The Religion News Blog reports that researcher James Kugel has found that the descriptions of God employed in the early books of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) might not be metaphorical after all.
He believes that, when the text says “God walked in the Garden,” (see Genesis 3:8), it means he literally walked.
In other words, the God we have come to know as omnipresent and incorporeal is really a mere physical being, just like us.
The most obvious question raised by this is “What’s the point?”
It seems to me that James Kugel spent some time giving the text a cursory reading, which led him to his conclusion.
Does it really take long hours of research to come up with this?
Secondly, I don’t see how this argues against the idea of the anthropomorphic descriptions of God in Tanach being metaphorical.
How else are we supposed to understand a being that is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, if we don’t use the language we’re familiar with, (I.E., descriptions of physical attributes)?
More to the point, what’s the use of worshipping, obeying or fearing a God who is little better than we are?
And that may be what Mr. Kugel is driving at.
Maybe he’s looking for the perfect justification to use in order to make himself feel more comfortable with discarding his belief in God.
Admittedly, this is merely speculation on my part.
But I can’t see any other reason for advancing a view like this, unless you’re looking for an escape hatch, and the time honored ones just won’t do.
Finally, I’m amazed that anyone, especially a rabbi who seems to be traditional at the very least, can honestly say that he’s shaken by this.
As a rabbi, I’m sure Yosel Rosenzweig has studied the works of the Rambam, which deal with the idea of God being described as a physical being in detail (see Moreh Nevuchim, chapter 26, where it says that we describe God using attributes that the masses would consider perfect in relation to themselves).
If all it takes to shake one’s faith and cause one to struggle greatly is for another to suggest that God might have physical characteristics because the text of the Tanach seems to say as much on its surface, then there must not have been much faith there to start with.
Mr. Kugel says he’s not sure what effects his observations might have on contemporary Jews and their religious practices, and I submit that his research won’t effect contemporary Jewish religious practice in the slightest, unless you count collectively yawning.
Those who are faithful won’t care, and those who don’t see any point in engaging in Jewish religious practice will most likely do the same, if not for the same reason.
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