Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog
January 16, 2003
More Miles
More on Jack Miles' Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God

Reading Miles' book gives a fresh way of looking at the Christian Bible, particularly the New Testament: as a completed literary work whose main character -- God -- is complex, fascinating, changing through time and ultimately deeply meaningful. We can interpret this kind of reading in many ways: A completely secular slant provides at the minimum a well-told story (and Miles relishes and illuminates the inner and exterior conflicts), and possibly a look at a great story's creation. For the religiously disposed person, it calls for a sort of slight suspension of belief, i.e. a pretense that this is a work of historical fiction, letting us observe the effect of this great story on us in a different light. We can also see that given the limits of our human minds, any conception of God is incomplete and flawed, and thus likely to change over time. But Miles doesn't go very close to Christian apologetics. He simply does all he can (and that's a phenomenal amount) to make the story come alive.

On page 113, after getting really rolling with the story and the fascinating illumination of its surrounding history, Miles steps back to examine his approach, coming to a discussion of Albert Schweitzer's influential views:
Jesus believed, Schweitzer concluded, that by his own agency and, finally, his own death, Rome would fall, history would end, and God's Kingdom would be established for all time.
More recent scholarship tends to believe that this and related, more or less learned scriptural identifications were made not by Jesus during his lifetime but only about Jesus after his death. So it may well have been, yet tht protagonist of the Gospels as we encounter him on the page acts as if he has made these identifications himself, and on this literary datum may be grounded an interpretation in which historical speculatiojn about the remembered mind of Jesus yields to literary speculation about the imagined mind of God at that historical juncture. ... It is proper to a literary classic that it touch readers generation after generation, century after century, in ways that transcend the intentions of the originating author. ... The reading in this book ... admits history roughly to the extent that it is admitted in the interpretation of a historical novel.
It struck me often that we have teaching stories -- Aesop's Fables, Sufi teaching stories, etc. And at the very least from Miles' perspective, this is one of the greatest teaching stories in history -- a story that caused a great revolution in the concept of God for a large part of the world, from God as a concrete interventionist in national and personal histories, in beneficience or genocidal wrath depending on our ability to follow God's laws, to being personal as shown by the example of becoming a human, and moving from the vengeful "an eye for an eye" to "if someone asks for your garment, give him your cloak as well" and finally bridging the gap between sadly flawed humanity and the unfathomably perfect God by dying a miserable human death and overcoming that.

Next I want to get to the Appendix II I mentioned, where Miles talks about the hypertextual (he doesn't use that word) nature of the Christian Bible and also about postmodern Biblical criticism.

[update: Jack Miles' webmaster posted a link to the discussion above (maybe because the discussion surprisingly comes up first if you Google for "Jack Miles Christ"), so I'll do the favor and also link to Jack Miles' web site. Now to find the time to read all his online articles.] January 16, 2003 09:36 PM