In response to the latest Haredi book-banning / excommunication Aish.com, the highly successful and widely read website of Aish HaTorah, has pulled a number of articles by various authors from its site for "review" by "today's leading [ultra-Orthodox] Torah scholars."
In the spirit of free inquiry, we print one of those now-banned articles in its entirety after the jump.
Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)
Will the Real Homo Sapiens Please Stand Up
By Rabbi Nosson Weiz
The Torah is not merely a book of knowledge. According to Jewish tradition the Torah served as God's template for designing the entire universe. "God consulted the Torah and created the world." (Zohar, Truma, 161a)
It is therefore inconceivable for reality to contradict the Torah; this would amount to God contradicting Himself. And yet, there appears to be precisely this sort of contradiction between the Torah's account of man's first appearance on our planet, and the facts as they have been discovered on the ground by archeologists.
According to the Torah account, Adam, the first man, was created by God a mere 5,762 years ago, almost yesterday in terms of historical time. The archeological record conclusively demonstrates that human beings identical to modern man in all outward respects have inhabited this planet for hundreds of thousands of years.
DIFFERENT STANDARDS OF MEASUREMENT WON'T EXPLAIN THE DISCREPANCY
This disparity between the Torah account and the archeological record is not merely due to the proper calibration of measurement that can be resolved in the same way as the discrepancy regarding the overall age of the universe; roughly 15 billion years as measured from the big bang, in contrast with the Torah's paltry 6 thousand. Orthodox scientists, using the latest ideas of physics have brilliantly and satisfactorily demonstrated that there is no contradiction in that case at all. The entire discrepancy is due to the different frames of reference of those doing the counting. Till Adam was created God was in charge of the calendar, but as soon as man appeared on the scene, he took over the calendar which automatically transferred the frame of reference to man. [see Dr. Gerald Schroeder' "The Age of the Universe"]
Our case involves contradictory facts which have nothing to do with simple measurement. The Torah clearly states that there was no Adam until he was created by God and began his own calendar reckoning 5,762 years ago -- and yet homo sapiens have clearly wandered the earth in large numbers for many millennia before this Adam made his appearance. How can this clash of realities be reconciled in a way that is comprehensible to the modern mind?
Since the answer proposed in this essay has a direct bearing on our understanding of the Torah's account of the flood, Parshat Noach is perhaps the best venue for its presentation. I stress at the outset that this is a somewhat novel view of the matter but I believe that it is totally in line with all the Biblical and rabbinic sources. I offer it as a tentative suggestion that the great commentators themselves might have put forward had they been aware of the problems suggested by the fossil record.
THE EARLY MAN OF THE ARCHEOLOGISTS
The archeological record contains its own mysteries. It clearly indicates a sudden remarkable leap forward in human development that occurred about six thousand years ago. There are skeletal remains of homo sapiens all over the planet which convincingly demonstrate his uninterrupted presence here for hundreds of thousands of years.
But this homo sapiens, physiologically congruent with ourselves in all respects, was a hunter-gatherer living in a static Stone Age culture throughout this entire period. He had no systematic agriculture -- while the record shows that he gathered agricultural products, he didn't know how to cultivate crops. He did not invent writing and so left no records. He did not develop architecture; he lived in caves or other rudimentary shelters. His tools and implements were all fashioned out of materials that could be taken directly from his surroundings without any sort of refinement; wood, bone, clay or stone. His manufacturing tools were flint and fire.
None of this was due to a lack of innate intelligence. He sometimes ingeniously constructed small villages totally over water. While his pottery was necessarily crude given his limited technology, his appreciation of beauty was clear; he had mastered the art of using natural dyes to decorate his skins, his pottery, and he even left us paintings on the walls of caves in some locations. He buried his dead, and it is thought that he had figured out some elementary cosmology and constructed some sort of religion around it. These details of his cultural life are necessarily speculative, as there is no written record of his deeds or thoughts.
There is no record of major population centers dating back to this time. Homo sapiens lived in small bands that survived by foraging on the lands surrounding their habitat. He was necessarily territorial like the higher carnivorous mammals. It is difficult to imagine that he possessed a vocabulary of more than a few hundred basic words. The large congregations of people and the written records of thoughts passed from generation to generation that are the necessities of cultural development were entirely lacking.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAN AND ANIMALS
The picture that emerges from all the archeological discoveries describes the homo sapiens as a highly talented sort of animal, using tools and language to improve his quality of life. But he demonstrates the same lack of progress as tigers or elephants. There is no movement forward toward more advanced technologies or more complex cultural interactions over a historical period measuring hundreds of thousands of years. As in other life forms, development is purely a function of physiology. Once homo sapiens developed the life style appropriate to the higher intelligence which was a product of their increased brain size, that was the end of all progress.
