Essays by Stan Tenen

Informal Essay by Stan Tenen: When is the Textual Approach Not Appropriate?
©2000 Stan Tenen

e-list posting, April 2000

[The essay below was first published in the e-list Meta-Reiterations, in April 2000, as part of a discussion of the methods and assumptions of current academic Biblical scholarship.  In this piece, Stan argues that the Five Books of Moses should be analyzed using different tools than those used to study other writings which are considered to be Western sacred texts, because the nature, and structure, of those Books differs in a profound and fundamental way.  --Levanah Tenen]

I'm sure the scholars and historians here will correct me and/or fill in the details, but it's my understanding that just about everyone agrees that the Christian Bible was written down by human beings, sometime shortly after the death of Jesus.  So it's appropriate to study these writings from the perspective of the documentary hypothesis, which investigates various threads of authorship and editing in the Bible.  No one suggests that there's any sort of special coding in the Christian Bible, either in the parts written in Aramaic, or the parts written in Greek.  So, it seems reasonable to analyze this text using all the normal tools of wordsmith scholarship.

But apparently the Torah is being treated the same way, and the Torah comes with now-written-down oral traditions that assert that it was created of whole cloth, in a revelatory experience of Moses at Sinai.  Rabbinic tradition asserts that the Torah is coded at the letter level, at least up through the giving of the Torah in Exodus at Mt. Sinai.  A Rabbi Weismandel, earlier in the last century (the early 1900s, I think) by hand, discovered and presented evidence of letter-level coding that extended throughout the Five Books.  No one paid any attention to this.

More recently, professional statisticians have been arguing over the meaning of statistically demonstrated letter-level coding that extends throughout the Five Books (most of the investigation has focused on Genesis).  While the meaning of the coding that has been statistically confirmed is the subject of heated debate, the fact of its existence has not been challenged.  There should be no question that unlike the Christian Bible, the Hebrew Bible exhibits statistically significant letter-level coding.  Scholars have scrupulously avoided any mention or discussion of this statistical work, because its meaning is controversial, and because obviously, if true, it would seriously undermine the documentary hypothesis.  After all, how could editors of a narrative text arrange for the letter-sequences to be patterned? (An earlier posting compared this coding to what's been proposed for some of the works of Shakespeare and other similar situations.  It's not at all similar.  The sophistication of the coding in Torah is of a totally different level than the sophistication of the coding suggested in Shakespeare.  There are other significant differences also.)

When scholars who are either unaware of or choose to neglect rabbinic teachings with regard to letter-level coding in the Torah, and who also choose to ignore the recent statistical work, examine the Hebrew Bible, they have no reason to treat it any differently than the Christian Bible.  From this perspective, it seems reasonable that if the Christian Bible is an edited text and can be treated as an edited text, then the same should be true of the Hebrew Bible.  Whether by design (anti-semitism) or happenstance, this is an inappropriate presumption.  But I can certainly see why Christian scholars and academic scholars who give no credence to any faith would find it obvious and convenient to conclude that the Hebrew Bible was "no better" than the Christian Bible.  If the Hebrew Bible had a deep level of meaning not present in the Christian Bible, that would greatly undermine Christian presumptions of the legitimacy of supercessionism.

But that's exactly the case.  The Hebrew Bible is not superceded by the Christian Bible, because for one reason - the patterns in the letter text - it contains levels of information that are not present in the Christian Bible.  The Hebrew Bible should not be subject to the documentary hypothesis because it does not fit the category of an edited literary document.

If the scholars' incorrect assumptions were not so deeply ingrained at this point, the tendency to treat the Five Books as a literary document would be ludicrous.  Whoever heard of a literary work written in a language whose alphabet included no vowels, and recorded in a way where there were no separations into words or sentences?  (Ancient documents sometimes did not have word divisions, but their alphabets, such as the Greek alphabet, had vowels.) Who would not suspect that there was something odd about a Western language which did not include the state of being verb, but which in every instance where its normal construction appears, translates it as a Name of God?  Who would trust the translation of a document where the same letter-sequences have radically different meaning in different places?  Who would trust a document to be a narrative text where the letter-usage distribution is radically skewed?  Would you not be suspicious when stories are told twice, word sequences appeared twice, and many features appear doubled?  (Of course, this is what's caught the attention of people who think the text has been edited - they say the repetitions are due to the inclusion of both authors' versions.  But while it's appropriate for the documentary hypothesis scholars to have noticed this, theirs is not the only possible explanation.  Patterning that mimics living structures - and the Torah tradition claims it to be a living structure - is often fractal, hierarchical, and repetitious.)

