Historicity and belief

Why hold a Seder if you don’t believe in the Exodus?

Brad DeLong cites St. Paul against Wittgenstein on the relationship between historicity and belief.

It’s not surprising that the language in which religious beliefs are usually stated isn’t the same as Wittgenstein’s: the two discouses are directed to different audiences. (Some of Brad’s commenters point out that the Pauline language isn’t unambiguous; what, after all, does it mean to say “Christ is risen again”?)

DeLong’s interpretation of St. Paul reminds me of a flap that broke out in Los Angeles Jewish circles five years ago about the (historically uncontroversial) assertion by a rabbi named David Wolpe that the account in Exodus is unhistorical. Dennis Prager, a sort of Jewish televangelist, wrote a column for one of the Los Angeles Jewish weeklies* that said, ” … any Jews who believe the Exodus did not occur should have the intellectual honesty to stop observing Passover.”

That struck me, and still strikes me, as one of the dumbest assertions I’ve ever heard. (The Talmud speaks of four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who doesn’t even know to ask. It doesn’t mention the fifth son, the obnoxious one, who needs to be firmly told to shut up.)

I would no more miss a Seder than I would believe that Pharaoh’s wise men were able to turn their rods into serpents. There are truths in the Haggadah that do not depend at all on the facts.

* The original column is no longer available on line. Scroll down to April 20 in the link for a text-plus- fisking.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com