Debating, miracles & God

Peter Enns* mentions a lovely piece** from the Talmud about serious debating. Debating gone extremely spiritual. And wild, some would say. And involving God directly. And a bit funny… let’s be honest. 🙂

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A famous story from the Talmud, Judaism’s early medieval core text on Jewish faith and life, records a debate between rabbis. The debate is over whether an oven that was made impure could be purified and used again.
The majority opinion was no but one rabbi, Eliezar, argued the opposite, but, alas, to no avail. Exasperated by his colleagues’ dim-wittedness, he challenged them with some miracles. If I am right, he said, may that tree over there move—whereupon the tree picked itself up and moved about the length of a football field. But the others weren’t convinced. They were certain their argument from the Bible was sure, and no moving tree was going to convince them otherwise.
Eliezar wouldn’t give up. He called a stream to reverse course and then the walls of the house to bend inward, but the others responded the same way. Finally, Eliezar asked whether hearing the heavenly voice of God himself would convince them, at which point the voice of God declared that Eliezar was absolutely right.
This didn’t work either. The others responded that God had already given his Torah on Mount Sinai. In that Torah we read that God’s commands are “not in heaven” but right here, available to all. God himself is bound by his own recorded words in Torah, and so even his heavenly voice can’t change that.
At hearing this, God laughed with delight, “My children have defeated me! My children have defeated me!”

* Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It
**Talmud. Bava Metzia 59b, and the passage from Torah alluded to there is in Deuteronomy 30:12 (see also 17:11).

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