[b-hebrew] origin of evil

Lisbeth S. Fried lizfried at umich.edu
Wed Sep 6 23:55:36 EDT 2006

Hi Robert, et., al.
I think that if you define evil so that whatever it is, God is incapable of
doing it, then the discussion seems vacuous, or at least odd. According to
the OT, God is capable of doing evil. This is where I would think that the
assumptions of Jews and Christians will differ.  I think that Christian
thought derives from neo-Platonism and not from reading the Hebrew Bible.
The Christians who write TWOT reveal their theology in their definition.
According to Platonic thought, a god, to be god, is completely good,
omniscient, omnipresent, and incorporeal. That is not the god that is
described in the Hebrew Bible. The god described in the Hebrew Bible is not
omniscient, not omnipresent, not incorporeal, and is not completely good.
To read a Greek god into the Hebrew Bible takes a lot of doing. It means not
translating words according to their plain meaning and it means reading a
lot of things as metaphor and allegory. One example is Exod.20:5. Plato
despises the Olympian gods for their human frailties, and among these
frailties he discusses in particular is the emotion of jealousy. A perfect
god is not jealous. So now, accordingly, qn' (qana')is translated as
"zealous" when the subject is God (e.g. Exod 20:5)and as "jealous" when a
human is the subject (e.g., Gen. 26:14).  Yet, I would maintain that it is
YHWH's very jealousy that has maintained the Jews over 3000 years of
persecutions, nothing else. Jews do not worship other gods, for that simple
reason, that YHWH is a jealous god. Nevertheless, Christians tend to
translate the term as "zealous" in Exod. 20:5 because jealousy is seen as a
negative emotion. It seems to me that the god that Christians see in the OT
tends to be a Platonic idealization of YHWH, which is fine, but it is
different from the god that Jews see when they read the Hebrew Bible.
Liz Fried
> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-
> bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Robert Newman
> Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 8:10 PM
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Subject: [b-hebrew] origin of evil
> Hi Lisbeth,
> Concerning Ra', one reference work (TWOT) says
> " In the moral and religious realm of meaning, the verb denotes activity
that is
> contrary to God's will. ...
> God is the subject of the verb r¹±a± in Psa 44:2 [H 3]; Jer 25:29; Jer
31:28; Mic 4:6;
> Zech 8:14), but his infliction of pain on people is not due to
viciousness; it is the
> just judgment of sinners who do not respond to his call for repentance. In
the Old
> Testament, God is not depicted as committing an immoral act when he does
> to the wicked. " -end quote.
> I find this interesting, God can bring calamity as an expression of
justice when his
> righteousness demands it and he is not doing evil. Quite the opposite, an
> of judgement on the oppressor is an expression of love to those oppessed.
> does not God's holiness mean he is removed from corruption and badness?
> The words directed to Cyrus in Isaiah 45 indicate that the incomparable
God is
> behind Cyrus victory at Babylon. That victory comes as an expression of
> judgement. I think the words in verse 7 emphasize the extent of God's
ability. Whilst
> your translation uses "evil" I notice that some prefer "calamity" in this
context. I
> wonder if the choice of translators reflects the word Ra' may be
contrasted with or
> in juxtaposition with. So that tob - ra' is 'good - evil' and shalom - ra'
is 'peace -
> calamity'. Just a thought.
> By the way, within Christendom there are differing views as to this
question of - Did
> God create evil? Also, there are differing views about Satan, real person
or evil
> inclination within? So these issues are not ones that clearly divide all
Jews and all
> Christians. It's good to be cognizant of different interpretations and how
they are
> grounded, yet this list isn't the place for theological debate, still it's
been interesting
> to observe.
> Shalom
> Robert Newman
> Lisbeth wrote:
> Dear Benjamin, Harold, et. al.
> The Jewish view  is expressed in Isaiah. Christians call it "radical
> monotheism," but Jews just call it monotheism. According to Isaiah, God
> create both darkness and evil. Christians worry about how a good god can
> create evil. This issue I think arrives with Plato, Aristotle, and
> Hellenism. I don't think it pertains to Oriental thought. The Hebrew Bible
> does not whitewash this by claiming that evil must really be good if it
> caused by God.
> Isaiah 45:5-7  (speaking to Cyrus).
>  I am YHWH, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you,
> though you do not know me,  so that they may know, from the rising of the
> sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am YHWH, and
> is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make
> peace/health/well-being (shalom) and create evil (ra'); I YHWH do all
> things.
>  Best,
> Liz Fried
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