Friday, October 1, 2021

Walking, Talking Snakes?

This week, the Biblical Museum of Natural History posted a video on FaceBook which created something of a stir. Probably the most extraordinary footage we have ever filmed, it showed our giant 15-foot Burmese python, Cuddles, moving two tiny "legs" back and forth as he moved around his enclosure! You can watch the amazing clip on YouTube at this link. While these legs are used today in the mating process, scientific investigation indicates that they are either remnants of the legs that snakes used to possess, or that they are formed by the reactivation of genes from such ancestral legged reptiles.

Of course, this immediately brings to mind the verse from parashat Bereishit this week:

"וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל הַנָּחָשׁ כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה עַל גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ."

"So the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life." (Genesis 3:14).

Because of this verse, we have found that showing Cuddles' legs to our visitors stirs great excitement and interest. But is there really a connection to this verse, and if so, what exactly is it?

Biblical literalists insist that the Serpent of Eden was an actual reptile, the ancestor of snakes today (although Rabbi Moshe Meiselman ties himself up in knots when he tries to justify the Talmud's exegesis from this verse regarding snakes having a seven-year gestation period). From this perspective, discovering that snakes have tiny remnants of legs seems to be an amazing vindication of traditional belief.

On the other hand, the idea that modern zoology vindicates a belief that snakes today are all descended from a walking ancestor 5782 years ago is rather naive. We have plenty of fossil snakes, going back many orders of magnitude more than a few thousand years. The fossil record shows that snakes did indeed formerly possess legs, but that was millions of years ago, not a few thousand years ago!

But it's not only modern scientific studies which challenge the simple reading. Already many centuries ago, there were rabbinic thinkers who pointed out that there are basic problems with a simple reading of the text. Ramban points out that the greatest difference between the primeval character of Eden and snakes today is not legs; it's the ability to communicate intelligently! If the snake of Eden was the actual ancestor of snakes today, surely it's the removal of its intellectual and communicative facilities which are a much greater curse than the loss of legs!

For this reason and others, rationalists such as Rambam, Ralbag, Seforno and others interpreted the story of the serpent in Eden allegorically. I have discussed the general topic of non-literal interpretations of Creation extensively in my book The Challenge Of Creation, which is best purchased at this link. You can also read an explanation of Rambam's non-literal understanding of the events in Gan Eden in an essay that I posted here.

There are other approaches, too. Contemporary theologians of a more liberal persuasion would argue that the account of the snake in Eden is indeed related to the snakes that we all know today. But rather than being a historical account, it is sacred myth - not "myth" in the sense that the term is used today with regard to Bigfoot (which is why I personally think that the term should not be used), but rather in the sense of adapting ancient stories about the world to communicate religious meaning. This approach might sound radical or heretical from a religious perspective, but it also has its legitimacy, as discussed by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman in Ani Maamin, and also by myself in The Challenge Of Creation.

Personally, I believe that the story of the Garden Of Eden was written so long ago, and for a readership so far removed from us today, that it's impossible to know what was really intended and understood. And I'm very tolerant of however people wish to understand it. For this reason, I'm happy to show people Cuddles' amazing legs, and point out the parallel with the popular understanding of the Biblical account. My only problem is with people who insist that their explanation is the only valid one, and who try to delegitimize those who approach this enigma differently. 

 

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50 comments:

  1. More examples of snakes with legs or similar:

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/a-fossil-snake-with-four-legs

    https://twitter.com/statedclearly/status/1198318093283594240

    Many such lizards around.

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  2. "My only problem is with people who insist that their explanation is the only valid one, and who try to delegitimize those who approach this enigma differently."

    Few people if any say their approach is the only valid one. Within Chazal and Rishonim, there are many approaches. But there are some approaches that are clearly invalid. Like, not everything is black and white, but a small number of things are black and white.

    One of the invalid approaches is saying that the entire seder hadoros in chapter 5 of Bereishis didn't exist. Whether "Adam" represents "mankind", I am not sure. But whatever that means, it has to fit with the seder hadoros in Bereishis and Noach up until Avraham Avinu. Unless you can come up with some sort of demarcation for when fake seder hadoros ends and the real seder hadoros begins.

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    1. Compare the list of Kayin's descendants, and the qualities of the last generation (and, in the Midrash, the marriages thereof), with the same for Shet's. You might be surprised.

