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The Hidden Face of God [Paperback]

Richard Elliott Friedman
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco; Reissue edition (Dec 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006062258X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060622589
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 743,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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God disappears in the Bible. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge to Believers AND Unbelievers 19 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Portions of this review originally appeared in Louvain Stuides 22(Summer 1997): 188-190.
Our current age is frequently characterized by its loss of a sense of transcendence. It is a legacy inherited from centuries of evaluating the relationships between the divine, human, and cosmic realms. In his second book, Richard E. Friedman investigates the complexities of these relationships. The divine has slowly moved from direct interaction with the human and cosmic to a sphere of existence hidden from mortal concerns and worldly actions. Friedman's exposition begins with the Hebrew Bible and extends to the modern thoughts of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, the mysticism of Kabbalah, and to the scientific notion of the Big Bang. Far from presenting these varied subjects as disjointed topics, Friedman unites them under the three sections of his book.
The first section is a most intriguing biblical odyssey, investigating when and where God can and cannot be found throught the Hebrew Scriptures. These first six chapters are the highlight of the book and are essential reading for anyone interested in seriously discussing God's presence or absence from within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Friedman embarks upon a re-reading of the Hebrew Scriptures with a new hermeneutical key: tracing how God systematically disappears from one historical period to another, and how the balance of power between the divine and the human shifts along with it.
The second section is devoted to the "death of God" as a legacy of the present age, particularly as it comes to us from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. This section is about half the length of the first section, yet it tends to be repetitious. More about Nietzsche's doctrines and less about their relation to his madness could have strengthened this section.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and intensely entertaining 19 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The book addresses three mysteries, namely:
1. Why does God seem to disappear in the Hebrew bible? God walks in the garden with Adam and Eve, speaks with Abraham, wrestles with Jacob, and appears to Moses. That period is followed by one in which miracles appear to large groups of people. In a third period miracles are recorded to have been experienced by individuals or small groups. The first section of the book explores the meaning of the apparent disappearance of a visible (and/or audible) God for both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.
2. What explains the correlations between Dostoevsky's novels and Nietzsche's life? Though the two men never met, and Dostoevsky probably never heard of Nietzsche, there are astonishing portions of Dostoevsky's novels with parallels in Nietzsche's life.
3. Is there significance to the similarities in the ways the Kabbalah and the Big Bang describe the origin of the universe?
The author suggests these mysteries may share a common implication for how humans should live.
The book is intensely entertaining, regardless of whether you buy its speculative conclusions. Highly original.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignoring the greatest modern miracle 11 Feb 2008
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In this absorbing work, Freedman investigates 3 mysteries concerning the presence/absence of God. The first part deals with the gradual disappearance of the visible presence of God throughout the Old Testament, part two considers Nietzsche and Dostoevsky's experience of this phenomenon and their premonitions of the future, whilst the last part examines correspondences between religion and science in view of the return or rediscovery of God.

The author traces the diminishing presence of the deity through the course of the Hebrew Bible, showing how the nature of communication changes from visible to indirect whilst signs of the divine, like miracles, become rarer, finally ceasing altogether. A related development is a shift in the balance of control in human destiny - a transition from divine to human responsibility. This is observed in the actions of Adam & Eve, through Noah who builds the ark himself, Abraham who even challenges a decision of God, through Moses and down to the Book of Esther where the name of God is not even mentioned overtly. As the author notes, it is the apparent control that is shifting.

