Friday, August 12, 2011

Was the Torah taken / adapted from contemporary law?

Summary: Shadal argues against it, based on a pasuk in Va'eschanan. How we might say differently.

Post: On the pasuk in Devarim 4:6:

6. And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, "Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. "ו. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה:
Shadal writes:

"who will hear all these statutes and say, "Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. " From here is a contradiction to the words of those who say that the chukim established by Moshe for the children of Israel were taken from the chukim of Egypt and the other nations who were in his days. For shouldn't the people of Moshe's generation know this matter more than we, here now? So how could Moshe be so foolish or brazen to say to the Israelites that when the nations hear these chukim, they would say that Israel is a wise and discerning nation? Shouldn't they rather say than they are a foolish and degraded nation, for their Torah is stolen from other nations? And more than that, how could he say after this, 'and who is a great nation who has righteous laws and statutes like all of this Torah, if this Torah is taken from the Torot of the other nations? Should he not at least admit that the Divine Torah selected out the food from the refuse, and established from all the laws which were practiced in the world in those days, only those which the upper wisdom viewed as straight, righteous, and positive, and nullified the bad laws, or made in them a change and transformed them from bad to good?"
An interesting point. A slightly different idea that mere 'selection' of good from the bad is selection plus adaptation. For instance, sotah as a reaction to ANE laws which cast her into the water, where she was only saved by a miracle. Or eshet yefat toar as reforms designed to protect the rights of female captives. Or circumcision, or a band of techelet in a garment, or tefillin, existing practices, adapted to a covenant with God. Of course there is a cultural background, and of course, since it is a law code being given in the Ancient Near East, it will bear similarities in form and content to other Ancient Near Eastern law codes. But still, overall, it is an independent work and can surpass other law codes in various impressive ways.

If I wanted to try to shlug up Shadal on this point, perhaps I could. Those who would say that it is just drawn from contemporary law codes would also contest Mosaic / Divine authorship. And here is the Code of Hammurabi, from the very top of the stele:

In the image, the sun god Shamash hands Hammurabi the law code. Presumably, this was not so, but it independently developed by the people, judges, and rulers. But they thought highly of their own developed law code, and probably thought that it was better than any other in existence. And they attributed it to the divine. So even if the Torah were simply drawn from ancient Hurrian law, this pasuk would not be a 'disproof'.

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