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    2. @Nachum, could you be more specific what you are referring to? I'd like to look it up.

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    3. @Big Mouth. Sure. Just look at the list. With the exception of one transposed set of names, the list of Kayin's descendants is almost identical to Shet's. Start with Adam and then Kayin for the former, and start with Enosh (which, after all, has the same meaning as "Adam") for the latter. Kayin/Keinan, etc. etc., down to two men named Lamech both of whom had creative sons, and, according to the Midrash, the daughter of one married the son of the other.

      How would you explain the coincidence?

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    4. @happy

      > Few people if any say their approach is the only valid one. Within Chazal and Rishonim, there are many approaches. But there are some approaches that are clearly invalid. Like, not everything is black and white, but a small number of things are black and white.

      I'm surprised to hear something so liberal from you. Are you aware that Rav Meiselman disagrees? From page 639 of Torah, Chazal and Science:

      > There is a clear Mesorah that Adam HaRishon was not born of male and female but was fashioned by the Creator directly from the earth on a specific date. There is no source whatsoever to permit allegorizing this story or taking it in any but the most literal manner. Consequently, rejection of the plain understanding of this event constitutes kefirah (denial) of an integral part of the Torah shebe'al Peh and is an instance of being megaleh panim baTorah shelo kehalacha. The same may be said with respect to the allegorization of other passages in Berishis to make them compatible with heretical theories.

      In the case of the Mabul, the suggestion that it was a local flood may or may not be kefirah, but it is certainly incompatible with the plain reading of the text. Moreover, it is sophomoric from an intellectual standpoint. It was a noble, if feeble, defensive effort a century ago. Today, it simply does not work.

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    5. EL, I think he's right about Adam and Chava (except for the specific date part, I believe it's a machlokes what date it was). And about the Mabul he too is not saying it's kefirah. Simply that it doesn't work. Be that as it may, I don't have to agree with everything Rabbi Meiselman says!

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  3. Slif: like your book that aroused anger among caring faithful then, so too do you do now. Primarily - whether you care to admit or deny it - it was your attitude.

    The dismisiviness of our tradition's greats. The meanspiritendess that leaped off your pages. The unnecessary aping of all things academic sounding.

    You brought it on yourself. And you fulfilled the morning prayer:

    "He lowers the haughty"

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    1. "meanspiritedness"?? Please give examples. Even just one.

      (and there was no dismissiveness either. Unless you describe reasoned rejection of a position as "dismissive.")

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  4. The biggest problem with contemporary theologians by far isn't their interpretations of story of Gan Eden per se. It the view that Adam and Eve weren't specially created, and they weren't the first humans from whom all mankind descended.

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  5. Rabbi Slifkin:
    "Personally, I believe that the story of the Garden Of Eden was written so long ago, and for a readership so far removed from us today, that it's impossible to know what was really intended and understood."

    Does that mean you think there can only be one correct interpretation? Why?
    If the Author of the story was a Divine Being, couldn't there be many different correct interpretations intended by the Author?

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    1. Um, just askin', did you stop reading at that sentence and not finish the paragraph? He clearly says that he is OK with multiple explanations.

      I understand that sentence as going against those who claim to have the True and Original explanation. We might have seventy explanations, but it must have meant something specific to the generation who originally received it - and THIS understanding is what eludes us.

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    2. Yosef R.
      You are blowing things way out of proportion.
      The paragraph starts with "personally, I believe". I was merely following up with this: So do you "personally believe" that there can be only one *correct* explanation for any given biblical passage and not multiple *correct* explanations?

      I'm not accusing him of being intolerant of other explanations c"v! Other views are certainly "ok"! But I'm raising an important theological issue: is an omnipotent Being such as the Author of the Torah capable of intending multiple correct interpretations of a given biblical passage--ones that can convey originally intended, *true* messages to Jews living in different times and places?
      As you mentioned, Jewish tradition certainly asserts that God has such a capacity. All traditional biblical exegesis for thousands of years is grounded on such an assumption.
      I was merely wondering if Rabbi Slifkin is denying that God such a capacity when he says "it is impossible to know what was really intended" by this passage once we became too far removed from the mind-set of the Torah's original audience.

      Granted, Rabbi Slifkin is also interested in what was understood by the Torah's original audience as well, and we may never know that. But I'm wondering-- why is this so crucial? Is he implying that knowing how it was understood by the original audience is the *only* way to arrive at a true or correct understanding of the passage? Again, can there be no other true or correct understandings intended for later audiences?

