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Explaining the Unclear by the Incomprehensible
Review of Lawrence Kelemen's Permission
(Southfield, Mich.: Targum Press, 1991)
By Ephraim Rubin
Posted on July 7, 2002.
Kelemen's book begins with the
assertion that one should "not read further expecting to become a believer" 
because, after all, people believe only that which makes them happy. This
declaration notwithstanding, Permission to Believe is admittedly
dedicated to providing rational arguments for the existence of God as
envisioned by Orthodox Judaism. Why? In Kelemen's own words,
...many people would believe in God tomorrow if only their
intellects would allow them. These people intuitively suspect the existence of
an Almighty. Yet the admirably high value our society places on reason,
combined with the unfortunately widespread misconception that belief in God is
necessary irrational, squelches their potential spirituality. These individuals
should be permitted to examine the case for God. They should be granted
permission to believe.
Of course, there have been
believing people since the dawn of mankind until present; few of them would ask
anyone for permission to believe as they did. Furthermore, in the Western world
on the edge of the 2nd and the 3rd millennia CE -- the
world of Kelemen's intended readers -- there are people who freely admit that
Orthodox Jewish beliefs (be it a belief in God's existence, in the divine
authorship of the Torah, or any other element of the credo) are irrational but
adhere to these beliefs wholeheartedly for whatever reasons they may have.
Marvin Fox, an Orthodox Jew and a professor of philosophy, is an example:
I believe in the traditional doctrine of Torah min
ha-shamayim, the teaching that the Torah is divine... No one can reasonably
claim to understand how God reveals Himself to man. The very idea of revelation
leads us to paradoxes which defy rational explanation...Yet we affirm in faith what we cannot
explicate, for our very humanity is at stake. I believe, because I cannot
afford not to believe. I believe, as a Jew, in the divinity of Torah, because
without God's Torah I have lost the ground for making my own life intelligible
Nobody needs any special
permission to believe if he wants to believe. Of course, a believer should know
the limits of his belief. A person may believe that the Earth is the center of
the universe and the sun orbits around it and not vice versa (as some pious
Jews believe to this very day, since this is what Maimonides stated in his
authoritative Mishneh Torah)
-- but when he writes a program that controls operations of a spacecraft, he'd
better put this belief aside. However, since even weirdest beliefs rarely crash
into the walls of reality (how many Jews with this belief set are employed by
space agencies?), the long-term survival of these beliefs seems guaranteed.
People generally prefer their psyche's stability to pure rationalism -- but
problems arise when the distinction between faith and reason is blurred.
Striving to provide his readers with permission to believe, Kelemen ends up
presenting them with faulty argumentation at best, and intentionally deceiving
them at worst.
God, who do they think You are?
"Atheism is irrational,"
proclaims the title of Kelemen's first chapter. Devoting several lines to a
definition of three possible opinions on the question of God's existence
--believers (who think God exists), agnostics (who admit they don't know) and
atheists (who think there is no God), Kelemen claims:
Only the first two of these theological attitudes are
potentially sensible. The third, atheism, is necessarily irrational.
In regard to agnostics, this is
certainly true: one may be ignorant of the existence of something even if there
is a sufficient amount of evidence in favor of it -- not everything in the world
is known to everybody. But what about the believers?
There are two ways one can be rational and believe with
certainty in God. First, it is possible (at least in theory) that God might
introduce Himself to you... Second, one could come to know that God exists
through indirect evidence, that is, through circumstances and phenomena that
cannot be explained without positing God's existence.
The first option suggested by Kelemen is actually twofold:
imagine that the Almighty Himself appears to you and says that tomorrow He is
going to commit suicide (whatever that would mean). If we are to accept the
possibility of revelation, this might have already occurred to somebody long
ago -- so it may be rational to be an atheist, after all.
What about the second option? In
order to conclude that certain "circumstances and phenomena... cannot be
explained without positing God's existence" one has first to know, at least
theoretically, what God is. Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith,
accepted since the High Middle Ages as the credo of Judaism,
God is the absolutely perfect Creator and Master of
the whole world; existence of all beings is dependent on Him.
God is unique -- not one of several such beings, not
a being separable into lesser parts, but a unique and inseparable being.
God is incorporeal.
God is eternal.
God is the only one whom people are to worship; to
worship any other being is forbidden...
God knows of every deed and thought of humans.
God rewards those who obey His precepts and
punishes those who disobey them...
But what is the meaning of God's
knowledge, for example? Does it include knowledge of every human deed and
thought in advance, or only post factum? In the latter case, does this
limitation of God's knowledge not lessen His perfection? In the former, does it
not mean that all deeds and thoughts of all people had been known to God long
before they were or are to be born -- that is, their deeds and thoughts are
predetermined -- in which case it makes no sense to command people about
anything, since they have no real choice regarding the way they act? Maimonides
dealt with this question in his Mishneh Torah:
Perhaps you may say, "Behold, God knows everything which
is going to happen -- therefore, He knows that a certain person would be a
righteous or a wicked one, doesn't He? And if He knows that a certain person is
going to be righteous, it is impossible for him to become wicked: for if you
say that despite God's knowledge that he is going to be righteous he still can
become wicked -- it would follow that God's knowledge is imperfect." But you
should know that the answer to this question is lengthier than the earth and
wider than the sea, and many principles, colossal like high mountains, depend
on it. And you should know and understand the things that I say: as I have
already clarified in the second chapter of the Laws of the Torah Essentials,
God's knowledge does not exist separately from Him, as it is with humans who
are entities different from their knowledge -- but His essence, glorified be He, is inseparable from
His knowledge. Human intellect cannot comprehend this; but as humans are
incapable of comprehending and figuring out God's true essence -- as it is
written, "One cannot see Me and stay alive" -- so are they incapable of comprehending and figuring out
God's knowledge, as the prophet has said: "For My thoughts are not your
thoughts, and My ways are not your ways." Therefore, we cannot comprehend how God knows of every
being and deed, but we know without any doubt that that a person may freely
choose his deeds, and God neither urges him to do anything nor determines that
thus he will do. This is known to us not only from the religious tradition, but
also through conclusive arguments of wisdom, and therefore the prophecy says
that a person is judged in accordance with his own deeds, be they good or bad --
this is the basic principle on which all the prophesies depend.
That is, the issue of God's
knowledge cannot be fully comprehended by human mind -- and the same may be said
of the concept of God in general (try to answer the question whether God can
create a stone that He would not be able to lift from the earth). Therefore,
one who endeavors to prove God's existence in the way proposed by Kelemen will
unavoidably find himself trying to explain the unclear by the incomprehensible
-- few things can be less rational.
Unfortunately, there were people
less honest than Maimonides, who fully understood the implications of his
statement but were concerned mainly with preventing others from understanding
them -- for example, R' Abraham ben David of Posquières:
This author [Maimonides] did not follow the way of the
wise, who do not start a discourse if they do not know how to finish it. But he
began asking questions and remained with questions, to which he had no answer
but faith. It would be better for him to spare sophistications for the sake of
the innocent and to abstain from raising doubts in their minds while providing
them with no solution -- for maybe uncertainty would enter their hearts, even
for a brief time.
That is, to prevent doubt from
entering the hearts of the faithful is much more important than clarifying the
issue of God's existence and attributes. This was, apparently, also the
attitude which guided Kelemen in writing his book. Consider, for example, the
one can be absolutely sure that God exists. People who
possess such certainty are known as believers (from the Middle English bi-leafe,
which means "complete knowledge").
Dictionary, however, describes the etymology of the word believe quite
differently: "Middle English beleven, from Old English belEfan,
from be- + lyfan, lEfan to allow, believe; akin to Old High German gilouben
to believe, Old English lEof dear." But who cares about etymologies
if you can, by a single assertion, impress upon the reader that only belief in
God is "complete knowledge"?
Or consider the following Kelemen's statement:
it is impossible to be rational and know with certainty
that God does not exist, just as it is impossible to be rational and know that
any person, object or force does not exist. Knowing with certainty that
something does not exist requires first being aware of all things that do
exist. This would mean simultaneously examining every cubic centimeter of the
universe for the objects or forces in question. Because we cannot monitor every
corner of the universe, we cannot reasonably declare the non-existence of
anything -- including God.
Yet, we can be reasonably sure
that certain things do not exist: married bachelors, for example, or living
beheaded humans. No one has to examine "simultaneously... every cubic centimeter
of the universe:" if a concept describing some being contains an internal
logical fallacy (married bachelor) or contradicts facts known to us with certainty
(beheaded humans cannot live), then we may reasonably conclude that the being
described by the concept does not exist. True, in regard to God this principle
is irrelevant, since Judaism openly admits that humans cannot even comprehend
the concept of God, let alone analyze its logical and factual implications.
But, this being the case, would it be rational to assume the existence of
something one cannot even comprehend?
In the second chapter of his book
Kelemen delves into the origins of morality. Or at least, so he claims.
Many people believe in universal ethics, i.e., standards
of right and wrong that extend across all geographical and temporal boundaries.
The popular idea that murder is always wrong -- that there is something
unethical about slaughtering guiltless, non-threatening human beings in any
country at any period of history -- is an example of just such a universal
Interesting: Kelemen does not
care whether the belief shared by "many people" is correct. "Many people
believe" something -- so why not make them believe in God, too?
Why is murder wrong? That is, who or what has the authority to establish such a universal ethical
principle? Who or what made murder wrong?
Not reason, claims Kelemen, nor
any decision by a human or collective of humans ("If someone earned the right
to dictate morality... then others must have earned this right before him and
still others would do so after him. Murder's moral status would then be subject
to change every eighty years or so"),
not nature ("In nature, life has always been a matter of survival of the
fittest, kill or be killed")
-- God must be it: "Murder can be eternally and universally unethical only if
some eternal, authoritative source says so."
This view, however, leads to a paradox known already to Plato: does God
establish ethical norms in accordance with some independent standards of
morality, or is it divine approval itself which makes some actions good and
others evil? In the first case, there would indeed be universal standards of
morality, but they would exist independent of God and would not require His
existence. In the second case, the standards of morality established by God
would not be really universal, since their existence would be contingent on an
arbitrary decision by God.
This paradox can be overcome by
putting the term "universal" in a more earthly context: universal morality
would be that which obligates all people at all times and places. Then moral
standards arbitrarily established by God could be universal insofar as they
would be binding on all people; perhaps this is what Kelemen meant by insisting
that the source of morality must be not only eternal but also authoritative.
But is God indeed universally authoritative? On which grounds can universal
obedience of His will be demanded? Kelemen does not try to answer this
question, nor does he dare pose it -- yet for his argument to be valid, this
question needs to be posed and answered, as does another: Can we know what
God's will is?
The answer to the second question
is beyond the scope of this essay. Elsewhere in his book, Kelemen tacitly
assumes the Hebrew Bible to be the expression of God's will.
Speaking rationally, of course, this has still to be proved -- which Kelemen
does not bother to do. Marvin Fox's remark that "the very idea of revelation
leads us to paradoxes which defy rational explanation" may cast doubt on the
entire concept of God-given morality. But the question "Why should we obey
God's commands?" still deserves consideration.
There are two possible answers:
love/gratitude and fear. The "argument from love/gratitude" goes like this: God
created the whole universe, designed it so that each of us is brought to the
world, and sustains us at every moment of our lives -- so, it would be the
ugliest form of ungratefulness not to love Him to the depths of our soul or to
refuse to do whatever He tells us to. Yet gratitude is a moral feeling itself,
-- so, were this argument true, there would be universal morality not only
independent of but prerequisite to the God-given one. And if universal moral
feelings can exist in principle, there may be other such feelings besides
gratitude -- which leaves little room for the notion of God as the source of morality.
The "argument from fear" takes
another position: whatever can be said of moral duties, humans should be
expected to comply with God's will because He is all-powerful and His
capacities to do favors with those who obey Him -- or to make the disobedient
suffer -- are limitless. The advantage of this argument is its ability to bridge
the gap between is and ought through acknowledgement of a plain
biological fact: people are usually concerned with avoiding their own
suffering. We are, after all, a living species, and living things do not like
to suffer or die. Yet this is only partially true, as Kelemen notes himself
(albeit in another context):
First, for many people survival [or avoidance of
suffering] is not the highest value. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots who gave
their lives to win World War II were not lunatics; they were highly intelligent
military officers who valued Japanese victory more than their own lives. Any
student of history could easily list a dozen similar examples of rational
people who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of abstract
Second, even those who consider their own survival [or
avoidance from suffering] their highest value might logically conclude that
murdering others is a good idea. Murder, when one can get away with it and
benefit in the long run, might be quite rational.
So there is no objective and
universal reason to obey God's will, even if one knows what it is. Yet
Kelemen's objections to the instinct of survival (or avoidance from suffering)
as a source of morality are not completely true. The self-preservation instinct
is not a conscious goal of humans or other living organisms; it is imprinted in
our genes -- and consequently, in our minds -- whether we want it or not. Any
species which lacked this instinct became extinct long ago. Therefore, our
primary and subconscious drive in situation of danger would be to maximize our
chances for survival and minimize our chances for suffering -- be it by
obedience to God's will or in any other way. Of course, we can consciously
override this drive and sacrifice our very lives for the sake of an abstract
ideal, but such conduct cannot be expected of most of people. Kamikazes and
their like are a tiny minority of Homo sapiens specimens; no ideology
can be stronger than the hundreds of millions year old evolutionary drive.
On the other hand, a creature
that merely strives for self-preservation would not experience much difficulty
in murdering others if the circumstances were appropriate. Thus the notion of
God may be useful in keeping people from murdering, though some freaks of
disobedience may occur here and there -- but is such a notion necessary? Perhaps
the evolutionary history of certain species provided them with other innate
drives on which social behavior -- including refraining from murder -- can be
based? And indeed,
Social life, even for nonhuman animals, requires
constraints on behaviour. No group can stay together if its members make
frequent, no-holds-barred attacks on one another. Social animals either refrain
altogether from attacking other members of the social group, or, if an attack
does take place, the ensuing struggle does not become a fight to the death -- it
is over when the weaker animal shows submissive behaviour. It is not difficult
to see analogies here with human moral codes. The parallels, however, go much
further than this. Like humans, social animals may behave in ways that benefit
other members of the group at some cost or risk to themselves. Male baboons
threaten predators and cover the rear as the troop retreats. Wolves and wild dogs
bring meat back to members of the pack not present at the kill. Gibbons and
chimpanzees with food will, in response to a gesture, share their food with
others of the group. Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under
them for hours at a time and pushing them to the surface so they can breathe.
But is this not contradictory to
the basic principle of evolution through natural selection -- struggle as much
as you can for your own survival and reproduction, or you'll be wiped out by
ruthless competitors? Not exactly.
in evolutionary theory applied to social behaviour... has shown that evolution
need not be quite so ruthless after all. Some of this altruistic behaviour is
explained by kin selection. The most obvious examples are those in which
parents make sacrifices for their offspring. If wolves help their cubs to
survive, it is more likely that genetic characteristics, including the
characteristic of helping their own cubs, will spread through further
generations of wolves...
Less obviously, the principle also holds for assistance to
other close relatives, even if they are not descendants. A child shares 50
percent of the genes of each of its parents, but full siblings too, on the
average, have 50 percent of their genes in common. Thus a tendency to sacrifice
one's life for two or more of one's siblings could spread from one generation
to the next. Between cousins, where only 12 1/2 percent of the genes are shared,
the sacrifice-to-benefit ratio would have to be correspondingly increased.
When apparent altruism is not between kin, it may be based
on reciprocity. A monkey will present its back to another monkey, who will pick
out parasites; after a time the roles will be reversed. Reciprocity may also be
a factor in food sharing among unrelated animals. Such reciprocity will pay
off, in evolutionary terms, as long as the costs of helping are less than the
benefits of being helped and as long as animals will not gain in the long run
by "cheating" -- that is to say, by receiving favours without returning them. It
would seem that the best way to ensure that those who cheat do not prosper is
for animals to be able to recognize cheats and refuse them the benefits of
cooperation the next time around. This is only possible among intelligent
animals living in small, stable groups over a long period of time. Evidence
supports this conclusion: reciprocal behaviour has been observed in birds and
mammals, the clearest cases occurring among wolves, wild dogs, dolphins,
monkeys, and apes.
As animals become more intelligent, they achieve greater
levels of socialization. The benefits of the latter are clear, especially for
humans: since Plato's Protagoras -- with its description of Zeus taking
pity on humans, who were hopelessly weak in comparison to other beasts, and
giving them the sense of morality and capacity for law and justice so that they
would be able to live in communities and cooperate with one another -- no better
articulation of the human need for society was made or is indeed necessary.
For beings engaged in reciprocal
altruism, the first and most reasonable implementation of their capacity for
law and justice would be to punish those who do not reciprocate, and in extreme
cases to push them out of society altogether so that they would not be able to
take advantage of others while doing no favors in return. One of the crudest
forms of non-reciprocation in human society is, of course, the murder of
"guiltless, non-threatening human beings." Thus, while evolutionary biology may
explain why most people would obey God's will were they to know for sure what
it is, it can also explain the origin of moral feelings -- including repulsion
from murder -- without any involvement in theological speculations.
An important clarification should
be made, though. If human repulsion from murder has its origins in the
evolutionary history of social behavior, it would obviously apply only to those
people whom one perceives as belonging to his society or, at least, as
potential reciprocators. If a certain society possesses a high degree of
genetic distinctiveness -- close similarity between the genotypes of the
society's members and considerable dissimilarity of their genotypes from those
of other people -- any mischief done to a member of such society by an outsider
would particularly enrage other members, an obvious result of kin selection.
And the greater racial, economic, cultural, and political barriers between
different societies are, the less they perceive one another as groups of
potential reciprocators. The Wari tribe, living in the Amazon rainforest, has
in its language a term for edible things which includes anyone who is not a
The Bible commanded the Hebrews murder all the Amalekites -- including newborn
Babylonian Talmud states thrice
that the term "man" applies only to the Jews, not to the Gentiles. In the 19th-century
USA many white citizens -- especially in the South -- thought that the blacks are
naturally destined for slavery. The Turks massacred 1.5 million Armenians in
1915 and Nazi Germany exterminated 6 million European Jews during World War II
without much interference from the Allies. It took the world becoming a "global
village" to make the notion of universal morality so popular -- but even now the
racial-cultural-historical load remains with us: the Serbs' persecutions of the
Albanian population in Kosovo brought about NATO's campaign against Yugoslavia
while much greater atrocities in Rwanda -- where hundreds of thousands of Tutsis
were murdered by the Hutu-controlled army and militias in the most brutal ways
imaginable -- met virtually no international effort to stop the massacres. It
will take much more time for our morality to become really universal.
Moreover, the development of
morality does not end with considerations of kinship and reciprocity. Every
has a clear interest in promoting devotion to the group
and can be expected to develop cultural influences that exalt those who make
sacrifices for the sake of the group and revile those who put their own
interests too far ahead of the interests of the group. More tangible rewards
and punishments may supplement the persuasive effect of social opinion. This is
simply the start of a process of cultural development of moral codes.
Once the process of development
of moral codes starts, another important step is taken: the terms guiltless
and non-threatening are defined more or less precisely through
definitions of what constitutes guilt and threat. These definitions -- without
which the condemnation of murder of "guiltless, non-threatening human beings"
makes little sense -- vary, of course, from one society to another. In the
society of biblical Hebrews, for example, violation of the Sabbath constituted
a felony punishable by death.
Among the same Hebrews
-- or in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts -- it was a capital crime
to engage in witchcraft (too many supernaturally-minded people find it hard to
realize that witchcraft is merely a scam). Adultery, if committed by a married
female, was punishable by death in Hammurabi's Babylon, in ancient Greece and
Rome, should be punished thus according to the laws of Judaism, and is still
considered a capital crime in such countries as Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi
Arabia. In the United States adultery is not punishable by death, but several other
actions are (murder and rape are most common examples), while under Israeli law
a person may be sentenced to death only for extraordinary crimes like genocide;
in Great Britain capital punishment has been abolished altogether. The debate
on the justifiability of capital punishment is one of the hottest in modern
ethics and jurisprudence -- and, in a sense, this is a debate on whether and under which circumstances murder is
permissible. Regardless of what "many people believe," no universal solution
are yet available to many moral dilemmas. Wherever there is such solution, it
is not because of God's revelation -- different groups of people disagree
manifestly on what, if anything, can count as one -- but because of our common
evolutionary origin and the "global village" tendencies of the modern world. As
has put it,
seems likely that morality is the gradual outgrowth of forms of altruism that
exist in some social animals and that are the result of the usual evolutionary
processes of natural selection. No myths are required to explain its existence.
Which is not, however, a matter of great concern for Kelemen -- who,
freely admitting in the conclusion to his "moral argument" that it "is not a
conclusive proof that God exists," remarks that there is still "a group [of
people] persuaded that murder is universally and eternally wrong, and that
other absolute moral standards also exist -- and for this group the moral
approach to God's existence offers permission to believe."
It is only a pity that an author who declared that he offers his argument "in
the interest of the truth"
acts in fact like a salesman rather than a researcher.
The Big Puff
The third chapter of Kelemen's
book is titled "The Cosmological Approach to God's Existence." In fact, it
turns out to be a brief account of the scientific developments which led to the
formulation and almost universal acceptance of the hot big bang theory as the
description of our universe's history. To put it simply, the hot big bang theory
states that some time ago (estimated as 10 to 20 billion years) all the matter
in the universe was located at exactly the same place -- that is, the universe
was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense -- and since then, the space has
been stretching, distances between different chunks of matter increasing, and
frequency of the radiation which filled the universe in the early stages of its
The mathematical description of the universe expanding from a point, based on
Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, was first formulated by
Alexander Friedmann in 1922. In the following seven years Edwin Hubble observed
that the distance between galaxies is increasing -- and the farther from us a
galaxy is, the quicker it moves away from us. George Gamow suggested in 1948
that the early universe should have been very hot and dense, and that remnants
of the radiation which filled the universe at its primeval stage still fill it,
though they have dropped greatly in frequency and consequently, in energy:
their temperature, Gamow claimed, should be only a few degrees above absolute
zero (the lowest temperature in nature, --273.15 °C). In 1965, Arno Penzias and
Robert Wilson detected that primeval radiation (at a temperature of only three
degrees above absolute zero, about --270 °C). From the early 1970s the hot big
bang theory became dominant in cosmology, and now it is almost universally
accepted by scientists, since it offers the best explanation of our
observations of the universe.
So far so good. But what
attracted Kelemen in the big bang theory? In his own words, this model
generates an uncomfortable question. Why would a dot
containing all matter and energy -- a dot that sat quietly for an eternity --
suddenly explode? The Law of Inertia insists that objects at rest should remain
at rest unless acted upon by an external force. Since all matter and energy
would be contained within this dot, there could be nothing outside to get
things going -- nothing natural, at least. What force could have ignited the
And even if one were tempted to answer that the dot was
never stable -- that it popped into existence in its unstable form and
immediately exploded -- one would still have to explain how anything could pop
into existence. The Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy dictates that the
total matter and energy in the universe cannot increase or decrease. How can
one begin to suggest the instantaneous, ex-nihilo creation of the universe
without slipping into a theological discourse? The... model seems to assume a
Instead of proving God's existence to skeptics, however,
this argument only reveals Kelemen's misunderstanding of the big bang theory.
To begin with, the theory does not imply that "a dot containing all matter and
energy... sat quietly for an eternity" before the moment of the big bang, and
then "suddenly exploded." There was no explosion in the regular sense of the
word -- spreading of matter in space. Instead, it is the space itself
which has been stretching for the last 10 billion years or so (hence the
increase of distance between galaxies). And regarding time,
that time, which we call the big bang, the density of the universe and the
curvature of space-time would have been infinite. Because mathematics cannot
really handle infinite numbers, this means that the general theory of
relativity (on which Friedmann's solutions [implying that there was a big bang]
are based) predicts that there is a point in the universe where the theory
itself breaks down. Such a point is an example of what mathematicians call a
singularity... This means that even if there were events before the big bang, one
could not use them to determine what would happen afterward, because
predictability would break down at the big bang. Correspondingly, if, as is the
case, we know only what has happened since the big bang, we could not determine
what happened beforehand. As far as we are concerned, events before the big
bang have no consequences, so they should not form part of a scientific model
of the universe. We should therefore cut them out of the model and say that
time had a beginning at the big bang.
This quote is taken from the
first edition of Stephen Hawking's The Brief History of Time,
p. 46 -- just a line before Hawking's comment that "Many people do not like the
idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine
intervention," cited joyfully by Kelemen.
What Kelemen does not quote is Hawking's comment that the notion that time
began at the big bang dooms to futility any search for the big bang's cause:
here one can only hypothesize, without any chance to verify whether his
hypotheses are factually correct. Kelemen either misunderstood Hawking's
argument or deliberately misrepresented it in order to make his readers believe
that existence of a supernatural Creator is a reasonable conclusion from the
big bang theory.
In fact, there are purely godless
assumptions as to where the "raw material" for the big bang came from. Some
scientists suggest that before our universe sprang into existence there were
other universes undergoing the process from big bang to big crunch (when a
universe collapses into a singularity) -- and from each crunching universe the
next universe emerged. The regular objection to such a proposal is that an
infinite sequence of such past universes would contradict the Second Law of
Thermodynamics, which states that within a closed system, entropy -- the measure
of disorder -- increases with time. This provided, the objection runs, if there
existed an infinite number of universes before ours, our universe would be in a
state of maximum entropy -- consisting of radiation and particles equally
distributed in space instead of large chunks of matter (stellar objects, for
example) dotting practically void interstellar space.
An objection of this kind, raised
by Stanley Jaki, is quoted with excitement by Kelemen -- but it does not make
much sense, since it is well possible that the entire set of natural laws is
arranged anew with each new big bang, and the law of entropy simply did not
exist in all previous universes.
Even if our universe will not end up in a big crunch (which is still debated,
despite Kelemen's assertions to the contrary), no one can deny the possibility
that a big crunch was the ultimate fate of all the previous universes, each of
which finished its life producing a singularity in an instable state, which
instantly exploded into a new universe -- ending with the one we live in. Such a
proposition cannot be proved, of course -- but violates no rule of logic, while
the very Judaic concept of God is sheerly illogical. If one had to choose
between the proposed theories, the infinite-number-of-previous- universes
assumption would be much more reasonable than the assumption of God.
