Last Updated: January 24th, 2003
Posted January 29, 2003
The Kuzari Argument
Development of Religion
Development of Myth
Dance of the Sun
The Kuzari is a book written by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi during the 12th century CE that describes a dialog between a rabbi and the 8th century king of the Khazars. During the dialog, the rabbi presents historical and philosophical arguments in support of Judaism and against other religions and philosophies of the time.
The Kuzari Argument is an argument that is based on arguments presented in The Kuzari. The purpose of the Kuzari Argument is to demonstrate that the miracles reported in the Torah can be rationally proven, and has been used persuasively in books such as Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb's Living Up to the Truth  and Rabbi Lawrence Keleman's Permission to Receive . At a glance the argument appears to offer irrefutable proof of the miracles described in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) such as the plagues in Egypt, the manna for 40 years in the desert, and the public revelation at Sinai. However, it can be demonstrated that the argument is flawed in theory and that the argument could be used to prove claims that the reader is unlikely to be willing to accept. It should be noted that paper does not intend to argue that the miracles described in the Torah did not occur, but rather to demonstrate that the Kuzari Argument offers little support for the historicity of the events.
To summarize, the Kuzari Argument states that while oral traditions of private revelations can be fabricated, oral traditions of national public revelations must be considered authentic. The reasoning is that people will reject false beliefs of their ancestors witnessing supernatural events on the basis that if the events did occur, they would have heard about them from the previous generation. To clarify what this means, consider the following three scenarios.
(a) A population believes that many years ago, one or several people witnessed the same supernatural events and reported it to the population's ancestors. The occurrence of these supernatural events cannot be verified, since a few people could easily have been misled to believe they saw something that they really didn't, or they could have lied about witnessing the events. A gullible population who believes their story is not proof that the events indeed occurred.
(b) A population believes that many years ago, another entire population witnessed supernatural events in the past. The population who witnessed the events are not the ancestors of the more recent population, and the events are only believed today because it was reported by one or several people sometime after the supposed events have occurred. Like the previous scenario, this scenario cannot be verified, since the credibility of the events rely on the credibility of a few individuals.
(c) This scenario is similar to the previous scenario. However, the population who witnessed the supernatural events are believed to be the ancestors of the more recent population. The belief is that from the time of the events until the more recent population, there has been an unbroken collective oral tradition of the events occurring. The Kuzari Argument says that these beliefs could not have been fabricated. The reasoning is that for these beliefs to be false, at some point in history a person or a group of people would have had to convince an entire population that their ancestors witnessed supernatural events. The population would reject this belief on the basis that if their ancestors truly had witnessed supernatural events, they would have already heard about it through an oral tradition from their parents. Since none of the population would have heard about the events from their parents as expected, they would reject that the events had occurred.
The Kuzari Argument is applied to the miracles in the Torah as follows. Millions of religious Jews believe today in the miracles of the plagues, the manna, and the Sinai revelation. For these beliefs to be false, at some point in history one or several people must have presented the beliefs to the Jewish population as truth. Since a population would not accept a story that their ancestors witnessed supernatural events but they never heard about it, the Jewish population would have undoubtedly rejected the belief. Therefore, the miracles described in the Torah must have occurred.
The above is a brief summary based on the author's understanding of the Kuzari Argument. For a more elaborate explanation, read the relevant sections of the free e-book Living Up to the Truth  or the paperback Permission to Receive .
The Kuzari Argument tends to assume that religions start a certain way. A person or several people claim to have personally received a revelation from a god. They then formulate precepts and obtain followers. Religious texts are developed and offer a record of the leaders founding the religion. Therefore, for early Judaism to have been fabricated, a person or several people would have had to claim not only that they received a personal revelation, but also present a false history for the population that includes public supernatural events. In addition, they would have to erase themselves from the population's recorded history so the true foundations of the religion are forgotten.
The problem with this assumption is that religions often did not start this way in the ancient world. For example, consider the origins of Hinduism. Hinduism had no individual founders who created the religion at a given time in history, but rather arose gradually incorporating various prior customs, philosophies, and religious beliefs. Likewise, the same could be said about Shintoism, Asatru, and Druidism, and the ancient religions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Hence, the assumption that a religion must have a distinct historical foundation by one or several people is not supported.
Nevertheless, it could still be argued that while religions can develop gradually, Kuzari Argument scenarios cannot. Even though it's hypothetically possible that early Judaism may have developed gradually and that public acceptance of miraculous history may have not been the event that founded the religion, at some point during the development, the population must have accepted the false history. The argument follows that since the population would still reject the miraculous national history on the basis that they would have heard about it from previous generations, this hypothetical scenario is not possible.