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  6. “Personally, I believe that the story of the Garden Of Eden was written so long ago, and for a readership so far removed from us today, that it's impossible to know what was really intended and understood. And I'm very tolerant of however people wish to understand it.“

    Rav Slifkin,

    How do you know what the author(s) of Bereishis really intended? Did he/they actually intend the Gan Eden tale to be allegorical or did they really believe in talking snakes? Given the beliefs in mythical tales extant in the times of the Torah’s authorship, why would the author(s) of the Torah not construct a talking snake fable? From a “rationalist” Rishonim, Achromim viewpoint, of course talking snakes, donkeys etc. are allegorical. Anything but, would make them look foolish from their standpoint. So why might you assume that the Gan Eden tale was allegorical? Perhaps the tale was to be believed as was intended—- why not talking snakes?

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  7. Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by the story being written so long ago, and for a readership so far removed from us today, that it's impossible to know what was really intended and understood? You acknowledge different ways to understand it, including the allegorical. My own view is similar, as I believe it is meant to also address basic etiological questions, such as the differences between the sexes, why we have to work, bear children in pain, etc.

    However, you seem to think that none of these explanations are sufficient, as though this story in particular is somehow more ancient or incomprehensible than any other section. The former proposition brings you into the DH and outside of orthodoxy. The latter is difficult, as I can see no reason why anyone would think the Genesis account is any more hard to understand than the Poems of Numbers, the final blessings of Yaakov and Moshe, and more.

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    1. Just because it could be understood allegorically and is meant to address certain etiological questions doesn't mean it isn't also literal. The fact that some commentators say certain things in the Torah are allegorical doesn't give us license to say anything is allegorical whenever we want, against all of Chazal and all of the commentators. We have a Mesorah, we have a Torah She'baal Peh, we cannot interpret however we please.

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    2. I would agree (although that is *not* what DH is about), but add a point that human beings haven't really changed in thousands of years. The things Adam and Chava do are pretty recognizable to us.

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    3. “We have a Mesorah, we have a Torah She'baal Peh, we cannot interpret however we please.“

      Mesorah and Torah She’baal Peh did exactly that — they interpreted however it pleased them.

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    4. Nachum - yes. That more accurately zeroes in on what I meant. If any there is any part in the Torah hard for us to understand today, it would be the Poems in the book of Numbers. These describe (in part) events not recorded in the Torah and virtually unknown to us. The Genesis account, by contrast, addresses basic concepts of the world, all of which are still true and recognizable today.

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  8. This is a good post, but I don't think you can say the the Genesis story is not something that can be understood today if you believe that the Torah was written for all time even if it uses some concepts that are best understood at a time, like the covenants. I accept that I might not be able to understand the real meaning of the Iliad or Beowulf, becuase I have little in common with the men who wrote those books and for whom they were written.

    Also, the fact of the timespan doesn't matter so much. If you believe that the earth is 5782 years old, you don't hold by the fossil record anyway. But it provides support for a fairly literal "old earth creation" account as opposed to a "sacred myth".

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  9. The fact that the snake lost its legs seems to contradict the evolution narrative about survival of the fittest, being that snakes with legs have a higher chance of survival and passing on their genes. So the Torah's account does seem to be pointing to some truth which wasn't known scientifically for a long time.

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    1. How do you know that the survival environment favored snakes with legs? It is obvious that environmental evolutionary mechanisms favored legless snakes. Similar to the evolutionary mechanisms that favored flightless birds.

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    2. Because having legs makes it more able.

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    3. Moshe,

      What good are legs if the physical environment made legs a hinderance rather than an advantage to successfulness?
      You are obviously ignorant of evolutionary theory.

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    4. Being able to walk is not a hinderance

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  10. When approaching this (and other) topics there are 5 questions to answer:

    1) Is the approach coherent? Does it violate a rules of logic, common sense, or empirical knowledge?
    2) Does the view address and solve an important problem/s in Jewish belief?
    3) Does it have precedent among Jewish thinkers who have returned to the same question in the centuries since?
    4) Does it lead to a theologically repugnant conclusion?
    5) Is there a better option satisfying 1-4?

    Interpretations leaning to allegory or myth (as a literary genre, not falsehood) easily satisfy 1 & 2, is on the edge, but existent for 3, and #4 depends on your apriori beliefs (many think that not taking the Genesis story literally is theologically repugnant, but that is something they need to argue for.)