And there is yet another alternative. There is a field of
physics dealing with the realm of the extremely small: quantum mechanics. For
one acquainted only with large-scale realm physics it is a strange field; it
came into existence because of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which states
that it is impossible to measure precisely both the velocity and the position
of an object at any given time:
Heisenberg showed that the uncertainty in the position of
a particle times the uncertainty in its velocity times the mass of the particle
can never be smaller than a certain quantity, which is known as Planck's
constant [1.05*10-34 kg*m2/sec]... this limit does not depend on the way
in which one tries to measure the position or velocity of the particle, or on
the type of particle: Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is a fundamental,
inescapable property of the world.
This provided, it is impossible
to speak of separate and well-defined positions and velocities of objects in
the realm where the uncertainties postulated by Heisenberg's principle make a
sensible difference -- that is, in the realm of elementary particles. Therefore,
in the 1920s Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Erwin Schrödinger developed the
field of quantum mechanics, based on the concept of a quantum state -- a combination
of position and velocity. Strange or not, quantum mechanics provides an
indispensable tool for understanding the physics of elementary particles and
underlies many fields of modern technology, from integrated circuits to atomic
But the big bang theory is based
on Einstein's general theory of relativity, and the latter
is what is called a classical theory; that is, it does not
take account of the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, as it should
for consistency with other theories. The reason that this does not lead to any
discrepancy with observation is that all the gravitational fields we normally
experience are very weak. However, the singularity theorems... indicate that the
gravitational field should get very strong in at least two situations, black
holes and the big bang. In such strong fields the effects of quantum mechanics
should be important. Thus, in a sense, classical general relativity, by
predicting points of infinite density, predicts its own downfall.
To describe correctly what
happened when the universe was in its primeval state, Hawking asserts, it is
necessary to build a complete and consistent theory which will unify general
relativity and quantum mechanics. And though such theory has not yet been
built, "we do know a number of the features it should have."
Based on these features, Hawking proposed a model of universe in which the
dimension of time is not essentially different from the three dimensions of
space (Hawking calls it imaginary time, since, for the sake of technical
convenience, time is measured in imaginary numbers
in quantum mechanics).
The universe, according to this model, is much like a spherical surface (that
of the Earth, for example), except that it has four dimensions instead of two
(longitude and latitude).
(Taken from S. Hawking, A Brief
History of Time, p. 138)
Such a universe has no boundaries either in space or in
time and Hawking's theory eliminates the problem of "the beginning" altogether
-- just as it would be wrong to say that the North Pole is "the beginning" of
Planet Earth, so would it be wrong to say that the big bang is "the beginning"
of the universe. In a sense, Hawking's model revives the millennia-old concept
of a static universe -- except that instead of the universe existing in
three-dimensional space without undergoing large-scale changes with time,
Hawking presents a picture of the universe as a four-dimensional space
continuum (time is just one more dimension of space), in which matter is
distributed in a certain way.
The universe would be completely self-contained and not
affected by anything outside itself. It would be neither created nor destroyed.
It would just BE.
But for us, there is an essential
difference between space and time: in space we can move both backward and
forward in any dimension, while in time we can move only forward (sci-fi
stories of time machines notwithstanding). To this, Hawking says, the solution
is simple: we perceive time as the direction of increase of entropy -- the
measure of disorder of a thermodynamic system. Why? Because our memory is also
subject to the law of entropy: to remember something, we need use a certain
amount of energy accumulated by our bodies, diffusing a part of it into the
space around us in the form of heat. Thus, with every act of remembering the
overall entropy in the universe increases -- therefore, we can only remember
(and classify as past) states in which the overall entropy in the universe was
smaller than it is now. Entropic time is the only one we can use in everyday
life -- but this is only a limitation of our brains and has nothing to do with
the fundamental structure of the universe.
Yet why should disorder increase
with time at all? Because according to the quantum-mechanics interpretation of
gravity, articulated by Hawking, the big bang point of the space-time continuum
would be a regular, smooth point of space-time and the
universe would have begun its expansion in a very smooth and ordered state. It
could not have been completely uniform, because that would violate the
uncertainty principle of quantum theory. There had to be small fluctuations in
the density and velocities of particles...
The universe would have started off with a period of
exponential or "inflationary" expansion in which it would have increased its
size by a very large factor. During this expansion, the density fluctuations
would have remained small at first, but later would have started to grow.
Regions in which the density was slightly higher than average would have had
their expansion slowed down by the gravitational attraction of the extra mass.
Eventually, such regions would stop expanding and collapse to form galaxies,
stars and beings like us. The universe would have started in a smooth and
ordered state, and would become lumpy and disordered as time went on. This
would explain the existence of the thermodynamic [entropic] arrow of time.
The inflationary model of the big
bang can also answer the question of where all the matter in the universe come
from. According to quantum theory, elementary particles -- the "bricks" of which
matter is built -- can emerge into existence out of energy in the form of
pairs. But where did the energy come from?
The answer is that the total energy of the universe is
exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy.
However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter
that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long
way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the
gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the
gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is
approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational
energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the
total energy of the universe is zero.
Now, twice zero is also zero. Thus the universe can double
the amount of positive matter energy and also double the negative gravitational
energy without violation of the conservation of energy. This does not happen in
the normal expansion of the universe in which the matter energy density goes
down as the universe gets bigger. It does happen, however, in the inflationary
expansion, because the energy density... remains constant while the universe
expands: when the universe doubles in size, the positive matter energy and the
negative gravitational energy both double, so the total energy remains zero.
During the inflationary phase, the universe increases its size by a very large
amount. Thus the total amount of energy available to make particles becomes
very large. As [Alan] Guth [the author of the inflationary model of the big
bang] has remarked, "It is said that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But
the universe is the ultimate free lunch."
But why should the direction of
increase of entropy in the universe be the same as the direction of the
universe's expansion rather than the direction of its contraction? (Hawking's
model implies that the universe will finally contract or, more precisely, that
it is a closed four-dimensional surface that would be perceived by a human
observer -- were any to witness the whole process -- as expanding and then
contracting with time.) Well, it should not be so -- at least not always. During
the universe's contraction, entropy would still increase, and if people
happened to live at the time of the universe's transition from the phase of
expansion to that of contraction, their perception of time would not change:
"The thermodynamic and psychological arrows of time would not reverse when the
universe begins to recontract."
We just happen to live during the expansionary phase -- and actually, mankind
will not be able to survive even to the end of this phase, let alone to the
contraction phase :
The inflation in the early stages of the universe... means
that the universe must be expanding at very close to the critical rate at which
it would just avoid recollapse, and so will not recollapse for a very long
time. By then all the stars will have burned out and the protons and neutrons
in them will probably have decayed into light particles and radiation. The
universe would be in a state of almost complete disorder. There would be no
strong thermodynamic arrow of time. Disorder couldn't increase much because the
universe would be in a state of almost complete disorder already. However, a
strong thermodynamic arrow is necessary for intelligent life to operate. In
order to survive, human beings have to consume food, which is an ordered form
of energy, and convert it into heat, which is a disordered form of energy. Thus
intelligent life could not exist in the contracting phase of the universe.
Hawking's model gives a
comprehensive and consistent large-scale picture of the universe (including the
big bang), but leaves no role in it for a Creator. As of now, this theory is
just what it is -- a theory, still in need of observational verification. Yet
until scientifically refuted, the descriptive power of Hawking's theory is much
greater than that of the theological concept of divine creation, which is
merely an attempt to explain the unclear by the incomprehensible. Kelemen's
efforts to deduce the existence of God from the big bang turn, under a little
scrutiny, into little more than a big puff.
Endeavor to Deceive
The fourth chapter of Kelemen's
book, titled "Teleological Approach to God's Existence," presents the
millennia-old argument from design:
The intricate structure of the world has astounded man for
millennia, and modern scientific advances have done nothing to attenuate that
astonishment. In fact, during this century researchers have revealed aspects of
the universe's structure that make all the design observations of the previous
two thousand years seem insignificant.
And if there is design, there is a Designer -- or at least
so Kelemen wants his readers to believe. As an example of such design he chose
the complex organic chemical which is found in all living cells and in many
viruses and which codes genetic information of living organisms -- DNA:
Consider, for example, James Watson and Francis Crick's
1953 discovery of the structure and function of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a
chain of chemicals found in every human cell. Watson and Crick proved that DNA
contains an exact blueprint of the body's every physical detail: fingerprints
and toeprints; skin, hair and eye color; heart size and shape. Everything.
Even this brief passage contains,
however, two errors which cannot be expected from an author who is supposed to
do some homework on the subject he writes about. First, Watson and Crick merely
discovered the molecular structure of DNA -- its role as the component which
carried genetic information had already been shown by Oswald Avery in 1944, the
fact that genes (units of hereditary information) exert their influence by
directing the production of enzymes (proteins that facilitate chemical
reactions in the cell) was demonstrated by George Beadle and Edward Tatum in
that same decade, and the first model of the process by which DNA directs
protein synthesis in cells was presented by François Jacob and Jacques Monod in
This information is, of course, not of primary concern in regard to Kelemen's
argument from design -- but it can well indicate his mastery of the subject.
Second, DNA is found not only "in
every human cell," but in every living cell -- from most primitive single-cell
organisms to most developed mammals. Such unity of hereditary material in all
cellular life forms upon Earth is strong evidence of their common descent from
some primeval form of life through more or less gradual changes in the genetic
code -- in full accordance with the theory of evolution so despised by Kelemen
because it is a reasonable alternative to the belief in divine creation.
Furthermore, genetic research shows that the more recent a date that was given
by evolutionary biologists for the supposed common ancestor of some organisms,
the less differences there are between their genetic codes.
For example, cytochrome c (a protein molecule) of
humans and chimpanzees consists of the same [sequence of] 104 amino acids in exactly the same order; but differs from that of
rhesus monkeys by one amino acid, that of horses by 11 additional amino acids,
and that of tuna by 21 additional amino acids.
If someone needed, a century
after Darwin, additional evidence for the evolution of living organisms, here
But Kelemen continues to describe
the wonders of God's design:
How does the body know where in the DNA chain to begin
reading the code for, say, a nose? How does it avoid accidentally reading the
wrong message and putting our ear or elbow where our nose should go? The DNA
code starts with a table of contents, so to speak. One of the chain's first
coded messages tells the body where to look in the chain for all the other
messages. The DNA chain also contains a coded description of itself. Every time
the body builds a new cell, the parent cell's DNA chain looks into itself,
reads its own blueprint, and reproduces an exact copy of itself for the new
Unfortunately, not a single
sentence in this passage is correct. To begin with, no organism "reads the
code" for any part of the body straight from the DNA strand. Cell machinery
"translates" certain sections of DNA strand -- genes -- into chains of amino
acids; these chains, each of which has its peculiar shape, are proteins. The
protein contents of a cell determine the cell's structure and function. In
multicellular organisms (human beings included) each newly formed cell develops
into an adult cell of a certain kind, specialized to perform specific
functions. Each cell keeps in constant communication and cooperation with its
neighbors. Cooperative assemblies of similar cells form tissues, each of which
typically contains a small number of cell types and is devoted to a specific
physiological function. Cooperation between tissues, in turn, forms organs:
nose, ear, heart, etc. The process of specialization of young cells into adult
cells of different types is called cell differentiation. It is cell
division (through which new cells are formed) and cell differentiation which
turn the zygote (fertilized ovum) into a fully developed embryo and then into
an independent organism.
Cell differentiation does not
affect the genetic information contained in cells: normally, in cells of any
specific kind in a certain organism the same DNA chain is present (except for
white blood cells, in which segments of DNA are rearranged for the needs of the
immune system). And though the mechanism of cell differentiation is not yet
understood, some of its features are already well known,
and none of them implies a divine Designer.
DNA chains are, of course,
subject to alteration -- as a result of accidents in the duplication of genetic
material in the course of cell division or under influence of external factors
(electromagnetic radiation or certain chemicals). If such alteration -- mutation,
as it is termed -- befalls a certain cell in the body, all the cells descendant
from that cell will carry the mutation further. Thus mutations can produce a
localized change in one's body -- for example, form an albino streak in the hair
of an otherwise normal individual.
But since complex organs, like noses or ears, are formed of several kinds of
tissues specifically arranged, many changes in an organism's genetic code are
needed to turn its nose into ear; mutations, on the other hand, are minor and
quite rare, so none of them can turn a nose into ear in a single blow.
But nevertheless, even small
changes can turn one organism into another, if the changes accumulate. If a
mutation befalls an ordinary cell in the organism -- a somatic mutation --
it won't be passed on to the organism's offspring. But if a mutation in a sex
cell (spermatozoon or ovum) -- a germinal mutation -- occurs, it will
affect the organism's offspring. If the mutation turning hair cells white
(hindering the hair pigmentation) occurs in the mother's ovum instead of her
hair cells, no albino streak will appear in her hair, but all the hair of her offspring,
developed from this ovum, will turn albino. Most germinal mutations are harmful
or neutral -- but some of them may result in a beneficial change, increasing the
chances of the mutant organism to survive and produce viable and fertile
offspring compared to the analogous chances of non-mutant organisms. In this
case, the percentage of organisms with the mutated gene will increase with each
generation until that gene becomes the norm in the population. A classical
example is the peppered moth Biston betularia:
The peppered moth had originally been white-coloured, but
a dark (melanic) form of the peppered moth, first noticed in Manchester, Eng.,
in 1848, had outnumbered the usual light-coloured moth by 99 to 1 by 1898. The
explanation of this phenomenon is that the dark moth, which originally was a
chance mutation, was rendered less conspicuous to bird predators than the light
moth against tree trunks which had become covered with black soot owing to the
air pollution caused by nearby industries. The difference is genetic and of
interest as a striking example of rapid evolutionary change in a localized
Organisms with the mutated genes
are, of course, subject to further germinal mutations, changing the external
appearance and functional organization of their offsprings; some of these
mutations may be beneficial and increase the mutant organisms' chances to
survive and produce viable and fertile offspring, and so on ad infinitum. This
mechanism is the essence of biological evolution. Natural selection is
the process in the course of which organisms better adapted to the environment
due to beneficial mutations oust those less adapted.
Furthermore, Kelemen's assertion
that "the DNA chain... contains a coded description of itself" is sheer nonsense.
Kelemen himself brought on the next page of his book an explanation of how DNA
replication really occurs:
During DNA replication the hydrogen bonds between the
bases weaken, allowing the double helix to unzip into two independent chains.
Each chain attracts the nucleotides necessary to form another full DNA strip,
lines them up end to end, and zips up again. Two new double-helixes identical
to the parent molecule have been formed.
It is only a pity that in the
rush to grant his readers "permission to believe" Kelemen failed to pay
attention to contradictions and factual flaws in his argument.
But when all is said and done,
does the DNA mechanism provide evidence for a supernatural Designer? The answer
is definitely no. Biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University gives an example
-- the section of human genome termed the β-globin cluster,
which produces an important component of hemoglobin, the
oxygen-carrying protein that gives blood its red color. This cluster contains
genes for five different kinds of β-globin:
two are expressed in adults, and three are expressed during an embryo's
development. The embryonic forms of β-globin
bind oxygen a bit more tightly than adult forms do. (The embryo uses its
tight-binding forms to draw oxygen from the blood of its mother; the adult
forms need only draw oxygen from the atmosphere.)
Evolutionary biology explains the
appearance of the β-globin cluster in its present form as result of gene duplication --
a random process in which several copies of a single ancestral gene are made.
Each of these copies is, due to mutations, slightly different from the original
ancestral gene, and such differences could well have produced the five forms of
gene, each with its own specific benefits (those which bind oxygen more
tightly, for example, are beneficial for embryonic development). But was it
through random mutations that the five forms of the β-globin gene
appeared, or were they a product of design by an intelligent Creator?
The cluster itself, or more specifically a sixth β-globin gene in the cluster, provides the answer. This
gene is easy to recognize as part of the β-globin
family because it has a DNA sequence nearly identical to that of the other five
genes. Oddly, however, this gene is never expressed, it never produces a
protein, and plays no role in producing hemoglobin. Biologists call such
regions "pesudogenes," reflecting the fact that however much they may resemble
working genes, in fact they are not [such]...
theory of intelligent design cannot explain the presence of nonfunctional
pesudogenes unless it is willing to allow that the designer made serious
errors, wasting millions of bases of DNA on a blueprint full of junk and
scribbles. Evolution, in contrast, can easily explain them as nothing more than
failed experiments in random process of gene duplication that persist in the
genome as evolutionary remnants.
Furthermore, Miller explains,
story is not an isolated case. Hundreds of pesudogenes have been discovered in
the 1 or 2 percent of human DNA that has been explored, and more are added
every month. In fact, the human genome is littered with pesudogenes, gene
fragments, "orphaned" genes, "junk" DNA, and so many repeated copies of
pointless DNA sequences that it cannot be attributed to anything that resembles
This is bad news for believers in
the direct divine creation of all kinds of living things. Not surprisingly,
therefore, Kelemen sets out to undermine the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution
(which is a synthesis of Darwin's original theory and genetics):
theory speculates that the ingredients of a primordial chemical soup randomly
combined and recombined until viable primitive life formed. That first living
thing then reproduced abundantly, as did its offspring, occasionally producing
mutant species. These species also reproduced and generated new, more
sophisticated mutants, ultimately yielding the range of living creatures alive
today. (Interestingly, Charles Darwin never actually suggested that evolutionary
forces could transform dead matter into living creatures. Rather, his theory
explained only how lower life forms could evolve into more sophisticated ones.
It was Darwin's students who later expanded his theory to include even the
formation of the first living creature.)
When Darwin first proposed evolution in 1859, it was only
a theory based on unsupported premises. To Darwin's disappointment, the
essential evidence needed to transform the theory into fact did not materialize
during his lifetime; nor has such evidence materialized today.
But again, Kelemen is wrong on
all accounts. First, the idea that the first living thing materialized from
non-living matter in a primordial soup of chemicals -- or any other hypothesis
regarding the origin of life on Earth -- is not and never was germane to the
theory of evolution. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines evolution as
"theory in biology postulating that the various types of animals and plants
have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable
differences are due to modifications in successive generations" and states
further that while "the fact of evolution; that is, that organisms are related
by common descent" was established by scientific research "with utmost
certainty," "the characteristics of the first living things and when they came
about... remain completely unknown." In Douglas Futuyuma's classic textbook Evolutionary
Biology only one of
almost 600 pages is devoted to the discussion of the origin of life on Earth,
ending with the conclusion that "the origin of life has not still yielded to
the efforts of chemists"
-- which obviously did not hinder Futuyuma from dedicating hundreds of pages to
evolutionary mechanisms -- changes in genetic information of organisms and
natural selection -- which are far better understood.
Second, Charles Darwin did
actually speculate on the origin of life on Earth from non-living matter. In a
much-quoted letter of 1871 he wrote:
It is often said that all the conditions for the first
production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been
present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we would conceive in some warm little
pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity,
etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo
still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly
devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living
creatures were formed.
And third, even as early as 1859, Darwin's theory was
based not on "unsupported premises," as Kelemen wants his readers to believe,
but on firm factual evidence:
The Origin of Species has two separate theses: that
all organisms have descended with modification from common ancestors, and that the
chief agent of modification is the action of natural selection on individual
variation. Darwin was the first to marshal on so grand a scale the evidence for
the first thesis, the historical reality of evolution, by drawing on all
relevant sources of information: the fossil record, the geographic distribution
of species, comparative anatomy and embryology, and the modification of
domesticated organisms. Much of his arguments consists of showing how naturally
observation in these areas, such as the vestigial wings of flightless beetles,
follow from the supposition of common ancestry, and how implausible they are
under the hypothesis of special creation [the biblical notion of direct divine
creation of all living species in their present form -- "according to their
kinds," as Genesis 1 puts it].
Since then, of course, the theory
of evolution gained much more support from factual observations, becoming "one
of the fundamental keystones of modern biological theory."
This fact apparently so troubled
Kelemen that he resorted to outright distortion in order to camouflage
it. The sentence, "To Darwin's disappointment, the essential evidence needed to
transform the theory into fact did not materialize during his lifetime; nor has
such evidence materialized today,"
is provided by Kelemen with the footnote:
John Horgan, a member of the Scientific American's
Board of Editors, wrote in 1991: "Although this scenario [of evolution] is already ensconced in textbooks, it has been seriously
challenged of late" (Scientific American, February 1991, p. 102).
One needs only open John Horgan's
article "In the Beginning" in the specified issue of Scientific American
to read the quote in context:
Experiments in the early 1980s seemed to complete the
picture. They revealed that ribonucleic acid, or RNA, a single-strand molecule
that serves as DNA's helpmate in manufacturing proteins, might have the ability
to make copies of itself without the assistance of enzymes. Some investigators
concluded that the first organisms consisted of RNA and that the early "RNA
world" had provided a bridge from simple chemistry to prototypes of the complex
DNA-based cells found in modern organisms. According to the fossil record, such
cells emerged within the first billion years after the earth had formed 4.5
billion years ago.
Although this scenario is already ensconced in textbooks,
it has been seriously challenged of late.
Tests of the RNA-world hypothesis have shown that RNA is difficult to
synthesize in the conditions that probably prevailed when life originated and
that the molecule cannot easily generate copies of itself.
Horgan's comment refers not to
evolution in general, but to a specific theory in regard to the origin of life
on earth -- which, again, has little to do with the theory of evolution as such.
Sadly enough, the author who declared his commitment to "the interest of the
actually turned his attempt to grant skeptics "permission to believe" into an
endeavor to deceive.
Furthermore, quoting the British astronomer Fred Hoyle's
saying that spontaneous emergence of a single-cell organism through a random
combination of chemicals is less likely than that "a tornado sweeping through a
junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein," Kelemen
In February 1991, Scientific American reprinted
Hoyle's comment, adding: "Most researchers agree with Hoyle on this point" (p.
Again, it would be useful to open Scientific American
and read the quote in context:
Some scientists have argued that, given enough time, even
apparently miraculous events become possible -- such as the spontaneous
emergence of a single-cell organism from the random coupling of chemicals. Yet
Fred Hoyle, the iconoclastic British astronomer, has said such an occurrence is
about as likely as the assemblage of a 747 by a tornado whirling through a
Most researchers agree with Hoyle on this point (although on little else). The one belief almost everyone
shares is that matter quickened through a succession of steps, none of which is
Hoyle's argument attacks a "straw
man." Nobody thinks that the first single-cell organism emerged from a random
combination of chemicals. Researchers suppose that there was an intermediary
succession of self-replicating organic compounds between the non-organic stuff
of primeval Earth and the first unicellular organisms:
The current version of genesis... is also couched in
Darwinian terms. Life began, they say, when some compound or class of compounds
developed the ability to copy itself in such a way that it occasionally made
heritable "mistakes." These mistakes sometimes produced generations of
molecules that could replicate more efficiently than their predecessors. Voilà:
evolution, and so life.
This quote is taken from the same
February 1991 issue of Scientific American, page 102 -- just a passage
below the phrase quoted by Kelemen. Kelemen could not be unaware of it. Yet he
preferred once more endeavored to deceive.
Moreover, more than a page of
Kelemen's book is devoted
to calculations purported to show that the probability of a single bacterium
randomly appearing, at a single try, from a stew of amino acids is, under most
generous assumptions, infinitesimally small (1 in 1039,950, while
the number of atomic particles in the whole universe is only about 1080).
Having finished, Kelemen proudly asserts:
like this led Harold P. Klein, chairman of the National Academy of Sciences
Committee on Origin-of-Life research, to comment, "The simplest bacteria is so...
complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to
imagine how it happened."
The source for this comment, as
specified by Kelemen, is the same Scientific American article (page 104
this time). Unsurprisingly, the article includes no "calculations like this,"
for they are nothing but nonsense. Nobody thinks a bacterium had ever appeared
through a random assemblage of amino acids. Klein's assertion ("The simplest
bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is
almost impossible to imagine how it happened") appears in the Scientific
American article without any justification, and while it makes a great deal
of sense -- bacteria's chemical mechanisms are indeed complicated -- its
pessimistic disposition is not shared by much of the scientific community.
Antonio Lazcano and Stanley Miller, two of the world's most prominent experts
on the origins of life, have argued that "there is no compelling reason to
assume that the origin and early evolution of life took more than 10 million
out of 300 million years allowed by the fossil record for the development of
life from simple organic substances to cyanobacteria (blue-green algae,
microfossils of which were found in rocks dated to 3.5 billion years ago).
True, current scientific concepts
of the origin of life on Earth are only hypotheses and incomplete ones at that:
it is widely agreed that relatively simple organic chemicals -- amino acids,
nucleic acid bases and sugars -- could have emerged spontaneously from their
components on primeval Earth (as they have on meteorites
and do in countless scientific experiments),
and that the first living things were self-replicating RNA molecules from which
organisms based on DNA-RNA-protein mechanism later evolved,
but opinions differ as to transitional stages between amino acids and alike and
full-fledged RNA molecules. It is clear that origin-of-life researchers will
not finish their job in the coming decades, but to posit God in order to fill
the gaps in our knowledge of life's origin would be yet another attempt to
explain the unclear by the incomprehensible.
mentioned above, the theory of evolution in its present (neo-Darwinian) form is
a synthesis of Darwin's original theory and genetics. The famous biologist Ernst
Mayr was one of the architects of neo-Darwinian theory, promulgated in the
1930s. Yet Kelemen chose no other field than genetics and no less authority
than Mayr for another attack on evolution:
Darwin assumed that any species could slowly evolve into
any other species through a series of small changes. But scientists know now
that genes have mutability limits. A DNA chain will stretch only so far from
its original form before breaking or snapping back. This principle was first
identified in 1948 by Harvard University geneticist Ernst Mayr. He deduced this
theory, which he called "genetic homeostasis," from tests performed on the Drosophila
melanogaster fruit fly.[81[
Unfortunately, Kelemen does not
document this statement with reference to any of Mayr's works, but an
interested reader may easily find out what Mayr meant by genetic homeostasis in
his fundamental Animal Species and Evolution:
One of the most interesting findings... is the tendency of
the phenotypes [observable characteristics of organisms] to return to the
original condition when selection is discontinued after a population has been
exposed to a severe selection pressure for a specific phenotypic character,
whether increased bristle number or body size in Drosophila or increased
egg number or egg size in the domestic fowl. The many observations of the
selective superiority of morphological intermediates is merely another aspect
of the same phenomenon. Lerner (1954) has designated this phenomenon genetic homeostasis,
defining it "as the property of the population to equilibrate its genetic
composition and to resist sudden changes"...
reasons for genetic homeostasis should be evident... A naturally existing
phenotype is the product of a genotype that has a long history of selection for
maximum fitness. Any selection for a new phenotype will force the abandonment
of the previously integrated genotype and will thus lead to lowered fitness,
due to either an accumulation of homozygous recessives or a disharmony between the
newly favored genes and the remainder of the genotype. Relaxation of the
selection for the new phenotype permits at least a partial return by natural
selection to the historical combination that had given maximum fitness,
particularly heterozygous combinations. As a by-product there will be a partial
restoration of the original phenotype. If the return to the original phenotype
is only partial and some of the phenotypic gains of the preceding selection are
preserved, this indicates either that some homozygous fixations had occurred or,
more likely, that an alternate adaptive peak had been climbed. This alternative
peak is equivalent to the original phenotype as far as general fitness is
concerned... but superior with regard to the specific phenotypic character that
had been under selection pressure.
