The research of Professor Yair Lorberbaum on the image of God in the Bible shows that in contrast to the positions of most of the classical commentators and researchers the Biblical God is subject to emotional flare-ups and is affected by his relations with man. God’s longing for a connection with man, claims Professor Lorberbaum, is sometimes in conflict with his historic plans; however, this longing itself essentially constitutes the deep motivation for his plans.
Almost all the classical Biblical commentators, as well as most of the modern researchers, preferred to view the image of God, as it appears in the Biblical texts, as being above all emotion.
The reason for this, explains Professor Yair Lorberbaum, who is investigating the image of God in the Bible, is the fear that attributing emotional motives to God’s actions and characteristics, like someone who is subject to psychological struggles, is disrespectful. A psychological-anthropomorphic reading of God, he explains, is viewed as even more serious than anthropomorphisms in the physical sense.
Creation of the sun and the moon. Michelangelo,
a detail from the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, first half of the 16th century
Inspired by the works of Professor Yochanan Muffs and Professor Yehuda Liebes, Lorberbaum questions this theological tendency and criticizes its implications. A careful examination of the Biblical text, he claims, reveals not only that the Biblical description itself attributes “psychological” traits to God but the fact that research ignores these characterizations represents a distortion of what is written and leaves many details within it unexplained.
In his article
on the sign of the covenant (“ The Rainbow: Anger Management Device
, No. 1, 2009), i.e. the rainbow at the end of the Flood story in Genesis, Lorberbaum shows that the rainbow is a means created by God, for himself, in order to restrain his rage (a sort of anger management device). The story of Creation and the Flood (Genesis 1-2, 6-9) is interpreted, according to this analysis, as a story in which God learns, with some effort, to control his emotions and to restrain his anger.
The starting point of the rainbow story, from Lorberbaum’s point of view, is that God’s promise that “there will be no more floods to destroy the world” is not connected to the change that has occurred in man or to any commitment made by him. On the contrary, the promise not to bring a flood is a unilateral commitment by God and is given to man despite (and perhaps as a result of) his corrupt and violent nature and despite the fact that there is no expectation that any change will occur in him.
The reasons for this commitment, Professor Lorberbaum claims in his research, are not to be found in the theological-rational sphere or in the area of moral discourse, whose roots lie in the “psychological” sphere; it is to be searched for through an analysis of the emotional aspect of God and his actions.
Thus, for example, Professor Lorberbaum’s research disagrees with the conventional commentary that views the rainbow as a sign of hope and security which is intended for Noah and his sons.
“And it shall come to pass, when I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow is seen in the clouds and I will remember my covenant between me and you …and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:14-15).
Lorberbaum demonstrates how the appearance of the rainbow signifies the danger of the flood and why it is primarily a reminder for God, an external sign, almost autonomous, which God has placed for himself out of fear that in his anger he will forget his commitment not to bring a flood onto the world.
Lorberbaum suggests reading the first chapters of Genesis as a bildungsroman, literally a novel of education – a coming-of-age story. Not man’s coming of age, but rather God’s. The results of this psychodynamic process is the creation of tools for self-control, that will restrain divine jealousy and anger again and again in view of man’s corrupt nature.
The Biblical stories and the relations between man and God described within them operate on two levels, according to Lorberbaum. On one level, there is the “grand historic plan” which God seeks to implement through man. The second level involves the complex relationships between God and man.
With regard to the second level, while the myths of the ancient Near East deal with gods in their relations with other gods, the “monotheistic” myth in the Bible is concerned with a God whose is not involved with other gods (whether or not they exist) but rather with man. In contrast to the myths of the ancient Near East, the Biblical myth presents God as one who yearns for an interpersonal relationship with his creations. According to this view, not only do the two levels coexist but the yearning for a relationship is what motivates his grand historic plans.
Sometimes, these two levels come together and sometimes (more often) they are in conflict. The need of the Biblical God for a relationship, the disappointment with it, and the jealously and anger that accompany that disappointment, are always presented as foiling the grand historic plan and causing it to deviate from its path. Thus, as in the story of the Flood, so too in God’s relations with Abraham and with Moses and with Israel in the desert.
This aspect of God’s relation with Abraham, in particular surrounding the birth of his son Yitzhak, is analyzed by Professor Lorberbaum in his current work.
Professor Yair Lorberbaum teaches in the Faculty of Law of Bar Ilan University and is a Senior Research Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute. His article “ The Rainbow: Anger Management Device ” on the story of the sign of the covenant appeared in the first volume of Reishit online academic journal, published by Shalom Hartman Institute. His books include:
Halacha and Agada, published by Shocken and
The Pauper King – The Monarchy in Classical Jewish Literature, published by Bar-Ilan University.