The Book of Job

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John Calvin (sermon date 1554-55?)

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John Calvin (sermon date 1554-55?)

SOURCE: "Sermon 1: The Character of Job," in Sermons from Job, translated by Leroy Nixon, 1952. Reprint by W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 3-17.

[Calvin was an influential French theologian and Protestant reformer. Among his most famous writings is the Christianae Religionis Institutio, (1536; Institutes of the Christian Religion). Although primarily known as a theologian, Calvin was also a devoted preacher whose sermons were most often delivered extemporaneously, a fact which has prevented the preservation of his early sermons. In 1549, however, a group of his devotees hired Denis Reguenier as a secretary to record his addresses. Calvin 's usual method of preaching was to speak on entire books of the Bible consecutively. The 159 sermons on The Book of Job, for example, were delivered between 1554 and 1555. In the following sermon, he considers the nature of Job's "integrity" and examines the book's theme of "spiritual temptation" to reject God during a time of suffering.]

There was in the region of Uz a man by the name of Job, perfect and upright, who feared God, and kept himself from evil.—Job 1:1

To really profit by the contents of this book, we must first know the scope of it. The story which is here writtenshows us how we are in the hand of God, and that it be-longs to Him to order our lives and to dispose of them according to His good pleasure, and that our duty is to submit ourselves to Him in all humility and obedience, that it is quite reasonable that we be altogether His both to live and to die; and even if it shall please Him to raise His hand against us, though we may not perceive for what cause He does it, nevertheless we should glorify Him always, confessing that He is just and equitable, that we should not murmur against Him, that we should not enter into dispute, knowing that if we struggle against Him we shall be conquered. This, then, in brief, is what we have to remember from the story, that is, that God has such dominion over His creatures that He can dispose of them at His pleasure, and when He shows a strictness that we at first find strange, yet that we should keep our mouths closed in order not to murmur; but rather, that we should confess that He is just, expecting that He may declare to us why He chastises us. Meanwhile we have to contemplate the patience of the man who is here set before our eyes, according as Saint James (5:11) exhorts us. For when God shows us that we have to suffer all the miseries that He will send us, we surely confess that it is our duty; however, we allege our frailty and it seems to us that this ought to serveus as an excuse. For this cause it is good that we have examples who show us that there are men frail like us, who nevertheless have resisted temptations, and have persevered constantly in obeying God, although He afflicted them to the limit. Now we have here an excellent example of it.

Besides, it is not all that we should consider the patience of Job, but we have to look at the result, as Saint James also mentions; for if Job had remained confounded, although there was a virtue more than angelic in him, it would not have been a happy ending. But when we see that he was not disappointed in his hope, and inasmuch as he was humbled...

(This entire section contains 5973 words.)

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before God he found grace, seeing such an ending, we have to conclude that there is nothing better than to subject ourselves to God, and to suffer peaceably all that He sends us until by His pure goodness He delivers us. However, beyond the story we have to regard the doctrine which is comprehended in this book: namely, fromthose who come under the pretense of comforting Job, and who torment him much more than did his own illness, and from the answers he gives to repulse their, calumnies, by which it seems they wish to crush him. First, we have to note with respect to our afflictions, although God sends them and they proceed from Him, yet the devil brings them on us, as also Saint Paul warns us that we have to fight against spiritual powers. (Ephesians 6:12). For when the devil thus lights the fire he also pumps the bellows, that is to say, he finds men who are his own to continually prick us and to lengthen and augment the illness. So then, we see how Job, beyond the illness which he endured, was tormented, even by his friends, and by his wife, and above all by those who came to tempt him spiritually. Now I call it spiritual temptation when we are not only beaten and afflicted in our bodies; but when the devil so works in our imaginations that God is a deadly enemy to us, and we can no longer have recourse to Him, and we know that He never has to be merciful toward us. All the propositions put forward by the friends of Job tended to persuade him that he was a man reproved by God and that he was certainly mistaken in trusting that God should be propitious toward him. Now these spiritual struggles are much more difficult to bear than all the evils and all the adversities that we can suffer when we are persecuted. All the same God releases the bridle to Satan that he may draw with him his servants, who make such assaults upon us as we shall see that Job endured.

