The Jewish perspective of the OT according to poster David_Jay

by deegee 44 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • deegee

    Hello David_Jay,

    I note your comments in the following threads regarding the Jewish perspective on certain Old Testament (OT) events: ,

    Would love to hear from you regarding the following:

    1. What is the origin/source of the OT scriptures? Were any of the OT scriptures communicated to the Israelites by God? If so, which ones?

    2. Did God appear to Moses?

    3. Did God appear to any other person, spoke to them, telling them to form the Israelite/Jewish religion?

    4. Are the Jews/Israelites God's chosen people?

    5. Was there a literal Exodus from Egypt to the promised land? If so, how many persons were involved?

    6. Is there any part of the OT that should be taken literally? If so:

    - Can you specifically state which parts?

    - How do you know that these OT scriptures are to be taken literally and not figuratively? What criteria do you use to determine this?

    7. Are there any Jewish scriptures outside of the OT which were communicated directly by God to the Jews/Israelites? If so:

    - What are these scriptures?

    - How do you know that these scriptures were communicated to the Jews/Israelites by God?

    - To whom among the Jews/Israelites did God communicate these scriptures?


  • David_Jay

    I will happily comply but with the following understandings:

    1. I think most of us have had enough of religion being touted as a panacea, the answer for everything, and having this forced down our throats. So instead of approaching this as merely an explanation from Judaism (which you can actually do on your own by buying a book on the subject, searching Google, or, yes, visit your local temple or synagogue), I am doing a comparison between the general Jewish understanding and the Jehovah's Witness view. This will make what I am writing useful for anyone visiting this forum.

    2. Understand that Judaism, while holding to a certain set of tenets, does not really have an official dogma on anything. And I do mean anything, from the concept of "God" all the way down. There is no standard, official, ultimate doctrine on anything, just generalities. That might throw some who are used to the authoritarian way of teaching the Governing Body provides for a loop. So if (or when) that happens, just remind yourself not to ask "why" so much. Why is Hebrew read from right to left? Why do Jewish men cover their heads to pray while Jehovah's Witness men remove their hats? Is it because there's some Scripture? Some rabbi told you to? Why? Sometimes there is no "why." Judaism is like the Book of Job: It ends up giving you questions as answers to your questions.

    3. Lastly, I will stay as objective as possible. Forums and social media in general are about posting what you feel, what you personally believe, letting your opinion out to others. This is good, I think. But it won't help when you are searching for answers to questions. So keep it in mind that unless I say something is my opinion or my personal view, I may not subscribe to any of what I am writing. That is true of what happens when you ask Jews and even a rabbi a question (sometimes even when you ask for an opinion, if you can believe that). Sometimes you get a "truth" that the person supplying you that "truth" does not personally accept or acknowledge as true. If you don't like that, see above point number 2.

    Hopefully I can be a bit lighthearted in the process too. I will make each question a post. For further information, I recommend Judaism for Dummies as a good start. No, really.

  • David_Jay

    To begin, here's a brief overview of where we are going:

    Would love to hear from you regarding the following:
    1. What is the origin/source of the OT scriptures? Were any of the OT scriptures communicated to the Israelites by God? If so, which ones?

    In order: We, the Jews, wrote them (and no one can do better than that on that question). Yes, the Scriptures come from God, but our definition of what this means doesn't mean God was necessarily literally involved in the way Jehovah's Witnesses teach. And "which ones"? Any and/or all of them. (Most Fundamental Christians won't like any of these answers, so I am sure I will hear about it once I explain more.)

    2. Did God appear to Moses?

    The Theophanies are historical events, but there again you have to understand that the Scriptures likely didn't record these in literal terms.

    3. Did God appear to any other person, spoke to them, telling them to form the Israelite/Jewish religion?

    Jewish religion is a response to the God "concept." It's unlike what "religion" means in Watchtower terms, and can include and even exclude the rites and rituals most people connect with religion. Some Jews believe this "response" came from following a direct command, some think that this "response" is an actual holding of the God "concept."

    4. Are the Jews/Israelites God's chosen people?

    Jewish theology teaches God has chosen each national group, each tribe, ethnic body, and individual people to play a specific place in the order of things we see today. The term "chosen" is generally understood as being "chosen" for the particular purposes set aside for Israel, just like God had plans for other nations for which he chose them.