That is, genetic homeostasis not
only constitutes no contradiction to the theory of evolution, but evolution
perfectly explains it. Were it not for a long history of organisms' adaptation
to a given environment through mutations and natural selection, there would be
no reason for a specific genotype (genetic constitution of organism,
determining its phenotype) to restore itself after several generations of
artificial selection preferring another genotype.
Correspondingly, if some traits of the artificially selected genotype are
equivalent to or better than those of the original in regard to general
fitness, they will be preserved under genetic homeostasis -- this is the
"alternate adaptive peak" of which Mayr spoke. And while artificial selection
is not terminated, its pressure overweighs even those balancing genetic
mechanisms which otherwise cause genetic homeostasis: the latter occurs only
when artificial selection is discontinued. Now if we substitute the changing
demands of natural selection (as result of changes in environment, say) for the
pressure of artificial selection, it becomes evident that genetic homeostasis
does not prevent evolution. The case of the peppered moth Biston betularia
is only one of numerous examples, and of course,in 1948 Ernst Mayr was not a
Harvard professor but the curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural
History in New York (he was given the Harvard chair of zoology only in 1953),
and the term genetic homeostasis was coined by Isadore Lerner, not by Mayr.
Kelemen really should have done his homework better.
Incidentally, Kelemen mentions
the case of the peppered moth -- but in a quite peculiar way:
...scientists have changed the famous peppered moth (Briston
betularia) from speckled to silver, silver to black, and black back to
speckled. But the moth never became green, purple or blue, and it always
remained a moth.
This statement is provided by
Kelemen with reference to Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis
(pp. 79-81) -- an extremely rare occasion of a scientist attempting to disprove
the theory of evolution. The main core of Denton's book is not of concern here,
but a brief look at the pages specified by Kelemen suffices to show that the
latter has again distorted his source (and even misspelled the very name of the
species -- "Briston" instead of Biston betularia).
As mentioned above, the
transition of Biston betularia specimens from light to dark color
occurred in industrially developed areas of England in the 19th
century without any interference by scientists. To explain this transition, a
hypothesis suggested that dark specimens (born due to random mutations) living on trees covered by the black soot
of nearby factories were better camouflaged from avian predators -- which spared
them from the extermination by avian predators that befell the light specimens,
resulting in overwhelming dominancy of black moths (99:1) in a mere 50 years.
In the 1950s, Oxford zoologist
Bernard Kettlewell set out to prove this hypothesis by an experiment, conducted
both in polluted and unpolluted forests. In each forest Kettlewell released a
certain number of dark and light moths and marked their undersides with spots
of quick-drying cellulose paint (each day a different color) in order to enable
the researchers who subsequently trapped large numbers of moths to identify the
specimens which they had previously released and to determine the length of
time for which the moths were exposed to predators in nature.
In an unpolluted forest, 984
moths were released: 488 dark and 496 light. 96 of these moths were recaptured,
of them 34 dark and 62 light -- which indicated that in such a forest, the light
moths had a clear adaptive advantage over the dark. In a polluted forest the
results were reversed: of the released moths which had been subsequently
recaptured, there were twice as many dark specimens as light. The hypothesis of
natural selection at work was upheld, and Kettlewell titled his article in Scientific
American, describing the experiment, "Darwin's Missing Evidence."
Especially spectacular in this
experiment (and in the original 19th-century observations) was the
fact that it was an example of natural selection changing the phenotype
of moths; contrary to Kelemen's statement, it was not "scientists" but nature
that changed the moth populations from light to dark, and of course, no
transition "from speckled to silver, silver to black, and black back to
speckled" was actually reported. Only Kelemen knows where he got these details.
Geneticists have shown that the
difference between the light and dark forms of Biston betularia
originates from a single gene: in heterozygous dark moths, the allele for dark
pigmentation is dominant and the one for light coloration is recessive; in
light moths -- vice versa.
Even if we assume that this species never had dark moths prior to 1848, one
random mutation was sufficient to produce a dark-colored moth, which could then
pass this trait to its offsprings, who would thus become better adapted to
their environment, with better chances to produce viable offspring before being
caught by avian predators -- which would lead, in full accordance with the
theory of evolution, to the moth population in industrialized areas becoming
almost wholly dark. For a moth to become green, purple, or blue, more
complicated mutations might have been needed (all the more so to become an
organism of a separate species). More complicated mutations mean that one would
have to wait longer before it occurs -- and even then, since the environment did
not favor green, purple, or blue moths, the chances of such a mutant organism
surviving and producing viable offspring would be no greater than those of his
non-mutant fellows, so that natural selection would not favor the mutant color
trait, mutant specimens would remain extremely rare, and, remaining so scarce,
the mutant population would be quickly exterminated by predators. Even if
mutation of this kind had actually occurred -- which we may well doubt -- we
would simply fail to notice the mutant specimens before they were exterminated.
However, if one had an opportunity to track all the peppered moths for a
sufficient period of time (thousands of years, at least), he might well notice
green, purple, or blue ones.
Yet another of Kelemen's
assertions reveals his ill acquaintance with biology:
The fact that neither Darwin nor any subsequent biologist
has ever succeeded in causing or even witnessing the evolution of one species
into another cannot help but disturb those who would like to believe in the
theory of evolution.
Wrong again. Numerous instances
of speciation -- formation of new and distinct species -- have been witnessed.
To bring just a couple of examples, in the beginning of the 20th
century Hugo de Vries, studying the genetics of the
evening primrose Oenothera lamarckiana, found an unusual variant among
his plants: instead of the normal 14 chromosomes for this species, the variant
had 28 chromosomes. The variant was unable to breed with the original Oenothera
lamarckiana, thereby constituting a new species, which de Vries termed Oenothera
1958-1963, Theodosius Dobzhansky succeeded in producing a new species of Drosophila
fruit fly in his laboratory. A strain of Drosophila paulistorum, when
first collected, was interfertile with other strains, but developed hybrid
sterility after being isolated in a separate culture for just a few years
-- and when two populations are incapable of producing fertile offspring through
interbreeding, they belong, by definition, to different species.
Another of Kelemen's attacks on
If the theory of evolution were true, then every species
would have been preceded by a nearly identical parent-species. In The Origin
of Species, Darwin himself admits that such a gradually evolving series of
fossils had yet to be discovered:
though it has added numerous species to existing and extinct genera, and has
made the intervals between some few groups less wide than they otherwise would
have been, yet has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction
between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate
varieties; and this not having been effected, is probably the gravest and most
obvious of all the many objections which may be urged against my views.
While Darwin had faith that paleontologists would one day
discover the missing links, more modern research suggests that they will never
The quote from Darwin is provided
by Kelemen with reference to the 6th edition of The Origin of
Species. The 6th edition, first published in 1872 (and reprinted
countless times since then), is considered the most authoritative. It contains
numerous answers to criticisms which had been raised against Darwin's theory
since the publication of the first edition in 1859, and it would be highly
unlikely for Darwin to leave "the
gravest and most obvious of... objections" against his views without
answer in this edition -- but were he to do this, it would be a fact of
However, a brief look at several
editions of The Origin of Species
is sufficient to show that Kelemen has again endeavored to deceive. There
simply is no such quote in the 6th edition of The Origin of
Species! The quote is taken from an earlier edition,
while in the 6th edition the corresponding passage
It has been asserted over
and over again, by writers who believe in the immutability of species, that
geology yields no linking forms. This assertion, as we shall see in the next
chapter, is certainly erroneous. As Sir J. Lubbock has remarked, "Every species is a link between other
allied forms." If we take a genus having a score of species, recent and
extinct, and destroy four-fifths of them, no one doubts that the remainder will
stand much more distinct from each other. If the extreme forms in the genus happen to have been thus destroyed,
the genus itself will stand more distinct from other allied genera. What geological research has not
revealed, is the former existence of infinitely numerous gradations, as fine as
existing varieties, connecting together nearly all existing and extinct
species. But this ought not to be expected; yet this has been repeatedly
advanced as a most serious objection against my views.
"This ought not be expected,"
Darwin says -- a phrase not quoted by Kelemen -- and explains:
It may be worth while to sum up the...
remarks on the causes of the imperfection of the geological record under an
imaginary illustration. The Malay Archipelago is about the size of Europe from
the North Cape to the Mediterranean, and from Britain to Russia; and therefore
equals all the geological formations which have been examined with any
accuracy, excepting those of the United States of America. I fully agree with
Mr. Godwin-Austen, that the present condition of the Malay Archipelago, with
its numerous large islands separated by wide and shallow seas, probably
represents the former state of Europe, while most of our formations were
accumulating. The Malay Archipelago is one of the richest regions in organic
beings; yet if all the species were to be collected which have ever lived
there, how imperfectly would they represent the natural history of the world!
But we have every reason
to believe that the terrestrial productions of the archipelago would be
preserved in an extremely imperfect manner in the formations which we suppose
to be there accumulating. Not many of the strictly littoral animals, or of
those which lived on naked submarine rocks, would be embedded; and those
embedded in gravel or sand would not endure to a distant epoch. Wherever sediment did not accumulate on
the bed of the sea, or where it did not accumulate at a sufficient rate to
protect organic bodies from decay, no remains could be preserved.
Formations rich in
fossils of many kinds, and of thickness sufficient to last to an age as distant
in futurity as the secondary formations lie in the past, would generally be
formed in the archipelago only during periods of subsidence. These periods of
subsidence would be separated from each other by immense intervals of time,
during which the area would be either stationary or rising; whilst rising, the
fossiliferous formations on the steeper shores would be destroyed, almost as
soon as accumulated, by the incessant coast-action, as we now see on the shores
of South America. Even throughout the extensive and shallow seas within the
archipelago, sedimentary beds could hardly be accumulated of great thickness
during the periods of elevation, or become capped and protected by subsequent
deposits, so as to have a good chance of enduring to a very distant future.
During the periods of subsidence, there would probably be much extinction of
life; during the periods of elevation, there would be much variation, but the
geological record would then be less perfect.
It may be doubted whether
the duration of any one great period of subsidence over the whole or part of
the archipelago, together with a contemporaneous accumulation of sediment,
would EXCEED the average duration of
the same specific forms; and these contingencies are indispensable for the preservation
of all the transitional gradations between any two or more species. If such
gradations were not all fully preserved, transitional varieties would merely
appear as so many new, though closely allied species. It is also probable that
each great period of subsidence would be interrupted by oscillations of level,
and that slight climatical changes would intervene during such lengthy periods;
and in these cases the inhabitants of the archipelago would migrate, and no
closely consecutive record of their modifications could be preserved in any one
Very many of the marine
inhabitants of the archipelago now range thousands of miles beyond its
confines; and analogy plainly leads to the belief that it would be chiefly
these far-ranging species, though only some of them, which would oftenest
produce new varieties; and the varieties would at first be local or confined to
one place, but if possessed of any decided advantage, or when further modified
and improved, they would slowly spread and supplant their parent-forms. When
such varieties returned to their ancient homes, as they would differ from their
former state in a nearly uniform, though perhaps extremely slight degree, and
as they would be found embedded in slightly different sub-stages of the same
formation, they would, according to the principles followed by many
palaeontologists, be ranked as new and distinct species.
If then there be some
degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find, in our
geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms,
which, on our theory, have connected all the past and present species of the
same group into one long and branching chain of life. We ought only to look for
a few links, and such assuredly we do find -- some more distantly, some more
closely, related to each other; and these links, let them be ever so close, if
found in different stages of the same formation, would, by many
palaeontologists, be ranked as distinct species. But I do not pretend that I
should ever have suspected how poor was the record in the best preserved
geological sections, had not the absence of innumerable transitional links
between the species which lived at the commencement and close of each
formation, pressed so hardly on my theory.
Not only had Darwin little "faith
that paleontologists would one day discover the missing links" in their
entirety, he also explained why such faith would be unreasonable. Only a small
fraction of organisms are preserved as fossils, and only a tiny proportion of
them have been recovered and studied by paleontologists. Nevertheless,
the succession of forms over time has been in some cases
reconstructed in detail. One example is the evolution of the horse. It began
with the dawn horse (genus Hyracotherium), an animal the size of a dog,
with several toes on each foot and dentition appropriate for browsing, which
evolved over 50,000,000 years ago; the most recent form is Equus, the
modern horse, much larger in size, one-toed, and with teeth appropriate for
grazing. The transitional forms are well preserved as fossils, as are many
other kinds of extinct horses that evolved in different directions and left no
Or another example -- the record
of the evolution of humans:
For skeptical contemporaries of Darwin, the "missing link"
-- the absence of any transitional form between apes and humans -- was a battle
cry, as it remained for uninformed people afterward. Not one but many creatures
intermediate between living apes and humans have since been found as fossils. Australopithecus,
a hominid that lived 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 years ago, had an upright human
stance but a cranial capacity of less than 500 cubic centimetres -- comparable
to that of a gorilla or chimpanzee and just about one-third that of humans. Its
head displayed an odd mixture of ape and human characteristics: a low forehead
and a long, ape-like face, but with teeth proportioned like those of humans.
Along with increased cranial capacity, other human characteristics have been
found in Homo habilis, which lived about 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 years
ago and had a cranial capacity of more than 600 cubic centimetres, and Homo
erectus, which lived between 500,000 and more than 1,000,000 years ago and
had a cranial capacity of 800 to 1,100 cubic centimetres.
In some cases, paleontological discoveries shed light on
the most radical transitions in form and function of body parts. Organs which
had been previously considered by many irreducibly complex -- able to function
only when present in their final form, and not to be expected to evolve through
a series of gradual changes from
other pre-existing organs -- were discovered by paleontologists in their
The three smallest bones in the human body, the malleus,
incus, and stapes, carry sound vibrations across the middle ear, from the
membrane-like tympanum (the eardrum) to the oval window. This five component
system fits... [the] test of irreducible complexity perfectly -- if any one of its
parts are taken away or modified, hearing would be lost. This is the kind of
system that evolution supposedly cannot produce. Unfortunately for "intelligent
design," the fossil record elegantly and precisely documents exactly how this
system formed. During the evolution of mammals, bones that originally formed
the rear portion of the reptilian lower jaw were gradually pushed backwards and
reduced in size until they migrated into the middle ear, forming the bony
connections that carry vibrations into the inner ears of present-day mammals. A
system of perfectly-formed, interlocking components, specified by multiple
genes, was gradually refashioned and adapted for another purpose altogether... As
the well-informed reader may know, creationist critics of this interpretation
of fossils in the reptile to mammal transition once charged that this could not
have taken place. What would happen, they joked, to the unfortunate reptile
while he was waiting for two of his jaw bones to migrate into the middle ear?
The poor creature could neither hear nor eat! As students of evolution may
know, A. W. Crompton of Harvard University brought this laughter to a deafening
halt when he unearthed a fossil with a double articulation of the jaw joint -- an adaptation that would allow the animal to both eat
and hear during the transition, enabling natural selection to favor each of the
The incompleteness of the fossil
record should be, of course, taken into account -- but, as it stands now, the
fossil record provides evidence for evolution rather than against it.
Finally, Kelemen presents the
reader with what he considers "apparently contradictory evidence" to the
The theory of evolution teaches that new organs must
evolve in tiny stages over a long period of time. Darwin himself wrote in The
Origin of Species: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ
existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive,
slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Yet a myriad of
such organs have been identified.
This time, the sentence quoted by
Kelemen is present in the 6tht edition of The Origin of Species,
as well as in earlier editions. Nevertheless, when Kelemen quotes something, it
is worth checking the quote in context (and since the 6th edition of
The Origin is considered the most authoritative, let us turn to it):
If it could be
demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been
formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would
absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we
do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to
much-isolated species, around which, according to the theory, there has been
much extinction. Or again, if we take an organ common to all the members of a
class, for in this latter case the organ must have been originally formed at a
remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been
developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which
the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms,
long since become extinct.
We should be extremely
cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional
gradations of some kind.
These words are as true today as they were 150 years ago. Oxford
biologist Richard Dawkins asked the following questions concerning the human
eye -- one of the favorite creationist examples of a "complex organ...
which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight
1. Could the human eye
have arisen directly from no eye at all, in a single step?
2. Could the human eye
have arisen directly from something slightly different from itself, something
we may call X?
The answer to the first question, Dawkins agrees, is definitely
no. But to the second one the answer is equally definitely yes, "provided only
that the difference between the modern eye and its intermediate predecessor X
is sufficiently small."
X is defined as something very like a human eye,
sufficiently similar that the human eye could plausibly have arisen by a single
alteration in X. If you have a mental picture of X and you find it implausible
that the human eye could have arisen directly from it, this simply means that
you have chosen the wrong X. Make your mental picture of X progressively more
like a human eye, until you find an X that you do find plausible as an
immediate predecessor to the human eye...
Now, having found an X such that the answer to Question 2
is yes, we apply the same question to X itself. By the same reasoning we must
conclude that X could plausibly have arisen, directly by a single change, from
something slightly different again, which we may call X'. Obviously we can then
trace X' back to something else slightly different from it, X", and so on.
By interposing a large enough series of Xs, we can derive human eye from
something not slightly different from itself but very different from
itself. We can "walk" a large distance across "animal space," and our move will
be plausible provided we take small-enough steps.
Of course, a mere series of Xs
would not suffice -- each of them has to work sufficiently well to assist the
survival and the reproduction of the animals in whom it is thought to have been
present (though it must assist them in any possible way, not necessarily
in the way our eyes assist us). Yet, as Darwin noted, "we should be extremely
cautious" in concluding that eye -- or any other organ -- could not evolve
through such a series of gradations. In the eye's case, at least, a plausible
series of such gradations was found long ago.
The famous paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson remarked in 1951 that
In fact, representative stages at every gradually
different level [of the conventional hypothetic scheme of eye evolution] happen
to have survived [in presently living species], from diffuse photosensitivity
of the whole body through scattered photosensitive cells, cell basins, basins
and vesicles plus lenses, and so on to the fully developed image-forming eye
with lens, iris and its other complexities. These photoreceptors function
splendidly at every level and do not wait to start working until the final
stage [i.e. a complete eye of any highly developed form] is reached. They
simply enlarge, refine, and to some extent change their functions as they
become more complex.
And in 1994, the Swedish
biologists Dan Nilson and Susanne Pelger built a computer model of eye's
evolution, "from a light-sensitive spot to a fully developed lens eye."
Under consistently pessimistic assumptions, tending to overestimate rather than
underestimate the time necessary for eye's evolution, the model has shown that
the whole process would have occurred in less than 400,000 years
-- a very short period of time from an evolutionary viewpoint (full-fledged
cellular life exists on Earth for at least 3.5 billion years
and it took the modern humans 3-4 million years to evolve from the ape-like Australopithecus).
As Nilson and Pelger concluded, "In this context it is obvious that the eye was
never a real threat to Darwin's theory of evolution.
And as Dawkins generalized,
hundred and twenty five years on, we know a lot more about animals and plants
than Darwin did, and still not a single case is known to me of a complex organ
that could not have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications.
Still, it may be illuminating to consider some of the
examples Kelemen brings of organs that could not, in his view, "possibly have
been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications:"
Parasitologist Asa Crawford Chandler admitted in 1961: "It
would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain, step by step, the details of
the process of evolution by which some of the highly specialized parasites
reached their present condition."
In fact, Asa Crawford Chandler
died in 1958, and could
not admit anything in 1961. Kelemen merely meant the 1961 edition of Chandler's
Introduction to Parasitology (as Kelemen's reference to this work
testifies). Interestingly, the same quotation from Chandler's book appears in
Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.
Additional scrutiny shows that all Kelemen's quotes from scientists speaking of
allegedly irreducibly complex organs are taken verbatim from Denton's book.
Apparently, Kelemen never opened these scientists' works and mistook the date
of Introduction to Parasitology's posthumous publication as when
Chandler articulated his views (the book, originally titled Animal Parasites
and Human Disease, was first published in 1918, and the last edition of
Chandler's lifetime saw light in 1955).
In this case, however, ignorance
diminishes sin -- for relying wholeheartedly on Denton's book, Kelemen must have
been unaware of what Denton did to Chandler's discussion. Let us, again, check
the quote in context:
Parasitism, in the restricted sense of a small organism
living on or in, and at the expense of, a larger one, probably arose soon after
life began to differentiate in the world. It would be difficult, if not
impossible, to explain step by step the details of the process of evolution by
which some of the highly specialized parasites reached their present condition.
Parasitism at times has probably grown out of a harmless association of
different kinds of organisms, one of the members of association, by virtue,
perhaps, of characteristics already possessed, developing the power of living
at the expense of the other, and ultimately becoming more and more dependent
It is easy to understand the general mechanism by which
parasites of the alimentary canal were evolved from free-living organisms which
were accidentally or purposely swallowed, and which were able to survive in the
environment in which they found themselves, and to adapt themselves to it. It
is also easy to see how some of these parasites might eventually have developed
further territorial ambitions and have extended their operations beyond the
confines of the alimentary canal. The development of some of the blood Protozoa of vertebrates, on the other hand, seems clearly to have
taken place in two steps: first, adaptation to life in the gut of insects and,
second, adaptation to life in vertebrates' blood or tissues when inoculated by
hosts with skin-piercing and bloodsucking habits.
Contrary to the impression Denton and Kelemen want their
readers to have, Chandler did not renounce an evolutionary approach to the
biology of parasites; on the contrary, his account of the origins and
development of these organisms is coined in purely evolutionary terms. This
account is brief and there is surely much more on the evolution of parasites to
be said -- but it is simply not the question Chandler's book is dealing with.
The sentence quoted by Denton and Kelemen is not Chandler's main thesis, nor
even a positive assertion, but rather an admission of lack of knowledge -- fully
justified, but incapable, by its very nature, of proving or disproving
anything, evolutionary origin of highly specialized parasites included.
Chandler's concern in his Introduction
to Parasitology was not with the evolution of parasites but with the
diseases they cause humans, as the book's original title, Animal Parasites
and Human Disease, may testify, and as Chandler himself admitted on the
first page of the book. But many other textbooks on the biology of parasites
(e.g. Elmer and Glenn Noble's Parasitology
and Arthur Jones' Introduction to Parasitology)
describe in details the mechanisms of parasites' evolution, and Peter Price,
now of Northern Arizona University, authored a whole book titled Evolutionary
Biology of Parasites.
Though many details of the evolution of parasites -- as well as of many other
forms of life -- remain unknown to this very day, nothing in parasitology
contradicts the evolutionary theory as such, out-of-context citations by Denton
and Kelemen notwithstanding.
Another example of
Kelemen's/Denton's misquotation of a scientist:
Botanist Francis Ernest Lloyd confessed similar amazement
[at features of organisms which are allegedly incomprehensible in the framework
of neo-Darwinism] in 1942. Regarding the origin of carnivorous plants (such as
the Venus Fly Trap), he wrote: "How the highly specialized organs of capture
could have evolved seems to defy our present knowledge."
Although this quote is provided
by Kelemen with reference to Lloyd's The Carnivorous Plants
(p. 7), there is little doubt that Kelemen took both the quote and the
reference from Denton, in whose book the quote is a bit expanded:
the origin and the evolution of the carnivorous plants, however, much as these
questions may intrigue the mind, little can be said, nor have I attempted to
discuss them. How the highly specialized organs of capture could have evolved
seems to defy our present knowledge.
But in Lloyd's book itself, these
sentences, taken in context, sound quite differently:
About the origin and the evolution of the carnivorous
plants, however, much as these questions may intrigue the mind, little can be
said, nor have I attempted to discuss them. The evidence from fossils is meager, for these plants, even the most prolific
of them, have seldom been preserved. A Utricularia (U. Berendii Keilhack) is recorded from the
old-diluvial of Oberohe (Engler and Prantl). No others, so far as I know, have been recorded. The
water lilies are recorded for the Tertiary, and it is probable that Utricularia was
contemporary. The fact that they have originated at two or more distinct points
in the phylogenetic tree is of major importance. How the highly specialized
organs of capture could have evolved seems to defy our present knowledge.
All Lloyd said is that he did not
have enough information to account more or less comprehensively for the
evolution of carnivorous plants. He does not claim them to constitute a
conundrum in principle unsolvable in evolutionary terms. This obstacle was
"overcome" by Denton by simply omitting the crucial sentences from the passage without
even noting the omission in his quotation.
In fact, nothing in carnivorous
plants is unintelligible in evolutionary terms. One of the most famous
monographs on this kind of organisms is Charles Darwin's Insectivorous
and the founding father of evolutionary biology found no contradiction to his
theory in the plants he studied. Though fossil evidence of transitional forms
which could have led from non-carnivorous to carnivorous plants was even more
meager in Darwin's days than it was in Lloyd's, comparative analysis of plant
forms enabled Darwin to provide a reasonable account of evolutionary paths
which could have led to the appearance of certain features in carnivorous
plants. Since Darwin, of course, much new evidence from comparative biology,
biogeography, paleontology and genetics has become available, and a very
detailed account of the possible evolutionary path for the ancestors of modern
carnivorous plants may be found in recent works on the subject.
But Kelemen continues:
In 1965, another botanist, Claude Wilson Wardlaw, echoed
Lloyd's statement, writing about flora in general:
Special adaptive features such as those exemplified by the
plants of special habitats, climbing plants, insectivorous plants, the numerous
cunning floral arrangements that ensure cross-pollination, and so on virtually
ad libitum, seem to the writer to be difficult to account for adequately in
terms of a sequence of small random variations, and natural selection.
