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Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine Hardcover – October 6, 2005

3.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Bloom’s occasional forays into religious criticism are particularly interesting, given his lifelong passion for poetry and his contributions to the study of literature. And while discussions of religion itself are in play here, it is the characters of Jesus and Yahweh that inhabit the pages, and Bloom’s literary critic more than his moonlighting theologian examining them. And what of that analysis? Bloom has an obvious affinity for Yahweh over Jesus (even though Jesus gets first billing in the book’s title.) But to ascribe that preference to his Jewish roots is perhaps too easy. A close reading reveals more. Bloom finds that Yahweh, with his covenants, tempers, resolutions, and even occasional forays into the physical where he fights, eats and walks in the cool of the Garden presents a more interesting character than the rather enigmatic Jesus who only comes truly alive for him in Mark’s gospel, and even more so beyond the canonical scriptures in the Gospel of Thomas. And though in sensibility and identification Bloom hews closer to Yahweh, he acknowledges the place Jesus and his followers have made in the world, through an application of his own theory of the anxiety of influence, noting that "The New Testament frequently is a strong misreading of the Hebrew Bible, and certainly it has persuaded multitudes." Provocative statements like these abound, but Bloom is no provocateur. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his meditations on the names divine, it is hard not to respect his vigorous intellect and bracing candor as he explores their power.--Ed Dobeas

From Publishers Weekly

Prolific literary critic, Yale professor and professional provocateur Bloom (The Book of J) here tackles the characters of the Jewish and Christian gods: what god do we meet in Hebrew Scripture? Who is the Jesus of the New Testament, and does he bear any relation to the Jesus most Americans worship? Does, for that matter, the Hebrew Yahweh resemble the first person of contemporary Christians' Trinity? Bloom, as usual, skewers quite a few sacred cows—for example, he dismisses the quest for the historical Jesus as a waste of time, and says that Jewish-Christian dialogue is a "farce." But in fact Bloom's major points are somewhat commonplace, including his assertion that the Christian reading of Hebrew Scripture laid the groundwork for Christian anti-Semitism. A fair enough charge, but hardly a new one; theologians have observed, and debated, this point for centuries. Bloom's real brilliance lies in his smaller, subtler claims, such as his nuanced discussion of the different ways Matthew, Mark and Luke present Jesus, his assertion that Bible translator William Tyndale anticipated Shakespeare, and his observation that, contra Marx, religion is not the opiate of the people but their "poetry, both bad and good." The book is learned, even erudite, and sure to be controversial. (Oct. 6)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1st edition (October 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223225
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Harold Bloom is almost overly frank about his personal predispositions throughout this book. He lets us know--repeatedly--that his religious leanings are toward a sort of gnostic, non-Covenental Judaism. And he admits that his ambition--through most of his 70-odd years--has been to read both the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) and the Christian Bible not only well, but also for himself. This book is the product of what can only ever be an unfinished project, since the greatness of the Jewish and Christian scriptures keep them always before us.

Bloom's favorite characters in all of literature, in descending order, are Yahweh (of the Tanakh/Old Testament), Jesus (of the New/Belated Testament), and Hamlet. There is no shortage of reverence and amazement for Jesus and Yahweh in this book.

The subject matter of this book necessarily precludes any attempt to artificially break it down into neat categories and packages. In other words, attempting to formally outline this book would be a harrowing experience. Bloom's writing wanders and trips and backtracks. But Bloom never lets key themes slip through the cracks: it's the first book I've ever read where I genuinely appreciate how repetitive it sometimes becomes. By returning to an underdeveloped theme several times in various contexts, we come to understand the rather nuanced and complex conclusions Bloom is trying to explain.

Some critics have labeled this book self-defeating, but only because they misread it. These critics claim that Bloom asserts that everyone winds up seeing only themselves when they look at the person of Jesus Christ. That's not at all what Bloom says.
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Format: Hardcover
Bloom's latest book (he's written more than 20 over a period of 40+ years) is a casual discussion of Jesus, Christ, and Yahweh. When I say "casual", don't get me wrong. This is not a coffee table book or a book for beginners. It is an incredible discussion by a top scholar of the interrelationships between 3 critical figures, but as a discussion it is more casual than it is scholarly (e.g., there are no footnotes, no index, no bibliography, etc). I would recommend this book to people with some background information about (at least 2 of) the 3 principles, yet a beginner also will find it enlightening.

I am especially drawn to this book because Bloom agrees with me on some unpopular ideas about Jesus (e.g., he was in his 40s when he died, the Gospel of John reflects anxiety about the failure of the 2nd coming to come, the synoptic gospels are "conversionary inspiration", Josephus had his own agenda and isn't the neutral historian many people consider him to be, etc.). Of course, many of Bloom's ideas are not so non-traditional (e.g., Mark's gospel is the closest to the "real Jesus", biographers of Jesus read themselves into his life, etc).

The book has no real organization, and he drifts back and forth between various themes. In most books this would be a negative, but in Bloom's hands the transitions are seamless and beneficial. Another positive aspect of this book is Bloom's breadth of scholarship. He is at home discussing Freud, Shakespeare, Whitman, Plato, Spinoza, Goethe, etc. He wanders from gnosticism to judaism to christianity to marxism.

Here are some quotes...
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Format: Hardcover
The fundimental challenge to reading this book is that in order to get it, you first have to read a lot of other books. Really, it is probably only barely humanly possible to read as many books as it would take.

I'm sure that many Bloom fans will pick up this book and wonder where he's gone! I can sympathize--Confessions of a reviewer; I've only read enough other books to catch glimpses, as it were out of the corner of my eye, of what Bloom is talking about here.

OK, lets get out of the way the inevitable comparison of this book to Bloom's earlier "Book of J". One of the things which makes "Book of J" so much more accessible is that in includes not just Bloom's commentary, but also a new translation of J itself, in one handy package This makes it easy to bounce back and forth between Bloom and J, and so its much easier to understand and absorb Bloom's abrupt insights. But a similar didacticism would be impossible for this book--the only way to do it would be to just put it on a shelf in the Library of Congress.

But this book really shouldn't be compared to "Book of J". A much better comparison would be to the Gospel of Mark, which it bears resemblance in its literary technique and its "insider" outlook.

First literary technique: Other reviewers have commented that Bloom seems to be randomly bouncing around among topics. But recall, the Gospel of Mark is famous for just the same thing! In the course of a few sentences, Jesus is baptised by John, driven into the wilderness, comes back, and starts proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Why this rapid cutting between scenes? Why these big gaps between sentences? Is Mark out of his mind?
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