    5. Was there a literal Exodus from Egypt to the promised land? If so, how many persons were involved?

    Historians believe there was, but unfortunately there was no "guest book" to sign on the way out of Egypt (besides the fact that most of the slaves could neither read nor write anyway--which means there would have been a lot of "X" marks). So if you really want that number, you're going to be very disappointed.

    6. Is there any part of the OT that should be taken literally?


    If so:
    - Can you specifically state which parts?


    - How do you know that these OT scriptures are to be taken literally and not figuratively?

    Because Jews wrote the book. Duh!

    If you write something in the language of your people, using idioms specific to your language, etc., you kinda know what it means. If not, the best you can do is an educated guess. For all those other things that you just can't figure out (because the original writers have been dead a really long, long, long, long time and didn't leave any footnotes to explain some of the really confusing stuff they had the audacity to write anyway), eh.

    What criteria do you use to determine this?

    Usually a critical approach, even to a degree in Orthodoxy. This is mostly because the Bible is the product of our religion, not the foundation of it like for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Our religion was practiced, taught, and passed down for generations before the Bible was written. Our religion was eventually put down in writing in a book we call the Mishnah (this was later codified into the Talmud). The Bible is actually based on what you read in the Mishnah, so in other words our religion which produced the Bible explains what it means. That kind of comes with the territory when you write your own book.

    7. Are there any Jewish scriptures outside of the OT which were communicated directly by God to the Jews/Israelites?

    Sorry, but Judaism is not a religion based on books. Before we wrote anything, we still had a religion. For the most part they were dragging our Jewish asses into Babylonian captivity by the time our people thought: "Hey, we should write some of this stuff down." Most of "the Bible" had already happened by then. So, when we got back from that "holiday," we put it together as you now know it.

    Again, apologies, but this ain't that religion called "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." We don't believe that a religion should be based on a book. Even if God directly communicated with someone and dictated something word-for-word, it hasn't much to do with stuff. Jews find it funny how obsessed Gentiles are with holy books and what is written in them.

    Yeah, we got our books (go get yourself the Talmud, and you will see what a real manly book look's like--and you thought the Bible was big and long! HA!). But our religion is not based on them. Our religion wrote them.

    If so:
    - What are these scriptures?

    I dunno. Maybe God did write "The Book of Mormon" and just made Joseph Smith look into that hat as a joke.

    - How do you know that these scriptures were communicated to the Jews/Israelites by God?

    I don't know if there are any books like that. Personally, I have found that almost all Jews are very fond of the books in the Twilight saga, but as a consequence most Jews hate the way Bella was interpreted by Kristen Stewart. If God wrote these books, I don't think he was fully satisfied by her personal take on the character either.

    - To whom among the Jews/Israelites did God communicate these scriptures?

    Stephenie Meyer.

    Okay, those last parts got away from me. But I will explain in my answers. Some of the questions you are asking don't really mean much to Judaism, so you won't find an answer from us. A lot of what Jehovah's Witnesses (and some other Christians) teach about our Scriptures has given a lot of people a lot of wrong impressions of what our holy Scriptures are, what they mean, and what part they play in Judaism. So some of the questions are not the right ones to be asking.

    I will add more over the following week, and should have everything answered by Friday, December 2.

  • Vidiot
    David_Jay - "...A lot of what Jehovah's Witnesses (and some other Christians) teach about our Scriptures has given a lot of people a lot of wrong impressions of what our holy Scriptures are, what they mean, and what part they play in Judaism..."

    It was quite the revelation - no pun intended - when I learned that the Hebrew scriptures were based on the religion, rather than the other way around.

    Credit where credit's due... suggests a very insightful and practical degree of foresight on the part of the various Jewish religious thinkers, and very neatly explained something else I'd once read; namely, why historical Jews apparently had no issues with actually changing scriptures over the centuries...

    ...i.e. they allowed for the possibility that some of what was written might be in error, and was therefore subject to potential future revision.

    The concept of "scriptural infallibility" is a later invention of Christianity.

  • deegee
    I will add more over the following week, and should have everything answered by Friday, December 2.

    I'm looking forward to it.

