The core of a theory is that since Judaism is based on events witnessed by something like 3,000,000 Jews, it is true, while other religions rely on an individual or a few individuals who experienced a supernatural event that they then spread word of (which could be an uncheckable lie).

There are many more details dealing with potential issues discussed in an article by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen and in this video where he gives a thorough lecture on the subject.

I was reading a portion of Kings II when I came to the life of King Josiah. According to the annotations of my ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanakh, there was a severe lack of Torah knowledge during this time because of what King Manasseh, Josiah's grandfather, had done. He had been bent on getting rid of all traces of Judaism from his society and filling it with idolatry. The Tanakh even says how the downfall of Judah into exile was directly caused by his actions. Not even Josiah's amazing attempts to right everything was enough. The Tanakh says there was no King like Josiah who followed the LORD with all his heart, soul and more. But that's getting ahead of myself.

The issue comes from what sparked this change in Josiah. When he was 8 years old, he began seeking the God of his forefathers (II Chronicles 34). When he was 12 he began purging the land of idols. When he was 18 he sent his scribe Shafan to the temple, and while there to take care of some business, Shafan received the scroll of the covenant (The Torah), which had been found by the high priest. Shafan read the scroll to Josiah, who then proceeded to rend his garments. He got word from a prophetess who said the punishment for Israel's misdeeds would come no matter what, but he still went and did his best to get rid of idolatry and return the Torah and Judaism to Judah.

So the potential issue here is, in the theory explained by Rabbi Kelemen above, one condition is that there is no person who fits as the seed who planted the Torah into the group of people who forgot who they were and became known as Jews.

He calls this person "Fred" in his article, just for example's sake. Here's an excerpt:

Fred could explain things, again with a smart (uncheckable) lie, claiming that God spoke to him alone and revealed the Torah’s long-lost text and the story of its original revelation at Mount Sinai. Indeed, most modern skeptics gravitate toward a theory like this.

A major problem with this theory is we’ve never heard of Fred or his heroic resurrection of Judaism. Certainly one of the most significant events in Jewish history would have been the fumble, when world Jewry forgot they were the three million prophets, and the recovery, when Fred reminded the Jews about the national prophecy at Mount Sinai. Yet in an otherwise comprehensive Jewish history we find no mention of such a claim.

He even mentions the issue of Josiah (Yoshiyahu):

(Occasionally people try to pin the title “Fred” on minor players like Hilkeyahu, Shafan, or Yoshiyahu. At best, such attempts are forced and ask the reader to interpret texts with crowbar and mallet in hand. They also require shamefully contrived rationalizations attempting to explain (a) why not one Biblical verse explicitly mentions the key point that the Jews forgot about the Torah and “Fred” reintroduced them to it, and (b) why the name of the second most important Jewish hero (next to Moses) appears in the Bible less often than the names “Pharaoh,” “Yeravam,” and “Haman.”)

I'm not sure that this sufficiently addresses the issue. Josiah is very obviously distressed and the scroll itself is obviously the Torah. (The section in II Chronicles directly says it's the Torah). Josiah began his fight against idolatry before he read the Torah, so he obviously knew that idolatry was forbidden. My guess is this was from an oral tradition. He sought God and found some answers. Then, when he read the source of it all and realized what the punishments for these sins were, he was distressed. He proceeded to gather all of Judah and Benjamin and read the scroll in front of them, making them accept the words again. In other words, it was like accepting the covenant again. This is what it seems like to me. The population was Torah ignorant and someone brought it to them again and had them accept it.

Josiah seems like someone who could fit in the "Fred" role.

I love this explanation for the truth of the Torah, but this issue has been bothering me for a while. If any of my fellow Jews can give any informed input, it would be appreciated.

