At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, January 13, 2006



Creation myths and how-so stories are part of our intellectual heritage.....

But surely calling them 'intellectual heritage' is overblowing it?

Not at all. To paraphrase Robert Kirk (in Relativism and Reality, Routledge 1999 - kindly brought to my attention by Mar Gavriel (1)), 'they give the background against which religious rituals become intelligible and provide a framework in terms of which people can think about themselves and their world'.

Much the same like the tales of Avraham, Yakov, and Yosef - we have no proof that anything like that ever happened, but we frame our thought-systems in terms of the questions the tales raise, and the points made in the narrative.
The tales define our response; they are probably the result of response.

Does it matter whether any of it actually happened in the way that it is described?

No. What matters is the way that it is described.


Was there ever a man such as Moses?

The answer to that is also unknowable. But the Mosaic narrative expresses the Sinaiitic covenant. And, in the sense that the covenant is the record of a contractual relationship with an entity who can neither be known nor described, the narrative is the perfect expression of the covenant. We know our side of the deal, we cannot be certain of the other side - and subsequent history abundantly demonstrates that uncertainty.

This is precisely what happened..... but it could not possibly have happened exactly this way.

If we take all of it for the unvarnished truth, we will scarcely think about it. Were that the case, what point would there be? We have to think about it. We have to search for what the tales tell us, not merely hear what they say.

The texts are the first part of an argument, a discussion, a debate. And that's how they need to be.

[When Indonesian Muslims talk about the Mahabharata, they speak of the heroes as gods. They know that they aren't, but in the tales they are. Even though the gods are, essentially, merely the ancestors of the kings, and never were the gods. Within the context of the tales, a different reality holds.]


What follows is prolix, and somewhat blathering - for which I apologize.
But here goes:

'This is precisely what happened': Describes the event, states the occurrence.

But this is not exactly what happened - from a factual point of view, there is no actual data. It is like describing the eruption of a volcano, by saying what happened, but not giving measurables and quantifiables, nor statistics, lists, and data - 'big mountain blew up, top gone'.
Yes, it happened precisely as stated, by there is nothing exact to sink one's teeth into. The statement, in it's 'in-exactitude', is not a report of events.

The idea I'm working with is that the Chumash is not a dry police blotter, or scientific report, but a text whose purpose is to give the reader a framework or basis for thought.

The Torah gives us a narrative of events - but because it isn't geared towards data but the conveying of ideas and questions, what it gives is not exact (quantifiable data), but precise (the basis for the ideas and the questions).

If you'll forgive the analogy, it's like the set-up to a long joke, which gives the listener enough data to understand the punch line - does it matter that there were no actual three men and a speedboat? No, because the punch line has its own truth, and speaks to something that is already within the listener - it reverberates, because the listener already knows that truth. But the listener needed the three men and the speedboat to understand the punch line, and to bring up the situation in which that truth reverberated.

In the same way, one needs the Torah to understand the ideas it offers.

[Editorial note Sunday 01/15/06 at 3:37PM: "In the same way...": By which I mean that without the Torah, one cannot understand the very ideas of which the Torah is the vehicle - and I'm operating from the point of view that it IS necessary to understand, or try to understand, those ideas.]

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This reminds me of a comment I left a while back under a posting (2) by Steg dindš (3):

"Parshas Bereishis is 100% percent true - but that isn't how it happened.
Yerushalayim is the centre of the universe - even though it's located on the edge of a rather minor galaxy.
There is absolutely no evidence that there is a deity - and that by itself may be evidence that there is a deity."

To which Lipman (4) responded: "free yourself from the illusion that two contradictory statements are both true! Either at least one is wrong, or they're not actually contradicting each other. "

Which is also true.

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1. Mar Gavriel's blog is here:
2. Šteg (dos iz nit der šteg)'s post is here:
3. Šteg's blog is here: ) .
4. Lipman's blog is here:

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  • At 7:20 AM, Blogger Lipman said…

    Which is also true.

    If this is simply a(n allusion to the well known) joke, ignore my question, but if, as I suppose, you (also) mean it, please explain the "also".

  • At 3:51 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    "Also", in the sense that if any of the foregoing has truth (or validity, whichever sense you choose), then the statement you made ("...the illusion that two contradictory statements..... Either at least one is wrong, or they're not actually contradicting each other.") is ALSO true.

    Either they are in some way contradictory, or their contradiction is an illusion. And more likely the second.

    If they seem to contradict each other, perhaps we're either misreading at least one of them, or their ideas are not adequately conveyed by speech.

    Language itself is somewhat illusory. It seems to convey reality, but more often we're better off assuming that it merely reflects a refraction of reality.

  • At 7:37 AM, Blogger Mar Gavriel said…

    Language itself is somewhat illusory. It seems to convey reality, but more often we're better off assuming that it merely reflects a refraction of reality.

    Exactly. Do you remember that a few Monate ago, I said that I would write a post on the Zōhar? Well, this issue of the illusoriness of language is the issue about which I think the author(s) of the Zōhar really hit the nail on the head. They understood that no matter how divine the origin of the Tōrā was, the author(s) of the Tōrā still could not truly convert the whole of the aetherial Tōrā into written form.

    "Berēshith bārā Elōhim"-- but not really "berēshith". There's a certain point of light that is the earliest thing that we can fathom, so we call it "berēshith" (בתר ההיא נקודה לא אתיידע כלל, ובגין כך אקרי ראשית, מאמר קדמאה דכלא). But it's not really the beginning. The true beginning is something that we cannot even comprehend, let alone express in language. And therefore, the author(s) of the Tōrā must be silent about it.

  • At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Back of the hill is an absolute heretic and nobody should read his writings.

    Anybody that reads this will be reading apikorsish garbage.

    This is BITTUL TORAH.


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