  • LoveUniHateExams

    The Jewish perspective of the OT according to poster David_Jay

    I have to say, I dislike the God of the OT. There are plenty of scriptures that speak about God-sanctioned killings of men, women and children, or God actually killing what can only be described through 21st century eyes as innocent men, women and children.

    But, generally-speaking, Jews seem to be able to reconcile their religious beliefs with the laws of the land.

    One should speak of Jewish perspectives (plural).

  • David_Jay

    The Bible, Helen Keller (and a Little Bit of Frankenstein): Tools You'll Need Before Answering the Questions

    Most people have been introduced to the amazing true story of Helen Keller through The Miracle Worker. Both the award-winning play and movie were written by William Gibson, and his script and the original performances rightfully struck a permanent spot in the hearts of millions when it was released. The climactic scene where Helen Keller, both blind and deaf, suddenly learns that the fingerspelling tiredly repeated through her teacher’s undying efforts mean actual words, where Helen utters the only words she ever learned before losing her hearing--”wah wah”--will turn the most hardened heart into mush each and every time it plays out.

    Though so many owe this play much as being their introduction to the courageous Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker is not about Helen. And the famous “wah wah” scene never took place, not as it climatically plays out on stage or screen. Gibson’s adaptation of the true-life events is about Helen’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, and all she went through in order to bring language to the dark and silent world of Helen. Anne Sullivan is the “miracle worker” in the title, though most people seem to forget that (as much as they forget that “Frankenstein” is not the monster but the doctor who creates him).

    The Hebrew Bible is sort of like this play, The Miracle Worker. Most people know of Helen Keller through it and only it. Most people fail to realize the story is really about Helen’s teacher. Most people who know this is a true story have never read the actual accounts written by Anne and even by Helen herself. And yet almost everyone can tell you who Helen Keller is.

    But when talking about Helen Keller, if you tell people the “wah wah” thing never happened, most people will argue with you. Most believe it did. To the majority of people in the world who know of Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker is, for lack of a better word, gospel.

    No, Really. The Bible is Just Like "The Miracle Worker"

    Though the gospel accounts are not part of the Hebrew Scriptures, the comparison holds, especially when it comes to what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach and believe about the Jewish Bible books. They (and unfortunately a lot of Christians) believe that the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) is the true and original story (as well as compendium of religious beliefs) for us Jews. Millions and millions of people believe that when they read a book like Exodus, Judges, Ruth, Job, or any other book the Jews hold as scripture, people truly believe that this is where Jews base their beliefs, that here in their hands is found the full history and all you need to know about everything Jewish, theology included.

    But the Hebrew Scriptures are to the Jews, their history and religion, what The Miracle Worker is to the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that their religion is based on the Bible. All and good. But the religion established by the God of the Jews and practiced by the Jews themselves is not based on the Scriptures. By claiming that true religion should be based on the Scriptures, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are offering a paradigm that is tantamount to saying what Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan did with their lives is based on the script of The Miracle Worker. You end up thinking odd things if you do that, missing the point (again, like mistaking Frankenstein's monster for "Frankenstein," the main character.)

    The lives of Helen and Anne came first. The Miracle Worker is based on their life stories. It is the same for the worship of the God of Abraham. The religion came first. The Bible is the dramatized version of the people who lived it. This is important to keep in mind, because you can't treat something which is not the foundation as the foundation. If the basis for a story is something else, the basis is the foundation.

    The Truth About Miracles is Philological

    Of course outside of what is dramatized, even some of the actual speech used in The Miracle Worker is lifted from history. The entire “wah wah” climax in the script is really a clever device. If you read the actual account by Anne Sullivan herself, it was a bit different, but the “miracle” was no less dramatic. In order to translate for those seeing the drama unfold in a performance, writer William Gibson had to invent a narrative device so that the meaning of what happened when Helen Keller first grasped the concept of speech could literally be felt by an audience. If you’ve never seen it, find a version to watch and you will see what I am talking about.

    The reason I am starting off by talking about The Miracle Worker is that a lot of what the Hebrew Bible is about, a lot of what it is trying to say, and a lot of the reason for it is not so different from this modern-day script. The “miracles” experienced by my people over the generations have often been similarly dramatized, and events in our past have been encapsulated into narrative devices that are often no more than inventions designed to get a point across. This means that some of the things the Witnesses have had you take for granted (such as the details of the Exodus, the battles fought by the Jews, even some of the players in Scripture) aren’t literal.

