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God: A Biography

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Miles shows us God in the guise of a great literary character, the hero of the Old Testament. In a close, careful, and inspired reading of that testament - book by book, verse by verse - God is seen from his first appearance as Creator to his last as Ancient of Days. The God whom Miles reveals to us is a warrior whose greatest battle is with himself. We see God torn by con Miles shows us God in the guise of a great literary character, the hero of the Old Testament. In a close, careful, and inspired reading of that testament - book by book, verse by verse - God is seen from his first appearance as Creator to his last as Ancient of Days. The God whom Miles reveals to us is a warrior whose greatest battle is with himself. We see God torn by conflicting urges. To his own sorrow, he is by turns destructive and creative, vain and modest, subtle and naive, ruthless and tender, lawful and lawless, powerful yet powerless, omniscient and blind. As we watch him change amazingly, we are drawn into the epic drama of his search for self-knowledge, the search that prompted him to create mankind as his mirror. In that mirror he seeks to examine his own reflection, but he also finds there a rival. We then witness God's own perilous passage from power to wisdom. For generations our culture's approach to the Bible has been more a reverential act than a pursuit of knowledge about the Bible's protagonist; and so, through the centuries the complexity of God's being and "life" has been diluted in our consciousness. In this book we find - in precisely chiseled relief - the infinitely complex God who made infinitely complex man in his image. Here, we come closer to the essence of that literary masterpiece that has shaped our culture no less than our religious life. In God: A Biography, Jack Miles addresses his great subject with imagination, insight, learning, daring, and dazzling originality, giving us at the same time an illumination of the Old Testament as a work of consummate art and a journey to the secret heart of God.


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Miles shows us God in the guise of a great literary character, the hero of the Old Testament. In a close, careful, and inspired reading of that testament - book by book, verse by verse - God is seen from his first appearance as Creator to his last as Ancient of Days. The God whom Miles reveals to us is a warrior whose greatest battle is with himself. We see God torn by con Miles shows us God in the guise of a great literary character, the hero of the Old Testament. In a close, careful, and inspired reading of that testament - book by book, verse by verse - God is seen from his first appearance as Creator to his last as Ancient of Days. The God whom Miles reveals to us is a warrior whose greatest battle is with himself. We see God torn by conflicting urges. To his own sorrow, he is by turns destructive and creative, vain and modest, subtle and naive, ruthless and tender, lawful and lawless, powerful yet powerless, omniscient and blind. As we watch him change amazingly, we are drawn into the epic drama of his search for self-knowledge, the search that prompted him to create mankind as his mirror. In that mirror he seeks to examine his own reflection, but he also finds there a rival. We then witness God's own perilous passage from power to wisdom. For generations our culture's approach to the Bible has been more a reverential act than a pursuit of knowledge about the Bible's protagonist; and so, through the centuries the complexity of God's being and "life" has been diluted in our consciousness. In this book we find - in precisely chiseled relief - the infinitely complex God who made infinitely complex man in his image. Here, we come closer to the essence of that literary masterpiece that has shaped our culture no less than our religious life. In God: A Biography, Jack Miles addresses his great subject with imagination, insight, learning, daring, and dazzling originality, giving us at the same time an illumination of the Old Testament as a work of consummate art and a journey to the secret heart of God.

30 review for God: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This book is amazing. It really opened my eyes. It's written by a former Jesuit named Jack Miles. Who is brilliant. This was given to me by a friend late in high school, while we were both struggling with our Catholic backgrounds. It deals with God as a literary character, and what his choices would mean if the Old Testament were analyzed simply from the perspective of literary criticism. I think it's fascinating and erudite. It is guaranteed to give you a few more questions about religion than This book is amazing. It really opened my eyes. It's written by a former Jesuit named Jack Miles. Who is brilliant. This was given to me by a friend late in high school, while we were both struggling with our Catholic backgrounds. It deals with God as a literary character, and what his choices would mean if the Old Testament were analyzed simply from the perspective of literary criticism. I think it's fascinating and erudite. It is guaranteed to give you a few more questions about religion than you had before starting it. Everything is seen in a different light. I would recommend having some basic religious education in the Judeo-Christian form, otherwise a lot of this is not going to make sense. But I would absolutely and completely recommend this to both Christians and Jews alike, or anyone who's had some measure of bible study. To say it is worth the read is obviously underestimating it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    Miles won the Pulitzer for this absorbing study of the life of the Biblical God, beginning with the opening chapter of Genesis and taking us through the entirety of the Old Testament in the Jewish ordering of the books from the Torah. Jehovah makes for a stirring and multifaceted subject - an omniscient and omnipotent deity that was assembled from the personalities and powers of a variety of ancient pagan pantheons, running the gamut from demiurge to demon; a terrifying and vengeful master, brea Miles won the Pulitzer for this absorbing study of the life of the Biblical God, beginning with the opening chapter of Genesis and taking us through the entirety of the Old Testament in the Jewish ordering of the books from the Torah. Jehovah makes for a stirring and multifaceted subject - an omniscient and omnipotent deity that was assembled from the personalities and powers of a variety of ancient pagan pantheons, running the gamut from demiurge to demon; a terrifying and vengeful master, breaking his creations and his promises; maturing to a remorseful and avenging spirit, ragged from love and unyielding in justice; and then apparently abandoning his children to exile and slavery, only to be discovered once more - remote but present, restless but steadfast - when his far-flung flock regathered in the Chosen Land. Miles provides a remarkable exegesis, bringing erudition and analysis to this fascinating portrait of a singular entity who proved to be remarkably differentiated and inconsistent throughout his sorrow-filled paternity - imparting an eminently human element to his earthly involvement, the Almighty as a tyronic parent who experiences all the vicissitudes and difficulties of an evolving responsibility, adapting his divine mediations as his children mature within time - and yet emerged at the end with the sagacity, capacity, and audacity to resolve the crisis in his being through a human form: Jesus Christ, the subject of Miles equally excellent follow-up Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Martindale