So much for one item. However, we have also to note that in the whole dispute Job maintains a good case, and his adversary maintains a poor one. Now there is more, that Job maintaining a good case pleads it poorly, and the others bringing a poor case plead it well. When we shall have understood this, it will be to us as it were a key to open to us the whole book. How is it that Job maintains a case which is good? It is that he knows that God does not always afflict men according to the measure of their sins; but that He has His secret judgments, of which He does not give us an account, and yet we must wait until He may reveal to us why He does this or that. He was, then, entirely persuaded that God does not always afflict men according to the measure of their sins, and by that he has testimony in himself that he was not a man rejected by God, as they wished to make him believe. This is a case which is good and true, though it is poorly pleaded; for Job here now throws himself off balance and uses excessive and exaggerated propositions, so that he shows that he is desperate in many respects. And he is even so heated that it seems that he wishes to resist God. So here is a good case that is pleaded badly. Now on the contrary those who sustain the poor case, that God always punishes men according to the measure of their sin, speak beautiful and holy sentences; there is nothing in their propositions that we ought not to receive as if the Holy Spirit had pronounced it; for it is pure truth, these are the foundations of religion, they discuss the providence of God, they discuss His justice, they discuss the sins of men. Here, then, is a doctrine which we have to receive without contradiction, and yet the result that these people try to put Job into despair and to destroy him completely is bad. Now by this we see when we have a good foundation that we must consider how to build thereon, in such a way that all may harmonize, as Saint Paul says (I Corinthians 3:10), that he built, since he founded the Church upon the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ; and yet that there is such a conformity that those who will come after him will use as foundation neither straw nor thatch, nor worthless material; but that there be a good foundation, firm and solid. So, in all our life we have to consider that if we are founded in good and just reason, each one must be on his guard not to bend or turn this way or that way; for there is nothing easier than to pervert a good and just case, according as our nature is vicious and we experience every bit of it. God will have exercised the grace toward us that our case will be good, and yet we shall be pricked by our enemies so that we cannot keep ourselves in bounds and we cannot simply follow what God orders for us without adding to it in any fashion whatever. Seeing, then, that we are so easily carried away, all the more ought we to pray to God that when He shall have given us a good case, He may lead us by His Holy Spirit in all simplicity, that we may not pass beyond the limits that He has established for us by His Word. However, also we are admonished not to apply the truth of God to bad use; for we profane it by this means; like these people, though they speak holy words (as we have already declared, and as we shall see more fully) yet however they are sacrilegious; for they corrupt the truth of God, and they abuse it falsely; they apply to a bad end that which is good and just in itself. So then, when God has given us knowledge of His Word, let us learn to receive it in such fear that it may not be to darken the good nor to make the bad attractive; as often those who are the most keen, and the most wise will let themselves go and will abuse the knowledge which God has given to them, in fraud, in malice, and they will upset everything, so that they only tangle themselves up in knots. Seeing that the world is addicted to such vice, all the more have we to pray to God that He may give us the grace to apply His Word to such use as He intends; namely, a pure and simple use. This is what we have to observe in summary.

Now since we understand what the book deals with we have to pursue things more at length, so that what we have mentioned briefly we may deduce according to the procedure of the narrative. It is said: "There was a man in the land of Uz, named Job, a man perfect, and upright; and fearing God, and withdrawing himself from evil." We cannot and we do not know how to divine at what time Job lived, except that it can be perceived that it was very ancient; some Jews have even estimated that Moses was author of the book, and that he had given this example to the people in order that the children of Abraham who were descended from his race might know that God had shown grace to others who were not of this line, and that they might be ashamed if they did not walk purely in fear of God; seeing that this man, who had not had the mark of the covenant, who had not been circumcised but was Pagan, conducted himself so well. Now because this is not at all certain, we must leave it in suspense. But let us take what is without any doubt, namely, that the Holy Spirit has dictated this book to this use, namely, that the Jews might know that God has had people who have served Him, although they were not separated from the rest of the world, and although they had not the sign of the circumcision, who nevertheless have walked in all purity of life. The Jews, knowing this, have had occasion to be all the more careful to observe the Law of God, and, since He had exercised the grace and given them the privilege of gathering them from among all the foreign nations, that they had to dedicate themselves entirely to Him. And also it is perceived through the book of Ezekiel (14:14) that the name of Job was renowned among the people of Israel; for we have seen that in the 14th chapter that it was said, "Though Noah, Job and Daniel were found among the people who were to perish, they would save only their own souls, and the rest of the people would be destroyed." Here the Prophet speaks of three men, indeed, as of those who were known and renowned among the Jews, as we have already mentioned. So we see the intention of the Holy Spirit: namely, that the Jews might have a mirror and a pattern to recognize how they had to observe the doctrine of salvation which was given them, since this man who was of a foreign nation had so preserved himself in such purity. And it is the principal thing that we have to retain from the name which is here mentioned, when it is said that he was of the land of Uz. It is true that this land is located by some rather in the East; but there is in the Lamentations of Jeremiah (4:21) the same word, used to indicate a part of Edom. We know that the Edomites were descended from Esau. It is true that they still had the circumcision, but inasmuch as they had wandered from the Church of God, there was no longer any sign of the covenant. If we take it, then, that Job was of Uz, he was an Edomite, that is to say, of the lineage of Esau. Now we know what is said by the Prophet (Malachi 1:2), that although Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, indeed from one womb, God had chosen Jacob by His pure goodness and had rejected Esau, and had cursed him with all his lineage. That is how the Prophet speaks of it in order to magnify the mercy of God toward the Jews, showing them that He had elected them not on account of any dignity that was in their persons, seeing that He has rejected the elder brother of Jacob, to whom belonged the birthright, and that He had chosen him who was the lesser, and the inferior. So then, although this man was descended from the lineage of Esau, yet we see in what integrity he lived, and how he served God, not only with respect to conversing with men in uprightness and equity; but by having a pure religion which was not polluted with the idolatries and superstitions of unbelievers. As for the name "Job," it is true that some translate it as "weeping" or "crying;" but others take it as "a man of enmity," not that he hated, but that he was as it were a target, at which one could shoot. Yet we ought not to doubt that this man, whose country is here noted, whose name is expressed, really was, that he lived, and that the things which are here written have happened to him; in order that we may not think that this is an argument contrived by a man, as if under a pen-name there was here proposed to us that which never happened. For we have already alleged the testimony of Ezekiel, and that of Saint James, who well show that Job truly was, and also when history declares it, we cannot erase what the Holy Spirit so notably wished to say.

