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God: A Biography

About the Book

God: A Biography

For although Miles is a former Jesuit and has a formidable background in philosophy, archaeology, and Near Eastern languages, the purpose of his inquiry is not theological but literary. Using the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, as his text, Miles sets out to portray the unimaginably powerful and disturbingly contradictory figure who is its protagonist. And what emerges is a character who possesses all the depths and ambiguities of Shakespeare's Hamlet. To the devout, God is immutable, changeless throughout eternity. But a sequential reading of the Tanakh reveals a God who changes from book to book--and sometimes within the same book. In Genesis alone, he is by turns a creator and a destroyer; magnanimous and vengeful; a detached being who stands outside of history and a divine matchmaker who helps find a suitable bride for Isaac. In his analysis of subsequent books, Miles depicts God's transformation from the liberator of Exodus to the demanding liege of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; from the conqueror of Joshua to the diplomat of Kings; from the father of Samuel to the reproachful wife of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; from the implacable executioner of Isaiah to the consoling counselor of Psalms.

In most literature, characters are revealed through their interactions with other characters. So, too, God's character unfolds through his relationships with human beings, the only creation he has made in his own image. In the beginning, he seems to expect nothing from these images. Yet Adam's disobedience moves him to fury, and the apostasy of the wandering Israelites drives him to slaughter thousands. He is all-powerful, yet he submits to the covenants he makes with his chosen people. He permits the blameless Job to be stripped of all he has and rebukes him when he cries out for an explanation. Yet these words are the last God utters in the Tanakh, and Miles interprets his subsequent silence as evidence that he can be shamed.

God: A Biography may be read as literary criticism of the highest order, a work that explicates the central character of the central text of the Western canon. Yet this fascinating, stylishly written book also holds up a mirror to us, and to our abiding notions of character. "We are all, in a way, immigrants from the past," Miles observes. "And just as an immigrant returning after many years to the land of his birth may see his own face in the faces of strangers, so the modern, Western, secular reader may feel a tremor of self-recognition in the presence of the ancient protagonist of the Bible." [p. 4]

God: A Biography
by Jack Miles

  • Publication Date: March 19, 1996
  • Paperback: 446 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0679743685
  • ISBN-13: 9780679743682