Monotheism and the Philosophy of the Bible
- ISBN: 9781487503406
- Published By: University of Toronto
- Published: November 2018
Mark Glouberman takes the reader of “I AM”: Monotheism and the Philosophy of the Bible on a whirlwind ride through a dissection of certain passages of the Hebrew Bible and viewpoints that the text can be compared to Greek philosophy. The similarity that Glouberman sees between the structure of traditional philosophy and the early biblical stories is the crux of “I AM.” While not completely unfounded, this emphasis may be frustrating for a biblical scholar, archaeologist, or historian, as other important aspects of biblical studies are either minimized or disregarded completely. One example can be found in the conclusion of the book, which states “[i]t does not surprise me that the first account of the creation [Genesis 1] has clear correlates in Greek cosmogony and in early Greek philosophy” (200). While one may say “fair enough” to this statement, Glouberman inexplicitly chose to ignore the massive amount of scholarship on the relationship between Genesis 1 and Mesopotamian myths. Similar oversights are repeated throughout the text.
A foundational principle of “I AM” revolves around the idea that in the Hebrew Bible men and women are particulars, which makes them wholly separate from all the rest of the species created—which are collections—mere parts of nature. For Glouberman, the driving force behind this separation lies in the differences between the two accounts of creation in Genesis chapter 1 and 2. Almost completely disregarding the generally accepted scholarship that there were, most likely, separate sources for these two chapters—and the cultural context behind either of them—Glouberman spends most of the book driving this point home. In Genesis 1, humankind, although dominant and in God’s likeness, is merely a species while in Genesis 2, God creates a particular man and a particular woman and breathes life—and individualism—into them. This particularity also applies to God as well. Creating a distinction between the non-personal, nature-based pagan deities and Himself, particular and non-natural, God emphatically states, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).
The book’s jacket cover asks the question, “[f]or whom was the Hebrew Bible written?” Experts do not know the range of literacy in ancient Israel, nor do they know the distribution of biblical texts; therefore, we cannot know the full extent of the intended audience. However, it is safe to say that, generally, the text was written for some portion of the ancient Israelite people, as the text was written almost entirely in Hebrew—a few passages are written in Aramaic—and contains histories and prophecies of the ancient Israelites, along with their religious ideals and rules. This would appear not to be the case, or at least not as important, in the eyes of Glouberman. Despite being the first line of the jacket cover, this question is only peripherally covered, and this treatise does not contain any discussion about the ancient Israelite culture, history, language, or cultural context within the ancient Near Eastern world.
The second question that the jacket asks is “[h]ow much truth does it contain?” For those wishing to delve into a serious inquiry of theology, comparative religions, the nature of truth, or most other academic, philosophical, or spiritual discourses which this question may coax forth, they may be disappointed with the sterile answer that Glouberman puts forth. In their view, the Bible is philosophical, and therefore, should not be dismissed, even if the religious aspects are (and should be, in their estimation) thrown out. Glouberman makes the claim that, “[t]he Bible is a philosophical work” (41). This is, indeed, a fair statement to make; however, the statement could be more accurately revised to “[t]he Bible is also a philosophical book.” The Bible is clearly mythology-by-definition, as well as a religious and cultural rulebook, and a history—whether accurate or not. For Glouberman, that a philosophy can be pulled out is enough to end this conversation about truth.
Other discussions in this book, while thought provoking, are viewed from a narrow perspective. One example would be Glouberman’s discussion of the Ten Commandments. These discussions assert that, although other pagan religions had rules similar to the Ten Commandments, they carried “the force of our rules of etiquette” (85). Such an opinion is based on the First Commandment, placing God before all other deities. Unfortunately, this is unsubstantiated, and not supported by any academic research on the efficacy or seriousness of other culture’s rules. Similar unsubstantiated, personal opinions—although perhaps philosophically interesting—are weaved throughout the book. For example, “[p]aganism is not theistic. Theism views deities as persons—as having our psychic make-up and personality structure” (88). The vast trove of mythological accounts from across the globe would seem to contradict this idea, as many gods and goddesses are individualistic and psychologically anthropomorphic.
To summarize, “I AM” is a book that may be of interest to certain philosophers, but not to scholars of religion or the ancient Hebrews. This book contains threads of Greek philosophy, the Holocaust, Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Peter Frederick Strawson, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and the like. However, readers will not find anything about ancient Near Eastern mythology, archaeology, biblical Hebrew, or cultural context. In his conclusion, Glouberman boldly claims that Western religion has radically misunderstood the Bible as a religious text. It takes the supposition of biblical philosophy—as understood through Western thinking—to the ultimate extent, and seems to argue for the removal of all other biblical facets, both religious and cultural.
April Lynn Downey is an independent researcher with a graduate degree in Ancient Biblical Civilizations. She is also the author of the website Journal of Tales: www.aprildowney.blogspot.com.April DowneyDate Of Review:October 21, 2019