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Genesis spends a good deal of time -- Chapters 6 through 11 -- discussing the "mabul mayim", a flood that killed all humanity outside the ark. Here is what the Torah's text says about the universality of the flood:

  • ה וַיַּרְא יְהוָה, כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ, וְכָל-יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ, רַק רַע כָּל-הַיּוֹם. 5 And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ו וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ. 6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. מֶר יְהוָה, אֶמְחֶה אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה, עַד-רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם: כִּי נִחַמְתִּי, כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם. 7 And the LORD said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.'

  • יג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְנֹחַ, קֵץ כָּל-בָּשָׂר בָּא לְפָנַי--כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס, מִפְּנֵיהֶם; וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ. 13 And God said unto Noah: 'The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

  • יז וַאֲנִי, הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת-הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, לְשַׁחֵת כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ רוּחַ חַיִּים, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-בָּאָרֶץ, יִגְוָע. 17 And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; every thing that is in the earth shall perish.

  • יט וְהַמַּיִם, גָּבְרוּ מְאֹד מְאֹד--עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְכֻסּוּ, כָּל-הֶהָרִים הַגְּבֹהִים, אֲשֶׁר-תַּחַת, כָּל-הַשָּׁמָיִם. 19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.

  • כג וַיִּמַח אֶת-כָּל-הַיְקוּם אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה עַד-רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיִּמָּחוּ, מִן-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּשָּׁאֶר אַךְ-נֹחַ וַאֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ, בַּתֵּבָה. 23 And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark. כד וַיִּגְבְּרוּ הַמַּיִם, עַל-הָאָרֶץ, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמְאַת, יוֹם. 24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days. (Here, both HaAdamah and HaEretz are used.)

  • י וְאֵת כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר אִתְּכֶם, בָּעוֹף בַּבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ אִתְּכֶם; מִכֹּל יֹצְאֵי הַתֵּבָה, לְכֹל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ. 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. יא וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אִתְּכֶם, וְלֹא-יִכָּרֵת כָּל-בָּשָׂר עוֹד מִמֵּי הַמַּבּוּל; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה עוֹד מַבּוּל, לְשַׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ. 11 And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.' יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, זֹאת אוֹת-הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי נֹתֵן בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, אֲשֶׁר אִתְּכֶם--לְדֹרֹת, עוֹלָם. 12 And God said: 'This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: יג אֶת-קַשְׁתִּי, נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן; וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ. 13 I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. יד וְהָיָה, בְּעַנְנִי עָנָן עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וְנִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת, בֶּעָנָן. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the cloud, טו וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, אֲשֶׁר בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, בְּכָל-בָּשָׂר; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה עוֹד הַמַּיִם לְמַבּוּל, לְשַׁחֵת כָּל-בָּשָׂר. 15 that I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. טז וְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת, בֶּעָנָן; וּרְאִיתִיהָ, לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם, בֵּין אֱלֹהִים, וּבֵין כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה בְּכָל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.' יז וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-נֹחַ: זֹאת אוֹת-הַבְּרִית, אֲשֶׁר הֲקִמֹתִי, בֵּינִי, וּבֵין כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץ. {פ} 17 And God said unto Noah: 'This is the token of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth.'

It seems clear from the above that the Torah text is emphatic in saying that all animals on earth and all humans on earth perished, who were not inside the Ark.

It is true that the Talmud sages had a disagreement regarding whether the Mabul Mayim disturbed the bones in the land of Israel, but in that discussion all participants acknowledged that everyone outside the ark died. They even discuss why Og and the Reim (giant sea creature) didn't die, and conclude that they survived by being physically attached to the ark. The rabbis of the Talmud additionally opine that animals were killed because they engaged in unnatural sexual acts, but the fish did not.

So it seems to me that the Talmud does not dispute in the least that everyone outside the ark died. That is to say, there is no tradition that seems to suggest Genesis 6-11 were not literal, and that people were left alive outside the ark.

According to Jewish Tradition, the Flood happened in the Traditional Hebrew Year 1656, which corresponds (within some error margin) to the year 2104 BC. Ussher's chronology, based not on Hebrew Tradition but based on a literal reading of Genesis finds the flood having occurred at 2348 BC.

