My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A rather disappointing book.
That's a personal opinion, of course. I was disappointed mainly because I didn't find what I was looking for, and the author doesn't have any obligation to the reader to provide what they are looking for. But I was also disappointed because what the book did provide, it provided in a very tendentious and rather misleading way.
What was I hoping to find?
I write, and enjoy reading, fantasy books that include various kinds of creatures that could fall under a general heading of "God's monsters" -- angels, demons, dragons and the like. I was hoping to get more insight into their character and activity.
The main aim of the book appears to have been to show that in the Bible God is a malevolent, capricious and extremely violent tyrant, and that the "heavenly host" are nothing more than a bunch of violent thugs employed as enforcers. Anything that doesn't fit this picture is either left out altogether, or twisted until it can be made to fit.
There are occasional useful insights, but they are suffocated by the overarching need to show the malevolent wickedness of God.
One of these useful insights was that Isaiah went to sleep in church one Sabbath, and dreamed about the seraphim. There was a seraph in the temple, which he was probably looking at just before he had his dream. It was called Nechushtan, and was made of brass. It was said to have been made by Moses and when the people of Israel were attacked by a lot of poisonous snakes (seraphim in Hebrew) in the desert, Moses held up the brass seraph and they were healed (Numbers 21:6-9). So this brass seraph quite possibly triggered Isaiah's vision in the temple (Isaiah 6).
But the point Hamori emphasises here is that the cruel and sadistic seraph, servant of a crueller and more sadistic god, deliberately and with malice aforethought literally goes and burns Isaiah's mouth with a burning coal. I thought this was taking literalism too far.
Next come the cherubim.
I think the first mention of a cherub in the Bible is the one that barred the entrance to the garden after Adam and Eve were expelled. Author Esther J. Hamori (correctly in my view) makes the point that cherubim are found all over the ancient Near East as guardians of holy places, but the problem is with what went before the expulsion. The story is twisted into something like its opposite. God deliberately tricks Adam and Eve by lying to them, and the snake tries to help them.
In the moments leading up to God’s deployment of the monstrous guard, he lies to his human creation, promises them a painful future, and gaslights them. No wonder they hide from him behind the trees. After this, stationing monsters at the door looks less like a new security feature warranted by the people’s actions, and more like the next threatening move of a controlling figure whose m.o. now includes bringing in thugs to do his dirty work.
When God stations his hybrid guardian monsters at the gateway to Eden, it’s the culmination of a story of divine danger. The garden of Eden, where the deity strolls among the trees as the human beings hide behind them, contains more danger than the world outside. Even in Eden, there is no Paradise.
If, however, one takes Occam's Razor to Hamori's interpretation, one can find a simpler explanation. God says Adam and Eve can eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except that of one tree. They eat the fruit of that tree. Taking what it is not given is theft, and when the thief sees the rightful owner of the stolen goods coming the natural reaction is to hide, not because the owner is inherently dangerous but because of what one has done.
And the Christian metanarrative (yes, I know postmoderns don't like metanarratives) is that this theft and abuse of hospitality breaks the relationship between man (male and female, should anyone quibble) and God, and, whatever else it is, the cherub at the gate represents the inhuman face of God, which is the result of the broken relationship and how God appears to man after the break, until, in Jesus Christ, God appears again with a human face to restore the relationship.
Hamori says that in this story God gaslights the first humans, but I think in this book Hamori gaslights God.
And the further one reads in the book the more obviously and relentlessly does the author press this Orwellian twist -- freedom is slavery and slavery is freedom, the oppressor is the victim and the victim is the oppressor.
This becomes more obvious in dealing with the King of Babylon in Isaiah chapter 14. The obvious meaning is that in death the oppressor comes down to the level of those he oppressed -- he has no power in the grave. His victims can say, where is all your power now, with which you oppressed people? But Hamori presents God as the oppressor and the King of Babylon as the victim of oppression by creepy shades roused by God to gloat over his fate. Elsewhere Hamori talks of "monsterising" people we don't like, but here she monsterises the oppressed and presents their oppressor as the victim.
I would, however, be interested in discussing this book with others who have read it, and looking at it especially in terms of all the things that Hamori leaves out.
For example, Hamori must know, but fails to mention in the book, that Christians often interpret the fall of the King of Babylon typologically, as analogous to a fall of Satan. So much so that one of the epithets of the king of Babylon, Lucifer (in the Latin Vulgate) has been taken by some to be the personal name of the satan.
In discussing the book of Job Hamori points out, correctly, that "satan" is not a name but a job description, but then rather disingenuously claims that "Finally, the word becomes a name: Adversary, or Satan. Even then, he’s not the same as the Satan of the New Testament, who’s also called the devil (and a few other choice names). In the Hebrew Bible there’s no devil or hell. None. Zip. Devil-free territory."
Elsewhere Hamori claims that nowhere in the Bible is the satan called an angel. yet the Septuagint version of Job 2:1 says that the angels of the Lord came to stand before the Lord and the devil was among them. "Devil" (Greek diavolos) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew satan, and, like "satan", means adversary or accuser.
In the scene in Zechariah 3, where the high priest Joshua is on trial, Hamori emphasises the injustice done by God to the satan, rebuking the prosecutor for simply doing his job, thus obscuring the main point, which is that God's mercy trumps his justice. And this is clearly because it contradicts Hamori's main point, hammered in just about every paragraph in the book, that God is not merciful, but malevolent, vindictive, cruel and sadistic.
For what it's worth, a Christian metanarrative here is that the satan, who is indeed the prosecutor in the heavenly court, like many human prosecutors, takes his job too seriously. For him the overarching goal is the conviction rate; it is better that the innocent should suffer than that the guilty should escape. He regards the judge as too soft on sinners, and thinks he could do a better job, so aims to take over the judge's job. But he comes short with Jesus, who is found guilty in the magistrate's court (under Caiaphas), and likewise in the high court (under Pilate, even though Pilate has his doubts, he is not prepared to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt), but in the court of ultimate appeal Jesus, the high priest Joshua ("Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua) is vindicated because the filthy clothes he is wearing are not his but ours -- he put them on at his baptism in the Jordan -- and the ultimate court of appeal not only reverses the verdict of guilty, but it reverses the sentence as well, the sentence of death, and Jesus rises from the dead. Satan not only loses his case, he loses his job and is tossed out of court by Michael, who has become the bouncer (Rev 12:7-12), and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for their accuser (satan, devil) has been fired.
Hamori's account is more interesting for what she leaves out than for what she includes, and the excluded bits tend to show that throughout the book she is gaslighting God.