Tuesday, April 11, 2006


un-Scientific Scientism

We see it amongst the proponents of "Intelligent Design" and it was endemic in the Enlightenment. But I know I've noticed it elsewhere.

But now I remember where: my very own Conservative Movement. It was, when you think about it, predicated on a Scientism which made sense from about 1600-1920. Now we know better ... as does the Conservative Jewish movement (not to be confused with Jewish conservatives).

But one interesting aspect of the Conservative movement, even after it drifted away from Scientism but still with a residue of the Scienticistic heritage you'd expect from a movement that began as "Scientific Judaism", was it's vehemence in opposition to the idea that the Torah and large parts of the rest of the Hebrew Bible came from 4 (rather than One) sources. As far as the Orthodox were and are concerned, this is a non-issue ... even if a Modern Orthodox person might aver that the Bible is not the literal Word of God, it is at least, to the Orthodox, a vital lie and pragmatic truth that the Bible is a Divinely writ document. As far as the Reform and even Reconstructionist movements were and are concerned, the authorship of the Bible is also a non-issue as the Bible is taken as an inspiring or (in the Deuteronomic tradition) ethnically unifying (respectively) document regardless of who or Who actually wrote it.

But for the Conservative movement, the Bible's authorship was an issue -- so, like "Intelligent Design" proponants who feel that any explanation must be scientific to be valid and hence feel the need to modify science so that it provides them the explanation of life they want (it's almost Cartesian, isn't it? after all, ol' Rene started reasoning ex nihilo and magically came up with the common sense of his day -- which shows 17th century common sense explains the entire universe in an absolutely true and complete manner, eh?), certain Conservative Jews felt the need to use whatever "scientific" evidence and thinking they could muster to disprove the 4 author theory.

Now, of course (compare the latest Conservative Chumashim with earlier ones), the movement has embraced the multiple sources theory like no other movement in Judaism (no other movement really cares) -- and, while reports of the imminent demise of the Conservative movement are always being made, the movement always seems to survive.

So I guess it goes to show that, in some spheres, scientism is really quite vain when you feel it is so necessary to be scientific that you twist science to be a slave to your prejudices, like the earlier eugenicists? Is scientism an example of a "dispute not for the sake of heaven" then? (perhaps, given the Talmudic example of a dispute not for the sake of heaven, I should have saved this blog entry for Parshas Korach?)


Anyway, my (well not mine ... I cannot claim originality for this just because I don't know whom to cite) $0.02 about those four sources and what they were getting at:

E: compiling and alluding to myth, legend and history to explain how it was in the Northern Kingdom that the two tribes without natural resources, Ephraim and Manashe, controlled everything (e.g. by reference to Joseph, etc.) -- of course, we (as likely could P and D, if they had the terminology to do so) could explain this in terms of what naturally happens when groups follow their comparative advantage: those groups without a particular comparative advantage don't get stuck with merely providing resources according to their comparative advantage. As such a "just so" story, the E source is inherently conservative and really justifies unfairness

J: compiling and alluding to myth, legend and history to explain how it was the hicks of the Southern Kingdom managed to outlast their more urbane Northern neighbors (e.g. by reference to the role of Judah) ... as such a conservative source justifying rural -- in particular herder -- values, etc. (does the story of Cain and Abel really come from this source?).

P: the Priestly code -- justifies the elevation, of what appears (again c.f. the legend of Joseph) to have been a tribe of outcast priests/physicians (the latter of course are unclean as they work with disease all day ...) akin to the Osu of the Ibos, to a position of promanence as a tribal society became centralized into a single (later two) Kingdoms. A large part of the justification was based on redirecting notions of who was considered icky and what considered abominable from hereditory states to changeable behaviors. P has gotten a bad wrap based on mis-interpretations of for what it stands ... it really is not about restricting who is "clean" but about making sure everyone can be part of society, including the poor and outcast. P really is akin to the Republican party (with its property give away programs, etc.) of the 1850s and 1860s. Of course, like the Republican party's conservativism changed in the 1870s and again in the 1960s, the priestly party changed by the time they became the Sadduccees (btw -- one perspective on 1st century CE anti-Pharasaic sentiment is that when the Sadduccees behaved in a certain way politically, they were maybe morally outrageous, but they were not hypocrites -- but like Democrats who say one thing and do another, when Pharasees were hypocrites, they were going against their own proclaimed morality: remember it is not merely a double standard to say IOKIYAR -- the Republicans, e.g., never claim government can be anything other than corrupt, so why is it so wrong of them to be corrupt in government?) into a rather reactionary and corporatist element -- but they started out actually pretty reasonable, at least for their time.

D: a group of mainly upper-class, connected folks (think of people like the Roosevelts) who, following in the footsteps of earlier Prophets, sincerely wanted to maintain the Hebrew culture and ethnos even after the inevitable fall of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel ... as others have pointed out, what they did was create a new culture: what became Judaism.

I guess "Ezra" is a prototype of the redactors who put most of the Hebrew Bible together from these and other (e.g. non-Deuteronomic prophetic) sources?

Cool blog, interesting information... Keep it UP »
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