Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chapter 10 continued

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, this note continues 10.

The three essays on embodiment in chapter 10 of Frymer-Kensky are of immense interest and at times brought me to a laughter of joy. I worry though if I understand anything.

Wolfson continues his opening section with the word התגשמות (hitgashmut) "form, realization"

a philospohical conception of incarnation that refers specifically to the imaginal body of God, a symbolic construct that allows human consciousness to access the transcendent reality as a concrete form manifest primarily in the sacred space of the two major forms of worship of the heart: prayer and study.

He follows with sections on God as an Angel, God as Torah, and the practise of prayer as related to incarnation. It is a remarkable essay. At first, I thought he would confine himself to the cerebral and to imagination for he required an army of big words for his writing: ...the ontological dimension implied by the doctrine of incarnation is not reducible to linguistic anthropomorphization... God is configured phenomally as "body", whether we understand that configuration veridically or docetically... (whew - I wonder if I could configure my software docetically). He has to, of course, step around naive views of anthropomorphic language as if to find ways of explaining the panim el panim experience of Jacob from which he got his name Israel - at last, wrestling gets a mention.

As he deals with various epiphanies in the TNK, he notes that they "have the texture of a tangibility that one would normally associate with a body of flesh and bones. Clearly the God of Israel is not a body in this sense, but this does not diminish the somatic nature of the divine appearance... in the Biblical canon." He sounds like some Christians discussing the nature of the resurrection body.

He then deals with the presence of the Glory in the temple, an "exegetical springboard for subsequent conceptions of the incarnation of God in the letters of the name: that hypostatized power that is both the instrucment of creation and the object of revelation." The remaining sections are fascinating and imaginative indeed.
... in the mind of the rabbis, the physical universe is constituted by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are comprised within the Tetragrammeton. ... The full implications of the semiotic nature of divine creativity is drawn explicitly in the second part of Sefer Yetsirah, the ancient work of Jewish cosmogony: Twenty-two foundational letters are fixed in a wheel in 231 gates. The wheel rotates forward and backward ... He permuted them, weighed them, and transformed them, Alef with all of them and all of them with Alef, Bet with all of them and all of them with Bet. They repeat in a cycle and exist in 231 Gates. It comes out that all that is formed and all that is spoken Emanates from one Name.
It sounds like a mother-board! Anyway, fascinating though it is, not as powerful as his opening or later the potential in rabbinic development of the building of the temple and its relationship to prayer. "Every person who has knowledge, it is as if the temple were built in his day. Knowledge is placed between two names and the sanctuary is placed between two names." (R. Eleazar) This has such resonance with Jesus understanding of his body as sanctuary and with Paul's explanation of our bodies as temple of the Holy Spirit. We are so close - let not the words divide.

In the second essay in chapter 10, Randi Rashkover under the title The Christian Doctrine of the Incarnation has three sections: The Torah, The Word of God, and Corporeal Israel, Embodiment of Torah and the Community of Scholars, The Word Made Flesh and the Election of Jesus. He concludes with a comparison of Differing Conceptions of Embodiment.

Body needs to be seen as more than concept. But let me not put this essay down - it is also very good and uses scripture very closely to the way Paul used it. ... "The Jews are not only to follow God's laws but also to embody them: For this commandment is not far from you ..." and just a paragraph later: "Through the mitzvah of circumcision, God commands Jewish men to embody the Torah." He cites Michael Wyschogrod that "Israel's election is therefore a carnal election." And he means this positively - maybe Christians should reread Galatians as positive - for the Jew - but definitely not for the Gentile. For through the crucifixion of Christ, the entire body of believing Gentiles is circumcised (Colossians 2:11).

These Jewish writers are followed by a single essay by Susan A. Ross: Embodiment and Incarnation: A Response to Elliot Wolfson, Her two sections are Feminism and the Tension of Religious Language, and The Utter Transcedence of God, subdivided in three as The Body of Christ and the Imaginal Body of God, Resurrection and Ascension, and Mary and Incarnation.

This essay is not much of a response and in the end reduced to agreement that both traditions have issues with body as applied to the human and to God. She considers that due to fears about idolatry and dualism, the Christian tradition has more issues than the Jewish. Her descriptions of Mary are just that - descriptions. Perhaps Secundus will tell me what he thinks of all this. We are just at the point in the story where the boys get born.

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