God and the Bible in the news

New York Times essayist Yoram Hazony offers the idea of An Imperfect God:


Is God perfect? You often hear philosophers describe “theism” as the belief in a perfect being — a being whose attributes are said to include being all-powerful, all-knowing, immutable, perfectly good, perfectly simple, and necessarily existent (among others). And today, something like this view is common among lay people as well. There are two famous problems with this view of God. The first is that it appears to be impossible to make it coherent.... The second problem is that while this “theist” view of God is supposed to be a description of the God of the Bible, it’s hard to find any evidence that the prophets and scholars who wrote the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) thought of God in this way at all. ...

it does look like the time has come for some rethinking in the theist camp.

I’d start with this: Is it really necessary to say that God is a “perfect being,” or perfect at all, for that matter? As far as I can tell, the biblical authors avoid asserting any such thing....

...the biblical accounts of our encounters with God emphasize that all human views of God are partial and fragmentary in just this way. Even Moses, the greatest of the prophets, is told that he can’t see God’s face, but can only catch a glimpse of God’s back as he passes by. At another point, God responds to Moses’ request to know his name (that is, his nature) by telling him “ehi’eh asher ehi’eh” —“I will be what I will be.” In most English-language Bibles this is translated “I am that I am,” following the Septuagint, which sought to bring the biblical text into line with the Greek tradition (descended from Xenophanes, Parmenides and Plato’s “Timaeus”) of identifying God with perfect being. But in the Hebrew original, the text says almost exactly the opposite of this: The Hebrew “I will be what I will be” is in the imperfect tense, suggesting to us a God who is incomplete and changing. In their run-ins with God, human beings can glimpse a corner or an edge of something too immense to be encompassed, a “coming-into-being” as God approaches, and no more. The belief that any human mind can grasp enough of God to begin recognizing perfections in him would have struck the biblical authors as a pagan conceit...


According to Christine Hayes writing at Huffington Post, most Americans have 5 common misconceptions about the Bible:
When it comes to the Bible, modern Americans are at a distinct disadvantage. They know both too much and too little.

They know too much because they live in a society in which references to the Bible -- positive and negative -- are frequent, creating a false sense of familiarity. They know too little because they have not read it, or have read only selected portions of it, or have allowed others to read it for them through the filtering lens of later theological doctrines or political opportunism. And that's a pity because the Bible, by which I mean the 24 basic books common to all Bibles (equivalent to the Jewish Tanakh or Hebrew Bible and to the Protestant Old Testament) is deserving of the same careful attention and close reading that we regularly bestow upon other classic texts.

It has been my experience teaching a university course on the Bible, that a close reading of the Bible is often hampered by several misconceptions. I ask my students -- as I ask readers of the book based on the course -- to correct five common misconceptions in order to encounter the Bible as if for the first time.

Correction #1
The Hebrew Bible is not a book. It was not produced by a single author in one time and place. It is a small library of books composed and edited over nearly a millennium by people responding to a wide range of issues and historical circumstances. ...

What do you think these 5? Are there other misconceptions? How do you resolve the question raised by each of these authors?

Comments (1)

I'd like to add:

Correction #6: The Hebrew Bible is not really the same thing as the Old Testament, in spite of the practice of some Christians and Biblical scholars of identifying it as such. First, the order of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament are different. Secondly, the Old Testament is derived not only from the Hebrew version of its books, but also from the Greek translation, the Septuagint, which has played a large part in the development of Christian theology. Third, depending on what Church you belong to, the Old Testament may contain additional books (the Roman Catholic Church doesn't make the tidy division between Old Testament and Apocrypha that Anglicans customarily do, and the canon varies among various Orthodox Churches). Fourth, and probably most important, the Church reads even the books we have in common with Judaism differently - through a Christian lens, as it were.

Bill Dilworth

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