Michiko Kakutani (review date 26 March 1995)
SOURCE: "God, You Imperfect, Conflicted Fella, You," in The New York Times, March 26, 1995, p. C20.
[In the following review, Kakutani discusses Miles's purpose in writing God: A Biography and lauds the author's success in reinterpreting the Bible as a work of literature.]
"You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart," reads a passage in the Apocrypha, "nor find out what a man is thinking; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out His mind or comprehend His thoughts?"
This, however, is exactly what the Los Angeles Times book columnist Jack Miles proposes to do in God: A Biography, and this results in a scintillating work of literary scholarship that will forever color, if not downright alter, our conception of the Bible as a work of art.
By treating God as a literary personage and minutely examining narrative evidence of his character in the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (which has the same material as the Old Testament but presents it in a slightly different order), Mr. Miles constructs a detailed portrait of the Almighty, who, in his telling, turns out not to be quite as all-powerful or all-knowing as commonly thought. Indeed, Mr. Miles's God emerges as an "imperfectly self-conscious" fellow whose "word is as poorly under His control as rain that has already fallen from the sky" and whose "thoughts must strain to be equal to His experience," a character as conflicted as any young Bildungsroman hero and as magnetically compelling as Satan in Paradise Lost.
God's intentions, Mr. Miles suggests, are constantly being subverted by His experience. "After each of His major actions, He discovers that He has not done quite what He thought He was doing, or has done something He never intended to do," Mr. Miles writes. "He did not realize when He told mankind to 'be fertile and increase' that He was creating an image of Himself that was also a rival creator. He did not realize when He destroyed His rival that He would regret the destruction of His image."
Part of the problem, it seems, is that God suffers from what might be called a multiple personality disorder. Throughout the Book of Genesis, Mr. Miles argues, He displays two entirely different personas: 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." God creates man "in his own image" (Genesis 1:27) and gives him dominion over the earth (1:28); the Lord God forms man "of the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7) and confines him to a pretty garden (2:8). God gives man and woman an ungrudging and unqualified command to "be fruitful, and multiply" (1:28); the Lord God worries about the prospect of man living forever and reminds him that he will always be dust (3: 19).
As Mr. Miles points out, God's inner conflicts will multiply even further in later books of the Bible, as He vacillates between His roles as liberator and lawgiver,...
(The entire section is 1263 words.)