Book Series

Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine

Terry L Anderson

Jan 14, 2006

 

Primary Sources (Listed in order of extent of contribution):

·         Harold Bloom. Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. 2005. Riverhead Books.

Introduction

We read the Holy Bible and see the different faces of God:   the all powerful, creative Master of the Universe – origin and Lord of all, the stern, judgmental and punishing Jehovah of parts of the Old Testament, the enigmatic I Am, the loving protecting, parental Father of other parts of the Old Testament and the New, the sectarian (or national) God protecting Israel and punishing their enemies (but also punishing them when they waver) who commands genocide, the jealous or hungry God demanding animal sacrifices, the gentle, moral teaching Jesus who talks of His Father that loves all men (although he rarely talks about including gentiles), the substitutionary,self-sacrificial Christ taught by Paul and the Apostles, the God that loves even gentiles of Peter and Paul. 

 

As believers we see these faces as facets of a complex, enigmatic Deity, the Unknowable Infinite, but we struggle to understand how we are to even partially understand a being with such disjoint aspects.

 

Harold Bloom (Yale), as a literary critic and unbeliever, secular (but cultural) Jew (self labeled Gnostic Jew) examines the same literary artifacts and see evidence of many faceted editing, of a sequence of redactors and editors each molding a part of the histories, stories, poetry and teachings to better reflect their personal images of their God.

 

In the Forum we have struggled with this issue, repeatedly – some uncomfortable with what they see in the Old Testament images of God – others uncomfortable with what they see as the differences between the Old and New Testament messages.  We may not be satisfied with the solutions of Bloom.  We may find that his view is too secular or too Jewish; too unbelieving, too sarcastic or too critical, too literary.  But I think that that it is worth examining, if only to provoke us.  It presents a perspective that I, at least, had not explored.  While we may not accept his solutions, perhaps in discussing them we will be stimulated to find new solutions of our own that will be more satisfactory than our current solutions or lack of solutions.

Bloom’s Polytheism

Bloom (like most Jews) is amazed that Christians claim to be monotheists, he sees Christians finding three Gods in the Scriptures but he sees many more (though his book title references only two).  Some background: since the mid-nineteenth century, most Biblical scholars have seen multiple authors, compilers or editors at work in most of the Old Testament books (“Higher Criticism”).  From Wikipedia:

 

The hypothesis proposes that the Torah was composed from four earlier source texts, which were combined by a redactor (referred to as R).

J - the Jahwist. J describes a humanlike God called Yahweh and has its main interest reflecting Judah and the Aaronid priesthood. J has an extremely eloquent style. J uses an earlier form of the Hebrew language than P.

E - the Elohist. E describes a humanlike God initially called El (which is sometimes Elohim according to the rules of Hebrew grammar), and called Yahweh after the burning bush, and has its main interest reflecting biblical Israel and the Shiloh priesthood. E has a moderately eloquent style. E uses an earlier form of the Hebrew language than P.

P - the Priestly source. P describes a distant and unmerciful (but just) God sometimes referred to as Elohim and El Shaddai. P partly duplicates J and E, but altering details to suit P's opinion, and also consists of most of Leviticus. P has its main interest in an Aaronid priesthood and King Hezekiah. P has a low level of literary style, and has an interest in lists and dates.

D - the Deuteronomist. D consists entirely of most of Deuteronomy. D probably also wrote the Deteronomistic history (Josh, Judg, 1 & 2 Sam, 1 & 2 Kgs). D has its interest reflecting the Shiloh priesthood and King Josiah. D uses a form of Hebrew similar to P, but in a different literary style.

 

Bloom finds the Yahweh of J as a very different being from the El Shaddai of P and even more distinct from the God of the Prophets or Writings (although he cannot find any “loving” God in the Hebrew Scriptures), and finally a completely different being in the Father of the New Testament.

 

Similarly, he finds the Jesus of the Pauline Epistles (the earliest NT books) and Mark (the earliest Gospel) quite different from the Christ of the later Gospels and especially John.  And he cannot accept any of these “theological gods” as mirroring the human Yeshua of Nazareth, which he finds more convincingly portrayed in the Gospel of Thomas (one of the Gnostic Gospels) and the Epistle of James.  He finds no credible historical evidence for Jesus’ existence, yet believes he did, however, he believes that Yeshua would not have recognized the Christ “invented” by Paul and his followers, creating a mythical (theological) hero from a simple radical preacher and political agitator.

 

Bloom spends the majority of his book exploring the nature and personalities of these various distinct gods and yet comes across more as the ramblings of a bitter but sarcastic old man.  Yet, to me, some of his challenges against conservative Christian beliefs stimulate interesting ideas.

