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 abba (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.

No other representation of God that I have read approaches the paradoxical Yahweh of the J Writer. Perhaps I should omit "of God" from that sentence, since even Shakespeare did not invent a character whose personality is so rich in contraries. Mark's Jesus, Hamlet, and Don Quixote are among the principal competitors, and so is the Homeric Odysseus transmuted into the Ulysses whose story of quest and drowning reduces Dante the Pilgrim to silence. Dennis R. MacDonald, in his "The Homeric Epics and the Gospel if Mark" (2000), argues that Mark's literary culture was more Greek than Jewish, which I find persuasive in so far as the earliest Gospel's eclecticism is thus emphasized, but a touch dubious, since Mark's God remains Yahweh. Matthew is rightly known as "the Jewish Gospel"; the Gospel of Mark is something else, though it may well have been composed just after the Temple was destroyed, and in the midst of the Roman slaughter of the Jews. Hamlet has something of the bewildering mood swings of Mark's Jesus, and of Yahweh. If Don Quixote can be regarded as the protagonist of the Spanish scripture, then his enigmas also can compete with those of the Marcan Jesus and of Hamlet.

Yahweh is a "stern imp," Jesus Christ is a "theological labyrinth"

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