- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Jewish Lights; 1 edition (August 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1580232655
- ISBN-13: 978-1580232654
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 22.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,478,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Personhood of God: Biblical Theology, Human Faith and the Divine Image 1st Edition
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"Muffs's fascinating thesis―that the genius of the Jewish religion is the idea of God's 'personhood’―is skillfully executed and given its scholarly due. Readers of all faiths will find this book insightful and thought-provoking."
―Elyse Goldstein, author of ReVisions: Seeing Torah through a Feminist Lens and editor of The Women’s Torah Commentary and The Women’s Haftarah Commentary
"Embraces unashamedly the ways the Bible pictures God as a person with all the traits of human psychology and even anatomy. Shows convincingly how it enriches both faith and theology, not least by liberating the readers from the stultifying literal readings of the sacred texts."
―Bishop Krister Stendahl, Harvard Divinity School
“A priceless opportunity.... Vitality, excitement and theological imagination leap from every page. For those readers who never knew Muffs the teacher, this volume is a gift.”
―Dr. Neil Gillman, professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, author of The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought
“Biblical scholar, Jewish theologian, master teacher―all three of these personae make their appearance on every page. His vast but understated erudition is completely fused with his own passionate religiosity to make for stimulating and challenging reading. The reader will be well rewarded.”
―Rabbi Arthur Green, dean of the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, author of Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow
“Behind the academic and the philosopher is the one who loves God as Person with a burning intensity. How does he work this out so it makes sense to him and to others? Those of us who have heard 'Yochie Muffs’ teach and those who, alas, have not can read The Personhood of God. The book is a blessing.”
―Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author of First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit: Reb Zalman’s Guide to Recapuring the Intimacy & Ecstasy in Your Relationship with God
From the Inside Flap
In scholarly but accessible terms, with many startling and controversial insights, renowned Bible scholar Dr. Yochanan Muffs examines the anthropomorphic evolution of the Divine Image--from creator of the cosmos to God the father, God the husband, God the king, God the "chess-player," God the ultimate master--and how these different images of God have shaped our faith and world view. Muffs also examines how expressions of divine power, divine will and divine love throughout the Bible have helped develop the contemporary human condition and our enriching dialectic between faith and doubt.
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Top Customer Reviews
This exploration of the 'human personal God' is at the heart of this faith- strengthening work .
While religious thinkers have relied on increasingly abstract notions of God, in the Hebrew Bible God is always a living, breathing presence. "It is almost tragic that in order to liberate the religious from religion, the God of the common faith from the God of supernaturalism, it should be necessary to demythologize religious literature, thus draining off its poetic power, and to depersonalize religious doctrine, thus draining it of its educational power," he writes. "A model of divinity that does not partake of personhood can hardly be expected to cultivate personhood in man."
Why is it a problem? Because the God who we feel in the deepest recesses of our beings, sense with our hearts and feeling and read of in the holy books is not He who our minds tell us He is.
Reason, philosophy and intellect lead us to the God who is perfect, immutable and distant, Pascal's "God of Philosophers, not the God of Abraham. Isaac and Jacob." Our minds conceive of Divinity that is too great to be contained within the heart of men; yet, if we can ever hope to relate to Him, we must reduce the dread and he awe of the overpowering Presence to manageable, workable concepts and images of God the Sovereign, Father, Teacher, Lover.
Philosophic cognition of God leaves us with an arid, distant and unappealing spirituality that fails to motivate and inspire. Man is small and God is great and never can the this gulf be bridged. Man worships the unattainable not because it cares for him or desires his attention but because he has no other choice, or, in the Maimonidean formulation, because all of Creation suffers the same fate. This is the tragedy of the neoplatonic mystic, to pine away for something that can never return his interest. Not only is it dry and unsatisfying because the object of our love is unattainable but also because there are no intermediate steps by which to approach it. There is no bridge between God and man and that's it. Go, do with it the best that you can. Personal God, on the other hand, we know and we recognize. All men have loved, rebelled, pined for, dealt with and negotiated with Sovereigns, Fathers, Lovers and Teachers. We know how to do it, and we can throw ourselves into this process of relating with ardent enthusiasm - consequently we can relate to God. In some way, the emotions do not ask questions, do not reason, do not pose philosophical problems. By turning the mind away form God as He is, man can submerge himself fully in God. Not only this, we can enroll all our feelings, every nook and cranny of our personality, every quirk, every illogical and unreasonable emotion, bias and misconception into this process. Love is blind and so is the Lover's response. The lover of God has a full right to expect love in return, despite failings, flaws, warts and all. We pray and get a response, we thirst and are watered, trust and are not betrayed, cry out in pain and are saved - gloriously! The philosopher, on the other hand has nothing to look forward to, except the grandeur of his vision. Maimonidean-like philosophical frameworks that set a transcendent Being in opposition to a lowly world, do not only not succeed in conveying a living religion to the masses, they often have an unintended effect of impoverishing the spirit and vitiating the commitment of the elite. It is of course an over-generalization to say that Maimonideans tend to be over-cerebral, dismissive of expressions of religiosity, and unaware of the great stores of religious feeling and sensibility that others possess. However, at least sometimes (and I know that I will get flack for it), they are cynical, distant and secretly racked by doubts... at the same time as they espouse a religious vision of grandeur and beauty. Why is it so? What can we learn from it? Perhaps that the mind alone is insufficient for religion.
