In his first work, Birnbaum meticulously dissects Adamâ€™s Garden of Eden dilemma (Genesis 2:17), understanding it as humankindâ€™s choice between potential/infinite growth and bliss/limited growth. Birnbaum then goes on, throughout God and Evil and now God and Good, to reveal the theme of potential in traditional Jewish narratives and even Judaismâ€™s specific commandments.
At the outset of God and Evil Birnbaum boldly asserts that he aims to provide an integrated and novel solution to the problem of (1) the origins of the cosmos, (2) the nature, as it were, of God, and (3) the presence of gross evil in a world governed by an omnipotent God. At this point, the expectation, at least for this reader, is for a complex, convoluted theory too abstract to be considered objectively. The result, however, a ‘potentiality model,’ is just the opposite: profoundly discrete, yet overarching enough to satisfy the three initial aims.
With the presentation of the second book, this model now has four distinct dimensions. First, in God and Evil, it is thoroughly rooted in Biblical and academic theology. Second, in part one of God and Good, the metaphysical implications of the model are described. Third, in part two of God and Good, the model is presented in the form of 120 mythical Angels, adding texture to the metaphysics and drawing it into the realm of daily human reality. And finally, in the third section of God and Good, the potentiality model is translated into a practical template for self-actualization.
It is difficult to recall a metaphysics as unified, yet as widely applicable, as that presented here. The modelâ€™s foundation is concrete, while its implications are personal and thus varied. Each reader, therefore, will glean for himself that which augments his own spiritual sensibility. As an Orthodox Jew, I find much in Birnbaumâ€™s two works that bolsters my understanding of traditional Judaism.
No less sui generis than the scope of Birnbaumâ€™s work, is its relentless appeal to profound innate human understandings that cannot be adequately explicated in standard prose. Birnbaum employs a linguistic ensemble that at times resembles the water-tight, nitty-gritty reasoning of God and Evil, while at other times feels like terse jolts to the psyche. The author has turned away from the prevalent style of philosophy that so fervently analyzes metaphysical mysteries only to expose its own limitations. In breaking from convention, Birnbaum has taken a risk. He has gambled acceptance by refusing to succumb to a more traditional framework that would inevitably fail to fully represent the depth of ideas presented here.
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