However, the above situation does not seem to fit at all with what we find in science, history, and archaeology. For an overview of the problems, you can see this: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html

Here is a list of major problems:

  1. Archaeology and history. The Egyptian Old Kingdom seems to transition smoothly into the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, as we can see from language, economy, knowhow, etc. The Pyramid of Cheops, the Pyramid of Djoser, etc. were built prior to 2500BC, whereas Senusret II and III pyramids were built after 1900BC. It seems obvious from the Egyptians were not wiped out by the flood. The closest hint I can even find is a tiny erosion in the sphinx: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphinx_water_erosion_hypothesis

  2. Genetics. Regardless of when the flood happened in the last 10,000 years, we would have a genetic bottleneck in all humans and animals. Humans for example would all come from one father who lived in the last 10,000 years. This is testable, but in fact no bottleneck is found. The closest bottleneck I can find is the Toba catastrophe theory that says humans may have been reduced to 10k individuals 70,000 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck#Humans

  3. Long lived plants were not killed by this flood. The Pando clonal colony have been around for an estimated 80,000 years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest-living_organisms#Clonal_plant_colonies

  4. Geology and Genetics: Geologists would conclude that Australia separated from Pangaea over 100M years ago. The Kengaroos, Koalas and other marsupials that live there should have genomes that diverged around that time (To be fair, I know little about genome sequencing of marsupials but there seems to be a major discrepancy because molecular genome estimates say Marsupials diverged no earlier than 60 million years ago: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000436 whereas other sources conveniently claim 160M years ago http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10291.html%3FWT.ec_id%3DNATURE-20110825). In any case, genetic drift of isolated populations on different continents should show up as divergence in the genomes with their cousins on other continents. This would show evolution over millions of years, not 4100. Does anyone have any examples? Admittedly I am not expert in this and have a hard time finding it.

  5. Geology, Paleontology and Physics: The Geological Principle of Superposition, the fossil record (index fossils) and the radiometric methods can all be calibrated to agree with one another. This one contradicts "flood geology" by Creationist scientists which claims that the sediments were laid down by the flood. TalkOrigins puts it very well:

Creationists, on the other hand, must explain to us how sediment and rock laid down in a mere year can yield such fantastic, orderly differences in radiometric ages. This poses a fatal problem whether one believes in the accuracy of radiometric dating or not! One would think that the flood sediments (gathered from the four corners of the old antediluvian world) and their associated igneous rock (formed during the flood) would all register very little radiometric age. At the very least we would expect random fluctuations if the radiometric methods were totally at sea. Why should the percentage of lead to uranium in zircon crystals (the key to ordinary uranium-lead, radiometric dating) depend on which geologic period they are found in? If most of the geologic column were created during Noah's flood, would it really matter whether a zircon crystal was found in Cambrian strata or Cretaceous strata, in Jurassic strata or Tertiary strata? Noah's flood might just as easily deposit the same crystal in one place as another. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hovind/howgood-gc.html

In short, the flood had to be universal (even if local) because of Jewish theological considerations, and a universal flood contradicts a lot of known history, biology, geology etc.

The main problem is that these sciences are independently able to arrive at a consistent picture of the world. Perhaps one or two techniques by themselves would be wrong. Perhaps they could be off when extrapolating into the millions of years. But we are talking about ALL of them being wrong, and about the last 10,000 years. How to reconcile the two views?

Finally, here is my biggest worry. Doesn't Bayes' Theorem in that case disprove Judaism:

P(A) = P(B) * P(A given B) / P(B given A)

If A is Judaism and B is the universal flood, we have:

P(A given B) = I'll be generous and say 99%, meaning Christianity, Islam etc get 1% combined

P(B given A) = Theological considerations above would suggest 90%,
but I will be generous and say Judaism only 20% insists on a universal flood

P(B) = Probability of a universal flood is super super low, like 0.1%

Multiplying seems to disprove Judaism to me. That combined with all the other stories like the exodus of 3 million Jews etc.

So how do I reconcile the two worldviews?

