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God: A Biography

(God in Three Classic Scriptures)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,312 ratings  ·  197 reviews

What sort of person is God? What is his life story? Is it possible to approach him not as an object of religious reverence, but as the protagonist of the world's greatest book--as a character who possesses all the depths, contradictions, and abiguities of a Hamlet? This is the task that Jack Miles--a former Jesuit trained in religious studies an
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 19th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  2,312 ratings  ·  197 reviews

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Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in biblical studies, Christians, Jews... it's so good.
This book is amazing. It really opened my eyes. It's written by a former Jesuit named Jack Miles. Who is brilliant. This was given to me by a friend late in high school, while we were both struggling with our Catholic backgrounds. It deals with God as a literary character, and what his choices would mean if the Old Testament were analyzed simply from the perspective of literary criticism. I think it's fascinating and erudite. It is guaranteed to give you a few more questions about religion than ...more
Jan 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Miles won the Pulitzer for this absorbing study of the life of the Biblical God, beginning with the opening chapter of Genesis and taking us through the entirety of the Old Testament in the Jewish ordering of the books from the Torah. Jehovah makes for a stirring and multifaceted subject - an omniscient and omnipotent deity that was assembled from the personalities and powers of a variety of ancient pagan pantheons, running the gamut from demiurge to demon; a terrifying and vengeful master, brea ...more
John Martindale
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, religion

Here we have an unique perspective of someone who doesn't appear to be a man of faith, within the book Miles considers God purely as a literary character that evolves in the unfolding of the canon as ordered in the Tanakh. If Miles is even close to correct in his reading of the Hebrew bible, the God that Jews and Christians worship has very little in common with the extremely ambiguous, amoral and multi-personalitied deity that he thinks the ancient writers conveyed. Towards the end of the book,
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it
I was excited about the idea that this was going to be a book analyzing the God of the Old Testament/Hebrew Tanakh as a literary character, which is exactly what the author, Jack Miles, promised he was going to give me. It didn't turn out that way, however, and even though I enjoyed learning a lot about the Old Testament, its historical context, its major figures, and the many deities who were amalgamated over time to become God, I can't help being very disappointed that Miles never really achie ...more
George Mills
May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is nothing I can write that can reach the level of scholarship, thought, writing, originality, and sheer mental discipline of this work. The author has taken the Hebrew Bible not as a religious work, but rather as a literary work. He then analyzes the character "God" in the same way he would analyze the character Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest". He is not interested in theological questions, nor is he interested in proving religious interpretations. He is only interested in God, wh ...more
Lukas Sotola
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant piece of literary criticism, friendly to the believer and the nonreligious alike.
Read bits for
Intriguing information, but the author's prose is particularly dry and repetitive at times which makes the book hard to get to at times.
Otherwise, the analysis of God as a literary character is an analysis not often considered by individuals. Thus, Jack Miles' insights are unique and interesting to think about and may help us understand the motivations and character progression of God within the Old Testament/Tanakh.
Zach Waldis
Oct 09, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a book with which I thoroughly disagreed, and thoroughly enjoyed. On the one hand, Miles is a vivid interpreter and helps you to really appreciate the Old Testament (or Tanakh, as he rather forcefully presents with his in my opinion forced narrative of an active beginning God and a closing God who "loses interest") as literature, compelling and enthralling literature. On the other hand, he pushes his thesis (narrative?) of "God in tension" to the breaking point. He finds the tension with ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is at once an incredibly interesting introduction to the literary structure of the Hebrew Bible for someone with little religious background, and a book that would be greatly supplemented by a thorough understanding of the text being analyzed. Similarly, this analysis of God as a literary figure is one that could both supplement a religious reading of the Bible, or lend a more secular appreciation for the Bible as a literary text. So, despite the subject matter of this book, there is n ...more
Judith Bienvenu
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, philosophy
So, this is a long book, and deep reading.
The author proceeds through every book in the Jewish bible (the Tanach). It has a lot more books in it than the Christian Old Testament, and does not include the New Testament.

