There are quite a number of ancient documents that have been found that (supposedly) predate the Torah, and yet they share many lines practically verbatim. If the Torah is truly divine, how could this be? Seems as if many lines were directly copied and borrowed from other, earlier works.

Another example of this would be that there have been ancient plans discovered that are almost exactly the design/layout of the Mishkan, but, of course, predate the Mishkan by quite a while. How, then, can the Mishkan be divine, as we would say that it is?

What should our response be to these sorts of issues?

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    are you reffering to hammurabi codes? Mar 10 '15 at 12:26
  • @Nafkamina That is one example, indeed, but I believe there are others as well. And the Mishkan example would not be included in Hammurabi.
    – WhoKnows
    Mar 10 '15 at 12:27
  • where is this mishkan find? maybe you can link to specific examples to improve the quality of your question Mar 10 '15 at 12:28
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    @Nafkamina You know, I can't seem to find it now, but I know I heard it recently. Let me do a bit of digging. But either way, I'm curious what our response to these sorts of things would be.
    – WhoKnows
    Mar 10 '15 at 12:30
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    Can you please link or at least identify some of the items that are "practically verbatim"? There is some literature that predates the Torah, like the Flood story and parts of various law codes, and other stuff that can be found in Pritchard's ANET(Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament), that have similar ideas and circumstances, but "directly copied and borrowed" is a stretch. The Torah itself does have direct quotes from older books, like the Sefer HaYasher, and the Book of the Wars of HaShem, that it identifies as such.
    – Gary
    Mar 11 '15 at 1:08

It's perfectly plausible that God commanded, for instance, to use designs similar to existing idolatrous ones, and instead turn them on their head by modifying them to build the Tabernacle.

Similarly, the Torah quotes the curses that were written by professionals before Sichon went to battle against Moab. They were written by someone else, but for whatever reason, God wanted them to appear in the Torah, so He commanded Moses to write them into the Torah.

It's therefore acceptable that God chose to use some existing texts (often with highlighted tweaks) when writing a complete whole that was dictated to Moses. And that's okay. In some cases, parts of it may have even been intended to sound familiar to the audience. E.g. if I said "there's a feminist cereal called Snap, Crackle, & Mom", you'd get the joke if you'd already heard something similar.

Often when we focus on the differences, we can then see what points were being stressed. E.g. the Torah says the laws of an ox killing a person are the same if it kills a boy or girl -- it turns out that other codes at the time had different rules if the victim was a child, as they had less financial value.

  • This is definitely more along the lines of what I was looking for. The note about the curses is very interesting and a great thing to point out in this conversation. But I am still left wondering, if the plans for, say, the Mishkan were taken from elsewhere, how can they have such spiritual holy significance programmed there from before creation (as many mystical writings speak about, etc.)
    – WhoKnows
    Mar 10 '15 at 13:30
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    I suppose you could say, though, that that's just the thing. The ideas were programmed since the creation of the universe, and maybe other people tapped into them as well, and then God in the Torah tweaks it to the ideal spiritual form proper for the Jews.
    – WhoKnows
    Mar 10 '15 at 13:31
  • @shalom this fits well with machlokes rambam rambam if korban pesach was meant to wean the Jews off avoda zarah Mar 10 '15 at 14:02
  • +1 this exact idea is presented in Chaim Navon's book to address the seeming line for line adaption of Hammurabi's code into parshas mishpatim. He explicitly tacked it on to the Rambam's idea on korbanos. What seemed interesting, or should I say odd, is that 'eye for an eye etc' that was in the code was assumingly literal. So to go take those words and put them into torah shebiksav only to have torah shebal peh explain what it really means seems stranger than taking something from outside sources and keeping it as is for Torah purposes.
    – user6591
    Mar 10 '15 at 14:16
  • @user6591 Although I feel uncomfortable with the statement " It's therefore acceptable that God chose to use some existing texts (often with highlighted tweaks) when writing a complete whole that was dictated to Moses" something doesn't shmek good from that Mar 10 '15 at 14:20

You make a mistake in assuming that in order for something to be divine it must be completely original.

To understand the Torah and G-d's intentions and its applicability to modern times does not require cutting off and ignoring the societal backdrop of the Torah's historical time period. This means that although there may be some slight similarities in certain laws to the Code Of Hammurabi or similar themes in the flood story to the Epic of Gilgamesh, it's not concerning. The Torah does not claim to be the sole source and originator of judicial law, society's were governed by law, way before the Torah was given i.e. Derech Eretz.

Rather, the Torah is coming "to set the record straight". Meaning that the intention of "re-stating" the laws either to infuse mundane societal laws with divinity and the novel concept of a G-d centered moral code which up until then was primarily dictated by rulers.

Regarding the flood story, the Torah repeats it in order to actually tell the "true story" of the flood, devoid of all the idolatrous aspects that crept in over the generations as a result of it being retold again and again. (IIRC Rav Dovid Z Hoffman makes this argument, but I can’t seem to find where)

Furthermore, without an intimate knowledge of Akkadian or Hyroglyphics or other ancient Semitic language it's almost impossible to claim that verses were taken from one source to the other. The nuances of these languages can sometimes change the entire meaning of an inscription. (Heard from Rav Aharon Lopiansky)

In regards to similarities to the building of the Mishkan. Human history is rife with man's desire to reach out to G-d in many forms of altars and worship centers. But the difference in Judaism is that the commandment to build the Miskhan: "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם": marks the first time that G-d reached out to man to build. That alone suffuses the keilim - holy vessels in the Mishkan with profound divinity.

Thus, you could find similar, or even the exact same floor plans of the Mishkan anywhere in the world, but at its core and essence it is a completely different entity from the Mishkan. (Heard from Rav Yechiel Perr, in writing here as well)

I suggest the Shiurim of Rav Ahron Lopiansky on the topic archaeological evidence and the Torah which can be found here.

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    Regarding claims of similarity, unfortunately we've been raised to trust the scientific-archeological communities and take what they say for granted. When I finally looked into the supposed flood stories from other ancient religions, I was very disappointed in the degree of actual similarities. I was even more disappointed in myself for having taken for granted words of 'scholars' in the field, which turned out to be completely biased towards desperatly lumping all the stories together.
    – user6591
    Mar 11 '15 at 15:03
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    Agreed. Archaeological "science" especially when it involves comparative religion is built on tenuous assumptions. The problem is that few people are well versed in voch worlds to strip out the assumptions and false arguments Mar 11 '15 at 17:00

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