Christianity in Jewish Terms

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky; David Novak et al. | Go to book overview

Embodiment and Incarnation:
A Response to Elliot Wolfson

SUSAN A. ROSS

Elliot Wolfson identifies a tension at the heart of language about God: how is it that human beings, who are bound to the terms in which we live--enfleshed and embodied ones--can talk about and pray to God, the transcendent, the Holy One, the utterly Other? We confront, as Wolfson describes it, the task of "facing the face that cannot be faced in hearing the name that cannot be pronounced." Christians meet this difficulty by "seeing" God through the person of J esus of Nazareth. Nonetheless, the inherent tension of religious language and the utter transcendence of God remain integral to the Christian tradition; they simply take on a different tone. In what follows, I discuss various ways in which both the tension of religious language and the utter transcendence of God persist in Christian discourse about incarnation As a way of introducing what I want to say about Christian conceptions of an incarnate God, let me make two general observations about Wolfson's essay.

The first thing that strikes me about Wolfson's essay is his initial approach. In the terms of Christian Christology (language about Christ), this is an approach "from above"; that is, the question of the possibility of incarnation begins with the affirmation of divine transcendence ("above") and moves ("down") from there: how can God, who is "above" us and eternal, be seen in, related to, experienced in, or even discussed in terms of the flesh? How can that which is not body be understood by those who are embodied? For at least the last two centuries or so, many Christians have approached the question of incarnation "from below"; that is, how does the human person Jesus of Nazareth reveal God to human beings? What is it about his life and death that convinced a group of first-century Jews that they had indeed encountered the Holy One in this human being? Such an ap

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