Yoram Hazony is President of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem. His latest book is God and Politics in Esther (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He is also author of The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (Cambridge University Press, 2012), among other works. Hazony is Director of the Jewish Philosophical Theology project of the John Templeton Foundation, and a member of the Israel Council for Higher Education (CHE) committee on Liberal Studies in Israel’s Universities and Colleges. Subscribe to receive Hazony’s Jerusalem Letters or read more about his work on his website at www.yoramhazony.org.
Is God Perfect Being?
Philosophers often describe theism as the belief in the existence of a “perfect being” — a being that is said to possess all possible perfections, so that it is all-powerful, all-knowing, immutable, perfectly good, perfectly simple, and necessarily existent, among other qualities. This way of understanding God’s nature is the source of much of contemporary theological discourse. However, there are reasons to question whether this conception of God’s nature is appropriate as a basis for Jewish theology, and indeed, for religious belief more generally. This paper seeks to highlight some of the issues that should move philosophers, theologians, and scholars of the Bible and Talmud to reexamine whether this notion of divine perfection is in fact consistent with Judaism’s foundational texts, and whether it needs to be revised or replaced by one that is better suited to Jewish thought. I will suggest that “perfect being” theology is not helpful in understanding the God of the Hebrew Bible; and that, moreover, it is a formalism that appears not to describe anything that exists in reality. I will propose that the metaphors that are used in Scripture to describe God—those that describe him a king or a father, as being angry or ashamed, as having breath and a hand, and so on—are far better suited to approaching a description of the actual God known to human beings from experience. A draft of this paper is available here: http://bibleandphilosophy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/hazony-question-of-gods-perfection.pdf
Ahiad Hazony, Herzog College