'Cons Who Rule a Ruined World'

Literary critic Harold Bloom, whose latest book analyzes Jesus and Yahweh, offers his thoughts on God and faith.

Literary critics rarely become household names, let alone find themselves at the center of theological controversy. But then again, most literary critics are not Harold Bloom. Bloom has been turning his attention to religion--usually, though not always, the Bible--throughout his career, in works such as "The Book of J," in which he argues that the writer of much of the Hebrew Bible was a woman. His latest work, "Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine," is likely to be equally controversial, and Bloom seems primed for the fight. In the book, he offers character studies of the two figures references in the title, though neither Jews nor Christians are likely to see in his sketches much they are familiar with. Along the way, he comments on the Judeo-Christian tradition (he thinks it's a fiction) and the state of religion in America (frighteningly veering toward theocracy), also touching on Freud, Marx, Shakespeare, and the ancient Jewish sage Rabbi Akiba, among many other seemingly unrelated topics . Bloom spoke with Beliefnet on the morning that the fall semester began at Yale--where he was starting his 51st consecutive year of teaching.


Why did you decide to write a book about Jesus and Yahweh?

I think I've always intended to write such a book. When I wrote the first draft of what became, in January 1973, a rather small book called "The Anxiety of Influence," it had a section on the actual relation, as compared to the stated relation, of Tanakh--the Hebrew Bible--with the New Testament. That section, I remember, went on to a character and personality analysis of both Jesus and Yahweh.

But it had begun a long time earlier than that, when I was just a small child in the Bronx, and we grew up all of us speaking Yiddish in that neighborhood. I had been born in the United States but didn't know any English because none was spoken at home or in the streets. We were a solid enclave of some 600,000 Eastern European, Yiddish-speaking Jews. But I still remember one day that a missionary came to the door with what I still have my copy of: a Yiddish translation of the New Testament. There's a kind of grim joke in that, isn't there? In the mere existence of it. It shows the hopelessness of the Christian quest to convert the Jews. Indeed, it reminds me of Andrew Marvel's "Splendid Seduction" poem to his coy mistress, "You should refuse, should you choose, until the conversion of the Jews." But which implies the lady will eventually yield.

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