Gersonides on the Problem of Volitional Creation

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Gersonides and Maimonides agree that the denial of volitional creation has theologically unacceptable consequences. Both are forced to confront the question, therefore, of how a perfect, simplex, and changeless God can create the world by an act of volition. Maimonides' account of divine attributes allows him to say — at least as he is read by Gersonides — that God creates the world by will without thereby undergoing change, in a way which we cannot hope to understand. Gersonides is faced with the same problem. But, since he rejects Maimonides' account of divine attributes, he cannot give the answer given by Maimonides. Gersonides raises the question explicitly, promises to answer it, and never really does. In the present paper I attempt to present a Gersonidean solution to the problem of new volition in God, based upon Gersonides' analysis of God's knowledge. God knows all that there is to know in a single, timeless "act" of knowing. Gersonides can be read as saying in similar fashion that God created the world with a timeless "act" of will. This solution, however, raises new problems since it does not guarantee, even theoretically, the possibility of God's intervention in history and nature; i.e., it does not guarantee the theoretical possibility of miracles. Gersonides' account of miracles, however, is so highly naturalistic that it actually does accord with the account of creation by will offered here. In other words, the proposed Gersonidean solution to the problem of creation by will succeeds. But in the final analysis I show that Gersonides' account of miracles demands an entirely naturalistic account of revelation, an account from which Gersonides himself retreated in order to preserve the immutability of the Torah. I conclude that Gersonides cannot simultaneously and consistently maintain his theory of volitional creation and protect the immutability of the Torah, both of which he wants to maintain and claims to affirm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-128
Number of pages18
JournalHebrew Union College Annual
StatePublished - 1980


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