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Christliche Kunst und Literatur


Korpel, Marjo C. A., and Johannes C. de Moor


The Silent God.


Leiden/Boston: Brill 2011. XII, 378 S. m. Abb. u. Tab. 24,0 x 15,8 cm. Geb. EUR 133,00. ISBN 978-90-04-20390-7.


Eric E. Hall

In this book, Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor are concerned, as the title suggests, to delve deeper into the phenomenon of God’s silence. More specifically, they propose to give a broad and varie­-gated account of contemporary understandings of God’s silence, using these concerns as a means into a study of God’s silence in the ancient Near East. The book, accordingly, is structured as follows. The first section acts as a reader of modern thought concerning the silence of God. Indeed, Korpel and de Moor reproduce and incorporate a number of important modern theologians, philosophers, poets, and artists from any number of differing religious traditions into a readable exposé of these persons’ thoughts and concerns on this subject. Especially impressive in this section were the authors’ accurate contextualizations and summarizations of such persons’ thoughts at more general levels, which the authors write sympathet­ically and exegetically. The second section of this book, then, treats the main area of interest for Korpel and de Moor: the phenomenon of God’s silence through a study of ancient Near Eastern and Hebrew texts. This section’s main aim is to show the multitude of contexts in which God’s silence was treated in this ancient world, asking what such treatments might say about religious silence today. This historical portion of the study, then, is carefully wrought, well supported, and contains a plethora of bibliographic and primary source materials for curious readers to check the authors’ findings.
Many elements of this book are praiseworthy. The one that most definitely stands out is the absolutely consistent use of categories implemented by the authors to understand the meaning of God’s silence in Biblical literature and the ancient Near East. While such a method may seem like a pre-requisite to any such study, ideals often fail to meet reality such that, when an ideal is fulfilled, it is worth noting. Each chapter in the second section provides a new question for researching ancient understandings of God’s silence. The questions are framed in relational terms such as »How Did (ancient) Humanity Address the Deity?«, »How Did the (ancient) Deity address Man?«, etc. These questions are answered through a number of consistently used sub-questions that illuminate their findings relative to both Biblical literature and surrounding literature in the Near East. The findings are then summarized in a concluding paragraph or two and through a string of charts that allow one to easily relate the findings of each chapter to the others. The charts, in fact, are especially helpful, allowing the reader to gain systematic insight into the complex web of terms and relations with which the authors deal.
On the other hand, two major concerns emerge, both of which pertain to overall methodology. First, one must ask whether literature from the ancient Near East has any particular or direct implications on our understanding of God’s silence today. While Korpel and de Moor at first seem to indicate that the results of their investigation are only a starting point for any investigation, their Epilogue seems to indicate otherwise. That is, based on their findings in the second section of the book, they argue (1) for the impossibility of revelation in the sense of God handing down divine directives and (2) for the need for humans to speak on a seemingly silent God’s behalf. As for (1), it remains unclear for whom Korpel and de Moor elucidate this conclusion. Those who would argue for such direct and divine directives are, to be frank, relatively unlikely to read this book in the first place. As for (2), it is an interesting conclusion, but not one that can be directly established on the basis of ancient Near East literature; not, at any rate, any more than can the promulgation of ritual laws in contemporary culture be based on the same. The two contexts that this book treats are simply too far apart to have a direct relationship, a point that the authors seem to theoret­ically realize but ignore in practice.
Second, one must ask about whose God are we talking and to what silence are the authors referring. Indeed, this book seems to presuppose the position of many religious studies programs today: that by the term »God«, religious traditions all mean much the same thing such that one could programmatically compare the use of secondary terms – »silence« – in relationship to this primary term– »God« – in mutually illuminating manners. To the degree, however, that any phenomenon emerges at all, be it silence or God, one needs to take certain Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian cri-tiques more seriously in considering such phenomenon. The structures of various discourses, religious or otherwise, are irreducible to other so-called parallel discourses, for the concerns, contexts, and worlds from which, say, the terms »God« and »silence« mutually arise are themselves irreducible to some general »human« phenomena. There is only the Christian God and that God’s silence; the ancient Hebrew God and that God’s silence, etc. So, at least, many contemporary philosophers and theologians would argue.
With these critiques in mind, the book is a good one, at least in terms of the fields that the authors retain their scholastic specializations – Biblical studies, ancient languages, and ancient culture. It is interesting, informative, thoughtfully put together, and well-researched in this regard. However, the book attempts to take on some philosophical and theological questions that it perhaps ought not to have done, at least not without more serious and extended qualification. Unless a full gamut of philosophical and theological options are to be considered, for which the authors openly admit the need (59), to leave these questions and themes out would make the book all the better.