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The Jewish Idea of God

May 27, 2014 – June 1, 2014

If ideas have something like gravitational force, then the idea of God is as powerful and massive an idea as any. A change in one’s notion of the divine shapes and re-shapes the other ideas that govern our lives—ideas about power, freedom, time, meaning, and politics, just to name a few.

This seminar will explore, specifically, how the Jewish idea of God has affected the way we think about time and power. God, as presented in the Bible and other influential sources of Jewish thought, is outside of nature and thus beyond our control. Such an idea is in direct contrast to a theology that finds God, or gods, in the forces of nature and thus encourages men to seek out means – sacrificial, magical and otherwise – to manipulate those forces. At the same time, the Jewish idea of God necessitates a linear  conception of time in contrast to the cyclical understanding that would seem to follow from observing the revolutions of natural phenomena: of heavenly bodies and the seasons, of growth and decay, of aging and birth. The God of the Bible, standing outside of creation, makes men and women in His own image; and like God, men and women are able to find meaning and purpose outside the cycles of created nature. In this way, history emerges as the domain of human-divine interaction and the idea of linear movement that serves a divine purpose is introduced.

Drawing on select texts from Genesis, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, and Plato, this course will also explore the political consequences of these Jewish ideas of time and power. Does such a scheme promote a restless, active politics that is eager to bring to fruition the plan of the divine in history, or a moderate and humble political philosophy that understands the limits of human agency given the distance between God and humankind?  How does the idea of the Messiah alter the fundamental tenets of Jewish theology? Should the messianic age be understood as an escape from a world dominated by politics or a completion and perfection of such a world?

The seminar will be led by Micah Goodman, one of Israel’s leading intellectuals and Jewish philosophers.