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Some people say that God wrote the Torah. That is clear and I understand it. Others say that people wrote the Torah. That is also clear and I understand it. Then there are people who say that people wrote the Torah, but with "inspiration" from God. And that I do not understand at all.

Within normative Judaism, of course, God wrote the Torah. But even within normative Judaism, the rest of the Tanach was written by people [list in Bava Batra 14b-15a], but under "divine inspiration". And that I don't understand.

Does "inspired" by God mean:

(1) the same as written by God?

(2) a collaboration between people and God, each providing input, both authoritative? But why would God want a collaboration when it comes to laying down His instructions?

(3) that God said one thing but the scrivener wasn't always paying attention and may have written something else? Honest mistakes?

(4) that scribal errors may have crept in over the centuries and we must find them and remove them?

(5) that some teachings have eternal value (that's God's part) and other teachings are transitional (that's the human part), and our task is to find which is which and, at the right time, remove the second according to the political correctness of the day?

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    See Derach Hashem Part 3 chapter 3 – Mordechai Feb 21 at 20:43
  • I think "people who say that people wrote the Torah, but with 'inspiration' from God" are aiming for your fifth possibility (of what "inspired" by God means). – Tamir Evan Jul 23 at 4:53
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See Guide for the Perplexed 2:45 at length. A couple of relevant excerpts:

(2) The second degree is this: A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow-men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in the full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the holy spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon by this spirit; also Daniel, Job, Chronicles, and the rest of the Hagiographa were written in this holy spirit; therefore they are called ketubim (Writings, or Written), i.e., written by men inspired by the holy spirit. Our Sages mention this expressly concerning the Book of Esther.

(Friedlander translation)

And:

There is no doubt that this is one degree below that form of prophecy to which the words, "In a dream I will speak to him," are applied. For this reason the nation desired to place the book of Daniel among the Hagiographa, and not among the Prophets. I have, therefore, pointed out to you, that the prophecy revealed to Daniel and Solomon, although they saw an angel in the dream, was not considered by them as a perfect prophecy, but as a dream containing correct information. They belonged to the class of men that spoke, inspired by the ruaḥ ha-kodesh, "the holy spirit." Also in the order of the holy writings, no distinction is made between the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Psalms, Ruth, and Esther; they are all written by divine inspiration. The authors of all these books are called prophets in the more general sense of the term.

(Friedlander translation)

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  • So the answer is my (1) for practical purposes? The only difference is the means of delivery of the message? – Maurice Mizrahi Feb 21 at 21:19
  • If it was your (1) then why are there different categories of books? – Alex Feb 21 at 21:21
  • @Alex the Babylonian Talmud Megilla 7a says the Book of Esther was composed with the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. – Turk Hill Feb 21 at 23:33
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I believe the Ramchal addresses most of your questions here:

Regarding prophecy, its words and its acts: Yet you should know that there are two characteristics regarding the prophecy of those that prophesied: The first is the content and the second is the phrasing and the words. And that is because there are surely cases in which the prophet grasps content, but he is not restricted in the words; such that the prophet can say it with the words that he wants. But there are other cases in which they grasp content that that is also restricted by words, such as the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets that were written for [all] the generations. Those were restricted in their prophetic words to include many [simultaneous meanings]. And even in this, the metaphor varied according to the prophet's own understanding and his ways; and it even varies according to the nature of his language and his way of speaking. And frequently, prophets were given to do actions alongside their prophecies, such as Jeremiah with his belt (Jeremiah 13) and with his yoke (Jeremiah 27), Ezekiel with his brick (Ezekiel 4) and many others like those. And the content of this was that through these actions, they would arouse the higher powers that were required according to the true essence of what the prophecy - in all of its facets - was about. And then they would be prepared and stored to bring the thing out to be actualized at the time that was fit for it.

