Please help me find this interpretation of the Hebrew Bible that I once read.
October 2, 2011 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find this interpretation of the Hebrew Bible that I once read.

I read this in, I believe, an article on the web, although it might have been in some magazine instead, or possibly even a short portion of a book.

The basic idea was that the overall arc of the Bible is a withdrawal of God from the world, starting with Genesis where he's literally walking around and chatting with Adam and Eve, and ending up (in the Hebrew Bible's ordering of books) with God barely being a direct presence at all. And, in fact, the withdrawal is viewed as being due to God being ashamed of himself.

The critical point (according to this article) was in Job; after that book, God withdraws more and more rapidly. And, specifically in Job, the article interprets (what's commonly interpreted as) Job's repentance (for questioning why God is punishing him) as mere acceptance of the fact that God is punishing him, and the fact that there's nothing he can do about it, plus a continued futile rebuke of God for doing so. After the Book of Job, God's rapid withdrawal from the world is viewed (by the article) as perhaps shame for what he has done.

I believe that there might have been a mention of the translation of Job's words "therefore I despise myself" being significantly incorrect, and actually being a part of Job's continued rebuke of God, plus a mention that Elihu (the guy who angrily gets Job to repent questioning God's motives) was not part of the original text. However, it's possible that I've read these things elsewhere.

I am specifically interested in finding the article that I previously read, but I'd also be interested in reading similar articles.

Thanks in advance.
posted by Flunkie to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You want the concept of Tzimtzum.

I don't think you'll find it in the Torah, but instead, it comes from various cabalistic writings such as the Yetzirah. Interestingly, the cached version of that Wiki page mentions that, but the current one has it redacted, not sure why.
posted by pla at 10:34 AM on October 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks pla, but that seems to be more about God withdrawing so as to give room for existence (at least from the Wikipedia article - I know nothing else about Tzimtzum), whereas I am interested in this idea that God withdrew in shame.
posted by Flunkie at 10:41 AM on October 2, 2011

Hmm, sorry, thought I had it - But you have it correct, Tzimtzum has nothing to do with shame.

I'll keep checking back for a better answer, though.
posted by pla at 11:28 AM on October 2, 2011

Response by poster: Here's a MeFi comment along these lines (Job shames God, who then withdraws from the world). It mentions the idea as coming from the book "God: A Biography" by Jack Miles.

I'm sure that I haven't read that book, and I'm pretty sure I didn't pick the idea up from that MeFi comment, so I'm still on the lookout for the article I read, but at least it's something along the same lines.
posted by Flunkie at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2011

Richard Elliott Friedman, The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery
posted by goethean at 2:48 PM on October 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks goethean. That's definitely not what I read - I'm sure that I haven't read that book either - but it does look interesting. I'll pick up a copy of it.
posted by Flunkie at 3:11 PM on October 2, 2011

there's also God: A Biography
posted by goethean at 5:04 PM on October 2, 2011

The theological premises of this question seem askew to me. Job is not in the Israel family tree, but a distant and earlier relation. The book is older than the books of Moses, so if God stops talking to people after Job, he can't speak to Moses.

It is in the canon because the old dudes thought there were lessons in Job they had to have that they couldn't get out of another book. Job is not demonstrably a Jew.
posted by bukvich at 8:04 AM on October 3, 2011

There is an interpretation in the Midrash Rabba that has some similarity to what you mentioned (though with some major differences).

The interpretation is that God's presence originally dwelt right on Earth, but then due to Adam and Eve's sin the presence withdrew from Earth up to the first of the seven heavens (the heaven closest to Earth). Later, on account of subsequent sins committed by humanity--Cain's slaying of Abel, the sins of the generation of the Flood, etc.-- the presence withdrew further and further, up to the second heaven, then the the third, etc., until it was finally withdrawn up to the seventh heaven, far away from Earth.

Later though, the merit of seven successive righteous people drew God's presence successively back downward, until, by Moses's merit, God's presence came to dwell on Earth again, in the Tabernacle built by the Israelites in the desert.

I can only find this on the Web in English as a quote in Hasidic discourse that uses it as a springboard to go on to convey its own ideas:
posted by Paquda at 8:19 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding goethean, I think that's God: A Biography.
posted by callmejay at 10:04 AM on October 3, 2011

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