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Saturday, June 25, 2016


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I have a few tangential thoughts.

1) Why "in the image of God" rather than "to the image of God?" I know that this writing is philosophical and not exegetical, but if you are going to use Sacred Scripture to stimulate (comment on?.. anchor?...) the philosophical effort, a better translation seems better able to aid the effort, because the shades of meaning are different. For example, St. Jerome's Latin which you quote, "ad imaginem" suggests a motion and direction that "in the image" does not.

2) Your comment on Sartre reminds me of a book by Eugene Rose (later Hieromonk Seraphim Rose) called "Nihilism: The Roots of the Revolution of the Modern Age," especially the chapter on "Theology and the Spirit of Nihilism." He claims that the nugget of truth at the center of nihilism is that man is entirely contingent, and is, but for God's gratuitous creation, essentially nothing. It is a thorough analysis of nihilism; if you haven't seen it, please check it out: http://oodegr.co/english/filosofia/nihilism_root_modern_age.htm

3) Perhaps you have a post you can direct me to where you discuss your notion of proof. Doesn't the existence of any thing necessarily imply the existence of the uncreated creator? You are certainly familiar with such proofs, so I wonder what your meaning or disagreement must be.

Thanks for the comments, John.

Ad 1) In this context I see no difference between 'in' and 'to.' They are stylistic variants of each other. Besides, the stock English phrase is 'in the image' not 'to the image.' A conservative never innovates without a good reason.

And as you know, Genesis was not written in Latin. Besides, are you sure about the exact sense of *ad* to St Jerome?

New Yorkers stand ON line, but I would never do such a thing: I stand IN line. Seriously, is there anything worth quibbling over here?

Ad 2) Thanks for the reference. You could also say that the nihilist correctly discerns the essential nullity or non-entity of finite things when taken on their own apart from God. But he thinks there is nothing beyond the finite. The theist, we could say, is a nihilist with respect to the finite, but thinks there is something beyond the finite.

The nihilist is arguably closer to God that the 'positivistic' believer.


Read 'than' for 'that' in the last sentence above.

As for proof, see here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2016/06/neither-the-existence-nor-the-nonexistence-of-god-is-provable.html

and here:


But see Benjamin Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, which opens ‘The god of the hebrew bible has a body. This must be stated at the outset, because so many people, including many scholars, assume otherwise. The evidence for this simple thesis is overwhelming, so much so that asserting the carnal nature of the biblical God should not occasion surprise.’

Sommers p.2.

In Genesis 2.7 God blows life-giving breath into the first human -an action that might suggest that God has a mouth or some organ with which to exhale. Less ambiguously, in Genesis 3.8, Adam hears the sound of God going for a stroll in the Garden of Eden at the breezy time of the day. A being who takes a walk is a being who has a body — more specifically, a body with something closely resembling legs. As we move forward in Genesis, we are told that God comes down from heaven to earth to take a close look at the tower the humans are building (Genesis 11.5) and that God walks to Abraham's tent, where He engages in conversation (Genesis 18). Again, these are actions of a being with or in a body. They point toward a crucial similarity between the divine body and any other body (human or nonhuman, animate or inert): The divine body portrayed in these texts was located at a particular place at a particular time. It was possible to say that God's body was here (near Abraham's tent, for example) and not there (inside the tent itself), even if God's knowledge and influence went far beyond that particular place. Indeed, this is what I mean by "a body" in this book: something located in a particular place at a particular time, whatever its shape or substance.

Note the emphasis, which is the author’s own, of the importance spatio-temporal location.


The whole point of my post is to counter Sommer's thesis. Dale, you will recall, made reference to Sommer's book.

The question is not whether God can manifest himself in bodily form, or (if this is different, and I think it is) bring about his Incarnation. The question is whether God is essentially embodied, or essentially carnal.

That is an absurd suggestion, and the depictions of God as inhaling, exhaling, walking around, must be interpreted allegorically.

God is a pure spirit.


I've glanced at those posts on proof, and I'll have to take time to read them more carefully. Thanks for directing me to them.

Regarding the point about "ad imaginem et similitudinem Dei."

There's a short burst of arguments there, culminating in the question, "is there anything worth quibbling over here?" I'll try to respond to each. (I will also follow your wry lead in your mode of listing the replies. I found it amusing.)

(Before I begin, though, about "quibbling." If you think I'm arguing about petty words to avoid the topic of the post, about God's body, I'm not trying to. As I mentioned at the start of my reply, these are admittedly tangential thoughts -- not intended as a reply to the post. I hoped you'd reply, if you found the thoughts provocative.

If you think the question petty, in itself, and that's why you call it quibbling -- well, I guess that hangs on whether the understanding of a word in one of the most influential parts of the most authoritative text in human history is a petty point to argue about. I don't think so.)

Ad 1) -- "the stock English is phrase is 'in the image...'" I suppose it's fair to say that I'm not English, but Catholic. I don't mean this as snarky. Insofar as Catholics have been reading the Bible in English, they have been reading from the Douay Rheims translation as distinct from the King James translation. The Catholic rendering is "to the image."

Insofar as Catholicism and Protestantism are notably distinct, I think this bids fair to saying there are two standard renderings in the English language, "in the image" and "to the image," and at this time, neither is an innovation.

Ad 2) -- "Genesis was not written in Latin." Not originally, for a certainty, but in St. Jerome's capable hands, it was.

The question about proper sources for Biblical text is not about its origin, but about its publication. God published Genesis through Moses, in a Semitic tongue. He then approved the Greek translation of the Septuagint by using it when He preached as the Christ. Finally, He officially declared St. Jerome's Vulgate to be without error through His Church. I think this means that all three such versions are approved, and give us a chance to triangulate meaning.

