God: A Biography Critical Essays

Jack Miles


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In an ambitious project of biblical literary criticism, Miles explores God’s unfolding moral and psychological character through a highly detailed and conceptually challenging interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (“Tanakh” in Jewish tradition; “Old Testament” in Christian tradition). GOD: A BIOGRAPHY presents Miles’s “strictly sequential” reading of biblical literature, beginning with Genesis and the opening books of Torah, proceeding through the Prophets, and concluding with the Writings. He traces God’s personality development through a complicated thematic sequence, showing how God moves from Action, to Speech, to Silence. At almost every interpretive moment, Miles emphasizes the central importance of God’s dynamic relationship with humanity as the context for God’s own self-discovery and as the arena where God’s profoundly contradictory personality develops.

The book’s focus is on broad thematic patterns, combined with creative close readings of specific biblical episodes. In addition to developing such themes as “God’s ambivalence toward human fertility,” Miles pauses along the way to develop sections that ask key questions about God’s character: “What Makes God Godlike?” “Does God Fail?” “Does God Love?” “Does God Lose Interest?” Miles also asks his readers to follow him in sometimes boldly speculative directions and offers on occasions his own tangential observations on textual, historical and theological issues related to biblical literary criticism. One strength of the book is its accessibility throughout for a relatively wide range of readers.

GOD: A BIOGRAPHY raises a number of intriguing questions that will interest readers holding a variety of perspectives on the Hebrew Bible. Despite Miles’s claim to be writing a literary biography only, he brings his own philosophical lens to this exploration of God-as-literary-character. GOD: A BIOGRAPHY creatively illustrates a central challenge for biblical literary criticism: negotiating the often elusive distinction between “literary interpretation” and “philosophy/theology.”

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXIII, July 1, 1995, p. 24.

Commentary. July, 1995, p. 55.

Commonweal. CXXII, May 19, 1995, p. 32.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 9, 1995, p. 4.

The National Catholic Reporter. XXXI, May 26, 1995, p. 30.

National Review. XLVII, August 14, 1995, p. 47.

The New Republic. CCXII, June 26, 1995, p. 29.

The New York Times Book Review. C, May 14, 1995, p. 10.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, February 6, 1995, p. 68.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, April 30, 1995, p. 2.