This quote is provided by Kelemen
with reference to Wardlaw's Organization and Evolution in Plants
(p. 405) -- but again, there is little doubt that Kelemen took both the quote
and the reference from Denton's book, where the quote appears verbatim.
And again, it is worth seeing the quote in context:
Special adaptive features such as those exemplified by the
plants of special habitats, climbing plants, insectivorous plants, the vegetative and floral developments in the
Rafflesiaceae, the numerous cunning floral arrangements that ensure
cross-pollination, and so on virtually ad lib., seem to the writer to be
difficult to account for adequately in terms of a sequence of small
random variations, and natural selection, though all of these
considerations are admittedly relevant. Geneticists have assiduously sought
validating evidence for their views and have been active in the pursuit of
reasoned inference and in the expression of imaginative conjecture. But
relevant morphogenetic aspects, especially in the flowering plants -- the
largest and most important group with which the botanist has to deal -- have
received considerably less attention. When one tries to account for the
ontogenesis and phylogenesis of some special adaptive feature, one has no
conviction that any adequate detailed explanation has yet been advanced. Huxley (1942), as already noted, deprecated the tendency to discuss
adaptations mainly with reference to special cases (see p. 397). Nevertheless, it is a simple inescapable fact
that there are indeed very large numbers of these special cases both in the
Plant and Animal Kingdoms which are not satisfactorily accommodated in the
omnibus of evolutionary doctrine. But, to be fair, neither are they satisfactorily
accounted for by any other scientific doctrine or thesis. We may recognize the
Darwinian "explanations" as being valid inferences and reasoned conjectures
based on a great body of careful observation and experiment. But, even so, the
organismal systems under consideration are complex and still very incompletely
understood. Some new and additional system of ideas, based on integrated
studies of genetical changes, morphogenetic processes, ecological factors and
organization seems to be required.
But to quote Wardlaw saying that
the evolutionary considerations "of a sequence of small random variations, and
natural selection" are "admittedly relevant" to the discussion of the origins
of plants' special adaptive features, that Darwinian concepts are "valid
inferences and reasoned conjectures based on a great body of careful
observation and experiment," and that the problem is merely the absence of an
"adequate detailed explanation" of the special adaptive features of some
organisms would definitely take the wind out of Denton's sails -- so why not
take some fragments here and there out of context and make Wardlaw appear to
say things he never intended? And if Wardlaw were aware enough of the
possibility that his view might be misunderstood to emphasize the main point --
the validity of the general evolutionary approach and the mere absence of an "adequate
detailed explanation" of some details -- in italics, too bad for Wardlaw. So
much for Denton's intellectual honesty.
To be sure, it is hardly fair to
blame Kelemen for intentional deception on these points -- though it was his
responsibility to check Denton's sources instead of rejoicing at his word as
one who finds great spoil. But whether by Kelemen or by Denton, attempts to
disprove evolution and to promote instead the idea of special divine creation
are more of an endeavor to deceive than permission to believe.
The fifth chapter of Kelemen's
book is titled "The Jewish History Approach to God's Existence," and begins
with the following statement:
Thousands of years ago, the Middle East, the cradle of
civilization, was a hotbed of polytheism. Monotheism was completely unknown...
From ancient man's perspective, polytheism must have seemed the most rational
of belief systems. Man examined his environment, recognized the existence of
forces beyond his understanding and control, and related to those forces as
conscious creatures. It was monotheism -- the belief that all the apparently
disparate forces in the universe obey a single omnipotent, omniscient being --
that seemed irrational.
For whatever reasons, the Jews opposed all of mankind and
declared the irrational to be true.
Interesting: the author who
speaks of being dissatisfied with "the unfortunately widespread misconception
that belief in God is necessarily irrational,"
appears to admit the irrationality of that belief. And though Kelemen speaks of
the "ancient man's perspective," the situation is not much different nowadays:
In fact, if you are a devotee of supernatural explanations,
polytheism explains evil better than one-God theories. A devil is easier to
blame for cancer than a just God.
The only difference between
modern and ancient perspectives is that, with time, an ever increasing number
of people realize that all theories alluding to supernatural entities as causes
of earthly phenomena are, at best, attempts to explain unclear by
incomprehensible. This, however, does not make monotheism any more rational
The Jews, in any case, were not
the first to discover monotheism: in ancient Egypt, with its elaborate and
complicated polytheistic religion, there were streams of thought that saw the
various gods as merely the different forms which one universal God at times
takes. These streams achieved their greatest triumph in 1375 BCE, when the
pharaoh Amenhotep IV
repudiated the authority of the old gods and their priests
and devoted himself exclusively to Aton, the god appearing as the sun disk. He
proclaimed himself the son of Aton, taking the name Akhenaton ("devoted
to Aton"), and he imposed this worship on others. By royal decree Aton became
the only God who exists, king not only of Egypt but of the whole world,
embodying in his character and essence all the attributes of other gods.
Akhenaton even had the names of the other gods effaced from inscriptions and
replaced with the name of Aton.
Akhenaton's monotheistic reform
lasted only 25 years or so and was completely crushed by one of his successors
to the Egyptian throne, Tutankhamen, yet it considerably antedated biblical
monotheism, which there are no reasons to date earlier than the 1st
But what about Abraham, Moses and
other alleged preachers of the Hebraic monotheism? Not only there is no
historical evidence of their lives and activity as described in the Bible,
certain details of the biblical stories of these personages betray the period
in which these stories were really written. The biblical account of Abraham's
mission is prefaced with the comment that Abraham, his wife, his father, and
the rest of his relatives "went out from Ur of the Chaldeans [Ur Kasdim]."
The Bible's chronological scheme places Abraham somewhere between 2000-1600
BCE, but the Chaldean tribes reached southern Mesopotamia (where the city of Ur
is situated) only by the end of the second millennium BCE; the first historic
reference to them appears in Assyrian documents of the 9th century
Furthermore, Ur became a major religious center of the Neo-Babylonian
(Chaldean) kingdom only in the mid-6th century BCE, and some
researchers suppose that the reference to Abraham's origin from "Ur of the
Chaldeans" dates to that period and was intended to provide the Jews, then
under Babylonian rule, with "a distinguished and ancient cultural pedigree."
The book of Genesis says that
"Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines many days,"
and that "Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines to Gerar."
That Gerar is situated in Canaan is clear from God's warning to Isaac not to
leave that land and Isaac's resultant settlement in Gerar.
But the Philistines appeared on the southern coast of Canaan only in the 12th
century BCE; such an
anachronism can hardly be expected of a divinely authored book. Furthermore,
the excavations at Gerar, identified with Tel Haror northwest of Beersheba,
show that in the early phase of Philistine history it was a small,
insignificant village, hardly likely to be known to anybody outside its nearest
vicinity -- but by the late 8th-7th centuries BCE, "it had
become a strong, heavily fortified Assyrian administrative stronghold on the
south, an obvious landmark,"
most likely to be mentioned by a contemporary author of the account of Isaac's
sojourn in Philistia.
Nor is the situation better with
Moses, the alleged leader of the Exodus from Egypt -- one of the pivotal events
of the biblical tradition. In the vast multitude of ancient Egyptian sources
available to modern scholarship there is not a single mention of a people
called Jews, Israelites, or Hebrews being enslaved in Egypt, nor of their
escape therefrom (the famous stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, who reigned in
1213-1204 BCE, mentions a people called Israel -- but in Canaan, not in Egypt,
and "laid waste" by Merneptah's army).
No evidence is found of the great and awesome Ten Plagues nor of drowning of
all the Egyptian army in the Red Sea waters. True, absence of evidence does not
usually count as evidence of absence -- but there are situations in which it
does. Suppose, for example, that someone has told you that in June 1917 a
tremendous earthquake shook London, turned half of the city into ruins, and
killed 15,000,000 people. You go to a library, browse through major newspapers
of the relevant period -- and find no mention of an earthquake in London's
vicinity. You search the newspapers for mention of reconstruction works in the
aftermath of the earthquake or for accounts of relief extended to the survivors
-- with no result. You read several books on earthquakes -- and find no mention
of an earthquake in London in June 1917 or at any other period. For a
levelheaded person this would be sufficient to conclude that the earthquake in
question had never occurred and that reports of it are mere fiction.
But you need not stop at that.
You may recall that in June 1917 World War I was at its peak, Great Britain was
fervently fighting Germany and the other Central Powers in Europe and
elsewhere, and on June 7th the British started an offensive in
Flanders which led to the Third Battle of Ypres in July-November 1917
-- not an exploit to be expected of a country suffering from such a large-scale
catastrophe. You may also study the tectonics of London and the area and
recognize that there is no real chance for an earthquake to occur there. You
may go to London and see a lot of buildings -- more or less famous -- which were
built before June 1917 and continue to stand without having suffered any
disturbance. You may learn that in 1917 there were less than 15,000,000 people
in London and its vicinity, and so on.
Now, this is exactly the
situation with the Exodus from Egypt. Not only there is no mention of anything
like it in the numerous Egyptian documents of the period, it is also plainly
impossible that it occurred. The biblical chronological scheme places the
Exodus at sometime between 1500 and 1200 BCE (depending on the interpretation
of some mutually contradictory passages in the Bible). The interpretation
adopted by the Judaic tradition, to which Kelemen apparently adheres, implies
that the event took place in the year 2448 from Creation,
1313 BCE. The Bible says that the number of Israelite adult males escaping from
Egypt was 600,000 -- which would imply some 2.5 million people, including the
women and children. But archaeological research shows that the whole population
of Egypt towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was only 2-3
So, with the Israelites' depature Egypt would have become devastated -- but the
archaeological record shows no traces of such devastation, and in fact, no
large population decrease occurred in ancient Egypt from the late 4th
millennium to the 4th century BCE.
Moreover, were Egypt indeed to
undergo the calamities described as the Ten Plagues and were its army to drown
in the Red Sea, its chief adversary of the period -- the Hittites -- would have
immediately invaded the powerless empire. In fact, at the end of the 14th-beginning
of the 13th centuries BCE Egypt and the Hittite empire were in a
state of constant war, and not much imagination is needed to realize what the
Hittites would have done to Egypt were the latter reduced to the state
described by the Bible -- especially in the light of Moses' assertion in
Deuteronomy 11:4 that, 40 years after the Exodus, the Egyptian army was still
ruined. But instead of a Hittite invasion of Egypt, the two powers fought a decades-long
indecisive war which ended with a peace treaty and a mutual defense pact signed
between Egypt and the Hittite empire and endorsed by the marriage of the
Hittite king's daughter to Ramses II.
The Bible tells us that after
they left Egypt, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the Sinai desert, and
there they experienced God's revelation. Major nomadic activity in an area of
such size usually leaves a lot of traces easily discoverable by archaeologists,
especially since "modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing
even the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over
the world. Indeed, the archaeological record from the Sinai peninsula discloses
evidence for pastoral activity in such eras as the third millennium BCE and the
Hellenistic and Byzantine periods [when the population of Sinai was tiny
compared to the wandering Israelites of the Bible]."
Yet "repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula, including
the mountainous area around the traditional site of Mount Sinai... have yielded
only negative evidence: not a single sherd, no structure, not a single house,
no trace of ancient encampment."
Among the places in which
Israelites encamped on their journey through Sinai, the Bible mentions Esion
Gever and Qadesh Barne'a.
The latter is identified by archaeologists with the large and well-watered
oasis of Ein el-Qudeirat in eastern Sinai (a water spring near that oasis is to
this day called Ein Qadis) and the former is mentioned in the Bible as a port
town on the north-eastern tip of the Red Sea,
which led to its identification by archaeologists with a mound located between
the modern towns of Eilat and Aqaba. However, numerous excavations and surveys
throughout these areas have not provided even the slightest evidence of any
settlement or encampment there at the time of the Israelites' alleged wandering
No less telltale is the fact that
in the 14th-12th centuries BCE Canaan was under firm
Egyptian grip. Egyptian forts were built throughout the country and Egyptian
officials administered its affairs. From the Tell el-Amarna letters, dated to
the 14th century BCE, it appears that a unit of fifty Egyptian
soldiers was strong enough to pacify unrest in Canaan.
The very idea of an exodus from Egypt to Egyptian Canaan would seem quite
ludicrous -- and, not surprisingly, in the stories of the Israelite conquest of
Canaan in the books of Joshua and Judges there is no mention of the Egyptians
The stories of the Exodus, the Israelites'
wandering at Sinai (including, of necessity, the famous revelation), and their
conquest of Canaan appear to be utterly unhistorical. But there are some clues
in the story about the time when it was really written.
The boldest of them is, apparently, the biblical account of Moses sending
emissaries to the king of Edom to ask permission to pass through his territory
on the way to Canaan -- permission which the king of Edom refused to grant, thus
making Israelites bypass his land.
The Bible implies that in the last year of the Israelites' wandering through
Sinai there was already a kingdom in Edom. However, "archaeological
investigations indicate that Edom reached statehood only under Assyrian
auspices in the seventh century BCE. Before that period it was a sparsely
settled fringe area inhabited mainly by pastoral nomads."
The evidence is overwhelming;
even William Dever, one of the most "pro-biblical" present-day archaeologists,
recently admitted that the "seventh-century BC[E] date for the composition of
most of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History" and the conclusion of
unhistoricity of the core biblical account from the Patriarchs to the conquest
of Canaan are "almost certainly right."
To Kelemen such situation is, of
course, extremely undesirable. He has found an easy way out of the problem: the
unselective adoption of anything in print apparently supporting the biblical
story and gerrymandering the sources if necessary. For example:
Historians are at a loss to explain how the Jews managed
to get out of Egypt. Archaeologists are beginning to suspect that they slipped
out amid a series of natural disasters that convulsed ancient Egypt. The Ipuwer
Papyrus, acquired by the Museum of Leiden in 1828, contains an ancient
Egyptian's eyewitness report of such disasters -- the Nile flowing with blood,
hail storms that devastated Egypt's crops, inexplicable darkness, and other
strange phenomena. A monolith discovered in el-Arish, a town near the modern
Egyptian-Israeli border, contains a similar report.
This statement is provided by
Kelemen with references to a book by Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos
(v. 1, pp. 22-45). However, Velikovsky was not an archaeologist. He was a
psychologist, deeply persuaded that the Exodus from Egypt took place as it is
described in the Bible (more or less). The sheer absence of Egyptian reference
to such an event did not confuse him: "It has been argued," he remarked, "that
no people would invent legends about bondage which were not calculated to
enhance the dignity of the nation, and therefore... there must be a historical
basis for the story."
This argument is neither unique to Velikovsky (it has been repeated numerous
times, and stated even by Encyclopaedia Hebraica and Encyclopaedia Biblica)
nor convincing: after all, the first chapter of the book of Exodus tells how
the Israelites, people of respectable pedigree, were perfidiously enslaved by
Egyptians who feared their multiplicity and might. Thus, the point of the
legend of the Egyptian servitude might have been provoking anti-Egyptian
sentiments among the Israelites (for whatever purpose), and invention of slave
ancestry was merely cutting of the nose necessary to incense the face. On the
other hand, Velikovsky's argument refers not to the Exodus itself but merely to
the Israelites' enslavement in or to Egypt. If it is agreed that the Israelites
did not conquer Canaan from outside but gradually emerged as a distinct ethnic
group therein (which is a matter of almost unanimous consensus among
then one must take into account that during the 15th-13th
centuries BCE Palestine was under Egyptian yoke, and that a careful reading of
Exodus 1:11, describing the Israelites' work for their Egyptian masters,
provides some parallels to the Tell el-Amarna letters describing the
Canaanites' work for their local rulers and Egyptian overlords.
The story of the Israelites' servitude in Egypt may then reflect their
servitude to the Egyptians in their native land (although some of them
may have been taken to Egypt to build "store cities," and a few may have
managed to escape back to their homeland). In the 12th century,
Egyptian rule had collapsed in most of Palestine in the wake of havoc wrecked
there by the invasion of the Sea Peoples (of whom the Philistines were a part),
and due to the anarchy which followed the reign of the last weak kings of the
19th Dynasty in Egypt.
The Israelites and the Canaanites (who were not significantly different from
each other at that time) were thus left to their own devices, and the Exodus
story may have been invented later to glorify the not-so-glorious past: isn't
it worth sacrificing some human pride to have been redeemed by God Himself? The
"no baseless bondage legends" claim is insufficient to argue for the historicity
of the Exodus, and Velikovsky might have suspected that.
Assuming rather than intending to
prove the historicity of the Exodus, Velikovsky set out to find extra-biblical
evidence for it. And he succeeded -- or at least, so he thought. The "evidence"
he discovered is the Ipuwer Papyrus mentioned by Kelemen. By picking up a
phrase here and half a sentence there, Velikovsky purported to show that the
papyrus describes the Ten Plagues from an Egyptian eyewitness' point of view.
No matter that these phrases and half-sentences, taken in context, resemble
less than remotely the biblical account of the Plagues -- the best parallel
between the papyrus and the book of Exodus, noted even by academic sources,
is "Lo, the river is blood"
vs. "All the waters in the river were turned into blood,"
but the source of the blood specified by Ipuwer is very different from that
spoken of in Exodus: "Lo, many dead are buried in the river, the stream is the
grave, the tomb became stream"
(this could not, of course, turn the whole river into blood, but there is no
indication in the papyrus that the phrase "the river is blood" is anything more
than hyperbole). No matter that the papyrus, even under Velikovsky's "wishful
reading," makes no mention whatsoever of Hebrews or Israelites, Moses or
Aharon, nor of anything resembling even remotely the plagues of the frogs, the
lice, the wild beasts, the boils, the locusts and the death of the firstborn
(in order to solve the perplexity with the death of the firstborn, the most
impressive plague of the Exodus story, Velikovsky had to render the Hebrew word
for "firstborn," bekhor, as bahir, "chosen"
-- though in Hebrew these are two absolutely different words, formed of
different roots). No matter that the papyrus describes social chaos accompanied
with natural disasters rather than calamities of nature (Plagues) leading to a
flight of a group of slaves from the country (Exodus). No matter that the
papyrus is written in Middle Egyptian -- a form of the ancient Egyptian language
which went out of use with the end of the so-called Middle Kingdom in Egypt,
while all the pharaohs bearing the name Ramses for whom the enslaved Israelites
could have built a store city with this name
ruled during the New Kingdom -- hundreds of years later. No matter that the
Ipuwer Papyrus bears an awfully ambiguous character, which brought
Egyptologists to dispute whether it has any historical basis
or none at all, being instead a representative of the fictitious "order versus
chaos" genre. To all
these considerations Velikovsky preferred his firm belief in the historicity of
the Exodus story as presented in the Bible, producing as a result an account
which is best defined as wishful thinking.
The same may be said of
Velikovsky's interpretation of the inscription covering the outside walls of
the El-Arish shrine
(whose designation as a "monolith" both by Kelemen and Velikovsky may be due to
the fact that the shrine was hollowed out from a single block of stone).
Velikovsky claimed to have found in this inscription the following parallels to
the biblical story of the Exodus: the name of King Thom or Thoum (in whose
honor the store city of Pithom, built by the enslaved Israelites, was named),
the mention of a place called Pi-Kharoti (biblical Pi-ha-Hirot, to which
the Pharaoh pursued the fleeing Israelites and where his army drowned in the
Red Sea), the mention of the plague of darkness, and the mention of the king
leaping into "the Place of the Whirlpool" (which Velikovsky understood as a
report of the pharaoh and his hosts drowning in the Red Sea).
The facts are, however, quite
different. All the personages mentioned in the inscription are Egyptian
deities, not people -- which places the inscription in the realm of mythology
rather than history; as the famous French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero has
noted, "Were there ever duller legends and a more senile phantasy!"
That an Egyptian myth mentions some days of darkness lends, obviously, no
credence to a Hebrew source mentioning some days of darkness also.
The deities mentioned in the
Shu, the son of Ra or Atum, Tefnut, and Geb, son of Shu.
In the theological system of Heliopolis [one of the ancient Egypt's religious
centers], Atum or Ra was the primeval creator. His offspring, Shu and Tefnut,
were the first couple. From their union arose Geb and Nut, or earth and sky
(who in turn produced Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus). Atum-Ra, Shu,
and Geb succeed one another as rulers of creation.
Atum is mentioned in the
inscription as Tum/Toum; in fact, the names Atum, Tum and Ra are used in the
text interchangeably: as Georges Goyon noted at the very beginning of his
translation, "in the continuation of the narrative, the first king of the
universe is sometimes Ra, sometimes Toum."
Tum of the el-Arish inscription has no connection to any historical king
As to the place called
Pi-Kharoti, it is indeed mentioned in the inscription -- but as a place where
Geb raped his mother Tefnut (or, as Francis Griffith put it gently in his
translation, "seized her by force").
And the reported occurrence at the "Place of the Whirlpool" is entirely
different from what Velikovsky claims it to be:
when the majesty of Ra Harmachis [fought] with the evil-doers in this pool, the
Place of the Whirlpool, the evil-doers prevailed not over his majesty. His
majesty leapt into the so-called Place of the Whirlpool? His legs became those of a
crocodile, his head that of a hawk with bull's horns upon it: he smote the
evil-doers in the Place of the Whirlpool?
This is Griffith's translation,
and he was not sure about the reading "Place of the Whirlpool" -- he followed it
with a question mark and noted, "The reading of this name is unknown;" Goyon
leaved this name in transliteration, Yat-Desoui, and noted that it
should be translated "the hill of the two knives."
But in any event, this is not Pi-Kharoti, and the report of Ra turning into a
hawk-headed bull-horned crocodile who "smote the evil-doers" has nothing to do
with the biblical story of the Pharaoh and his hosts drowning in the Red Sea.
This may be the reason Velikovsky cited in his book
only the fragment marked in the above quote in bold. Out-of-context quotations
are not the exclusive prerogative of writers trying to disprove the theory of
evolution -- but Kelemen, again, should have been more scrupulous picking up his
From the Exodus Kelemen proceeds
to the alleged conquest of Canaan by the Israelites:
The land that the Jews felt belonged to them was then
occupied by more than a half-dozen nations. The archaeological record, in
consonance with the book of Joshua, suggests that the Jews triumphed over the
natives in a series of wildly destructive battles. Commenting on the findings
of archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon at the biblical site of Jericho (the first town
conquered by the Jews), a journalist reported, "Owing to erosion, the Kenyon
researches threw no light on how the [city] walls were destroyed; [but] Kenyon
thinks it may have been an earthquake, which the Israelites attributed to
Divine intervention." Similar ruins were found at the biblical sites of Gibeon
and Hazor, also towns taken by the Jews in their initial foray.
"A journalist" here is Paul
Johnson, a writer for The New York Times and afterwards editor of
the New Statesman, from whose A History of the Jews
(p. 43) the quote about Jericho is taken. So far so good.
But what Johnson actually says in
this quote is that Kenyon was not able to throw any light on how the
walls of Jericho were destroyed; her proposition about an earthquake is a mere
guess. Moreover, Kenyon admitted in her Digging Up Jericho
-- which Johnson claims to be his source
-- that "of the town walls of the Late Bronze Age, within which period the
attack by the Israelites must fall by any dating, not a trace remains;"
thus, it is absolutely not clear whether there were any walls at all in the
Late Bronze Age city. On the other hand, a violent destruction of Jericho's
fortifications in the Middle Bronze Age, shortly after 1580 BCE, is well
reflected by the archeological record
-- only it occurred centuries before any Israelites could show up in the area. A
new town was built at the same location about 1400 BCE, but it was abandoned --
for unknown reasons -- in the third quarter of the 14th century BCE.
Since the Judaic tradition dates the Exodus to 1313 BCE, it dates the Conquest
of Canaan to the second quarter of the 13th century, when the site
of Jericho had already been desolate for 50 years or so. There simply was no
city for the Israelites to conquer.
Hazor, on the other hand, was
indeed violently destroyed in the 13th century BCE,
but its ruins -- those of a great Canaanite city-state in all its splendor -- are
hardly similar to the ruins of the Late Bronze Age Jericho, a small town of
which little has remained. If anything, the ruins of Hazor are similar to those
of the fortified Middle Bronze Age Jericho -- but 300 years elapsed between the
destructions of these two cities.
As for Gibeon, no traces of
violent destruction in the 13th century CE were found there -- nor
were any expected, since the Bible itself denies that the Israelites took
Gibeon in a "foray." The ninth chapter of Joshua vividly describes how the
Gibeonites, frightened by the havoc the Israelites wrecked on Jericho and Ai,
sent emissaries to Joshua to arrange for peace; the emissaries, making
themselves appear as strangers and not natives of Canaan (who, according to
God's commandment, had to be exterminated), succeeded in securing a peace
agreement -- and when three days later Joshua's warriors discovered who the Gibeonites
really were, the agreement remained intact, except that as punishment for
deceit, Joshua ordered the Gibeonites to be "hewers of wood and drawers of
water" for the Israelites. Joshua 11:19 repeats this point plainly: "There was
not a city which made peace with the Sons of Israel except the Hivites living
in Gibeon; they took them all in battle." And Paul Johnson, whose book Kelemen
brings again as his source,
speaks, of course, not of an Israelite assault on Gibeon but on the defeat the
Israelites, bound by the above agreement, wrecked upon the armies of five
Canaanite kings who attempted an assault on the renegade Gibeonites -- or at
least, so the Bible says.
If Kelemen wished to present his readers a Bible-style history of the
Israelites, he had to read the Bible more carefully.
But the biblical picture of the
conquest of Canaan is hardly more historical than that of the Exodus.
Excavations at the mound in the village of El-Jib (some 5 miles northwest of
the Old City of Jerusalem), identified with the biblical Gibeon,
Revealed remains from the Middle Bronze Age and from the
Iron Age, but none from the Late Bronze Age. And archaeological surveys at the
sites of the other three "Gibeonite" towns of Chephirah, Beeroth, and
Kirjath-jearim revealed the same picture: at none of the sites were there any
Late Bronze Age remains. The same holds true for other towns mentioned in the
conquest narrative and in the summary list of the kings of Canaan (Joshua 12).
Among them we find Arad (in the Negev) and Heshbon (in Transjordan).
And in Ay (identified with
Khirbet et-Tell, about 10 miles northeast of the Old City of Jerusalem),
"extensive remains of a huge Early Bronze Age city" were found but "not a
single pottery sherd or any other indication of settlement there in the Late
Bronze Age." One must
add the fact that no mention of the Egyptian presence in Canaan is found in the
books of Joshua and Judges -- too big a blunder to be made if these books had
indeed described the historical events of the 13th-12th centuries
BCE. In short, the biblical story of the conquest is myth rather than history.
