'Cons Who Rule a Ruined World'
Literary critic Harold Bloom, whose latest book analyzes Jesus and Yahweh, offers his thoughts on God and faith.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
Yes, but another oddity of the book is that I point out that, contrary to what we normally think, Judaism, what we call Judaism, is a younger religion than Christianity. St. Paul did not inaugurate Christianity. He was converted, probably in Aleppo, though he says his experience was in Damascus, by a Hellenistic, probably Jewish-Christian community to a doctrine that already existed. He became the apostle or great propagandizer of it, the traveling salesman for it, as it were.
But what we call Judaism does not begin until the second century of the common era, with the rabbis clustered around Akiba and Tarfon and Ishmael, and the great sages.
I am curious about your use of the term Yahweh to refer to the Jewish god. Again, something that is not normative.
I am talking about the actual text of the Tanakh. There are thousands and thousands of times in that text the name Yahweh occurs. It became a tradition very early on among normative Jews that this was the unspeakable name of God. But nevertheless, that is the name, and the name seems to have been inaugurated by the J writer or the Yahwist, when Moses is going to be going down into Egypt rather reluctantly and says, "They'll laugh at me. Who shall I say has sent me?" and gets the massive punning answer, "Say thatehyeh asher ehyeh
has sent you," which is invariably translated as "I am that I am" but actually means "I will be that I will be"--or to put this into English so it is coherent, "I will be present wherever and whenever I choose to be present."
And as I grimly keep repeating throughout the book quite deliberately, that necessarily also means, "And I will be absent wherever and whenever I choose to be absent." And there's a lot more evidence in the last 2,000 years for the absence of this personage than the presence.
Yahweh certainly doesn't come across as a sympathetic character...
You have to be absolutely a bad reader or crazy or so bound by Judaic tradition of that kind which produces Satmars or Orthodox... how can you possibly like him? He's very bad news.
Yet you seem to have a certain affinity...
He interests me greatly. I say toward the end of the book, I would like to tell him to just go away, since he's gone away anyway, but it isn't that easy. I end the book on a rather wistful note. There may be a little irony in the wistfulness, but I well remember the last sentence in the book, and it's very deliberately the last sentence, speaking of Yahweh it says, "Will he yet make a covenant with us that he both can and will keep?"
You also describe a certain playfulness or impishness that you seem to have a soft spot for.
There's a kind of scamp in there. But he also goes violently crazy as he leads the Israelite host in that ridiculous, mad 40 years wandering through the wilderness, trekking back and forth. He gets crazier and crazier and the poor things get crazier and crazier. One of my favorite passages in the book is what I am talking about--the ridiculous attempt on the part, first, of the neo-Platonising Jews like Philo of Alexandria, and then later the high rabbinical sages to get rid of what they might call the anthropomorphic element and say he isn't a man, he isn't a human, he doesn't do certain things, since it's made very clear that he's walking down the road frequently, that he's picnicking, that he's doing this, that, and the other thing, that he's burying Moses with his own hands, he is closing the door of the Ark with his own hands, and so on.
Yahweh is a human, all-too-human, much, much too human God, and very scary. He is irascible, he's difficult, he's unpredictable, and he himself doesn't seem to know what he is doing.
As for Jesus, there isn't any single Jesus. There are Jesuses and Jesuses and Jesuses and Jesuses. Indeed, here in the United States, it seems to me that every professed Christian has her or his own Jesus, just as every supposed scholar in that mad, quixotic quest--rather pathetic--forthe
historical Jesus, they always come up with a reflection of themselves in a concave mirror, a kind of distorted image of themselves.
It is absurd to talk about a Judeo-Christian tradition.
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