A ``distant'' (as opposed to ``close'') reading of the Hebrew Bible via a largely unfocused use of gender and other modern and postmodern analytical categories. Eilberg-Schwartz (The Savage in Judaism, not reviewed) speculates on the sociopsychological, theological, and literary implications for male monotheists of the Bible's apparently male God. Despite its provocative title, God's Phallus really is about the absence—which the author sometimes refers to as the ``veiling''—of male genitalia and other physiological characteristics in the biblical imagery of God. Eilberg-Schwartz nevertheless repeatedly overinterprets biblical and postbiblical texts so as to read into them a ``homoeroticism that was always latent in Israelite theology.'' He does so using a bouillabaisse of Freudian, Lacanian, feminist, gay, and other critical perspectives. He postulates a homosexual tension between God and men, but what the meaning is of this tension being ``latent'' (in the Freudian sense) the author never makes clear, often allowing his considerable gift for interpretive pyrotechnics to overwhelm a more considered approach to how the first monotheists actually thought about God and their religious texts. In addition, he focuses almost exclusively on the psychosexual aspects of the divine-human male relationship, too rarely acknowledging the larger emotional and religious context that includes feelings of awe, fear, dependence, and estrangement. Eilberg-Schwartz can be dismayingly literalist, seeing the ancient rabbis' and others' allegories on, and often fanciful interpretations of, biblical texts as having practical implications for male Jews when in fact they were often speculative explorations. Despite a few fine passages, e.g., a comparison of how genital injuries may have affected the lives of Jacob and Moses, Eilberg-Schwartz has produced an exasperating work. This is an object lesson in what can happen when a versatile scholar draws on the tools of critical theory too much and reflects on the actual texts—and their authors' premodern contexts—too little.
Read full book review >