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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Book of J Discussion

It's June 1, and as promised, we're starting our discussion of Harold Bloom's Book of J. It's been a delight re-reading the book, and I'm really grateful for those who suggested and encouraged the discussion.

I love Harold Bloom. I was reading a stormy protest he wrote a couple of years ago in response to Stephen King being given the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution." He had also recently forced himself to read the Harry Potter books (" I suffered a great deal in the process") and he saw both as symptomatic of the "dumbing down" of our cultural life:
Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, "If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King." And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read Harry Potter you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.
In adopting the conceit that the first and perhaps principal author of much of the books of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers was a woman, Bloom forces us to throw off the cultural shackles that have entombed these books and challenge our ideas about what we think we know. He is not a lazy thinker, nor does he allow his reader to be one. As he pays tribute to the dramatic mastery of the author, he forces us to invigorate William Blake's notion that religious history is the process of "choosing forms of worship from poetic tales."

So I'll start the discussion off by throwing out a few questions:

1) How do you feel about the case he presents for J being a woman? Is it a convincing and/or useful premise?

2) At one point, Bloom asks "How does one begin to read more severely a writer whose work one has been misreading, necessarily and rather weakly, all one's life? The investment, societal and individual, in the institutionalized misreading of J is extraordinarily comprehensive, since it is divided among Jews, Christians, Muslims, and members of the secular culture." Do you think that is a fair assessment?

3) I would say that Bloom's most controversial thesis is that J was not motivated to write out of piety, and that her Yahweh is arbitrary, vindictive and often irrational, "an imp who behaves sometimes as though he is rebelling against his Jewish mother." Does your reading support that notion, and how do you believe that this character relates to the normative Yahweh as he is worshipped today? (Bloom claims that Yahweh has been "safely transcendentalized" and has become something of a "gaseous vapor.")

4) What aspect of the book took you by surprise? And do you believe, as some do, that it is "heretical?"

Feel free to comment about these or any other aspects of the book that impressed you, and you are also invited to join the discussion no matter how much (or how little) of the book you have read.

I will be leaving the link to this thread on the sidebar so you can join in at any time without having to search for the post.

Many thanks in advance to all who participate.