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Chicagophile


LETTERS
"Narrow" views of Genesis


In your article on courses at the University devoted to a single text ("Page-Turners," February/01), the writer assures readers that Prof. Leon Kass and his students treat the book of Genesis "not as a narrow religious document, but as a philosophical text." The presumption of this phrase is breathtaking, if not particularly surprising. The church and the synagogue, it appears, are too "narrow," too exclusive, to handle a text such as Genesis: only the cosmopolitan university can unearth the philosophical treasures buried within. The irony is that in disparaging the religious as "narrow," the writer in fact demonstrates the particular type of parochialism typical of the secular university.

Alain Epp Weaver, MDV'99
Jerusalem


I applaud Professor Leon Kass and class for looking at Genesis as something other than a narrowly religious text. But they passed quickly over its second principal word, usually written "God" in English. I find that the Hebrew 'elohiym is the plural of 'elowahh, which is an emphatic form of 'el, meaning "strength" and therefore often "God." So by basic meaning, all those things in the first chapter were actually created by the "great strengths" (or powers, or forces, or gods).

In Chapter 2, we meet Yahweh making humans, other animals, and a garden for them. Eleven times, his name is followed by 'elohiym. This wouldn't make much sense if the two words meant the same thing, but "Yahweh of the great strengths" does.

I do hope that Kass and his class paused when they got to Chapter 6, where the sons of the gods ('elohiym) find the daughters of humans attractive and produce oversized offspring. Translating that word as "God" (as in their Kings James version) makes Yahweh the grandfather. Might all those good old monotheists (whether Hebrew or more recent) realize what they have done to their monotheism!

David W. Joseph, SM'57, PhD'59
Lincoln, Nebraska




  JUNE 2001

  > > Volume 93, Number 5


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Life begins at 33.8
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Picture this


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