Kuzari principle

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Mass-revelation at Mount Sinai in an illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907
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Not to be confused with the Khazar myth; the name "Sefer Kuzari" refers to the "Book of the Khazar" because the book is written in a frame narrative of a dialogue between a Jew and the king of the Khazars.

The Kuzari Principle, sometimes called the Sinai argument or the mass revelation argument, is an argument found in Jewish apologetics in favor of belief in the Biblical narrative. The Kuzari principle asserts that because the revelation at Mt. Sinai is an unparalleled event passed down through generations, the story must be true.[1][2]

It's named after the book Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised ReligionWikipedia by Spanish Jewish poet, physician, and philosopher Judah Halevi,Wikipedia which is typically called Kuzari, meaning "book of the Khazar." However, the argument's first known appearance was actually in the book Emunoth ve-DeothWikipedia by Saadia Gaon.Wikipedia[3]

The argument[edit]

The Kuzari principle can pretty much be boiled down to the following syllogism:

P1: The only way a falsehood can be transmitted is through deception or through confusion.
P2: The revelation at Mt. Sinai relayed in the Torah was neither produced by deception nor confusion.
a. The revelation at Mt. Sinai was a unique event with a great number of independent witnesses, and its history of testimony is unparalleled in scope.
i. Thus, it could not have been confused or imagined.
b. The Biblical narrative of the history of the Jews is widespread and has been passed down from generation to generation through an unbroken chain of testimony.Wikipedia
i. Thus, the story could not have been fabricated through deception.
C: Therefore, the story of the revelation at Mt. Sinai could not have been fabricated and must be true.

According to the story, Moses comes down from the mountain after speaking with God, carrying the Ten Commandments, and God revealed itself to all the Israelites who stood at the foot of the mountain. The result is a mass revelation, a public miracle. Those people all witnessed this, lending credibility. All these witnesses passed down this story, and should their children believe it and pass it down as well, a chain will be formed. Through this unbroken chain of testimony, the story was passed down and had no chance for interference.[4]

This is the crux of the Kuzari principle; as Judah Halevi put it, we can come to know these things "first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former."[5] Meanwhile, Saadia Gaon puts it thusly:

Now it is not likely that the forbears of the children of Israel should have been in agreement upon this matter if they had considered it a lie… Besides, if they had told their children: ‘We lived in the wilderness for forty years eating nought except manna,’ and there had been no basis for that in fact, their children would have answered them: ‘Now you are telling us a lie. Thou, so and so, is not this thy field, and thou, so and so, is not this thy garden from which you have always derived your sustenance?’ This is, then, something that the children would not have accepted by any manner of means.[6]

The argument, then, is that there was no opportunity for the history of the Israelites to be a product of deception; a bunch of people all saw something, and if someone had lied in the moment, claiming that everyone saw something they didn't, they would have known it was a lie, and while someone had made a claim about their ancestors having seen something, then that would have been clearly unreliable. Therefore, with no interference and no deception, the story must be true.


Each premise of the Kuzari principle is deeply flawed upon critical examination.[7][8][9] Let's break them down.


Apologists will highlight that the theophany at Mt. Sinai was unparalleled in all of history, so it wasn't copied or confused, and the nature of the narrative being rare means you should believe it. This is a little more nuanced than an appeal to novelty and an appeal to popularity, but it still comes down to a similar proposition. They will point out that other stories of revelation were private, so they're unreliable because they could have been hallucinated or made up. Further, because it's a specific widespread belief, it couldn't have been a product of cultural exchange or confusion.

Well, stories of public revelation are actually relatively common in world history and religion, even to this day. Here's a short list of incredible things large numbers of people claimed to have witnessed:

With the logic that the publicity of an event lends credibility, all these events must be lent the same credence. Apologists will argue that the number of witnesses at Mt. Sinai was greater than any of these and thus more reliable. But at what point is it credible? Is there a magic number? Is it conveniently however many were at the foot of the mountain?


A core part of this argument is the chain of testimony is unbroken. While the story itself has been transmitted through Judaism, that narrative was not necessarily consistently told from each generation to the next. The Deuteronomic reform saw an introduction of a text into the Pentateuch, a "lost book" of Moses, which is often believed to be the "Book of Law" mentioned in the Books of Kings. If this text was lost until then, then how could it have been passed down the chain? Doesn't seem totally unbroken.

Of course, the events in question appear in Exodus, but the transmission of the faith wasn't so stable in general. In fact, the Tanakh explicitly describes periods where the Israelites forgot all about God:

Judges 2:10-13
And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:
And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.
And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.

This discredits the claim that the narrative of the Torah was transmitted from each generation to the next.


Of course, one cannot know for certain that the revelation did not occur, but none of the preceding arguments actually prove that it did. A key starting premise of the argument is that a story can only be proven false if it is spawned by either a lie or confusion. This logic does not bear out.

The Kuzari principle asserts that the story is both unique and a product of a chain of testimony. Let's assume those two propositions are indeed true. Even if this story was both unparalleled and unbroken, that does not prove that the story itself is true. And if you're arguing that it proves that the whole Tanakh is true, that's even less effective (just because one part is true, doesn't mean the rest is). Unbroken chains of testimony can create falsehoods as with gossip and urban legends, and a unique and unparalleled story can still prove to be false. And why should we assume that what the Israelites saw as God was indeed just that? Even if hundreds, thousands, or more witnessed such a thing, even to this day mass hysteria can be observed in perfectly rational people. It's possible that the witnesses at Mt. Sinai, if that story is true, witnessed something that we would make sense of differently now. Further, stories passed down through history are subject to change, misinterpretation, and corruption.

The Kuzari principle does not sufficiently prove anything about the veracity of the Torah. Even some Orthodox Jews affirm this.[10] Not only are its starting premises false, but these premises also do not adequately uphold its concluding proposition. As a device, it really only serves to embolden a believer's faith.

See also[edit]