There is yet a third religious approach -that of the Kabbalist. It is not just God and the universe out there, it is a world filled with unending gradations of supernatural. The spiritual is at hand, ready for taking. In a world like this, the spiritual is very, very close, part and parcel of existence. In fact, in such a world leading a purely physical existence is distinctly abnormal. For the affordable price of credulity, folk religion acquires an abiding closeness to God in all His manifestations, right here, all around us. The difference between popular sensibility and Maimonidean rationality is like that of a luscious rain forest and the driest of deserts. The former surrounds its dwellers with life-giving moisture from all ends. The latter deprives them of life-sustaining water, leaving them to be nourished by trust that it exists somewhere else and with measured, limited, barely sufficient cupfuls in their canteens.
My personal answer to this central conundrum of religious life is that the servant of Hashem must learn to transition easily and effortlessly between the three conceptions of God, moment by moment sliding into whichever one is appropriate to the time and place in which he finds himself. The rationale that warrants this is the inability of the human being to grasp all three conceptions at one. Like the three blind men and the elephant, our tools display and different Divinity to us, a God who constantly changes and transmutes as we attempt to deal with Him. "And you shall see my back and my front you will not see". Very simple, if I look at you from your front I cannot see your back and if I walk around and observe your back, your front is now invisible to me. Such are the limitations of human beings. Pragmatically, the Personal conception is the more productive in that the entire human personality can enter into it, it is effortless for prayer and love and it is the one emphasized in Scriptures. The kabbalistic conception requires more learning and socialization into a vocabulary and a way of thinking but can also be very productive. The Philosophic conception is useful at times. The fusion of all three make for a sophisticated, original and profound religious personality. A lecture on this topic can be found on [...].
Having struggles with the Problem, I read Dr. Yochanan Muffs' book, The Personhood of God: Biblical Theology, Human Faith and the Divine Image with great expectation and a hope and a longing to encounter a kindred quest. The book is special but I was disappointed because I encountered an erudite and poetic soul but on a different pilgrimage. The author assuredly seeks to find Hashem and I agree with Dr. Arthur Green's description, "His vast but understated erudition is completely fused with his own passionate religiosity make for stimulating and challenging reading". Dr. Muffs has a unique perspective, which is a source of his strength and his weakness - Mesopotamian cult. He is at his best when he compares Babylonian religious conceptions with the Biblical thesis, producing straddling and often illuminating insights. The book is written in an engaging style with flashes of recognition and interesting observations on almost every page. I was thoroughly diverted by its scintillating analyses but slowly a realization dawned on me that Dr. Muffs is no less pained than I am by the inscrutability of the Divine image... but his problem is not my problem. I apologize upfront to Dr. Muffs for making assumptions that are supported only by reading a book. After all I do not know the author and how can I draw conclusions? Still I must try, for the topic is cosmically crucial. I explain.
What bothers Dr. Muffs is the blandness of contemporary humanistic religion in comparison to the vivid, colorful and organic Mesoppotamian (and Biblical) model. He longs for the time when ritual and faith pervaded not only daily life but informed the entire outlook. Contemporary religion, he rightly observes is stifled by the scientific and rational outlook of our age. What I read between the lines is that Dr. Muffs wishes for the wholeness of the simple faith of a believer but he cannot see how it can possibly be preserved alongside critical inquiry. Hence, the assumption that ":..doubt stimulated by critical inquiry is healthy...that it separates the person of real faith from the religious behavioralist. Faith is not a passive state but an inner struggle. It is an order superimposed on chaos that constantly threatens to break forth".
He makes a virtue out of a tragedy.
"It is doubt that stirs hearts from their complacency and sets the dialectic of faith and doubt in motion. Farthermore, the greater the faith the greater the amount of doubt the man of faith will be able to digest without losing his equilibirum...If the man of faith has teh great frtune to comeout fo this battle without having denied either religion or science, he will unknowingly develop a new skill: the ability to hold life like a bird, tightly enough that it doesn'tfly away, gently enoguh that it isn't choked to death (p.192)". Dr. Muffs calls for a "re-mytologizing" of religion along the Messopotamian modes, I presume, so that the vividness of ritual and supersition revives the flagging spirit being choked by scientific inquiry and doubt that comes from reading too many academic publications and breathing, eating and washing in scientific rationalism.
To this I say: "No, thank you". "Your ways are not my ways and neither your thoughts are my thoughts". I do not wish to hold on to two crutches at once. Neither is there a need to re-mythologize the Living God.
Dr.Muffs wrote an interesting book that, like many such books, answers the question that bothers him. The point of departure from theMesopotamian tradition is interesting and productive but the questions that he asks could benefit from calling upon medieval philosophy and kabbala, of which there is precious little in this work. Had he done so, he would have perhaps discovered that the contrast between the Personhood and Transcendance of Hashem has occupied many before him but from within the tradition rather than from outside of it. Instead of asking the central questions of religion, Dr. Muffs focuses on what is a common but still a personal and psychological religious struggle,which he perceives and passes off as a central religious question of our times. I do not clamm that such questions are not important- they are. However, they are not questions of religion but questions about religion. This omission and its point of departure, that tweaking the Personhood of God can somehow solve the internal conflict between faith and doubt, are the greatest weaknesses of a fascinating effort.