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This discussion may prove useful to you. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/30/bereishit-vs-science –  eramm Jan 29 at 16:39
    
The discussion is certainly useful and informative -- I found a lot of opinions of great rabbis which I didn't hear previously. However, it is mostly about creation, and I agree that the Chazal are not adamant about it being taken literally. That is why I prefer to focus on the flood, as I am not aware of any opinions that it didn't literally kill all humanity outside the ark. –  Gregory Magarshak Jan 29 at 17:59
    
So you are agreeing the world is only 5,774 years old ? –  eramm Jan 29 at 18:08
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BabySeal: No, because many rabbis are able to say that Adam was created amid lots of other hominids. Those people had the "hardware but not the software", i.e. were able to learn but didn't have the neshama. They were even homo sapiens sapiens, but they didn't have the neshama. And these rabbis say that eventually we taught these "aborigines" and they accepted civilization. They note that all modern civilization happened in the last 5774 years after 100,000 years of not much advance. –  Gregory Magarshak Jan 29 at 22:42
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At the core of your question is the assumption that the flood and its fallout was natural, and was subject merely to the laws of nature as we see them today. I do not accept that premise, however I think that one can still reconcile the evidence we see nowadays with the flood in a cogent way that draws upon the natural sciences we accept. I will attempt to address each of your points in this vein.

  1. Concerning Egypt's uninterrupted society, see Gen 8:22. Based on the phrase "Further, all the days...", I would argue that Gd is saying that He will facillitate the reestablishment of civilizations, which would consequently overwrite any societal evidence of a near-extinction of humanity. The world needed to be repopulated and Gd didn't waste any time. He blessed Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply and fill the land. This blessing allowed for them to reproduce at an accelerated pace, so much so that the names of their children are the names we have for the seventy nations, because they very rapidly grew in number, diversified, and reestablished civilization. So there is no evidence of interruption in ancient Egypt, because their effectively was none. Gd kept the Egyptian structures and civilizations in tact throughout the flood, repopulated the region very rapidly, and provided its inhabitant with all the knowledge they needed to resume Egyptian history1.
  2. Concerning a genetic bottleneck, again I am arguing that the blessing from Gen 9:1 caused unnatural fecundity which led to a very rapid diversification of humanity. Gd may have also used polyploidy to cause more genetic diversity so that the nations would become more distinct from one another and adopt their own identities and cultures. Again, Gd wanted us to fill the land, and He helped us to adapt and diversify at an unnatural speed so that there wouldn't be a period where the creation was desolate and empty. It was meant to be teeming with life and Gd didn't let the trivial interruption of the flood stop Him from bringing things back to where they were beforehand. He never intended to sacrifice the progress that He had facillitated in Creation, just those who had corrupted Creation.
  3. Concerning plants, I would argue that they weren't killed in the flood, as many who are far greater than me have.
  4. Concerning the diversity of animals, see Gen 8:17 and my second counterpoint. It is also possible that the man varied species of animals were all taken, two by two in to the ark. In other words, the species already existed in their current forms, so they were already genetically distinct from the past.
  5. Concerning the sediments, again you are assuming that the water of the flood was just water, and that this was a 'natural disaster'. The Talmud describes the waters as being like semen, and Rashi adds that they were scalding and thick. I would argue that water here is meant only to suggest liquidity. In reality the flood was made up of something else. If you prefer new earth creationism, you could say that it was made up of corrosive and radioactive compounds that Gd arranged in sedimentary layers to fall in line with His desired continuum in 8:22. If you prefer Old Earth, which from your comment above about adam amongst hominids you seem to, I would argue that the make up of the water is irrelevant, as the sedimentary layers were already there. The only thing that Gd did was prevent the floodwaters from corrupting the sediments, again so as not to undermine the tremendous progress His creation had undergone.
  6. Lastly, concerning Baye's theorem, I would argue that, as there was supernatural intervention by Gd, who is outside of the realm of probability, the whole point is irrelevant.

In conclusion, the flood, by natural standards, should have evidence that supports it... but it wasn't natural. Gd was not going to compromise eons of genetic diversity and forward progress for the sake of the sins of lowly man. So He used the flood to destroy man and the parts of creation he had corrupted, and then He promptly reset the progress that Creation had made.


1. As to there being no account of the flood or the like in discovered Egyptian histories, I would argue that it was important for most of humanity, or perhaps even all of humanity until Moses, to forget about the flood, and Gd saw to it that they did. Such a great and terrible intervention on the part of Gd in the world, if universally recorded, was bound to affect humanity's free choice, which is essential to Creation. We did have a covenant in the form of the rainbow, but that only protected against universal destruction. Gd could (and did) still wipe out entire civilizations, like Soddom and Gomorra. If people lived in fear like this, choice would lose meaning. Alternatively, if there was a perpetual threat of civilization's destruction, known to all, people might not even bother trying to maintain society, choosing instead to get what they could from the world before leaving it, which would make for chaos and anarchy, which one can see from the positive Noahide Commandment is not Gd's desire for humanity.

