Monday, April 24, 2006

All-time religion ...

James Wood turns in a splendid performance reviewing Harold Bloom's Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine: The Misreader.
Two comments:
1)Bloom, Wood says, "finds that American Christians emphasize what he calls "a Gnostic knowing of Jesus through direct acquaintance..." That seems to me to have more in common with Zen Buddhism than Gnosticism.
2) "Whatever reasons people over the centuries have had for worshipping Jesus rather than Yahweh," Wood writes, "they have not been primarily aesthetic." I wonder. I have always found the God of the New Testament more aesthetically satisfying that the God of the Old Testament. It has always seemed to me that at the very least Jesus would have to be regarded as a genius for discerning that God is love, having only Yahweh to work with as a model.

4 comments:

  1. In the spirit of the devil's advocate, I find the Hebrew Bible much more aesthetically satisfying. Yahweh is complex and contradictory: cruel one minute, loving the next. He creates and then he destroys. Understanding who this god is and how one might serve him takes more than a lifetime of studying. Flattening Yahweh out so that he is synonymous with love -- what's interesting about that? Jesus is a genius (in your terms) only to the extent that his insight abandons actual human experience. The mysteries of the Hebrew god, on the other hand, reflect the mysteries of our lives as they are lived . . .

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  2. Well, Brendan, you may have a point, maybe Yahweh is more aesthetically fascinating as a character - complex and contradictory, cruel and loving. Maybe.
    But your assumption that love flattens him suggests a notion of love that is merely sentimental, the sort of thing one finds in silly love songs. Genuine love, I submit, has a good deal more marrow to it than that. For instance, so loving the world that you give your only begotten son in order to redemm it from its sins: that strikes me as something a bit more aesthetically powerful than a Beatles ditty. It also is a gesture grand enough to associate with deity - as opposed to so many of Yahweh's human-all-too-human characteristics. I believe that the Old Testament represents the grandest attempt to get to know who God is - Isaiah's conception of deity differs greatly from the author of the Pentateuch's, and certainly lays the groundwork for Jesus'.
    Greater love than this no man hath than that he lay down his life for his friend. Nothing flattening about that, in my view.

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  3. Your comment is well taken. I admit to being driven by a love for the sometimes ugly complexity of Genesis (Karen Armstrong's "In the Beginning" is pretty good) and turned off by popular images of the New Testament . . . So your perspective is a good corrective. I guess Jack Miles was right in looking so closely at the development of the Yahweh character from Old to New Testament -- that's where the heat is!

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  4. Hi Brendan,
    It is true that popular images of the New Testament have a tendency to be saccharine.And there is one moment in the Old Testament - when Yahweh identifies Himself as "I Am Who Am" - that is simply stunning. If anything in the scriptures has the ring of truth, that does.

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