Friday, December 2, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Commentary Rules

Now that you have been warned about the weaknesses of both translations and commentaries, I get to the part I warned you about. I’m going to set some ground rules, most of which should not surprise you if you have read this page of the blog from the first post in it.
A commentary is only as good as its resemblance to the primary document.  That means if a commentary says something about a primary document, at a bare minimum it has to quote the primary document correctly.  It also has to fit in with the culture related to the primary document: the history of that culture, and how it uses the words of its language, not how the commentator translates those words.
Authorities are not to be relied on without firsthand comparison to their purported sources. That goes back to Descartes. Any “authority” making a claim that doesn’t match the primary document the claim relates to, cannot be relied on.  He also fails the test of Occam’s Razor  by not covering the facts accurately.
Extraordinary claims require extra footwork and more data that is reliable for backup, than a less spectacular claim, but all claims have to be compared to the data they supposedly relate to.
The more data you have matching a given situation, the better your analogy. Conversely, a weak analogy matches only part of the data, or only one data point. A false equation matches none of the data.
The simplest explanation that covers all the facts correctly is more likely to be correct than something based on a weak analogy, and it must not rely on a false equation.
Given two sources, both assumed to be true or valid, that disagree with each other on some objective facts, a claim that the two are equal must be false.
And now here is the statement of the urban legend I’m going to bust. The commentaries by the “four horsemen”, claiming that Talmud refers to Jesus, are wrong. All four of them. They mistranslate, misrepresent, draw weak analogies or false equations, provide non-existent citations, and take material out of verbal, historical, and cultural context.
If that raises your blood pressure, skip the next four weeks because you’re not going to be happy with what I post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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