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Cohen, M.C. (2007). Yahweh versus Yahweh: The Enigma of Jewish History, by J.Y. Gonen. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005, 183 pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 67(4):397-401.

(2007). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 67(4):397-401

Book Reviews

Yahweh versus Yahweh: The Enigma of Jewish History, by J.Y. Gonen. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005, 183 pp.

Review by:
Mariam C. Cohen, M.D.

Who is Jay Gonen and why is he so mad at God and the Jews? Other than a short paragraph on the back cover identifying Gonen as the author of two other books and noting that he lives in New York, the credentials of author of this diatribe are not mentioned. One would expect an academic press to publish a scholarly work, but Gonen has not produced a balanced and reasoned argument but essentially an attack directed at the religion of Judaism. Ultimately, Gonen's audience and purpose are not academic or psychological but political, and his anger seems to be directed at the State of Israel as well as God.

Gonen describes his methodology as psychohistory, which he defines as “the application of psychology to history with the aim of uncovering the underlying motivations … to understand why the actors on the historical scene behave as they do, sometimes in repetitive patterns” (p. ix). He sets out to demonstrate that “regardless of child-rearing modes, Jews from Yemen, Poland, and other diverse countries used to share in common the deeply traumatizing conviction that ‘it is for our sins that we have been exiled from out land’” (p. x). Central to his thesis is that the Jewish God is “a collective invention of the ancient Israelites … endowed with a conflicted personality and given the copyright to the enigmatic rules of how Jewish history was supposed to unfold” (p. xii). Throughout the book, Gonen identifies the Jewish God as “Yahweh,” which is how he says the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) should be pronounced; he seems unaware of how offensive it is to concretize the name that is not pronounced or written by observant Jews—or is he setting out to be offensive?

According to Gonen, the Jewish God is a collective fantasy, the projection of a borderline personality, inextricably divided into “el kana” (the “jealous” God of anger, zeal, and vengenance) and “el ra'hum ve'hanun” (the God of mercy, benevolence, and love).

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