IMPROVEMENT SUPPRESSES THE IDEAL (II) "According to the image and likeness"

English Section / 16 august 2023

Versiunea în limba română


This essay builds the concept of the "Kingdom of God" in an intellectual endeavor that has nothing to do with archaeology and very little to do with history, yet proceeds similarly to reconstructing an ancient jar, starting from the disorder of the shards found at the same site.

As the author of this essay, I take responsibility for the choices and processing that lead to the concept of the "Kingdom of God" presented here. Therefore, I will use first-person interventions in writing, so that no one confuses them with expressions of established exegesis.

In the following, I did not take the expression "Kingdom of God" metaphorically (as thousands of texts dedicated to this subject do), but assumed it to refer to a specific system of social organization. Hence, seemingly, I attribute to Jesus Christ - who declares that the purpose of his coming is to announce it - not only a role as a spiritual leader but also intentions leading to political consequences.

The term "Kingdom of God" suggests a functional system, and thus, the idea of structuring the Commandments is implied by Jesus when preaching his Gospel (1). Hence, we encounter all the elements:

The Commandments are divine;

Reason processes them so that the Commandments are understood rationally (without which they are given in vain);

The idea of structuring is divinely validated.

All that remains is to attempt the structuring.

The biblical extraction of the process does not guarantee the restoration of the original concept of the "Kingdom of God" (especially since, if it ever existed, the model has not been preserved), but it only seeks to establish a reasonable correspondence with the biblical remnants that have reached us, considering that we could benefit greatly from it, not as a work of history, but for contemporary use.

Inevitably, in the processes of derivation and interpretation that are inherent in such a construction, reason and logic are engaged, which may not be deemed suitable for the matter being investigated - a literature considered sacred by nearly a third of humanity - and which, when put to work, may not defile it.

An evaluation of the relationships between Holy Scripture and rationality and logic is opportune before the essay advances, employing them.

a. Aversion to Rationality

The communication between God and Moses on Mount Sinai is such a powerful narrative in the Holy Book that the subsequent fusion of revelation and reason - a process that has been traced in earlier episodes of this essay - fades into the background, even stimulating a certain Jewish aversion to approaching holiness through rational means, considering it inappropriate or, at best, subordinate.

The unknowability that distinguishes God from the series of known existences establishes the mysterious nature of His name - the Tetragrammaton YHWH is His sign, not a name, and it is not permitted to be vocalized. This very unknowability justifies the assertion that "God exists" can be a step toward atheism, as it projects onto Him the human notion of existence.

The idea conveniently converges faith and atheism, eliminating the subject of conflict, for "to be or not to be" transforms from an ontological alternative into a linguistic one: "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" ("I am that I am") is a circular expression in which, taken as a logical proposition, the logical subject and the logical predicate change places depending on which part of the infinite loop the thought is in.

It is a field of intertwined paradoxes, as blurring the boundary between faith and atheism allows for the unfettered exploration of faith through rational means, where - another paradox - faith becomes an experience of the thought process, so that atheism and faith, in forms that avoid proselytism, become only nuances of attitude.

b. Reason - Yet Divine

Contrary to negative theology, in the only place in the Old Testament where the expression "Kingdom of God" appears (3), it is linked to wisdom (a notion that includes rationality):

"10. Again, wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. 11. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. 12. For they followed foolishness instead of the living law; they recklessly defiled themselves in their deceitful ways." (The Wisdom of Solomon 10:10-12).

The case is striking: The Wisdom of Solomon was not admitted into the Tanakh - it is considered apocryphal by the Jewish (and Protestant) canon - but, despite being pseudonymous, it is included in the Old Testament by Orthodox and Catholic traditions.

