Kuzari Principle: The Mass Revelation Argument Deconstructed
Kuzari Principle: The Mass Revelation Argument Deconstructed

Kuzari Principle: The Mass Revelation Argument Deconstructed

The Rational Believer
An Intellectual Journey Through Belief in Judaism and Torah Theology


Kuzari Principle: The Mass Revelation Argument Deconstructed
Overview: The classical argument explained, but then deconstructed with an understanding of myth-formation in the ancient world.

While I do believe there is evidence that can support the idea of a divinely-inspired Torah (see here), I think the Kuzari principle, or the Mass Revelation argument, is not in the category of evidence for Judaism. It is an interesting argument, perhaps compelling at first, but serious flaws are exposed once we get into the details. We will first briefly go through the argument and then proceed with its critical flaws.

The general argument

The Mass Revelation argument is the idea that we should trust the collective whole as opposed to an individual. All religions around the world begin with a single individual, or a select few individuals, who claim to have received revelation from the divine. A unique exception is Judaism which begins with a claimed revelation to a large mass of people – the entire nation – at Mt. Sinai.[i] No other nation can be said to have that unique experience.

The significance of this phenomenon is that no longer must we rely on the word of an individual or group of priests, but we can rely on the powerful testimony of an entire nation to whom there was a divine revelation – called a Mass Revelation. The argument continues that the claim of a mass revelation story recorded in Torah can only come about with the actual experience of a mass revelation. It couldn’t have been made-up by later Jewish leaders. Therefore, we must conclude that God has indeed revealed Himself to the Jewish people and gave them the Torah. These Israelites would have passed down the Sinai story in tradition to their children, and their children to their children, until it reaches us some 3,000 years later.

The impossible scenarios

We have a story in Torah about the entire Jewish nation receiving divine revelation at Sinai. The question is when this story came about. The Mass Revelation argument seeks to rule out all options besides for the option that the Mt. Sinai event is actual history. It therefore concludes the veracity of the Mt. Sinai story recorded in Torah. There are essentially three options for where the story may have come from. (1) Moses convinced the people that they saw a divine revelation. (2) A later Jewish leader convinces the people that they saw a divine revelation. (3) The story happened as recorded. We will rule out the first two options leaving us with the third.

Moses convinces the people:
It is understood that Moses would not be able to convince the nation that they saw something that they did not in fact see.

It’s understood as well that even if Moses were admired by all the Jews, he would not be able to convince them to tell their very own beloved children a myth that they themselves know not to be true, to tell them that they had a divine revelation at Sinai.

And even if we are to assume, theoretically, that they all did lie to their children, it’s impossible for millions to keep a secret without spilling the beans at some point [for the same reason you won’t tell your secrets to more than just a few people].

It’s also quite impossible to imagine Moses intoxicating, drugging up, or hypnotizing the nation, and thereafter performing some minor miracles which they imagined to be a Revelation from God. For, first of all, it’s quite practically impossible to do so to an entire nation. And second of all, they would realize what has happened when they return to their sober state. Besides, we generally look at the present to understand the past. No such events of mass-intoxicating, drugging-up, or hypnosis—especially to thousands of people—take place these days.

Introduced by a later Jewish leader:
This theory would argue that a later figure in Jewish history would “return” the lost religion to the Israelites. He would tell them that their ancestors have received divine revelation and the religion was lost and he’s now here to return it.

But there is a fundamental problem with this hypothesis. If we were to assume that the Israelites would accept his myth—wouldn’t this scholar or leader be remembered as the national hero?! After all, religion-founders are all remembered as heroes in their history. Particularly Jewish history which is rich in information and details of all sorts wouldn’t forget this miniature-Moses who revived the lost religion. Yet throughout our hundreds of pages of history in Tanach, there’s not a trace of such a heroic individual and his achievements in returning the lost religion.[1] [2]

Having ruled out the other options, only one option remains: the story as actual history in which the Jewish nation receives divine revelation at Mt. Sinai, some 3,000 years ago. This is the Mass Revelation argument. It is the unique unparalleled national experience of the Jews, seeing and hearing God with their own senses, not needing to rely on anyone else who claims to have seen/heard the divine.[3]

But is this argument truly tenable?