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A pretty impressive account. I'm not sure I buy all the conclusions, but it is definitely a straightforward attempt at reconciling the two. So the new inhabitants of Egypt were provided with all the knowledge of the Old Kingdom (the language, science etc.) and subsequently forgot that the flood occurred? If we are going for Old Earth could we perhaps push the flood back somehow to 5000 BC, so that it would precede the Egyptian kingdom? I don't see how to do it given the genealogies though. –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 at 4:49
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How one satisfactorily reconciles two conflicting ideas depends in large part on how strongly the ideas themselves are supported. If one believes both ideas are justified then one will survey the various reconciliation and select the most convincing alternative. Alternatively if one feels that one of the ideas isn't supported and stands in conflict with ideas which are then even possible reconciliations can appear superfluous and contrived. –  Yirmeyahu Feb 4 at 4:50
    
@GregoryMagarshak I've attempted to address your point about forgetting the flood in a footnote. –  Baby Seal Feb 4 at 5:19
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I see no reason for not assuming that parshas Noach is a mashal. Natan Slifkin has already shown that many commentators (most notably Rav Hirsch in collected writings) view Bereishis as a mashal. The Meiri in the beginning of his hakdamah to Avos assumes that the Dor Haflagah was a mashal. Why not just say that the first two parshiyos were parables. The literal story of the Torah begins with Lech Lecha. Granted, no commentator that I know of posits such a thing, but that may be simply because the questions about the Flood are more recent. The story of the Tower in the Dor Haflagah was untenable even in the times of the Meiri. After Darwin, classic Ma'aseh Bereishis seemed to need to be reworked to fit with science. Now, with our scientific knowledge, we have to do the same thing to the story of the Mabul.

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Can you just translate what you mean by mashal and lech lecha? Also, even if we granted that this approach (of taking Bereishis 6-11 as a parable) what does that say about the genealogies in Bereishis 11? Are we descended from a fictional person? Also what would you do if you were "forced" by science to reinterpret large parts of Exodus as a parable? –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 2 at 2:14
    
A mashal is a parable. Lech lecha is the third parsha (weekly portion) in bereishis. According to this approach, all of the genealogy until Avraham isn't literal. So, yes, the people are fictional. As for having to reinterpret exodus, those parts that are integral to Jewish dogma could not be reinterpreted (such as the revelation at Saini). One would have to decide of he found the religion more convincing than the science... –  Ish Ploni ViKohen Feb 2 at 5:34
    
do you think there is a legitimate Jewish approach to say that even if the Exodus didn't happen as described (let's say there were 600 clans instead of 600 thousand men, or maybe the number was changed from 600) then Judaism is still true? Basically in each generation we can interpret what it means. I think Rav Kook's followers -- who call themselves Zionist Orthodox -- have something like this. Is it legitimately traditional? –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 2 at 23:47
    
If the Exodus didn't happen the way it was described, then what's the point of the description (which is from the Torah, a document believed to be divine)? –  Eilu V'Eilu Feb 3 at 18:17
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@EiluV'Eilu The Torah is not, primarily, a history book. The main point of the description of the Exodus is to teach us important lessons, including that and how God runs the world. (I'm not saying that it's not also historically accurate, just that there is a point to it even if it isn't.) –  Isaac Moses Feb 3 at 18:26
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I don't expect to have this marked as the correct answer, because my ability to recall and quote sources is abysmal. How many other people accept what I write as theologically sound is going to depend on the assumptions you are working with. We are always too happy to call other strains of thought as being heretical.

I think the main problem that you are presenting is a question about what exactly is the point and purpose of the Torah? The common understanding of the Torah is that it basically presents us with different types of material.

  1. Gd's role in the creation of the world
  2. Gd's role in the history of human development
  3. Mans' role in the history of human development
  4. History about the founding of the Jewish people
  5. Laws for Jewish society
  6. Laws for worshiping Gd.
  7. Stories about the activities of the Jewish people from the Exodus until entering the land of Israel.
  8. Stories about specific instances in which the law developed or changed during the 40 year period.
  9. A summary of those laws and stories with a shift in focus

The rest of tanach tends to go in the same direction. History mixed with laws, mixed with guidelines for worshiping Gd and for running Jewish society, either told as stories/history or given as direct prophecies or rulings.

