The Jewish God Is a King, but Not a Rebel

Letter to the Editor

Published April 13, 2011, issue of April 22, 2011.
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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.

JUSTIN TAYLOR
Brooklyn, N.Y.


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