|Best miracle ever!|
Let me paraphrase a Kuzari-related argument I hear often enough:
If the Mount Sinai story is a myth (taken to mean "untrue") developed through human cultural processes, then we should see more examples of Sinai-like stories. But we don't see more examples. There's only one Mount Sinai story and only one religion claiming to have had a national event like Mount Sinai. Therefore, it's more reasonable to think that Mount Sinai is not a myth and instead really happened.To consider the argument, let's get clear on what the Mount Sinai story is. Tzvi Freeman characterizes the story as the national witness of Moses' authenticity:
[O]n the sixth day of the third month of the year 2448 from Creation, an entire nation full of dissidents and skeptics gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and witnessed how G-d spoke with Moses. Rather overwhelmed by the experience, they asked Moses to kindly fetch all the details of what exactly G-d would like from them and report on it. [emphasis added]Freeman's interpretation is that the nation witnessed not God itself and not God speaking but how God spoke to Moses. This distinction is important because it's Moses the people confirm, not God. The Sinai story is, in this sense, another "proving the prophet" story. But what's supposed to be distinctive about the Sinai story is that the entire nation witnessed Moses as being in conversation with God. Where Kuzari comes in is that allegedly the entire nation believed that what it had witnessed was a bona-fide miracle. Of course, we have no idea what the entire nation actually believed--assuming there was any sort of event at all. But these are the two pillars of Kuzari, national witness and national belief. And neither of these characteristics can be pulled from the history of Israel.
Back, then, to the assertion at the top that we should expect "more examples of Sinai-like stories." Contrary to the assertion, there's no logical requirement for myths exactly like Sinai. The bald fact of many Sinai-like myths or of none is in itself irrelevant. A perceived lack of more examples has no bearing on either the evidence of a Sinai event or the evidence of the Sinai story.
In considering "the Sinai story," we have a complication in that we have at least three Sinai stories. What's more, not all of them correspond well to Freeman's account, given above. Here, for example, is the Sinai story from the J source:
Ch. 19:10. And the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments.Now, here is Sinai in the E source. This is the one that is closest to Freeman:
11. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai.
12. And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'
13. No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram's horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain."
14. So Moses descended from the mountain to the people, and he prepared the people, and they washed their garments.
15. He said to the people, "Be ready for three days; do not go near a woman."
16a. It came to pass on the third day when it was morning,
* * *
18. And the entire Mount Sinai smoked because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of the kiln, and the entire mountain quaked violently.
* * *
20. The Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the peak of the mountain, and Moses ascended.
21. The Lord said to Moses, "Go down, warn the people lest they break [their formation to go nearer] to the Lord, and many of them will fall.
22. And also, the priests who go near to the Lord shall prepare themselves, lest the Lord wreak destruction upon them."
23. And Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot ascend to Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, Set boundaries for the mountain and sanctify it.' "
24. But the Lord said to him, "Go, descend, and [then] you shall ascend, and Aaron with you, but the priests and the populace shall not break [their formation] to ascend to the Lord, lest He wreak destruction upon them."
25. So Moses went down to the people and said [this] to them.
Ch. 19:2b. and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.Finally, here is Sinai from the P source:
3. Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel,
4. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles' wings, and I brought you to Me.
5. And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.
6. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel."
7. Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel and placed before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
8. And all the people replied in unison and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!" and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord.
9. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." And Moses relayed the words of the people to the Lord.
* * *
16b. there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered.
17. Moses brought the people out toward God from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.
* * *
19. The sound of the shofar grew increasingly stronger; Moses would speak and God would answer him with a voice.
* * *
Ch. 20:18. The people remained far off, but Moses drew near to the opaque darkness, where God was.
19. The Lord said to Moses, "So shall you say to the children of Israel, You have seen that from the heavens I have spoken with you.
20. You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.
21. An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall slaughter beside it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your cattle. Wherever I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.
19:1. In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.Thus, the Sinai story is multiple. This multiplicity, in turn, reveals that Kuzari-style interpretations of Sinai are post-hoc and at least partly revisionist. Kuzari is therefore unable to prove anything--a critical point that ought to be acknowledged but seldom is.
* * *
Ch. 24:15b. and the cloud covered the mountain.
16. And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moses on the seventh day from within the cloud.
17. And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel.
18a. And Moses came within the cloud.
One final note: myth formation is not incompatible or inconsistent with some "real" historical event serving as an originating point for the story--there could have been something like a real Sinai moment between 1313 BCE and 2200 BCE, but there also needn't have been. Even at best, Kuzari does not give us a solid reason to think whether there might have been any real Sinai event or not.
If one is so biased, one can use the Kuzari Principle to rationalize acceptance of Judaism. Indeed, given the fantastical nature of so many tales in the Torah and in the traditional Jewish library (which makes the tales fun and interesting, by the way), one needs whatever arguments are available to justify giving oneself over to traditional authorities. Without such bias, however, Kuzari appears as what it is: an interesting yet problematic stretch. When we leave idle philosophizing and start to collect and consider material artifacts, Kuzari's wish-world offers too little and too faintly.