War, Peace and a Crisis in the Life of God

Jack Miles

Date: November 15, 2001
Location: 100 Gasson Hall


For Jack Miles, the events of September 11 changed not the content of his new book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, but rather his explanation for writing it. As Miles told an audience in Gasson Hall on November 15, events like those of September 11 lead people to look back on their own lives and the history of their country, and to focus on what is most important. For Miles, that process involved reflecting on how the experience of war as a child and young man had shaped his worldview and influenced the course of his life.

After leaving a career in Old Testament studies and moving into publishing, Miles found his interest in the story of the Bible rekindled in the early 1980’s when he heard a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion, whose opening chorus features the startling paradox of Christ as both bridegroom and sacrificial lamb. Miles wondered what it could mean that the God of Israel, who was often described as Israel’s bridegroom, but also as a lion and warrior, could so radically reverse His behavior and become a sacrificial victim.

The search for the answer to this question became the heart of Miles’ new book. Miles surmised that something must have happened to provoke the change in God—some crisis or war. He concluded that the trouble was that God hadn’t kept his promise to the people of Israel to make them a great nation, that God foresaw the Roman Holocaust that was to decimate his people in the year70 C.E. and resolved to atone for that broken promise by becoming human himself and undergoing human suffering. Miles calls this novel approach to the Bible “theography” to distinguish it from theology. It’s the old-fashioned “character criticism,” which treats characters in a work as if there is more to them than what is on the page, but which does not add new events to the story. Miles asserts that his role as author is to assist in the telling of the story, but he doesn’t presume to theologize or speculate on the meaning of the text. Instead, he wants to provoke both theologians and psychologists to think more deeply about their fields. Miles’ initial foray into this genre won him the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1996 for his book God: A Biography.