- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 17, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107422264
- ISBN-13: 978-1107422261
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #968,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel Paperback – January 17, 2011
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"An innovative and illuminating exploration of the idea that God in the Hebrew Bible is embodied. Benjamin Sommer explores the various modes of embodiment found in different sources and shows that both rabbinic and mystical Judaism, as well as Christianity, have roots in the variety of presentations in the Hebrew Bible. A characteristically lucid and original book." - John Barton, Oriel College, University of Oxford
"Sommer's audacious and original analyses of fascinating aspects of biblical theology, the fluidity and the embodiment of God against their Near Eastern backgrounds, open new questions and facilitate new solutions as to the later developments of Jewish thought, especially the sources of Kabbalistic theosophy." - Moshe Idel, Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University
"This very original work raises profound questions about how to understand the way in which the Biblical God (and the gods of the ancient Near East) makes his person manifest in the world. Readers will be stimulated to think about the identity of God in strikingly new ways." - Gary Anderson, University of Notre Dame
"Sommer explores such topics as monotheism versus polytheism, sacred space, the concept and manufacture of divine images, and the priestly and Deuteronomic views of the divine name and glory in fresh ways, pointing out their profound interconnections and persuasively challenging in the process long-held scholarly views. Throughout his discussion, he remains the consummate analyst, discerning and discriminating in his reading of the ancient sources and the modern scholarship on them. And yet his book is not only that of an analyst. In its lively, incisive, and conversational style, it is also a deeply personal encounter with fundamental and troubling issues about the relationship of divinity and humanity - issues, as he makes clear, that have not lost their relevance and their bite." - Peter Machinist, Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, Harvard University
"I found [Sommer's] perspectives quite revealing in terms of Pauline Christology as well as for notions of 'Incarnationalism' in Judaism. I would very much recommend taking a look at his material. It contributes significantly in my view to the rethinking of the early Christian-Jewish relationship that has taken such interesting and significant turns in the last decade.' - The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; President, International Council of Christians and Jews
"This book is a lucid, elegant and erudite presentation of a series of complex topics. Sommer has made an important contribution to the field of biblical theology. It is my sense that this will be a much-discussed book for many years to come." --Mennonite School of Theology, Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil
"The book is a stunning foray into ancient Israelite religious traditions that produces new insights and raises critically important questions. ... it will be hard to read biblical texts in the same way after having encountered Sommer's analysis. His identification of the fluidity traditions--and even the term he has coined to describe them--will likely influence much future scholarship on Israelite religion and the Hebrew Bible for years, if not decades, to come." --H-Judiac, (May 2011)
The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel uncovers a lost ancient Near Eastern perception of divinity according to which an essential difference between gods and humans was that gods had more than one body and fluid, unbounded selves. Sommer's book has important repercussions not only for biblical scholarship and comparative religion but for Jewish-Christian dialogue.
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I appreciated the disscusion on scholarly denial, where he said that starting with Saadia Gaon and then Maimonides “the denial of G-d’s corporality was a crucial aspect of monotheism; a G-d with a body was a G-d who could be divided, and for these philosophers the belief in a divisible G-d constituted what one might call internal polytheism. The internal polytheism implied by the belief in a physical G-d was even more objectionable to these thinkers than a belief in many gods.”
I liked where he said Deuteronomy 4:15 “…does not deny that G-d has a form, however;…Deuteronomy insists only that G-d’s body never comes to earth because it always remains in heaven. Similarly, the Ten Commandments prohibit Israelites from making a physical representation of G-d, but never deny that G-d has a body that might in theory be represented” ( p. 9).
I appreciated the discussion on the shem and the mal’akh on page 59. “ …shem functions outside the deuteronomic and priestly texts both as a synonym for G-d and as a hypostasis or emanation of G-d that is not quite a separate deity.” The discussion on the kabod was also interesting. “G-d’s kabod in several nonpriestly Biblical texts means G-d’s body and, more specifically in many passages, G-d’s intensely bright body, which is normally surrounded by a cloud.”
I understand the Golden Calf incident differently after reading this book.
Chapter 6 “The Perception of Divinity in Biblical Tradition: Implications and Afterlife” was especially interesting. I appreciated Dr. Sommer saying, “…portrayals of YHWH as possessing multiple bodies and overlapping selves do occur in ancient Israel’s scriptures. Editors who were primarily loyal to priestly and deuteronomic outlooks in effect covered these portrayals with a veil, but they neither destroyed them nor altered them beyond recognition. These less common portrayals constitute what we might call a minority position within the Hebrew Bible…The final from of the Hebrew Bible tempers that tradition and calls it into question, but it allows it to remain within the sacred precincts” (p. 125).
He also says that, “…every passage in sacred scripture is there to teach us something. We may have the right to react to what is in scripture; we may have the right to disagree with it; but we have no right to ignore it. A Jewish understanding of G-d that does not reflect the fluidity tradition us a defective one” (p. 125).
I liked the discussion on Multiple Conceptions of the Shekhinah in Rabbinic Literature in this chapter and “Fluidity in Kabbalah”. I enjoyed the discussion on “Fluidity in Christianity”. He said, “For all the trouble that Jewish and Muslim philosophers have had with this notion, the trinity emerges as a fairly typical example of the fragmentation of a single deity into seemingly distinct manifestations that do not quite undermine that deity’s coherence” (p.132). Reading this book, made the concept of trinitarianism actually make sense. “Classic language of trinitarian theology, such as…one nature, three persons or one substance, three manifestations, applies perfectly well to examples of YHWH’s fluidity in the Hebrew Bible and to the fluidity traditions ini Canaan and Mesopotamia” (p.133).
The discussion on “Christianity in Light of Judaism’s Embodied G-d” on pages 135-137 was extremely interesting as Dr. Sommer went into reasons aside from Trinitarianism why Jews do not believe in Jesus, which for me prompts further study.
I enjoyed reading the appendix. Different forms of monotheism interest me. So, I liked reading about monolatry and henotheism.
The author is a very religious Jew,and presents a detailed review of a astouding collection of material.
He does an excellent job of teasing out the threads of the various writers of the bible.
This is an excellent choice for students, although it might upset fundamentalists of several religions.