    Here we have an unique perspective of someone who doesn't appear to be a man of faith, within the book Miles considers God purely as a literary character that evolves in the unfolding of the canon as ordered in the Tanakh. If Miles is even close to correct in his reading of the Hebrew bible, the God that Jews and Christians worship has very little in common with the extremely ambiguous, amoral and multi-personalitied deity that he thinks the ancient writers conveyed. Towards the end of the book, Here we have an unique perspective of someone who doesn't appear to be a man of faith, within the book Miles considers God purely as a literary character that evolves in the unfolding of the canon as ordered in the Tanakh. If Miles is even close to correct in his reading of the Hebrew bible, the God that Jews and Christians worship has very little in common with the extremely ambiguous, amoral and multi-personalitied deity that he thinks the ancient writers conveyed. Towards the end of the book, Miles briefly retold the story of the Tanakh as it might be told if the Hebrews were polytheist, which would make it where the different personalities, motivations, intentions and moral tendencies would be found in different homogeneous gods, I found this part to interesting. Miles writes how since the Hebrews, believed in one God, the many different portraits are conglomerated into one, resulting in a very ambiguous being, one who is occasionally good and while at other times evil; a very unstable God with a divide self. Miles also details the progression of a God that seems to have no back story, or identity outside of man who he made in his own image. Within the story God acts, kills, kills some more, promises, reneges, kills some more, regrets, recalculates, readjust, viciously retaliates, only to eventually begin to fade, after being shown to be unjust be Job. Towards the close of the Tanakh, God comes comes reclusive, and inconsequential as the divine tragedy comes to a close. I thought some of Miles interpretations seemed tenuous at best, occasionally I felt he suppressed some evidence, and he definitely gave certain passages a very negative spin. Though I think Mile's goes too far in his very uncharitable interpretation of the God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures, I still think he does bring to light some things that are actually there, things which the majority of Christians can't see, because the presupposition of the love and justice of God, means one automatically give the Old Testament a positive wholesome spin.

  4. 4 out of 5

    George Mills

    There is nothing I can write that can reach the level of scholarship, thought, writing, originality, and sheer mental discipline of this work. The author has taken the Hebrew Bible not as a religious work, but rather as a literary work. He then analyzes the character "God" in the same way he would analyze the character Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest". He is not interested in theological questions, nor is he interested in proving religious interpretations. He is only interested in God, wh There is nothing I can write that can reach the level of scholarship, thought, writing, originality, and sheer mental discipline of this work. The author has taken the Hebrew Bible not as a religious work, but rather as a literary work. He then analyzes the character "God" in the same way he would analyze the character Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest". He is not interested in theological questions, nor is he interested in proving religious interpretations. He is only interested in God, what he says, does, and even feels. When he refers to actual history and the formation of the Bible, he does so in order to explain what concepts, words, and comparisons meant to the Jews at the likely point in time when a particular book of the Bible is thought to have been written. It is a truly awesome accomplishment. "God: A Biography." should be read carefully and analyzed thoughtfully by all capable of setting aside their prejudices and preconceived notions. This book offers great rewards to all - regardless of their religious convictions.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I was excited about the idea that this was going to be a book analyzing the God of the Old Testament/Hebrew Tanakh as a literary character, which is exactly what the author, Jack Miles, promised he was going to give me. It didn't turn out that way, however, and even though I enjoyed learning a lot about the Old Testament, its historical context, its major figures, and the many deities who were amalgamated over time to become God, I can't help being very disappointed that Miles never really achie I was excited about the idea that this was going to be a book analyzing the God of the Old Testament/Hebrew Tanakh as a literary character, which is exactly what the author, Jack Miles, promised he was going to give me. It didn't turn out that way, however, and even though I enjoyed learning a lot about the Old Testament, its historical context, its major figures, and the many deities who were amalgamated over time to become God, I can't help being very disappointed that Miles never really achieved his goal and that his editors let him publish a book where a thesis very clearly and explicitly articulated is never properly met. The reason I say this is because Miles never ceases defining God as a split personality. Of course there is plenty of historical proof that Elohim and Yahweh, etc. were initially separate deities, which goes a long way toward explaining why God can sometimes command two opposite things at once or repent his actions immediately after he has performed them, but if one really tries to think of God as a character, which is what Miles says he is setting out to do, I don't understand how it can be acceptable to say that his contradictions merely prove that he has more than one personality. If Hamlet or Captain Ahab were reduced by a literary critic to split personalities, people would immediately be annoyed that that critic was being lazy and unperceptive. The best characters (and many of the most intriguing real people -- look at any U.S. president) are often defined by their contradictions, because big, interesting personalities are usually inscrutably complex personalities. If I felt that Miles had treated God as that kind of character instead of continually reminding his readers that God is referred to by two different names in thus-and-such passage in the original Hebrew, I wouldn't feel like he totally failed to accomplish his supposed goal. To the very end of the book, he doesn't treat God the same way a critic would treat Ahab or Hamlet, but keeps defining him as a "fusion character". His final chapter even has a section called "Imagining the One God as Many". He just seems to miss the fact that God's unpredictability and inconsistency of character are exactly what make God such a great literary figure (singular). The book was incredibly well researched and very clearly and carefully written, but I just can't escape feeling like Jack Miles failed to do what he set out to do and then published the book pretending to himself that he had. I wish somebody else would write the book that was promised.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    This book is at once an incredibly interesting introduction to the literary structure of the Hebrew Bible for someone with little religious background, and a book that would be greatly supplemented by a thorough understanding of the text being analyzed. Similarly, this analysis of God as a literary figure is one that could both supplement a religious reading of the Bible, or lend a more secular appreciation for the Bible as a literary text. So, despite the subject matter of this book, there is n This book is at once an incredibly interesting introduction to the literary structure of the Hebrew Bible for someone with little religious background, and a book that would be greatly supplemented by a thorough understanding of the text being analyzed. Similarly, this analysis of God as a literary figure is one that could both supplement a religious reading of the Bible, or lend a more secular appreciation for the Bible as a literary text. So, despite the subject matter of this book, there is no agenda other than to analyze the main character of the text at the heart of Western civilization. I didn't know what to expect when I first approached this book, and was thus pleasantly surprised with what I found. This book is written as a literary analysis, breaking down the Bible to get a better understanding of its main character, the chronology of his actions, and the way he grows, learns and changes throughout. But at the same time, Jack Miles discusses the factors that influenced the creation of the Bible, the ways in which gods from older polytheistic religions were fused into the Judeo-Christian God, how this fusion led to seeming inner conflicts in God's personality, and finally, how these different facets of God's personalities can be put together to understand God as a holistic literary figure. This text is slightly dense, and would definitely be more easily read by someone with some knowledge and understanding of the Bible, but it is definitely a worthwhile read that offers a new perspective on how to approach the idea of God.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Judith Bienvenu

