Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Envisioning a God with a body

A regional newspaper out of Ontario, Canada, The Record, published an article which presents the views of Jewish biblical scholar, James Kugel regarding what the Bible says about the nature of God.
Contrary to popular opinion, God in the earliest books of the Bible didn't know all things.

Nor did He exist everywhere, all at once . . . . The Book of Genesis describes God walking through the Garden of Eden, Kugel said.

"Walking is not something you do when you're omnipresent," he quipped.

And at one point, God asks Cain the whereabouts of his brother Abel.

The verse implies that God didn't know Cain had killed his brother, Kugel said.

God also says, in Genesis 18, that He heard rumours about things happening in Sodom and Gomorrah and that He must go and see if they are true.

"That not only implies that He's not everywhere all at once, but He doesn't necessarily know everything -- he's going to go down and check," Kugel said.

This viewpoint will not come as "news" to the average Latter-day Saint. But it is interesting to note the comments of Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Kitchener:
"[Kugel's observations] really shook me up . . . But I think that's very, very good and very healthy because we get complacent in our beliefs."

Rosenzweig said that it never dawned on him that early biblical references to God's human physical features might not have simply been metaphors.

If those descriptions were not in the Bible, the notion of a God with physical form would be heretical, he said.

"That would be idolatry."

The article briefly touches on the transition in thought regarding the corporeal God of the early biblical books up to the omniscient and omnipresent God, which is said to be the dominant Jewish view at the time of Jesus. Written for the lay person, it is a short, easy read. Of course, I've always appreciated James Kugel's tendency to point out the obvious in what is so often illusive.


Blogger Kristine said...

Kugel's a treasure. I was lucky enough to take a class from him in college and fell deeply, deeply in love with the Old Testament. It was so great to see someone so obviously devout (he wouldn't pronounce the name of God, for instance) and so willing to wrestle with the very thorny intellectual problems posed by his tradition.

Oct 11, 2008, 7:02:00 AM  
Blogger Steven B said...

Kristine, thanks for visiting my blog. I first encountered Kugel as part of the course work curriculum for Hebrew Poetry at the University of Utah Middle East Center. I greatly admire his work.

Oct 12, 2008, 9:09:00 PM  

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