231: God by Jack Miles

by Gerard

231: Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. New York: Vintage, 1996. 408 pp. ISBN 0-679-74368-5.

Christianity has the 200s pretty much locked down. Every nuance of the Christian religion is elevated to section status in the Dewey Decimal Classification. But…it is what it is. Books on God are all located at DDC 231.


Jack Miles, in God: A Biography, takes a completely view of the Lord. His aim is to read the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament—known as the Tanakh—and understand the character of God through the reading. But only through the reading. Miles treats God as a character in a play, with an agenda, a psyche, and underlying motivation.

He traces the character of God from the creation of the Earth all the way through the Book of Chronicles. Along the way, God goes from Creator to Destroyer to Family Diety to Warrior to Avenger and beyond. What we’re left with is a holistic picture of God from a purely literary standpoint, one that can be subjected to modern analysis and criticism. He incorporates historical theory to show how the character integrates personality traits from other local religious figures (such El, Baal, and Tiamat).

Later in the book, he spends a good amount of time on Job and how it subverts traditional religious teachings (and may not even belong in the Tanakh).


To be sure, the book is rife with literary analysis, and as such, is thick and dry at times. Wading through all of Miles’ nuanced readings can be tricky (and even soporific), but in the end, you will gain a deeper understanding of Biblical source material. A fair amount of the theory applies mainly to Hebrew translations and its inherent difficulties.

While it may offend some to interact with character of God and not imbue the text with the obligatory praise and worship, a close reading of the Scriptures can offer a broader view of religion and writing. In the end, you understand the bi-directional connection between God and man. If God made man in his own image, then God must in some way be man-like, with faults, thoughts, regrets, and intentions. A rather eye-opening conclusion, indeed.