    For the literal approach, you are dead in the water on 1 & 2 and solid on #3 as that's been the main approach (among thinkers who do not care in engage modern science/ lived to early to do so.)

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    1. BM, I love the way you laid out these questions in such a clear and logical way. It makes it much easier to discuss these issues.

      I just disagree with your conclusion. Saying Hashem made ma'aseh Bereishis including fossils and dinosaur bones doesn't violate all aspects of #1. It fits with empirical knowledge (by definition, for the same reason saying Hashem made the world a second ago fits with empirical knowledge), and there's no rule of logic preventing it.

      But it might violate common sense (why would the Creator do that? To the extent we can call such questions common sense) It might also violate #4 (why would the Creator create fake, useless, misleading things? Isn't that repugnant? To the extent we can claim to understand Hashem and ask such questions) And it might also violate #3 (partially, as they mainly took the story it literally, but never said anything about fossils, for obvious reasons).

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    2. The ompahlos hypothesis violates #1 because it is extremely ad hoc. There is no reason to postulate such an idea other than the fact that it keeps alive your ideological presuppositions - an obvious retreat in the face of modern science that can't be refuted/confirmed even in theory. Sure there's "no rule of logic preventing it", but that is a absurd epistemological standard. We can't either disprove the idea that the world was created 10 minutes ago. Both fare terribly with ockams razor.

      Conversely, the idea that the Torah, given millennia before the scientific revolution, before categories like science and history existed, imparts theological lessons rather than empirical truths, seems pretty reasonable. It'd be anachronistic to expect otherwise.

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    3. I think saying the whole thing is a "sacred myth" is also extremely ad hoc? As there is no reason to postulate such an idea other than the fact that it keeps alive your presuppositions. Which is why none of the early commentators or Chazal said such a thing. It too is an obvious retreat in the face of modern science.

      Plus omphalos is not so ad hoc, there is sufficient precedent from the story itself, where the people, trees, stars, and planets arrived fully formed.

      That is not to say there are no theological lessons. Chazal and commentators derive plenty of theological lessons! But they also believed the story (mostly) really happened, and wasn't just a "sacred myth".

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    4. "I think saying the whole thing is a "sacred myth" is also extremely ad hoc, As there is no reason to postulate such an idea other than the fact that it keeps alive your presuppositions"

      But this is incorrect. The motivation is because the themes scream allegory (as the Rambam and others did regarding other narratives) in a way that other narratives in the Torah don't. The proof is in the pudding; commentators like Philo, Rambam, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Nyssa all interpreted it as allegorical well before any scientific evidence emerged. Compare that to the utter lack of Omphalos proponents before the discovery of the old earth. They aren't at all comparable.

      (I don't quote the likes of St Augustine because i think they're authoritative. The point is that the Allegory hypothesis passes the pre-facto litmus test when determining ad-hocness)

      I find your defense of Omphalos very wanting. You cant compare a 20 year old human and a tree with a few rings to Light coming to us from millions of miles away, and sedimentary layers of beaches that never were or animals that never truly existed. Do i need to explain why?

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    5. If so, your dismissal of Omphalos is also incorrect. Because the story screams literalism. The people in the story had descendants! With names! And according to Chazal and all our commentators, Rambam, Ralbag, Abarbanel included, there was a literal Ma'aseh Bereishis, and Adam and Chava were literal, real people with real descendants. This, despite the fact that some of them interpret the Eitz Hadaas story as allegorical. And despite that Ralbag says there was pre-existing matter, he agrees that there was Creation.

      So we have near unanimous consent from Chazal and Rishonim on the literalism of the Creation and the existence of Adam and Chava. And now, some people want to dismiss all of that, people who would have otherwise believed it. Why? Expressly because of the difficulties of modern science! Sounds pretty ad-hoc to me!

      I don't understand your statement that "You cant compare a 20 year old human and a tree with a few rings to Light coming to us from millions of miles away, and sedimentary layers of beaches that never were or animals that never truly existed." Is one harder for Hashem than the other?

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  11. "the story screams literalism"

    I agree that most (non-rationalist type) people would interpret it as such. That doesn't make allegory ad-hoc if there were those who employed critical thinking interpreting it as such before hand.

    "your dismissal of Omphalos is also incorrect.."