Anyway, that brings us to the third argument.

Ad 3) "Are you sure about the exact sense of *ad* to St. Jerome?" Well, no, as far as that goes, I don't know which better translates his meaning. I implied above that I try to triangulate the meaning, and seeing the Greek "kata" and the Latin "ad," the translation "to the image" seems more fitting. I did a quick search for all the uses of the word "image" and looked to see if St. Jerome had "in imagine," rather than "ad imaginem." He never did. So I couldn't find a distinction made there.

In can mean "within" or "into." There is a distinction between "ad" and "in" even when both express direction. "Ad" implies motion toward, but from a distance. "In" implies motion towards, ending together.

As St. Thomas puts it, "Therefore there is in man a likeness to God; not, indeed, a perfect likeness, but imperfect. And Scripture implies the same when it says that man was made "to" God's likeness; for the preposition "to" signifies a certain approach, as of something at a distance." (See again, the standard Catholic phrase, *to* God's likeness.)

Ad 4) "What if the Greek or Hebrew is better translated "in the image?" You didn't ask this, but it's a clear corollary. I tend to think that St. Jerome's scholarship is better than mine, and his understanding of the Hebrew of the Scriptures, being 1600 years closer, is better. So, if he thinks "ad" expresses it, I take it as important clarification.

So, where does that all leave us? I'm not sure. The question of what's a better translation of Genesis (given all three undeniably official languages) into modern English might require more careful thought. But I hold that "to the image" is not innovation, it's a competing standard tradition.

>>The whole point of my post is to counter Sommer's thesis.

Sommer’s thesis is that (a) this is what pre-Millenial cultures in the Middle East believed and (b) this is what the Hebrew Bible says. Your post does not address the first claim.

On the matter of scriptural interpretation, you give a number of arguments.

1. The Lincoln argument. Something can be an image or likeness even though the matter (e.g. marble is different from flesh). OK, but what about form? An image of Lincoln needs to look like him, no?

2. That the depictions of God as inhaling, exhaling, walking around, must be interpreted allegorically, otherwise they are absurd.

Sommer considers the second claim in detail, and argues that the idea emerged in the middle ages with Maimonides. Aquinas seems to follow Maimonides – see Summa I Q3 A1. Sommer's reply is that nothing in the Hebrew Bible suggests allegory. This is a projection by later commentators who, struck by the apparent absurdity of the idea of walking around etc., suggested it must have been intended allegorically. This argument works for anything of course. Virgin birth is absurd, ergo allegory. Resurrection from the dead is absurd, ergo allegory. Supernatural interference in the course of nature etc etc.

There is a separate Strawsonian argument connecting of spatio-temporal location and identity through time, which we might consider later.


You quoted Sommer: "The god of the hebrew bible has a body. This must be stated at the outset, because so many people, including many scholars, assume otherwise. The evidence for this simple thesis is overwhelming, so much so that asserting the carnal nature of the biblical God should not occasion surprise."

Look, if the God of the Hebrew Bible is the true God, as I assume, and Dale Tuggy assumes, and perhaps as you assume as well, then God cannot have a body. God is pure spirit. So Sommer is plainly wrong.

But there is this wrinkle: The opening sentence is ambiguous. It could be read as saying that the God is described in the Hebrew bible using terms that imply that he has a body, and that is all metaphor.

God does not literally breathe; he brings in about that this animal Adam who evolved from lower forms is the first animal to be a spiritual animal, a man.

Suppose I describe some Englishman, call him Tom, as insular. Now, literally, no man is an island. (You get the pun.) By a certain semantic extension, an analogical shift, we can say, again literally, that Dean is insular inasmuch as he lives on an island. But if I say that Tom is insular to convey that he is isolated in his thinking from Continental and other foreign influences, then I am speaking metaphorically.


If I understand Strawson, he is saying that the concept of person is such that persons are essentially embodied, that it is impossible that there be an unembodied person. It follows that God does not exist if God is a person.

So the important question is whether God is essentially embodied. This is not the same as the question whether God has the power to manifest himself bodily. Perhaps Sommer is maintaining merely that God has this 'theophanic' power.

By the way, Strawson pere does seem to mix metaphysics and epistemology since crucial to his argument are considerations of identification, in the epistemological sense.

1. Sommer’s position hangs upon intricate points of scriptural interpretation, including what is called the ‘argument from silence’, which I am not really qualified to comment on.

2. ‘Strawson pere does seem to mix metaphysics and epistemology since crucial to his argument are considerations of identification, in the epistemological sense.’ This is the more philosophically interesting question. I agree that Strawson’s presentation of his own argument does appear to mix metaphysics and epistemology.

However his pupil Gareth Evans considerably developed the argument, invoking what he called ‘Russell’s Principle’: ‘In order to be thinking about an object or to make a judgment about an object, one must know which object is in question – one must know which object it is that one is thinking about. Evans called this ‘knowing which’ a discriminating conception. So the question is whether we have a discriminating conception of a pure individual consciousness, in Strawson’s sense. This turns the epistemological question into a semantic one.

What does ‘I am depressed’ mean, as uttered by you, and as understood by you? If you argue that your understanding is somehow richer or different from mine, because the ‘I’, as understood by you, refers to your soul or ego or individual consciousness, then according to Russell’s Principle, there must be a discriminating conception of the referent. But there isn’t one. We can only know which object you are talking about by locating your body in space and time. I.e. ‘know which’ in the semantic sense, as in ‘know what you are talking about’.

Is perception required to know which object? I should think not. I am now thinking about the square root of 9, and I am thinking that it is is an odd number. But I have no sensory acquaintance with the object of my thought.

>>Is perception required to know which object?
Not necessarily, but Evans's claim is that we must have a discriminating conception of the object. Conception is not perception.

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