Friday, July 1, 2011

Can we use computer analysis to prove that G-d Wrote the Torah?

For many years various outreach organizations, most notably Aish Hatorah have used the “Torah Codes” to “prove” that the Torah must have been written by G-d.

Basically the argument was that using “highspeed computer analysis of the letters of the Torah” they found hidden messages that could not have been put there humanly which proves that the Torah was written by G-d who decided to hide secret messages in the Torah in this manner.

There are many flaws in this argument

  • Similar codes can be found in other text
  • The Torah we have is not letter-for-letter identical to older manuscripts. The Rama on Shulcah Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:4) says explicitly that an extra letter or missing letter does not invalidate a Torah Scroll, as our Torah Scrolls are not so accurate.
  • In spite of what Aish claims at Discovery seminars, the codes have been reviewed by statisticians, and rejected as a statistical anomaly which would prove that there is unique about the patterns of letters in the Torah.

However, the biggest problem with basing belief in the Divine Authorship of the Torah on computer generated statistical analysis is what would happen if there was computer-generated Statistical Analysis that indicates that the Torah was written by multiple authors?

Well, now we’ll find out. NPR has an article on recent statistical and linguistic analysis which indicates that “multiple hands wrote the Bible”.

Unlike the Torah Codes, this analysis has gone through a robust scientific process and was not written by people who had an agenda to prove or disprove anything about the Torah, in fact 3 of the 4 scientists that worked on the project are religious Jews that belive in the Divine Origin of the Torah. The analysis was developed to analyze historical and modern texts, not specifically to analyze the Torah.

I accept as a tenent of our Faith that HaShem revealed Himself on Sinai and gave to Moshe the Torah, however I don’t believe that we need to find secret codes to prove or disprove that article of faith.

I would be interested to see a response from Aish HaTorah or other outreach organizations that taught that you can base or strengthen faith based on computer-generated textual analysis.

Hat Tip: Modern Orthoprax and DovBear


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Isn't it a "tenet" of faith?

Also, if anything this computer proves something Chazal said about God. Remember that the reason God has various names in the Chumash is because He appears in various ways to His servants. He can appear as "Shad-ai" or "Hashem" or "K'el" etc. In each case it makes sense that the narrative as dictated to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, would be consistent with that identity. Therefore multiple hands did write the Torah, all of them God's.

Michael Sedley said...

Thanks for cathing the typo Dr Ironheart :)

I don't believe that the new research disproved that G-d wrote the Torah any more than I believe that the Bible codes prove that G-d did write the Torah.

Your explanation of why HaShem wrote the Torah to look like it has multiple authors makes sense, but I don't think that it's a more convincing argument than the claim that the Bible is a Historical work composed by multiple authors.

Basically if you blieve in the Revelation at Sinai, everything seems to back up the claim that the Torah is Divine, but if you don't there is no hard evidence that will convine you otherwise.

That's why "proofs" like those used at Discovery are unlikely to convince anyone of anything and are potentialy harmful by misleading people.

שבת שלום

Garnel Ironheart said...

I heartily agree with your final statement about proofs but:

> HaShem wrote the Torah to look like it has multiple authors

I might not have been clear. I don't believe HaShem wrote the Torah to make it appear like a bunch of people wrote it any more than I believe that he planted dinosaur bones in order to trick us into thinking the world is older than it really is.
Every time the Torah gives us a narrative and picks a specific name of God we are to learn a moral lesson from that choice as well as use that name as the lens which which to see the story. That was my point.

Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Sedley said...

I have written about this on my blog, and think it fits in nicely with Ibn Ezra on Parshas Chukas