Difficult Characters

In an excerpt from 'Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine,' the literary critic explores his difficulties with the title characters

Yahweh was and is the uncanniest personification of God ever ventured by humankind, and yet early in his career he began as the warrior monarch of the people we call Israel. Whether we encounter Yahweh early or late, we confront an exuberant personality and a character so complex that unraveling it is impossible. I speak only of the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible, and not of the God of that totally revised work, the Christian Bible, with its Old Testament and fulfilling New Testament. Historicism, be it older or newer, seems incapable of confronting the total incompatibility of Yahweh and Jesus Christ.

Jack Miles, Yahweh's Boswell, in his "God: A Biography," depicts a Yahweh who begins in a kind of self-ignorance fused with total power and a high degree of narcissism. After various divine debacles, Miles decides, Yahweh loses interest, even in himself. Miles rightly reminds us that Yahweh, in II Samuel, promises David that Solomon will find a second father in the Lord, an adoption that sets the pattern for Jesus' asserting his sonship to God. The historical Jesus evidently insisted both upon his own authority to speak for Yahweh, and upon his own intimate relationship with his


(father), and I see little difference there from some of his precursors among the charismatic prophets of Israel.

The authentic difference came about with the development of the theological God, Jesus Christ, where the chain of tradition indeed is broken. Yahweh, aside from all questions of power, diverges from the gods of Canaan primarily by transcending both sexuality and death. More bluntly, Yahweh cannot be regarded as dying. Kabbalah has a vision of the erotic life of God but severely enforces the normative tradition of divine immortality. I find nothing in theological Christianity to be more difficult for me to apprehend than the conception of Jesus Christ as a dying and reviving God. The Incarnation-Atonement-Resurrection complex shatters both the Tanakh--an acronym for the three parts that make up the Hebrew Bible: the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Prophets, and Writings--and the Jewish oral tradition. I can understand Yahweh as being in eclipse, desertion, self-exile, but Yahweh's suicide is indeed beyond Hebraism.


I can object to myself that the frequently outrageous Yahweh also baffles my understanding, and that Jesus Christ is nearly as much an imaginative triumph as Yahweh is, though in a very different mode. I alternate endlessly between agnosticism and a mystical gnosis, but my Orthodox Judaic childhood lingers in me as an awe of Yahweh.

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