The possible scenarios

The Mass Revelation argument is contingent on the claim that no other model better explains the Sinai story we now have in Torah than the model that says the story actually transpired. It goes on to rule out other models leaving this one alone. But there are serious cracks in the logic once we realize that there are other models that can account for the Sinai story we now have in Torah. Before going into the three alternative models, one point must be prefaced.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If someone claims to have seen an alien, we should – logically – be skeptical and assume that he saw something else or was hallucinating. This is not because it is impossible for him to have seen an alien – after all, there is a chance that aliens exist – but because we opt for the more reasonable explanation over the novel explanation. Aliens appearing on this Earth is a novel idea and therefore we will assume that the person saw something else or was hallucinating. Similarly, in our case, when we are faced with two options regarding the historicity of the Sinai story, we should opt for the more reasonable model over the more novel one. The idea of a divine revelation is essentially a novel idea (since it is, at the very least, an extremely rare occurrence – if at all occurring). Therefore, we should logically assume naturalistic explanations for the Sinai story, if there are naturalistic explanations. And indeed there are:

(4) Before the invention of the printing-press, information wasn’t as readily available as it is nowadays. Only the cultural elite had libraries and troves of information. Going back further in time, even the cultural elite wouldn’t have had hand-written books. Only the King’s Court and the elite priests would have had the stone-carved books of information.

As a direct consequence, information was easily distorted over time. Stories, told over as legends from generation to generation orally, would slowly change, taking on new features and alterations over a period of many generations of “broken telephone.”

The Sinai story may have had some historical truths to it, but the story would have changed drastically over time, becoming more and more dramatic and miracle-like. The original story may have been of Moses rising to Mt. Sinai. A few generations later, the story was told over with the changed detail that not only Moses went atop Mt. Sinai, but also the priests joined him. Many generations later, the story would have been that the nation saw a cloud and fire hover over the priests and Moses. Fast-forward many more generations and you have a story of a mass revelation in which the entire nation sees the divine atop the mountain and God speaks to the nation directly.

Yet another option is that the Israelites did not hear the God’s Voice but rather some strange physical sounds. This may have come from certain weather effects or thunder thrusting off the mountains in echo. The people present would recount to their children about the thundering sounds they heard before Moses ascended the mountain. Their grandchildren would tell over the story about the thundering voices the Israelites heard at Sinai. Fast-forward many generations, and they are telling over the story about the divine voices they heard.

This is what we call myth-formation. It is the process of stories developing over time until they are drastically different than their original form. There was a period of almost a thousand years (from the emergence of the Israelites in Canaan circa 13th-century BCE until the time that bible scholars believe the Torah was written) for the Sinai story to have developed until it reached its current form as written in the Torah. This process was a natural occurrence in the ancient world where legends were easily believed and very little was questioned by the gullible populace. For example, we have the myth of Romulus and Remus and the foundation of Rome.[4] These figures may have been historical, and over time their story turned into the magical tale that it now is. This model is far more plausible than the divine revelation and thus the Mass Revelation argument is rebutted on account of this possible model.

(5) This next model is similar to the previous myth-formation. Except over here, instead of the original Sinai story having historical truth, it would have been intended as metaphor. In ancient times, not at all “history” was intended to be history. Metaphor was a powerful means of inspiration and provided meaning to much of religious and cultural life. It is clear that many ancient works, although appearing historical at first glance, were intended as metaphor or embellishment. Metaphor and embellishment are similar; metaphor is depicting an entirely new story whereas embellishment is where the details of a true story are intentionally embellished in order to use the story as a source of inspiration. Both of them appear to be “history,” to the modern reader, although it actually was intended to be taken as metaphor.

The Midrash genre in rabbinic literature is full of this metaphoric preaching and regularly embellishes the biblical narratives. To bring out the spiritual stature of Moses, it describes him as being 10 cubits tall (about 15 feet). To bring out Pharaoh’s low spiritual stature, it describes him as 1 cubit high (1.5 feet). There are other magical, unrealistic embellishments to the biblical story found in Midrash, such as the description of 1 billion Hebrews being enslaved in Egypt (at a time when the world had less than a quarter billion humans).[ii] There’s even a rabbinic opinion that the entire biblical book of Job was metaphor rather than history.[iii] This kind of embellishment and metaphor was commonplace in ancient literature.

If we apply this concept to the Sinai story, we can suggest that the narrative was originally intended as metaphor and over time it came to be taken as history. [This is perhaps similar to the phenomenon of many, if not most, Orthodox Jews wrongly interpreting much of Midrash as literal history.] Or, the story originally had a grain of truth but over time the story was embellished so much that it no longer reflects the historical reality.[5] In either case, the point is, the story recorded in Torah cannot be taken for granted as literal history and thus the Mass Revelation argument falls apart.[6]

(6) Yet another possible model is that national myths can and have developed in the past. One very relevant example is the self-proclaimed Black Hebrews. Their movement originated in the 19th-century when their leaders proclaimed that they had a vision that they were the real descendants of the Israelites. They opened Churches and the movement grew to very sizable communities throughout America.

Similarly, the Samaritans are another example of myth formation. Their exact origins is unclear. They claim to be the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes (except they weren’t the lost ones – rather the ones who remained in Israel). Yet their Ten Commandments is different than ours! The same alleged Revelation event, two groups, yet each with their own versions of what the Revelation entailed. This would debunk the idea that myths cannot develop on such foundational national events.

