Thursday, February 12, 2015

The G-d Who Walked in the Garden: Reclaiming the Classical Jewish Conception of a Corporeal G-d (Benjamin Sommers)





"The God of the Hebrew Bible has a body.  This must be stated at the outset, because so many people, including many scholars, assume otherwise.  The evidence for this simple thesis is overwhelming...
     One need not go very far into the Bible to find a reference to God's form or shape.  Both terms, in fact, appear in the twenty-sixth verse of the Bible, in which God addresses various unnamed heavenly creatures as follows: 'Let us make humanity in our form, according to our shape, so that they rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds in the sky, and the beasts, over all the earth and all the creeping things that creep on the earth' (Genesis 1.26).  This verse begins from the assumption that God and the unnamed heavenly creatures have bodies, and it tells us that human bodies will have the same basic shape as theirs....
     ....
     As one moves forward in Genesis, one quickly arrives at additional verses that reflect the physicality of God--and although some of these verses point toward a nonmaterial anthropomorphism, others reflect a more concrete conception of God's body...In Genesis 2.7 God blows life-giving breath into the first human--an action that might suggest that God has a mouth or some organ with which to exhale.  Less ambiguously, in Genesis 3.8, Adam hears the sound of God going for a stroll in the Garden of Eden at the breezy time of the day...As we more forward in Genesis, we are told that God comes down from heaven to earth to take a close look at the tower the humans are building (Genesis 11.5) and that God walks to Abraham's tent, where He engages in conversation (Genesis 18).
     ....
     The techniques used by Eichrodt, Bruggemann, Haran, Kasher, and others to minimize, explain away, render metaphorical, or eviscerate the Bible's anthropomorphism are not new.  Techniques of this sort have been used ever since Jewish and Christian thinkers began to believe that God is not a physical being, at which point many became embarrassed by their own sacred scripture--that is, since the early Middle Ages....For Maimonides and other medieval Jewish philosophers (starting with Saadia Gaon), the denial of God's corporeality was a crucial aspect of monotheism; a God with a body was a God who could be divided...
     Yet references to an embodied God seem to appear again and again in the authoritative texts to which these philosophers based their thinking--not only in the Hebrew Bible but also in the classical rabbinic literature of the Talmuds and the midrashic collections.  In a recent book, Yair Lorberbaum reviews the many ways in which modern academic scholars specializing in rabbinic literature have evaded the consistently anthropomorphic conception of God held by the classical Jewish sages in the Talmuds and midrashic collections...," Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, pgs. 1-8.

No comments:

Post a Comment