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Blessings over the Torah
before reading the Torah on this web site.
Question: "Is there any evidence that the Bible is more than two thousand years old?"
Answer: Yes, in fact there's plenty of evidence of that. We have had the Torah for at least 3,313 years, when Hashem gave it to us at Mount Sinai. Can we prove that the Torah is really that old? Yes, we can.
Let us trace the existence of the Torah back through history. We will show that the Torah existed during the time of Moses and Joshua, and was not created later.
First, a brief rundown of the periods of Jewish History, so we can understand all this better:
Each generation had its own leader. After Moses died, Joshua became leader. During the next four hundred years we had a succession of Prophet-Judges leading us. That was called the period of the Judges. Each leader was a Judge. You might recognize some of the names: Boaz, Samson, Gideon, to name just a few of the many.
The last Judge was the Prophet Samuel. The next leader was King David. After King David passed away, his son King Solomon became leader. Some call this the Era of the Kings.
When King Solomon passed away, the kingdom was split into two. Ten Tribes left and created their own kingdom. They called it the kingdom of Israel. One of the later kings of Israel bought some land from a man named Shemer, and so he called the area "Shomron." You may have heard of it as "Samaria." Samaria became the capital of the kingdom of Israel.
The Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with some of the members of the Tribe of Levi and some of the kohanim (priests from the Tribe of Levi), remained faithful to the Royal Family of David. They remained subjects of King Rehoboam, whose father had been King Solomon. They became the kingdom of Judah (the Romans later called them the Kingdom of Judea), and their capital was still in Jerusalem. Most Jews alive today are descendants of the people of the kingdom of Judah.
When the Ten Tribes rebelled against the rightful king, Rehoboam, they rejected the House of David entirely. They therefore decided to reject any Holy Book that mentioned King David, and any Holy Book written by a Prophet who supported King David.
Which Holy Books were in existence then?
The Five Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastics. The Ten Tribes rejected the Book of Judges, because it had been written by the Prophet Samuel, who had anointed and supported King David. They rejected the Books of Samuel and Kings because those Books supported King David, and because they were written by the Prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, who strongly supported King David.
They rejected the Book of Ruth because it told of the ancestry of King David. They rejected Psalms because it was written (and collected from other Prophets) by King David. They rejected Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastics, because those were written by King Solomon.
So all they kept were the Five Books of Moses, and Joshua. The Book of Joshua tells of their capturing the land of Israel, so they felt it supported them.
All the other Holy Books of the Tanach were written after the break up (and for the most part also supported King David), so the Ten Tribes never had those Books at all.
So now there were two kings at once: one in Judah and one in Israel. However, the leaders of Judaism were the Prophets. The Prophets traveled to both Israel and Judah, and were seen in both kingdoms of the country. So while we call this period the era of the kings, we also call it the era of the Later Prophets.
About two hundred and fifty years later (in the year 555 B.C.E.) the king of Assyria conquered the kingdom of Israel, and took most of the people into exile. We do not know where he sent them. Those are the Ten Lost Tribes, and we will not see them again until the Messiah comes.
Assyria was, at that time, a world power, having conquered many countries. Shalmanesser, King of Assyria, had the practice of relocating entire nations, in order to better subjugate and control them. When he took the Ten Tribes of Israel away from Samaria, he brought the people called the Cuthites to replace them. We don't know where the Cuthites came from. Since the Cuthites settled in the area known as Samaria (Shomron), they later became known as the Samaritans (Shomronim).
When the Cuthites were first relocated into Samaria, they were being killed by plagues of lions, and they did not know what to do about it. So they sent a message to the king of Assyria, asking for help. The king of Assyria did not know what to do about this either, so he asked advice from some kohanim (priests) of Israel, those people he had exiled from the land of Samaria and relocated elsewhere. They told him that it is dangerous to live in Hashem's Holy Land and not obey the Torah.
The king of Assyria therefore decided to send some Kohanim of Israel to teach the Cuthites how to keep the Torah. The Cuthites, because of the plagues, decided to accept some of the Torah. They began to worship Hashem, but it was soon discovered that they had not stopped worshiping their idols. They were doing some odd combination of both. Nevertheless, the lions went away. (You can read about all this in II Kings, Chapter 17.)