One might counter that they are not actually the descendants of the Ten Tribes (indeed this is standard Orthodox belief). Yet, that claim itself is another example against the Kuzari argument. These non-Jews were able to develop the myth that their ancestors stood at Sinai!

These are just two examples, although other examples add to the point (see here for many widespread myths believed across Orthodox circles, some of vital religious importance).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this:
The Torah: Divinely-Inspired or Man-Made?

Divine Names and the Documentary Hypothesis
The Ever-Evolving Morals and Biblical Law
aron at
Usually you are quite perceptive, however this time i think you have got things completely wrong. You state that this is a bad argument because of supposed myth formation where “little was questioned by the gullible populace”. Not only that but the myth had “3000 years” to form. This is absolute nonsense. We have records of King David and Solomon even in the non Jewish world where they were practising Judaism in the 7th centaury BCE and the Torah was claimed to be given even by its own standards in 13th centaury BCE, a gap of 600 years for this myth to form rather than 3000. Additionally you state that the nation was gullible. Again this could not be further from the truth. As a practising Jew you study the Talmud written almost 2000 years ago and yet the most logical, questioning series of books ever written such that they are still studied by Jews today. That was the nature of the people back then and it is much more probable that people are more gullible nowadays. Thirdly, you yourself are willing to admit how unlikely it is that a leader introduces the nation to a long lost book, yet you happily suggest that one generation people added the minor detail on to the story that God spoke to their ancestors. this is not a minor detail to be added on nor are the 613 commandments which must also have been added on to this myth as a “minor detail” It is far from a minor detail, it is life changing for them and their children.

dovid at
Thank you for your thoughts, Aron. Allow me to clarify a few points. First, I will correct the 3,000 years to several hundred years. My rationale at first was the Midrashic twists to the Sinai narrative that continue well into the Rabbinic era. But I will correct this so as not to confuse others.

As for people being extremely gullible in ancient times, this is a pretty well established historical fact. Critical thinking among the public is a more recent phenomenon. We see that people were much more blinded by religious/cultural dogma in the past without questioning those dogmas. While the Talmud is extremely analytical and slightly critical, it doesn’t question earlier sources or established religious dogma. The Talmud works within a specific wet of principles, hardly accurate to be called a “critical-thinking” book. In any event, this is not the place to discuss the Talmud but my point is – and you are entitled to disagree – that people would easily accept certain things as facts in ancient times without questioning them.

As for your third point, I don’t see it as “life changing for them and their children” since the religion would have always been practiced whether it was a solo-revelation or a mass-revelation. The difference is only for us in the 21st century questioning the validity of the event.
Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Eitan Kastner at
I appreciate your content, I often turn to it to develop research I was conducting. I see a few flaws in your argument, however before I begin I would just like to point out we all have serious confirmation biases and we all live within our own fairytales that we call reality. Having a response to my points isn’t especially impressive, one can rationalize anything. What is impressive is being able to think critically and objectively as possible and remain open minded to pursuing the most reasonable truthful option, no matter the consequence. Now let me move on my to thoughts on this.
1) The assumption you make that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence for them to be weighed as true is lacking. While I do agree with you that we do tend to opt for naturalistic explanations as the more reasonable one, over here that logic doesn’t apply. The reason is simply because if it was true, it would not make it extraordinarily clear beyond any possible doubt that this was the absolute truth because that would severely limit the free will for following the religion. Searching for truth (in Judaism) is part of the religious journey, and the journey would lose a lot of meaning if it was obviously true to everyone and we worked from there. However, despite the problem I have pointed out, what are you gonna do? We can’t assume the super natural explanation is going to be true because, I mean come on, 99.9 percent of these stories aren’t accurate. However, it is clear extra ordinary evidence is not required, the same evidence we use to determine the possibility and probability of something happening will suffice.
2) Now then
I want to point out something you did that I felt was sneaky- you are assuming the biblical critics time of when the Torah was written is correct even though a) opinions vary b) there is historical evidence and an obvious logical argument (that no one seems to speak about) that shows the Torah was written at the time which it claims. In order for the Myth Formation argument to have a chance of standing tall, you are already assuming when the book was written as opposed to believing the event actually occurred – which is a possibility regardless if the Torah was written in 13th Century BCE or 700 years later.
Also It was not “almost a thousand” it was 13th century to to 6th Century BCE .. a 40 percent increase is not “almost” -please change this- though maybe unintentional (I hope) it is clearly dishonest.

