Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who's your daddy? Aristotle or Moses? And why not ask who your mother is?

Harold Bloom's name has come up three times now at the blog BLT.  The first time, we found Bloom praising the King James Version of the Hebrew Bible especially and praising Herbert Marks for being the foremost literary critic of the KJV.  The second time, we discovered Bloom meditating on the many places English translators in translating have bettered the Hebrew Bible and have improved on the aesthetics of the Greek of the New Testament.  And most recently, we saw Bloom recognizing how Willis Barnstone, in particular, has with unparalleled eloquence restored the New Testament as a Jewish text.

Now, I want to consider Bloom's line of thinking.  How he has much to say about your thinking and mine!  Especially when we start reading a text, the Bible for example, we show our tendencies to follow others in their thinking.  Our epistemologies, whether we know it or not, derive from and descend down from and are developed by others, Bloom argues. 

Now, immediately, you will want to be defensive.  I feel the same way.  Likewise, Thomas Ferrell seems defensive.  But Ferrell is also grateful, is open to what Bloom has to say.  Ferrell is very different from Bloom; Ferrell is a historian but a rhetoric scholar not a literary critic, like Bloom.  Ferrell is Catholic; Bloom Jewish.  And Ferrell, about Bloom, says this:
The Testimony of Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom is a [USA] national treasure to be cherished. I have always benefited from reading his books, even when I have found particular points to disagree with. In my discussion below, my disagreements with particular points that Bloom makes are highlighted. Despite my explicit disagreements, I am enormously thankful to Professor Bloom for having the courage of his convictions to say the very things with which I happen to disagree. If he had not said these things, then I could not disagree with him about them. For this reason, I am abundantly grateful to him for stimulating me to think about the very points with which I disagree. He has served as an excellent foil against which I have developed my own thinking about certain matters.

Now, I hope you see what I'm trying to do.  Whether you are Catholic or Jewish or a-religious, I'm trying to get you, and me, to consider what Bloom sees.  You cannot read Bloom, moreover, without taking what he says personally.  Bloom gets us looking at who our influences are, and how those influences may have influenced us.  And how they might influence us later today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year.  Another important question is who these influences are:  "Who's your daddy? Aristotle or Moses or Yahweh or Jesus?" And why not ask who your mother is?  Bloom says when you read the Hebrew Bible you might want to ask.

So, without further ado, here's Harold Bloom again:

"Whoever you are, you identify necessarily the origins of your self more with Augustine, Descartes, and John Locke, or indeed with Montaigne and Shakespeare, than you do with Yahweh and Jesus. That is only another way of saying that Socrates and Plato, rather than Jesus, have formed you, however ignorant you may be of Plato. The Hebrew Bible dominated seventeenth-century Protestantism, but four centuries later our technological and mercantile society is far more the child of Aristotle than of Moses."
--Harold Bloom, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, 2005, page 146

"Frequently we forget one reason why the Hebrew Bible is so difficult for us: our only way of thinking comes to us from the ancient Greeks, and not from the Hebrews. No scholar has been able to work through a persuasive comparison of Greek thinking and Hebrew psychologizing, if only because the two modes themselves seem irreconcilable."
--Harold Bloom, Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present, 1991, page 27

"[T]he first author of the Hebrew Bible, the figure named the Yahwist or J by nineteenth biblical scholarship (the "J" from the German spelling of the Hebrew Yahweh, or Jehovah in English, the result of a onetime spelling error) . . ., like Homer, a person or persons lost in the recesses of time, appears to have lived in or near Jerusalem some three thousand years ago, well before Homer either lived or was invented. Just who the primary J was, we are likely never to know. I speculate, on purely internal and subjective literary grounds, that J may well have been a woman at King Solomon's court, a place of high culture, considerable religious skepticism, and much psychological sophistication."
--Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, 1994, page 4


Kristen said...

That my epistemology is derived from and descends from others is a truth that I have come to acknowledge. It doesn't make me feel defensive, for some reason. Maybe it's because I have also learned (through websites like this one, and from my college history-of-philosophy classes long ago) that it's possible to examine one's own epistemology and open oneself to other epistemologies. Kenneth Bailey, a Christian scholar and theologian with Middle-Eastern roots, has taught me a lot about reading the Bible through his epistemology. It's like a light that illuminates the beauty of the Gospel, showing colors I had not seen before. Thanks for introducing me to Harold Bloom as well!

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Kristen, for introducing me to Kenneth Bailey. I am intrigued by how he sees things such as this:

"Thus female activity is used to describe the work of God. In Luke 15:8-10 Jesus likens himself to a woman. The possible dependence of Luke 15 on Psalm 23.... [T]here is only one author who balances together two metaphors/stories, one male and the other female. This is the author of Isaiah 40-55." (Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15, page 94)

Too often male authors, story-tellers who are men, get caught up in the binary, what Nancy Mairs calls "the fundamental structure of the patriarchy." Such men narrate the way that Aristotle told was best. To posit, on the other hand, women as authors of Biblical Text -- as Bailey and Bloom do -- is to find a refreshingly different way in to reading the text.

Mike Gantt said...

I want to see the Hebrew Bible through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth. He extracted more meaning and benefit from its words than anyone else I know.

Strangely, modern Christianity does not seek to understand the Hebrew Bible by Jesus' hermeneutic, and this may account for modern Christianity's impotence.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your comment, Mike. The Jesus of Nazareth according to Harold Bloom's reading is not the same Jesus of modern Christianity, that's for sure. I share your interest in understanding (and in understanding the Hebrew Bible by) the hermeneutic of Jesus.