Skip To Content
We’ve Taken Down the Forward Paywall: An Open Letter to Our ReadersRead Now

The Jewish God Is a King, but Not a Rebel

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.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.