James A. Diamond. Jewish Theology Unbound. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 304 pp

Aaron Koller
2020 AJS Review  
In his commentary on Exodus 20, Abraham ibn Ezra reports that his friend, Judah Halevi, asked him why God identifies himself as "your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt," rather than "your God, who created heaven and earth-and who created you!" James Diamond reads this question as a fundamental inquiry into the nature of God and the nature of a relationship with God. Is God a philosophical ideal, a "prime mover," a "first cause," knowable through contemplation of divine perfection?
more » ... is God a living, breathing entity, immensely powerful but dynamic, capable of growth and change? Diamond is a prolific and erudite scholar of Jewish thought, whose work has ranged over the whole canon, from the Bible to moderns such as the Piaseczner Rebbe and Leonard Cohen, with a primary focus on medieval Jewish thought. But here he is writing not as a scholar of Jewish thought, collecting and analyzing writings by others, but as a producer of Jewish thought, sifting those writings, synthesizing them, and adding to them, to produce a modern Jewish theology. This is framed as a polemical book, a rejection of the view that Judaism has no theology, no thought, and therefore no soul, and is simply a lawbook for the body, corporeal in its approach and devoid of any deeper abstract reflections. Rather than questioning the view that theology is more significant than actions, Diamond argues that this portrayal is simply wrong, and that Jewish theology is just as profound as the theologies found in other religious traditions. The nature of God is most thoroughly explored in chapter 3, on the names of God. Diamond posits that the "ineffable" name, the tetragrammaton, is itself a statement of God's becoming, of divine dynamism rather than constancy. This is argued, as is everything else in the book, through a close reading of key biblical texts, illuminated by the widest range of exegetical guides: rabbinic midrash, medieval commentators (including those like Gersonides, Abarbanel, and Isaac Arama, who are rarely encountered in academic scholarship) and modern scholarship. The following chapter focuses on the various ways in which God's name is desacralized for the sake of humanity. This can take the form of literal erasure, as when the name of God is dissolved in order to preserve a marriage in Numbers 5; Diamond quotes Levinas's paraphrase of this as "the effacement of the Name is the reconciliation of men." But it can also take less dramatic form, such as the Mishnah's injunction to use the name of God in greeting others (Berakhot 9:5). For example, in discussing God's name as revealed in Exodus 3:13, Diamond provides a rich discussion of Moses's biography leading up to the
doi:10.1017/s0364009420000124 fatcat:gzjkr6tshjg6jc7gq2lx5nswce