Saturday, October 29, 2005

Soul of Fire: A Theory of Biblical Man

If you read only one essay this decade on biblical interpretation (pshat), this should be it (free registration required):

Soul of Fire: A Theory of Biblical Man
by Ethan Dor-Shav
Our common fate as water, earth, wind, and fire.
Azure No. 22 (Autumn 5766 / 2005)

A teaser:
Contrary to the Christological tradition (dominating biblical lexicography through the nineteenh century and beyond), the Hebrew canon does not uphold the dualist body-soul doctrine, submitting instead three soul terms: Nefesh, ruah, and neshama...

In what follows, I intend to show that the original Hebrew terminology was both distinct and consistent, and that the very absence of visible souls in the Hebrew Bible points to a more commanding alternative conception of man’s inner being. I also intend to show that while the Bible does not uphold the soul-body dichotomy – which most critics have considered prerequisite to a belief in the persistence of the soul after death – it does demonstrate the presence of a four-element structure of both matter and spirit that supports a belief in life eternal. This structure has been either overlooked or confused with Aristotle’s schema to the point that the spiritual implications of the biblical usage have gone undiscovered.

Thus, scholars searching the Hebrew Bible for signs of an interest in the afterlife have been looking through the wrong intellectual lenses, and have therefore missed the Hebrew Bible’s profound teaching concerning man’s constitution and destiny.

Along the way, the author sheds light on the biblical creation story (read this morning in synagogues) and, directly and indirectly, on many familiar and less-familiar biblical passages. I'm not sure I'm convinced of all his points, but his analysis is impressive and compelling.

A great way to start the new cycle of Torah readings. Yasher koach!


Miriam said...

Agreed. It was a tour de force.

Soccer Dad said...

I haven't read it but your description suggests that he would have an approach similar to the Malbim who regularly differentiates between similar words.

Zman Biur said...

You should read it. I'm not sure he would agree they are similar words.