But Kelemen does not stop with
The Jews held the land of Israel for a time, repelling
attack after attack from neighboring armies. In 701 BCE the Assyrian king
Sennacherib made it as far as the walls of Jerusalem, but his entire battalion
was wiped out one night in a mysterious epidemic. The Greek historian Herodotus
attributed the Assyrian defeat to "a violent outbreak of bubonic plague." The
biblical version of the story reads: "And it came to pass that night that the
angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Assyria one hundred
eighty-five thousand; and when [the Jews] arose early in the morning, behold,
[the Assyrians] were all dead corpses."
Instead of reference to
Herodotus' own work, Kelemen provides his quote with reference to Paul
Johnson's A History of the Jews (p. 73). Johnson, in turn, speaks of
Jerusalem being saved from Sennacherib by "a violent outbreak of bubonic
plague, carried by mice, to which the Greek historian Herodotus later referred"
-- but provides no reference whatsoever.
In fact, Herodotus did speak of a
plague carried by mice -- but in entirely different circumstances:
...there came to the throne
the priest of Hephaistos, whose name was Sethos. This man, they said, neglected
and held in no regard the warrior class of the Egyptians, considering that he
would have no need of them; and besides other slights which he put upon them,
he also took from them the yokes of corn-land which had been given to them as a
special gift in the reigns of the former kings, twelve yokes to each man. After
this, Sanacharib king of the Arabians and of the Assyrians marched a great host
against Egypt. Then the warriors of the Egyptians refused to come to the
rescue, and the priest, being driven into a strait, entered into the sanctuary
of the temple and bewailed to the image of the god the danger which was
impending over him; and as he was thus lamenting, sleep came upon him, and it
seemed to him in his vision that the god came and stood by him and encouraged
him, saying that he should suffer no evil if he went forth to meet the army of
the Arabians; for he himself would send him helpers. Trusting in these things
seen in sleep, he took with him, they said, those of the Egyptians who were
willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusion, for by this way the invasion
came: and not one of the warrior class followed him, but shop-keepers and
artisans and men of the market. Then after they came, there swarmed by night
upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows,
and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled,
and being without defence of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time
this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a
mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: "Let him who looks upon me
learn to fear the gods."
To be sure, this account smells too much of myth -- a genre of
which Herodotus' History is not free -- but it can testify to a literary
motif common to Herodotus and the Bible: deliverance of righteous from danger
through a plague miraculously inflicted on the enemy army. Besides the above
passage, there is no source speaking of an Assyrian invasion of Egypt during
the reign of Pharaoh Shebitku (Herodotus' Sethos, ruled 703-690 BCE), and
Sennacherib's campaign against Judah in 701 BCE is described by the king
himself in a totally different way:
As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I
laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small
villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped
(earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined
with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper
work. I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female,
horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and
considered (them) booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal
residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to
molest those who were leaving his city's gate. His towns which I had plundered,
I took away from his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod,
Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza. Thus I reduced his country,
but I still increased the tribute and the katrû-presents (due) to me (as
his) overlord which I imposed (later) upon him beyond the former tribute to be
delivered annually. Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendor of my
lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had
brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had
deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30
talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts
of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nîmedu-chairs (inlaid) with
ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, box-wood (and) all kinds of valuable
treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order
to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal)
Of course there is no reason to
trust Sennacherib any more than the Bible (the number of 200,150 captives
driven out from Judah is a terrible exaggeration: archaeological research shows
that the total number of people in Judah at that time was some 110,000, and in
Jerusalem only about 7,500).
But even in the Bible itself, the picture of the Assyrian onslaught on Judah is
far from consistent. Thus, just before the story of the Assyrian march on
Jerusalem and the city's miraculous deliverance, the Bible tells that
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign,
Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and
captured them. So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of
Assyria at Lakhish: "I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay
whatever you demand of me." The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of
Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah
gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the
treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped
off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of
the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
In spite of some differences in details of the tribute
paid by Hezekiah to Sennacherib -- the biblical writer's reluctance to mention
Hezekiah's own daughters and concubines being sent to the king of Assyria for
obvious purpose is quite understandable -- this biblical account is fairly
concurrent with Sennacherib's own document. It is the continuation of the
biblical story which is problematic: if Hezekiah had already agreed to pay
Sennacherib any tribute he demanded, recognizing the Assyrian king thereby as
his legitimate overlord, why would Sennacherib send his army on Jerusalem?
Also, there is no reason why an army of 185,000 soldiers would be sent to
besiege a city populated by tens of thousands of people at best (even under
assumption that numerous refugees from the devastated Judean hinterland fled to
Jerusalem). If Sennacherib could indeed muster such a number of troops (which
is by no means certain), it would be almost all the manpower he could muster,
and the loss of it would render Assyria powerless for a long time -- which did
not happen, of course: only a year after his Judean campaign Sennacherib was
able to suppress quite easily a major rebellion in Babylonia, and the next few
years sufficed him to prepare a major onslaught on Elam (in what is now
It seems rather certain that the Bible's account in II Kings 18:13-16 is
historical while the subsequent story of Jerusalem delivered from the Assyrians
by an angel of God is literary fiction of a genre quite common in the ancient
Another version of history by
Seventy years later [from Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of
Jerusalem], though, there were still Jews in Babylon and the surrounding
territories who cared about being Jewish. And when the Babylonian empire was
uprooted by an alliance of Persians and Medes, the new head of the state, Cyrus
the Great, proclaimed the Jews free to return to Israel. News of the exile's
end spread quickly, drawing waves of Jewish pilgrims from across the Near East.
Under close Persian scrutiny, the Jews reestablished their independence and
reconstructed their Temple in Jerusalem. They thus became the first people in
recorded history to regain a land they had lost in a bloody defeat more than
half a century earlier.
Hardly a single sentence here is
true. The Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors was not
"uprooted by an alliance of Persians and Medes." The last king of this empire,
Nabonidus, even concluded a treaty of mutual defense with the Median king
Astyages; both of them feared the rising regional power -- the Persians under
Cyrus himself was affiliated with the Medes: he was married to Astyages'
daughter and in 559 BCE inherited his father's position as the ruler of Persia
and a vassal to the Median court. Less than a decade later, however, he openly rebelled against his overlords and defeated them in a
battle in which considerable numbers of Median troops deserted to the Persian
side. In 550 BCE the Median empire became the first Persian empire, ruled for
220 years after by the kings of Cyrus' Achaemenid dynasty. In the summer of 539 BCE Cyrus marched into Babylon, hailed
by local priests and large sectors of population who had been previously
opposed to Nabonidus' policies, which included appeal to the cult of the moon
god Sin instead of the local chief god Marduk.
The first conquest of Jerusalem
by Nebuchadnezzar's troops took place in 597 BCE; the second, resulting in the
First Temple's destruction, occurred in 587 BCE.
None of the two preceded Cyrus' conquest of Babylonia by 70 years. Kelemen's
"seventy years" are but another biblical construct:
whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these peoples [of Judah]
will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are
fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the
Chaldeans, for their guilt," declares the Lord, "and I will make it desolate
And this is just one more
biblical construct at odds with history. Not only did the Babylonian domination
over Judah not last 70 years, Judah did not become "desolate wasteland" either:
The most thorough research of the settlement of Judah in
the Babylonian period, conducted by Oded Lipshits of Tel Aviv University, has
shown that the site of Tell en-Nasbeh near modern Ramallah -- identified as the
location of biblical Mizpah -- was not destroyed in the Babylonian campaign, and
that it was indeed the most important settlement in the region in the sixth
century BCE. Other sites north of Jerusalem such as Bethel and Gibeon continued
to be inhabited in the same era. In the area to the south of Jerusalem, around
Bethlehem, there seems to have been significant continuity from the late
monarchic [of the last Judah's kings] to the Babylonian period. Thus, to both
the north and south of Jerusalem, life continued almost uninterrupted.
Jeremiah 52:28-30 -- the only
account of the number of Jews exiled to Babylonia that is internally
consistent, covers all the waves of exile, and does not operate with suspicious
round numbers (usually too pretty to be true) -- reports that the deportations
totaled 4,600 people. To be sure, these may be merely male heads of exiled
households (a system of census quite common in the ancient world), in which
case it is possible to speak of some 20,000 Jewish deportees. But the total
population of Judah before the exile (in the late 7th century CE)
"can be quite accurately estimated from data collected during intensive surveys
and excavations at about seventy-five thousand."
Thus, only a quarter or so of Judah's population was exiled to Babylonia. And
the latter, of course, did not become desolate after the Persian conquest --
instead, it became the richest province of Cyrus' empire.
Nor has it become desolate forever.
Cyrus' permission to the exiled
Jews to return to their land and to rebuild their Temple was anything but
unique, as Cyrus' own testimony reveals:
(As to the region) from... as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns
Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the region of Gutians, I returned to (these)
sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have
been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and
established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their
(former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.
Taught by the example of Babylon,
Cyrus was tolerant to the religions of peoples inhabiting his empire. To him,
the God of the Jews was but another deity on a par with those of Sumer and
Akkad, whose images he ordered to be restored to their former temples.
Nor was the return to Judah -- or,
more precisely, to the new Persian province of Yehud (Judea) that "was a much
smaller territory even than the limited area of Judah in the late seventh
century BCE" --
remarkably massive. There were, at best, tens of thousands of Jews abroad, and
while Ezra 2:64 and Nehemiah 7:66-67 speak of almost 50,000 repatriates,
"survey data from all the settlements in Yehud in the fifth-fourth centuries
BCE yields a population of approximately thirty thousand people"
-- including the descendants of those who were left at home under
Nebuchadnezzar, of course.
The Jewish repatriates did not
"reestablish their independence" either: Judea was run by Persian-appointed
governors; together with other parts of Palestine, Syria, the Phoenician coast,
and Cyprus it formed the fifth satrapy of the Persian Empire.
Nehemiah 9:37 records the Jews bewailing to God that Judea's "abundant harvest
goes to the kings You have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our
cattle as they please." To be sure, King Artaxerxes (either I or II) of Persia
granted Ezra authority over the Jews in the "Province Beyond-the-River" (west
of the Euphrates), including the right to sentence transgressors to monetary
fines, terms in prison, exile and even death -- but Ezra had to provide for
observance of "the law of the king" on a par with "the law of God."
Still, the importance to Jewish history of this autonomy can hardly be
overestimated: here was set the precedent for more than two millennia of Jewish
autonomy, which enabled the Jews to survive as a people without maintaining
full political independence.
One should bear this Jewish
autonomy in mind when reading the continuation of Kelemen's narrative:
In 332 BCE the Greeks completed a quick, lethal campaign
against the Persian empire. Alexander of Macedon's generals carved up the Near
East, establishing kingdoms in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. The Jews
struggled to maintain some freedoms, despite the Greek stranglehold tightening
around their community. But in 167 BCE the Greeks outlawed Judaism and Jewish
educational activities, and converted the Temple in Jerusalem into a showplace
for Greek idols. The Jews moved to revolt but were put down by merciless
troops. They then went underground, breaking into bands of guerillas who would
ravage the Greeks in and around the Temple area and then disappear into the
Judean hills to regroup. Headed by Matisyahu Hasmon, the Jewish offensive
caused the Greeks tremendous losses, and eventually the empire withdrew from
Jerusalem. In 164 BCE the Jews reclaimed their Temple and rededicated it to the
one God. A tiny band of guerillas had repelled the most powerful military force
on the face of the globe.
In fact, no "Greek stranglehold"
tightened around the Jews after Alexander the Great until the Seleucid king
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose reign the persecutions of 167-164 BCE took
place. Of Alexander's own affairs in Judea little is known; Flavius Josephus
tells that when the great conqueror was crushing one Persian stronghold in
Syria-Palestine after another, he demanded the High Priest of Jerusalem furnish
men and supplies to his army and tribute to him as he had previously furnished
to Darius. The High Priest refused to transgress the oath of loyalty he had
sworn to the Persian king and the angry Alexander, after the conquest of Gaza,
marched on Jerusalem -- but when he approached the city he was met by a
procession of Jews, headed by the High Priest himself holding a golden plate on
which God's name was written. Alexander, thus the story goes, recognized in the
High Priest the man whom he had seen in a dream and who urged him to take on
the conquest campaign, promising him success. Grateful Alexander offered a
sacrifice to the God of Jerusalem under the High Priest's guidance, and granted
the Jews --in Palestine and elsewhere -- the right to live according to the laws
of their forefathers, to the extent that on sabbatical years, when land
cultivation in Palestine was forbidden by Jewish law, the Palestinian Jews
would be free from the duty of tribute to the royal chamber. Another variant of
this story, with some inevitable alterations, is preserved in the Babylonian
This story is, to be sure, merely
a Judaization of similar Greek tales -- like the one about the Celtic king
Catumundus who refrained from destroying the Greek colony of Marseilles because
he recognized in the local idol of Athena the goddess who appeared to him in a
dream, urging him to make peace with the city.
For the High Priest to refuse the demands of Alexander -- who had just taken the
cities of Tyre and Gaza, far better equipped for defense than Jerusalem -- would
be equivalent to suicide, something he would hardly commit out of fidelity to a
But be it as it may, Alexander
did not take Jerusalem by force. And when he went further into Asia, fighting
the Persians, he had among his troops some Jewish soldiers, and these were not
maltreated except for the corporal punishments and fines imposed upon them when
they refused to participate in the restoration of the pagan sanctuary of
Esagila in Babylonia -- without much effect, for the Jews' contempt of all other
cults was already strong enough to prevent them from participating, however
indirectly, in idolatrous practices.
The autonomy was, in all likelihood, maintained: ancient empires were neither
willing nor able to change the traditional structures of their subject cities,
villages, and tribes.
With Alexander's death his empire
broke down, and his generals -- and later their successors -- fought one another
for power in different regions which were now independent and semi-independent
Hellenistic kingdoms. Judea, however, was relatively secure under the rule of
the Ptolemaic dynasty, whose chief domain was Egypt. Information about the
relationship between the Ptolemies and their Jewish subjects is scarce, but
Some essential facts... are clear: the Jews of Judea
constituted a more or less self-governing ethnos, the law of Moses was
their law, and their Temple was sacrosanct. In other words, the Ptolemies, like
Alexander before them and the Seleucids after them, in this respect continued
the policies established by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes.
The Seleucids -- the dynasty which
had initially assumed dominion over most of Alexander's Asian possessions but
failed to take control of Palestine -- conquered the whole of Palestine,
including Judea, in 200 BCE. King Antiochus III confirmed all the privileges
the Jewish community in Judea had previously enjoyed and let the Jews settle
their own issues by themselves: there was neither permanent royal agent nor
royal garrison in Jerusalem.
The law of the Torah was binding for all Jews in Judea by order of a Gentile
This was the situation when
Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power in 176 BCE. Jewish tradition portrays him
as the villain of the plot:
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should
be one people, and that everyone should leave his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the order
of the king. And of Israel also many consented to his religion, and offered sacrifices
to idols, and profaned the Sabbath. For the king had sent letters with
messengers to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judea that they should follow the
laws foreign to the Land [of Israel].
This statement is untenable.
Antiochus IV never ordered all his subjects to abandon their ancestral
religions: the goddess Nanaia continued to be worshipped in Susa according to
ancient custom all through his reign, as did the local six-winged deity in
Byblos and the chief god Marduk in Babylon.
True, the king plundered the Jerusalem Temple, stripping it of all its riches,
in 169 BCE -- but he often did this to other temples, too, and it had nothing to
do with any religious persecution: the royal treasury simply was in desperate
need of funds.
The persecutions of Judaism under
Antiochus IV were absolutely unique. The whole hodgepodge of Oriental peoples
which constituted the majority of the population of the Seleucid empire (in
which only the ruling class -- royal families, high officials, military
officers, and elite troops -- were ethnically Greek) continued to live
undisturbed all through Epiphanes' reign. How, then, did the persecutions come
In the centuries following
Alexander's conquests, the entire realm from Macedonia to Persia was
experiencing the same cultural tendencies. The Near Eastern culture was
becoming increasingly Greek -- or Hellenistic, if this term is adopted for the
stage when Greek culture grew universal rather than ethnic. This was the first
human experiment in cultural universalism, the new sense of identity being
based on education and culture rather than ethnic origins:
A man became a "Hellene" without at the same time
forsaking his gods and his people, but merely by adopting Hellenic culture.
Clearchus, a disciple of Aristotle, represents his master as conducting a
conversation with a pious Jew and calling this Jew "a Greek man not only in
language but also in spirit." A century later the great geographer Eratosthenes
[c. 276-c. 194 BCE] declared that men are not to be distinguished as Greek or
barbarian, but rather according to their virtues and their vices.
During the three centuries which we call Hellenistic --
that is, the period between Alexander the Great and Emperor Augustus (330 to 30
BCE) -- the notion of the "Hellene," like the modern notion of the "European,"
grew into a concept independent of descent.
The Jews, on the other hand, had by then been living for
generations under an exclusivist set of laws governing all fields of life:
Nothing brings people closer together than a common table.
But his dietary laws forbade the Jew to taste the food of his non-Jewish
neighbor. There is no closer tie than the bond of matrimony. But the Jews told
with approval the story of a father who abandoned his own daughter in order to
free his brother from a passing attachment to a pagan dancing girl. To a man of the Hellenistic age this "separation from the
nations" could be regarded as nothing else than the expression of a Jewish
"hatred of mankind."
It is small wonder then that a large group of Jews soon
began to seek paths to "normalization" -- or, as the first book of Maccabees
In those days, there went out of Israel wicked men, who
persuaded many, saying: "Let us go and make a covenant with the nations that
are around us -- for since we had departed from them, many troubles befell us."
And this plan pleased them much. Then some of the people volunteered to go to
the king, who gave them license to behave in accordance with the laws of the
nations, whereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the customs
of the nations, and made themselves uncircumcised [restored their foreskin
through a painful procedure], and forsook the Holy Covenant, and joined
themselves to the Gentiles, and became addicted to do mischief.
The idea ascribed here to the
"wicked men" may be merely a mockery of their outlook by the nationalist and
orthodox author of I Maccabees -- but if it is not, it appears that imitation of
Gentile customs notwithstanding, the reformers still perceived history in
traditional Jewish terms: troubles befall the Jews because of their departure
from the correct conduct. In line with Greek sympathizers of the Jews -- who
highly revered their doctrine of an imageless God but saw in the numerous
barriers raised by Judaism between the Jews and the Gentiles a later
contamination of the pure philosophic idea -- the reformers must have seen
Jewish exclusivism as unethical. Furthermore, Hellenistic thinkers had already
developed a comparative study of religion, and they knew that many legislators
-- from Zoroaster to Lycurgus -- claimed divine inspiration for their laws just
as Moses did; from this it was only one step to the conclusion that the Torah
was yet another work of a human mind, ascribed to God only in order to give it
more authority -- and therefore assimilation with Gentiles did not really
involve violation of divine commandments, but only of human statutes.
Thus the reform got under way.
The king was still disinterested: when a scion of the High Priestly family,
Jason (Yeshu'a), wanted to become the High Priest instead of his pious brother
Onias (Honio), he had to pay Epiphanes 360 talents of silver (plus 80
talents of "other revenue"); for the license to build a gymnasium and to found
a colony of "Antiochians" (that is, citizens not obliged to live by the laws of
the Torah but possessing their own Greek-style constitution)
in Jerusalem, he had to pay the king 150 talents more.
This would be unintelligible were it Antiochus' own plan to turn the Jews into
The reform met with considerable
Such was the height of Greek fashions, and the popularity
of Gentile manners... that the priests were no more zealous to serve at the
altar, but -- despising the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices -- hastened to
participate in unlawful activities at the place of exercise, when the call of
the [game of] discus was heard. They disregarded what their fathers honored,
but liked the glory of the Greeks most of all.
When Epiphanes passed through
Jerusalem in 174 BCE, about a year after the reform was introduced, he was
hailed by Jason and the city's inhabitants.
Not a single voice was raised against the reform -- not even that of the pious
Onias -- and the future looked bright.
But then another player entered
the field -- the priest Menelaus. Sent in 172 to hand tribute to the king, he
decided to secure Jason's position for himself. The king did not mind, and for
good reason: Menelaus promised him 300 silver talents more each year than Jason
had previously offered. Jason fled to the Transjordan. In order to pay the
tribute promised to the king, Menelaus had to expropriate some golden vessels
of the Temple. Only now was the first voice of protest raised -- that of Onias,
who had consequently to flee from Menelaus' anger and to hide in a pagan
sanctuary at Daphne, a suburb of Antioch. Yet even there he was reached by
Menelaus' partners and slain -- not before they persuaded him by oaths of amity
to quit the sanctuary. This murder infuriated both Jews and Gentiles, and
Antiochus had to punish his deputy Andronicus, who slew Onias at Menelaus'
initiative, but Menelaus succeeded, through bribery, to get himself acquitted.
His deputy at the High Priest's office, Lysimachus, continued to strip the
Temple of its riches, provoking popular violence in the course of which he was
killed. Menelaus, having retained his office by the king's decision, punished
the rioters -- but the seeds of unrest had already been sown.
In 169 Antiochus started his
campaign against Egypt, which resulted in full occupation of the country,
except the capital city of Alexandria. There was a good chance that Antiochus
would assume the rule of Egypt as custodian of King Ptolemy VI, his nephew.
Having conquered Egypt, Antiochus returned to Palestine and plundered the Jerusalem
Temple, this time stripping it of all its riches
-- the revenues paid by Menelaus apparently far from satisfied the king.
In summer of 168, the Roman
ambassador in Egypt ordered Antiochus to withdraw from the country. Antiochus
had no choice but to comply -- it was not his kingdom but Rome who was truly
"the most powerful military force on the face of the globe" (as illustrated by
the Romans' butchery of the Macedonian army at Pydna on June 22 of that year,
spelling the end to Macedonian independence).
But for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, not much versed in international
politics, it was only natural to attribute the dishonorable Seleucid retreat
from Egypt to Antiochus' death, rumors of which had spread in Judea.
A revolt burst out in Jerusalem.
Jason returned to the city, slaying supporters of Menelaus. The latter fled to
the city's fortress. Antiochus, enraged by the news of revolt, assailed the
city, slew many of its inhabitants, sold countless others into slavery, pulled
down the city's walls and built a new fortress on a hill opposite the Temple
Mount (in all the extant sources it is called simply the Acra -- "fortress" in
Greek). A Seleucid garrison was stationed in the Acra, the fortress became the
residence of Philip -- a Phrygian by origin, appointed by Antiochus the governor
of Judea. The Hellenized Jews, including Menelaus, also found refuge in the
It was in this atmosphere that
the persecutions began: the Jerusalem Temple was renamed the temple of Zeus
Olympios, cultic prostitutes were introduced there, ritually unfit things were
sacrificed on the Temple altar (on which the "abomination of desolation" -- most
likely a cultic rock -- was placed at the end of 167), sacrificial sites were
erected throughout the country, Torah scrolls were burnt, observance of
Sabbath, Jewish feasts and fasts and circumcision were outlawed, and Jews were
compelled to eat pork and to participate in pagan processions. On the advice of
a certain Ptolemy, the same measures were taken in regard to the Jews residing
in Hellenistic cities adjacent to Jerusalem, and royal agents were dispatched
to the villages of Judea to foster compliance with the new cult.
The persecutions, however, affected only the Jews residing in Jerusalem and
thereabouts; the Samaritans (whose customs were largely Jewish, including
Sabbath observance, circumcision, and a ban on intermarriage) and the Jews
living in other corners of the Seleucid empire were spared. Given the local
character of the persecutions, it seems that they were instigated by local
authorities -- perhaps by Menelaus himself,
who would thus "modernize" the "backward" and particularistic Jewish creed, and
gain himself more power, crushing potential opponents with imperial might (the
traditionalist camp could have gained some popularity as result of the
disasters that Jason's and Menelaus' policy brought on Judea).
Be it as it may, in the first
months of 166 BCE royal agents came to the town of Modi'in, on the southwestern
fringe of Judean territory. The townsmen were requested to sacrifice a pig in
fulfillment of the royal decree, but when one of them volunteered to perform
the sacrifice, the local priest Mattathias (Matityahu) killed him, slew the
royal agent, and destroyed the altar built by the latter for the pig sacrifice.
Then Mattathias and his sons -- John (Yohanan), Simon, Judah, Eleazar and
Jonathan -- fled to the mountains of Judea. There, joined by similarly zealous
Jews, they became a kind of guerilla force, fighting not against the Seleucid
administration but primarily against Jewish infidels:
They made a stealthy and roundabout entrance into the
villages and summoned those eager to fight; with the force thus formed they
moved from place to place, destroying the idolatrous altars where they found
them, compelling the observance of the Torah by force (for example, they
circumcised newborn infants, as many as they found), and smiting apostate
violators of the law.
A year after the outburst of the
revolt, Mattathias died. His third son Judah, surnamed the Maccabee, assumed
command, continuing the guerilla war for two more years. Prudently, he did not
venture to attack walled cities and forts, confining himself to raids on small
towns and villages. Antiochus, whose empire extended then from the border of
Egypt to the Persian Gulf, should have paid little attention to the revolt: for
him, it was yet another robber band whose likes abounded throughout the empire.
But in the meantime, Judah's forces grew to over 3,000 men, justifying the
sending of more or less regular Seleucid detachments to pacify the revolt.
Judah's troops, however, crushed one such detachment after another, making
clever use of the advantage which the hilly landscape of Judea gave guerilla
forces over regular troops. In the fall of 165, Judah apparently seized control
over the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, thus cutting the Hellenistic
administration of Judea off from direct communication with the sea and with the
central government. Now a large Seleucid army, under the command of Lysias,
governor-general of the lands west to the Euphrates, was sent to crush the
revolt. This army, however, was far from representing the whole or the majority
of Seleucid might, since Epiphanes was at that time engaged in a serious war
against Mithradates I of Parthia which was far more important to him than the
conflict in Judea -- here the control over all the eastern provinces of the
empire was at stake. The accounts in I and II Maccabees of Seleucid armies
numbering tens of thousands of soldiers destroyed by the Maccabean forces are,
therefore, clearly exaggerated --Antiochus' whole army consisted, by 166, of
little more than 50,000 soldiers, and he could not afford to withdraw one-fifth
or more of his army from the Parthian front.
