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What is the evidence for the Mount Sinai Event that is so difficult to dispute?

by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

  

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First, let’s differentiate between “difficult to dispute” and “indisputable.” I don’t believe there’s indisputable evidence for any event of history. All we can do is apply the same criteria we apply to everyday situations. When we sit in the dentist’s chair, we don’t demand “indisputable proof” that he’s a dentist. There’s the possibility that he’s not. Really—it’s happened. But that’s how life goes—you take the most likely scenario.

The MSE (Mount Sinai Event) is the most likely scenario to explain the Jewish people. Any other scenario is **very** difficult.

The evidence for the MSE has been discussed by many classic Jewish writers. The best known—but not the only—proof is that stated by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi in his book known as the Kuzari: “The Mount Sinai Event is the central event of Jewish history, theology and consciousness. It is the shared memory of an entire people who claim to have heard the Creator of the Universe speaking to them en masse. It’s far too outrageous to be a myth—how could you possibly convince an entire nation of such an event if it never happened? People would say, ”Why did my father never tell me any of this?” The very fact that no other people ever came up with anything like it screams out its veracity.”

It’s too difficult to convince people of a historical event of this sort that never happened
This means that historical events involving masses of people are very difficult to make up. That’s why legends and mythology are always about private or “biographical” events. For example, a certain person, or small group of people, were told something by G-d (or “the gods”). Or a great hero wrestled a monster before a handful of villagers. Those things are easy to make up. But to come to a people and say, “Guess what! Your father and mother may never have told you this, but all of our ancestors experienced this cataclysmic event that forged our entire history ever since!” You’ve got a hard sell.

Why would you want to make such a sale? So that people will obey these commandments, I suppose. Which leaves a very good question: If this is such a good way to get people to follow the laws of your society, why didn’t any other people come up with the idea? Why does everybody else either claim their laws were handed to a single individual or small group, or simply admit that they were made by human beings? For the reason I gave above: It’s too difficult to convince people of an historical event of this sort that never happened.

You might say, “Well, maybe they took some minor event and just kept exaggerating it over the centuries?” This could happen. People love to add on to stories.

However, when this occurs we inevitably end up with highly diverse, multiple versions of the story—sometimes so diverse they are no longer recognizable as the same story. In our case, there is only one version of the story, accepted by not only all Jews until recent times, but also the ancient Romans and all Christians and Moslems. This can only be attributed to the preservation of a consistent written account.

But, as I wrote (see What happened at Sinai?), the **real** problem for most people is not the evidence or lack thereof, but the difficulty they have in conceiving such an event. It simply does not fit into their normative realm of experience. That is why I wrote what I wrote—simply to relate it more to that which we know and understand.


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COMMENTS

Disappointed in your words

Posted by: Rafael Azanza, Manila, Philippines on Dec 25, 2005

I love the values in the Jewish religion. Re: the Mt. Sinai event, it's like a YES-NO test of whether the whole edifice of Jewish religious thought, traditions, all thse many books, all the values - are they TRUE? If Christ did not in fact rise from the dead, he is not what Christians say he is. If G-d did not reveal Himself to the the assembled host of Hebrews at Mt. Sinai, then the Covenant is not true and Judaism is not true.

I find your attempt to prove that the MSE actually happened to be just rhetoric. And so I am disappointed. Of course a group of people could carry down through history a story like that - even more dramatic stories about Gods coming down from heaven and speaking to entire tribes have been proclaimed by American Indians and South Sea Islanders. Human beings are capable of infinite imagination. It's OK if the MSE has to be accepted on Faith, but don't use nere rhetoric and then claim the event must have happened. How sad that's all.

Thanks

Posted by: Paul Cleland, Valatie, NY on Apr 03, 2006

Please keep your site up as long as you can. Your message is very important. Being here for a word of Torah found unexpectedly is a pleasant thing.

I am relatively new to Jewish life (20 years) as a convert and relatively alone in rural NY. Thanks for being here,


Evidence?

Posted by: Brad Drac, Dublin, Ireland on Jun 19, 2006

In response to the question posed, why are a variety of numbers not suggested, the most likely answer would probably be the existence of the torah. Seeing as the jewish people believe that the torah is true, and the torah says 3,000,000 people, then the jewish people all believe 3,000,000 people. Christianity also is pretty much derived from judaism, and islam from christianity, so it's natural that all would share the same belief about the number.

Secondly, if I were to say that I have bright blue skin with pink polka dots and nine ears, by the logic expressed in the article would it not likely be true? It is such an absurd thing to say, why would I say it if it was not true? No one else remembered has said it, so how could I just come up with it if it was false?

I don't believe books of faith can be used as empircal evidence as they are from a biased viewpoint. Unfortunately, only jewish folks saw it, so no one else can argue. It's a matter of faith and faith can't be proven.


Response to Mr. Brad Drac Re: Secondly

Posted by: Benjamin Finn on Nov 06, 2006

Mr. Drac before you comment would you mind reading the article one more time because I don't think you completely understand.

Now you started a point correctly but you missed the inportant part. If you dont mind I will finish it for you.

If you said "I have bright blue skin with pink polka dots and nine ears" and then 600,000 people looked at you and stated, "Yes that is definitely blue skin" "can you count it those are nine ears" "without a doubt I saw a blue skinned, nine eared man today." Then yes by the logic of this article you would be declared a blue skinned man with nine ears.

Do you see the difference between the logic in the article and your logic? Its witnesses. Your logic contains a lack of it. In fact your logic is spoken of directly in this article.

Please see paragraph 4 right under the dividing qoute. I ask you next time please finish an article before you quote.


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