Harold Bloom And “J”: A Review Article -- By: Bruce Waltke

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:4 (Dec 1991)
Article: Harold Bloom And “J”: A Review Article
Author: Bruce Waltke

Harold Bloom And “J”:
A Review Article

Bruce Waltke*

The Book of J. Translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg. Interpreted by Harold Bloom. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990, 340 pp., $21.95.

Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, may have penned the most blasphemous book ever written. He credits his heroine, “J,” however, with this feat: “From the standpoint of normative Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, J is the most blasphemous writer that ever lived, far surpassing the beleaguered Salman Rushdie.” In truth, however, J—whom Bloom prefers over the rest of the Biblical authors—is a projection of his own psyche, his own invention, as this review will validate, and therefore he condemns himself. Were this eccentric book by an author of lesser stature and wit it would be written off as a joke. But because it was written by one of America’s preeminent literary critics and sold like hot cakes when it hit the market in the fall of 1990, it is no laughing matter.

Bloom deconstructs traditional interpretations of J in every episode he selects for commentary. With regard to the gift-of-the-bride story: “J is not in the business…of endorsing marriage as such, let alone of considering Yahweh the establisher and sanctifier of marriage.” About the Serpent and the fall: “We have no reason to believe the serpent malevolent…J has given us no candidates for culpability, except perhaps Yahweh, already portrayed as a bungler in his original creation of candidates fit for Adam. Setting the tree of knowing good and bad as prohibition and temptation is a parallel blunder…Nothing could be more incommensurate than Yahweh’s punishments and the childish offenses that provoked them.” He explains Cain’s murder of Abel as “a murder provoked by the arbitrariness of Yahweh.” The infamous “sons of god” in Genesis are not condemned in J. Rather, she has “a wry appreciation of those mythic men and women.” In J’s tower of Babel story “Yahweh is…an antithetical imp or sublime mischief-maker, in no way morally or spiritually superior to the builders of Babel.” For the patriarchs “J has no particular affection … just as her attitude toward Yahweh is hardly marked by reverence or by awe.” Sinai is “one of J’s most extraordinary ironies, because it plainly shows us a Yahweh who is not only at the verge of going out of control but who keeps warning Moses to tell the people to watch out, because their God knows that he is about to lose all restraint.” And on and on.

*Bruce Waltke is professor of Old Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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