Two Important Sources for Mormons and Jews

August 22, 2022

I’d like to introduce two Jewish authors that I think might be of special interest to Latter-day Saints, especially Jewish Latter-day Saints. I’ve never heard them mentioned in LDS setting and I think they really should be.  The first is Benjamin Sommer, who is a professor of Bible and ancient Judaism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NY. His major book, _The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel_ comes to the same conclusion that Joseph Smith proclaimed, namely that in ancient Israel God was seen as having a glorified body of flesh and bone. Now that does not seem momentous once one reads the Tanak with an open mind, but for a major professor at the flagship seminary of the Conservative movement to actively argue for it (with more evidence than I have seen in any LDS book) is fairly remarkable.  Even more remarkable is that in the second half of the book, he argues that we lost something by moving to an only spiritual understanding of God grounded in Greek philosophy. He makes a plea for Jews to envision God with a finite body existing in Space and time.

I agree, which leads me to the next work, “The Concept of God after Auschwitz: A Jewish Voice,” by the Jewish philosopher Hans Jonas.  In his view, after the Holocaust, the only legitimate way to view God is as a limited being, being omnipotent only in the sense of being able to do anything that can be done, rather than the traditional view of omnipotence since Maimonides, being able to do anything logically possible (i.e. the only limitation being unable to create things like ‘perfectly round squares” that contradict the attributes of a definition). Further, unlike other believing Jewish philosophers, Jonas believes that there must be other substances (he gets somewhat close to identifying things like human intelligences) that are equally uncreated along with God creating a universe in which the best God can do is to organize worlds in which free beings can learn through experience. In his opinion, this view is necessitated by the Holocaust, if nothing else, because he could not conceive of a perfectly good, truly omnipotent God allowing it to happen without intervention if he could have.  At least that is how I read him quite a long time ago now, acknowledging that I came to it with both Jewish and LDS perspectives as most of you will. Someone with different influences might describe it differently but the above is my take-away.

Anyway, IMO both these sources are well worth your time.

Moshe Akiva


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