So the prophecies come from G-d, and were dictated by him. They may even have more meanings than the prophet originally understood. To quote Ramchal again:

It is possible for a prophet to miss something included in his prophecy, but it is impossible for him to imagine that which was not [part of] it: Behold it is also possible that one of the prophets will grasp something true in his prophecy, but will not grasp all of the true things included in it. For example, [regarding] the prophecy of Jonah the son of Amittai, to whom it was stated (Jonah 3:4), "and Nineveh will be overturned" - two [possibly] true understandings were included in this statement: The first was that it was the punishment destined for them according to their sin; and the second was that what would [actually] happen to them was foreseen in front of Him, may He blessed - that is that they would overturn themselves from bad to good. However if only the matter of the punishment had been truly included in the statement, once the Holy One, blessed be He, came back and regretted the [punishment], He would have revealed the thing to the prophets, and especially to Jonah - that a new decree had come out besides the first one. But since the Holy One, blessed be He, truly included both understandings in the first statement, He did not need to make a new decree for them. Rather the statement would stand according to the second understanding, and not the first. However at the beginning, Jonah only grasped the first [understanding], and not the second. And this is what they, may their memory be blessed, said (Sanhedrin 89b), "It is Jonah that did not comprehend."

What about the parts of Tanach that are not recordings of prophecies? The Talmud in Bava Basra is clear that the entire Pentateuch was dictated by G-d to Moses (though the last eight verses may have been dictated to Joshua.) The Talmud in Megillah is pretty clear that in order for a book to make it into Tanach, it must have been written with Divine Inspiration. Otherwise, even if it was written by King Solomon, the wisest of men, it is just a regular book. It also seems that we look at the entire book as being written on the same level, or else the discussion of Esther there does not make sense.

So to go through your questions:

Does "inspired" by God mean: (1) the same as written by God?

Not necessarily, but sometimes yes. The recorded prophecies (including the entire Pentateuch) were written by G-d, but some parts of Nach were just written with "inspiration." See Ramchal ad loc for more detail.

(2) a collaboration between people and God, each providing input, both authoritative? But why would God want a collaboration when it comes to laying down His instructions?

They were either written with G-d's complete dictation, or were people prophetically relaying G-d's will. But the entire content was written with Divine assistance (and approval) throughout.

(3) that God said one thing but the scrivener wasn't always paying attention and may have written something else? Honest mistakes?

No. See Ramchal above.

(4) that scribal errors may have crept in over the centuries and we must find them and remove them?

The Rabbis put major effort into keeping the text of Tanach accurate. They created an entire masoretic system to maintain the integrity of the text as much as possible. This ensures that the words and phrases are accurate, but there definitely are cases when we are not sure about the spelling of words, etc. The main book on the topic is Minchas Shai. The Jerusalem Talmud records cases of three authoritative scrolls that each had one word differences, and the Rabbis went with the majority.

(5) that some teachings have eternal value (that's God's part) and other teachings are transitional (that's the human part), and our task is to find which is which and, at the right time, remove the second according to the political correctness of the day?

The Pentateuch is very clear that it contains the entire Torah of G-d, and nothing can be added or removed, ever. The other works of Nach were written to explain and clarify the Torah, and as such have the same validity and permanence.

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  • I can add more sources later, if necessary. – N.T. Jul 23 at 3:00
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There are a few more possibilities. It's possible that Moses meditated on nature and produced the Torah. It is also possible that the Torah was inspired by the experiences of the Israelites in Sinai. The Babylonian Talmud Megilla 7a seems to agree. It says the Book of Esther was composed with divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to some rabbis who feel the Oral Torah was developed in the spirit of the Torah. It was, in other words, "divine inspiration." Similarly, Nachmanides felt that the patriarchs observed the Torah by divine inspiration.

Was it divine inspiration? Does G-d inspire people to write the Tanakh? I think so.

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A sixth possibility could mean that Moses meditated on nature (Divin laws created by G-d, G-d's greatest creation (Rabbi Slifkin)) and wrote the Torah. Although I also struggle with the meaning of "divine inspiration," I always understood it to mean that people write the Tanakh in a way that G-d would want to communicate. Some modern rabbis hold the radical view that the Oral Torah was a later development but that this was done in the spirit of the Torah (ie what the Torah expects/wants). Could we apply the same reasoning to Tanakh?

Whatever it means, the Babylonian Talmud Megilla 7a says the Book of Esther was composed with divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

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    Uh, no. Meditation is not the revelation at Sini. Any intelligent person understands that. The Rambam would have someone who thinks like that thrown into a pit. He is a dangerous idiot. – Mordechai Feb 21 at 20:51
  • @Mordechai According to some rabbis, Rambam wrote that Moses meditated on nature and produced the Torah. – Turk Hill Feb 21 at 22:43
  • @Mordechai Of course, Rambam says we have no idea how the Torah was revealed. – Turk Hill Feb 21 at 22:49
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    This is against the 13 principles and t the entire toyruh – bluejayke Feb 22 at 19:09

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