Apparently Epiphanes wanted to
stop the hostilities in Judea altogether so that Lysias' army would be able to
assist him in the Parthian campaign. For this reason he offered, in his letter
preserved in II Maccabees 11:27-33, amnesty to all the rebels who would return
to their abodes by the end of March 164, and permitted the Jews "to use their
own food and to observe their own laws as of yore." But it was too little and
too late: the king did not restore the obligatory status of Jewish law and the
hated Menelaus was still to remain in power. Some Jews may have availed
themselves of the king's decree, but the Maccabean host as a whole did not
dissolve, the war continued, Lysias' army was defeated at Beit Sur (a
fortress some 7 km north to Hebron) but the victory was indecisive, and
negotiations for peace began. Documents referring to these negotiations are
preserved in II Maccabees 11:16-21 and 34-38; interestingly, a Roman delegation
en route to the Seleucid capital of Antioch took the Jews' part and urged them
to formulate their demands quickly so that the Roman ambassadors would be able
to present them to the Seleucid court (Rome, of course, had every interest in
weakening the power of the Seleucids, at whose domains the Romans were gazing
with ever growing appetite). Though documents detailing the sides' positions
were sent to Antiochus and all waited for his verdict, the king had died in
Parthia (November-December 164), leaving on the throne his minor son, Antiochus
V Eupator. Meanwhile, Judah seized Jerusalem (except Acra), swept out the
Hellenized Jewish authorities and rededicated the Temple to the God of Israel
in accordance with the traditional rite, celebrating the event for eight days
from the 25th of Kislev on. Thus the feast of Hanukkah was
established -- but the Seleucid garrison still remained in the Acra, and
Menelaus, although no longer officiating in the Temple, still presided over the
reformer community in the fortress.
In the beginning of 163,
Antiochus V sent a letter to Lysias (preserved in II Maccabees 11:22-26),
declaring that his father's decrees of persecution against traditional Judaism
were now abolished -- but the Maccabees were still unsatisfied.
Judah started besieging the Acra and Lysias had to intervene once again, this
time taking Beit Sur, entering Jerusalem, and besieging Judah himself on
the Temple Mount. Judah's case seemed desperate -- but now he was saved by the
internal political strife of the Seleucid empire. Before he had left for
Parthia, Antiochus IV appointed Lysias as regent and guardian of his minor son
-- but on deathbed, he entrusted another of his generals, Philip, with the
regency. And while the regent Lysias was besieging the Maccabean forces on the
Temple Mount he suddenly learned that the regent Philip was marching on
Antioch, with the whole army retreating from Parthia, in order to secure the
rule for himself. Antioch, of course, was of greater importance to Lysias than
Jerusalem -- so he concluded a hasty peace treaty with Judah and marched against
Philip. This treaty not merely permitted the Jews to live in accordance with
the law of the Torah, but obliged them to observe this law. The reform party
was finally crushed, Menelaus was executed, and one Alcimus (Yaqim) assumed the
office of the High Priest. But still Judea remained a part of the Seleucid empire,
and the royal garrison remained stationed in the Acra for 21 more years.
It was a coincidence of Judah's
military successes (most of which resulted from clever use of guerilla
tactics), Antiochus IV's war with Parthia, Roman diplomatic intervention, and
internal strife in the Seleucid empire that caused these developments.
Kelemen's excited statement about "a tiny band of guerillas" repelling "the
most powerful military force on the face of the globe" is very far from the
In his struggle for independence,
Judah entered world politics and concluded a treaty of friendship with Rome.
Rather than assist him, however, this treaty became the immediate cause of his
downfall: the Seleucid government could swallow guerilla campaigns here and
there, but an alliance with the empire's avowed enemy was more than it was able
to tolerate. In spring 160 BCE, a Seleucid army led by the general Bacchides
and assisted by Alcimus, whom Judah had been harassing for all his years in
office, attacked Judea and easily smashed Judah's troops. Judah himself was
killed and the house of the Hasmoneans faced a temporary decline.
Jewish tradition quickly forgot
Judah. He is not mentioned in the Talmud nor in Megilat Antiochus -- a
post-Talmudic compilation that was read on Hanukkah in medieval Jewish
communities -- and the prayer 'Al ha-Nisim, still recited by every
observant Jew on Hanukkah, skips over Judah's name, mentioning merely
"Mattathias, the Hasmonean High Priest, and his sons" (a fiction in itself,
since Mattathias was a descendant of the priestly family of Jehoiarib, not of
the High Priestly dynasty of Joshua the son of Jehozadak).
Even Kelemen grants the victory over the Seleucids to Mattathias, in spite of
the fact that the latter died when the Hasmonean forces were still no more than
an ordinary band of robbers. Only through Yosifon -- a Hebrew compilation
based on the writings of Flavius Josephus -- could the medieval Jews know of
Judah at all, and only with the rise of Zionism, with its need of characters of
Jewish military prowess, did Judah finally become a Jewish national hero.
It was Judah's brother, Jonathan,
who succeeded in reviving, through shrewd political gambling, Hasmonean power.
By the beginning of 152 BCE he was sheikh of the small town of Mikhmash west of
Jericho. Those were troubled years for the Seleucid empire. The reigning king,
Demetrius I Soter, was faced by a contender, Alexander Balas, who passed
himself off as Antiochus IV's illegitimate son. The Romans, determined to cause
the Seleucids as much trouble as possible, supported Alexander, as did the
kings of Egypt, Pergamum, and Cappadocia, and a part of Seleucid royal troops.
Demetrius was in desperate need of military support and Jonathan, who was still
popular due to his family's record, was the only person able to summon a Jewish
levy to the king's help. So he was given full power to assemble Jewish troops --
as soon as Alexander Balas recognized the potential obstacle these troops
presented to him he drew Jonathan to his side, appointing him the High Priest
and the governor of Judea, granting him a court title and allowing him to wear
the purple reserved for "the friends of the king." Jonathan, assisting Balas
both before the latter managed to ascend to the throne in 150 and afterwards,
also took care to fortify Jerusalem and to expand Judea's borders, including
access to the sea. Jonathan was taken captive and murdered in 143 by another
contender to the Seleucid throne -- at last he backed the wrong horse -- but his
brother Simon inherited all his titles and positions and continued Jonathan's
enterprise. Profiting by the internal anarchy of the Seleucid empire with its
endless struggle between contenders, he managed to capture all the important
fortresses in Judea: Beth Sur, Gezer, and finally, the Acra, which was
taken in May 141. In May 142 Simon succeeded in providing for Judea's complete
freedom from royal tribute, and in 140 he was appointed by decision of the
priests, elders, and people of Judea as their leader (ethnarch) and High
Priest forever, so that nobody could depose him or even convoke an assembly
without his consent. Nevertheless, formally at least, Simon still remained a
Seleucid vassal -- in order to start striking his own coins he needed a royal
privilege, which was granted him in 139.
Only during the rule of Simon's
son, John (Yohanan) Hyrcanus, between 134 and 104 BCE, did Judea succeed
in obtaining full independence from the Seleucid empire,
then already a half-corpse (when its agony was ended by Roman conquest in 64
BCE, the span of the empire was limited to the provinces of Syria and eastern
Cilicia, and even those were under tenuous control).
John Hyrcanus' son, Alexander Jannaeus (reigned 103-76 BCE), assumed the title
of king and expanded the Hasmonean domain even further, starting the brief
period of Judea's grandeur that ended with the death of his widow, Queen Salome
Alexandra, in 67 BCE. Queen Salome was a supporter of the Pharisees -- a
religious faction that had developed the idea of the Oral Torah and was thus a
direct predecessor of Rabbinic Judaism. But Salome's pro-Pharisaic stand could
not fail to enrage the priestly elite, which belonged largely to the Sadducees,
the Pharisees' bitter opponents. The Sadducean opposition consolidated itself
under Salome's son Aristobulus. The latter, however, was only the second son of
the queen, and the throne had to pass after her death to the firstborn Hyrcanus
II. Open war broke out between Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, and when Rome
conquered the Seleucid empire and the Roman general Pompey arrived at Damascus,
both claimants to the throne, along with the Pharisees, sent embassies to
Pompey urging him to bring about order (as each party understood it) in Judea.
Pompey, of course, could not refuse, and his army marched into Jerusalem,
taking the city after a brief campaign against Aristobulus' supporters encamped
on the Temple Mount. The Hasmonean kingship was abolished, the Transjordan and
the coastal plain were torn off from Judea, Hyrcanus II was inaugurated as the
High Priest and the leader (ethnarch) of the Jews, and Judea was now to
pay taxes to Rome. The age-old situation of a Gentile power, ruling over Judea
and exacting taxes from her inhabitants but granting the Jews a wide autonomy
in their religious and social affairs, was restored.
Pompey's actions appear to be
quite in line with the demands of the Pharisaic embassy, who asked that the
Hasmonean kingship be abolished altogether and the Jews restored under the
traditional authority of the High Priest. It is a bit surprising, therefore,
that Kelemen chose to pass over Pompey in silence, starting instead the Roman
period in the history of Palestine with Herod the Great:
In 40 BCE, having replaced Greece as the preeminent world
power, the Romans dispatched an army of 30,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry to
take Jerusalem. In sheer military might the Romans dwarfed the Jews. The battle
was over before it began, and the Romans installed Herod as "allied king and
the friend of the Roman people." Herod's primary goal was to exterminate the
Jewish guerillas who had so troubled the Greeks. He largely succeeded, and
celebrated his victory in 37 CE by executing forty-six leading members of the
Sanhedrin (the Jews' supreme religious council). Having disposed of his Jewish
opponents, Herod tried to placate the remaining Jewish populace, even going so
far as to begin rebuilding the Temple.
But Herod did not assume, in
fact, the rule of Judea until 37 BCE. Starting in 47, he was the governor (strategos)
of Galilee, but in 40 the Parthian invasion into Syria-Palestine brought about
an anti-Roman Jewish insurrection led by the Hasmonean Antigonus, Aristobulus'
son. Herod fled to Jerusalem and then to Rome, where the Senate eagerly
appointed him the king of Judea -- after all, the Romans had nothing to lose in
this case. After three years of war Herod took control of the whole of
Palestine (the Romans having meanwhile ousted the Parthians from Syria),
conquered Jerusalem and had Antigonus and 45 members of the Sanhedrin executed.
This was, however, not an anti-Jewish persecution but a sheerly political act:
Herod wanted to stem the religious leaders' involvement in secular affairs,
leaving them instead autonomy in the religious sphere. A bloody despot though
he was, he did not dare to execute the Pharisaic leaders who openly refused to
take an oath of allegiance to him and to the Roman emperor, and banned any
symbols of pagan worship from being brought into Judean borders. Herod's reign,
however tyrannical, was marked by stability, economic and technological
progress, and a strengthening of ties with the Jewish diaspora (for the first
time since Cyrus, diaspora Jews were appointed High Priests). In the drought
year of 25 BCE Herod distributed food and clothes among the poor, and twice
during his reign he ordered taxes reduced -- a remarkable policy compared with
the usual greed of Roman administrators and appointees. Herod's most famous
enterprise was, of course, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, which he not
only began but completed, turning the bleak Oriental sanctuary into a building
that impressed friend and foe alike;
even the rabbis, generally antipathetic to Herod, had to acknowledge that "one
who has not seen Herod's building has never seen a building really beautiful."
Kelemen, however, not only dated
Herod's execution of the members of Sanhedrin to 37 CE (instead of 37 BCE), but
also made Herod live until 44 CE
-- a remarkable geriatric success, since by that time the king would have been
well over 100 years old. Of course Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, and 44 CE is
the year of death of his grandson, Herod Agrippa I, with whose death the
Herodian kingship ceased and Judea was turned into an ordinary Roman province.
So much for Kelemen's knowledge of history.
In 1953 Stalin broke off Soviet relations with Israel, and
within two years Soviet weapons were pouring into Arab munitions depots. In
1956, having already blocked Israeli access to the Suez Canal and the Gulf of
Aquaba, a confident Nasser [then president of Egypt] signed military pacts with
Saudi Arabia and Yemen, formed a unified military command with Jordan and Syria
and stepped up fedayeen attacks on Israeli settlements. War was imminent
when, on October 29, 1956, Israel launched a preemptive raid on the terrorist
units in the Sinai. To their surprise, the Israelis quickly took the Egyptian
outposts in Rafa, el-Arish, the Gaza strip, the coasts of the Suez Canal and
the Gulf of Aqaba, and Sharm el-Sheikh. Just over a week after the war began,
on November 7, the United Nations' cease-fire order was accepted, but only
after the Israelis confirmed their uncanny ability to defend themselves even against
the latest Soviet weapons.
Unfortunately, Kelemen does not mention that
Soviet-Israeli diplomatic relations were restored in July 1953 (four months
after Stalin's death), that the arms deal between Egypt and Czechoslovakia
(through which Soviet weapons were actually supplied to Egypt) was struck only
in 1955 -- the first attempt by Nikita Khrushchev to become a major player in
the superpowers' game in the Middle East -- and that by 1956, no other Arab
country benefited from massive Soviet arms supply. Israel, of course, did not
merely pray for salvation, and picked a superpower of her own -- France, enraged
by Nasser's support of Algerian guerillas -- and French weapons were soon
pouring into Israeli munitions depots.
Fedayeen -- armed Arab
gangs penetrating Israeli territory and attacking military and civilian targets
-- indeed escalated their assaults from Egyptian territory, but only prior to
April 1956; in that month, the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld visited
the region and managed to bring a decrease of hostile activities on
Israeli-Egyptian border. After Hammarskjöld's visit there was a certain d‚tente
both in Israeli-Soviet and Israeli-Egyptian relations:
Khrushchev announced his support for "the UN peace efforts
in the Middle East," and before their visit to London Bulganin [then Soviet
premier] and Khrushchev released a declaration which spoke of the necessity of
"[maintaining] the status quo in the region;" the [Israeli] foreign minister
mentioned in his speech before the Knesset on April 23, 1956 the Soviet
statement as a certain turn for good. In London Khrushchev suggested "a
universal embargo on arms supply to the Middle East." In addition to this,
direct Soviet gestures towards Israel were made. In an international scientific
conference in Rehovot, delegations from the USSR, Czechoslovakia and
Romania took place for the first time. Simultaneously, Jewish emigration from
Poland to Israel was resumed; Romania released imprisoned Zionist activists and
declared of her consent to resumption of Jewish emigration to Israel; a
significant emigration of Hungarian Jews to Israel also took place. Khrushchev
cautioned an Egyptian paper's correspondent that a war between Arab countries
and Israel might lead to World War III. In July , a Soviet-Israeli
agreement on the purchase of 20 million dollars' worth of fuel from the USSR was signed and
negotiations were held on the purchase of Russian drilling equipment; Arab
protests of the fuel agreement met no consent from Moscow. For all that time,
however, weapons continued to pour into Egypt from the Eastern bloc -- which was
explained by the Soviets as a result of Egypt being threatened by imperialist elements. And
yet, despite the continuation of border clashes and fedayeen attacks,
weakening of Egyptian anti-Israeli propaganda could be easily noticed. In May
1956 an Egyptian journalist visited Israel with the authorization of the Cairo
government and met several members of Israeli political leadership, including
Moshe Sharet and Golda Meir; in the records of his journey, published by the
Egyptian press, he emphasized that Egypt and Israel have a common enemy --
Britain. Years afterwards it became known that at that time, Dom Mintoff, the
Maltese prime minister, suggested a secret meeting between Nasser and Sharet --
but London [under whose dominion Malta then was] did not support the
initiative, and the meeting was not held.
After Nasser seized power in
Egypt in 1954, an Anglo-Egyptian treaty was signed, providing for gradual
evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone -- which would eliminate
the last mark of British domination over Egypt. In the summer of 1956 Nasser
ordered the nationalization of the British-run Suez Canal Company, as a
reaction to the Western powers' refusal to provide him with funds previously
promised for construction of a high dam at Aswan.
This move enraged the British government, which started, together with France,
preparations for war on Egypt.
A Hebrew broadcast on Cairo radio
hinted that a positive change in Egyptian policy about Israeli ships' passage
through the Suez Canal was possible. Yet Israel preferred to take the
initiative to her own hands. On September 22, 1956 the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya
reported that Israel, Great Britain, and France were preparing to make war on
Egypt. In October, Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion made a secret visit
to France, where his talks with the French premier Guy Mollet resulted in a
final agreement on joint military action.
On October 29, 1956 Israeli
forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula. Three days later Great Britain and France
joined the war under the pretext of Egyptian refusal to their "peace-making
efforts" (which were limited to the demand to let their forces enter the Canal
Zone). Great Britain and France also vetoed the American-proposed resolution of
the UN Security Council calling for an immediate cease-fire and retreat of all
foreign troops from Egyptian territory. To circumvent the veto, an emergency
session of the UN General Assembly was convened and the American-proposed
resolution -- endorsed by the Soviet Union -- was passed by an overwhelming
majority (64 to 5, 6 abstained). The international pressure, combined with
public scandal in Great Britain, forced her and France to halt the campaign
(Israel stopped military actions on November 5, having fulfilled her part of
the initial agreement).
The lion's share of the allies'
warfare was performed by Israel, but her overwhelming military triumph could
not have been achieved alone. Even the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, whose
interpretation of recent Middle East history is understandably pro-Israel, had
to admit that
Assessing this remarkable [Israeli] military achievement,
it is impossible to ignore the threat of Anglo-French invasion, which hung over
the Egyptian command's head since the beginning of the Sinai campaign, and
which was known to the Israeli command prior to the campaign; nor can one
ignore the protection given to the Mediterranean coast of Israel by the French
fleet and the assistance of this fleet to the Israeli troops along the
coastline. The Egyptian Air Force was actually driven out of action at the end
of the war's third day by the joint Anglo-French attack on Egyptian airfields.
And of course, Israel did not
take "the coasts of the Suez Canal" in the Sinai War: in full accordance with
the Anglo-Franco-Israeli plan, her forces stopped when they were 16 miles east
of the canal. But why
should Kelemen bother to mention these facts? His story, after all, is about
the supernatural destiny of the Jewish people, not about how things really
Kelemen's misrepresentations are flagrant, but he is
certainly not interested in a mere reiteration of major events in Jewish
history. He wants to provide his readers with permission to believe (or, more
precisely, to indoctrinate them, since no one actually needs that permission).
Jewish history is for him yet another field in which to look for God's finger:
feebly struggle to explain Jewish survival in secular terms: Maybe it is
because they were poor? Maybe it is because they were rich? Maybe it is because
they were pacifists? Maybe it is because they fought back? Maybe it is because
they were concentrated? Maybe it is because they were scattered? But we know
that other peoples shared these characteristics and are gone. The question
stands: Why did only the Jews survive?
The theological solution is attractive.
"The theological solution" is, of
course, yet another attempt to explain the unclear by the incomprehensible. To
be sure, Jewish ethnic perseverance through at least 2800 years (whatever can
be said of Abraham and the Exodus, ethnic continuity between the inhabitants of
the biblical kingdom of Judah and the modern Jews cannot be seriously doubted)
is a most remarkable phenomenon. Contrary to Kelemen's assertion, the Jews are
not the only people who succeeded at surviving for more than two millennia. The
Basques were already known as a distinct tribe to the ancient Roman authors,
their language is the only remnant of the languages spoken in southwestern Europe
before the region's Romanization, and their ethnic cohesiveness withstood the
imperial policies of Rome, the invasions of German tribes which marked the dusk
of the anqituity, the turmoil of the Middle Ages, and the political and
cultural pressure of modern nation-states in both France and Spain.
The Armenians were already known as a distinct people to Herodotus and the
ancient Persians, and their language seems to have existed as a distinct one
since about 1000 BCE.
Not unlike the Jews, they also experienced a large dispersion and were subject
to persecutions, culminating in the Armenian massacres of 1915. China, with
"more than 4000 years of recorded history... is unique among nations in its
longevity and resilience as a discrete politico-cultural unit."
But all these examples do not negate the remarkable nature of Jewish survival,
which should be approached on its own terms.
to understand Jewish survival -- like anything else -- one would do better by
investigating the natural causes which brought about this phenomenon than by
engaging in the monkey business of mythical speculation. Of course, human
beings and human societies are enormously complex entities, and a "mechanical"
explanation of social and historical processes through a sequence of causation,
whereby at every stage of the process the next stage is completely determined
by some set of laws, is impossible. Yet we can comprehend how some set of
factors may bring about a certain historical phenomenon: the decline and fall
of the Roman empire, the emergence of the United States of America, the Allies'
victory in World War II -- or Jewish survival. The scope of this essay precludes
a detailed discussion, but a brief outline of the factors which brought about
Jewish ethnic perseverance can be presented.
The first and foremost of these
factors is the Jews' own sense of chosenness. Regardless of whether there is a
God and whether He expressed His will to mankind in any form, Judaism, with its
ethos of the chosen people, is a historical and social reality. Until the 19th
century Rabbinic Judaism was the backbone of Jewish ethnic self-consciousness,
and its teachings and laws kept the Jews throughout the ages caring about
continuation of their existence as a people, guided them to separate themselves
from their Gentile surroundings, to live a communal life and to raise the next
generations in the spirit of devotion to the Jewish people no less, and perhaps
even more, than to God. And while this sense of chosenness eroded in Western
Europe with the advance of modernity -- the Parisian Sanhedrin, a gathering of
Jewish delegates from France and Italy convened in 1807 by Napoleon Bonaparte,
went so far as to declare that "Jews no longer constitute a separate nation and
they regard their incorporation into the Great [French] Nation as a privilege
and as political redemption"
-- the much more populous Jewry of Eastern Europe responded to the challenges of
modernity with secular Jewish nationalism: ethnic consciousness at last
outweighed the religious one. And though secular nationalism was far from
homogenous --harsh conflicts, like those between the advocates of Yiddish and of
Hebrew frequently plagued nationalist circles, the stream which saw Palestine
and the Hebrew language as the focus of its inspirations soon gained the upper
hand. Zionism, as it has been termed since the 1890s, succeeded, in a few
decades, to build in Palestine a Jewish polity able to provide for its
economic, cultural, political, and military needs -- the polity which ultimately
grew into the State of Israel. Half a century after its emergence, Israel is
home to some 40% of world Jewry, and sympathy with the Jewish state has become
the backbone of Jewish identity for the vast majority of diaspora Jews.
But of course, no people can
survive on ethos alone; an appropriate social and political framework is
necessary. While at the present time the State of Israel provides such a
framework -- for those Jews who live there, of course -- for the most of Jewish
history this role was fulfilled by communal self-government, enjoyed by the
Jews in all countries of their diaspora from the Babylonian exile until the 18th-19th centuries. The
sovereigns of those times were, as a rule, little interested in any aspects of
Jewish life besides payment of taxes and, in the Middle Ages, compliance with
limitations designed by either Christian or Moslem authorities to humiliate the
Jews before the adherents of the dominant creed. In the communal life of the
Jews the Jewish law, Halakhah, reigned supreme. From its formative
stages in the beginning of the Common Era, this body of law was sufficiently
extensive and profound to enable Jewish communities to manage their affairs
almost independently of the laws and customs of societies around them and to
ensure a large measure of behavioral uniformity among the Jews themselves.
Halakhic prescripts provided for
thorough social segregation of Jews and Gentiles, and works of Jewish
philosophy and mysticism concurred with this tendency, emphasizing the
difference between the Jews and the Gentiles as belonging to the very essence
of nature. On the
other hand, religious and secular authorities in both Christendom and Islamdom
also pursued the aim of segregation of the Jews from the "true believers," and
legislative measures to this effect were accompanied by popular anti-Jewish
sentiments of the Christian and (to a far lesser extent) Moslem populations.
Both the Jews and the Gentiles viewed each other, by and large, as inferior
creatures better kept at arm's length. These attitudes understandably resulted
in the separation of Jewish communities and their Gentile surroundings into
mutually exclusive and hostile societies, connections between which seldom
extended beyond those of purely utilitarian value. When, with the advent of the
Enlightenment, social barriers began to melt in Western Europe and Jews and
Gentiles were no longer reluctant to spend time in one another's company
(recall the famous salons of Jewish women in Germany and Austria), Jewish
communities quickly found themselves plagued by conversions to Christianity due
to the all too natural influence of the dominant culture upon the marginal in
conditions of close social contact. But even here, differences of religious and
cultural background remained significant enough to ensure that most Jews did
not choose the path of conversion (whatever they thought of their Jewish
But, while the above factors
prevented the Jewish people from assimilating into Gentile societies, the deep
animosity of Gentiles towards the Jews was the other side of the coin. Thus the
Jews met another threat to their ethnic perseverance -- anti-Semitic violence.
This, however, never endangered Jewish survival as such (though the life and
welfare of individual Jews or even whole communities might be at risk). Before
the advent of anti-Semitism proper -- this term appeared only in the 1870s to
designate the new trend of Jew-hatred based on racial rather than religious
grounds -- anti-Jewish violence was manifestly local and sporadic, originating with
the lower strata of society rather than with those in power. It was not
infrequent for the Gentile populace of a certain locality, inflamed by orations
of a Jew-baiting preacher, to assail Jews on street or to raid Jewish quarters
-- but, having poured out their wrath on a number of Jewish victims they
dispersed or proceeded to attack other targets: nobles, wealthy merchants, or
official archives containing records of debt. State authorities tried at times
to protect Jews (certainly when anti-Jewish violence threatened to develop into
a revolt against the existing social order) and closed their eyes at other
times, but seldom did they instigate or encourage pogroms. The most dreadful
attacks on Jews in the Middle Ages -- in Spain in 1391, in German lands throughout
the 14th century, and in Greater Poland in 1648-1667 -- originated
with the populace and, though taking thousands of Jewish lives, did not spell
the end to existence of Jewish communities in these countries.
The assailants of those times were not bent on the total extermination of the
Jews: at the very worst, they would murder every Jew who happened to be in
their way, but they did not hunt down those hiding in the countryside, did not
send detachments to pursue those fleeing to safer places, and sometimes would
even agree to stop the killings in return for a substantial payment.
Of course, state authorities were
far from sympathetic to the Jews. Official persecutions befell them: the
outlawing of Judaism in Byzantium (several times, starting from the 7th
century), forced conversions in Spain under the Visigoths and the Almohads (in
the 7th and the 12th centuries, respectively), expulsions
from almost all countries in Western Europe in the 13th-16th
centuries, to name but a few.
