Friday, December 23, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Sources

The fourth “horseman” is the granddaddy of them all.  He is Johann Eisenmenger, who wrote Entdecktes Judentum about 1700; an English translation I found online has the publication date of 1742.  Henrich Laible includes him as a source and thus he is also a source for Herford.
Eisenmenger was an anti-Semite and wrote his book as an attack on Judaism.  He didn’t read Talmud, but he includes all the standard quotations about Jesus in Talmud that you can find all over the Internet.  Nobody is quite sure where he got this nonsense.
He also didn’t know Jewish terminology.  He picked up the term begimatria somewhere, and believed it was a noun.  It is a prepositional phrase.  If you used my Hebrew lessons, you know that be is a Hebrew preposition meaning,“in”, among other things.  The phrase means “in gematria,” or Jewish numerology. 
I call out that example because Pranaitis repeated it in his thesis and on the witness stand at the Mendel Beilis trial.  What’s worse, he combined it with Russian prepositions to create even worse nonsense.
Why?  Because Pranaitis’ thesis was copied from Eisenmenger’s work.  Everything Pranaitis “knew” about Talmud, he got from Eisenmenger.  Who produced falsehoods where he didn’t produce nonsense.
How did Pranaitis get away with plagiarism?  Because Eisenmenger’s work had mostly been forgotten, except by Gustav Dalman, a Lutheran who wrote a biography of Eisenmenger in 1909 for a religious dictionary.  The dictionary is in the public domain and is posted on the CCEL website.  In the biography, Dalman said Eisenmenger’s work inaccurately portrayed Judaism.  Full stop.
Dalman comes into this another way.  Laible, who could not read Aramaic, turned to Dalman for copies of the citations in Eisenmenger that Laible wanted to use in his book.  They are printed in Laible’s appendix, credited to Dalman.  We don’t know how Dalman knew which material Laible wanted; Laible could have given him the citations in Eisenmenger. 
Dalman could have been completely oblivious to what Laible wanted with those citations – unless Dalman accepted Eisenmenger’s interpretation.  To rely on Eisenmenger for such an interpretation doesn’t coordinate with the biography Dalman wrote.  If he believed that interpretation, he got it from some source that he accepted as unquestionable authority.  Even the most well-meaning scholars can do it.  That’s the danger of not independently validating the claims in your sources.
Scholars sometimes copy from each other, with credit but without validating the information against the primary document. They sometimes become convinced of the inerrancy of a given authority and fail to research whether that authority produced inaccuracies.  This is the same sort of behavior that led Descartes to write his Discours, and how many times have I said that in the last couple of years?
I would like to say that this kind of thing died out after Dalman, but it’s not true.  A book published within the last 20 years by a well-known academic repeats the old canard, and it too fails to differentiate between interpretation and the actual wording of the primary document. If you have read it, or bought it, you know whose work I’m talking about.  And then you have to ask yourself why somebody would dredge up all these canards and publish them for money  when they’re available free off the internet.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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