The Embodiment of God in the Hebrew Bible

Michael B. Hundley has written a good review of Esther J. Hamori’s book When Gods Were Men: The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 384. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008. The review of the book was published in the Review of Biblical Literature.

Hamori’s book is one of the many books published in the last few years dealing with the embodiment of God and the reality of divine corporeality in the Hebrew Bible. Hamori’s book deals primarily with Genesis 18:1–15 and 32:23–33, two passages in which God reveals himself as a “man” in the context of divine-human interaction.

Below is an excerpt from Hundley’s review:

In the first chapter, Hamori introduces the concept of “human theophany” (1) with these two passages from Genesis that refer to God as a “man” (’iš or ’anāšîm), who “appears in the literal, physical body of a man” (3). She then offers a sketch of Gen 18:1–15 and 32:23–33 in which she argues for the compositional integrity of both passages and that the ’iš language should be taken as literally as theophany language elsewhere.

In her analysis of Gen 18, she notes that YHWH appears with such “anthropomorphic realism” that Abraham perceives the divine nature of his visitor through verbal rather than visual clues. In Gen 32, the divine nature of Jacob’s combatant (here El instead of YHWH), is likewise revealed through the dialogue. In fact, she argues, God is so tied to realistic human form that he cannot win the fight. In the course of her analysis, she convincingly refutes the notion that Jacob wrestled with the numen of the River Jabbok, as argued in particular by Gunkel (13–18).

In his review, Hundley has a few criticisms of Hamori’s book.  However, these criticisms do not diminish the importance of Hamori’s work.

According to Hundley, one of the weaknesses of Hamori’s work is the lack of explanation of God’s fight with Jacob.  Hundley wrote:

“In addition, although Hamori indicates that God loses the fight with Jacob (e.g., 102), she does not explore the implications. If God is no stronger than Jacob, why should Jacob trust him to carry out his promises? More broadly, why would the authors depict God in such a way?”

Although Hamori does not explain the implications of God losing his fight with Jacob, I have dealt with the implications of God’s fight with Jacob.  I have written three posts dealing with the fight between God and Jacob and the reason God lost the fight.

Below are the links to my post dealing with God’s fight with Jacob:

The God Who Loses

What Happens When God Loses?

Why God Allows Himself To Lose

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in Book of Genesis, Hebrew God, Jacob and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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