But even these traumatic events affected only one country at a time, while the
Jewish diaspora stretched at this period from Morocco to Persia and from
Lithuania to Yemen -- when Jewish life was disrupted in one part of the world it
could continue in the others, with refugees from expulsions or forced
conversions joining the more quiescent communities. As the Babylonian Talmud
put it, "God did mercy to Israel scattering them among the nations"
-- except that, of course, no assumption of God is needed to understand the
phenomenon of a Jewish diaspora.
Even the gravest physical blow
the Jews suffered before the Holocaust -- the Roman suppression of Jewish
revolts in Palestine and other Levantine provinces between 66 and 135 CE, with
hundreds of thousands Jews killed and multitudes driven into slavery
-- did not affect the Jewish communities of Italy, Spain, the Balkan lands or
Mesopotamia, nor even those of Galilee, which was overcome by the Romans rather
quickly during both Palestinian revolts and, spared the victors' vengeance, quickly
became the hub of Jewish life in the first centuries CE.
It was the modern,
racially-oriented anti-Semitism that brought about the only campaign in history
designed to wipe out the Jewish people as a whole. The biblical book of Esther
does relate an attempt by the Persian courtier Haman to destroy the whole Jewry
of the Persian empire -- which, in the Achaemenid age, would amount to the whole
of world Jewry -- but this is a historical fiction, written at least a century
after Achaemenid Persia ceased to exist.
The Holocaust, on the other hand, is the saddest truth of Jewish history, and
perhaps the major event which made modern Jews so concerned about their
survival as a people. But insofar as the Nazi onslaught was intended to
annihilate the Jewish people as a whole, it was doomed to failure from the
outset: even were the Germans successful at Moscow, Stalingrad, and El-Alamein,
realistically they were far from able to overpower the American continent,
which at the outbreak of World War II was home to some 5.4 million Jews.
On the other hand, it was the
terrible tragedy of the Holocaust that made most world powers conscious of the
need to fight anti-Semitism, at least in its most radical and threatening
forms, and to allow the formation of a Jewish state which would become a haven
for Holocaust survivors and for the victims of any further persecutions which
might befall Jews in other parts of the world. The State of Israel -- the
bulwark of Jewish perseverance at present and in the foreseeable future -- owes
its creation, in a sense, to Holocaust survivors and victims, as the Israeli
Declaration of Independence acknowledges.
The history of Jewish survival
is, to be certain, remarkable. Yet no theological speculations are needed to
understand it -- especially as all they are capable of is explaining the unclear
by the incomprehensible.
Stick, Carrot and Parrot
Yet Kelemen does not stop with
attributing Jewish survival to God's direct influence:
Still we are bothered: If the Jews merit some special Divine
protection, then why have they suffered so terribly for so long? Is not the
suffering of the Jews itself an argument against their God's existence?
Then he quotes some verses from
Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 31, and concludes:
The Bible makes clear that the Jewish people's covenant
with God works in two directions. To the extent that the Jews differentiate
themselves from all other peoples by observing God's commandments, God places
them above normal historical processes and preserves them. But, in the words of
Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, a prominent Jerusalem-based Talmudic scholar: "The
moment we begin treating ourselves as just another nation, then we, like them,
become subject to natural processes. We become governed by the natural laws of
history, and according to the laws of history, the Jewish people simply should
There are, however, several
problems with this argument. First of all, it is not clear what the term "laws
of history" means. History, after all, is a discipline that merely studies the
chronological sequence of the events of the past as affecting human collectives
and tries to figure out the causes of the events it studies. If there are any
laws to which human societies are subject just as, say, pieces of matter are
subject to the laws of physics, then it would be more correct to term them
"laws of social sciences." If they are laws, they are expected to work in the
future as they did in the past -- nobody thinks, after all, of terming the laws
of physics and biology "the laws of natural history." But this is a minor
A greater problem is that if
there are any laws by which the world around us functions, then, by definition,
they must describe this world as it is. To say that the laws of physics, as we
understand them, cannot describe the behavior of some "chosen material object"
would be tantamount to saying that our understanding of these laws is wrong.
This is what happened when it was discovered that the speed of light does not
change whether one measures it standing still or while moving from or towards a
source of light: the idea that light waves, like sound waves, are transmitted
by some elastic medium (ether) was discredited and the postulate that the speed
of light is constant in any frame of reference became one of the pillars of
modern physics. Likewise, if the laws of social sciences could not describe
Jewish ethnic perseverance, we would only conclude that our concept of these
laws is wrong and that a more correct set of laws must be drawn. While the
question of whether there is a comprehensive set of laws underlying the
behavior of human collectives still remains open, Jewish survival may well be
understood as resulting from a set of social, political, and cultural factors
as shown above. Were Rabbi Meiselman living a hundred years earlier, he would
have probably written that "according to the laws of physics, the speed of
light simply should not be constant across all frames of reference" -- or
perhaps he wouldn't, for nobody views the speed of light as a value worth
living up to, while persuading Jews that Jewish survival is contingent on
religious observance may bring them to observe the Halakhic precepts.
Nor is the meaning of reference
to the Jews "treating [themselves] as just another nation" any clearer. Taken
at face value, it must mean something like "denial of the belief that the Jews
are specifically chosen by God, accompanied by the assertion that they
nevertheless constitute a distinct nationality." But this idea became popular
among Jews only in the late 19th century, and even then most of its
adherents were in Eastern Europe, while in the West most Jews clung to the
Parisian Sanhedrin's assertion that "Jews no longer constitute a separate
nation and they regard their incorporation into the Great Nation as a privilege
and as political redemption," and Oriental Jewry still largely lived up to the
religious concept of "God's chosen people."Yet instead of leading the Jewish
people into oblivion, the secular nationalists from Eastern Europe (and those
other Jews who shared their ideals) created the Jewish polity in Palestine
which ultimately grew into the State of Israel -- the bulwark of Jewish ethnic
perseverance in the past century. On the other hand, the Jews suffered long
before the advent of secular Jewish nationalism -- recall the rout of Jewish
revolts by the Romans, the 14th-century pogroms in Germany, or
butchery of a quarter of Polish Jewry by the Cossacks in 1648-1667.
R' Meiselman's statement clearly
requires clarification, which Kelemen tries to provide:
When large segments of the Jewish people assimilate and
leave their religious heritage behind, the Bible suggests, then the entire
Jewish people will taste normality; then it will feel the pressure of that
evolutionary force that drives peoples out of existence.
But this statement, too, taken at
face value, is partially wrong and partially a platitude. On the one hand, it
is self-evident that when large segments of any people assimilate, the people
as a whole is drawn closer to ethnic extinction (the assimilated persons might
be only too happy, of course, to forsake their old ethnic identity, but this is
another question). No Bible is needed to establish this. On the other hand,
those chapters of the Bible quoted by Kelemen say nothing about assimilation:
they only promise, in God's name, punishment for the Jews' sins, describing the
latter in rather general terms which cannot help to distinguish any particular
transgression, save idolatry and inobservance of the sabbatical year (when
agricultural work in the Land of Israel is forbidden). One may, of course,
refer to Deuteronomy 7:1-4 as stating that idol worship among the Jews may well
be caused by intermarriage and that mixed marriages, in which Jewish partners
adopt idolatrous and ethnically alien cultures, are earmarks of assimilation --
but the verses in question speak only of the seven peoples of Canaan, presumed
by the Pentateuch to be idolatrous in the extreme, so it would still be unclear
whether intermarriage with other peoples would similarly lead the Jews to
idolatry and to God's punishment. Only in Ezra 9 it is stated more or less
clearly that intermarriage in general can make God "angry enough with us to
destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor," and this also helps clarify
Kelemen's intent: he did not mean elimination of the Jewish people through
assimilation but rather a physical calamity which would befall the Jews if they
The term "assimilation," however,
is used by Kelemen in a peculiar way:
Both the Talmud and modern historians confirm the spread
of such assimilation prior to the destruction of both the first and second
Temples in Jerusalem.
The word "Talmud" is provided
with reference to Tractate Yoma, 9b, where it states:
was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things practiced at that time:
idolatry, forbidden sexual contacts and bloodshed... But the Second Temple, at
the time of which they toiled in the Torah, observed the commandments and
performed good deeds -- why was it destroyed? Because at that time there was
baseless hatred among them.
One may agree or disagree with
the Talmud, but it obviously speaks of several categories of sins and not of
assimilation (even the "forbidden sexual contacts" mentioned here are contacts
between Jews, as the Talmud itself clarifies in the same passage). To say that
God punishes Jews with calamities for bloodshed and baseless hatred is one
thing; to say that He punishes them for assimilation is another. So, Kelemen's
thesis must be something like the following: "When the Jews are, by and large,
faithful to the teachings and laws of Judaism, God preserves them. But when
large segments of the Jewish people throw off the yoke of the Torah and the
commandments, God brings on the whole Jewish people severe calamities." As
emphases on the Jews' chosenness and prohibitions against intermarriage are
integral parts of Judaism -- Orthodox Judaism, at least -- it may be said that a
conscious effort towards assimilation, pursued to its logical end, would
constitute a sin in itself. But is Kelemen's thesis true?
To answer this question one must
turn to history. What Kelemen presents as "modern historians" -- those who
"confirm the spread of such assimilation" prior to the Temples' destruction --
is A History of the Jews written by Paul Johnson, a journalist, not a
historian. Although Johnson's views by no means concur with Orthodox Jewish
doctrine -- he openly states that "the Pentateuch or Torah was canonized as
early as 622 BC[E],"
six and a half centuries after it is believed to have been given to Moses by
God Himself -- his book is conspicuously popular in religious Jewish circles;
one of the reasons for this may be Johnson's uncritical acceptance of the Bible
as an (almost) one hundred percent correct historical account. But such
acceptance, while having brought Johnson popularity among religiously-minded
readers, has also driven him into numerous errors, a couple of which were
already demonstrated above.
But if discussion is confined to the period specified by Kelemen -- from the
destruction of the First to destruction of the Second Temple -- and to the
corresponding part of A History of the Jews,
Johnson's general framework should be admitted essentially correct, although
the reader must be prepared to swallow such blunders as a mention of the book
of Daniel excluded from the Jewish biblical canon.
Yet Johnson definitely fails to
accomplish the mission placed upon him by Kelemen -- to confirm the Jews'
sinking into sins prior to destruction of the First Temple at least. In his
description of the period
Johnson portrays the kingdom of Judah as more faithful to the worship of YHWH,
God of the Bible, than the northern kingdom of Israel. Of course, Johnson
admits -- as does the Bible -- that "backsliding into paganism" took place, but,
in his own words, from the 7th century on, "Increasingly... the rulers
and peoples of Judah began to link their ultimate political and military fate
with their current theology and moral behaviour. The notion seems to have
spread that the people could only be saved by faith and works."
The landmark of the period was, of course, the reform of King Josiah, starting
in 622 BCE, which destroyed all forms of pagan and heterodox cults to the root
and endowed the religion of the Torah -- in its contemporary form, of course --
with the full support of the state machine.
And curiously, with Josiah's
reign the fall of the kingdom of Judah began. Johnson does not mention that,
but in 609 BCE Josiah was murdered by the Egyptians, who thereafter imposed on
Judah a king of their own choice -- Jehoiakim. For four years Jehoiakim was a
vassal of Egypt -- but after Nebuchadnezzar routed the Egyptians at the battle
of Karkemish in 605 BCE, Jehoiakim became vassal to Babylon, against whom he
rebelled three years later.
The Babylonians were apparently too busy elsewhere to put down the revolt in
Judah, but when Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, a
Babylonian army invaded Judah, took Jerusalem, captured Jehoiachin and exiled
him to Babylon with notables, warriors, and the skilled artisans of Judah.
(This exile is mentioned by Johnson.)
Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin's uncle Zedekiah on the throne of Judah, but
after having served the Babylonian overlord for nine years, Zedekiah rebelled --
and was punished within two years by another Babylonian invasion, the capture
of Jerusalem, destruction of the Temple, and the exile of another group of Jews to Babylon. Zedekiah himself was
captured, put in chains, and blinded after watching his sons being slain.
Was it a punishment for sins? The
Bible says so, bringing Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah as whipping boys
who "did the evil in the eyes of the Lord."
But while the Bible lists as examples of such evil, idolatry, social injustice,
bloodshed, and persecution of prophets,
it says nothing about forbidden sexual contacts -- the account of the latter is
but an overcreative elaboration of Talmudic rabbis on the verses of Isaiah
3:16-26. And yet more importantly, the Bible itself admits that the fall of
Judah had begun already by the end of the reign of the "righteous" king Josiah.
What, then, is the Bible's explanation?
Before him [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned
to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might,
according to all the Law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. Still,
the Lord did not turn away from the fierceness of His great wrath, by which His
anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which
Manasseh [Josiah's grandfather] had provoked him. And the Lord said: "I will
remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will cast
off this city which I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My
name shall be there."
So, although Josiah was righteous,
the downfall of Judah came because of the sins of his grandfather, Manasseh.
Thus, of course, it is possible to "explain" everything: if a generation of
Jews is sinful, disasters befall it because of its own sins, and if it is
righteous, disasters befall it because of the sins of its ancestors. And, even
worse, this "explanation" is a double-edged sword, for there are always as many
notions of sin as there are religious doctrines:
Then all the men who knew that their wives had offered
incense to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly -- all
the people who dwelt in Patros in the land of Egypt -- answered Jeremiah: "As
for the word which you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not
listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, burn incense to
the Queen of Heaven and pour out libations to her, as we did, both we and our
fathers, our kings and our officers, in the cities of Judah and in the streets
of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no evil.
But since we ceased burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out
libations to her, we have lacked everything and have been perishing by sword
and by famine."
Regarding the Second Temple, it
may look as though the spread of Christianity prior to the Temple's destruction
-- while many of the first Christians were of Jewish stock, especially in the
diaspora -- brought
this disaster upon the Jews; but the succeeding events disprove this thesis.
Soon after the Temple's destruction in 70 CE, the ways of Judaism and
Christianity parted completely: from the early 2nd century, these
were two mutually exclusive and hostile creeds. Then, in 132 CE, the Bar Kokhba
Revolt broke out; documents dating to the time of revolt and discovered by
archaeologists in the 1950s and '60s "show that the men of the rebellion were
orthodox Jews who took great trouble, despite desperate circumstances, to
observe the Mosaic law -- the Sabbath, the festivals, priestly and levitical
dues for instance."
Yet the revolt was put down in less than four years, the devastation caused by
the Romans' revenge greater this time than it was even in 70 CE.
Another example which Kelemen
brings to support his "stick-and-carrot" view of relations between God and the
Jewish people is, unfortunately, once again rooted in distortion:
Lucy Dawidowicz writes that, Soviet Jewry aside, only about a half of pre-World
War II East European Jewry was observant, and "secularity was becoming the
This sentence is provided by
Kelemen with reference to the Bantam Books edition of Dawidowicz's famous The
War Against the Jews (p. 335). The reader need, however, only to open
Dawidowicz's book to see that she meant something quite different from what
Observant Jews in the prewar community accounted for half,
perhaps even more, of East European Jewry -- the Soviet Union excepted. Even
though secularity was becoming the dominant mode, the norms and values of
traditional Judaism still shaped the behavior of the whole Jewish population.
The observance of Judaism had permeated all public aspects of Jewish life.
Keeping the Sabbath as the day of rest and abstaining from forbidden foods were
observances adhered to by nearly the entire Jewish community. Judaism was
practiced in thousands of formal and informal groups: synagogues, houses of
prayer and houses of study, yeshivot and hedarim [religious elementary
schools], ritual baths and ritual-slaughter abattoirs, religious courts,
congregational bodies, women's organizations, publishing houses and presses.
Perhaps God could consider such
state of things bad enough to start the Holocaust, but it still does not
justify Kelemen's attempt to pervert the picture painted by Dawidowicz. The
reason for Kelemen's labor is not far to seek, though: during the Holocaust, it
was the more religious communities of Eastern Europe who suffered the worst --
the majority of their Jews were annihilated -- while the death toll among less
observant Jewries was considerably lower: one-third to two-fifths in the Soviet
Union, one-third in Austria, two-fifths in Germany (most Jews had managed to
escape these countries before the extermination began), one-third or perhaps
only one-fifth in Italy, one-fourth in France.
Of course, to seek for God's finger in history is monkey business: mostly
observant Oriental Jewry was spared the disaster, as were the largely
non-Orthodox communities on the American continent and the predominantly
secular yishuv in Palestine. And, whatever can be said of Orthodox
Jewish observance on the eve of World War II, it was clearly more widespread
and deep-rooted than at present; yet, in spite of all the attacks against
Israel and anti-Semitic incidents elsewhere, the status of the Jewish people at
the turn of the 21st century is much better than it was in the 1930s
and '40s. Besides, many disasters -- Judaism being outlawed in Byzantium,
pogroms in 14th-century Germany, massacres by Cossacks in 1648-1667,
and persecutions in Spain under the Visigoths, the Almohads and the 15th-century
Catholic monarchs, to name but a few -- occurred at times when Halakhic
observance was practically universal among the Jews.
The "stick-and-carrot" concept of
history is, to be sure, thoroughly Jewish: it is encountered in the Bible, and
it is possible that even Jewish reformers of the Seleucid age viewed whatever
trials and tribulations they experienced as divine punishment for ethical
misconduct. Yet a careful look at Jewish history -- or the history of any other
group of people -- suffices to show the baselessness of this concept. Kelemen
would have certainly done better if he refrained from parroting the
"stick-and-carrot" philosophy of history and conducted an objective historical
Bad Things, Good People and Poor Explanations
By the last chapter of his book,
Kelemen probably thought the reader must be ready to believe that there is God
(and the Jewish God, at that). There would remain only one problem:
For many, the last obstacle in the path towards belief is
the simple yet disturbing observation that good people sometimes suffer and
evil people sometimes flourish. It seems obvious that an omnipotent,
omniscient, moral God would not allow injustice. Upon witnessing inequity, it
is therefore perfectly natural to doubt God's existence.
Terms like "omnipotent" and
"omniscient" smell of Christian theology (was it the reason Kelemen substituted
"moral" for "benevolent"?), but the underlying idea here is correct: if, as
Maimonides' 10th and 11th principles of faith state, God knows
of every deed and thought of humans, rewards those who obey His precepts and
punishes those who disobey them, it would be only natural to expect that those
who observe God's precepts will flourish and the disobedient will suffer. If
one assumes that the Torah was given by God and all of Halakhah possesses some
kind of divine authority, and if he sees compliance with God's will as a moral
value as Kelemen
obviously does, he would justifiably view those who comply with Halakhic laws
as good people and those who do not comply as evil. The question, then, appears
to be: how can it be that people who meticulously observe the (alleged) Law of
God suffer while those who transgress the Law flourish?
That Kelemen does not formulate
the question in this form is no help. If he wishes to provide rational
arguments for the existence of God as Judaism envisions Him, he must operate
within the framework of Judaic theology, in which it is compliance with God's
will that is recognized as bringing a person the ultimate reward. This
consideration alone is sufficient to undermine Kelemen's first effort at
explaining (or rather explaining away) the difficulty:
First, we must know who is good and who is evil. But as
any historian, psychologist, or businessman will attest: The people most widely
considered to be good are not necessarily good, and the people most widely
thought to be evil are not necessarily evil. Indeed, the most evil people in
history succeeded in their endeavors by maintaining a fa‡ade of altruism. Being
evil often involves lying, presenting an upright, even saintly image...
The second piece of missing information is: What is reward
and what is punishment? After all, circumstances are not always what they
appear to be.
One need only recall the millions
of pious and observant Jews murdered in the Holocaust while many of their
butchers -- the murder of an innocent Jewish person is a capital offense under
Halakhic terms -- lived long and rather enjoyable lives. (Only a minority of
them were killed during the war or punished as war criminals; moreover, in
Austria, where about a third of SS extermination personnel originated, a series
of presidential decrees issued from 1955 on granted amnesty to most of the
convicted war criminals.)
Should one suspect all those pious Jews of hypocrisy or conclude that "the
circumstances" -- a horrible death in Auschwitz and a long and peaceful life, in
this case -- "are not what they appear to be"?
And even if the framework of
Judaic theology is left aside, does not the fact that thousands of babies who
simply have not lived enough to commit any wrong die yearly in earthquakes and
floods, of epidemics and starvation, or are outright murdered disprove the
notion of a perfectly moral God who presides over our world? The problem cannot
be explained away and Kelemen senses that -- so another attempt is made:
...if God exists, it is also possible that there is an
entire non-physical world -- a world unbound by time or space -- and a soul, a
human essence that survives death and passes into this eternal world. Human
existence might actually be divided into two distinct segments -- finite life
and infinite afterlife -- separated by an event called death.
Even most good people make a few moral errors, and even
evil people occasionally act righteously...
Is it not possible that God gives evil people some of
their reward during the finite existence we call life, and reserves most of
their punishment for eternal, infinite afterlife? Likewise, perhaps God lets
good people experience some of their punishment in this world, and reserves
most of their reward for the eternal world to come? If God really exists, we
might expect to see good people periodically suffering and evil people
periodically flourishing, so that later, in an infinite world, good people can receive
a purer, more intense reward and evil people a purer, more intense punishment.
No more than a brief survey of
relevant literature is needed, however, to realize that all the research in the
field of neuroscience points to the utter dependence of all that forms human
personality -- feelings, emotions, memory, reasoning, decision-making, and
consciousness -- on brain function.
Psychologists David Rosenhan and Martin Seligman, describing a patient with
Alzheimer's disease -- a degenerative
brain disorder which results in the progressive and irreversible decline of
memory and many other cognitive functions -- noted that the patient "had lost
virtually all the traits that had made him a unique individual."
If, therefore, the question is asked whether human personality, or mind,
can continue its existence after the death of body and the cessation of brain
activity, the answer is clearly no:
The consensus today among neuroscientists and philosophers
is that mind is an emergent property of brain function. That is, what we refer
to as mind is a natural consequence of complex and higher neural processing.
Clearly brain injury or disease can severely compromise the mind, as happened
to Mr. Jones [the Alzheimer's patient mentioned above]. At the very least,
then, mind depends on intact and healthy brain function.
Thus, the idea that there is a "human essence that
survives death and passes into... eternal world" where each person is given his
ultimate reward or punishment is also discredited -- unless one assumes that
there is no connection between this "human essence" and human personality as we
encounter it in everyday life, in which case, of course, it would be strange to
expect this "human essence" to be rewarded or punished for the personality's
deeds. Perhaps the true essence of the soul and its connection to human
personality as we know it is fundamentally beyond our comprehension, as God's
true essence is? But we needn't go that far:
Finally, even for someone who would deny the existence of
a soul and an afterlife, the seeming iniquity of reward and punishment does not
represent a serious argument against God's existence. Any rational person will
admit that, in theory, the ways of God could be so complex that they defy human
understanding. Man might simply be incapable of comprehending and morally
evaluating the behavior of an omniscient, omnipotent Being.
This is not so much an argument
as an admission of ignorance -- but curiously, it is the passage which makes the
most sense in all of Kelemen's book. There may be things which we cannot
comprehend -- God's true essence or His ways of reward and punishment -- but
then, the whole business of providing rational arguments for God's existence is
an exercise in vanity at best and an endeavor to deceive at worst. Kelemen's
own arguments run this whole spectrum -- but they manifestly fail to demonstrate
that an assumption of God's existence can make reality any more comprehensible
than a godless outlook, in spite of what Kelemen boasts in the epilogue to his
however, is not his fault -- nothing can be made more comprehensible by positing
the existence of incomprehensible entities. Furthermore, claims that "something
is one way instead of another because God wills it to be so" are assertions,
not explanations: they do not make it any more clear how God's will led
things to be what they are. These are the main reasons why attempts to explain
reality by referring to God are irrational.
Ambrose Bierce has defined faith as "belief without
evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without
parallel." It may be
argued that there is more to the issue, but if one considers faith as presented
by Kelemen, Bierce's conclusion appears to be true.
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Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible
Unearthed. New York: Free Press, 2001.
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Alan Gardiner, The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage
from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden. Leipzig, 1909.
Georges Goyon, "Les Travaux de Chou et les tribulations
de Geb d'après le naos 2248 d'Ismaïlia," Kêmi, v. 6 (1936), pp. 1-42.
Francis Griffith, The Antiquities of Tell el
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Christian Habicht, "Royal Documents in Maccabees II," Harvard
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American, v. 264, no. 2 (February 1991), pp. 101-109.
Greta Hort, "The Plagues of Egypt," Zeitschrift für
die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, v. 69 (1957), pp. 84-103, v. 70 (1958),
L. Hua et al., "Identification and Quantification of
Nucleic Acid Bases in Carbonaceous Chondrites," Origins of Life, v. 16
(1986), pp. 226-227.
Julian Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis.
London: George Allen and Unwin, 1942.
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Harper and Row, 1987.
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Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1967.
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Carnivorous Plants. London: Academic Press, 1989.
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Oxford University Press, 1961.
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Press of Glencoe, 1961.
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Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Studies, 1999.
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Ernest Benn, 1957.
H. B. D. Kettlewell, "Darwin's Missing Evidence," Scientific
American, v. 200, no. 3 (March 1959), pp. 48-53.
Michael Land, Russell Fernald, "The Evolution of Eyes,"
Annual Review of Neuroscience, v. 15 (1992), pp. 1-29.
Antonio Lazcano, Stanley Miller, "How Long Did It Take
for Life to Begin and Evolve to Cyanobacteria?" Journal of Molecular
Evolution, v. 39 (1994), pp. 556-564.
Antonio Lazcano, Stanley Miller, "The Origin and Early
Evolution of Life," Cell, v. 85 (1996), pp. 793-798.
Isadore Lerner, Genetic Homeostasis. New York:
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A
Book of Readings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
Francis Ernest Lloyd, The Carnivorous Plants.
Waltham: Chronica Botanica Co., 1942.
Gaston Maspero, History of Egypt, transl.
M. L. McClure. London: Grolier Soc.
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Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1963.
Sean Mewhinney, "El-Arish Revisited," Kronos, v.
11, no. 2 (Winter 1986), pp. 41-61.
Kenneth Miller, "Life's Grand Design," Technology
Review, v. 97, no. 2 (February/March 1994), pp. 25-32.
Kenneth Miller, review of Michael Behe, Darwin's
Black Box, Creation/Evolution, v. 16 (1996), pp. 36-40.
Charles Misner, John Wheeler, Kip Thorne, Gravitation. San Francisco: Freeman, 1973.
