Volume 18 Number 49
                       Produced: Sun Feb 19 10:44:14 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Avraham, Lavan, and Aramaic
         [Mike Gerver]
Codes in Torah
         [Harold Gans]
Stan Tenen's work
         [Louis Kauffman]


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Sun, 19 Feb 1995 4:15:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Avraham, Lavan, and Aramaic

    In response to my earlier posting (v18n10) on what Avraham and Lavan's
native language was, Joseph Steinberg asks (v18n14) how I can explain
Lavan's words "yegar sahaduta," which are clearly Aramaic, if Lavan (and
by extension Avraham) were not Arameans. I had pointed out that according
to archeologists, the Arameans did not conquer Naharayim, the region where
Lavan lived, until some centuries later, around the time of Matan Torah or
even a few decades after that, and that references to Lavan as an Aramean
might be similar to the reference to Avraham chasing the four kings up to
Dan, or (if the Arameans were already there at the time of Matan Torah)
perhaps simply a geographic reference that would have made sense to
people at the time of Matan Torah. At the time of Lavan and Avraham,
according to archeologists, the people of that area spoke Amorite, also
known as Amurru, or Old Babylonian.

    My first reaction to Joseph's question was that the Torah speaks the
language of man, and that if, for the reasons given above, it was going
to refer to Lavan as an Aramean, then it was only logical to have him
speak Aramaic; perhaps that landmark was known as "Yegar Sahaduta" at 
the time of Matan Torah, and it would have been confusing to give it an 
Amorite name. But I put off posting that, because, frankly, it wasn't very
convincing even to me. It makes sense to translate conversations from
another language into Hebrew in the course of a narrative, if the point
being made by the Torah depends only on the meaning of the words, not
on their phonetic form. But in the case of "yegar sahaduta" the Torah
seems to be going out of its way to emphasize that Lavan's words were in
a foreign language. Why not quote him directly in Amorite then?

    A perfect explanation comes from Yitzchok Adlerstein's posting in
v18n30. Addressing a different question, R. Adlerstein mentions the
Netziv's commentary on "yegar sahaduta," in which he points out the
difference in meaning between "yegar sahaduta" and Yakov's phrase "gal ed."
"Sahaduta" is parallel not to "ed" (witness) but to "edut" (testimony),
since Lavan was concerned only with commemorating the agreement, while
Yakov wanted to refer to G-d, the Witness to the agreement.

    The Torah could not have made this point in any other way. If it had
quoted Lavan in Amorite, then the meaning of his words would not have been
apparent to the Jews at the time of Matan Torah (let alone now), since
they no longer spoke Amorite. If Lavan's words had been translated into
Hebrew, as "gal edut," then it would have seemed that Yakov was directly 
contradicting and arguing with Lavan, rather than subtly improving on his
words in a way that Lavan probably did not even notice. Regardless of
whether Lavan really spoke Amorite or Aramaic, the only way the Torah
could make this point was to quote his words in Aramaic.

    It is interesting to note this works only because all educated Jews have 
been able to understand Aramaic continuously from the time of Matan Torah
up to the present time. There is no other foreign (non-Hebrew) language
for which this is true. This is true because of a series of historical
"accidents" (the Babylonian captivity, and the emergence of the gemara,
written in Aramaic, as the standard codification of torah shebe'al pe)
that occurred many centuries after Matan Torah, even after the latest
date for the composition of Breishit claimed by secular Biblical scholars,
and that could not have been known to people at the time of Matan Torah.

    Although this provides a nice answer for why Lavan would be quoted
speaking Aramaic if he was really an Amorite, there are several
other possibilities which I will mention for completeness. Finley Shapiro
suggested (in a private message to me) that Lavan may have been an Aramean
who migrated to Naharayim, from wherever the Arameans were living at the 
time, although Naharayim was only conquered by the Arameans centuries
later. Jay Shachter suggested, also in a private message, that the
language we call Aramaic may have been spoken in Naharayim at the time of
Lavan, and that the Arameans adopted this language from the conquered
inhabitants much later. I also wonder whether Aramaic and Amorite were
close enough in vocabulary that "yegar sahaduta" would also make sense in
Amorite; perhaps an expert in Semitic linguistics could tell us.