Beyond the suspicion of Christian influence - historians accept that it was most likely written, at the latest, during the first Christian century - anyone who reads into this the sign of Jewish reticence toward the hymn raised to wisdom in The Wisdom of Solomon must adopt a flexible stance: the distrust in the ability of human reason to penetrate the divine is usually countered with the verse "26. And God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...'" (Genesis 1), which instills optimism supported by great scholars:

Rashi equates "likeness" with "the power of understanding and discernment," interpreting it as referring to reason;

Sforno says that the phrase "in our image" signifies a "species designed to live forever, as it is predominantly intellectual";

Vilna Gaon (4) explains the verse: "All things in the world are found within man, and his soul is like its Creator through D'varim [...]," where D'varim ("words" in Hebrew), in the mentioned context, refers to the human capacity to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions through words;

For Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa (5), the translation from Hebrew with the term "likeness" must be understood as the Platonist "assimilation" (in Platonism, true knowledge consists of recognizing the similarity between the human soul and ideas).

In Hebrew, the expression "בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים" ("B'tzelem Elohim"), which has been translated as "in His image," is literally translated as "In the image of God," which opens the possibility for a generous commentary by Sforno (6), where he shows that its meaning is "reflecting the divine."

From this, it follows that the development of logic and reason counts as a process of drawing closer to God, reflecting Him more and more adequately. Therefore, in the terms of faith, their progress does not bring condemnation but sanctification.

Similarly, it is not an act of arrogance to scrutinize the words of God; it is precisely what He insists upon.

That first century of the first millennium, in both Judaism and Christianity, seems to have capitalized on the virtues of reason and logic, resulting in increasingly sophisticated proposals for the principles of interpreting sacred texts, going as far as the development of "pilpulistic" research (rejected by some conservative rabbis).

c. The Central Verse

The effort of generations, from ancient times to the present day, to explicate the Holy Scriptures, to contemplate them, and to attribute meanings to them finds its literary primordial impulse in the unity (or accord) between humanity and divinity, established by verse 26 of the first chapter of Genesis.

But its importance does not end there, as "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" postulates not only the spiritual potential of the human being but also the purpose of God's creation. The statement can be interpreted as an imperative - a Commandment that obliges the assurance of the sacred status of the human as a spiritual being.

The Kingdom of God can be envisioned here as aiming to actualize the spiritual potential of humanity, implicitly respecting this Commandment. The verse can be reformulated as a fundamental thesis: "Man has the status of a spiritual being." Considering its origin in a Commandment, it is not merely a descriptive proposition and not purely normative; it demands an elevation from potential to actuality.

I attribute this central thesis to the concept of the "Kingdom of God," structuring the Commandments around it, so they can fulfill it through their competition, in a Declaration.

The choice is personal, but not arbitrary, because:

- 1) Expresses a general aspiration.

- 2) Corresponds to a plausible interpretation of the statement of Jesus Christ, quoted by John: 3: "3. Jesus answered and said to him: Truly, truly, I say to you: Unless someone is born from above, he will not be able to see the kingdom of God."

Jesus' answer can be suspected to refer to Genesis: 1: "26. Let us make man in Our image and after Our likeness", in which man receives the potential to reflect the image of God, and when he does, it counts as a second birth.

I emphasize that Jesus does not say that the "birth from above" ensures the entry into the Kingdom of God, but only its visibility, and therefore it is about a "birth" of a spiritual nature, involving both reason and living.

The idea of a Declaration based on the Commandments, however, is not original, as some authors view the Torah as a "Jewish constitution."

Keeping in mind the absolute nature of the unknowability of God and the relative nature of the "deification of man" (the Christian goal) in a progressive process of reflecting Him, the conceptual construction of the "Kingdom of God" can use the tools provided by the disciplines of epistemology as a cultural act of piety.

d. Definition and Bibliography for the "Kingdom of God"

Assembling various statements of Jesus Christ scattered throughout the Gospels creates an opportunity to present a coherent image of the concept of the "Kingdom of God" that he preached:

The verse "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent" (Luke 4:43) informs that Jesus' mission is to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

The verse "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17) indicates that Jesus' mission is to fulfill the Commandments.

Treating these two verses as premises of a syllogism yields an intriguing conclusion:

If Jesus' mission is to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God;

If Jesus' mission is to fulfill the Commandments;

Then, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God consists of the Fulfillment of the Commandments (given that Jesus does not declare any other mission).

