Perhaps one of the most problematic aspects of being a student lies in the fact that ideally, one must check up every source in order to verify its authenticity and veracity. Yet as a student, one walks into school with certain idealistic notions still intact. These include the belief that the professor knows more than the student, that the professor is well-versed in his specialty and that if an important professor writes a book, it is a work which should be taken very seriously, as it is impossible that the book would be published were it merely a shoddily researched tome. There is also the idea of humility with regard to those who know more than you. Should I read a book and be confused, it stands to reason that it is simply because I do not know as much as the professor, and it is my own lack of knowledge which leads me to misunderstand. Nevertheless, I have recently been taught (thank you, Jordan) to read everything with a more critical eye, and I was amazed to find that despite my presupposed notions, professors as well may fall prey to misrepresentation, disingenous phraseology or even a complete misreading and misapplication of sources.
To demonstrate the point by means of an example, let us take the work Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Professor Israel Jacob Yuval of Hebrew University, in which he attempts to demonstrate the way in which Jews and Christians were in dialogue, and more importantly, how Judaism was influenced by Christianity in a religion (in its legends, stories, tales or other ways.) An acclaimed scholarly work, I was upset to find the following convoluted, shoddy logic advanced time and time again. I will here demonstrate my point by bringing you four examples.
1. "Galit Hasan-Rokem has noted the similarity between the Hebrew word for "gnat," yatush, and "Titus." To which one might add, Titus' gnat is the Jewish legend's answer to Vespasian's vespa (Latin for "wasp"). (page 46)
"Likewise, the exegesis of the words vespa= Vespasian seems primary, whereas the play on yatush (gnat) and Titus seems forced and may be viewed as a polemical answer to an earlier, more successful wordplay." (page 49)
Leaving aside the fact that yatush and Titus are not even spelled similarly, as yatush has a tav and a shin, whereas Titus sports a tes and a samach, look at the logic Yuval just employed. Because Rokem noted a similarity between these two words, therefore it must be that this play on words exists. Once we have decided this, the fact that the play of words is not as strong in the "Jewish legend" as the Christian source, we have effectively proven the Christian source came first. What kind of convoluted logic is that? Because you decided there might be a similarity on the words and therefore a play on words, you now use that potential similarity as a proof for your point?
2. "In Matthew 26:26, the formulation also includes an invitation to eat: "Take, eat; this is my body"- an invitation reminiscent of that in the Haggadah: "Let all who are hungry come and eat." (page 72)
You have got to be kidding me. The word reminiscent means nothing, absolutely nothing! Firstly, I simply do not understand the logic. How is an invitation to anyone on the street to come and partake of the paschal lamb/ bitter herbs/ bread of affliction, which is all physical food connoting nothing other than actual food at all reminiscent of eating the body of Christ? Because both of them have to do with eating? Well, gee whiz, I guess every time I eat anything that's reminiscent of the fact that someone is eating a Communion wafer! What kind of logic is this?!
3. "Second, how did the Midrashic author know that Jacob went down to Egypt "compelled by the divine word"? "Word" (dibbur) is tantamount to logos and can mean "an angel"- but where is it written in the Bible that Jacob was ordered by God or by an angel to go down to Egypt?" (page 85)
There are a couple things wrong with this derivation. First, he is utilizing the same assumptive logic as he did before. Word= logos which can mean angel, hence, where is Jacob ordered to go to Egypt by an angel? He has decided because something has a potential meaning, it can now be used as an absolute proof and one needs to discover where exactly an angel told Jacob to go down to Egypt. But much more problematic is the simple fact that this is written out straight in Tanakh! See Genesis 46: 3-4.
- ג וַיֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי הָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ; אַל-תִּירָא מֵרְדָה מִצְרַיְמָה, כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם.
3 And He said: 'I am God, the God of thy father; fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.
ד אָנֹכִי, אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ מִצְרַיְמָה, וְאָנֹכִי, אַעַלְךָ גַם-עָלֹה; וְיוֹסֵף, יָשִׁית יָדוֹ עַל-עֵינֶיךָ.
4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.'
- כח וַיֹּאמֶר, יִשְׂרָאֵל, רַב עוֹד-יוֹסֵף בְּנִי, חָי; אֵלְכָה וְאֶרְאֶנּוּ, בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת.
