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Jehovah the tempestuous

Thursday, 12 Jan 2017

God by Blake on Dr John Dunn. Jehovah, the tempestuous individual who exemplifies traits and values, rather than being the very existence of those traits and values.

Such is the God of the Old Testament, the Absolute exists, rather than is being, is mighty rather than is might, is beautiful rather than is beauty itself.

Rooted  in this individualism goes a literalism and a tendency to stress the contingent aspects of the Absolute and exalt the arbitrariness of much that the Absolute is and of all that it outwardly effects.

It has generated a world, but it need not have done so. It has generated specific creaturely beings which conform to specific laws and have specific freedoms, but it could have generated a quite different array of creaturely beings.

One may give the absolute an essence constituted by what one regards as the highest values (compassion, insight, etc) but in the concrete implementation of these values there will tend to be much arbitrary selection and use of individual things and persons.

The Jews are the divinely chosen people, not the Philistines. Certain practices are prescribed for purification and atonement, whilst others are proscribed as idolatrous or vain. Jehovah does not care for Cain’s pure offering of the fruits of the earth, but relishes the odour of frying lambs.

From the arbitrariness of One who can harden Pharaoh's heart, while he reshapes and softens the heart of Paul, we can readily pass to the early modern view, which Descartes also accepted, that the necessities of thought and the moral law are all in the last resort arbitrary, that they could and would have been otherwise had the Absolute so willed it.

The attribution of increasing arbitrariness to Jehovah is not necessary, but springs from the strong individualism of the sort of absolute thus conceived. And with this deep individualism goes the tendency to set an unpassable gulf between dependent individuals and their absolute source, a gulf resembling that between ordinary finite individuals, only much wider and deeper.

The fact that Jesus was both acclaimed as Messiah and condemned for it takes nothing away from the arbitrariness of it. The Passion was not provoked by man’s unwillingness to recognise the universal absolute values that Jesus incarnated, but by the claims to a special messianic status which were essentially part of a Jewish historistic mythology, which has no claims to the acceptance of all men of profound insight and good will.

That Jesus should rise to the universalist capax Dei of the Transfiguration, the attainment of divine wisdom that merited ‘kingship’ in Stoic and Cynic eyes, only to fall to the absolutism of a racial deity, was at the heart of the tragedy.

The message of the tragedy to a Hellenised audience not only concerned Stoic acceptance of suffering, but was also condemnatory of Judaism and the Jehovian absolutism at its religious core.

Jesus’s special status as Messiah was ultimately carried forward into the official Christianity proclaimed by Constantine and the Roman Empire. It had the advantage of kicking Jesus upstairs, leaving the rest of mankind this side of the Judaic gulf, stripped of any claims of divinity. How this served the ruling oligarchy we will discern later.

For now it is sufficient to observe that the immense disparity in status and power between the Absolute and its dependents readily relegates the latter to the rank of puppets: how they will function, what roles they will fulfil, all wholly depends upon the Absolute. They will have the further disadvantage of not feeling themselves to be puppets or wishing themselves to be such, and the conviction that they are such will be profoundly painful to them.

The puppets under the Hebraic Jehovah are miles apart from the imaginative, creative beings, participating in the divinity - the capax Dei of the Hellenistic tradition.

All the agonies of puppethood have been actually felt by Christians, mainly of post-Reformation and Calvinistic creeds, who have given their Absolute too much of that divine seasoning, contingency, but their God too was and remains Jehovah - and their religion remains Judeo-Christianity.

It is not necessary to conceive the Absolute as post-Reformation Christianity has so largely done, but there are strong forces always moving in this direction. This tendency has Hebraic roots. It has, however, been Hellenic and, more particularly, Platonic influences that have countered this tendency down the centuries.

(I am indebted for the content of much of this article to Sanford L. Drob and his article, The Philosopher and the"Rav:" J.N. Findlay, Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz and the "Double Movement" in Kabbalistic Thought. Found on . Well worth reading in full.)

© John Dunn.

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