    By now some of you may be reviewing the questions and realizing that some don’t even fit what’s about to be discussed. You are correct. We will tackle this too. But for now it was important to set the stage to help you understand the concept of a narrative device, dramatic (or “poetic”) license, and the order in which a true story becomes a written story. When all these things are in play in the discussion of Scripture, you have the critical research method known as “philology.” Hopefully you have the basics down now through this example, because what comes next is showing how without the right philological tools (understanding the historical development of a story, the structure this can take when lessons learned from history are what is trying to be passed on, and how language plays into all this), you won’t understand a lot of why the Jews invented the Bible in the first place.

    Once you got that, however, things will now look different. You may soon learn that the “foundation for religion” you have been studying is just a “play based on true events,” that a lot of the details in Scripture are nothing more than narrative devices used for educational effect, and that telling a story like that of the history of the Jews can require a few liberties in the process to get the point across. Hopefully, if I do this right, you will end up having your own “wah wah” moment by the end of it all.

    (Now, how many of you dressed up for Halloween as "Frankenstein" when in reality you were Frankenstein's "monster"?)

  • David_Jay


    Interestingly, though there are basically three schools of Biblical-origin thought in Judaism--the origin concept of literalism, the origin concept of liberalism, and all that lies in between--all three end up at the same place: the ultimate source of the Scriptures is God. This goes for the books of Torah, the Prophets, and all the other Writings (like Psalms).

    But it is what that means to those in the various three camps--"the Scriptures come from God"--that differs greatly. And in the end, the eventual conclusions are always somewhat different from what a Christian (and those who have been exposed to only their brand of theology) would think.

    In other words, I could have just told you the answer in a language you don't understand and we would still be right here. Like everybody else, Jews have their own definitions for things. Nothing is ever easy. You keep ordering eggs for breakfast, they keep sending you scrambled eggs, and you don't like scrambled eggs! Yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Literal is not Liberal

    The literal origin approach in Judaism is that every word, every stroke from a stylus, every "iota" in Scripture comes from God. The "inspiration" process is similar to a command-like dictation, though even in the literal camp this doesn't necessarily mean God literally dictated each word and the writers merely wrote what they heard. It does, however, mean that whatever the particulars of the process for the writer was (not all had the same experience), the words are the result of a direct-from-God process, through a human scribe of course.

    But the liberal origin view is that the writers may not have been controlled so directly. Their own thoughts, some of their own opinions, and even their lack of knowledge about things caused them to write the text as we have it. Yet, their writing was still not mundane writ in the end. God still "inspired" or directed this process so that the essential religious truths were preserved. It was very human, perhaps with some writers conscious of God's guidance, others not so much. This view is less dictation but just as much influence.

    Then you have those who swim in between or borrow from both ends of this paradigm. Regardless of the position, however, the same conclusion is reached: it comes from God.

    Thought You Were Going to Get Off Easy, Huh?

    No, it's not that simple in the end. For you see, just because a Jew might subscribe to the literal view of inspiration doesn't guarantee that he reads the Scriptures literally. Sure, a lot of those who read Scripture in a literal fashion do subscribe to the more literal view. Yet not everyone who is a literalist believes in the literal "direct line from God" view.

    The same goes for more moderate readers and those who employ more critical methodologies. Viewing the process one way doesn't mean you read the text any particular way.

    And then there's the "concept" of God. No two Jews have the same concept of the Creator. Just because you accept a literal transmission view doesn't mean you believe that God has a literal voice that can be heard. Since the universal concept of God in Judaism is that God essentially transcends the human ability to fully understand God, therefore God is a mystery and can't possibly be reduced to human and mundane terms. Therefore how a God that cannot be defined literally transmits a text would not be an easy thing to define.

    Now, Which Texts are Inspired?

    Well, they all were.

    Again that depends what you think that "all" includes...probably also what you think "inspiration" does for a text.

    Let's simplify this be telling you what "inspiration" ISN'T for Jews. It isn't what it means for most Christians like the Jehovah's Witnesses. It doesn't mean that a text is a form of revelation from God that now means it is the basis for true religion.