What I found fascinating is that he basically rips up "God". The author lays out arguments that God is not omnipotent, not all powerful, not all loving, and is in fact a confusing mess of different personalities. And then ends the book saying how terrific the Tanach is.

I came to a
Erik Graff
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Miles fans
Recommended to Erik by: Martin S.
Shelves: religion
I was loaned this by a nominally Catholic friend who is attracted to offbeat books. Though an autobiography of the first person of the trinity, the creater of heaven and earth, is certainly unusual, this one made the mainstream, winning a Pulitzer for biography. Normally, I wouldn't have touched the thing, but this friend's recommendations have weight.

As it was, I found the deity's life story less interesting than any number of biographies I've read of human beings. What interest the book held w
Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Examines God as a character, the protagonist of the Tanakh/Old Testament. God doesn't always come out great—he's whiny and capricious, and doesn't always know what's doing. Turning God into a protagonist makes the inconsistencies of the text into a dramatically conflicted character. The book doesn't answer the tensions, ambiguities, and inconsistencies it highlights, but offers a reading of them; probes them rather than resolves them. ...more
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are different ways of approaching the Bible and the picture of God it portrays. One is to see it as full and perfect revelation... ie the overall picture of God is perfect and complete all the way through (leaving it incumbent on believers to reconcile the apparent disparities).

Another is to see it as progressive - the work of humans seeking to understand the nature of God, sometimes misreading situations and implications but nonetheless slowly arriving at a clearer picture of the charact
Paula W
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
God, written as a literary character. I have some ideas on how to review this. Bear with me for a few days.
Randy Cauthen
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
On the multiple personalities of the Old Testament God. Miles reads the Bible as he would a novel or play, examining the motivations of the protagonist.
Fraser Kinnear
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, theism, jews
Margaret Atwood recommended this book during an interview with Tyler Cowen, and I think it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a year.

Miles guides us through the Tanakh from start to finish, interpreting what we can know about God the literary character – his motivations, his realizations, his changing relationship with his creations – based what he does and how and to whom he speaks.

Perhaps the results are familiar to someone versed in these books, but they were illuminating to
Apr 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
I get what this author is trying to do. He's writing about God as if he is the main character in a great work of literature: the Bible. He's analyzing his actions and discussing his role in the story as if we might study Hamlet. I get that.
The problem is that God is not a character in a story that begins and ends with the story. If all you're doing is analyzing God based on his interactions with humans in the Bible, you're missing most of what God is.
Because that's all Miles does, he gets God'
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Seekers, lit majors, open-minded folks
Shelves: gotta-have-faith
Only a former Jesuit could have written this. Treating God as the protagonist in an epic that's "more" chronological than Christian Scripture is thought-provoking, if not earthshaking. Jack Miles looks as the different roles Scripture gives to God. It has the effect of remaking the divine in very mortal form. This God grows in understanding. This God can be bested. This God is conflicted: "A monotheism in which the divine is not just conceived but also imagined as one must have a different effec ...more
Dec 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Overall I found this book very interesting. The premise is to read the Hebrew testament, focusing on God as the character in a piece of literature. It was an interesting point of view, and also provided some insights into how the Jewish community arranges these books of the Bible. There were also some historical insights to put the Hebrew testament into context, and also provided, for me, an additional fresh perspective for reading the Old Testament in the Bible. There definitely some moments wh ...more
Oct 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
God: a Biography by Jack Miles offers a thorough literary approach to the Bible, through the life of its protagonist, God. Setting aside puzzles of historical veracity, and ignoring issues of religious interpretation, Miles examines the character as written, from Creator to the Ancient of Days. Character development requires an authoritative ordering of the books , and Miles shows how the sequence of the Hebrew scriptures, the Tanakh, as opposed to the Christian Old Testament, provides continuit ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it liked it
I've owned this book for years, but only just gathered the courage to dive in. I guess the Pulitzer should have tipped me off to the quality of the author, but it's been a very pleasant surprise.