    While all these explanations are possible, there is positive evidence
linking Avraham and Lavan to the Amorites, in addition to the chronological
issues suggesting they were not Arameans.  I read somewhere years ago
(I think in a New York Times article on excavations in Ebla or somewhere
in Syria) that Avram, Yakov, and Lavan were common Amorite names in the
first half of the second millenium BCE, although they were not common
names in any language later. There are various details of everyday life
described in Breishit which make sense in the context of Amorite society,
but would be difficult to understand later, e.g. the brit bein ha-betarim.
This is all discussed in H. H. Ben-Sasson's "A History of the Jewish 
People." One example not mentioned by Ben-Sasson, but discussed in Richard
Bulliet's "The Camel and the Wheel," involves the use of camels by the
Avot. Camels were very rare and expensive in Canaan and Syria in those
days, because they had to be imported from southern Arabia, where they
originated. This is because a camel's estrus cycle is tied to the rainy
season, and if they were transported from southern Arabia to a place which 
had a different rainy season, their hormones would get confused and they
would not breed at all. Thus a big deal is made of the fact that Avaraham 
had ten camels; this showed he was very wealthy, and Eliezer took all these 
camels with him to impress potential wives for Yitzchak, and their families.
Comfortable saddles for riding camels had not been developed then, so they
were only used for carrying baggage and women, but never ridden by men.

    The earliest references to the Arameans in archeological sites, I think,
occur around 1300 BCE, not long before Matan Torah (which seems to be in 
the mid-1200s BCE, based on the reference to Rameses II in Shemot, and on
the earliest Egyptian inscription mentioning Israel, from 1220 BCE). It's
possible, I suppose, that the Arameans existed as a small obscure tribe
for some time before that. The story of how the Arameans rapidly rose from
obscurity to conquer almost the entire Fertile Crescent is an interesting
one, told by Bulliet. They accomplished this by making a discovery which
had important military implications: they figured out how to breed camels.
This allowed them to equip a large military force with camels, which could
attack across waterless deserts that took several days to cross. Previously
that could not be done, so such deserts had been impenetrable barriers
which did not have to be guarded. By the time the secret of camel breeding
had gotten out to other people, the Arameans had conquered the whole
region, which continued to speak Aramaic until the Arab conquests 2000
years later.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <AishNY@...> (Harold Gans)
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 1995 02:06:01 -0500
Subject: Re: Codes in Torah

This is a reply to Stan Tenen from Harold Gans:

You state that you do not believe that the codes offer a "proof of
Torah" or a "proof of G-d," and you ask what they prove or
demonstrate. Technically you are correct; the codes cannot prove
anything. There is no "proof of Torah" or "proof of G-d" in the
mathematical sense. Nevertheless, they do provide very strong evidence
that the Torah was in fact authored by G-d, since the probability of the
codes being a random coincidence is vanishingly small.  Furthermore,
such detailed knowledge of the far future as the codes demonstrate is
scientifically not possible. (The demonstration of this last assertion
is somewhat long and technical. It is based on the Heisenberg
Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Mechanics; the Godel Incompleteness
Theorems for Arithmetic and First Order Logic; and modern Chaos Theory
which has revealed the extreme dependence of phenomena on exact initial
conditions in nonlinear systems.)

In your second paragraph, you ask: "Why are they there?" You claim that
the codes consist of "trivial and content-free messages." I would answer
that even if the codes did nothing more than provide strong evidence for
the divine authorship, this is certainly not trivial or content-free. I
strongly believe that after the publication of the first serious paper
on the codes, your conclusion is totally unwarrented and premature.

