Special Panel:

Organizing the Divine: a problem of scripture, exegesis, and theology.

April 27, 4:30-8:00
Location: TBA

Monotheistic religious traditions that rely on scripture sources necessarily confront the problem of the diversity of scriptural images of the divine - the divine attributes, the gods, God - that do not fit into a single theological frame. Images of the divine in the Bible are richer and more diverse than those present in the theological traditions that derive from it. These traditions almost by necessity reshape and constrain scripture so that it yields more unified ideas about God. By contrast, early Rabbinic responses to the Hebrew scriptures more easily accommodated the diversity of images of the divine. The modern era has seen a resurgence of adherence to scripture, often according to the modes of historical-critical scholarship, to the effect that scripture is yet again a problematic resource for theologies uncomfortable with scripture's diversity.

Similar problems and constraints are found in other traditions reliant on scriptures. For example, in India, the great diversity of images of the divine in the Vedic and later Brahmanical texts supports a potentially wide range of notions about the divine: many gods, a transpersonal ultimate reality, one God, or no gods at all. Exegetes, particularly in theistic sectarian traditions, were compelled to rationalize scripture, explaining - sometimes explaining away - the diversity of messages inscribed in even the key texts of their particular traditions.

At this initial offering in a series of seminars, comparison of scriptural information about the divine with theologically informed strategies of exegesis in the Biblical and Indian contexts will illuminate the relationship of scriptures and ideas of God, and of scripture in its diverse relations to the theological understandings of God that ostensibly derive from scripture.

This seminar aims at opening up some of the problems - and layers of problems - involved in communities' efforts to sort out and fix proper knowledge of the divine, while yet reverencing their scriptural resources.


  • 4:30-6:00 - Presentation and response: Professor Jon Levenson, Harvard University
    • response by Professor David Vanderhooft.
  • Dinner
  • 7:00-830 - Presentation and response: Professor Parimal Patil, Harvard University
    • response by Professor Francis Clooney, SJ.
  • 8:30-9:00 - conclusions, and looking ahead.
Updated: 18-May-2009
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