    See, just because you are "inspired" by God to do something doesn't mean what you do as a result is a revelation of truth upon which to base a religion. Have you ever been inspired by a song? A book or movie? A friend? These things may have inspired you to do something, right? But that something was not necessarily to write a book, let alone create a foundational compendium for a religion. For Jews "inspiration" from God kind of means the same thing.

    God may have inspired someone to write something down, but it didn't mean that what they wrote was limited to a literal description of something religious upon which to base one's convictions upon. In Jewish thought, God inspires many things. God can inspire art, poetry, a man to marry a woman, a woman to invent a cure for a horrible disease, or 70 scribes to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek and name it LXX (pronounced "Septuagint," but I don't see how you get that pronounciation from those three letters, LOL ). Even if God inspired you to write some of the Psalms, this doesn't mean that you wrote something that is meant to be read as literal theological truth (but it could mean you are King David and, for the moment, dead). It only means that you did something God wanted you to do (at least in Jewish terms of the word).

    You see for Jews our religion and culture and nation were already inspired of God. We didn't need Scriptures upon which to base these things upon. We already had these things. We didn't need Scriptures to validate the truthfulness of our beliefs either. In fact, you might say, the writers of the Scriptures were inspired by our long-standing religion and our culture to compose what you now call the Bible (and that in a sense would count as inspiration from God since that's where such things came from too).

    And because he was a Jew, that is essentially what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy that "all Scripture is inspired of God." (2 Timothy 3:16) This is a Jewish concept, originally anyway. Paul meant that the Scriptures were written under God's influence or direction, not that they were official documents of doctrine (though they are used for doctrine and theology).

    That is also why it is so odd to hear that the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses claims it is not inspired in a recent study edition of The Watchtower. To employ the original meaning of the term as used by the Jews, the Governing Body has just told the world they are not guided by any divine influence whatsoever. That is weird, no?

    Well, anyway, that's your first answer. Is anyone feeling a bit like Helen Keller either before or after her "way wah" experience yet? More to come.

  • tor1500

    Hi David-Jay,

    Great comments...also, would you be the person we could ask if Jerusalem was destroyed in 607BC ? Is there any literature in Jerusalem or Israel that says when it happened...I guess you have been asked this millions of times...

    Is there anything in your religion that states when it was destroyed?


  • David_Jay

    Thanks, Tor.

    While I am definitely not "the" authority on the subject, the reason the date for the Jewish deportation to Babylon is set so well at 597 BCE is because it is one of those monumental historical events that can not only be verified from various dependable, disinterested sources, it was as a major changing point in the history of the Jews that has affected just about everything.

    Being that the other major religious players on the world scene, namely Christianity and Islam, have Judaism as a foundational focal point, the fact that the worship of the Jews actually became a religion in its own right at this point in time with these events makes the date essential to the majority of people living in earth. Even if you are atheist or agnostic, you live in a world affected by Islam and Christianity. And these religions, in turn, have a pivotal connection to the history and development of the Hebrews and their worship development. It's a date and event that just isn't fooled with.

    Now this is not to say that we have documents that literally say 597 BCE is the year (especially since the BCE/CE system is based on the Christian solar calendar), but as I am sure you can find from anyone else who has done their research on the subject that the date is easy to verify because of all the disinterested and unrelated secular witnesses.

    Because of this number of verifiable witnesses on the date and the importance of the event, historians have made it one of the pivotal dates from which to date other events in history. Therefore you will find numerous studies on the subject and much data easily via an Internet search engine. Instead of repeating it all here, you can trust what you read from most sources. Some great work on the subject has also been done by ex-JWs.

    Besides, the reason given by the Jehovah's Witnesses why they disregard this well-supported date is a two-fold argument that can't hold water: first, counting 2,520 years from 597 BCE doesn't end up at a year that benefits the Jehovah's Witness paradigm and second, the way all the world's experts have been reading the data COULD be wrong.

    Lastly, the calculations in the secular and religious history of the Jews are also part of this data. All the best data, all the best experts, and all these unrelated dependable sources are rejected by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    So again we have Gentiles saying that they know more about our history than we do. Like one person once told me: "What do Jews know about the Bible?"

Share this