One hopes that in his final moments on this earth, Harold Bloom, the famed literary critic who passed away Oct. 14, found some clarity to his relationship with his maker. Who knows, maybe he even got to ask Him or Her a few questions of his own. After all, Bloom had been doing that his entire life.
“I now regard normative Judaism as being … a very strong misreading of the Hebrew Bible, undertaken in the second century in order to meet the needs of the Jewish people in a Palestine under Roman occupation,” Bloom told The Paris Review in 1991. This was just after the publication of The Book of J, in which he postulated that “J,” the first of four writers of the Pentateuch according to modern Bible theory, was a woman.
“As we read any literary work,” Bloom wrote in The Book of J, “we necessarily create a fiction or metaphor of its author. That author is perhaps our myth, but the experience of literature partly depends on that myth. For J, we have a choice of myths, and I boisterously prefer mine to that of the biblical scholars. I will put all my cards on the reader’s desk here, face up. My J is a gevurah (‘great lady’) of post-Solomonic court circles, herself of Davidic blood, who began writing her great work in the later years of Solomon, in close rapport and exchanging influences with her good friend the Court Historian, who wrote most of what we now call 2 Samuel.”
Bloom’s hypothesis was roundly dismissed by academics and Bible experts. (Criticism was also directed at his co-author, poet David Rosenberg, whose biblical translation, upon which Bloom built his argument, took many liberties with the original Hebrew.) As American professor of Hebrew and comparative literature Robert Alter, reviewing The Book of J in Commentary magazine, wrote: “One detects in (Bloom) a hidden aspiration to move from critic to heresiarch, to become the pathfinder of a Jewish way – alternately literary and Gnostic – antithetical to received religion.”
And yet, Bloom was very much in touch with his God, even if they were not necessarily on the best of terms. In his 2005 book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, comparing and contrasting the Jewish God and the Christian one, Bloom described the former as “a human, all too human God.” It was a mystifying description, to the author most of all: “I am so conflicted on Yahweh,” he admitted, “that I can’t make any sense out of my own disagreements with myself.”
“Yahweh expects both: love where there is fear, and fear where there is love, a destructive fusion when taking place between persons, but appropriate in regard to Him alone.” (“You can encounter him in the next bush,” he added, “or he can hide himself when most needed.”)
“The permanent puzzle of Yahweh,” Bloom concluded, “is that we have no alternative to making sense of Him in human terms, and yet He transcends any terms available to us.”
Jesus and Yahweh ends on a somewhat hopeful note, with Bloom wondering of his God, “Will He yet make a covenant with us that He both can and will keep?” That question will resonate long after Bloom’s death.