November 26, 2012

A theological-philosophical mashup can’t save god

A Jewish scholar, Yoram Hazony, tries to make the claim that the Christian Old Testament/Jewish Tanakh doesn’t support the idea of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibevolent.

He tries to do this with an old angle … claiming the “omnis” all come from Greek philosophy, and they’re not supported by the Old Testament.

Simply not true that they all come from Plato et al, and simply not true that they’re not biblical.

The second issue first.

“Second Isaiah” is probably the clearest Old Testament example of the omnipotence of the biblical god. Isaiah 45:7 NIV:
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.
Second Isaiah has numerous other passages like this.

As for the provenance of omnipotency, etc., in early Judaism, after the return from exile? That came from the Persians that liberated the exiles, namely from their Zoroastrianism that gave us, as well, cosmic dualism, heaven and hell, etc.

That’s why Second Isaiah has passages like this. Ditto for Zechariah and some other late books.

Beyond that, Hazony is wrong in another way.

Daniel, of course WAS written long after Jews had had extensive contact with Greek philosophical thought. Depending on where you butter your bread on the date of this book, Ecclesiastes may reflect Greek philosophical influence, too.

And, the rabbis by the time of Rome certainly did.

A "more plausible" idea of god might exist, but it's not in the Tanakh.

Second, what is this "more plausible" idea? Is it a "god of the gaps"? Is it a magic-god of Arthur C. Clarke's famous dictum, wielding advanced enough technology to seem divine to at least a few?

Finally, the idea that the Hebrew imperfect is best translated in this case as “I will be what I will be,” rather than “I am what I am,” in god’s burning bush appearance to Moses, is a weak reed. In English, both tenses can be seen, to some degree, as implying continuity, not a one-time event, or as implying an ongoing status. In either case, the Yahwist author of that portion of Exodus wrote about 450 years before Second Isaiah. If Hazony is going to give us an ounce of exegesis, please give us the whole pound.

And, he should also tell us that modern scholarship thinks the name of Yahweh is yet another botched pun, whose roots are actually in the verb HaWaH, to storm or blow. In short, Yahweh was a Midianite Zeus, with Sinai, like Olympus, an old volcano.

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