According to the Maharal, the very name Adam describes a creature who is the diametric opposite of this Stone Age man. The name Adam is derived from the fact that man was created out of earth, adama in Hebrew. But this rationale would apply to all other creatures as well, as they were also created from the earth. So why are the higher animals named behaima in Hebrew, instead of Adam?
Explains the Maharal; the essence of man is that he is pure potential; the essence of animals is that they have no potential. An animal is behaima, which stands for ba mah, meaning it already contains what it is fully. Animals were not created to develop and progress. They have no potential for higher forms of expression. Man was named Adam because he is the creature who resembles the earth. The earth is inert soil. But if you plant it and nourish it properly it literally explodes with a plethora of vegetation that is capable of feeding and sustaining ever-increasing amounts of life.
In the same way, man is pure potential. There is no limit to his ability to learn and to grow. His essential nature demands progress, movement and growth. His life is one long dynamic learning curve. The archeologists have not unearthed the remains of this type of progressive human being. When did this man first make his appearance?
THE GREAT LEAP FORWARD
About six thousand years ago, seemingly out of nowhere there is a record of a remarkable change in this stable Stone Age pattern of human remains in one particular area of the planet, Mesopotamia. Overnight in terms of historic time, we have the development of sophisticated architecture, advanced pottery, organized agriculture, the rise of major population centers akin to cities, the appearance of metallic weapons and ornaments, the development of writing and records, the appearance of sophisticated political structures and empires, traces of complex religions and the ceremonies associated with them.
The archeological record shows the spread of these trappings of advanced civilization from this one spot to the rest of the world in gradual stages. Thus the great leap forward was restricted to a single location and came out of nowhere.
NACHMANIDES' INTERPRETATION OF THE CREATION OF MAN
This record squares incredibly well with the way Nachmanides understands the creation of Adam described in Genesis (2,7), which happened simultaneously with this sudden leap forward, exactly 5,762 years ago according to the Biblical calendar. Nachmanides explains that the precursor to Adam was originally created along with the higher animals on the sixth day. According to his understanding of the Biblical story, God took one of these man-creatures and injected His Divine breath into him. In terms of modern terminology we would describe this as the injection of software.
In other words, the Biblical description of the creation of man really tells the story of the creation of civilized, post Stone Age man, who we now call homo sapiens. Moreover, it clearly indicates that this creation was not an act that involved altering man's physiology, but rather consisted of injecting a new program into his brain by adding a spiritual dimension to the physical creature who already existed.
Interestingly enough, civilized man's mate, the female, was freshly formed out of the new creature that resulted from the injection of this software, called Adam in the Bible story. Unless we assume that all the remnants of the old physiological man created on the sixth day along with the higher animals was wiped out at this time, an assumption that would be totally unsupported by anything the Torah tells us, and for which there is no evidence from the archeological record, this would indicate that Adam could not find himself a suitable mate by educating one of the hominids who must have been walking around, so God fashioned a brand new mate for him. It would appear that although civilized man is more software than hardware, it isn't easy to transfer the software of civilization to other man like creatures.
This type of approach regarding the essential components of what constitutes humanity finds an echo in other Torah sources.
CHILDREN IN ADAM'S IMAGE
When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he begot in his likeness and his image, and he named him Seth. (Genesis 5,3)
The Talmud (Eruvin, 18b) interprets this to mean that for the first 130 years of his life Adam gave birth to children who were not in his likeness or his image; i.e. not quite human. Maimonedes in his famous work, the Guide for the Perplexed (1,7) interprets this passage allegorically. All Adam's children resembled him physically. But it was only to Seth that he managed to pass over his worldview and his values. Just as when the Torah writes that man was created in God's image it cannot possibly indicate any physical resemblance since God has no physical attributes, so too in the case of Adam and Seth, according to Maimonedes.
This type of approach is also evident in the following commentary of Nachmanides.
As a prelude to the story of the flood, the Torah writes:
And it came to pass that when man began to increase upon the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of Elohim saw that the daughters of man were good and they took themselves wives from whomever they chose. (Genesis 6:1-2)
The commentators explain the title, the "sons of Elohim", in various ways. This is the interpretation offered by Nachmanides (ibid):
Following the sin of Adam, who was himself fashioned by the hands of God personally, and his banishment from the Garden of Eden, there were two types of humans in the world. The members of Adam's immediate family and their descendants retained an aspect of godliness about them, but the rest of mankind were all ordinary human beings. This aspect of godliness retained by the sons of Adam inspired such awe among the rest of mankind that no one dared to oppose these godlike beings, and consequently these people did as they liked until they were destroyed by the flood.