Of course, any one or two of the above "problems" wouldn't necessarily mean much and could (and have) been easily explained away, but the Five Books include all of these, and many more that I haven't mentioned.

And this is a text that is according to tradition, arranged hierarchically, with the "secret of the text" encoded in the first letter, and then in greater detail in the first word, and then in greater detail in the first verse... paragraph... chapter... book, where the first word of the text is "reshet", meaning "a woven network".  Is it not reasonable and logical to investigate the possibility that the Torah text is exactly what it claims to be:  a "woven network"? (The statistical work is consistent with a woven network-like structure.)  And if this is so, then how can the documentary hypothesis, as it's now understood, be complete and correct?


For those who are satisfied with religious belief systems per se, there's no need to make sense of any of this.  It's even possible to make the outrageous claim that each and every translation of the Hebrew Bible is somehow inspired, and somehow, in the greater scheme of things, inerrantly accurate.  This means, of course, that every one of the translators is in fact effectively a prophet.  But of course, none of the translators have ever claimed to be prophets, and it doesn't make a lot of sense for true prophets to be contradicting each other like the different translation-versions of different faith-communities contradict each other.

For those who would like to know if there is/was a true science of consciousness that was the basis for our various religious traditions, something more than blind faith or personal faith is required.  I believe that the true believers and the true non-believing scholars have both discounted the possibility that the Hebrew Bible (at least) records (not in the narrative, but in the sequence of its letters) what we would call a science by today's standards.  True believers don't need to find any logical support, and true non-believers have a vested interest in there not being anything of real value beyond mythology and superstition.  The true non-believers don't want to discover that our predecessors might have had serious knowledge, and they have a very strong vested interest in this.

So, all of the religious discussions that presume either magical Truth or superstitious silliness present the Torah text in a way that makes it appear that there is no technical content.  The scholars explain away the meaning, and the true-believers accept that there is meaning, without any objective demonstration.  Why would a technical investigator want to spend time on a text that was either pure faith or pure superstition?  They wouldn't expect to find anything valuable.

But if you do begin to investigate the letter-sequences in the Five Books, you find that they are meaningful, and that they are valuable - and that the traditional claims for them are actually true in a meaningful way.  Or, at the very least, there's more than enough evidence to make further study worthwhile.

And one more thing.  If we assume, as many true-believers seem to, that religion works by magic, then everything's magical. The translations are magically inerrantly correct, our sins are magically dissipated, and we get to heaven by the magical grace of God.  None of this is necessarily untrue, of course, but it's certainly not satisfying to the objective mind, interested in the relationship between spirit and science.

If religion is not just a matter of us following the rules and God doing His or Her magic when He or She feels like it, then there is a lot more to learn, and if our traditions are still alive, there's a lot more to discover.  If "getting to Heaven" or "getting into the World to Come" is not based on magic, then it's based on particular, real, things - spiritual exercises and the like - that we need to do, and these must be not just magically symbolic, but actually, objectively, real.  Where could spiritual exercises be "stored," if they still exist in the Western traditions?  Where are the meditational exercises? Are they lost because all of those who knew about them have been killed off?  This isn't likely so, if the Western traditions are based on genuine science, because if that were the case, those who recorded and set down these traditions would have known of the danger of the loss of the objective and empowering spiritual exercises, and would have taken measures to protect the necessary knowledge.  That means that if the Western traditions are still "alive," the exercises that make them real must still be available to us.  But all we have are texts.  How could texts record real and sufficiently precise spiritual exercises that could objectively demonstrate the teachings and claims of the tradition?  I am suggesting that this is one reason why if our traditions are still alive, the meditational exercises must be stored in the only surviving containers -- our texts, and our rituals.  Again, none of this is necessary if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are no more than magical superstitions, knowable only to true-believers.  If all it takes is saying "I believe...," then no science is necessary.  But if our traditions are real in the modern sense of a science of consciousness, then there must be precise knowledge still available to us.  At least, that's the case I'm trying to encourage be investigated.

The Five Books have been presumed to be no different in origin than the Christian Bible, and this has led scholars to use their investigative tools inappropriately, with incorrect presumptions, and the wrong focus.  If the Hebrew Bible is what it claims to be, then it deserves better treatment than to be dismissed by the faint praise of current understanding.  In my opinion, like any other work of science, it does not deserve to be believed in without objective demonstration and it does not deserve to be dismissed as an edited work of human authors with knowledge no better than what we would now consider to be superstition or mythology.

Stan Tenen
April 2000


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