The Jewish God Is a King, but Not a Rebel

Letter to the Editor

Published April 13, 2011, issue of April 22, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Allison Yarrow concludes her review of my novel, “The Gospel of Anarchy,” by citing my quotation of G.K. Chesterton saying that “Christianity alone has felt that God… must have been a rebel as well as a king” (“Wanted: A Gospel Worth Following,” March 11).

Yarrow counters that “Christianity claiming a monopoly on the concept of rebel-king… does not hold. After all, the tempestuous God of the Hebrew Bible was a rebel, too.”

Christianity has indeed borrowed or appropriated many concepts from antecedent religions, Judaism chief among them, but Chesterton is right to identify the notion of the rebel-king as unique to it. Though occasionally willing to consider the complaints of His subjects (Abraham, Job, etc.) our tempestuous Jewish God is nonetheless an autocrat.

In the clause lost in Yarrow’s ellipsis, Chesterton says that “God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king” (emphasis mine). The idea is that when Christ cries from the cross (“Father, why have you forsaken me?”) God momentarily becomes an atheist — i.e., rebels against Himself. There is no Jewish antecedent to the notion of a God in rebellion against anyone — least of all Himself.

When Moses asks our God’s name, His first response is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh: “I am that I am.” There are other translations, most of them similarly ambiguous, and yet at the same time it is perfectly clear what He means.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.