Since the Samaritans still worshiped their idols, their conversion was not proper, and it was unacceptable. The Jews could therefore not accept the Samaritans as Jews. For this, the Samaritans developed a deep and terrible hatred for the Jews. They did whatever they could to destroy the Jews. They would send messages to the enemy overlord, claiming that the Jews were planning to revolt. They tried many times to get the Jews killed.
They also built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and there they worshiped an odd combination of religions, which includes their distorted version of the Chumash, and idolatry. Their temple was dedicated to both G-d and to their own pagan idols.
The Samaritans also decided to accept the Sacred Book of the country (i.e., the Torah). However, they did not adopt all the Books of the Torah. They adopted some of what the kohanim of the Kingdom of Israel taught them about. The kohanim of the Ten Tribes had only the Five Books of Moses, and the Book of Joshua. So that's what they taught to the Samaritans. The Samaritans accepted the Chumash, with some distortions of their own, but they refused to accept the Book of Joshua, because it excluded their ownership of the land they occupied. So they created their own book, which they call Joshua. Today, the small number of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim still have a distorted version of the Chumash, and their own book that they call Joshua.
So, during the sixth and fifth century B.C.E. there was the kingdom of Judah, and the Samaritans, both living in the land of Israel, not all that far away from each other.
Then, 130 or so years later, in 422 B.C.E., the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah. The people of Judah were taken into exile. The Holy Temple was destroyed. The Jews were exiled to a number of places. Most were taken to Babylon, but there were many sent to such faraway places as Yemen. The Jews in Yemen today are descendants of those Jews who were sent there when the First Holy Temple was destroyed.
The Samaritans stayed in their land, and were under the rule of the enemy conquerors.
The Babylonians finally lost their ascendancy over the world, and the Persians and Medes came into power. The Persians eventually gave the Jews permission to rebuild the Holy Temple. So some Jews returned to Israel, the part of it called Judea, and began to rebuild the city and the Holy Temple.
Most Jews, however, stayed where they were, but some Jews left Babylon to return to Israel, to resettle the area of Judah and to rebuild the Holy Temple. (Jews in or from Iraq and Iran this century are decendants of those Jews who stayed in Babylon and did not return for the resettling of Judah and the building of the Second Holy Temple.)
The returning Jews encountered many hardships in their endeavor, not the least of which was the Samaritans, who often waged war against them. The Samaritans also attempted to sabotage the building of the Holy Temple. At one point they tried to turn the Holy Temple into a pagan temple for their own religion.
Among the tricks they tried was pretending to be interested in helping the rebuilding. The Jews had already had too much negative experience with the Samaritans to be fooled by this trick, so the Jews refused to allow the Samaritans to join.
The Samaritans did not like the competition, so they decided to prevent the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They told the king of Persia that the Jews were only pretending to rebuild the Holy Temple, but were really planning a revolt (which was not true). Persia put an immediate stop to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Then a Jewish woman became queen of Persia. Her name was Esther. She could not convince her husband King Ahasueraus to allow the rebuilding of Holy Temple, but when her husband died she convinced her son Darius to let the Jews rebuild the Holy Temple.
Finally, in 352 B.C.E., the Holy Temple was rebuilt and rededicated. Around that time, prophecy came to an end. There are still other means of Divine Inspiration, but these are all of lesser levels.
The Samaritans continued to make trouble. When the Persians knuckled under the Macedonians, and Alexander the Great created the Greek empire, they tried to get Alexander to destroy the Holy Temple and kill all the Jews, and they almost succeeded. Even as late as the end of the first century C.E., the Samaritans were still ambushing and murdering Jews. The "good Samaritan" of the Christian bible is not only a myth, it is also a horrible false accusation against the Jews. It was akin to saying that the Nazis were good and the Jews were bad.
The Holy Temple stood from 352 B.C.E. until 68 C.E., a total of 420 years. In 68 C.E., the Romans (who were now the most powerful rulers of the world,) destroyed the Holy Temple.
They captured and enslaved most of the Jews who were in Judah, and sent them in exile to many parts of the world, including Italy and Spain.
We are still in the midst of that exile, and we await the coming of the Messiah, who will bring us -- all twelve Tribes -- back to the land of Israel, and will rule us with wisdom and benevolence.
So, let's recap. The Periods of Jewish History are, basically:
We will show, with Hashem's help, that during all that time, the Torah already existed. We will show that it was not created during the time of the Judges and the Early Prophets, nor during the time of the Kings, nor when the kingdom was divided into two, nor during the period of the two kingdoms, nor during the time of the Second Holy Temple, nor since then.
We will work backwards in time. Let's first prove that the Bible is two thousand years old, and work backwards from there.
I think there is little question that 1,800 years ago the Torah already existed. The Christians have been using their confused mistranslations of the Tanach at least since the second century C. E., and even trying to prove their mistaken beliefs from the Torah. So the Torah is certainly already in existence for about 1,800 years.
But it certainly existed before then as well. Josephus lived almost two thousand years ago, around the first century C.E., and wrote his works probably around 75 C.E. Josephus mentions the Torah numerous times, and clearly refers to it as something that had been around a long time. In his work called Contra Apion, he writes:
For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, as the Greeks have, but only twenty-four books, which contain the records of all things past; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. (Book 1, Chapter 1, Number 8)
There you have a clear reference to the Books of the Bible, and explicit mention of the Five Books of Moses. This is just one reference of many. Josephus mentions the Torah throughout many of his works. (See, for example, Antiquities of the Jews 4:8:3 and 2:16:5.)
Josephus is very clear that by his time there already existed a book of Laws written by Moses, and that it tells of the stories that Josephus himself tells in his Antiquities.
But was Josephus speaking of something new, or something that was already very old? Josephus was speaking of something that was already considered very old in his time. How do I know? Because he says so. In Contra Apion, Josephus writes that our Sacred Books are very old, and he asserts that no one has ever added to them or changed them in all the years since they were created.
...and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willing to die for them. It is no new thing for our captives, many of them in number, and frequently in time, to be seen to endure racks and deaths of all kinds upon the theaters, that they may not be obliged to say one word against our laws and the records that contain them; whereas there are none at all among the Greeks who would undergo the least harm on that account [i.e., for their own books].... (1:1:8)
So it is quite clear that the Jews had these books, and believed in them, long before Josephus, who lived almost two thousand years ago. The Jews of his time, almost 2,000 years ago, already had all the Written Torah we have today, and believed them to be the originals, just as we believe today.
Let's go back a little further. Philo (around 20 B.C.E. to around 50 C.E.) also talks about the Books of the Torah, in his work The Life of Moses (II:288-91). He also says that the books of the Torah are very old.
The writings of Josephus and Philo both prove that the Written Torah was already composed by the first century of the Common Era.
Let's go back a little more. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Torah first written by Rabbis and later changed dozens of times by numerous people), is claimed by the Gentiles to date back to 275 B.C.E. (Our Tradition dates it a bit later, at 245 B.C.E., according to Rabbi Fendel, in Legacy of Sinai, page 136.) So the Written Torah already existed at that time.
Also around that time, the emergence of the Sadducee and Boethusian sects took place. The Sadducees took as their platform the statement that they believed only in the Written Torah, and rejected the Oral Torah. Evidently, at that time both the Written Law and the Oral Law already existed.
So now we know that the Torah already existed by around 275 or so B.C.E. That's 2,275 years ago, as I write this.
Let's go back a little more. Ben Sira (circa 400 B.C.E.) also mentions the Books of Torah, in the same number and names that we have them today. So the Tanach existed then as well, around 2,400 years ago.
We can go yet further back. The Samaritans learned the Torah from the Ten Tribes sometime around 550 B.C.E. So, by then the Chumash and Joshua were already written. Some of the Kohanim of the Ten Tribes taught it to them. Any time after that, the Samaritans would not have accepted the Torah from the people of Judah, because of the Samaritans' hatred for them. So, since both the Jews and the Samaritans have the Chumash, we know that the Chumash had to have been written some time before 550 B.C.E., before the two groups stopped having contact with each other.