3) The second rebuttal you proposed is hard to believe is possible. To claim that it was written metaphorically and the people knew it wasn’t historically accurate and somehow it became later accepted as fact is problematic due to multiple reasons – a) This argument depends on the scholars being wrong about when the Torah was written. If it was written when they claim- and the people at first KNEW it was metaphorical- there is not enough time to reasonably conclude that what people knew was metaphorical became accepted as actual historical truth. And the premise of this argument directly contradicts with the premise of your first attempted rebuttal!! (that the Torah was written when scholars say it was)
b) In the 1st Temple Period starting from 1000 BC there was a Beit HaMikdash- people were practicing and following the religion fervently not to mention the 2nd Temple too- to think all the rituals they were performing they did so knowing that everything in the Torah isn’t actually true or divine (the 1st temple didn’t even have the torah if you say according to the critics) and their whole religion is based on a fairy tale yet they practiced the religion fervently is hard to believe. A nation only practices a religion when they believe the religion to be true. They could be wrong, but you would think they need to at least believe it is true. You don’t even have that according to this rebuttal.
4) In Regards to the First Rebuttal you offered: Firstly, we have clarified that you need the scholars to be right about when the Torah was written and not the rabbis (which is already an uncertain assumption- PS I read your article on could Moses have written the Torah and I have responses prepared for each example you brought up) Secondly, even if we wanted to say the scholars are right when they say the time Torah was written- let us examine how likely is it that this myth formation could have taken place. So from the time of whatever occurred at Mount Sinai with Moses (13th Century BC) until the 7th or 6th Century BC (scholars argue and final redactions vs when first written make dates unclear) – We are looking at a 700 year separation roughly. Now let’s address how something completely natural (thundering sounds) became the
infinite God of the universe clearly speaking to the entire nation and his prophet Moses.
For this to occur certain conditions need to be fulfilled.
a) There is enough time for these changes to occur
b) The Event in question would have to be significant enough for people to pass it down
c) The entire nation who experienced this event would somehow have all changed their opinion on the facts of the event in the same exact way
I don’t think the scene you set fits any of these 3 requirements (the time you can try but ill show why it probably was not enough time)
Firstly, 700 years is not enough. A person belongs to a 5 sometimes 6 (incredibly rare 7) generation chain. A person knows his grandfather, father, son, and grandson. Sometimes Great Grandfathers and Grandsons are possible though I admit there would not be many of those considering the mortality rate back then (although consider there was an entire nation; a few certainly could have existed). So let us call 5-6 Generations one full “generational cycle”. So starting from the youngest people to experience the event of thunderclouds that could remember and pass it down, that is what we need to examine. Simply put, there is not enough Generational Cycles to reasonably conclude that such drastic changes to a story could take place, especially considering an entire nation experienced it. Pretending each had their kid at 15 and died at 50 (which is being nice considering if one didn’t die from poison violence or accident, someone in 1300 BC could be expected to live till 60+ https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20181002-how-long-did-ancient-people-live-life-span-versus-longevity) you have a 200 year generational cycle when you account for outliers. There is only a 700 year gap. That is 3 generational cycles at best and that is not enough time for thunder to turn into God explicitly speaking to an entire nation with Moses as their lead prophet.
In Regards to B- an average natural phenomenon such as the thunder sounds you suggested is a non significant event that an entire nation wouldn’t feel such a need to pass down. If there was nothing passed down, there would be no tradition, no claim of mass revelation, it would never get off the ground. Most people wouldn’t even remember the event even being spoken about so there is no event, no room to turn a story no one remembers into God speaking. Pretty simple. You could suggest the event was natural although somehow significant, but now we are really going into the land of guesswork and speculation.
In Regards to C- In Myth Formation, especially when the event in question happens to large groups of people, you naturally get significant variations in the story yet there is one tradition that everyone seems to maintain of God speaking to the entire nation with Moses at the helm. If all that happened was thundering sounds, especially to thousands upon thousands of people, we would have 100 different stories about what happened.. it is honestly a miracle there wasn’t a huge historical event fighting over which version to put down in the Torah and other versions coming out, but no! That never happened.

I think I have adequately demonstrated why your rebuttals are lacking and I hope you are the type of critical thinker who will look at this with an open mind… besides wouldn’t the Torah being true and having concrete information about what the purpose of life is and how to achieve eternal reward splendid!

Oh I almost forgot the kicker: even if this event somehow occurred by natural means- then why doesn’t this happen all the time? Why are the major religions (assumedly all or all besides one are wrong) based on the testimony of 1 or 2 guys when religions could have sprung up around a claim of mass revelation? It would seem to be so much more credible! The fact this doesn’t exist makes me question if the naturalist explanation (which already seems very difficult to come up with a plausible one) is more likely to be the explanation than that the events occurred as described. I believe this answer offers reasonable evidence to say that the Torah is true.

Comment *

Name *
Email *

THE RATIONAL BELIEVER © 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *