(NOTE: This is an expansion and detailing of an earlier article. Enjoy.)
PUT ME IN THE CAMP of those who view the Torah as a largely fictional work.
That said, I do tend to think that some of it actually happened. For example, there’s a passage in Genesis which describes Abraham the Patriarch as leading a commando raid on a group of people who kidnapped his nephew, where he is said to have taken 318 men with him. I don’t think anyone would invent such a specific figure; thus, for this (and other reasons) I do believe Abraham existed, and the tribal elders, and Moses (or someone Moses-like), and Joshua, and a few other people scattered here and there through the text.
I also believe the Sinai event happened. But not for the reasons you’d think.
Back in the 1990s, I ran a mail-art project called Obscure Research Labs which was devoted to, among other things, the study of what people thought about UFOs. My own thought parallels that of researcher Jacques Vallee, in that while it’s extremely unlikely that any UFO sightings actually involve alien spacecraft, the people who do see them (called “contactees”) are largely sober, scared and accurately describing some sort of phenomenon that fits a common pattern similar also to sightings of religious figures: mysterious lights and voices, loud sounds, synesthesia, the imparting of cosmic or spiritual messages, and so on.
These events, or these experiences, run throughout recorded history, and have been recorded by many different cultures. I have no idea what causes them, but the experience seems to be an exotic side-effect of human life on Earth.
Here’s where it gets weird: the Sinai Event seems to fit the pattern of contactee experiences at a variety of points. From the text:
Exodus 19:16-20:And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.
Deuteronomy 4:11-13: And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the LORD spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire; ye heard the voice of words, but ye saw no form; only a voice. And He declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, even the ten words; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone.
So this is why I believe that the Sinai Event happened. Let me be clear: I don’t think “aliens gave us the Ten Commandments.” But I do think that the Torah’s account of receiving the Ten Commandments fits the pattern of similar events recorded across time and around the world.
Of course, I could be wrong. And obviously, this isn’t the way I teach it in Hebrew school. But it’s sort of cool to think about.