This also proves that the Torah could not have been written during the time of the two kingdoms. Since the Ten Tribes taught the Chumash to the Samaritans, that means the Ten Tribes had to have had the Chumash before they split off from the other two Tribes. During all the time that they were split, neither kingdom would never have taken Torah from the other.
Yet the later Books, written by Prophets among the two Tribes in Judah show numerous examples of how the Ten Tribes kept the Laws of the Torah (with occasional lapses), and that they had the Torah (see, for example, I Kings 21:13; II Kings 4:23, 7:3; Hosea 4:6; 8:1, 8:12; Amos 8:5, et. al.).
So, during the time of King Solomon, before the breakup of the nation into two kingdoms, the Chumash must have already existed. But they must have already existed earlier, or the Ten Tribes would never have accepted them. They took them because before they broke off these Books had already been fully accepted by all Israel.
Could the Torah have been written during the time of King Solomon, or during the reign of his father, King David? Definitely not.
Consider what the Torah says about the nations of Moab.
The Torah (Deut. 23:4-7) says that a man from the nation of Moab may never marry a Jewish woman, even if he converts to Judaism. Even the descendant of a convert from Moab may never marry a Jewish woman. This was because of the way they treated us when we passed near their land on the way to the Land of Israel. They did not come forward to offer us bread and water, as was their custom. The women of Moab, however, after conversion to Judaism, are not forbidden to marry a Jewish man, because it was not the custom of the Moabite women to meet travelers with bread and water, and also because they had no connection with the attempt to curse Israel.
Now, you may remember that King David was a descendent from Ruth, a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism. You can imagine the trouble that must have caused. As a matter of fact, the Rabbis tells us that King David's enemies certainly tried to get a lot of mileage out of that, and tried to claim, falsely, that a converted Moabite woman was also forbidden to marry a Jew.
Now, wouldn't it simply have been easier for King David, if he wrote the Torah, to leave out that Law? It does not seem at all logical that King David would have written this in the Torah, or that any of the people of his time would have done that.
Therefore, that dates the Torah to at least before the time of King David, who was born in 836 B.C.E. That's already 2836 years ago.
(By the way, King David and King Solomon are both mentioned in the history of the Phoenicians and the Tyrenes, according to Josephus. Both the Phoenicians and the Tyrenes did business with the Israelites during those eras.)
Perhaps the Torah was written just before King David was born, during the era of the Judges? That, too, cannot be. The Torah says that it is forbidden to wage war against the nations of Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:19). Yet the Judges all the way from after Joshua to King David (inclusive) fought with those nations! Ammon invaded Israel during the time of Yiftach the Judge (around 970 B.C.E.), and Moab oppressed them during the time of Ehud the Judge (around 1160 B.C.E.). They had to fight with them out of self-defense, so they would never have included such a Law in the Torah had they composed it!
The Israelites spent a great deal of time and energy, and lost many good people defending themselves against those nations. Would the Prophets or Judges or anyone of that time have written a Law stating that it was forbidden to attack Moab or Amon if they were inventing the Torah? So the Torah could not have been written during the time of the Judges either.
Therefore the Torah predates the Judges, and come from the time of Moses and Joshua! That means that we have had the Torah for 3,313 years. And therefore, the Torah tells us that Moses told the Children of Israel:
Only take heed and watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let this memory leave your hearts, all the days of your lives. Teach your children, and your children's children about the day you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horeb (Deut. 4:9-10).
(Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.)
Moses wrote the Torah according to the instructions given him by Hashem. Hashem dictated the Torah to Moses, letter by letter. Moses then taught it to the Children of Israel. And we have studied the Torah ever since, for 3,313 or so years.
Of course, the Torah itself is much older than that. Our Tradition tells us that Hashem created the Torah, both the Written and the Oral, 2,000 years before He created the universe. Hashem used it as a blueprint when He created the universe. And Hashem then kept it until it was time for us to receive it.
(The approach of this article, as well as some of the proofs, I took primarily from the works of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, especially Sing You Righteous, paragraphs 102-121.)