Unlike 99% of all non-clerical Jews, I read the Torah (first 5 books of the Bibole, sacred to Jews) in its most authoritative translation.
The first thing to note, once you get past the notions that God or Moses wrote it, is that research into the text shows that it is the product of four authors, whose documents were edited together. This "documentary hypothesis" is as well-established as evolution, but many religious believers reject it. But that's why there are so many duplications -- sloppy editing. Deuteronomy was probably the work of one person.
Second, it's really primitive. Jews who make this document the center of their lives are fixated on the distant past. Successive waves of liberal Judaism have attempted to spin or whitewash the Torah, but it remains a document where women have no rights, slavery is acceptable, God urges the Israelites to commit ethnic cleansing, and much more gruesome stuff.
Third, NONE of it happened! The story -- exodus, Sinai, promised land -- is central to Judaism, but there's no evidence for any of it. There is no record of the Jews in Egypt, as slaves or in any other capaciity.
Atheists should know what's in the Bible and how the various parts got included. So when Christians get that beatific smile and talk about it being the word of God, you can give them a few kernels of truth about this document (about which they are largely ignorant, so it won't be hard to know more than they do).
Melinda...thanks for the kind words. The intentional ignorance is practiced by Jews of all stripes, including educated, sophisticated people who should know better. I find this incredible and inexplicable!
A few years ago some Jewish guests brought their own food to a party at my house. The buffet included fish and vegetables - but my food was so unclean that they couldn't touch it? I found out too late; otherwise, I would have told them they really didn't want to eat in my unclean house and that they must take their special food and their piety out to the patio (it was six degrees that night). I really would have done it, in front of everybody. I have no patience for these people.
Melinda...it's the mystery of the brain, which we may never penetrate. The cognition can be split between the real and the unreal, with both seeming equally real to the brain. This is perhaps how a brain surgeon can be a religious idiot. That's what Modern Orthoodoxy is about - these people pretend they can live in both worlds.
Hi Melinda...sorry for the belated reply - I haven't been back to this thread recently. Religious belief (or the appearance thereof) in otherwise intelligent, rational, secularly-educated people is a mystery I haven't solved because I'm disinclined to do the actual research and question such people about their religious behavior. Replies might be a bit defensive, even hostile.
It seems there's a way the brain can regard the fictional as real. We all do it when we read a novel or watch a movie - we suspend disbelief. Educated religious folks just take it a step further. Just a guess.
No, no...as a lover of science and truth, you have to understand what people have done to this primitive document over the centuries. There's no mystery - that's what I found out. It's just a collection of stories.
I love how some groups of archaeologists working for the religious right are trying to use excavations to 'provide' connections to the biblical stories. Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but what happened to letting the artifacts tell the story rather than trying to fit them to the narrative of a particular agenda?
They do the same thing as with the Bible - try to spin it to their advantage. I remember a History Channel (what a joke) documentary about a big piece of rock in Turkey or someplace - "Could this be the remains of Noah's Ark?" Short answer: no.
LOL I was thinking about them when I replied to you! How many Arks are they up to now? LOL I swear every time I hear or read something about them, I hear the voice of Bill Cosby as Noah!
How long ... can you tread water?!?
I heard that routine YEARS ago and cracked up at its groundbreaking irreverence ("Who is this really? Am I on Candid Camera?").
When was the Torah written? Sometime in 1000---600 BC? Can you give me a general time period? How old is the Hebrew language?
There's an excellent book entitled The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finklestein and Neil Silberman. They date the first 5 books between 800 and 600 B.C.E. as an attempt, by the kingdom of Judah, to unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah by showing pre-existing (and false) common bonds between the two. And, using false propaganda to show that Judah had always been dominant. Deuteronomy was written during the time of King Josiah (circa 620 B.C.E.) as an attempt to "prove" this unity of the two separate kingdoms, and tout Josiah as the messiah, until he met his demise - probably by the Egyptians. And, as Alan stated, Egyptian slavery, Exodus, David and Solomon being great kings ruling in the great city of Jerusalem - all of it BS. Jerusalem during the time of David was nothing more than a village of mud and stone huts.
That was one of the books I consulted as background for my own "An Atheist Reads the Torah" (it's on amazon).
The ancient Jews may have been a Mesopotamian people who attacked the fringes of the Egyptian Empire (think Somali pirates attacking the US Navy). Inscription from one Egyptian general boasts that "Israel's seed is no more" - an overstatement, of course.
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," Judaism's holiest magic words, is an expression of "Hey guys, we're all Jews, so it's the same god [adonai and elohim, the latter a plural, which imples polytheism], no harm, no foul."