But again, what is the point or purpose?

Another direction for the question. The Torah is called the Torah (instructions,laws,teachings) it is not called the Korot or Toldot(History, though the translation is a bit faulty). And yet the main way to learn about actual instructions, laws, and teachings, is from the Torah shebal peh. The Talmuds and related material. It would seem at first glance, that the Torah is not fulfilling it's purpose well.

To summarize. Based on the name, we would expect the Torah to be mainly about laws and teachings. But in actuality, most of the text is focused on stories or history. We would expect to learn the laws and teachings from the Torah text, but in actuality we learn most of them from baal peh.

I believe this problem is a modern problem, caused by our new understanding and purpose of things such as History and Scientific but non-technological pursuits.

Taking the list above, I would reword the list as follows:
The Torah contains the following:

  1. Life lessons about the creative process.
  2. Life lessons about man's relationship to the environment.
  3. Life lessons about about the base needs and desires of people.
  4. Life lessons about building a family with a purpose.
  5. Life lessons about how to live within a greater society.
  6. Life lessons about how to give society a direction and purpose.
  7. Life lessons about the pitfalls and mistakes that are made while trying to build society.
  8. Life lessons about how to adapt those pitfalls into success.
  9. A summary of those life lessons with a shift of focus into a society that is already built.

The rest of tanach, then continues in this manner. We get life lessons about kingdoms, and personal battles, life lessons about how to treat various members of society, what happens when we don't, life lessons about society when it loses it's larger goal and focus, and how to get it back etc.

The Torah, is now composed of teaching (life lessons), and the Oral Torah is now free to focus on the small details, of how we follow the law and live our daily life.

Now to get back to your main question.

Once we recognize that the Torah is Literature, teaching us life lessons, and is not a book of knowledge about science and history, we shift our attention regarding the details. Our list of questions, regarding the stories should shift focus. For example, here are the questions I ask while reading the Tanach.

  1. What lesson do the numbers in the story convey?
  2. What lesson is gained by the name or location of a place?
  3. What lesson is learned from this detail?
  4. What lessons do we learn by looking at the larger structure of phrases.
  5. Etc.

There is a general problem to this approach, of learning lessons from stories however. People can write great stories that never happened and place into those stories, lessons for others to learn through osmosis. However, if there is no truth to the stories, can we really trust the lessons? It is for this reason, that we as a society, ask everyone else in society to believe the stories we tell. Beginning with Bereshit, each piece of the Torah tells us information that is both True, but also, contains many details which are not accurate descriptions of how things might have happened. I believe there are two reasons for this.

  1. The Torah needs to be read and understood by every generation, from the beginning of the conquest of Israel, until the end of time. This is strictly speaking, impossible. Word connotations change, societal understanding and values change. The only way to get the Jewish people to read the Torah and to gain from it in the generation the live in, is to have statements that are not what we today would call absolutely true. From the beginning the Torah hits us in the face with literally untrue statements, so that we can be aware of the context of the words, and learn from them appropriately. Today for example, there is a big push to understand the words as the original receivers of the Torah understood them. This desire can only be fulfilled because of other outside of Torah knowledge that we can gain from the past. If the Torah however did not contain any obviously untrue statements, even the most liberal Jews would likely be ignoring that outside information as something which can impact Jewish understanding.

  2. No knowledge is perfect, save Gd's. We can never know every detail, every objective fact. We can only know the best of what we can know. Life requires the ability to move forward and make decisions even when given a certain amount of doubt. We must also know the difference between knowledge that is relevant and useful and knowledge that is not. Was the flood global, or is the word "world" only meant in the more limited sense of the society that I participate in, and thus the flood was local? But more importantly.. Does it matter? What difference does it make in your life if the flood covered Australia, or if the flood only covered a small section of Northwestern Iraq? What difference did it make in Noah's life? What difference does it make if all of Humanity descends from Noah, or if all of humanity descends from a single micro-organism?

You indicated in your main question, or the bounty, however that this is a big issue of faith or trustworthiness. If some details of the Torah are not 100% true and verifiable, then why should one trust any of it?

