Monday, September 17, 2007

In the Image of God

This is my last chapter review for the book by Frymer-Kensky, Peter Ochs, et al, Christianity in Jewish Terms. Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, 10a and 10b, 11, 12. Or click the label 'One' on the sidebar where there are a few other related posts.

As I noted a few days ago the essays are - the first by Tivka Frymer-Kensky herself, The Image, Religious Anthropology in Judaism and Christianity; the second by David Blumenthal, Toward an Anthropopathic Theology of Image, and the third by William Schweiker, The Image of God in Christian Faith, Vocation, Dignity, and Redemption. I am struck by all three essays. Particularly, the middle essay is vintage Blumenthal.

Frymer-Kensky begins with the things about the visible aspect of Christian worship, '...images fundamentally different from Jewish traditions. Icons, statues, incense, crucifixes, crosses, ...' and a page or two later 'Humanity was born in the full image and likeness. After the Fall, in some way the image was lessened, disfigured, or destroyed... The Fall and "original sin" are difficult concepts for Jews.'

I found myself in marginalia mode writing things like, 'not for me', and 'it's a difficult concept for some Christians too'. The great difficulty in 'image' as a concept, is that it misses the very concreteness it was intended to carry. Between these two passages though, she cites Paul (2 Cor. 3:18) - being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. But she doesn't follow this metaphor far enough and there is too much a view of Paul that is mediated by doctrine that is 300, or worse 1500, years after him. Can one say that the doctrine of 'Original Sin' was 'important to Paul'? Surely he would not have recognized the phrase.

Frymer-Kensky is, however, probably an accurate reporter - She is reporting what Christians have recorded as their belief. I just don't think she is reporting what Christians ought to believe. For instance:

The image is the rational soul, possessed by all; the likeness, possessed only by believers, is the spirit, a kind of added gift. The body does not figure in to this mode of thought at all.

My marginal note here is 'then it is not correct'. I had high hopes when I started this series (here) stating: I hope to set out steps in a pattern that those on all sides of the barriers might be able to see. Well some of our steps need to be taken backwards if we regard the above interpretation of Irenaeus as representative of what Christians 'ought' to 'believe'. God forbid we should eliminate the body. God forbid that the Spirit should be seen as a kind of 'added gift'. (Of course there is gift and there are gifts - substantial, beyond price.)

"All sides of the barriers" - I note that I imply not one barrier but many, and like our enemies, some of them are self-constructed and self-imposed.

To be fair, Frymer-Kensky immediately follows her interpretation of Irenaeus with an equally scathing critique of Hellenistic Judaism. Then comes a critique of Aquinas and Maimonides where image tends towards intellect. Then on to Barth and Brunner where image resides in relationship - we're getting warmer. How I wish I could sit across from her now and talk through these issues - but, you know, they cannot just be talked through - they will be walked through and the body will take its proper part in the glory in due course.

From Blumethal, I learn that unusable word anthropopathic - God has 6 positive anthropopathic attributes (I do understand attributes!) - 'God must be fair. ... God addresses, and can be addressed by, humankind. ... God is powerful but not perfect. ...God is loving. ...God gets angry. ...God chooses. God is partisan.' (Chew on those.) God has negative anthropopathic attributes - Here he deals with the shoah, writing: 'I have therefore argued that the shoah was an act of abuse, that is, that it was a punitive action against the Jews that they did not deserve.' His corollaries are worth reading.

With respect to the incarnation, he asks - what did God learn when, according to Christianity, God became incarnate? Now here is a good starting point! He can accept the metaphor of God's body but resists anthropomorphism. He draws the line at giving God a real body. So do many in the Christian tradition. He also doubles Nanos' criticism which I have noted before: unfulfilled Messianic claims. And of course he references the bloody history of Christian-Jewish relations.

I didn't annotate Schweiker's essay much. The reason is quite simple - Christians write about Christianity conceptually rather than viscerally, intellectually rather than sensually. The incarnation is muted. Or Christians write with the arrogance of a blat, with a surety that belies their content, with what Schweiker classed as forms of faith that are to him 'strange, even vicious'. (Imagine by contrast, Mussorgsky - trumpet solo, Pictures at an Exhibition - incarnate grace.) But he writes of soul with a fully Hellenistic viewpoint, summarizing psyche as spirit, (nous) and mind (mens) ... reason (logoistikon), heart (thumeides), and desire (epithumatikon) - this vestigium trinatatis as disembodied as you can imagine!

So where are my steps? These are in a word, Jacob's ladder. You could centre the steps on one word - MQM - surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. Or we could conflate it with an ultimate recognition - that our struggle is not with flesh and blood... וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, פְּנִיאֵל (vayiqra ya`aqov shem hamaqom peni'el) and Jacob called that place Peni'el. And he goes on: For I have seen God face-to-face and my life is preserved.

And here is another 'step' as I noted in an early comment: on Habakkuk - the just shall live by faith. This verse is at the root of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. It says nothing about a particular form of liturgical tradition - nor is it interpreted Hellenistically as if faith could be disembodied. The faithfulness of Jesus is the incarnation of this verse. What 'happened' is the form of a faith that enfleshed all into its example. In other words one can learn from Jesus without conforming to a particular or unique or absolutist form of 'religion' for want of a better term. And one can be part of a 'religion' even a Christian tradition and not be engaging that example of faith. In the engaging is the apprehension, the life, of the fleshly reality of the just one. The expression of the incarnational effect must find words in his same spirit.

I know this distinction has been made before and that there are now commonplace words in our language that are leading or misleading - be still. Though there are many steps, and the heights of a ladder may seem dizzying, the place is one - and even if our place is destroyed, it is restored. While we must move ourselves from our self-created and self-imposed enemies and barriers, we also must be still and wait for the faces of the living God where we are. (Such is the happy message of psalm 37 which I have most recently drafted here. - It's raw but you might get a kick out of it.)

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