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    Revelation at Sinai

    The Ten Commandments are the most famous document in Western civilisation, proclaimed by God at Mount Sinai amid a display of natural phenomena.

    To the believer, there is no question that the event happened. God spoke, the Israelites heard, and history was changed forever. But even the believer sometimes asks how Revelation works.

    The Maggid of Kossov in the 18th century suggested, for example, that it was not actually God’s voice that was heard by Moses and the Children of Israel, but they apprehended the message with their intellectual and spiritual faculties.

    The question is asked by Abraham Joshua Heschel: why should anyone need to know whether Revelation is scientifically possible?

    Heschel says, “Every moment is a carefully concealed act of His creation… why should we assume that the endless is forever imprisoned in silence?” (Leo Baeck Festschrift, 1954, pp. 28-35).

    It may be that at the moment of Revelation all Israel were completely certain that they had received the message because it was a moment when they were all like prophets.

    Maimonides argues (Guide for the Perplexed, 3:24) that it should not be thought that what a prophet perceives is not factual or is commingled with illusion.

    He says, “What is perceived by a prophet is a certain truth; he has no doubts in any way concerning anything in it, and its status is the same as that of all existing things that are apprehended through the senses or through the intellect”.

    Our cynical age is in error when it insists on measuring religious truth and spiritual experience against a scientific yardstick. The question is not one of physics or mechanics but whether those experiencing great moments are adamant that the event has occurred and has changed their lives forever.

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