God as Literary Character

I’m devouring this book–God: A Biography by Jack Miles.  Of course, I’m hoping some of it will be useful and translatable for my second novel.  [Jack Miles, “a former Jesuit, pursued religious studies at Pontifical Gregorian College, Rome, and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and holds a doctorate in Near Eastern languages from Harvard University.”]

The Bible is a book that everyone–nonbeliever and believer–can read.  You don’t have to possess any pre-knowledge of God to read it, and in fact, if you start at the very beginning, you’ll notice that He has no history, no background, no parents, no before.  Hence, as you read, a sense of Him escalates.  I find that fascinating.  I’ve always thought of the Old Testament (Torah for Jews) as a chronicle of the Israelites, but if you read it as the story of one protagonist–God as character–you begin to see a more damning story line that you might not have noticed before.

“God is no saint, strange to say.  There is much to object to in him, and many attempts have been made to improve him.  Much that the Bible says about him is rarely preached from the pulpit because, examined too closely, it becomes a scandal.”

I’ve said this elsewhere on my blog, and those particular posts have received astonished comments that God is love, God is mercy, God is peace.  Well, yes.  But the fact of the matter is: if you’ve actually read the Bible, he is also a genocidal warrior, angry, jealous, intolerant, indecisive–all such things you would see in humankind.

“Skeptical readers may ask, of course, whether there is not, even in a secular era, something misbegotten about an attempt to understand God in terms so like those we use to understand human beings.  Robert Alter writes in this vein:

‘There is little to be gained, I think, by conceiving of the biblical God, as                 Harold Bloom does, as a human character–petulant, headstrong, arbitrary, impulsive, or whatever.  The repeated point of the biblical writers is that we cannot make sense of God in human terms.’

“But Alter exaggerates.  One of the very earliest statements any biblical writer makes about God is that mankind, male and female, is God’s image–an unmistakable invitation to make some sense of God in human terms.”

Like it or not, the “God whom ancient Israel worshiped arose as the fusion of a number of the gods whom a nomadic nation had met in its wanderings.”  This causes pause, if you believe in the one true God.  Does this make Him less of a being?  Does it make Him more?  Does it mean that He’s simply a composite and not real at all, or does it only mean that He is the epitome of a divine being with great inner conflict?  [Obviously, the questions are endless.]  “Historical scholarship simply helps to make the conflicts patent, turning muddy shades of gray in the Lord’s interior life into clearly distinguishable tints.  Here the sky blue of El, there the earth tones of “the god of your father,” over there the blood red of Baal or Tiamat or the evergreen memory of Asherah.  If the Bible is finally a work of literature, these historically distinguishable personalities need to be read back into–and then back out of–the one God, the monos theos, who came into being as they fused.  After God has been understood in his multiplicity, in short, he needs to be imagined again in his riven and difficult unity.”

I’m reading as fast as I can.  I’ll keep you posted.

Have a wonderful Monday!

[Post image: Partial of the cover of God: A Biography by Jack Miles]

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