Thursday, February 6, 2014

Talmud: from God or Man?

Religious Jews tend to regard the Talmud – the collected writings of the Rabbis complied in its final form around 500 AD – as more authoritative than the Bible itself. They claim that this Oral Law (Talmud) had been given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. Moses then passed this Oral Law on to Joshua. In support of this, they cite the Mishna tractate, Pirke Avot 1:1, an early written compilation (200 AD) that later became part of the Talmud:

  •  Moses passed it on to Joshua. Joshua gave it to the Elders. The Elders gave it to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it to the Men of the Great Assembly [including Ezra and Nehemiah].

However, there are many problems with this claim:

1.     The contents of the Talmud are clearly uninspired. Here’s one example: “When a man talks too much to his wife, he causes evil to himself, disregards the words of Torah and in the end will inherit Gehenna.” (Pirke Avot)

2.     In many regards, the Talmud contradicts the Hebrew Scriptures.

3.     Rather than declaring, “Thus says the Lord,” the Talmud is comprised by rabbinic discussions.

4.     The Hebrew Scriptures give no support for the simultaneous existence of an Oral Law.

In fact, Scripture undermines such a claim. For instance,

  • Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:34-35)

If Moses had passed on the Oral Law to Joshua, as the Talmud claims, then it should have been recited. However, Joshua had read everything of what Moses had commanded him. This leaves no room for the existence of the Oral Law. Later, Joshua charged the Israelites:

  • “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.” (23:6)

Had Joshua been in possession of an Oral Law, why would he not command Israel to obey it along with the written law? This question is even more troubling since the Jews regard the Oral as more authoritative than the written. Certainly, the Rabbis wouldn’t claim that Joshua had failed in this duty.

Throughout the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures, there is not the slightest hint of the presence of an Oral Law. Never does a Prophet of Israel charge the people with having neglected the Oral Law! Instead, it seems to be entirely absent.

Besides this, the Torah was often read (Exo. 24:7; 2 Kgs 23:1-3; Neh. 8:1-18), at Covenant renewals and revivals. However, there is absolutely no indication that the Oral Law was ever recited. It seems to have been entirely absent. All of this contradicts the claim of the Rabbis that the Talmud had been given to Moses on Mt. Sinai and is therefore authoritative. Instead, this adoration of the Talmud represents the serious offense of adding to the Law (Deut. 4:2; 12:42)!

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