The same phenomenon is evident in the non-historical books. The prophets encounter the divine through dreams and visions - not face to face like in earlier times - and their impressions are filtered through their own personalities. Some prophets like Isaiah are explicit about the absence of God, and the promise of reunion. This is also reflected in the Psalms. The word of God now takes the place of the acts of God.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and very thought provoking 4 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is full of interesting ideas, and connections between ideas, to ponder. It has been more than a month since I finished reading it and I still reflect on it from time to time. The author has done an excellent job with a difficult and important theme - the relation between God and humanity.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going...Going...Gone? 17 Jun 2001
By Jon G. Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In hardback, the name of this book was THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GOD: A DIVINE MYSTERY. I suppose the publishers thought that was a bit too much for the average reader, thus the new title. Friedman is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UCSD, in California. This work is definitely off beat, tracing what Friedman sees as the gradual withdrawal of God's presence through what most Americans would call the Old Testament. He then gets a bit mystical re: Jesus and the Kabbalah, then wrestles with none other than Nietzsche, and his conclusion moves on to the 20th century. Does this sound strange? Well, the truth is it's utterly fascinating! Repeatedly, Friedman deftly overturns the expected interpretations of essentially everything, including Nietzsche! This work is thought-provoking like few you'll ever come across. I suppose I like Friedman for some of the same reasons I like philosopher Michel Foucault. I don't always agree with everything Foucault says, but I sure do like the way I think when I read Foucault.
As an unusual addendum, I was duly impressed to see a quote from Friedman on the jacket of science fiction writer James Morrow's most recent novel in his series re: the death of God. "Morrow understands theology like a theologian and psychology like a psychologist," says Friedman. The same might be said of Friedman with regards to THE HIDDEN FACE OF GOD. Check it out!
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling theological mystery 2 May 2004
By Anne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In THE HIDDEN FACE OF GOD, Richard Elliot Friedman tackles three interrelated mysteries. The first mystery concerns the disappearance of God in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Using God's words to Moses ("I shall hide my face from them. I shall see what their end will be.") as a touchstone, Friedman traces the distance travelled from the early pages of the Old Testament where God manifests Himself directly to people, to the book of Esther which does not even mention God. Then he turns to the struggle with God, reminding us that "Israel" - the name God gives to Jacob - means "one who fights with God". Turning conventional wisdom on its head, Friedman points out that while God was a matter of belief for later biblical generations (as for us), when God regularly appeared to his prophets and people - remember that God was present to the whole Hebrew people day and night for 40 years while they wandered in the wilderness! - when there was no need to "believe" because God was right before their eyes, they chose to argue, rebel and disobey. I had never noticed this obvious fact before: that major prophets argue with God in the Old Testament and even make suggestions as to how He might conduct Himself vis-a-vis humans. Even more astonishing is that God usually takes their advice! Friedman concludes his discussion of this first mystery with a chapter on the twin developments of rabbinical Judaism and Christianity as they relate to the concept of "divine hiddenness".
The second mystery concerns Nietzsche's descent into madness, a passage from Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and the 'death of God' in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For Friedman, this moment represents our species' coming of age. A force "erupted" in Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, he says, a force which had been "gradually surfacing" for 2000 years. This force was "the power to pronounce openly what the sacred texts of the Jews and Christians contained but did not say systematically". But if "God is dead" (not the same as saying that God doesn't exist, Friedman wisely points out), what about morality?
The answer to this question, posits Friedman, might be found in the third mystery, which he calls "Big Bang and Kabbalah". This part of the book delves into cosmology and the evolution of consciousness. The first two mysteries are brought to bear on the questions of human destiny. We are at a crossroads, Friedman says, "at which all of our lives are really at stake". But there is a way forward. For a hint of it, I recommend you read this book.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge to Believers AND Unbelievers 19 Mar 1998
By pjl_123 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Portions of this review originally appeared in Louvain Stuides 22(Summer 1997): 188-190.
Our current age is frequently characterized by its loss of a sense of transcendence. It is a legacy inherited from centuries of evaluating the relationships between the divine, human, and cosmic realms. In his second book, Richard E. Friedman investigates the complexities of these relationships. The divine has slowly moved from direct interaction with the human and cosmic to a sphere of existence hidden from mortal concerns and worldly actions. Friedman's exposition begins with the Hebrew Bible and extends to the modern thoughts of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, the mysticism of Kabbalah, and to the scientific notion of the Big Bang. Far from presenting these varied subjects as disjointed topics, Friedman unites them under the three sections of his book.