What I like most is that Miles introduces God as history's most compelling novel character, whose personality shifts and changes in each new chapter. For example, we see both wrathful God and whiny God.

Miles argues that insight from reading about God from this perspective casts light on the central moti
Faheem Hussain
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviews
Here's my take: God: A Biography

'Jack Miles has set himself the somewhat controversial task of charting the ‘development’ of God in the Hebrew Bible, capturing His life in it from beginning to end. Laying no claim to any theological or historical truth, and interested only how it works as a piece of writing the ‘Biography of God’ will leave mesmerised all those who read it.

Adolfo Angelotti
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book examines God as a fictional character in a fictional book, just like Dumbledore or Eragon.
I've learned a lot about the Bible and it's mithology. I really recommend this book to someone with an open mind. It is really interesting to see the Bible God from a different angle.
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: liberal-theology
The first time I encountered Jack Miles was in a video of him interviewing Slavoj Zizek about theology and Zizek's book “God in Pain.” Yet at the time, I didn’t quite know who Jack Miles was, and the sort of mythic status he had taken on by then in some intellectual/literary circles. It was only later that I more consciously encountered Jack Miles when his name came up in a PBS program I watched with Bill Moyers interviewing Margaret Atwood on religion. Atwood confessed her love for Miles’ work ...more
Sammy Tiranno
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading about God as a literary character can be a very enlightening exercise. The Bible is unquestionably an unusual work of literature, but there is plenty to consider when we study God from a strictly literary point of view, as this book does deftly. It’s important to never forget that literary criticism is the purpose, or certain points will be misunderstood, like when the author asks, “Did the telling of the stories create the God, or did the God, imagined first, provoke the telling of the ...more
Patrick Green
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
The title of this book is is misleading. It does not describe the history of God's existence from a historical perspective. It explains the concept from a literary analysis. God is the protagonist of the Bible from author Jack Miles' position, and I think he wrote his argument adequately in this Pulitzer Prize winning book that should not have been given this specific award because it is not a biography. It is literary criticism. Despite how dry and scholarly it can sometimes be, it's a good one ...more
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
My Rabbi lent me the book, after a member of my Torah Study (don't worry I'm not that religious) group inspired me to read it. I'll admit due to my lack of training it was a slog to read, but worth the effort. And that is despite the fact that the book contains one serious omission. This omission is the silence as to the civil society that G-d created, and that we exercise literally every day. This society, probably the greatest that has ever been created, has been partially incorporated in Chri ...more
Erwin Thomas
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaism, religion
Jack Miles’ God: A Biography is a rather unusual and paradoxical work. It’s so because this isn’t about a person, but the Creator of the Universe. This Supreme One, who is unlike any other, is still portrayed as having human qualities. God isn’t only anthropomorphized, but Miles presented this character as a combination of multiple personalities – Creator, Destroyer, Warrior, Advocate, Deceiver, Trickster, Father, Woman, Protector, and Friend.
Because of these combinations God often acts indecisi
Charles Metzner
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book came as a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a psychological break dr of the character better know as, "God", and get it I did. Just not at all how I thought I would. I was expecting a theological or philosophical expostualtion (whether it be augmented ting or debunking) and got neither. What I got, rather was much better, on multiple levels. Jack Miles, a Jesuit professor, instead applies the sensibilities of a hybridized biographer/literary critic to deconstruct the Bible's protagoni ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jack Miles takes the approach to consider both the Christian and Hebrew Old Testament(s) as literature and to consider God as literary character. His treatment of the Bible clearly got to some of his reviewers. But from my reading many of his critics did not bother to read the book. His careful scholarship here is pretty interesting. This is not a light book - and indeed one reviewer said it was "dry" - well the subject is dense - but Miles takes a complex subject and applies first rate scholars ...more
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Jack Miles (b. 1942) is an American author and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the MacArthur Fellowship. His work on religion, politics, and culture has appeared in numerous national publications, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.


Other books in the series

God in Three Classic Scriptures (3 books)
  • Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God
  • God in the Qur'an

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