The conclusion provides a definition for the "Kingdom of God" on one hand and, on the other, points to the bibliography of the concept: the Commandments.

In this conceptual context, it is possible that the "fulfillment of the Commandments" does not only mean their factual compliance but also their configuration into a functional hierarchy.

From this perspective, the task of constructing the concept of the "Kingdom of God" involves assembling the Commandments into a functional system, guided by the rigor of upholding the values promoted in the Bible, among which the supreme value of "making man in our image and likeness" has already been examined in section c. The central verse.

The placement of the bibliography for the concept of the "Kingdom of God" within the Commandments of the Old Testament becomes a plausible explanation for why the Gospel of Jesus is not fully narrated in the New Testament; what might have been lost is the systemic structure (which may not have been retained), but not its documentary foundation, which had no reason to be replicated in the canonical Gospels.

Despite the preaching of the Kingdom of God by Jesus Christ, attested by the canonical Gospels throughout Palestine - Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Perea and Jerusalem -, the systematic concept (if it existed) may have remained an esoteric teaching:

"10. He said: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and to others in parables, so that, seeing, they may not see and, hearing, they may not understand." (Luke:8)

It is sufficient that the Old Testament has not been eliminated from the Christian canon (as attempted by Marcion).

e. Authenticity of the Documentary Body - The Commandments

The concept of the "Kingdom of God" will be shaped by the systematicity of the divine Commandments, which, being so numerous, probably cover important aspects of social, economic, political life, as well as inner life.

Just as the authenticity of the shards must be attested before reassembling an ancient jar, the Commandments must be evaluated - to what extent they come from revelation and how much they have undergone human intervention. Despite the claim that the Commandments have been transmitted intact from Moses to the dawn of the first millennium and beyond, the holy books record that they have undergone interpretations and explanatory transformations, in increasingly comprehensive and profound waves (9), especially when disasters such as the loss and recovery of some or the entire Book occurred, or deliberate disregard and worship of other gods.

These transformations cast doubt on the divine authenticity of the multitude of Commandments, but they were validated by Jesus Christ: "18. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

Jesus, therefore, confirms the validity of the Commandments in the form they were in during his time (but he is not responsible for what happened to them afterward); for example, the question of the Apostle Paul, "Why the Law?" (10), goes against the intentions of Jesus Christ.

This is the kind of deviations that Jesus refers to when he declares, "19. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (though here he was referring to Hillel).

Yet, as the doctrine of Hillel prevailed in Judaism, so did the doctrine of Paul in Christianity, followed by the majority of believers.

With the same subject of respecting the Commandments is the one mentioned under number eight in Maimonides' list (11) from the Mishneh Torah:

"8. To imitate His good and upright ways, as it is written 'and walk in His ways'" (Deuteronomy 28:9).

However, the verse from which Maimonides claims to derive this "meta-Commandment" is not an imperative sentence but a conditional one: "The Lord your God will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom."

The somewhat forced character of deriving the Commandment in Maimonides' List invalidates it.

The artifice of Maimonides' list of Commandments (Rambam) is undoubted, not the least because they are numbered 613: there is no reason for the numerical value of 613 of the word "Torah" obtained by gematria to refer to the number of divine Commandments.

The only quality of this idea is that, attributed to Simlai (who lived in the second century), the Talmud somewhat endorsed it, and taken as information that answers everyone's doubts, it has been generally accepted, despite its weak justification.

Maimonides' list was immediately criticized. For example, in "Hasagot ha-Ramban" (Observations of Ramban), Nahmanides rejects several dozen affirmative and negative Commandments from Maimonides' list and introduces others (without them being equal in number to those rejected), about which he says that Maimonides forgot.

The changes promoted by Nahmanides may have their significance, but what is truly important is that, in the end, he admits that Maimonides' list has become very influential, and the majority of the Jewish community accepts and follows it, so he agrees to use Maimonides' list as a general reference point, despite his personal reservations.