    My dismissal was because it is ad hoc, which is not the case with allegory as I demonstrated. You responded:

    "(before)Plus omphalos is not so ad hoc, there is sufficient precedent from the story itself, where the people, trees, stars, and planets arrived fully formed... ....(just now) Is one harder for Hashem than the other?"

    This is hardly the point. Rather, does one violate Ockam's razor more then the other? Yes, you're postulating insane amount of things for no reason other than you want a literal interpretation. Is it more Ad hoc than the other? Yes, noone would postulate fake age before scientific discovery.

    The difference between a 20 year old man and hundreds of millions of years of prehistory, civilizations, animal kingdoms, stars planets etc. The difference is qualitative not quantitative. The proof is in the pudding; noone woulever ask "Why did G-d create Adam as a 20 year old and not a baby?" It's just not a compelling question. The same is asked about all the aforementioned and is puzzling to one committed to YEC.

    That was my original point; Omphalos violates #1 in a way that allegory doesnt.


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    1. "I agree that most (non-rationalist type) people would interpret it as such. That doesn't make allegory ad-hoc if there were those who employed critical thinking interpreting it as such before hand."

      And yet Chazal and our Commentaries, who also employed critical thinking, mostly interpreted it literally. Your precedent for complete allegory was...a bunch of Christian bishops. And the reason you, a frum Jew, all of the sudden agree with a bunch of Christian bishops against Chazal and Rishonim, is solely and expressly because of... the difficulties posed by modern science! Totally, 100%, undiluted ad-hoc!

      "Yes, noone would postulate fake age before scientific discovery."

      I just showed that they did - people, trees, animals, planetary motions, etc. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not postulating anything new. There was only one Creation that included everything, no need to postulate "an insane amount of things". Scientists have just succeeded in revealing new information about how great Hashem's briah was!

      " The difference is qualitative not quantitative. The proof is in the pudding; noone woulever ask "Why did G-d create Adam as a 20 year old and not a baby?" It's just not a compelling question. The same is asked about all the aforementioned and is puzzling to one committed to YEC."

      Huh??? So your whole question is "why would G-d do that"??? I have the same question about 99% of things in the world, with or without Omphalos! Dovid Hamelech had the same question about spiders and meshugaim! This is your logical "proof"???

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    2. "Chazal and our Commentaries, who also employed critical thinking, mostly interpreted it literally. Your precedent for complete allegory [as a permissible idea] was...a bunch of Christian bishops."

      There are two types of "precedents"; intellectual precedent [i.e. #1, is it ad hoc?, does it makes sense in its own right?] and permissibility [i.e. #3, do we have precedent within our mesorah allowing this?].

      As to the latter, I agree that a majority of commentators went literal, but that doesn't make the minority opinion forbidden, hence when I said "allegory... ...is on the edge, but existent for 3". Notice how I didn't quote Christian theologians to bolster this point. (As an aside, I think it’s also important to note that even though Chazal were "critical thinkers", that doesn't cut thru the rationalist/Mystic divide. The majority were in the school of thought that wouldn't bring them to allegory. As a rationalist, I don't think that popularity is and indicator of truth when seeking compatibility with scientific/historic empiricism.)

      As to the first point, it is intellectually viable because it has allegorical themes and is therefore a סיבה. I only quoted Christian Theologians as סִימָן that it isn't ad hoc; It's hard to argue that this explanation of Bereishis isn't objectively intellectually viable pre-facto if people were explaining it as such before the fact. And as to your point: "And the reason you, a frum Jew, all of the sudden agree... ...against Chazal and Rishonim, is solely and expressly because of... the difficulties posed by modern science! Totally, 100%, undiluted ad-hoc!" This is flawed: Switching from a majority opinion to a minority in the face of modern science is only a retreat if the minority opinion is unviable intellectually in its own right (i.e. Omphalos). But as I explained above, there is reason to think the minority has merit (it makes sense), והא ראיה people claimed so before hand!

      I said: "The difference is qualitative not quantitative. The proof is in the pudding; no one would ever ask "Why did G-d create Adam as a 20 year old and not a baby?" It's just not a compelling question. The same is asked about all the aforementioned and is puzzling to one committed to YEC."

      You said: "Huh??? So your whole question is "why would G-d do that"??? I have the same question about 99% of things in the world, with or without Omphalos! Dovid Hamelech had the same question about spiders and meshugaim! This is your logical "proof"???"