My perspective to that question is to take a different route. The Torah makes promises in general. And Tanach says things about the Jewish people. Tanach also focuses on a small patch of land, within the entire world, and it uses History to teach life lessons.

So let us look at history, and look at ourselves and Gd's world and decide if the Torah is true. Are the Jewish people unique in the world? Are the Jewish people living in Israel after long exiles? Where the Jewish people scattered around the world and hated? Did the land of Israel flourish while the Jewish people were exiled? Is Israel the focus of world attention while the Jewish people are living here? Do the Jewish people still exist? Do the teachings of the Torah lead to a better quality of life in the world? Do societies function better when they are based on the culture and teachings of Tanach?

To me, those are the important question regarding the Torah's Truth and question if our religion is just one of humanities many coping mechanisms, or if it is based on reality. The Torah is full of false or misleading information if one read the Torah for scientific accuracy, and this has been true since recorded history. (I believe it is the Greeks in the Talmud bring similar questions to the Rabbis) But that is one of the lessons of the Torah, to keep focus on what is actually important. If you are unable to discern truth and reality from fiction, you will be unable to gain Wisdom. But how can you discern such things, if you have no examples of each?

To address predicted objection here. No, Gd is not tricking us. He is giving us access to different levels of understanding, based on the level of knowledge gained in the world. The stories in their essence are true, but only where it matters. As we gain a greater understanding of how the human mind works, and how stories affect human cognition, how emotions become as important a feature to understanding as cold facts and logic, we will gain a greater understanding of how to understand the stories of the Torah. While education on these matters remain low, then understanding of the Torah will also need to be done in such a way as to reflect that. i.e. Grade school level of knowledge of the world requires a grade school level of knowledge of Torah. PHD level of knowledge of the world, requires a PHD level of knowledge of Torah.

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You said, "Does it matter? What difference does it make in your life if the flood covered Australia, or if the flood only covered a small section of Northwestern Iraq?" I guess my overall issue can be phrased the following way: Jews believe ALL other mythologies to be works of fiction. So do modern secular people. Greek and Roman mythology, Norse mythology, etc. I am considering the possibility that Judaism is also a man-made religion that developed its core concepts around 900BC onwards. I am trying to figure out which view is more reasonable for me to follow - that Sinai happened, or not. –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 at 14:36
    
To put it another way, how come I can't save Greek mythology the same way, saying it's just a bunch of teaching stories? Or more to the point, why would you reject Christianity for yourself? Judaism has blessings and curses section in Devarim. Christianity has threats of an eternal hellfire. Don't you care about the consequences of a wrong choice? Presumably you have reasons you think Christianity is wrong - seeming contradictions e.g. with Judaism - but the same kind of answer can be given, and Christians can continue to believe. So how can you ignore their claims? What if you're wrong? etc. –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 at 14:40
    
@GregoryMagarshak Greek mythology could be saved the same way. And that was it's original purpose. However life has shown us that hope and conviction are stronger than the capriciousness of nature, and so Greek mythology no longer is compelling. It's life lessons have been proven false. –  avi Feb 4 at 14:46
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Maybe the above should be its own separate question... since it goes into a related topic but not the same exact one as the flood. –  Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 at 16:20
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Yes, I think it should be a separate question. But I will just say that you are working off a faulty premise. Only a sanhedrin can provide an interpretation for the Torah verse which is used to learn actual behavior or law. The only reason why science is given a pass, is because it is a known fact. That's not a small difference. –  avi Feb 4 at 16:21
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The short answer is that we don't care about reconciling tradition with evidence because we know that the early genesis stories are highly summarized bullet points assembled for the purpose of placing the Jewish tradition in a context. It is known that lots will be left out!

One can come up with clever interpretations that reconcile some of the differences between empirical evidence and tradition (indeed, there are opinions in the Talmud that do accord with science in circumstances when the mainstream interpretations do not) but we do not. As far as we are concerned, the inexplicable presence of Aborigines in Australia has no bearing one way or the other on our duties towards the God and the Torah.

My personal theory is that the entire Tanach is part of Joseph's dream.

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I would +1 this answer if you didn't have the line about Joseph's Dream, as I don't understand what you mean, and it's sort of out of scope of the question, I think (maybe?) –  avi Feb 4 at 16:00
    
The last line was just a humorous thought that occurred to me while I was formulating the rest of the answer. –  Clint Eastwood Feb 4 at 16:44
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