However, the assumption that the acceptance of the history itself was a distinct event in history is not warranted. Considering oral traditions in general are not considered to be reliable , there is little basis for assuming that the acceptance of the story could not have been a gradual process. Rather, it is not uncommon that a legend would originally be accepted by a small group of people and over several hundred years spread throughout the population . People who have heard the legend may not have been so quick to reject the story, since they would likely have been unaware of their own family history and therefore would not expect to be aware of it.
Furthermore, it is plausible that people would have heard the story from their parents who regarded it with a lesser factual status (Levene 20 July 1998). As one poster to the Usenet group soc.culture.jewish has stated it,
One can get a legend going by starting it as a story and not claiming its truth all at once. To greatgrandfather it's a nice story. To grandfather it's a way-out legend. To father it's "some believe". Now when you approach the son and tell him it's solid truth, there is no "If it happened to all of our ancestors, why didn't we ever hear it before?" 
Similarly, there is little basis for the assumption that the individual elements of the story itself was static over time and did not gradually develop. Consider the following hypothetical scenario. An historical event occurred where 600 Israelites migrate from Egypt to Israel through the desert. The people attribute their survival to God. Many generations later, people wonder what their ancestors ate in the desert. The most plausible answer they can come up with is that God gave them manna to eat in the desert. After all, this is consistent with the original belief that God was responsible for their survival. At some point, people wonder where all their customs and laws came from. They conclude that since their laws must have come from God, therefore God spoke to Moses on a mountain in the desert, and Moses relayed the customs and laws to the people in the midst of thunder, lightning, and fire. Later, the thunder is interpreted to be God's voice and finally, that God spoke to the people directly. At this point, they have completely forgotten the historical population in the desert and conclude that for such an extraordinary event it would be quite a waste to have a population of less than say, 600,000 men and their families. At a later time, these elements are gradually recorded in various written texts and eventually the texts are compiled and accepted in a unitary form. [4, 6]
This scenario is oversimplified and only covers a few of the miracles in the Torah. However, it conveys the general idea and could easily be extended to account for the other miracles. The idea that people would come up with a story such as this may seem implausible due to its supernatural elements, but compared to the beliefs and myths of surrounding cultures there is little extraordinary about it. In the ancient world, supernatural beliefs were the norm; skepticism was not.  The scenario may also seem implausible since a nation should be expected to accurately remember their history through oral tradition. However, as mentioned above, people in the ancient world were often unaware about their national history, and when people do have recollection of their distant history through oral tradition, it tends to be a distorted one. [4, 3] It should be noted once again that the above scenario is not an attempt to prove that the beliefs of the miracles described in the Torah arose in a gradual fashion, but rather to demonstrate that it is plausible.
Despite the above arguments, it may nevertheless be difficult to believe that people would hold false beliefs of such extraordinary incidents. Gottlieb suggests that there is clearly a limit to what people will believe:
Now, let me explain to you how limited this principle is. This principle states a limit on human credulity. People throughout history have believed a wide variety of crazy things. This principle says that there is a limit to how foolish people will be. They will believe a wide variety of crazy things, but not every crazy thing. There is a limit. The limit is an event which if it had happened would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence [in this case either direct witness of the event or collective oral tradition] of its occurrence, and which in fact didn't happen and therefore the evidence was missing. 
At a glance, this assumption appears perfectly reasonable: people will reject an event that they have no evidence for, if evidence would have been available if the event had occurred. However, this assumption is not valid. People indeed often accept beliefs when there is apparent contradictory evidence of it. As a demonstration of how far human credulity can go, consider the following humorous but factual example.