    So, this is a long book, and deep reading. The author proceeds through every book in the Jewish bible (the Tanach). It has a lot more books in it than the Christian Old Testament, and does not include the New Testament. What I found fascinating is that he basically rips up "God". The author lays out arguments that God is not omnipotent, not all powerful, not all loving, and is in fact a confusing mess of different personalities. And then ends the book saying how terrific the Tanach is. I came to a So, this is a long book, and deep reading. The author proceeds through every book in the Jewish bible (the Tanach). It has a lot more books in it than the Christian Old Testament, and does not include the New Testament. What I found fascinating is that he basically rips up "God". The author lays out arguments that God is not omnipotent, not all powerful, not all loving, and is in fact a confusing mess of different personalities. And then ends the book saying how terrific the Tanach is. I came to a very different conclusion. From his own arguments, I see the God of those books as a completely human construction. God gradually plays less and less a role in the stories until he's not there at all. Yes, I am an atheist. I feel that much of the worlds problems come from believing in this religion or that one -- that if "God is on my side" then he's not on yours, and that makes you less than me -- less important, less valuable, less "right", and okay for me to ignore, denigrate or kill. So, it's a fascinating book. Long, hard to get through (I had started it several years ago and failed to finish it, but I finished it this time). I think you may get out of it what you expect to get out of it. I realize my views may offend some. It's not my objective to offend, but to make folks think.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I was loaned this by a nominally Catholic friend who is attracted to offbeat books. Though an autobiography of the first person of the trinity, the creater of heaven and earth, is certainly unusual, this one made the mainstream, winning a Pulitzer for biography. Normally, I wouldn't have touched the thing, but this friend's recommendations have weight. As it was, I found the deity's life story less interesting than any number of biographies I've read of human beings. What interest the book held w I was loaned this by a nominally Catholic friend who is attracted to offbeat books. Though an autobiography of the first person of the trinity, the creater of heaven and earth, is certainly unusual, this one made the mainstream, winning a Pulitzer for biography. Normally, I wouldn't have touched the thing, but this friend's recommendations have weight. As it was, I found the deity's life story less interesting than any number of biographies I've read of human beings. What interest the book held was in seeing how the author handled the various gods of the Hebrew canon, combining disparate traditions into a single picture--which is, after all, what believing, conservative theologians do in any case. The job was done intelligently, but, for me, uncompellingly. Not being a Jew or a Christian, I have no motive to reconcile such irreconcilables.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paula W

    God, written as a literary character. I have some ideas on how to review this. Bear with me for a few days.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Randy Cauthen

