Item description for God: A Biography (Vintage) by Jack Miles...
Overview A new reading of the Hebrew Bible explores the infinitely complex roles of God, from his first appearance as the Creator to his last as the Ancient of Days. Reprint. 35,000 first printing.
Publishers Description 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.
Awards and Recognitions God: A Biography (Vintage) by Jack Miles has received the following awards and recognitions -
Pulitzer Prize - 1996 Winner - Biography category
Citations And Professional Reviews God: A Biography (Vintage) by Jack Miles has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 104
New York Times - 05/05/1996 page 32
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/1998 page 77
Publishers Weekly - 03/18/1996
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 78
Newsweek - 07/13/2009 page 46
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.1" Width: 5.21" Height: 1.21" Weight: 0.8 lbs.
Release Date Mar 19, 1996
ISBN 0679743685 ISBN13 9780679743682
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More About Jack Miles
Jack Miles is a writer whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including "The Atlantic Monthly," the "The" "New York Times," "The" "Boston Globe," "The" "Washington Post," and "The" "Los Angeles Times," where he served for ten years as literary editor and as a member of the newspaper s editorial board. The recipient of a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages from Harvard University and a former Jesuit, he has been a Regents Lecturer at the University of California, director of the Humanities Center at Claremont Graduate University, and visiting professor of humanities at the California Institute of Technology. His first book, God: A Biography, won a Pulitzer Prize and has been translated into fifteen languages. Currently senior advisor to the president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, a foundation supporting art and scholarship, Dr. Miles lives with his wife and daughter in Southern California."
Reviews - What do customers think about God: A Biography (Vintage)?
Hogwash May 12, 2008
God - a biography, by Miles. He should have spent his time doing something informative and productive. "God - a biography" is an invention of his own mind, full of sound and fury, explaining nothing. In short, it is a deplorable work.
God: A Biography Apr 5, 2008
I have not had the opportunity to start my reading of this book. My EFM (Education for Ministry) Mentor highly recommended this book, as it traces God from the Old Testament, as a God of Rath, to the New Testament, as a God of Mercy.
Literary Literalism Ironically Inconsistent Mar 16, 2008
This book is the perfect illustration of the difference between an erudite book and a scholarly book. The erudite book, naturally enough, comes from the erudite author. The erudite author is a sort of scholar, but doesn't write scholarly treatises or monographs. They have this in common: they know lots of stuff. It's just that they use it differently. The scholar shapes his knowledge into a network of evidence with premises and conclusions interlocking in support. The erudite author dazzles with his ability to pull seemingly relevant information from all across the disciplines and throughout history. Scholars publish in what are called "peer-reviewed" academic journals as part of one's professional achievement, i.e. it's F'ing hard to get published regularly and it doesn't pay a dime. When Scholars write books, they are reviewed less stringently and they get a little remuneration (my contract with Oxford University Press stipulates 4% of net proceeds or some such thing). This is very different from the time of writing the erudite author does. Miles is erudite, he knows lots of stuff. But he's no scholar. He does not publish in peer-reviewed academic journals (ever, as far as I can tell). He writes (paid-per-word) journalism. He does not write scholarly books. He writes, essentially, novels. And he makes looooots of money on them. I write this not as a criticism (for I plan to make lots of money writing erudite books some day myself). My point is that his work is not backed up by a record of scholarship. As an academic I dare not do such writing until I have academically published my way to tenure at a university. The main consequence of this distinction--and which side Miles is on--is that the book is short on arguments (I'm not sure there are *any* arguments in it). Rather it attempts to bear the reader along on the current of the authors wit and seeming wisdom. Scholars assert theses which they labor to make as clear as possible. The erudite author is coy, unwilling to be pinned down. This is a safer course because then it's harder to be refuted and you can imply that something is the case without being held accountable for it ("I didn't say that, you're saying I said that, but I didn't actually say that.").
I will not have time to define all my terms or explain all the connections, so I apologize for that in advance. My purpose in this review is simply to note some important facts about the book and alert the reader to the relevance of these facts. I should add that I generally like Miles's columns even when I disagree with them (which is not always).
It is not irrelevant to point out that Miles is a celebrity and likes it. He is primarily a writer for the New York Times, LA Times, Boston Globe, etc. He does have some theological training, he was in Catholic seminary, but never made it to the priesthood as far as I know. The US Cognoscenti just love "ex priest" literary types with comfortably threatless religious beleifs. He does have a PhD from Harvard in Near Eastern Languages, but that in and of itself wouldn't even qualify him to professionally translate a page of the Old Testament. However, when you are telling the New York and LA crowd what they want to hear all they hear is "blah blah Harvard PhD blah blah". That's good enough for them (though it doesn't seem to matter that Intelligent Design originator William Dembski has a BA in Psychology, an MS in Statistics, a PhD in Math from the University of Chicago, an M.Div from Princeton, a PhD in Philosophy, and a post doc at MIT). This book got the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, not for non-fiction or History. (It's a bit odd that it actually is counted as a biography, but perhaps its really a biography of Jack Miles.)
Philosophically and Theologically, it is important to classify Miles's working assumptions. He is working from a postmodern perspective at least insofar as his is an endeavor in "narrative theology" (albeit at the shallow end of the pool (i.e. not the heavy theology end, but rather the more literary end). There are other postmodernist traits throughout the writing as well some of which tend toward the deconstructionist. On his website he comes across repeatedly as holding a "two truths" doctrine like the Muslim philosopher Averoes. He's constantly saying "As a person of faith I think this, as a literary critic I think this." Another inability to integrate his worldview comes out in his Marcionist (and other Gnostic) tendencies . Like Marcion and Averoes, he fails to see the unified picture of Sacred Scripture demonstrated by biblical scholars steeped in Judaic understanding (such as N.T. Wright).
