The Sin of Protesting God in Rabbinic and Patristic Literature

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Scholars of rabbinic literature have often noted the widespread tendency to question and argue with God in rabbinic literature. Oddly, they have largely ignored the unequivocal antiprotest traditions found in these writings. Responding to this scholarly lacuna, this essay collects anti-protest traditions of the midrash and Talmud, and explicates their exegetical and conceptual basis. In the process, the paper makes two central arguments: First, that later anti-protest texts intensify or radicalize their opposition; while early anti-protest traditions merely prohibit one from challenging God, later aggadot tend to attach harsh punishments to that prohibition. Second, from a comparative perspective, rabbinic anti-protest sentiments diverge from similar sentiments voiced by the church fathers. While both critique the act of protest on exegetical and (similar) conceptual grounds, they have different ways of harmonizing their conservative attitudes with a biblical tradition that problematically, at least for them, seems to tolerate, if not valorize, confronting God. More specifically, whereas the rabbinic position tends to retell the biblical confrontation by having God castigate or punish the protester, early Christian thinkers, by stark contrast, tend to reject the literal reading of Scripture altogether: any apparent protest by a biblical hero is deemed a dangerous misreading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-392
Number of pages26
JournalAJS Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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