The first section is a most intriguing biblical odyssey, investigating when and where God can and cannot be found throught the Hebrew Scriptures. These first six chapters are the highlight of the book and are essential reading for anyone interested in seriously discussing God's presence or absence from within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Friedman embarks upon a re-reading of the Hebrew Scriptures with a new hermeneutical key: tracing how God systematically disappears from one historical period to another, and how the balance of power between the divine and the human shifts along with it.
The second section is devoted to the "death of God" as a legacy of the present age, particularly as it comes to us from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. This section is about half the length of the first section, yet it tends to be repetitious. More about Nietzsche's doctrines and less about their relation to his madness could have strengthened this section. Still, Friedman's point is intriguing. Drawing upon "mysterious" parallel after parallel between the writings and lived experiences of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, Friedman explains that both men in their own way "envisioned a stage in the relations between humans and the divine in which humans could no longer tolerate the presence or even belief in the existence of a God" (p. 191). Nietzsche embraced this new step for humankind while Dostoevsky resisted it.
The third section of the book consists of one chapter on the scientific model of the Big Bang, one on the mysticism of Kabbalah, plus a final chapter which draws the entire book together. This third mystery concerns the parallels between the twentieth century Big Bang theory and the Jewish mystical vision of creation. He suggests that through the different mediums of science and mysticism we reach similar conceptions, such as creation emanating from a point. However, I was not convinced that the parallels were anything but coincidences. Given his reasoning, one should expect far greater agreement between humans in their concsciouness regarding creation. In his defense, he does admit, "I am simply posing a possibility."
Friedman uses this possibility in the final chapter to provide some basis for suggesting the reunion of the divine and human realms. He poignantly summarizes the contemporary scene: "Nothing has come to replace the direction and security that a more widespread relaince upon God once provided" (p. 255). Because their is a profound sense of divine absence, two crises have arisen. First, we live in an age of great fear and uncertainty. Second, the disappearance of the divine undermined the basis of morality. Friedman proposes that the path back to God, solving both crises, is through science. Basically he gives his own spin to the cosmological argument. He proposes a cosmic God, a God that is not necessarily personal. When we are reduced to space dust we may simply be part of a cosmic nonpersonal God. The scientists are the ones to lead us, but Friedman declares that we all have a role in promoting species loyalty. Science can supposedly rebuild our feelings of security. Also our morality will find new roots in acknowledging "our common heritage and, more urgently... our common danger" (p. 280). But can science be called THE path back to the divine as Friedman asserts? He even admits that may scientists, in whom we are called to place our greatest hope, not only do not see a point to the universe, but do not see why we should look for one.
Perhaps Friedman's greatest disservice is to the unbeliever. If God truly has disappeared as Friedman asserts, then Friedman does not go far enough. He wants to return a monotheistic God inside the universe, but maybe we should be happy with the universe without God being inside or outside. Maybe Friedman is too close to death-of-God theology and not close enough to Nietzsche.
My difficulties with this book are far outweighed by my esteem for Friedman's successful project. This book is insightgful, clearly written, logically ordered, and thought provoking. It is quite accessible to the layperson, while remaining sound reading for the scholar. His bits of humor are welcomed, as are his sober admonitions. This book is also usettling; it cannot be read seriously without the believer calling his or her faith into question, nor without the unbeliever wondering wheter there is in factg some higher dimension. In a provocative way, this book challenges time honored opinions regarding the meaning of human existence and our relationship to the divine.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, but theories not convincing 20 Mar 2000
By "derchyk" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you read this book, you will without a doubt agree that Friedman is strikingly intelligent and highly educated on the covered topics. His critique of other works is impressive. When he focuses on logic, he is impressive. When he moves to theories and ideas of his own, he is less impressive. I was repeatedly turning to the idea that if he had critiqued his own work as he had the works of others, he would have torn his own work apart. For example, he gives no logical explanation to his statement that a new major religion is developed every 600 years, even though he implies that it is not due to a coincidence. In addition, it is not very convincing that the three "mysteries" of the universe--while each intriguing--are either connected or significant as a whole. His weaving of the three mysteries together is a clever use of language but not of logic.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece from one of today's top Religious Studies scholars. 3 Feb 2007
By Jesse Stirling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between humans and the divine. If the Bible interests you, if philosophy interests you, if mankind's relationship with God interests you- buy this book!

15 years ago, I had the pleasure of taking several classes taught by Richard Eliot Friedman at UCSD. He was the kind of prof one dreams of finding in university- a brilliant speaker, yet easy to follow. A master of the classics, yet able to draw contemporary analogies. His brilliance inspired me to pursue a minor in Religious Studies, and most of his lectures stay with me to this day.

May all that read "The Hidden Face of God" be similarly inspired. Freidman's brilliant prose will challenge the more dogmatic, but ultimately, a mind stretched to new dimensions evolves. Amazing book, written by an amazing man.
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