    On the multiple personalities of the Old Testament God. Miles reads the Bible as he would a novel or play, examining the motivations of the protagonist.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    Margaret Atwood recommended this book during an interview with Tyler Cowen, and I think it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a year. Miles guides us through the Tanakh from start to finish, interpreting what we can know about God the literary character – his motivations, his realizations, his changing relationship with his creations – based what he does and how and to whom he speaks. Perhaps the results are familiar to someone versed in these books, but they were illuminating to Margaret Atwood recommended this book during an interview with Tyler Cowen, and I think it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a year. Miles guides us through the Tanakh from start to finish, interpreting what we can know about God the literary character – his motivations, his realizations, his changing relationship with his creations – based what he does and how and to whom he speaks. Perhaps the results are familiar to someone versed in these books, but they were illuminating to me, as I’ve never read these books and only had a pedestrian understanding of the character. Miles’s early passages about an inscrutable, ironic, and likely bluffing Abraham are fascinating, especially in light of other readers like Kierkegaard’s Fear and Suffering. Another early example of this contrarian reading is God’s interaction with Cain: … it is crucial to note that the condemnation does not arise from Cain’s having broken any commandment of the Lord. The Lord has given no command not to kill. After the murder, when he says to Cain, “Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” it is as if he has at that moment discovered that murder merits condemnation. There is a groping and tentative quality on both sides of this relationship. The metaphor – “your brother’s blood cries out to Me” – may bespeak agitation rather than moral condemnation. Something is wrong, but does the Lord yet quite know what it is? The Lord acts and then infers his own intention from what he has done. As he is going through the entire Tanakh, there are simply too many great passages to detail here, but Miles gives a serviceable summary about halfway through: 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. 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. He did not realize that his covenant with Abraham, the reconciliation of such contrary urges within his own character, would require him, precisely because he had so effectively made Abraham into a great nation, to go to war with Egypt. He did not realize when he went to war with Egypt that his victory would leave him with an entire people on his hands and would require him to become a lawgiver for them and conquer a land for them to live in. He did not realize when he gave them the law that where there is law, there can be transgression, and that, therefore, he himself had turned in implicitly unbreakable covenant into an explicitly breakable one. He did not realize when he began to withdraw from his alliance with Israel, after Israel’s first, minor infidelities, that the aftermath would be the rise of a king, David, whose charisma would draw the Lord almost despite himself into a quasi-parental relationship with his semi-abandoned ally. He did not realize when his erstwhile ally deserted him wholesale and he made Assyria and Babylonia the tools of his vengeance that the was creating a new international role for himself. He did not realize that once they had inflicted his punishment for him, his feelings… would also be those of a grieving husband for a battered wife…The inference that one might make looking at [Genesis through the Twelve Minor Prophets] from the outside is that God is only very imperfectly self-conscious, and very slightly in control of the consequences of his words and actions. Even from inside that history, his own inferences come one at a time, often gropingly after the fact As Miles puts it near the end of his biography: “The Lord God, at the start of the Tanakh, is a being in whom self-ignorance is joined to immense power… key among the things he does not yet know is that his ignorance of himself has something to do with his will to create.” After God’s long self-discovery comes his climactic fall during the Book of Job. This is where Miles is at his most engaging. Miles reads Job’s challenges to God, God’s blustery responses, and Job’s resulting resigned silence as a total inversion of the traditional interpretation of the text, and one far closer to Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. than I originally suspected. The half dozen examples that Miles provides to support his reading of Job are too long to cover exhaustively here. To choose probably the most important one, Miles attacks head-on Job 42:6, which most people cite as Job’s recantation that justifies the entire common interpretation. In the original Hebrew, this verse is actually very ambiguous. Miles translates Job 42:1-6 as “Then Job answered the Lord: “You know you can do anything; nothing can stop you. You ask ‘who is this ignorant muddler?’ Well I have said more than I knew, wonders quite beyond me. ‘You listen and I’ll talk’ you say, ‘I’ll question you and you’ll tell me.’ Word of you had reached my ears, but now that my eyes have seen you, I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.” What conclusion does Miles hammer us with? Morally, Job has held out until the very end, treating the Lord’s speeches from the Whirlwind as his last trial. And thus, to return to the original puzzle, when the Lord praises Job at the end of the book, he is praising both Job’s earlier stubbornness with his human interlocutors and his final, utterly consistent, stiff-necked recalcitrance before the Lord himself. Job has won, the Lord has lost. This moment ultimately neuters God, in a fascinating show of what Nietzsche would disdain as the winning out of Job’s slave morality, but which most people would simply see as Job’s dignity. A view common to nearly all commentators on the Book of Job is that, one way or another, the Lord has reduced Job to virtual silence. Unnoticed is the fact that from the end of the Book of Job to the end of the Tanakh, God never speaks again. His speech from the whirlwind is in effect his last will and testament. Job has reduced the Lord to silence After Job, God enters a steady decline. My Miles’s account, this decline terminates in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where God ceases to be an active character for good, transitioning from a “demonstrated” reality to an “attributed” reality much more in line with how God is treated today. The preceding books, in particular Ester and Daniel, show a God steadily giving the plot’s impetus to other characters (e.g. the very secular Ecclesiastes 9:11-12). In doing so, Miles identifies a character arc for God that is “more poignantly real” than most literary characters. Nothing that literature contrives, after all, is so artificial as its endings. Real lives never end with artistic finality. Either they are rudely interrupted as Ecclesiastes says, or they end in a slow fade that has none of the rounded perfection of a well-wrought last page. Real lives end, we might say, just as God’s life ends: a supreme effort falls slightly short (the voice from the whirlwind), a long period opens in which one has progressively less to say, and the devotion of one’s friends is slowly overtaken by their silence. Going back over my bookmarks, there’s just too much here to get down. This is one of those rare books that has fascinating ideas on every page. I’m absolutely reading it again, probably after I’ve bothered to read the original :-P

  12. 5 out of 5

    Zach Waldis

    This is a book with which I thoroughly disagreed, and thoroughly enjoyed. On the one hand, Miles is a vivid interpreter and helps you to really appreciate the Old Testament (or Tanakh, as he rather forcefully presents with his in my opinion forced narrative of an active beginning God and a closing God who "loses interest") as literature, compelling and enthralling literature. On the other hand, he pushes his thesis (narrative?) of "God in tension" to the breaking point. He finds the tension with This is a book with which I thoroughly disagreed, and thoroughly enjoyed. On the one hand, Miles is a vivid interpreter and helps you to really appreciate the Old Testament (or Tanakh, as he rather forcefully presents with his in my opinion forced narrative of an active beginning God and a closing God who "loses interest") as literature, compelling and enthralling literature. On the other hand, he pushes his thesis (narrative?) of "God in tension" to the breaking point. He finds the tension within Yahweh to be irreducible; he seems to have little favor for the idea that "God is one" (presented in the book as the view of the Dtr). For my part, certainly there is a tension in the character of the OT God, but it is not as irreducible as Miles says it is. For example, in the closing Miles blithely states that "....but it may also be taken as a statement about the initial untransparency of God to himself. He wants an image because he needs an image" (402). I found myself saying "Really? The text just doesn't say that!" To sum up perhaps the major difference between myself and Miles is that I am a Christian interpreter. The literary drama of the First Testament finds its climax in Jesus Christ, not "God losing interest". Perhaps his biography is closer to the raw "tragedy" of a hopelessly deluded God, but I am one who thinks that the Biblical story (and indeed life itself) goes "Beyond Tragedy". From a literary standpoint, though, tragedy is quite the cathartic experience.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite

    Only a former Jesuit could have written this. Treating God as the protagonist in an epic that's "more" chronological than Christian Scripture is thought-provoking, if not earthshaking. Jack Miles looks as the different roles Scripture gives to God. It has the effect of remaking the divine in very mortal form. This God grows in understanding. This God can be bested. This God is conflicted: "A monotheism in which the divine is not just conceived but also imagined as one must have a different effec Only a former Jesuit could have written this. Treating God as the protagonist in an epic that's "more" chronological than Christian Scripture is thought-provoking, if not earthshaking. Jack Miles looks as the different roles Scripture gives to God. It has the effect of remaking the divine in very mortal form. This God grows in understanding. This God can be bested. This God is conflicted: "A monotheism in which the divine is not just conceived but also imagined as one must have a different effect on its adherents than one in which the divine is conceived as one but imagined -- and portrayed in art, drama, and folklore -- as many. ... It must foster a way of thinking of the self as similarly composite and similarly alone." This book is not for fundamentalists; the reader has to be able to keep the premise foremost while reading it. I think it also helps to read the book as the first of a two-volume work, the second being Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, Miles' sequel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mallory

    Overall I found this book very interesting. The premise is to read the Hebrew testament, focusing on God as the character in a piece of literature. It was an interesting point of view, and also provided some insights into how the Jewish community arranges these books of the Bible. There were also some historical insights to put the Hebrew testament into context, and also provided, for me, an additional fresh perspective for reading the Old Testament in the Bible. There definitely some moments wh Overall I found this book very interesting. The premise is to read the Hebrew testament, focusing on God as the character in a piece of literature. It was an interesting point of view, and also provided some insights into how the Jewish community arranges these books of the Bible. There were also some historical insights to put the Hebrew testament into context, and also provided, for me, an additional fresh perspective for reading the Old Testament in the Bible. There definitely some moments where I raised an eyebrow or rolled an eye when I felt he was taking the literary reading of the God-character to the extreme. (For example, trying to bring a little bit of Freud in to analyze God? Please, no.) However, that may simply reveal the bias I have of growing up thinking of God as...God and not a literary character.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    God: a Biography by Jack Miles offers a thorough literary approach to the Bible, through the life of its protagonist, God. Setting aside puzzles of historical veracity, and ignoring issues of religious interpretation, Miles examines the character as written, from Creator to the Ancient of Days. Character development requires an authoritative ordering of the books , and Miles shows how the sequence of the Hebrew scriptures, the Tanakh, as opposed to the Christian Old Testament, provides continuit God: a Biography by Jack Miles offers a thorough literary approach to the Bible, through the life of its protagonist, God. Setting aside puzzles of historical veracity, and ignoring issues of religious interpretation, Miles examines the character as written, from Creator to the Ancient of Days. Character development requires an authoritative ordering of the books , and Miles shows how the sequence of the Hebrew scriptures, the Tanakh, as opposed to the Christian Old Testament, provides continuity in the story of the relationship between God and Israel. This secular scholarly work neither confirms nor denies any spiritual perspective, but illuminates the foundation of Christianity and Islam, as well as Judaism.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I've owned this book for years, but only just gathered the courage to dive in. I guess the Pulitzer should have tipped me off to the quality of the author, but it's been a very pleasant surprise. What I like most is that Miles introduces God as history's most compelling novel character, whose personality shifts and changes in each new chapter. For example, we see both wrathful God and whiny God. Miles argues that insight from reading about God from this perspective casts light on the central moti I've owned this book for years, but only just gathered the courage to dive in. I guess the Pulitzer should have tipped me off to the quality of the author, but it's been a very pleasant surprise. What I like most is that Miles introduces God as history's most compelling novel character, whose personality shifts and changes in each new chapter. For example, we see both wrathful God and whiny God. Miles argues that insight from reading about God from this perspective casts light on the central motivations of the Western personality, what you and I walk around with carried in our subconscious everyday. Still reading, will update.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Faheem Hussain

    Here's my take: God: A Biography 'Jack Miles has set himself the somewhat controversial task of charting the ‘development’ of God in the Hebrew Bible, capturing His life in it from beginning to end. Laying no claim to any theological or historical truth, and interested only how it works as a piece of writing the ‘Biography of God’ will leave mesmerised all those who read it. ...'

  18. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Examines God as a character, the protagonist of the Tanakh/Old Testament. God doesn't always come out great—he's whiny and capricious, and doesn't always know what's doing. Turning God into a protagonist makes the inconsistencies of the text into a dramatically conflicted character. The book doesn't answer the tensions, ambiguities, and inconsistencies it highlights, but offers a reading of them; probes them rather than resolves them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adolfo Angelotti

    This book examines God as a fictional character in a fictional book, just like Dumbledore or Eragon. I've learned a lot about the Bible and it's mithology. I really recommend this book to someone with an open mind. It is really interesting to see the Bible God from a different angle.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    Okay, another religion book that I am finding too heavy to wade through. Made it a couple of chapters...not a read if you want something light.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Johannes C

