In a review of Harold Bloom’s Jesus and Yahweh (“Gods and Monsters,” 2/24), Mark Jenkins condemned the book, unfairly, as a naive acceptance of the possibility of a flesh-and-blood “historical Jesus” and proposed, based on several Da Vinci Code–type iconoclasts, that Jesus was, part and whole, a mythos, an invention. One writer Jenkins favors has proposed, for example, that the burgeoning Christian church appropriated Gnostic redactions of the Jesus Gospels (though how this redaction would obviate the Gnostic synoptic certainty of the flesh-and-blood historical instantiation of the spiritual Jesus is a puzzlement; even granting the primacy of the chronologically posterior Gnostic corpus to the canonized versions, the Gnostics did not conceive of themselves as mythopeic fictionalizers). In personal correspondence, Mr. Jenkins has subsequently and graciously allowed that he was not denying the possibility of an existent Jesus (as the plain words of the initial review would indicate) but denying the existence of a historically coherent and knowable Jesus (again, notwithstanding the claim that non-Christian citations of Jesus are substantively spurious or signify a Jeshua family unrelated to that of the testamentary Christian savior). Having had the opportunity to begin reading the book, I find Jenkins’ reassessment does not jibe with the actual assertion of the book—if Jenkins’ claim is merely of the lack of historical self-coherence at the epistemological heart of the Jesus story, then he has no quarrel with Bloom’s thesis at all: Harold Bloom is not a Christian but a heterodox Jew, and his explicit claim, his initial and founding (and non-naive) thesis is precisely the lack of such coherence: Jesus, for Bloom, remains a “more or less historical person,” and those words are not chosen idly; “the historical Yeshua, however many yearn for him, never will be available to them.”
Bloom’s nonbelieving ambiguity was, in point of fact, insufficient for Jenkins, who trumped it with less ambiguous and nonsubtle nonbelief, notwithstanding his subsequent post-hoc reassessment of his own position. I will repeat, there is no doubt among scholars in the field of Second Commonwealth Israelite historiography—and no claims advanced in scholastic forums within the wider field of mythology and phenomenology—that a, at the least, “more or less historical Jesus” walked the streets of Israel under Roman occupation. The deep and bitter disputes concern the figure named by Bloom as “Jesus Christ [as] theological God.”
Falls Church, Va.