Sometimes, the opinion that the majority supports gains a social quality by being referred to by the multitude, which surpasses the importance of objections (even if they are well-founded), as long as the objections do not radically overturn the opinion.

Nahmanides understands this.

I have taken Maimonides' list of Commandments as the documentary basis for the configuration of the "Kingdom of God"; I considered the risk of them being altered in relation to the Commandments validated by Jesus as low, since the concept to be constructed here is elaborated without integrating Commandments that do not refer to the system of social and individual life (Commandments related to rituals, purity, etc., are not integrated).

In any case, the biblical text, presumed to be unchanged from the time of Jesus, functions as a control witness.


(1) Mark 1:14: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God."

(2) Exodus 3:14: "God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I am has sent me to you.'" The Hebrew expression "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" has an uncertain meaning and can be translated in various ways, such as "I am who I am," "I am what I am," "I am who I will be," or "I will be what I will be." The sentence "I am who I am" can be infinitely expanded: "{[(I am who I am) I am who I am] I am, etc.}"

(3) The notion of the "Kingdom of God" may be implied here, but the expression is not used as such: "20. Therefore, the desire for wisdom leads to the everlasting kingdom." (Book of Wisdom of Solomon 6)

(4) Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon or by his Hebrew acronym Gra (1720-1797), was a Lithuanian Jewish talmudist, halakhist, and Kabbalist, and the most important leader of non-Hasidic Jews in the last few centuries. He is called ha-Gaon he-Chasid mi-Vilna, "the pious genius of Vilnius" in Hebrew. Through his annotations and amendments to the Talmud and other texts, he became one of the most renowned and influential figures in rabbinic studies, from the Middle Ages onwards.

(5) Septuaginta/ Vol.1/pag.54/POLIROM/2004

(6) Sforno: "בצלם אלוהים" (B'tzelem Elohim - "In the image of God"). When the word "אלוהים" (Elohim) appears as a description, that is, in the nature of an adjective, it refers to creatures that are spiritual in their essence, not just possessing spiritual potential. Such beings are devoid of physical matter and are completely disembodied. This gives them a fundamentally infinite nature. This is also why such an adjective or attribute is applied both to God and His angels. The term is also used in relation to judges, to describe the predominant intellectual function they must perform to make their decisions reflect true justice. While it is an undeniable fact that human intellect operates without direct dependence on any part of the body, that it does not age along with the rest of the body it inhabits but sometimes improves as the body ages and becomes barely capable of sustaining the soul it houses, and that exercising the intellect does not lead to fatigue, etc., it is not called "אלוהים" (Elohim), something divine, but only "צלם אלוהים" (tzelem Elohim), "something that reflects something divine." Until this intellect has acquired "חכמה" (hochmah - wisdom), that is, reverence for God and love for Him, its Creator, it is imperfect. From here, it follows that man's task is to perfect his God-given intellect by acquiring the knowledge and understandings that can only be obtained through the study of the Torah and the practice of its laws. If atheist intellectuals do not use their intellect in the way God intended it to be used, it becomes, in fact, a negative asset, an obstacle, and ultimately proves to be entirely futile, as indicated in Psalm 49:21: "Man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish." This entire lesson is condensed into the two words "בצלם אלוהים" (b'tzelem Elohim).

(7) "Bunavestire" is the Romanian translation of the Greek word "εὐαγγέλιον" (euangelion), which corresponds to the English "Gospel." Jesus' mission, as declared by himself (according to the Gospel of Luke), is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, different from the canonical Gospels and not present in the New Testament.

(8) "The Law or the Prophets" refers to the biblical material available during the time of Jesus, where most of the Commandments are found.

(9) See "Amprenta lui Dumnezeu"/MAKE/BURSA/17.04.2023

(10) "De ce Legea?" /MAKE/BURSA/18.04.2023

(11) The list of Commandments accepted in Judaism is the one compiled by Maimonides in "Mishneh Torah" (written between 1170-1180), which is clearly a human work with a sought result.

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