Text vs. Philosophy: The Role and Significance of Metaphor and Anthropomorphic Language in the Bible and Its Relation to Theology
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“Does God care about me?” While many devoted and religious practitioners have asked such a question, they may not have recognized that a number of philosophical assumptions are implied by their question. According to Maimonides, those who are intellectually capable of grasping the truth should never ask this type of question because it assumes that God has emotional capabilities and consequently, in his opinion, some sort of corporeality. Maimonides concludes that any language concerning God that smells of anthropomorphism cannot and should not be used; it is philosophically inconsistent with the idea of the most Perfect Being. Yet, within Biblical and rabbinic literature, there are many anthropomorphic images and metaphors used to describe God. While Maimonides explains away these examples by claiming that the Bible and Chazal only used this language for the sake of the understanding of the masses, I would like to explore those thinkers who claim that anthropomorphic language and metaphor has an important role and function. Because Maimonides understood the Bible as providing a philosophical theology, he regarded anthropomorphic language as problematic and ultimately rejected it. If one moves away from this perspective, however, and accepts that the Bible is trying to achieve something beyond or to the exclusion of theology, then anthropomorphic language and metaphor can be redeemed and regarded as a legitimate and significant way to help bring about those goals. Indeed, one’s attitude toward Biblical language and one’s attitude toward dogma and truth are very much interrelated. The classic notion of religious dogma denies the corporeality of God and therefore cannot accept anthropomorphic language. Thinkers who accept anthropomorphic language will have to ask themselves what their acceptance 4 implies theologically and perhaps adapt their views of religious dogma accordingly. This paper will explore three thinkers who all value anthropomorphic language and metaphor, but for different reasons. These different reasons will not only point to the different attitudes taken toward religious dogma and belief, but also to the different attitudes taken toward the function, purpose, and possible accomplishments of Biblical language.
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