  • 8 years old is a pretty tender young age. Somebody had to teach him, and those Freds(?) were probably priests/teachers in the Royal Court. The situation was probably similar to a few generations before, when Joash's aunt-the wife of the High Priest Jehoiada-hid him from Athalia's troops and Jehoiada later commanded the army and made him King a few years later. The royal and priestly families were probably still intermarried, so knowledge of Torah & HaShem never completely died out. After Manassah and Amon, the priests did their best to teach the youngster properly, and it worked. No Fred.
    – Gary
    Apr 3, 2014 at 0:39
  • That's definitely a possibility, but the problem is that this is all previous to Josiah's re-committing / re-introducing the population to the Torah. The fact that this re-introduction happened, makes Josiah look like a potential fit for "Fred". Apr 3, 2014 at 0:51
  • Also--It happened more than once. For a couple of later periods-this can be better said/expounded on by the Talmud scholars here-- there's the saying "when Israel forgot the Torah, Ezra came up from Babylon and re-established it. When they again forgot it, Hillel came up from Babylon and re-established it". Fred after Fred, but identified.
    – Gary
    Apr 3, 2014 at 1:14
  • 2
    As we've been discussing, the issue is that if someone fits into the role of Fred, that creates a potential problem with the theory, since it specifically requires there to be no candidates for this role. Again, this is the role of someone "re-introducing" the Torah. You should read the first excerpt I posted from the article up top. Apr 3, 2014 at 1:24
  • 1
    That's the thing, I'm not claiming he, or Shafan, or the High Priest wrote the Torah and are liars (chas vechalila). What I'm saying is the fact that a re-introduction occurred makes it look like their is a potential candidate for Fred, the one who introduces the religion (Josiah in this case because he is the one said to read the Torah in front of everyone). Thus I'm wondering if perhaps this particular explanation of the truth of the Torah (in Rabbi Kelemen's article), with all its conditions, is without a hole here or there. Apr 3, 2014 at 2:46

3 Answers 3


I think you have to put this in context.

We're talking about an age where long distance communication was almost non-existent.

So while the King had absolute influence over Jerusalem - the further you traveled the less influence he had.

So while it's possible that within walking distance of Jerusalem the Torah had all but been forgotten (and this is probably an exaggeration - and the Tannach tends to highlight certain aspects of a period) it's fair to assume that up North they knew nothing about this new trend and were still keeping and studying the Torah the way they always did.

As the story itself says, there were prophets around; prophets had to know the entire Torah before they could attain prophesy. You didn't wake up one morning and become a prophet - as discussed by the Rambam in הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ז. Prophets had teachers, schools and a Torah-true support system.

So had "Fred" been on the scene, he would have been one of many of The Old School who didn't abandon their faith, using the liberal-King as an excuse.

  • 1
    Furthermore, given our tradition/mitzwah of teaching Torah to later generations, I don't see how it's possible that the entire nation of Israel forgot all of Torah in a span of ~60 years (Menasheh-Amon-Josiah).
    – Lee
    Apr 8, 2014 at 5:59
  • 2
    So the entire argument relies on Rambam's theories about prophecy? It seems rather circular to prove the Torah based on the Rambam. It is particularly strange considering that there were those who disputed this view bringing proof from the prophecy of Cain and the like.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 25, 2016 at 3:56

I think maybe only some of the commandments and the details of Torah (especially the punishment for idolatry and what really constitutes idolatry) was forgotten in the absence of the text. However the greater part of the how to do a lot of stuff (as what was a Shabbat violation or the niddah rules) were not forgotten, because it was more cultural than anything - religion was part of the ancient Israel culture, so even if they were unaware of some very important details that could mean the difference between exile and staying in the land, and even if in the absence of Torah they didn't fulfill it properly they did not lose it all, and they definitely did not forget the events that took place in Egypt and at Sinai. So yes Josiah retrieved a very important part of Torah that was lost, but this does not mean that the revelation R. Kellemen mentions was forgotten. Hope it helped.


Let me only address the assumption you presented in the first sentence:

"The core of a theory is that since Judaism is based on events witnessed by something like 3,000,000 Jews,"

My personal view is that that assumption, although very commonly presented in talks and debates, is not "necessarily" true (that Judaism is based on that):

  1. If I was to choose one true base of the contemporary orthodox Judaism, I'd choose "אמונת חכמים" - we believe EVERYTHING the Sages [of the Second Temple and on] wrote in their writings (Mishnah, Talmud etc). Here's why:

  2. Everything Judaism we now have is from that time and on, we have no testimony whatsoever of what was before but what our Sages wrote. So Judaism is not based on the Receiving of the Torah, because we don't know what it was and what the "original" Torah was, we only know what survived/got accepted by the Sages.

  3. So the starting point of contemporary Judaism is not Avraham or Moses, it is Hillel and Shammai. We have very little (and very contradicting) understanding of what Judaism was before the Second Temple, it is our working hypothesis that all the generations from Avraham and on kept the Torah exactly as the Rabbis commanded in Shu"A, but we all know it's a hoax.

  4. Contemporary Rabbinical Judaism is all built on that obligating discipline of following the original Rabbis since the days of the Nessiyim. And whoever doesn't - is thrown out and forgotten.

Therefore the fact that the Torah was or was not witnessed by millions is completely irrelevant to Rabbinical Judaism.

PS: As I alwas asserted, the TRUTH in Rabbinic Judaism is always what's accepted by the masses and that represens G-d's will de-facto, so contemporary Judaism is true because we accepted it as truth.

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