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL RECORD CONFIRMS THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT
The archeological evidence not only does not contradict the Bible story of creation, it substantially confirms it. As usual it turns out that the issue is what colored glasses you are wearing when you study the picture. If your idea of man is purely physiological and evolution based, you cannot accept the idea that the creation story is about injecting a soul into what was a purely physical creature. You then have an embarrassing problem on your hands that is difficult to dismiss.
How do you account for the fact that your fully developed homo sapiens lived in the Stone Age all over the earth for hundreds of thousands of years showing virtually no signs of development or progress, and that all of a sudden civilization sprang up in no time at all in a single location in a single bound?
On the other hand, if we accept the view that the creation story is a description of the transformation of merely physical man into spiritual man, all the archeological facts and the Biblical chronology blend perfectly. Homo sapiens was created on the 6th day along with the higher mammals. But he is not Adam. Adam the spiritual man, the awesome creature who established true civilization, and to whom we owe the gifts of culture, science and technology was created by God exactly 5,762 years ago, and that is when he started his calendar.
THE RELEVANCE TO THE FLOOD STORY
How does all this bear on the story of the flood?
In the judgment of Maimonedes cited above, homo sapiens without the software of morality and values, without the driving quest for knowledge and the burning ambition for progress, without the spiritual qualities that serve as the backbone of all civilized life, is worse than a beast of the field. Animals are harmless when you leave them alone, but the human being who is uninterested in growth or progress and is lacking in civilized values will employ his innate intelligence to plot and wreak havoc on his fellow creatures.
However, such Stone Age human beings are also beyond judgment. Moral responsibility and the idea of rewards and punishments can only be applied to spiritual man. When there is no push for progress or growth, when life is only about simple animal survival, there are no moral issues. God communicates only with civilized man whose main focus is ideas and concepts, who is taken up with issues of spiritual growth and stagnation, with ideas of equality and justice, whose concern over mere physical survival does not dominate his existence.
THE BENEFITS OF CIVILIZATION ARE SELF EVIDENT
When Adam was created, he immediately took over the world. The benefits of progress and civilization that he had to offer are obvious and awesome. The popular legend tells the story of Columbus' landing in the Americas, and the natives prostrating themselves to him as though he were a god. As Nachmanides explained, Adam and his descendants, the teachers of civilization to mankind were worshipped in this same manner as gods by the rest of homo sapiens. Homo sapiens as he was created on the sixth day, even lacking Adam's spiritual aspect, has the necessary hardware in the form of I.Q. to instantly appreciate the great advantages of civilization.
When God injected a Divine soul into Adam, responsibility and accountability also entered the world. It was the duty and obligation of Adam and his descendants to firmly establish civilization in the world. The Stone Age had come to an end. In the age of civilization, it was no longer acceptable for man to behave like the beasts of the field.
But the sons of Adam misused their power.
And it came to pass when Man began to increase upon the ground and daughters were born to them, the sons of the rulers saw that the daughters of man were good and they took themselves wives from whomever they chose. And God said, " My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning Man since he is but flesh; his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."(Genesis 6, 1-3)
The spiritual man God had created sank back to the level of the physical man of the flesh. Instead of bringing the world spirituality, he was content to merely introduce it to technology. Instead of introducing justice, he went about indiscriminately stealing other people's daughters for the sake of the gratification of his own pleasures.
THE FLOOD WAS DIRECTED AGAINST CIVILIZED MAN
God decided to wipe out all vestige of civilized man. It is curious that all the peoples surrounding the region of Mesopotamia have a flood myth as part of their cultural heritage. There is also archeological evidence of a flood that covered the entire region. There is no trace of the flood in Australia or the Americas, or any other region that was not culturally attached to the cradle of civilization.
According to the thesis presented in this essay this makes perfect sense. The flood was truly world wide, but the world referred to is the world of Adam, the civilized world. The rest of the planet was still inhabited by Stone Age man, the creature created on the sixth day along with the rest of the higher animals. That creature was never summoned to judgment, and there was no reason to destroy his world.
While studying at the famed yeshivas of Chaim Berlin, Lakewood and the Mir in Jerusalem, Rabbi Noson Weisz also received a degree in Microbiology from the University of Toronto, MA in Political Science at the New School for Social Research and his LLB from the University of Toronto. Rabbi Weisz is currently a senior lecturer at Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.