Biography, Divine and Human

This sheet on Exodus 6 was written by Ari Hoffman for 929 and can also be found here

In 1995, the Jesuit-trained Jack Miles published the results of a years’ long project to write the biography of the Author of the World. The Pulitzer Prize winning "God: A Biography" is one of the great religious texts of our time. We know God only from His Books, and Miles charts how the Creator creates himself verse to verse and chapter to chapter. The God of the Tanach is not Milton’s God, “alone from all eternity.” His story is linked to our history; He is detectable in the firmament and discoverable in the family. We become His memories, even as He charts our futures.

This chapter features God drafting His own autobiography. His story is relational; it coheres in the tangle of revelations and desert-intimacies shown to the patriarchs. Crucially, He tells Moses that, in the words of the contemporary Italian writer Elena Ferrante, this will be the story of a new name. If the relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob establishes continuity of character, the evolution in appellation signals a new chapter. This syncopated beat of sameness and differentiation is how we write ourselves into being. We are always the same, only a little bit different, which makes all the difference in the world. It rhymes with Proust’s fundamental insight in "À la reserche du temps purdu," namely that the self is an onion of multiple selves, all gummed together by the adhesives of memory and perhaps a madeleine here or there.

The self that is clacking these words out on a keyboard, and the One who speaks to Moses conjure themselves in the present not only by recourse to the past, but through invocation of the future. Covenant in the past, revelation in the moment, and redemption in the future. These are the Divine eruptions of personality, the data points that constellate into personhood. We, created in His image, find our story in His(tory) as we go about scribbling our way to fragile eternities.

(ג) וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖עְתִּי לָהֶֽם׃
(3) I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name יהוה.

Ari Hoffman is a columnist for the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture, and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at N.Y.U.

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