      This is confused, perhaps i wasn't clear enough. My point here is that invoking Omphalos is something one would only conjure up after the fact, hence a סִימָן that it is ad-hoc. I demonstrate this by pointing out that none would ask "Why did G-d create Adam as a 20 year old and not a baby?" The reason no one would ask that is because not making Adam a baby is not wildly unnecessary, i.e. even if we had no idea whether Adam/trees were made aged/with rings, one could reasonably think it/he was made with age without violating Ockams razor. The same simply can't be said of Omphalos; no one would reasonably think that the prehistory was a intuitive viable idea before the fact.

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    3. My point is, the complete allegorization of Bereishis is not even a minority opinion in our Mesorah. Nobody, neither "mystics" nor "rationalists" held that way. At least, until recently. The impetus for you to suddenly hold like a bunch of Christian theologians - for completely different reasons than they did - is ONLY due the challenge of modern science. You wouldn't have DREAMED of following their opinion otherwise, just like you wouldn't dream of following their opinions when it comes to Jesus in Isaiah. It's completely "after the fact", completely ad-hoc, it's only to deal with the challenge of modern science.

      "והא ראיה people claimed so before hand!"

      People throughout history and to the present day claimed lots of nonsense. Do I need to tell you?

      "invoking Omphalos is something one would only conjure up after the fact"

      And a frum yid invoking Christian bishops or saying the whole thing was just a "sacred myth" is surely only something one would conjure after the fact.

      " The reason no one would ask that is because not making Adam a baby is not wildly unnecessary, "

      Again, as far as I'm concerned, most things in Creation and the world seem "wildly unnecessary". I imagine that if I was a god (כביכול), I would make a very different world. So I'm not at all concerned that there are yet more things that seems "wildly unnecessary" (Plus, many fossils are extremely useful. Oil, for example).

      "no one would reasonably think that the prehistory was a intuitive viable idea before the fact."

      I asserted above that they certainly did, you responded that people could ask "why a fossil?" which you imagine proves fossils are different than everything else. I countered that they could likewise ask "why a spider?" or a zillion other things.

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    4. Also, I took the time to look up some those, uh, eminent Christian theologians you mentioned. As far as I can tell, none of them allegorized Bereishis any more than the most extreme interpretation of Rambam (6 days = instant, Eitz Hadas story = mashal). I couldn't find a single one who says that Bereishis is not describing an actual Creation, or that Adam and Chava didn't actually exist. Where are you seeing this?

      (Not that it really matters, I don't care one whit about the opinion of medieval Christian bishops when it's against our Mesorah. And neither would you, if not for modern science. As I said before. But it's important to be accurate.)

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    5. I was never referring to more than that of the post, I never mentioned genealogies.

      In regard to measuring ad-hocness, i think we are going into circles.I'll just reiterate my point and leave it at that: Leaving the "you woulda said" pshat and going to a "I probably wouldn't of said pshat" is only a dochek if the "wouldn't" couldn't stand on its legs in its own right. I think that it can and the siman is that people did before hand. The fact that I wouldn't have gone allegorical if not for the science is irrelevant if there is a secondary viable option that is available.

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  12. This post was about the entire Ma'aseh Bereisis being a "sacred myth". Which is what neither Rambam, nor any of the "rationalist" Rishonim, nor l'havdil alfei havdalos even the medieval Christian bishops held. So it's not a secondary, pre-existing viable option at all. It is an ad-hoc explanation that you make up when you have no other option, due to the challenge of modern science.

    As for Omphalos, it totally could stand on its own legs in its own right, and I don't think it's even in the realm of "I probably wouldn't of said pshat" but rather in the realm of "I probably would have to say" kind of pshat, well before modern science, for the simple reasons I mentioned.

    Now, going back to allegorization, if you want to say you're in the camp of the Rambam or Ralbag, and you want to allegorize Eitz Hadas and other parts of the story they mention, gezunter hait! But that will not solve your problem with modern science, which does not allow for a miraculous instant creation with Adam and Chava as the first humans. The way you solve that (according to Challenge of Creation) is by saying the entire Ma'aseh Bereishis is not telling us what actually happened, but is rather a "sacred myth". Something nobody in our Mesorah, nor l'havdil alfei havdalos anybody among the medieval Christian bishops held (not their opinion matters at all, as I said before).

