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The Question of God's Perfection

Jewish and Christian Essays on the God of the Bible and Talmud

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Edited by Yoram Hazony and Dru Johnson

Philosophers have often described 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. But such a theology is difficult to reconcile with the God we find in the Bible and Talmud. The Question of God’s Perfection brings together leading scholars from the Jewish and Christian traditions to critically examine the theology of perfect being in light of the Hebrew Bible and classical rabbinic sources. Contributors are James A. Diamond, Lenn E. Goodman, Edward C. Halper, Yoram Hazony, Dru Johnson, Brian Leftow, Berel Dov Lerner, Alan L. Mittleman, Heather C. Ohaneson, Randy Ramal, Eleonore Stump, Alex Sztuden, and Joshua I. Weinstein.

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Yoram Hazony

contemporary theological discourse. Moreover, something like it has become quite widespread among lay people as well. However, there are a number of reasons to question whether this long-standing conception of God’s nature is appropriate as a basis for Jewish theology, and indeed, for religious belief more

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Randy Ramal

Religious Belief,” for example, Wittgenstein demonstrates how the wrong technique is used when philosophers and other people treat religious “pictures” of God as if they were pictures of human beings and physical objects. “The word [God] is used like a word representing a person. God sees, rewards, etc

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Berel Dov Lerner

problem of evil challenges faith in an exceptionally good God as much as it challenges faith in a perfectly good God. When a tsunami kills hundreds of thousands of innocents, it creates exactly the same problems for belief in a very, very, good God as it does for belief in a perfectly good God. And when

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Joshua I. Weinstein

, Jewish Jesus , especially 55–58, 70–73; and Efraim Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975), especially 444–448. 22 One can see some of the difficulties here by examining the Talmudic attempts to “sort out” just which processes absolve one of various sins: “Sin

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Alan L. Mittleman

are ontologically. Belief that the self is not an illusion requires belief that the world, ultimately, is of such a nature as to contain and support our selfhood. To trust ourselves in this sense requires trust in what is absolutely or ultimately trustworthy. This brings us to God, to a God worthy of

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Yoram Hazony and Dru Johnson

A god that can be moved or pressed is no better than a god that can be forced or bought. lenn e. goodman Metaphors such as immutability, impassibility, and simplicity are not drawn from the realm of living things at all. yoram hazony Philosophers often describe theism as the belief in the existence

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Alex Sztuden

actually consider to be idolatrous in the polytheistic or even the essentially not-much-better monotheistic beliefs and practices of the Bible? For Johnston, the key to religious transformation lies in the individual and communal transformation from selfishness and narcissism to disinterested love, and he

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Edward C. Halper

attitude that better serves the child’s welfare. So, too, the belief that God is violently against those who do injustice is necessary if the believer is to acquire the moral quality of justice. 7 The implication Maimonides wants us to draw is that God is never really angry. He only acts as if he were

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James A. Diamond

example, Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1 and the sources cited in Ephraim Urbach’s discussion in The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs , trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1979), 124–134. 17 However, as Jeffrey Tigay points out, the names themselves are not decisive markers of compositeness unless