Jack Miles Critical Essays

Introduction

God: A Biography Jack Miles

American nonfiction writer, journalist, and theologian.

The following entry presents criticism on Miles's God: A Biography (1995).

A theological scholar, Miles received the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his first major publication, God: A Biography. From 1960 to 1970 Miles studied as a Jesuit seminarian at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and Hebrew University in Jerusalem; he studied the Hebrew Bible at Harvard University, earning a doctorate in Near Eastern languages in 1971. Miles taught in the theology department at Loyola University, worked as assistant director of Scholars Press, and served as an editor at the University of California Press and Doubleday before joining the Los Angeles Times in 1985, where he worked as a book columnist and editorial board member for ten years. In 1995 Miles became the director of the Humanities Center at the Claremont Graduate School near Los Angeles.

Plot and Major Characters

Miles received a 1991 Guggenheim Fellowship for God: A Biography, which was published in 1995 and earned the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. The "biography" is actually an interpretation of God's "life" drawn from careful analysis of the Hebrew Bible. The events of God: A Biography will seem out of order to those unfamiliar with the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, which can be broadly described as switching the middle and ending portions of the Christian Old Testament. The difference is crucial in Miles's interpretation of God's behavior, from His first creation to His subsequent reactions toward humankind.

Major Themes

Miles's "biography" presents a portrait of God as a being with faults, inconsistencies, and conflicting personalities. Miles argues that the Book of Genesis presents God with two personas: the God who is "lofty, unwavering and sincere in his creative actions," and the Lord God, who is "intimate volatile and prone to dark regrets and darker equivocations." Miles contends that over the course of time, God learns and matures. In presenting an interpretation of the Bible as a work of literature, Miles creates a picture of God as a character in a plot who develops and grows.

Critical Reception

Finding him uniquely qualified for the task, critics did not dismiss Miles out of hand for purporting to assign to God a "life" and imperfect human characteristics. Overall, critics found God: A Biography thought-provoking, if not always in line with popular belief. Ross Miller wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "Jack Miles's God: A Biography is a brilliant, audacious book. Effortlessly interweaving the voices of scholar, teacher and inquisitive layman, Miles takes the reader into the very heart of the Bible." While some critics pointed out problems in execution and method, the overall assessment was positive. Phyllis Trible wrote: "At places the argument is strained and prone to hyperbole. Nonetheless, with artistic sensitivity Mr. Miles has accomplished what others failed to try. He has made a certain literary sense of the character God in the totality of the Tanakh."