- For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book
Through prose that is deeply poetic and critically compelling, in For the Love of God Alicia Suskin Ostriker takes quite seriously the Talmudic assertion that "there is always another interpretation." Offering provocative and insightful re-interpretations of six fundamental biblical texts—The Song of Songs, Ruth, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, and Job—Ostriker posits that the Bible is a "treasury of plural possibilities" that offers a mirror both of the self and of the splintered, violent world in which we live (p. 2). Midrash—that ancient form of biblical exegesis that responds to the gaps, silences, and inconsistencies contained in Torah—is at the heart of Ostriker's work, and we see this in her insistence that the very nature of the Bible requires that it be taken "both personally and analytically." For the outcome of not taking it personally is that it becomes meaningless. Likewise, for those who refrain from reading its passages analytically, "it becomes dogma" (p. x). Ostriker's book shows us how [End Page 159] to do both, and how not only to make sense of some of the greatest biblical inconsistencies, but also how to see them as evidence that the Torah is alive and continuously growing.
Much of Ostriker's work speaks to what she interprets as our own contemporary needs, specifically our collective desire for peace, and this book is no exception. "We need," she writes, "a God who can encourage fewer crusades, jihads, occupations, massacres, and assassinations, and more treaties; a God whose primary metaphors are not hierarchical, imperialistic, and dualistic; a God to help us survive the nuclear age" (p. 4). The implication here is that we, as thinkers, dreamers, and believers, are responsible for creating a God who speaks to the needs of the contemporary era. The God that we have placed in the heavens thus far has not proven himself to be consistently attentive to the sufferings and longings of a generation that has been cracked and splintered by events such as the Holocaust, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the genocides of Darfur and Rwanda among other terrors and tragedies. But while Ostriker proposes the need for an alternative God, she implies that the creation of such a God is our own responsibility. And in this way she taps into one of the primary tenets of the Torah and of Judaism itself, which is to love one's neighbor—an infinite responsibility that also burdens us with the task of envisioning not a God of children, who doles out rewards and punishments, but a God of adults, who inspires us to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.
But given the chaos of our current world, it is difficult not to think of justice, and the weight the term carries in our era. Yet as Ostriker reminds us, the impulse to wrestle with and define what it means to be just is one that extends far back into the construction of the Hebrew Bible. Ostriker's meditation on the Book of Job deals precisely with this issue. The Book of Job resists not only any attempts to pin God down or figure him out, but also any impulse to read God as a moral figure. "The Lord," writes Ostriker, "has revealed his magnificent amorality, beyond good and evil" (p. 130). And it is this state of being beyond morality that culminates in what Ostriker reads as two distinctly different, even contradictory, endings to the Book of Job. While in Job 38:4–11 God relays to Job the fact that his human mind cannot begin to comprehend the mind of the Creator, essentially saying that he (God) has nothing to do with justice, Job 42:7–8 tells a different story. Instead of directing his anger at Job, who dared question him, God retaliates against Job's friends, vindicating Job's impulse to challenge the Creator.
It is this ambiguity and mystery, the multiplicity of twists and turns...