Dan Nilson, Susanne Pelger, "A Pessimistic Estimate of
the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve," Proceedings of the Royal Society of
London, Series B, v. 256 (1994).
Elmer Noble, Glenn Noble, Parasitology.
Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1961.
Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works. New York:
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4 (1984), pp. 69-74.
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Ägypten. Jena: Diederichs,
Howard Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History.
New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution.
New York: Mentor Books, 1955.
Anthony Smith, "Chosen Peoples: Why Ethnic Groups
Survive," Ethnic and Racial Studies, v. 15 (1992), pp. 436-456.
S. David Sperling, The Original Torah. New York:
New York University Press, 1998.
Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos. New York:
Hugo de Vries, Species and Varieties, Their Origin
by Mutation. Chicago: Open Court, 1905.
Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, From Fetish to God in
Ancient Egypt. New York:
Claude Wilson Wardlaw, Organization and Evolution in
Plants. London: Longmans, 1965.
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Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973.
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Sources in Print -- Hebrew*
Ensiqlopediyah Miqrait (Encyclopaedia
Biblica). Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 1950-1982.
Ensiqlopediyah 'Ivrit (Encyclopaedia
Hebraica). Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem: Encyclopaedias Publishing Society, 1951-1981.
Ha-Sefarim ha-Hisoniyim (Apocrypha),
ed. A. Kahana. Tel-Aviv: Beit Hillel.
Magen Broshi, Yisrael Finqelshtein, "Minyan
Ukhlusey Eres-Yisrael bi-Shnat 734 Lifney ha-Sefirah" ("The
Magnitude of Population in Palestine in 734 BCE"), Qatedrah, no. 58
(December 1990), pp. 3-24.
Artur Rupin, Milhemet ha-Yehudim le-Qiyumam
(The Jewish Struggle for Existence). Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik, 1940.
 Permission to Believe, p. 11.
 Ibid., p. 12.
In The Condition of Jewish Belief: A Symposium Compiled by the Editors of Commentary
Magazine (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 59.
 Laws of the Torah Essentials, chapter
to Believe, p. 15.
 Ibid., p.
 Articulated in Maimonides' foreword to his commentary on the 10th
chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin of the Mishnah and printed, in an abridged form,
in all standard Orthodox Jewish prayerbooks.
 Classical Rabbinic Judaism -- that of the Mishnah and the Talmud -- paid little
attention to the question of religious dogma. In the Middle Ages, several
thinkers tried to formulate the main core of Judaic belief. Maimonides' credo
won the day -- but this happened a considerable time after his death in 1204.
The process of adoption by Judaism of a compelling religious dogma is discussed
in Menachem Kellner, Must a Jew Believe Anything? (Oxford: Littman
Library of Jewish Studies, 1999).
 The 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th principles of faith articulated by Maimonides deal with the issues of prophecy
in general, the prophecy of Moses, the Torah's divine origin and its
immutability; the 12th principle deals with coming of the Messiah;
the 13th -- with resurrection of the dead.
 Laws of
 That is, knowledge in general is not an innate part of a person's being: one
may acquire knowledge by learning or lose it by forgetting what he knew.
 Exodus 33:20.
 R' Abraham
ben David's gloss on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 5:5.
to Believe, p. 15.
 Ibid., p.
to Believe, p. 21.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., p.
 See e.g.
ibid., pp. 84-85.
 Ibid., p.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, ethics, The origins of ethics, Prehuman ethics
Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), p. 51.
17:14, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, I Samuel 15:2-3.
 Yevamot 61a, Bava Mesi'a 114b, Keritot 6b.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, ethics, The origins of ethics, Prehuman
ethics, Kinship and reciprocity
The origins of ethics, Prehuman ethics, Kinship and reciprocity.
to Believe, p. 28.
 Ibid., p.
 This radiation is electromagnetic waves. As the space stretched, the wavelength
of the radiation (the distance between one peak of a wave and another) grew.
Since Einstein's relativity theory states that the velocity of spreading of
electromagnetic waves (of which visible light is a kind) is constant in every
frame of reference, and since radiation frequency equals the velocity of
radiation's spreading divided by the wavelength, increase of wavelength means
decrease of frequency.
 Permission to Believe, p. 36.
 New York:
Bantam Books, 1988.
 Ibid., p.
 Such a proposition is articulated, e.g., in Charles Misner, John Wheeler, Kip
Thorne, Gravitation (San Francisco: Freeman, 1973), p. 1214.
 S. Hawking,
A Brief History of Time, p. 55.
 Ibid., p.
 An imaginary number is a number which gives a negative real number if
multiplied by itself. An imaginary equivalent of 1, for example, is denoted as i,
and i*i = -1. There are also
negative imaginary numbers which, multiplied by their positive equivalents,
give positive real numbers [e.g. (-i)*i
 See S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 134.
 Ibid., p. 136.
 Ibid., pp. 148-149.
 An antiparticle is a "subatomic particle having the same mass as one of the
particles of ordinary matter but opposite electric charge and magnetic moment.
Thus the positron (positive electron) is the antiparticle of the negative
electron (negatron). The spinning antineutron with net charge zero, like the
ordinary neutron, has its magnetic polarity opposite to that of a similarly
spinning neutron" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, antiparticle).
 S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 129.
 Ibid., p. 130.
 Ibid., pp. 151-152.
 Permission to Believe, p. 45.
 Ibid., pp. 45-46.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, genetics.
 DNA is a double-helix polymer, a spiral consisting of two DNA strands wound
around each other. Each strand is composed of a long chain of monomer
nucleotides. A DNA nucleotide consists of a deoxyribose sugar molecule to which
are attached a phosphate group and one of four nitrogenous bases: adenine
(A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). The
nucleotides of a single strand are joined together by covalent bonds between
the phosphate of one nucleotide and the sugar of the next, forming a
phosphate-sugar backbone from which the nitrogenous bases protrude. One strand
is held to another by hydrogen bonds between the bases; the sequencing of this
bonding is specific: A bonds only with T, and C only with G. Each triplet of
nitrogenous bases on a strand codes for one of the 20 amino acids, of which the
protein molecules of all the living organisms are built, and is termed codon.
Each protein molecule consists of many amino-acid fragments, joined together to
form a long chain.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, evolution, The evidence for evolution,
 Permission to Believe, pp. 47-48.
 A summary may be found in Encyclopaedia Britannica, cell, Cell
differentiation; see also the bibliography there.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, mutation
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, peppered moth.
to Believe, p. 49.
Miller, "Life's Grand Design," Technology Review, v. 97, no. 2
(February/March 1994), p. 31.
 Ibid., pp.
 Ibid., p.
to Believe, pp. 52-53.
Mass.: Sinauer, 1986.
Futuyuma, Evolutionary Biology, p. 323.
 Cited from Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin,
v. 2 (Project Gutenberg text).
Futuyuma, Evolutionary Biology, p. 6.
Britannica, evolution; see there for a brief summary of the evidence for
evolution, as available of now.
to Believe, p. 53.
 In the
following citation, the sentence quoted by Kelemen is marked in larger type.
to Believe, p. 12.
 Ibid., p.
 In the
following citation, the phrase quoted by Kelemen is marked in larger type.
to Believe, pp. 59-60.
 Antonio Lazcano, Stanley Miller, "How Long Did It Take for Life to Begin and
Evolve to Cyanobacteria?" Journal of Molecular Evolution, v. 39 (1994),
p. 551; see also A. Lazcano, S. Miller, "The Origin and Early Evolution of
Life," Cell, v. 85 (1996), pp. 793-798.
 E. Peltzer et al., "The Chemical Conditions on the Parent Body of the Murchison
Meteorite," Advances in Space Research, v. 4 (1984), pp. 69-74; L. Hua
et al., "Identification and Quantification of Nucleic Acid Bases in
Carbonaceous Chondrites," Origins of Life, v. 16 (1986), pp. 226-227.
Futuyuma, Evolutionary Biology, p. 322.
 A. Lazcano,
S. Miller, "The Origin and Early Evolution of Life," p. 794.
to Believe, p. 57.
Mass.: Belknap, 1963, pp. 288-289.
Lerner, Genetic Homeostasis (New York: Wiley, 1954).
 Any of the different forms of a gene that may occur alternatively at a given
site (locus) on a chromosome is termed allele. Alleles may occur in
pairs, or there may be multiple alleles affecting the expression of a
particular trait. If the paired alleles are the same, the organism is said to
for that trait; if they are different, the organism is heterozygous.
In heterozygous organisms, one of the paired alleles generally overrides the
other one; the overriding allele is termed dominant, and the overridden
one -- recessive. The overriding means that the traits of the dominant
allele are actually expressed in the organism, while those of the recessive one
are not. Dominant allele is designated by an uppercase letter (e.g. A),
and recessive allele -- by a lowercase one (e.g. a). In species with
sexual reproduction, if two parent organisms are heterozygous for a certain
trait (their genetic blueprint for this trait is Aa), their child may
inherit dominant as well as recessive alleles for that trait. If the child
inherits recessive alleles from both of its parents (its genetic blueprint for
the trait is then aa), traits not expressed in parents will be expressed
in the child (e.g. two brown-eyed parents may give birth to a blue-eyed child).
Organisms in which the recessive alleles of their parents are expressed are
termed homozygous recessives (aa is a homozygous blueprint).
It is phenotypes, of course, which are directly preferred by selection, both
natural and artificial: a farmer breeds fowl to bring more eggs, not to have a
special gene in its DNA code. But since it is genotype which determines
phenotypic properties, it may well be said that selection prefers certain genotypes
-- those which code for the phenotype selected.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mayr, Ernst.
to Believe, p. 57; spelling preserved.
Maryland: Adler and Adler, 1986.
 Several biologists reviewed the book, pointing to serious flaws in Denton's
treatment of evidence and argumentation. Their reviews may be found in Don
Lindsay's Internet Archive, Reviews:
"Evolution: A Theory In Crisis" by Michael Denton.
 Scientific American, v. 200, no.
3 (March 1959), pp. 48-53.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, heredity, Heredity and evolution, Selection as
an agent of change, Natural selection in operation.
to Believe, p. 58.
 An extensive list of such instances was posted on the Internet by University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee biologist Joseph Boxhorn: Observed Instances of Speciation .
Another list was posted by Chris Stassen et al.: Some More Observed Speciation Events.
 Hugo de
Vries, Species and Varieties, Their Origin by Mutation (Chicago: Open
 T. Dobzhansky, O. Pavlovsky, "An experimentally
created incipient species of Drosophila," Nature, v. 230 (1971), pp. 289-292.
to Believe, p. 54.
 For this study the 1st and the 6th editions of The
Origin of Species provided by Project Gutenberg were used, as well as the
variorum text published in Morse Peckham's edition by The University of
Pennsylvania Press in 1959.
 Chapter 9, "On the Imperfection of the Geological Record."
 This time in chapter 10 (under the same title). In the 6th edition,
Darwin dedicated an entire chapter -- chapter 7 -- to a discussion of objections
raised against his theory. Therefore, chapters 7-14 of previous editions were
renumbered 8-15, correspondingly.
 Emphasis in original.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, evolution, The evidence for evolution, The
fossil record. An illustrative Internet exhibit on horse evolution was prepared
by the Florida Museum of Natural History.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, evolution, The evidence for evolution, The
 See A. Crompton, P. Parker, "Evolution of the Mammalian Masticatory Apparatus,"
American Scientist, v. 66 (1978), pp. 192-201, and bibliography there
 Kenneth Miller, review of Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, Creation/Evolution,
v. 16 (1996), pp. 36-40.
 Permission to Believe, p. 55.
 In the following citation, the sentence quoted by Kelemen is marked in larger type.
 Chapter 6, "Difficulties of the Theory" (Project Gutenberg text).
 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Norton, 1987), p. 77.
 Ibid., pp. 77-78; italics in original.
 An illustration of the conventional hypothetic scheme of eye evolution may be
found in K. Miller, "Life's Grand Design," pp. 28-29. For a comprehensive
account on evolution of eyes of different types, see Michael Land, Russell
Fernald, "The Evolution of Eyes," Annual Review of Neuroscience, v. 15
(1992), pp. 1-29.
 George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (New York: Mentor
Books, 1955), p. 63.
 Dan Nilson, Susanne Pelger, "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an
Eye to Evolve," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, v.
256 (1994), p. 53.
 Ibid., p. 58.
 Christian de Duve, "The Beginnings of Life on Earth," American Scientist,
v. 83 (1995), p. 430.
 D. Nilson, S. Pelger, "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye
to Evolve," p. 58.
 R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 91.
 Permission to Believe, p. 56.
 The General Libraries at the University of Texas and the Texas State Historical
Association, The Handbook of Texas Online , Chandler, Asa Crawford.
 P. 221.
 Quote from R. J. Tillyard -- Kelemen, p. 55; Denton, p. 220. Quote from F. E.
Lloyd -- Kelemen, p. 56; Denton, p. 226. Quote from C. W. Wardlaw -- Kelemen, p.
56; Denton, p. 226. Quote from B. Stahl -- Kelemen, p. 56; Denton, p. 209.
 In the following citation, the sentence quoted by Denton and Kelemen is marked
in larger type.
 Protozoa, a subkingdom of kingdom Protista, is a collection of
unicellular eukaryotic (i.e. possessing a well-defined nucleus) organisms.
About 1/3 of the living protozoans are parasites (Encyclopaedia Britannica, protozoan).
 A. C. Chandler, Introduction to Parasitology (New York: Wiley, 1961), p.
 Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1961.
 Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1967.
 Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
 Permission to Believe, p. 56.
 Waltham: Chronica Botanica Co., 1942.
 M. Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, p. 226.
 In the following citation, the sentences quoted by Denton and Kelemen are
marked in larger type.
 Bladderwort, a genus consisting of "about 120 widely distributed species of
land and water plants characterized by small hollow sacs that actively capture
and digest tiny animals such as insect larvae, aquatic worms, water fleas, and
other small swimmers" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, bladderwort).
 Adolf Engler, Karl Prantl, Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien (Leipzig,
 Geological term for the period lasting from 66.4 to 1.6 million years ago.
 Scheme of the supposed evolutionary interrelations of a group of organisms
derived from a common ancestral form. "The ancestor is in the tree 'trunk';
organisms that have arisen from it are placed at the ends of tree 'branches.'
The distance of one group from the other groups indicates the degree of
relationship; i.e., closely related groups are located on branches close
to one another" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, phylogenetic tree).
 F. E. Lloyd, The Carnivorous Plants, p. 7.
 London: John Murray, 1875.
 See e.g. Barrie Juniper, Richard Robins, Daniel Joel, The Carnivorous Plants
(London: Academic Press, 1989), pp. 283-309.
 Permission to Believe, p. 56.
 London: Longmans, 1965.
 M. Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, p. 226.
 In the following citation, the fragments quoted by Kelemen and Denton are
marked in larger type.
 A family of flowering plants (of the order Rafflesiales), strictly parasitic on
roots and stems of other plants and known for its remarkable growth forms. The
term Rafflesiaceae seemed apparently too sophisticated to Denton, who
omitted this whole clause from his quotation, without noting that the latter
contains an omission.
 This sentence is quoted by Denton (p. 226) but not by Kelemen.
 Julian Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (London: George Allen and
 Of Organization and Evolution in Plants.
 This sentence is quoted by Denton (p. 226) but not by Kelemen.
 C. W. Wardlaw, Organization and Evolution in Plants, pp. 405-406;
italics in original.
 Permission to Believe, pp. 69-70.
 Ibid., p. 12
 Sherwin Wine, Judaism Beyond God (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Society for
Humanistic Judaism, 1985), p. 122.
 The Encyclopedia of Religion (ed. M. Eliade, New York: Macmillan, 1987),
monotheism, v. 10, p. 70.
 Genesis 11:31.
 Encyclopaedia Biblica, Kasdim, v. 4, pp. 365-366.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 313.
 Genesis 21:34.
 Genesis 26:1.
 Genesis 26:2-6.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Philistine.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 38.
 See ANET (Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament,
ed. J. Pritchard, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 376-378.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, World War I, The years of stalemate,
Developments in 1917, The Western Front, June-December 1917.
 See e.g. the Babylonian Talmud, 'Avodah Zarah 9a and the commentary of Rashi ad
loc., or Yalkut Shim'oni midrash on the Torah, section 189.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Egypt, History, Introduction to ancient
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hittite
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 63.
 Ibid., pp. 62-63.
 Numbers 33:35, Deuteronomy 1:2.
 I Kings 9:26, 22:49.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 63.
 Ibid., p. 60.
 See ibid., pp. 65-71.
 Numbers 20:14-21.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 68.
 William Dever, review of I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible
Unearthed, Biblical Archaeology Review, v. 27, no. 2 (March/April
2001), pp. 60-62.
 Permission to Believe, p. 71; italics in original.
 New York: Doubleday, 1952.
 Ages in Chaos, v. 1, p. 1.
 Entry Yesiyat Misrayim, v. 20, p. 187 and v. 3, p. 754,
 See e.g. I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, pp.
105-118; cf. William Dever, Review of The Bible Unearthed.
 S. David Sperling, The Original Torah (New York: New York University
Press, 1998), pp. 54-56.
 The Bible Unearthed, pp. 86-90; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Palestine,
history of, The Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age
 See Greta Hort, "The Plagues of Egypt," Zeitschrift für die
alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, v. 69 (1957), pp. 84-103, v. 70 (1958), pp.
 Ipuwer 2:10. Quotations from the Ipuwer Papyrus are given here according to the
English translation by Miriam Lichtheim (Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book
of Readings, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973, v. 1, pp.
 Exodus 7:20.
 Ipuwer 2:7.
 Ages in Chaos, v. 1, pp. 32-34.
 Exodus 1:11.
 As, for example, Alan Gardiner has argued in The Admonitions of an Egyptian
Sage from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden (Leipzig, 1909).
This view was adopted, among others, by Miriam Lichtheim in her introductory
comment on the papyrus.
 Several translations of the inscription have been published: Francis Griffith,
The Antiquities of Tell el Yahûdîyeh and Miscellaneous Work in Lower Egypt
during the Years 1887-1888 (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1890), pp.
70-74; Günther Roeder, Urkunden zur Religion des Alten Ägypten (Jena: Diederichs, 1915), pp. 150-156;
Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt (New York: Blom, 1972), pp. 438-444;
Georges Goyon, "Les Travaux de Chou et les tribulations de Geb d'après le naos
2248 d'Ismaïlia," Kêmi, v. 6 (1936), pp. 1-42; Gaston Maspero, History
of Egypt (transl. M. L. McClure, London:
Grolier Soc.), v. 1, pp.
242-245 (a partial translation). Velikovsky used the translations of Griffith
(English) and Goyon (French).
 Ages in Chaos, v. 1, pp. 39-45.
 G. Maspero, History of Egypt, v. 1, p. 245.
 Sean Mewhinney, "El-Arish Revisited," Kronos, v. 11, no. 2 (Winter
1986), p. 47.
 "Dans la suite du récit, le premier roi de l'univers est tantôt Râ, tantôt
 Side C of the inscription, line 6.
 Side C of the inscription, lines 21-23.
 "La butte des deux couteaux."
 Ages in Chaos, v. 1, p. 42.
 Permission to Believe, p. 73.
 New York: Harper and Row, 1987.
 London: Ernest Benn, 1957.
 A History of the Jews, p. 597, n. 127.
 Digging Up Jericho, pp. 261-262.
 Ibid., p. 229.
 Ibid., pp. 261-262.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 81.
 A History of the Jews, p. 44.
 Joshua 10:1-27.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 82.
 Permission to Believe, p. 73.
 Herodotus, History, book 2, chapter 141.
 Sennacherib's Prism, column 3, lines 18-49; cited from ANET, p. 288
(parenthetic additions by J. Pritchard).
 Magen Broshi, Israel Finkelstein, "The Magnitude of Population in Palestine in
734 BCE" (in Hebrew), Qatedrah, no. 58 (December 1990), p. 17.
 II Kings 18:13-16.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mesopotamia,
history of, Mesopotamia to the end of the Achaemenian period, The
Neo-Assyrian Empire, Sennacherib.
 Permission to Believe, p. 74.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mesopotamia, history of, Mesopotamia to the
end of the Achaemenian period, The Neo-Babylonian Empire, The last kings of
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Iran, history of, The Elamites, Medians, and
Achaemenids, The protohistoric period and the kingdom of the Medes, The rise of
the Persians under Cyrus II.
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, pp. 292-295.
 Jeremiah 25:11-12.
 Ibid., p. 307.
 Ibid., p. 306.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mesopotamia, history of, Mesopotamia to the
end of the Achaemenian period, Mesopotamia under the Persians.
 Omission in original.
 Cyrus' Cylinder (ANET, p. 316; parenthetic additions by J. Pritchard).
 I. Finkelstein, N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 355.
 Ibid., p. 308.
 Herodotus, History, book 3, chapter 91.
 Ezra 7:25-26.
 Permission to Believe, pp. 74-75.
 Antiquities of the Jews, book 11, chapter 8, sections 3-5.
 Tractate Yoma 69a.
 Elias Bickerman, The Jews in the Greek Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1988), pp. 4-5.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 Ibid., p. 74.
 Ibid., pp. 123-129.
 I Maccabees 1:41-44.
 Elias Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees (Leiden: Brill, 1979), p. 84.
 Ibid., pp. 11, 43-44, 104-111.
 Elias Bickerman, The Maccabees (New York: Shocken, 1947), p. 23.
 This story is preserved in Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews,
book 12, chapter 4, section 6.
 E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, p. 25.
 I Maccabees 1:11-15.
 E. Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees, pp. 84-86.
 Ibid., pp. 38-48.
 II Maccabees 4:8-10.
 II Maccabees 4:13-15.
 II Maccabees 4:22.
 II Maccabees 4:23-50.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Early career.
 I Maccabees 1:20-23.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Early career; ibid.,
Pydna, Battle of.
 II Maccabees 5; I Maccabees 1:29-40; E. Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees,
 II Maccabees 6-7, I Maccabees 1:44-64.
 E. Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees, pp. 76-90.
 E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, pp. 20-21; see I Maccabees 2:45-47.
 I Maccabees 3-4; E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, pp. 35-40; Encyclopaedia
Britannica, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Efforts to hellenize the kingdom;
ibid., Iran, history of, The Hellenistic and Parthian periods, The
"phil-Hellenistic" period, Mithradates I.
 Christian Habicht, "Royal Documents in Maccabees II," Harvard Studies in
Classical Philology, v. 80 (1976), pp. 1-18. Although E. Bickerman
initially held a different view, he eventually agreed with Habicht's
conclusions (The God of the Maccabees, p. 113).
 E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, pp. 45-51.
 Ibid., pp. 52-59.
 I Maccabees 2:1; Ezra 3:1-5; Haggai 1:1, 12-14, 2:2-4; Nehemiah 12:1-11, 13:28.
 E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, pp. 61-69.
 Ibid., pp. 77-81.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Seleucid kingdom.
 E. Bickerman, The Maccabees, pp. 80-107; Encyclopaedia Hebraica, Eres-Yisrael,
v. 6, pp. 351-352.
 Permission to Believe, p. 75.
 Encyclopaedia Hebraica, Hordos, v. 13, pp. 929-937.
 The Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 4a.
 Permission to Believe, p. 75.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Palestine, history of, From Alexander the
Great to AD 70, The Herodian house and the Roman procurators.
 Permission to Believe, p. 79.
 Encyclopaedia Hebraica, Eres-Yisrael, supplementary volume to vv.
1-16, pp. 512-514.
 Ibid., p. 514.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Egypt, History, The revolution and the
Republic, The Nasser regime.
 Encyclopaedia Hebraica, Eres-Yisrael, supplementary volume to vv.
1-16, pp. 514-515.
 Ibid., pp. 515-516.
 Ibid., pp. 538-539.
 Ibid., p. 538.
 Permission to Believe, p. 84.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Basque; Basque language.
 Ibid., Armenian; Armenian language.
 Ibid., China.
 Cited in Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1961), p. 188.
 See Howard Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History (New York:
Vintage Books, 1990).
 Encyclopaedia Hebraica, otonomiyah yehudit, v. 1, pp. 782-789.
 Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1952-1983), v. 2, pp. 215-292, v. 6, pp. 3-151.
 J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance, pp. 13-47; idem., Tradition and
Crisis (New York: Shocken, 1971), pp. 18-42.
 S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, v. 11, pp. 77-191.
 J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis, pp. 256-257.
S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, v. 11, pp.
232-236, 262-270; Bernard Weinryb, The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic
History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800 (Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society, 1973), pp. 181-205.
Ibid., v. 3, pp. 24, 124-127, 173-185, v. 11, pp. 192-283.
Tractate Pesahim 87b.
S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, v. 2, p. 102.
Ibid., pp. 122-126.
See Elias Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible (New York: Shocken,
Arthur Ruppin, The Jewish Struggle for Existence (in Hebrew, Tel Aviv:
Mossad Bialik, 1940), p. 33.
Permission to Believe, p. 84.
Ibid., p. 85.
P. Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 90.
Pp. 72-149, in accordance with Kelemen's reference.
P. Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 95.
Ibid., pp. 72-79.
Ibid., p. 73.
Ibid., pp. 73-74.
II Kings 23:29-24:2, Jeremiah 46:2.
II Kings 24:5-16.
A History of the Jews, p. 78.
II Kings 24:17-25:21, Jeremiah 52:1-31.
II Kings 23:36-37, 24:9, 24:19-20, Jeremiah 52:2-3.
See e.g. Jeremiah 22, 36.
II Kings 23:25-27.
P. Johnson, A History of the Jews, pp. 124-133.
Ibid., p. 142.
Ibid., pp. 140-143.
Permission to Believe, p. 85.
H. Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History, pp. 516-556, 594-613;
Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews (New York: Bantam Books, 1976)
Permission to Believe, p. 91.
Coherence between the two is not trivial: one may admit that Halakhah reflects
God's will but still deem its precepts evil. But, be the reasons for it what
they may (some of them were considered in the second chapter of this essay),
such an attitude does not usually occur in practice.
Permission to Believe, pp. 92-93.
H. Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History, p. 635.
Permission to Believe, pp. 93-94.
See e.g. John Dowling, Creating Mind: How the Brain Works (New York:
Cited ibid., pp. 3-4.
Ibid., p. 4.
Permission to Believe, p. 95.
Ibid., pp. 97-99.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (Cleveland: The World Publishing
names and titles are given in transliteration.