November 10, 2019


What Kind of God Is the God of the Jews?: a review of  Jewish Theology Unbound by James Diamond (Neil Rogachevsky, 11/06/19, Mosaic)

Above all, Diamond rejects the philosophers' conception of God as utterly unchanging--"the unmoved mover," to cite Aristotle again. Instead he maintains that the biblical God is "unbound" by any fixed attributes, positive or negative; a dynamic being, God changes and advances along with humanity. In his own words, Diamond is set on exchanging "austere rational notions of [God's] perfection and immutability . . . for a vital, fluctuating God who is aided by human beings in the attainment of new cognitions and ever-developing states of self-awareness."
Jewish Theology Unboundis divided into discreet considerations of specific biblical themes that could plausibly fall under the rubric of "philosophical theology." Among the subjects it considers are the act of "questioning" God, freedom and slavery, love, death, martyrdom, political sovereignty, and the meaning and purpose of angels. Throughout, Diamond reflects on and endeavors to explain what we can coherently think and say about the dynamic God and His attributes. In particular, he focuses on the relationship between God and human beings--and Jews in particular--as the aspect most marked by creative flux.

In one example, Diamond shows how understanding God as dynamic is the only way to understand His covenant with the children of Israel. Thus, God's command to Jacob to return from exile in his father-in-law's house to his parents in Canaan expresses a double wish: to reunite Jacob with his father and to end God's own exile. Having accompanied Jacob in his wanderings, He is now eager to return to His chosen land and His beloved Isaac. Human freedom, in this case Jacob's taking action to return to the Land of Israel, is transformative at the most fundamental level since it can effect change in God Himself.

In still another biblical passage, this one from Exodus, Diamond analyzes Moses' two youthful encounters with injustice. In the first, Moses sees "an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew man," and in response looks around for an "ish," any man, who might intercede to stop the abuse. But he finds no "man," only a mass of individuals defined by their discrepant tribal groups and unwilling to be guided by their shared humanity and the obligations it imposes. In the next scene, Moses witnesses two Hebrew men fighting and asks the instigator, "Why do you strike your fellow?" This question, according to Diamond, is Moses' acknowledgement of the incompleteness of his earlier view that injustice could be solved by erasing or transcending ethnicity and tribe. Moses, in short, is evolving to become worthy of the assignment soon to be placed upon him by an evolving God.

Diamond's argument is spelled out most explicitly in a dense chapter on the meaning of God's name. Here he points to Moses' first encounter with God at the burning bush, where the prophet asks to be told His name and God answers with a Hebrew phrase that in its usual translation--"I am that I am"--seems to imply His transcendence and immutability.

But the Hebrew verbs, as Diamond points out, are cast in the future tense, "I shall be what I shall be," suggesting a deity who "evolves" along with "His creation and His creatures." This adumbrates a conception of God much closer to the mystical view later promoted by medieval kabbalists and their successors than to Maimonides' perfect, immutable being; in fact, the two are almost complete opposites.

Posted by at November 10, 2019 6:05 AM