    The first time I encountered Jack Miles was in a video of him interviewing Slavoj Zizek about theology and Zizek's book “God in Pain.” Yet at the time, I didn’t quite know who Jack Miles was, and the sort of mythic status he had taken on by then in some intellectual/literary circles. It was only later that I more consciously encountered Jack Miles when his name came up in a PBS program I watched with Bill Moyers interviewing Margaret Atwood on religion. Atwood confessed her love for Miles’ work The first time I encountered Jack Miles was in a video of him interviewing Slavoj Zizek about theology and Zizek's book “God in Pain.” Yet at the time, I didn’t quite know who Jack Miles was, and the sort of mythic status he had taken on by then in some intellectual/literary circles. It was only later that I more consciously encountered Jack Miles when his name came up in a PBS program I watched with Bill Moyers interviewing Margaret Atwood on religion. Atwood confessed her love for Miles’ work and being an admirer of Atwood’s commentary on religion, especially in her novels, I thought it would be worth checking out this book. I’m still in the process of reading the Bible in its canonical order, though I am currently reading it through the Christian canonical order, whereas Miles spends most of the book commenting on the biblical canon by way of the Hebrew Bible. Early in the book Miles comments on the divergence in literary effect between the Christian Old Testament’s ordering of the books compared to that of the Jewish Tanakh, a section I found particularly interesting. I found the first half of the book really fascinating, especially the Pentateuch, which is most familiar to me. However, I struggled with the second half, and I suspect this is because I have not yet read through the second half of the Tanakh or so-called Old Testament very thoroughly, other than the popular prophetic texts that Christianity later appropriates. So, it is certainly a possibility I will return again to some of the later chapters of Miles’ book after finishing with the second half of the Hebrew Bible. I have watched all the Hebrew Bible lectures by Christine Hayes that Yale has put out as open courseware, and I think those series of lectures have deeply shaped my conception of the Tanakh’s contours. Like Sam Sifton’s pizza cognition theory, which suggests the first slice of pizza as often strongly defining one’s sense of pizza proper, those Yale lectures have inescapably become the framework by which I judge all other meta-readings of the Tanakh. And there were a few points of divergence between Miles’ reading and that of Hayes’, such as the way Miles treats the Satan character, especially the way he relates it to the Edenic serpent character as tradition often does. And while Miles does peddle in historical criticism here, a lot more than I would have expected (or even wanted lol), his primary concern (at least this is his claim) is a literary reading of the Tanakh. I have also encountered readings by Harold Bloom and Northrop Frye, both of whom I enjoy a bit more than Miles, but whose work I have also read much less of. What I found most frustrating about Miles’ reading however were his frequent appeals to some argumentum ex silentio, like if God doesn't suddenly interrupt or respond to a particular thing in the text, this must mean [something]. Or how Miles often does not leave room for events that are subtly implied or suggested, that happen behind or outside the perspective of the text, but only what is explicitly written is taken as a narrative event. I think a lot of the narrative points to something outside of itself, and there are things that occur in subtle suggestion, requiring the reader to imagine what is left unsaid, or what is covertly done outside the direct view of the reader. Hence the generative midrashic tradition which has followed in the Bible's wake. So I basically think Miles reads far too much into the absence of explicit articulations, and asserts the points derived from these absences a bit too strongly (in my opinion). I still wouldn't want to miss out on any of these comments. I just think they could have been better presented more gently, e.g. as possible readings among many, or as questions even (although I do understand parsimony is a virtue in accessible writing). I also think some of his attempts at contorting the texts into an overarching structure, were not entirely plausible to me, but they were still very interesting and memorable. And I think the texts he curated in this book were a very satisfying collection. Overall, a worthwhile read, although the book’s synopsis sounded quite a bit more exciting to me than the book turned out for me (a sign that book marketing still holds quite a sway on me). He’s not my favourite commentator on the Hebrew Bible out there, but still, a pretty fascinating read nonetheless.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sammy Tiranno

    Reading about God as a literary character can be a very enlightening exercise. The Bible is unquestionably an unusual work of literature, but there is plenty to consider when we study God from a strictly literary point of view, as this book does deftly. It’s important to never forget that literary criticism is the purpose, or certain points will be misunderstood, like when the author asks, “Did the telling of the stories create the God, or did the God, imagined first, provoke the telling of the Reading about God as a literary character can be a very enlightening exercise. The Bible is unquestionably an unusual work of literature, but there is plenty to consider when we study God from a strictly literary point of view, as this book does deftly. It’s important to never forget that literary criticism is the purpose, or certain points will be misunderstood, like when the author asks, “Did the telling of the stories create the God, or did the God, imagined first, provoke the telling of the stories?” The author thinks it’s more plausible that a shared idea of God came first, but even asking the question leads us to see that God, as a protagonist without a past, and a narrative without a memory, is the story of man before he was created by God. At least this is where we are after the first interlude. Moving through the books of the Tanakh, we see God assume the roles of Creator, Destroyer, Liberator, Lawgiver, Liege, Conqueror, Father, etc. During these phases, God becomes a historical character who acquires the status of myth, also mixing with entertaining fictions in a combined story of mythic and historical gravity. But this is where the author suggests that “the argument over whether this narrative is really history, really myth, or really fiction is misbegotten. It is really a mixture of the three. The mixing is precisely what is distinctive about it as a form of literature.” “Taking the Tanakh on its own terms, everything in it really happened (history), it’s outcome is of enormous personal consequence for each and every reader or hearer (religion), and page by page it has the unmistakable confidence and artistic panache of a living literature (fiction). We shall never know this unity again. No historian, no preacher, no novelist can ever recreate it - can ever again, that is, be all three at once.” The third interlude addresses the “problem of pain” by sampling the latter chapters of Isaiah, and it gives a good description of what can (and should) be inferred when innocent people suffer and evil people prosper. I won’t recount the listed possibilities here, but an apt quote appears a few chapters later that is a typical response to the problem of pain when considering a being whose ways are higher than our ways; when moral confusion forces a concession: “The first thing a man of understanding must understand is that there is much that he will never understand.” The character of God seemingly evolves as he progresses through various roles as a protagonist. Each chapter illuminates another aspect of an evolving relationship between God and man. This is the great success of the author - showing a character progression beyond any other. The whirlwind, the raging, and the still small voice. He started loud and grew quiet. He was worshiped, he was abandoned. He was reclaimed. In the beginning, he seemed to be creating his people, and now the people seem to be preserving their God. “He is the restless breathing we still hear in our sleep.”