Within the past thirty years in Nigeria there have been various epidemics of "magical genitalia loss," a variation of the supposed condition of genitalia shrinking known as "koro" which occurs in parts of Asia and Africa. According to sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew writing in Skeptic magazine,
Ilechukwu reports on "epidemics" of temporary magical penis loss in Nigeria during the mid-1970s, and again in 1990. A major Nigerian episode of "vanishing" genitalia in 1990, mainly affected men, but sometimes women, while walking in public places. Accusations were typically triggered by incidental body contact with a stranger that was interpreted as intentionally contrived, followed by unusual sensations within the scrotum. The affected person would then physically grab their genitals to confirm that all or parts were missing, after which he would shout a phrase such as "Thief! my genitals are gone!" [8, pg. 95]). The "victim" would then completely disrobe to convince quickly gathering crowds of bystanders that his penis was actually missing. The accused was threatened and usually beaten (sometimes fatally) until the genitals were "returned." [9, pg. 47]
As demonstrated above, Bartholomew describes a recurring event where people accept an extraordinary occurrence without skepticism when contradictory evidence is clearly visible. Moreover, when people would notice that the victim's genitalia was in fact not missing, they nevertheless had the immense ability to accept rationalizations of why it appeared that way:
While some "victims" soon realized that their genitalia were intact, "many then claimed that they were 'returned' at the time they raised the alarm or that, although the penis had been 'returned, it was shrunken and so probably a 'wrong' one or just the ghost of a penis" ([8, pg. 95]). In such instances, the assault or lynching would usually continue until the "original, real" penis reappeared. [9, pg. 47]
Furthermore, the beliefs that these occurrences are authentic are not simply held by an uneducated public, but rather various people in respectable positions have also taken these incidents seriously:
The belief in the reality of vanishing genitalia is institutionalized to such an extent that during the 1990 episode, several influential Nigerians, including a court judge, protested vehemently when police released suspected genital thieves, and many knowledgeable citizens "claimed that there was a real--even if magical--basis for the incidents" ([8, pp. 96-97]). One Christian priest supported cultural beliefs in genital theft by citing a biblical passage where Christ asked "Who touched me?" because the "power had gone out of him" claiming that it was a reference to genital stealing (101-102). [See Luke 8:40-56.] [9, pg. 48]
Given these epidemics, it seems very difficult to put a fine limit on what people are capable of believing.
There are various characteristics of the miracles in the Torah that make the example less than perfect in the context of the Kuzari Argument. The most notable problem is the large gap between the supposed time of the miracles (15th-14th century BCE) until the time that secular scholars maintain the Torah was written (9th-6th century BCE). This roughly 500 year gap leaves room for a gradual development and acceptance of the story, as explained previously. Furthermore, even if hypothetically the Torah could be proven to have been written shortly after the event, it still may be questionable whether it was accepted as historical by the people until centuries later. If an example were found without these problems, it may arguably be considered to have more support than the miracles in the Torah.
Indeed, an example of this type is found during 1917 in the city of Fatima, Portugal. [10, pg.176-181, 11, 12] Ten year old Lucia de Jesus dos Santos first witnessed the Virgin Mary with her two cousins on May 13th, 1917. On the 13th of each month over the following six months, the three children along with many followers were present at the site. The children continued to witness and receive revelations from the Virgin Mary each month. (The one exception is August 13th, when the children were detained by government authorities.)
By October the population of people present at the site had grown to 70,000. As previously, the Virgin Mary was witnessed by the children exclusively. However, a very bizarre event occurred. Joe Nickell in his skeptical book Looking For A Miracle briefly summarizes the testimonies of people who witnessed the "miracle" of the sun:
Some claimed that the sun spun in a pinwheel fashion with colored streamers, others that it "danced." One reported, "I saw clearly and distinctly a globe of light advancing from east to west, gliding slowly and majestically through the air." To some, the sun seemed to be falling toward the spectators. Still others saw, before the "dance of the sun" occurred, white flower petals showering down but disintegrating before reaching earth. [10, pg. 177]
To this day 6,000,000 people make the pilgrimage each year to Fatima in commemoration of this seemingly miraculous event. 
Admittedly there are various aspects of this miracle that natural explanations such as coincidental meteorological phenomena, mass hysteria, and optical illusion can account for [10, pg. 178]. However, when applying similar natural explanations to the miracles in the Torah, one isn't too far behind. Moreover, taking into account the possibility of a gradual corruption of the Torah's miracles considerably increases the ease of accounting for it.
As a preface to his arguments, Gottlieb suggests that when Uncle Paddy from Northern Ireland informs us that he believes in the existence of leprechauns, we should nevertheless reject the existence of leprechauns due to the lack of evidence:
I want you to meet uncle Paddy from northern Ireland who believes in Leprechauns. I asked him once: "Uncle Paddy, do you really believe in Leprechauns, little green men who scurry behind the furniture and eat up the crumbs that you leave on the dining room table at night?" And he said: "Yes, absolutely, I believe in Leprechauns." … I cannot prove that there are no Leprechauns. That is not the reason for rejection of belief. The reason is that I have no positive evidence to believe in them. 
