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Religion Library: Judaism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Marc A. Krell


Genesis 1:26
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
Psalms 74:12-17
12. But you, O God, are my king from of old;
         you bring salvation upon the earth.
13. It was you who split open the sea by your power;
          you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
         and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.
15. It was you who opened up springs and streams;
         you dried up the ever flowing rivers.
16. The day is yours, and yours also the night;
         you established the sun and moon.
17. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
         you made both summer and winter.


In these myths, either the superior god Baal or the Lord God creates the world by overtaking other cosmic forces associated with nature and unifying them. This represents the transition from primordial chaos to cosmos. Ultimately, as the biblical scholar Jon Levenson has convincingly shown, this comparison of biblical and Mesopotamian texts indicate that God has to gain control over the universe through combat with other cosmic forces of nature and is therefore not completely transcendent and omnipotent. It appears that the Priestly editor of Genesis 1 sought to suppress these vestiges of paganism and polytheism in the primary Israelite creation story in order to present a myth of primal order and harmony created by God in contrast to the disorder and disharmony of humanity.

Later, in response to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., the rabbis continued to see God as the transcendent God who punished them for their sins by destroying the Second Temple, while on the other hand, the rabbis began to portray God as the immanent divine presence or Shekhinah who suffers with Israel in exile.

Title: Maimonides Source: response to the medieval theological shift initiated by Maimonides to complete divine transcendence, medieval kabbalists tried to preserve both the unknowable image of God posited by the philosophers and the more immanent image of God as Shekhinah by constructing a theological bridge or ladder between them based on the doctrine of the ten sefirot or emanations of divinity. In this mystical framework, the kabbalists first posited the Ein Sof or "infinite" image of God that is radically transcendent and cannot be comprehended. Influenced by Neo-Platonic ideas of emanation, they then envisioned that the ten sefirot flow from Ein Sof, gradually revealing different divine attributes and effectively bridging the gap between God and humanity. By positing the sefirotic framework, the kabbalists appeared to stand on the blurred boundary between monotheism and polytheism as they attempted to portray the organic workings of the divine life.


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