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Bloom’s Beliefs

Among Friedman’s more attractive ideas is the suggestion that the author of J could have been a woman. He does not commit himself to the idea because he feels that there is not yet enough evidence to identify the author of J. However, literary critic Harold Bloom, in The Book of J, which features a translation of the J passages by David Rosenberg and an interpretation by Bloom, does commit himself to the idea. He believes she lived during the reigns of Solomon and Rehoboam and was a member of the royal family. He also believes she was the greatest of the biblical writers, equal to Homer, Shakespeare or Tolstoy.

As intriguing as it may be, his theory (as he presents it anyway) is not likely to be accepted by the majority of critical scholars because his presentation is a curious mixture of objectivity and subjectivity. He wants his readers to accept his theory but he wants to relieve himself of the burden of proof: “I can prove nothing; I can only invite other readers to the hypothesis that there is one J….”[1] He refuses to base his theory upon accepted scholarship because scholarship distorts our picture of the author and inhibits our reading of the text (“Since I am not a biblical scholar, I am uninhibited enough to go further still….”[2]) and because “scholarship, however deeply grounded, can reach no agreement upon the dating of what I am calling the Book of J, or upon its surviving dimensions, or even upon whether it ever had an independent existence at all.” In place of scholarship, “we must rely upon our experience as readers to justify our surmises as to what it is that we are reading.”[3] Even so, his J document is the same document recovered by critical scholarship. He asserts that “the Book of J, though fragmentary, is hardly Mr. David Rosenberg’s creation or my own,”[4] presumably meaning that J objectively exists apart from his subjective perception of it. But the author of J herself cannot exist apart from his subjective perception of her: she is his “fiction,” his “myth.”

Indeed, he sees his myth as being only one among a multitude of myths. Every reader, he argues, has his own myth, including readers who claim to be orthodox believers or biblical scholars. Why, then, should we choose to follow his myth? That depends on whose myths to which we are comparing it. On the one hand, if we compare his myth to that of the orthodox believers, our choice should be made by objective rationality: “If one is an Orthodox Jew, then one believes that marvelous fiction that the historical Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, so that J never existed. J, whether female or male, may be a fiction also, but a less irrational fiction than the author Moses.”[5] He never does explain why his myth is more rational than the other. On the other hand, if we compare his myth to those of the biblical scholars, our choice should be made by subjective preference: “I boisterously prefer mine to that of the biblical scholars.”[6] It is highly unlikely that scholars will accept Bloom’s theory simply because he likes it; they will wait until somebody from their own ranks can ground it upon objective scholarship.

 

 

[1] David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom, The Book of J (N.Y.: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), p. 22.
[2] Ibid., p. 41.
[3] Ibid., p. 9.
[4] Ibid., p. 16.
[5] Ibid., p. 11.
[6] Ibid., p. 19.

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