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles Metzner

    This book came as a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a psychological break dr of the character better know as, "God", and get it I did. Just not at all how I thought I would. I was expecting a theological or philosophical expostualtion (whether it be augmented ting or debunking) and got neither. What I got, rather was much better, on multiple levels. Jack Miles, a Jesuit professor, instead applies the sensibilities of a hybridized biographer/literary critic to deconstruct the Bible's protagoni This book came as a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a psychological break dr of the character better know as, "God", and get it I did. Just not at all how I thought I would. I was expecting a theological or philosophical expostualtion (whether it be augmented ting or debunking) and got neither. What I got, rather was much better, on multiple levels. Jack Miles, a Jesuit professor, instead applies the sensibilities of a hybridized biographer/literary critic to deconstruct the Bible's protagonist vs. the author's observed antagonists: "Man" -- the first time in history where the a book's protagonist creates "H"is own antagonist. Many, MANY observed discrepancies, by virtue of, gradual, devolution of translative reading comprehension (thanks to Miles' scholarship in aramaic, Latin, and Sanskrit -- among other languages), he unburies alternative, scenarios, meanings behind Biblical allegory, amongst oodles of other apocryphal outlook, this examination of the Bible is not one to be passed up by those who fancy themselves as Biblical experts and winds up being utterly digestible by laypersons with an interest in Judeochristian education, theological moorings, or, indeed, philosophy aficionados. At no point does it preach. It merely opens up a plethora of alternative ways to interpret what, up until now felt perfectly understood.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Drtaxsacto

    Jack Miles takes the approach to consider both the Christian and Hebrew Old Testament(s) as literature and to consider God as literary character. His treatment of the Bible clearly got to some of his reviewers. But from my reading many of his critics did not bother to read the book. His careful scholarship here is pretty interesting. This is not a light book - and indeed one reviewer said it was "dry" - well the subject is dense - but Miles takes a complex subject and applies first rate scholars Jack Miles takes the approach to consider both the Christian and Hebrew Old Testament(s) as literature and to consider God as literary character. His treatment of the Bible clearly got to some of his reviewers. But from my reading many of his critics did not bother to read the book. His careful scholarship here is pretty interesting. This is not a light book - and indeed one reviewer said it was "dry" - well the subject is dense - but Miles takes a complex subject and applies first rate scholarship to the topic. Miles takes a sequential approach to looking at how God is portrayed - and thus starts with Genesis. And by reading the text closely one can discern a variable approach in the way that the writers approached their subject. There are lots of conclusions from this book. One of the most interesting is whether the character of God is more like a Greek (Oedipus) or a Shakespearean Tragedy. Are some of the inherent qualities in God's portrayal more internally or externally caused. He makes a pretty good case that he follows the latter characterization. Are there points in the book where a religious person might take exception? Sure, but don't think that because their might be interpretive differences that this book is not worth the read. I found it to be challenging and worth the time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nate Rabe