Why is the God of the Old Testament appear so different from that of the New?

This is the question that has troubled many of us to different degrees over the years and that comes up repeatedly in our discussions.  And the related question, Why does God appear to treat His people so differently at different times.  Various answers have been suggested in our discussions: 1) He just appears different but once we finally understand Him, we’ll understand the answer – maybe only in heaven, 2) we’re seeing different aspects of a complex God, 3) the authors, being human writers, do not perfectly portray God (and the spirit of inspiration does not correct them), 4) different writers, write about the aspects of God that seem most significant to them.

 

To these, Bloom suggests one that I had not fully appreciated, dependent on the view of Higher Criticism, that each book reflects work of multiple authors, compilers, and later editors.  In his view, the earliest writers saw their God as closer to the gods of the neighbors, distant, demanding, capricious, undependable, requiring appeasement by sacrifices.  Later editors of even the same books, unsatisfied with this human-like view, softened the image adding traits of protection, caring (if not in Bloom’s view loving), loyalty to his people (but only if they lived up to their side of the covenant), but while adding and softening they failed to fully remove the older images leaving us with an inconsistent, unintentionally multifaceted God.

 

In the New Testament, we have a related but slightly different cause.  There has been less re-editing of each book by different editors, but we have a sequence of writings with differences reflecting the evolution and development of the Christian theology.  Mark reflects a Jesus very close to the Old Testament view of God, challenging the Pharisees but not deviating as much from OT theology, just but harsher teachings.   While the later Gospels reflect a more complex, more theological Jesus, more likely to challenge traditions, more complex moral issues and more abstract.

 

Note the chronological order of the NT books:  Pauline Epistles (about 40 yrs after Christ’s death), Mark, Matthew, Luke and the Acts, James, John (2nd century), and the Apocalypse.

Other Side Issues

Some other issues are raised in the book that I would like to mention.

Order of Hebrew Scriptures compared to Christian Old Testament

Bloom draws significance from the re-ordering of the books by the Christians.  The Christian OT does not place them chronologically.  He sees their arrangement as a way to enhance the view that the OT points toward Christ, that is, Christians make the sole (or at least primary) purpose for including them in their Scripture, the dramatic buildup to Christ rather than teaching readers about God and his relationship to his people.

 

Old Testament

Tanakh or Hebrew Scripture

Genesis

Genesis

Exodus

Exodus

Leviticus

Leviticus

Numbers

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy

Joshua

Joshua

Judges

Judges

Ruth

 

 I, II Samuel

I, II Samuel

Kings

Kings

 

Isaiah

 

Jeremiah

 

Ezekiel

 

Twelve Minor Prophets

I Chronicles

Psalms

II Chronicles

Proverbs

Ezra

Job

Nehemiah

 

Tobit

 

Judith

 

Esther

Song of Songs

Maccabees

Ruth

Job

Lamentations

Psalms

Ecclesiastes

Proverbs

Esther

Ecclesiastes

Daniel

Song of Songs

Ezra

Wisdom

Nehemiah

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)

I Chronicles

Isaiah

II Chronicles

Jeremiah

 

Lamentations

 

Baruch

 

Ezekiel

 

Daniel

 

Twelve Minor Prophets

 

 

The list (from Bloom) reflects the Catholic Bible which includes the Apocrypha. The primary difference is ending with the minor prophets while Tanakh ends with the Chronicles and elevating Daniel to a position as a major prophet where in the Tanakh it is simply one of the Writings.   In order to lead into the three opening chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the Christian OT concludes with Malachi, “the Messenger,” proclaiming Elijah’s return (as John the Baptist).

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Hear but not understand

We recently discussed this issue from Christ’s teaching his disciples about the parables.  Bloom points out that in Mark Christ is paraphrasing Isaiah (and in Matthew directly quoting):

Isaiah 6:9-10 (Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh)

Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me.” And He said, “Go, say to that people:

‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand;

See, indeed, but do not grasp.’

Dull that people’s mind,

Stop its ears,

And seal its eyes—

Lest, seeing with its eyes

And hearing with its ears,

It also grasp with its mind,

And repend and save itself.”

 

Mark 4:11-12 (RSV)

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”

Not by faith alone

Bloom points out something I had missed in James (which he sees as an overt polemic against Paul):

James 2:24 (NIV)

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Or in another translation

A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

a manifest repudiation of Paul’s

A man is justified by faith and not by works (Romans 3:28)

 

(See the strained attempt to make them consistent in the NIV notes on 2:14-26.)