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Having come from, and abandoned, a very Jewish and very observant background, I have come up against much impassioned pleading for my soul. And out of the mouth of every single teacher or lecturer who has tried to help me, barring those of the "Discovery Seminar" school (which manipulates Hebrew letters and Bible codes for cheap impressive thrills) has come the following strident argument, which, unfortunately, I am at a loss to convincingly refute:
Judaism is the only religion which pins its authority to an event which a large number of people witnessed. Specifically, according to the Bible, God spoke to the Jews at Mount Sinai. According to the Biblical count there were 600,000 men there between the ages of 20 and 60, along with a corresponding number of women and children. In times to come, how could a transcendent event like that be falsified? There is no way that an entire nation could be convinced that it had witnessed something that it hadn't!
I have heard this so often, I have it memorized. And though there are alternate explanations for what really happened at Mount Sinai, including extreme thunderstorms and/or hallucinogens, the Sinai claim does separate Judaism from other religions that come to mind, which are often based on a divine revelation to one person. Can anybody come up with an exception?



bookw56 says Actually, Christianity has the same claim. The events of Jesus' life are well-planted in history, with all the dates, places and names checking out both archaelogically and through the historical records of Josephus and the records of the Talmud itself. Plus, the Gospels mention the large crowds who gathered to see Jesus preach. In Paul's Epistles, he gives specific names of disciples and witnesses of the events surrounding Jesus's ministry, death and resurrection. Plus, the New Testament is one of the most accurately preserved works of the ancient world

Christianity's, or at least Catholicism's answer to this, I believe, would be the Pentecost, which involved, if I remember correctly, the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles while they were preaching to thousands of people, which caused an apparition of tongues of flame to appear above their heads, and all present to hear the preaching of the Apostles in the language they knew best. I could be wrong about some of the details here, somebody who went to Catholic School would probably know best.

Speaking as another lapsed Jew, I'd have to say that a better general refutation for this argument would be the Empirical argument against (historical) miracles, first articulated clearly by David Hume. To paraphrase, all of the people who were reputed to have heard God speak to them at Sinai are dead now; hell, everybody that knew them is dead now too. Even assuming that all of them actually believed that God spoke to them, which we have no way of knowing with any certainty, since we all have to go on are historical documents which could have been falsified at a number of points between then and now, we have no way of knowing, objectively, whether they did or not. Since their testimony flies in the face of what is generally considered to be true of the natural world (this is why it's considered a miracle in the first place!), we have their word against the entire observable universe. Given their fallible human nature, the universe wins.

According to Exodus (taken from the translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan), the Israelites never actually saw God, nor did they witness any major miracles. The only thing they saw was the mountain being engulfed in thunder and lightning, and then smoke. God warns Moses, "Go back down and warn the people that they must not cross the bounday in order to see the devine, because this will cause many to die."(Exodus 19:21)

The revelation that occours at Mt. Sinai was a revelation by Moses alone. He then relayed the information given to him by God to the people. That was his first trip up the mountain

The second time he ascends the mountain, he remains in waiting for seven days before God finally speaks to him. During this time, the Israelites whitness what could possibly be seen as a true miracle: "To the Israelites, the appearance of God's glory was like a devouring flame." (Exodus 24:17) However, this passage does not state that they really "saw" the flame, in empirical terms. It is stated more as a metaphor for how the Israelites viewed the experience of Moses going up a mountain and seemingly communicating with God.

After his seven day wait for God, Moses is called upon and "went into the cloud, and climbed to the mountain top." (Exodus 24:18) He remains there for forty days and forty nights before returning to the people with tablets in hand.

Now it seems to me that forty days is plenty of time to fabricate a couple of tablets. The Israelites did not really witness anything aside from some lightning and thunder and Moses going up and down the mountain a couple of times. So the revelation at Sinai is still a personal revelation of Moses. God never revealed himself to more than one person at a time in the Torah.

Similar to narzos' counter-example of the Pentecost would be similar, relatively modern experiences of Catholic missionaries with xenoglossia in South America. In various dubiously and/or partially documented instances thousands of native people witnessed Western priests, uneducated in the local tongue, speaking to them in their own language.

Other examples from Catholicism might include any of the various apparitions of Mary. A good specific would be the apparitions of Mary at Fatima and the corresponding "Miracle of the Sun," (13 October 1917) in which thousands claimed to see the sun dance, glow brighter, stop or such. The event has been tagged - depending on who you ask - as proof of the legitimacy of the prophesies handed down at Fatima, and as yet another example of mass hallucinations experienced many times in the early part of the 20th century by European crowds claiming to witness miraculous appearances of Mary. Tom Robbins explores the miracle/hallucination argument in passing in his hysterical Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.

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