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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, 2015 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, 2015 at 12:27
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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, 2015 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, 2015 at 1:08
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    @TurkHill Alternatively, the story of the Flood is a true story that is corroborated by other mythos.
    – Yehuda
    Aug 17, 2021 at 19:08

3 Answers 3

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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.

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  • 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 14:20
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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, 2015 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, 2015 at 17:00
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History isn't a science. It can't be proved. Therefore, it's difficult to accurately place ancient texts in a coherent timeline. This is both because of the precise nature of the Jewish traditions (which in turn yields precise dates), and because of the equally vague histories of all other cultures preceding the Greeks (and even largely including the early Greeks). Naturally, historians didn't choose the precise, rational tradition from which to date the rest. They chose the Egyptians.

Archeologist David Rohl has explored the inherent contradictions in the traditional Egyptian dating scheme in his book A Test of Time. He argues that the connection of Pharaoh Shoshenk I to the Jewish name for an Egyptian king "Shishak" is actually incorrect. Since this connection is what's used by Egyptologists to fix their histories to a particular point in time (while ignoring the obvious irony of using the Jewish tradition to disprove the Jewish tradition), there's certainly ample room for speculation regarding relative dates (as Egyptian dates are then used to date all other cultures in that general area and timeframe). I am unqualified to evaluate his claim, except for mentioning that he makes a compelling, apparently consistent argument from the perspective of broad history that explains a number of oddities within the Egyptian tradition. "Fixing" the Egyptian dates to his corrected timeline also eliminates the Greek Dark Age (a period of little archeological evidence that chronologers insist is there because the timelines require it to be there.) I have not seen how he reconciles his new timeline with carbon dating, however.

Importantly, many Egyptologists, while rejecting his argument, agree with his analysis of the weakness of the Egyptian chronology. Professor Erik Hornung, for instance: "...there remain many uncertainties in the Third Intermediate Period, as critics such as David Rohl have rightly maintained; even our basic premise of 925 [BC] for Shoshenq’s campaign to Jerusalem is not built on solid foundations" (from his article "Ancient Egyptian Chronology"). It's important to note that shifting the date of Shoshenq at minimum shifts all the chronology directly dependent on it, which is a quite substantial correction.

"An extreme low chronology has been proposed recently by a group devoted to revising the absolute chronology of the Mediterranean and Western Asia: P. James et al., Centuries of Darkness, London, 1991; similar, though slightly diverging revisions, are upheld by another group, too, and partly published in the Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum. The hub for the dating of other cultures is Egypt, so much of the work of both groups focuses on Egyptian evidence. Many scholars feel sympathetic to the critique of weaknesses in the existing chronological framework presented in these volumes, but most archaeologists and ancient historians are not at present convinced that the radical redatings proposed stand up to close examination." Professor Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, a standard reference work.

Of course, this is as Rohl presents it. Alexander Hool presents yet another timeline correction (from a Jewish perspective) in his The Challenge of Jewish history, attempting to show by the 150 or so years difference between the Greeks and Jewish tradition is resolved by critically examining the details of the Greek dates themselves, and weighing the credibility of various Greek sources.

I am not presenting this as conclusive evidence, but merely to show the concept of dates becomes exceedingly vague and exceedingly controversial (to the non-dogmatist historians anyway) the further back we go. Adding to this confusion is the bogus Documentary Hypothesis (one argument put simply: a single writer must use the same name of G-d, so any "name change" of G-d is proof of a different author). The only way to get to a Documentary Hypothesis is to assume the Torah was written by a collection of borderline illiterates incapable of nuance, and therefore ANY variation between stories or narrative pacing, etc, is because of a different author (ie. "one author wouldn't do that, so there must be at least two authors"). This is an obviously absurd instance of circular logic, but it's commonly used to "prove" the Jewish date for their Torah is false. (taken Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb his Youtube lecture, Jewish Philosophy: Biblical Criticism - Parts 1&2)

Putting these uncertainties together, it becomes unclear exactly what we can reasonably say about the originality of one tradition over another, unless of course, we are comparing texts that were written so far apart that this uncertainty becomes irrelevant. And comparing these uncertainties to the abundance of detail, clarity, and the scope of the Jewish tradition, one is certainly not obligated to jettison the latter for the former. This is, of course, in addition to the above great answers to this question.

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