Thursday, August 20, 2009

Richard Kearney on Exodus 3:14

Richard Kearney's text The God Who May Be discusses the controversial passage found at Exodus 3:14. I believe that what he has to say about EHYEH ASHER EHYEH is pertinent for this blog. The following quote can also be found at

'The great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi
Solomon ben Isaac, 1040–1105) renders the burning-bush
encounter as follows: "And God said unto Moses, 'I
shall be what I shall be.' And he said, 'so shall you
say to the children of Israel, I shall be has sent me
to you.'" And lest there be any lingering doubt, God
adds the binding promise: "This is my name for ever
and this is my remembrance from generation to

Rashi interprets the "name" in terms of mandate and
mission. He offers this daring commentary on God’s
address to Moses on Mount Horeb: "the vision that you
have seen at the thornbush is the sign for you that I
have sent you—and that you will succeed in My mission,
and that I have the wherewithal to save you. Just as
you saw the thornbush performing My mission without
being consumed, so too, you will go on My mission and
you will not be harmed." And Rashi adds, tellingly,
that this mandate itself prefigures the fact that
three months later Moses and his followers would
receive the Torah upon the very same mountain. Going
on to render the key passage of Exodus 3:14, he
writes, in very much the same spirit of futural
promise: "I shall be what I shall be—I shall be with
them during this trouble what I shall be with them at
the time of their subjugation at the hands of other
kingdoms." In other words, Rashi tells us, the
transfiguring God of the burning bush is pledging to
remain with those who continue to suffer in future
historical moments, and not just in the present
moment. Rashi attributes a similar sense to the phase
"This is My Name forever, and My Remembrance from
generation to generation" (Exodus 3:15). The
transfiguring God is not a once-off deity but one who
remembers the promises of the past and remains
faithful to them into the eschatological future.'


Kearney's own translational preference for Exodus 3:14
is stated thus:

'My ultimate suggestion is that we might do better to
reinterpret the Transfiguring God of Exodus 3 neither
as "I who am" nor as "I who am not" but rather as "I
am who may be"—that is, as the possibility to be,
which obviates the extremes of being and non-being.
EHYEH ASHER EHYEH might thus be read as signature of
the God of the possible, a God who refuses to impose
on us or abandon us, traversing the present moment
while opening onto an ever-coming future.'


Yet, Kearney concedes that Rashi's "eschatological"
reading of Exodus 3:14 is "arguably more attuned to the
original biblical context of meaning."


Duncan said...

Duncan said...

An interesting tangent.