However, it is ironic that applying the Kuzari Argument to leprechauns indeed offers a case for their existence. The basis for the case is the traditional history of Ireland that is found in Celtic mythology.  The account of history that is given involves sequences of conquests of Ireland by giants, gods, and finally the human ancestors of the modern Irish. A brief summary of the conquests are given in Roger Chauvire's Short History of Ireland:
In the beginning, Ireland was virgin and empty land. Shortly after the Flood, Partholan, coming from the East, brought the first colony, which after a few centuries was destroyed by an epidemic, not one man surviving. Then came Nemed and his followers, natives of Scythia, who were constantly harassed by the Fomorians, pirates from the sea, and their king Balor the Cyclop, so that they eventually abandoned the country. Two hundred years later, a band of Nemedians, the Fir Bolg, returned from Greece and took possession; thirty-six years later, however they in turn were attacked by a second wave of Nemedians, the Tuatha De Danann, or people of the goddess Dana, who were skilled in the magic arts; they were conquered in the battle of Moytura and reduced for ever to a semi-servile or at least a plebeian condition. Finally, about the time of Alexander, the three sons of Miledh--Heremon, Heber and Ir--arrived from Spain and subdued the divine Tuatha De Danann in the battle of the Tailltiu. It was not difficult to establish connection between the name of Miledh and the somewhat flattering claim of having a Milesian origin, and this was already done.
These nursery tales have more than folklore value. They were made to synchronize with the biblical computation, and integrated into a so-called universal history around about the twelfth century by the authors of the Book of Invasions; they were accepted as true all through the Middle Ages, and even later, and this is where their importance lies. [15, pg. 6]
As Chauvire reports, this extraordinary account of the history of Ireland was accepted as accurate throughout the Middle Ages. Furthermore, it has been accepted as more or less historical by many people up until today. [16, 17] The French scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt in her book Celtic Gods and Heroes suggests that while "Some people such as the Romans think of their myths historically; the Irish think of their history mythologically." [18, pg. 6] Moreover, the the 19th century American literary critic Charles de Kay emphasizes the fusion of Celtic mythology and Irish history in his paper "Fairies and Druids of Ireland":
The distinction between historical figures enveloped in an atmosphere of myth, and mythical figures to whom historical events have been fitted, is naturally difficult to draw; it is hard enough with all the facts that are now at our command, and was manifestly impossible in previous periods. The earliest records of Ireland refer to bands of settlers coming from the mainland, to gods and guardian deities so closely connected with places and specific human acts that their divinity is almost gone, and to historical tribes and men whom semidivine or magical attributes have been given. Where are we to draw the line between man and myth, between fact of history and shadow of some old superstition? [19, pp. 230-231]
For the Kuzari Argument to apply, the events in question must be reported to have been witnessed by humans. Hence, the Kuzari Argument particularly applies to the conquest of the Tuatha De Danaan tribe of gods by the human Milesians, as recorded in the Book of Invasions:
They decided on this at last: they collected their warriors and their men of valor from every place where they were, through the lands and the districts, until they were in one place in Brigantia, numerous and fully assembled. Then the sons of Mil, with their brethern and kinsmen, and their people in general, brought their ships on the sea to go to Ireland to avenge their bad welcome on the Tuatha De Dannann. 
The Book of Invasions reports further that the Tuatha De Danaan attempted to stop the oncoming attack by magically making the Island invisible:
The sons of Mil advanced to a landing in Inber Stainge. The Tuatha De Danann did not allow them to come to the land there, for they had not held parley with them. By their druidry they caused it to appear to the sons of Mil that the region was no country or island, territory or land at all, in front of them. 
After encircling Ireland three times it became visible once again, and the Milesians fought and defeated the Tuatha De Danaan. Furthermore, in Gods and Fighting Men, a translation of old Irish literature by Lady Augusta Gregory, it is reported that after the conquest the Tuatha De Danaan were driven inside the hills and became invisible:
BUT as to the Tuatha de Danaan after they were beaten, they would not go under the sway of the sons of Miled, but they went away by themselves. And because Manannan, son of Lir, understood all enchantments, they left it to him to find places for them where they would be safe from their enemies. So he chose out the most beautiful of the hills and valleys of Ireland for them to settle in; and he put hidden walls about them, that no man could see through, but they themselves could see through them and pass through them. 
Needless to say, the conquest has no historical basis. [22, pg. 583] Despite this, the Kuzari Argument can be applied to Celtic mythology in the following fashion. Millions of Irish people believed that their ancestors (the Milesians) fought a war against the Tuatha De Danaan gods and drove them into the hills where they magically remained invisible. For this belief to be false, at some point in history one or several people must have presented this belief to the Irish population as truth. Since a population would not accept a story that their ancestors fought wars against gods but they never heard about it, the Irish population would have undoubtedly rejected the belief. Therefore, the conquest must be historical. Moreover, Gottlieb allows this argument to be taken further:
There is also a kind of domino effect here. If you have one miracle which you can strongly substantiate, one miracle for which the argument is perfect, once you breach the natural order, it then becomes possible to accept the account of other miracles more easily. [1, pp. 37-38]
Given the application of the Kuzari Argument, it can be accepted that the Tuatha De Danaan were conquered and driven into the hills where they remained hidden. It is believed that the Tuatha De Danaan's descendents may be the leprechauns, "who dwell beneath the surface of the land and vanish and reappear at will." [23, pg. 142] Once the domino effect is taken into consideration, the rejection of the existence of leprechauns is no longer so trivial. It seems Uncle Paddy may have been correct all along!
