The Compassionate God Of Traditional Jewish And Christian Exegesis -- By: Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:2 (NA 2007)
Article: The Compassionate God Of Traditional Jewish And Christian Exegesis
Author: Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

The Compassionate God Of Traditional Jewish And Christian Exegesis

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer


The comparison in the Zohar (Noah, 67b-68a) of Noah, Abraham and Moses serves as the starting point of this paper. Its aim is to investigate how traditional Jewish (e.g. the Targum, Midrashim, the Talmud, the medieval commentators) and Christian (e.g. the New Testament, the Church Fathers, Luther and Calvin) exegetes interpret the responses of these three individuals to divine foreknowledge (Gen. 6-7; 18:16-33; Exod. 32:10-14). Two main responses are suggested – intercession and/or proclamation of repentance. As shall become apparent, strikingly similar answers are given. First, foreknowledge is seen by nearly all scholars, regardless of religious affiliation and historical background, as a veiled hint at the possibility of influencing God, with the desired result of cancelling the prediction. Secondly, the majority of scholars read intercession and/or repentance into these texts to a greater extent than the texts themselves warrant. This uniformity suggests that the questions asked are shared by people across the borders of time and specific denominations. Even so, there are differences: Jewish scholars tend to emphasise the motif of intercession, existing or non-existing, on behalf of the guilty, while Christian ones are more prone to stress the idea of repentance.

‘Know that even when the creation sins and angers before Him and He is angry at them, what does the Holy One, blessed is He do? He relents and seeks an advocate to plead in their defence, and opens a path to the advocate’ Tanhuma-Yelammedenu, Vayera, 8 (Gen. 19:1)

1. Introduction

The Zohar (Noah, 67b-68a) compares the behaviour of Noah, Abraham and Moses.1 All three men are given insight into God’s future punitive actions against the people around them but their resulting behaviour differs: Noah does nothing, Abraham argues with God for the sake of the just, and Moses intercedes for the sake of the sinners, even willing to sacrifice his own life for their sake. Evaluating their behaviour, the Zohar faults Noah for his inactivity while it praises Moses and to a lesser extent also Abraham. The reason for the praise is that the latter two used their foreknowledge as a platform upon which to attempt to cancel or at least to modify God’s plans.

Inspired by this comparison, the aim of the present paper is to investigate how traditional Jewish and Christian exegetes from a range of tim...

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