28 And Israel said: 'It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.'
4. "In this vein, we may understand a passage that many have found difficult to comprehend: "And He saw our affliction' [Deut 26:7] - this refers to their abstinence from sexual relations [literally, the way of the world], as is written: "And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew [va-yeida elohim] [Exod 2:25]." Daube has suggested that this exegesis is based on the biblical usage of the word knew, understanding the phrase "and God knew" as sexual intercourse. Even though the Israelites practiced sexual abstinence, they succeeded in having progeny by virtue of miraculous conception. Daube thinks that this exegesis reflects an ancient Jewish source for the story of Mary's pregnancy, one that was not excised from the Hagadah for some unknown reason. I consider the opposite conjecture to be more likely- that this exegesis responds to the Christian story and plemicizes with it, arguing that a miraculous birth from the Holy Spirit did in fact take place, albeit not of Jesus, but of the Israelites born in Egypt. This is in accordance with the general tendency of the Haggadah to portray the Exodus from Egypt as a prototype of deliverance." (page 83)
FOOTNOTE: Daube (n. 112, p. 76) 5-0. Daube's theory was rejected by Urbach (n. 77, p. 63) n. 16 who described his theory as "absurd" and "curious" and was seconded by D. Henshke, "The Midrash of the Passover Haggada" [in Hebrew], Sidra 4 (1988): n. 4 ("Urbach has already noted Daube's bizarre words"). But in his commentary on the Passover Haggadah, the medieval commentator Rabbi Yom Tov ben Abraham Ashbili wrote, "There are those who say that he inferred it from the verse, "and God knew," that this was like "and Adam again knew his wife Eve"; see Hiddushei ha-Ritba al ha-Shas, Pesahim, ed. Y. Leibovitch (Jerusalem, 1984), 31. Similar things appear in Genesis Rabbah on the verse, "And the Lord visited Sarah" (Gen 21:1): "R. Huna said: there is an angel appointed over desire, but Sarah had no need for such, as He in His glory [made her conceive]" (Gen. Rab. 53:6, ed. Theodor-Albeck, 560.)
When you first read this section, you make the following assumptions-
a) Abstinence means complete abstinence - there were absolutely no sexual relations going on, and therefore all the children were conceived by means of immaculate conception.
b) Because Daube argues that the interpretation of the verse "and God knew" uses the word "knew" to connote sexual relations, and the Ritva also argues this, the Ritva is supporting Daube's approach. (This is because Yuval contrasts the Ritva's approach to that of Urbach- note the "but,"- who dismisses Daube as being ridiculous.)
c) In Genesis Rabbah, God impregnated Sarah (again immaculate conception.)
This is beyond ridiculous. When you actually look at the sources, nothing of the kind was ever suggested, nor would it ever be suggested, and neither the Ritva nor Genesis Rabbah in any way argue for immaculate conception (there is no reason to read that verse as meaning anything other than God himself took care of desire in that case, rather than the angel.) This is for the very simple reason that the Ritva is not positing that there was complete and total abstinence when it came to sexual relations, but rather that because the men were engaged in backbreaking labor, they were not able to be with their wives as frequently or in a normal fashion, and hence to some extent there was abstinence.
Here is the Ritva's exact language (thank you to Moshe Y. Gluck.)
As you can see, the Ritva in no way advocates for any kind of statement suggesting that there was complete and total abstinence, and just because he darshens from the use of the word "knew" in the sentence that there was some kind of suffering taking place in the matter of sexual relations does not in any way mean that he supports Daube's point, which is what Yuval slyly implies. It is amazingly disingenous of him. Here is his logic:
a) The Ritva supports Daube's point that vayada can be read in accordance to sexual suffering/ abstinence
b) Therefore the Ritva is really saying EVERYTHING that Daube says, including this ludicrous claim about the Jews having a million immaculate conception births
c) Once we are saying that these immaculate conception births happened in Egypt, that CLEARLY means the sages who wrote the Haggadah were trying to counter the Jesus idea of immaculate conception with the idea that ISRAEL came from immaculate conception
d) This idea is "not alien to the Midrash" because look, there are other wonder child variants on the Jesus story (Yuval specifically brings down baby Gadiel, somehow overlooking the fact that baby Gadiel very clearly has a human mother and father, which is only the most important part to this claim!)
This is crap. It is cleverly disguised crap, and if you read the book thinking that it's been written by an esteemed professor, and therefore he has done his research and is above misrepresenting ideas, creating syllogisms that don't apply, or otherwise lying by omission or by the way he has phrased something (even if not outright), it's easy to be confused. But in the end, it is crap, and just goes to show that simply because something is academia does not make it true, or right, or mean that the researcher has done his research appropriately.