As far as I can tell, his actual ontology of God is consistent with either a Feuerbachian projectionist view or with dipolar theism. Some of his remarks suggest that he has not actually made up his mind, maybe God is just a projection of human nature, one with a feedback chain shaping that nature of which it is a projection, maybe there really is such a being as God but he really does learn and change, forget, get angry and depressed and desperate as many process theologians attest (closer to Cobb than Hartshorne or Whitehead, but closest perhaps to the more popular Kushner.). This fits well with the central literary motif of willing suspension of (dis)belief as if Miles himself is assessing whether he can really believe this or not (he does self ascribe "theist" but think of how Funk and Borg and Crossan call them selves "Christians" even though they don't believe in Christ). On his website he is pretty specifically asked about a projectionist view and his answer is a lesson in obfuscation. Either Miles himself doesn't know what he believes or--for whatever reason--he is choosing to conceal it. He is also asked on his website whether he believes Jesus is divine or just a good man. He simply doesn't answer, he completely avoids the question).
Ultimately, Miles's error is that of the Protestant fundamentalist: miss the metaphor. The fundamentalist preacher (and ironically today its modern descendent the all-to-open-minded "open theism makes the same error) reads the Bible "literally" in all cases (except, strangely, the institution of the Eucharist). Don't go talking to them about allegory or metaphor or other fancy literary claptrap. No, the Earth was created in 4004 BC in six days, that's it. In one way, Miles, as an erudite author, Harvard academic and celebrated literary figure, couldn't possible be further from the fundamentalist preacher. But this only serves to underscore the irony of Miles' approach. For in attempting to adopt a "literary approach" to the Scriptures he has to ignore all the literary tropes. His rejection of Catholic Tradition is wholesale. Not only does he reject the role of the Pope, he rejects the Patristic tradition of allegorical and metaphorical interpretation. Saints Augustine and Aquinas knew that stories of God's anger at the idolatry of the Israelites tells us what God is *like*. He's *like* a jealous husband *in that* he will not tolerate an unfaithful spouse. Why He won't tolerate that is clear from what happens to Israel when she flirts with idolatrous nations. When the prophet proclaims that the Great Flood is a result of God's disappointment that the people he'd made had screwed things up so royally, Miles is forced to picture God as an old man with a long beard with a tear running down his leathery cheek, but Saints Ambrose and Anselm would have the saintly common sense to see that this is a statement about *humans* not God: we are *like* children who disappoint their parents through repeatedly making the same stupid mistakes. There is no room in Miles' world for "like" or "as" for his (mis)reading technique of "God the character" strips all metaphor and figure.
The most important part of Miles background for a book such as this, though, is the fact that Miles is an Episcopalian who left Catholic seminary in opposition to its non-democratic structure. Episcopalianism was the first American religion (then there was Capitolism, then Mormonism, then Americanism, then Consumerism) and it bears the marks of its origin. Fittingly, for Miles in this book God is just another character in the play, not the playwright. This inability to integrate transcendence and immanence is the culmination of Miles' inability to synthesize and harmonize: unity-in-diversity is the halmark of Trinitarian thought, in rejecting Catholic tradition, Miles rejects the only successful framework of integration and is left with the images of a frustrated schizoid god.
In short, his god is too small.
Worthwhile but Heavy Nov 25, 2007
I would give this book a four and a half, rather than a five, because it is heavy reading and requires a fair amount of concentration. Jack Miles puts together an intreguing and even sometimes disturbing profile of the God of the Old Testament, not necessarily humanizing Him but showing how the power that originally created Mankind must evolved with mankind, as a first time parent. As a Jew, his book made me reconsider several core beliefs, or at least see it in a different light than the standard religious indoctrination.
Fascinating mix of religion, history and literature Aug 6, 2007
Although GOD: A BIOGRAPHY might be a bit dense for the average reader, Jack Miles makes an important point about the character of the Supreme Being; HIS actions represent culturally where the society that wrote a particular book of the Bible was at a given time. Miles looks at the Old Testament as a biography through time showing a developing Supreme Being who lives up to and interacts with humanity in a way reflecting how culturally advanced the authors of the particulary books of the Bible were at the time they were written. So, in essence, we follow God from our birth ("Genesis")through a difficult adolescence and young "adulthood". Throughout each period God's behavior reflects where the society was in its life span as well. By examining God's behavior, interactions with humanity, we also discover more about our beliefs and maturity as a society at the same time.
Miles fills his book with fascinating bits of historical trivia and clearly has researched his subject (and "us")indepth helping the reader to understand the development of humanity through time. In many respects, this is as much a sociological "biography" or examination as it is about GOD him/herself. I'm not surprised by the reactions by some people to this book because doing something like this will touch a nerve for many people but reading the book with an open mind (and you can always disagree with any author's conclusions but still enjoy the book)certainly is essential to understanding and enjoying this scholarly work. The good news is that Miles has a breezy style that prevents the work from becoming stuffy or trapped in academic hyperbole.
Miles also tackles the Bible from two different perspectives--both as a religious icon AND a form of literature that has influenced both western and eastern society through thousands of years. By taking this approach, Miles is able to measure the cultural impact of God as a character, understand the growth and consquences of His actions in a somewhat detached manner. In a sense this gives added depth to Miles' analysis of why God chooses to act the way He does and measure humanity's understanding and reaction to His direction.