To summarize Jack Miles’ God: A Biography in a few paragraphs is to do disservice to a richly nuanced argument. Miles’ thesis—that God’s sense of self, previously unknown even to him, develops through the events of the Tanakh—is developed through a finely woven analysis of familiar biblical texts. Relevant to our discussion of Theories of Self, Miles contends that the primary mechanism for God’s self-discovery is through relationship with his creation. This paper focuses solely on this particular claim, limiting, unfortunately, the broader appreciation of the breadth of Miles’ analysis.
Through the exegetical analysis of particular accounts described in the Tanakh, Miles draws a striking picture of monotheism’s problematic nature. If God were many instead of one, the conflicted and often inconsistent elements in God’s character could be nicely resolved in a pluralist pantheon. “Israelite monotheism seems to have come into existence…as a fusion of features that polytheism had attributed to several divine personalities” (63). Accordingly, the reader of the Tanakh is forced to reconcile seemingly divergent and conflicted elements of God’s character. For some readers, the difficulty of such a task has served to support faith in the impossibility of God’s existence.
A clear illustration of what Miles’ is talking about is found in the Biblical story of the flood. Polytheistic accounts of the same event describe a classic battle between gods, humanity a hapless victim caught in the crossfire. The monotheistic version of the story, however, must necessarily explain the behaviour of a single deity who creates man in his own image, and then destroys him. The resultant explanation is unsettling; this “monotheistic appropriation of an originally polytheistic story” (46) implies a deity both unpredictable and vindictive. The image of a monotheistic deity who annihilates humanity is difficult to reconcile with the image of a creator God who brings it into being. Miles, however, suggests an alternative interpretation: as a result of the flood event, God learns something new about himself and modifies accordingly his self-view. Miles does not present a God with a permanent, fixed, unchanging identity, operating from a position of absolute knowledge. Instead, God’s encounter with an Other (for the first time in his existence) forces self-awareness and self-knowledge. At the end of the Genesis account of the flood, God’s offering up of the rainbow signals a radical change in God’s character, a change which will continue to consolidate throughout the events of the Tanakh. According to Miles, “God relies on man even for the working out of his own intentions” (89).
Miles’ non-traditional reading of the Tanakh offers an important insight into the concept of self as often understood by the West. God does not start out all knowing and “tidy,” choosing which elements of himself he will reveal to his creation. Instead, Miles describes a God whose sense of self is created and sustained in the interstitial spaces of his relationship with man. Further, since man is created Imago Dei, this relationship is essentially a relationship between the different aspects of God himself. We see in the Tanakh, then, the development of God as a “character with an interior conversation” (33). Extending this insight to the Genesis account of God’s anger towards the serpent, Miles suggests that,
what polytheism would allow to be externally directed anger against a rival deity, monotheism—even a monotheism speaking occasionally in the first person plural—must turn into the Lord God’s inwardly directed regret. The appearance of divine regret, the first of its many appearances, is the first appearance of the deity as a true literary character as distinct from a mythic force or a mere meaning endowed with an allegorical voice. The peculiar, culturally determined interior life of Western man begins, in a way, with the divided interior life of the deity, and the deity’s interior life begins with a creator’s regret. (33)
This notion, that the “divided interior life” of God reflects (and is reflected by) the “peculiar, culturally determined interior life of Western man” is significant. Western man is a direct descendent of monotheistic thought; our particular desire to understand and reconcile disparate elements of character into a unified self is very much rooted in our ancient heritage. When Miles suggests that “[God’s] quest for a self-image is not an idle and optional indulgence but the solid and indispensable tool of his self-understanding” (89), we could easily say the same thing about the modern Western consciousness. The Bible is undoubtedly a significant template for the Western mind, regardless of one’s religious belief, and the Tanakh’s complex representation of God as conflicted deity reflects our own conflicted and divided nature. Of course, this ancient (and modern) insistence on a unified self is not without problems.
James Hillman’s archetypal, polytheistic psychology suggests that the drive to create a unified, coherent self is both misguided and a source of psychic dis-ease. “Psychic complexity requires all the Gods; our totality can only be adequately contained by a Pantheon” (Hillman 222). Hillman advocates a return to a polytheistic understanding of our psychic landscape, challenging a monotheistic directive that tries to gather and reconcile all aspects of the psyche into a single, unified self. When Hillman suggests the need to “expand the scope of the psyche so that it can reflect the immense mythical universe of the polytheistic imagination” (197), we are reminded that the exclusive use of a monotheistic framework to understand the self is a limiting one, and not without potential to create damage.
Miles concludes that “God is the divided original whose divided image we remain” (408). Is it possible that a monotheistic structure can neither contain adequately the richness of this divided image, nor its reflection in the human psyche?
 The books in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) are ordered differently than those of the Old Testament. In Miles’ words, “The distinctive, broad movement of the Hebrew Bible from action to speech to silence is not matched in the Old Testament, whose movement is from action to silence to speech” (16).
 This notion of God “working out” his identity through his relationship with humanity is explored in much greater detail in Chapter 10 when Miles turns his attention to the Book of Job.
Hillman, James. Revisioning Psychology. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. Print.
Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1995. Print.