    As far as biographies of God go you're stuck mainly with the Biblical 'true believer' sort or the Christopher Hitchens, it's all bullshit approach. Jack Miles' attitude is refreshing and enlightening and moves in territory neither the 'new Athiests' and fundamentalists would even think about. Miles deals with the Jewish diety Yahweh as the main protagonist of the book called the Holy Bible. It's a brilliant approach and lets the Almighty 'talk' for himself. His words are the ones in the Bible. Bu As far as biographies of God go you're stuck mainly with the Biblical 'true believer' sort or the Christopher Hitchens, it's all bullshit approach. Jack Miles' attitude is refreshing and enlightening and moves in territory neither the 'new Athiests' and fundamentalists would even think about. Miles deals with the Jewish diety Yahweh as the main protagonist of the book called the Holy Bible. It's a brilliant approach and lets the Almighty 'talk' for himself. His words are the ones in the Bible. But rather than describing an all powerful all omniscient God, Miles sketches out a character that changes, gets pissed off, is jealous, has some attitudes we would call neuroses. And a character that is in the process of self discovery. This approach allows for a dynamic, even 'human' God. It also explains the contradictions many critics of the Bible struggle with. Miles is not an apologist for any style of Christianity. I'm not sure he is even one. His point is to use the tools of literary criticism and character analysis scholars use on secular literaure. I've read this numerous times as well as the sequel Lamb of God which does the same with Jesus.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    There is a great scene in the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon" where, at the climax, the young Ugandan protagonist is frustrated to learn not all of the stories she's heard from the Mormon missionaries are literal truth. Especially the one about Bobba Fett. One of her older village-mates admonishes her, saying "there's no such place as the fabled Salt Lake City - it's a metaphor!" The Bible, it would seem, has been interpreted and taught in every possible context through history. Miles takes th There is a great scene in the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon" where, at the climax, the young Ugandan protagonist is frustrated to learn not all of the stories she's heard from the Mormon missionaries are literal truth. Especially the one about Bobba Fett. One of her older village-mates admonishes her, saying "there's no such place as the fabled Salt Lake City - it's a metaphor!" The Bible, it would seem, has been interpreted and taught in every possible context through history. Miles takes the approach of literary criticism, and specifically only for the character of God. He acknowledges early on that taking only one of these approaches (literary, religious, literal - or metaphor, like SLC) is a product of our modern minds, since the Hebrew Bible is a combination of the three and maybe can only be grasped by the authors and their ancient contemporaries: "The unique power of this classical Hebrew narrative is that it deliberately does that which tends to make us impatient. Taking the Tanakh on its own terms, everything in it really happened (history), its outcome is of enormous personal consequence for each reader or hearer (religion), and, page by page and sometimes line by line, it has the unmistakable confidence and artistic panache of a living literature (fiction). There is no reversing the evolution of the modern mind. We shall never know this unity again." So given that we're starting at a disadvantage, who does Miles find God to be? Though he never says it outright, my reading is that God is who the Israelites made him to be as they evolved through time. In the beginning he is a peerless creator who is surprised by the actions of his own creations. For Abraham and the Jews in Egypt, he is a god of fertility, then war, then law. Then David and Solomon come along and God is a father, more concerned with justice and mercy. To the prophets he is a contradiction, to Job he is an adversary, and to the latest authors (chronologically speaking), he is a distant, silent partner, looking on from heaven. Miles addresses this theme many times, and in the epilogue he briefly retells the Tanakh as the story of multiple gods. The retelling reads more like a traditional mythology, with interactions not between the split personalities of God but between a number of gods, each reflecting different aspects of a single personality and also the Assyrian, Caananite, Babylonian, and even Persian gods that surrounded Hebrew culture. But if Miles stopped there, so might our whole notion of Western morality. While certainly the Bible and God the character is the product of (sometimes contradictory) ancient authors, he is also a stunning and enduring innovation. Miles only touches this briefly, but it is fully explored in Abraham: The First Historical Biography. Mesopotamian society worshiped a pantheon of gods, including a personal god to each individual. The personal god handled day-to-day errands, heard simple petitions, and could be bargained with. Bigger matters were naturally handled by bigger, less accessible gods. Abraham, whether real or metaphorical, founded Israel by taking the Ultimate God, the God of Heaven and Other Gods, the God of Right and Wrong, as his personal god. All other gods fell away. And Israelite religious innovation continued beyond Abraham. Not only did they take the high god as their personal god, they did other new things with him. Miles points out they argued with him, mocked his abilities to keep promises (Abraham), tested him (Jacob), and complained (Moses). He responded by complaining about them and mocking them back. Clearly this is not a god appeased by animal sacrifice or orgy-worship, as other contemporary gods might have been. As already mentioned, God develops into all things to all people... a creator, a protector, a destroyer, a warrior, a loving father, a gentle lamb, etc. Then comes Job (perhaps the best chapter in Miles' book). After generations of evolution, what is left for God to do or become? He punishes Job for sport, and Job calls him out on it: "Forced to choose between justice and God, [Job] chooses justice, a choice that the Lord eventually concedes was the correct one." Miles continues later: "God's exposure at the end of the Book of Job ought to be the moment of truth that becomes the moment of death. Knowing himself to be what Job teaches him that he is, the Lord should find it impossible to go on; and this is almost what happens." Interestingly, the Book of Job is last time God speaks. Job and the Lord are perfect reflections of each other and they love each other; created in each other's image. They can't exist on their own and they acknowledge it; Job in his willingness to continue valuing Right despite all the Wrong he received, and God reversing all the Wrong for such an admission. Miles points out the Bible is structured cyclically from a historic standpoint. Books and the end are believed to have occurred at the same time as those in the middle, such that they can be read on repeat without end. God and his people come to know each other, love each other, help each other, grow annoyed with each other, complain about each other, get angry, deliberately harm each other, challenge each other on the harm inflicted, realize they have done wrong when they ought to be pursuing right, and once again celebrate each other. And isn't that what life is? So is the Biography of God real or metaphor? Like Salt Lake City, I believe it to be both. Brilliant book and worth the biblical time scales it took to read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    This is a religious book that has no opinion on faith or religion, a fact that I'm sure contributed to its winning the Pulitzer prize. Mr. Niles takes the Old Testament and treats it as source material for answering the question "Who is this God person anyway?" I think that believers would find this book interesting, those looking for good information on the groundings of biblical theology even more so. And perhaps most of all, anyone with an interest in the religions of the ancient Near-East wi This is a religious book that has no opinion on faith or religion, a fact that I'm sure contributed to its winning the Pulitzer prize. Mr. Niles takes the Old Testament and treats it as source material for answering the question "Who is this God person anyway?" I think that believers would find this book interesting, those looking for good information on the groundings of biblical theology even more so. And perhaps most of all, anyone with an interest in the religions of the ancient Near-East will find much to like about this book. Recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    SJ Loria

    Interesting perspective into the Old Testament. Instead of a historical or religious analysis, the author approaches God as a literary character. Who is he, how does he develop as a character, what does he stand for? Some interesting ideas. God and The Lord God are basically two different characters merged into one. It got a bit heavy and academic for me to get through. I am reminded of this quote: it is better to love God than to know God, but it is better to know things than to love things.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle Angela

    I haven't read anything quite like this, and must say that it has slightly influenced on how I personally see God, and has brought to my understanding the various aspects of God. Truthfully I have never read the Bible, and am neither acquainted with much of its stories but the book manages to convey its personification of God without having to have such knowledge beforehand. For somebody (myself included) who was raised to view God in a certain way will surely find Jack Miles' biography of God t I haven't read anything quite like this, and must say that it has slightly influenced on how I personally see God, and has brought to my understanding the various aspects of God. Truthfully I have never read the Bible, and am neither acquainted with much of its stories but the book manages to convey its personification of God without having to have such knowledge beforehand. For somebody (myself included) who was raised to view God in a certain way will surely find Jack Miles' biography of God to be an eye opener.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nick Wilson

    I totally understand how this book gets such mixed reviews — even with its Pulitzer. There are some deeply profound observations. And some beautiful writing. But there is pages upon pages of drudgery. The good bits are deeply buried. I initially read every word...hoping it would get better. It didn’t. I eventually gave up and skimmed the rest of the book. I don’t regret it one bit.

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