There is one other problem with the Kuzari Argument: for it to be valid, there must be an unbroken chain of tradition starting from the population witnessing the miracles described in the Torah. However, some text in the Old Testament suggests otherwise.  According to the book of Judges,
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. (Judges 2:8-12)
Furthermore, in 2 Kings "the book of the law" is discovered, serving as a reminder of previously forgotten traditions: 
And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD ... And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us. (2 Kings 22:8-13)
These excerpts seem to raise doubt upon any claim that the oral tradition of the miracles in the Torah were maintained continuously by more than a minority of the population. Therefore, it would seem that the population inevitably accepted a history presented to them (whether true or false) by a small group of people. If taken at face value, this on it's own is enough to invalidate the whole argument.
Considering the theoretical problems and existing counterexamples, the conclusion of this paper is that the that the Kuzari Argument does not serve as reliable support of the authenticity of the miracles described in the Torah. However, the weakness of the Kuzari Argument in no way disproves the miracles in the Torah; it simply means that the Kuzari Argument cannot be used to prove them.
 Gottlieb, Dovid. "Revelation and Miracles - The Kuzari Principle." Living Up to the Truth. Ohr Somayach, 1997. Retrieved on 21 Nov. 2002.
 Keleman, Lawrence. Permission to Receive. Southfield: Targum Press Inc., 1996, pp. 50-75.
 Levene, D.S. "Re: Torah Was: Re: Women and aliyot." Posted on 24 June 1998 to <news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Levene, D.S. "Re: Converting." Posted on 20 July 1998 to <news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 28 Oct. 2002.
 Berger, Micha. ;"Re: Belief vs. Conviction: A Primer." Posted on 15 Aug. 2002 to lt;news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Friedman, Richard Elliot. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
 Malfatto, Rafael. ;"Re: Kuzari Argument Redux (Re: J. L-pidus wrote)." Posted on 6 March 2000 to <news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 21 Nov. 2002.
 Ilechukwu, S.T.C. "Magical Penis Loss in Nigeria: Report of a Recent Epidemic of a Koro-Like Syndrome." Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review. 29 (1992): 91-108.
 Bartholomew, Robert E. "Penis Panics." Skeptic. 7.4 (1999):45-49.
 Nickell, Joe. Looking for a Miracle. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1993.
 Fatima. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 20 Jan. 2003.
 Morpheus. "Re: Ancestors witnessing supernatural events." Posted on 26 Nov. 2002 to <alt.mythology>. Retrieved on 23 Jan. 2003.
 Grace, Kevin Michael. "Mysterious Still." Report / Newsmagazine (Alberta Edition). 21.9 (2000): 57-58.
 Cohen, Gidon. "Re: Who wrote the Torah? Documentary Hypothesis info." Posted on 28 Sep. 1998 to <news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Chauvire, Roger. Short History of Ireland. New York: Devin-Adair Pub, 1956.
 Cohen, Gidon. "An Irish Question." Posted on 19 Nov. 1997 to <news:soc.culture.jewish>. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Kuntz, Jeremy Ray. "Irish Mythology.....Help!!" Posted on 3 Mar. 1995 to <news:alt.mythology>. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Trans. Myles Dillon. 1949. Toronto: Dover Publications, 2000.
 de Kay, Charles. "Fairies and Druids of Ireland." The Druid Source Book. Ed. John Matthews. Blandford Press, 1996.
 O'Clery, Michael, trans. "The Conquest of the Sons of Mil." Book of Invasions. Retrieved on 26 Nov. 2002.
 Gregory, Augusta, ed. and trans. Gods and Fighting Men. Classic Books, 1904. Retrieved on 26 Nov. 2002.
 Feder, Kenneth L. "Pseudo-Archaeology: Ancient Voyages and Migrations." Ed. Brian M. Fagan. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
 Coulter, Charles Russel and Patricia Turner. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2000.
 dera. "Re: a small correction." Posted on 25 Feb. 2002. Retrieved on 20 Nov. 2002.
 Perakh, Mark. "Dreaming Up...". Posted on 24 Nov. 2000. Retrieved on 24 Nov. 2002.
Halevi, Yehuda. The Kuzari, part I. Retrieved on 20 Jan. 2003.