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    1. "It is an ad-hoc explanation that you make up when you have no other option, due to the challenge of modern science."
      You mean, like saying that Rakiya refers to the atmosphere (or anything other than a solid dome)?

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    2. Sorry Rabbi Slifkin, my comment wasn't meant to be addressed to you, rather to @Big Mouth. My mistake.

      But to answer your question, yes, any explanation that you only come up with after seeing modern science would be "ad-hoc" in that sense. This includes both saying the Rakia is the atmosphere in the modern scientific sense, and saying that Chazal's mesorah about the concept of "rekiyah" was totally corrupted (which you wouldn't have said without modern science).

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    3. "But to answer your question, yes, any explanation that you only come up with after seeing modern science would be "ad-hoc" in that sense."

      This is false. Pshat B isn't ad hoc because you woulda went with Pshat A if not for the science. Pshat B is ad hoc if it is inherently implausible and is only being postulated to save and idea that was negated. Case in point:

      "This includes both saying the Rakia is the atmosphere in the modern scientific sense, and saying that Chazal's mesorah about the concept of "rekiyah" was totally corrupted"

      The rekiah is ad hoc because there is no reason to reasonably think it's referring to the atmosphere other that maintaining a literal reading.

      But the latter isn't ad hoc! We would said chazal we scientifically omniscient. We have evidence otherwise so we abandon that belief. That happens in science all the time. Do you think that believing chazal were erred to be as hoc? Is the concept no inherently plausible?

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    4. The latter is totally, 100% ad-hoc, because we believe in the Torah-Shebal Peh, and we are taking it as a given that Chazal considered themselves to have had a mesora about what "Rekiya" means. And that if they considered themselves to have had such a mesorah, they did, and it was not corrupted. Just like their mesorah for "Pri-eitz-hadar" and "Mi'macharas HaShabbos" was pure uncorrupted Torah MiSinai.

      No observant Jew doubted them on the matter of what "Rekiya" means, until challenged by modern science. Notice how none of the Rishonim said "Maybe Chazal was totally wrong about what "Rekiya" means". Even the ones who doubted some of their "science" on other matters. So to suddenly suggest that their mesorah on that matter was corrupted, now that you are faced with modern science, is completely and absolutely ad-hoc

      But if you still don't consider that ad-hoc, then the atmosphere pshat is kal v'chomer ben bno shel kal v'chomer even less ad-hoc. Because we have plenty of places in Rishonim where they took the metzius described by Chazal as a given, even when faced with difficulties. And held that if Chazal said something questionable, it must correspond to whatever the truth is, or was.

      My preferred option, as you know, is to leave questions such as these as צ"ע, just like we do in most cases where we have powerful questions on Chazal. But it so happens that in the Rekiya case, I looked through the sources, and I don't agree with Rabbi Slifkin's interpretation. I'm not even sure if Chazal had a unanimous mesora on the matter. Though I definitely don't think they meant atmosphere in the modern scientific sense.

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    5. K'neged your last sentence. "Do you think that believing Chazal understood the real metzius to be ad hoc? Is the concept not inherently plausible?"

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    6. Chazal most certainly all believed that the rakia is solid. Likewise, they believed that the heart and kidneys are the cognitive organs which house free will. And you reject all that, because of modern science.

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    7. RNS, I read your essays, and they are even less convincing than the essay from Benjamin Brown that you referred to, that Lashon Hara is not a real issur. When you come from a krum perspective, you reach krum conclusions.

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    8. And even if you (RNS) were right, as said before, I don't "reject all that". I accept whatever was Chazal's mesorah. And when there are parts I can't explain, I say צ"ע, rather than trying to give modern scientific interpretations (which will anyways likely be overturned in another 100 years as science changes, or should I say, "updates").

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    9. "When you come from a krum perspective, you reach krum conclusions."
      When you come from a religious fundamentalist perspective, your conclusions are reached before you even begin to read something.

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    10. "Religious fundamentalist perspective", meaning belief in the Mesora of the the Torah Shebal Peh. I don't consider that an insult, and neither should you! To the contrary, this is a belief we hold very dear and are very proud of! This is the entire foundation of our religion! This is what separates us from the Tzedukim, Baitusim, Karaites!

      But let's be very clear. You likewise make up your mind before reading things. If I told you I had a very convincing anti-evolution paper, would you be able to read it with an open mind? Of course NOT!

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