Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bereishit III: The Limits of Peshat

בצלמו - של אדם, הוא בצלם אלהים, מלאכים.

We have already seen that Rashbam is willing to strike out in search of non-conventional explanations if he feels they better capture the plain sense (peshat) of the text. Here, we might have expected the reasonable reading of 1:27 that God creates the human being in the divine form, suggesting that God has a body (see Shemot 24:10 and the great lengths Rambam must go to in the first part of the Guide for the Perplexed to dispel this possibility). But this is too radical for Rashbam, who already assumes the dominant medieval position that God is completely and totally incorporeal. [For important exceptions to this consensus, see Marc Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised.] He therefore makes the words בצלמו refer back to the human being itself—despite its lack of a preexisting form—and then in turn to the angels, who are less threatening as a physical mold for the human body.

This is an important comment for understanding the ways in which religious commitments ultimately shape and limit a commentator’s otherwise freely expressed interpretive preferences.


At October 16, 2007 at 7:39 AM , Anonymous avakesh said...

Rashi has a similar approach - defus is a form/ shape that God uses to create man

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