In your seventh paragraph, you say that you are confused by the reliance
on statistics. It is extremely important to understand that the reliance
on standard statistical analysis is not just a "fascination." It is
absolutely essential. It is easy to mislead oneself (and others) with
fascinating patterns that appear very significant. In reality, these
types of unusual phenomena can become quite common if the data set is
large or the number of patterns searched for is large. This is certainly
a concern when using highspeed computers. That is why it is absolutely
essential to use statistics so as to accurately evaluate the probability
of any phenomenon. If it is not (or cannot be) evaluated according to
accepted scientific procedures, then it must remain suspect. This is, in
fact, the case with some other analysis that has been done on the Torah
and also on the New Testament and the Koran. If their researchers wish
to be taken seriously by thoughtful people, they must follow standard
scientific practice AND be willing to submit their work to be refereed
by independent scientists or mathematicians as was done with the work of
Witztum et. al. and as I am doing with my own research now.

You also say that "we should now get on with the real work - discovering
the intended meaning and teaching carried by this anomaly." Note first
that the codes are absolutely NOT an anomaly. They are a
well-established phenomenon.  An anamoly is nothing more than a large
but random statistical deviation from expected. The codes are definitely
not random! I do, however, agree that we should get on with the real
work of discovering the intended meaning. What better way of doing this
than studying the text itself and the meanings of all the other "codes"
in the Torah as described by the standard commentaries and particularly
the Talmud. Surely, you do not propose study of the esoteric without
first obtaining a solid background in the basics?

In your last paragraph, you mention Christian and Moslem publications of
codes. I have seen some of these and can say categorically that either
(1) the mathematics is faulty or nonexistent, or (2) they only
demonstrate nonrandomness of certain patterns. The argument for divinity
is then based on the complexity, not the content, of these "codes" and
the questionable argument that the complexity is beyond human
capability. If you are aware of any work other than Witztum's that can
meet accepted scientific standards and has been reviewed and accepted by
independent scientists or mathematicians, I would appreciate it if you
would bring it to my attention.

Finally, you say that the meaning and significance of the codes must be
made clear. Only then will the Torah be truly honored by these
findings. I agree wholeheartedly. May I suggest that this is being done
on a rather large scale by Aish HaTorah's Discovery Program worldwide as
well as by Arachim. May I suggest that you attend one of these
seminars. If I am at the seminar, I would be delighted to meet
you. Thank you for your thoughtful posting.


From: Louis Kauffman <U10451@...>
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 13:43:38 CST
Subject: Stan Tenen's work

This is a commment on the message of Mon. Feb. 14, 1995 by Stan Tenen
entitled, "Uses of Math". Stan gave an extensive quote from me and I would
like to comment on that to alleviate possible misunderstandings.

First, it should be understood that Stan is NOT doing mathematics in the
sense of discovering or proving theorems.  He is making creative
geometric and topological constructions that illuminate matters of myth
and language.  This is a fascinating and artistic project that Stan is
pursuing quite rigorously on his own terms. In the course of his work he
encounters mathematical problems and possibilities of connections of
mathematical and philosophical or mythological ideas. This provides a
problem to any outside observer of his work in that unbounded
speculations can arise.

The work needs to be viewed and handled to be appreciated. It cannot be
communicated by lines on the internet. Furthermore, you (any reader of
this message board) should certainly disregard any remarks by Stan about
the high credentials of his mathematical and academic friends. Either
this work speaks to you by itself or it does not.  I am not telling you
that Stan does deductive mathematics. I am telling you (But don't belive
me. Talk to him.) that he does remarkable geometric and topological (in
the intuitive sense of malleable forms) mythology.

As for the mythology, I do not think that you should believe that
either.  Mythology is not to be believed but to be experienced
artistically and woven into each person's personal construction of the

I know that Stan is very open for discussion of his work with anyone who
cares to experience it, and that he is particularly interested that it
be rigorous in its mathematics and philosophy. This is an opportunity
for discussion and creation.

Lou Kauffman


End of Volume 18 Issue 49