainable evidence for the torah and Jewish religion, and you truly analyze it and scrutinize it for any explanations, and can’t find anything similar to it in history, you start to believe that the torah could be a divine, holy book. If you analyze all the attacks on the torah, you will find that most of them turn out to be no more than theories that lack any hard evidence. When so many pieces fit together, the logical conclusion is that it is very likely that the torah and judaism is more than just a man made book and religion. If you just allow your questioning mind to turn off for 5 minutes while you pray to G-d (don’t worry you can always start questioning once you’re done) you may find that you actually felt connected to Him in some way. Same thing with doing the mitzvot and keeping shabbat; if you allow yourself just a few minutes, or even hours, to try and have perfect faith in hashem, you may be able to experience that feeling of joy and love that keeps so many jews going, and allows them to be happy even in the harshest of circumstances. Thats at least what I did. Once you feel that need of spirituality fulfilled, any unanswered questions and doubts won’t hold you back from being the kindest and best Jew you can be. You still can and should search for answers and try to understand more about judaism along the way. But in the end, you have faith based on knowledge and reason.

  25. Ichabod Chrain

    “”The real issue is the truth of the Exodus story.”

    Why? Does it really make a shred of difference one way or another in the gigantic scheme of things? My second grade class always asks me if the parasha I’d just gone over is true or not. I reply: “what do you think?”, because that’s probably the best answer we’ll ever have.

    Time to stop trying to reconcile science and Torah. It’ll never work and we’ve got much better things to do with our time.”

    But it does make a difference. If the story is false then Judaism rests on a false premise. If reconciling science and Torah will never work, then that tends to cast doubt on the basis for Orthodox Judaism.

    As far as having better things to do with your time than reconcile science and Torah, some people would agree with that. But others would like to reconcile what we know about the history of the region with the history as set down in the Torah.

    Some might not think it’s important. That’s up to them. Others think that if we’re going to spend the time and effort involved in following halacha, then we might like to know whether it really comes from where it says it comes from.

  26. Anonymous

    That was a lot rambling babble;

    ‘torahs predictions for the future of the Jewish people’

    Which ones the persecutions, pogroms, genocide etc…?

    ‘logical conclusion’

    I believe you meant to say illogical, logic is supported by the evidence and proofs, where is it ?

    Assumptions and opinions are a good start but must be followed through with verifiable evidence.

    ‘faith based on knowledge and reason’

    The essence of faith is ,about believing without evidence or proof ( as in having the faith)it is not not about knowledge and reason.

    The main problem with the «torah» is that it is repugnant to reason, this what Maimainodes tried to reconcile.

    It has brought you joy, thats great, although people find joy in variety of places and a variety of beliefs, but it has not brought greater knowledge of your world.

  27. Yochanan Lavie

    Religion is hardwired into the human brain. It is a basic need, like sexuality. (That is a controversial statement, but many scientists, including non-believers, assert that). If you want to a society based totally on Reason, read part IV of “Gulliver’s Travels.” It is a coldblooded, dystopian nightmare. I for one don’t want to be a Houynhnhm.

    There are emotional and social intellegences, as well as cold logic. It would be impossible to make decisions on reason alone, because one can endlessly weigh the variables. That is why a computer can excell in a finite (but vast) system like chess, but cannot carry on a normal conversation.

    Philosophers such as Kant, Wittgenstein, and Derrida have sought to show the limits of language and/or reason. Godel’s theorum (from my imperfect understanding of it) shows that mathematical systems are not perfect either. Heisenberg and Einstein, in different ways, hint that objectivity may be at least partially illusory.

    The post-Christian europeans are experiencing negative population growth- a freefall actually. Anti-religious communist societies have either eased up on limited forms of religion, or taken on some of religion’s accoutrements. It seems atheism is a bad reproductive/evoloutionary strategy. (Yes, I know that doesn’t prove the existence of God).

    Especially for Jews as a culture- non-religious Judaism has been tried by Bundists, Labour-Zionists, and Judaeo-Communists. It lasts for about a generation. The end of faith is the end of the Jewish people. Call me ethnocentric, but I don’t think that’s good for us or mankind.

    Reason is indispensible, but it is not an infallible God. If reason alone is not enough, and religion is a basic need, it is not unreasonable to pick Judaism as a path to enlightenment. As long as one does so with humility and doesn’t coerce others. Besides, atheism, doesn’t have as many holidays as we do.

  28. EbA

    “The essence of faith is ,about believing without evidence or proof ( as in having the faith)it is not not about knowledge and reason.”

    Well maybe faith is the wrong word. The word “emunah” in hebrew, usually translated as “faith” translates better as “trust.” Hashem doesn’t ask of us to have blind faith. He asks us to make a calculated descision and “veyedatem ki ani hashem elokeichem” which translates “and you will KNOW that I am the lord your G-d.” “Know” and not “have faith.”

    Furthermore, I believe that every decision we make everyday is based to some extent on belief based on a calculated choice. When we say that the world is real, we are assuming we’re not in the matrix. It may seem unlikely, but it takes an amount of “faith” to believe we are not in the matrix. The entire world could have been created five seconds ago, with all beings having been created with memories of their past, which never actually occurred. To believe that we actually have lived out our entire lives up until now takes an amount of “faith”.

    Secondly, if you want proof of fulfilled prophecy, I recommend you read the debate between shmarya and myself located in this post http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2006/10/religion_is_the.html#comments

    Start with the post that says “There are plenty of fulfilled prophecies in the torah that definitely…”

    If you have anything to add to what was written there, let me know.

  29. I once worked in monsey for my yeshivish cousin. i once asked him:
    ‘what would you do if one day you came to work to find on your desk absolute proof that the tora was written by people, not god?’
    and he thought about it and said,
    ‘well that would mean, that the tora was a fraud, and why follow laws if they were were written by people? and why be jewish?’
    so his entire edifice of jewishness hangs on an ever thing thread of emuna.

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