Besides we have to note pertaining to that time that, although the world was alienated from the true service of God, and from the pure religion, nevertheless there was much more integrity than there is today, even in the Papacy. In fact, we see how from the time of Abraham, Melchizedek had the Church of God, and sacrifices which were without any pollution. And so, although the greater part of the world was wrapped in many errors, and false and wicked fantasies, yet God had reserved some little seed to himself, and there were always some who were retained under the pure truth, indeed, waiting for God to establish His Church; and that He should choose a people, namely, the successors of Abraham, in order that they might know that they were separated from all the rest of the world. Now it is very true that Job lived during that time, but the Church of God was not yet as trained up as it has been since; for we know that while the children of Israel lived in Egypt it seemed that everyone was to be annihilated. And we even see to what extremity they came in the end, when Pharaoh commands that the males should be killed; and in the desert it still seems that God had rejected them; when they have come into the country of Canaan, they have great battles against their enemies, and even the service of God is not yet established there, nor the tabernacle, as would be required. God then, not yet having set up a form of the Church which could be seen, wished that there might always remain some little seed among the Pagans, in order that He might be adored, and that it might also be to convict those who had turned away from the right road, as the Pagans; for He needed only Job to be judge of an entire country. Noah has also condemned the world, as Scripture speaks of it, since he always kept himself pure and walked as before God, although everyone had forgotten Him, and all had gone astray in their superstitions. So then, Noah is judge of all the world to condemn unbelievers and rebels. So it was with Job, who condemned all those of that region, because he served God purely, and others were full of idolatries, of infamies, of many errors; and this came to pass because they would not condescend to recognize Who was the true and living God, and how, and in what manner He wished to be honored; yet God has always had this consideration (as I have said) that the wicked and unbelievers should be rendered inexcusable. And for this He willed that there might always be some people who would follow what He had declared to the ancient Fathers. Such was Job, as the Scripture speaks to us of him, and the present narrative shows well how he purely served God and that he conversed among men in all uprightness. It is said, "He was a perfect man." Now this word in Scripture is taken as a general term when there is neither falsehood nor hypocrisy in a man, but what is inside is shown outside, and that he does not keep a shop in the rear to turn himself away from God, but he displays his heart, and all his thoughts and affections, he asks only to consecrate himself to God and to dedicate himself entirely to Him. This word has been rendered "perfect" by both the Greeks and the Latins; but because the word "perfection" was later improperly expounded, it is much to be preferred that we should have the word "integrity." For many ignorant people, who do not know how this perfection is taken, have thought, "There is a man who is called perfect, it follows then that we can have perfection in ourselves, while we walk in this present life." They have obscured the grace of God, of which we always have need; for those who will have walked the most uprightly still must have their refuge in the mercy of God; and if their sins are not pardoned them, and God does not support them, behold, they all perish. So then, although those who have used the word "perfection" have well understood it, yet since there have been those who have turned it to a contrary sense (as I have said) let us retain the word "integrity." Here then is Job who is called "entire." How? It is because there was no hypocrisy or falsehood in him, for he did not have a double heart; for the Scripture, when it wishes to state the vice opposite to this virtue of integrity, says, "heart and heart," that is to say, "double heart." Let us note, then, that in the first place this title is attributed to Job to show that he had a pure and simple affection, that he did not have one eye on one side and the other on the other, that he did not serve God only half, but he tried to give himself entirely to Him. It is true that we shall never have such integrity that we would reach this goal, as would be to be desired; for those who follow the right road, still go hobbling along, they are always weak, they drag their legs and droop their wings. So, then, is it with us, as long as we shall be surrounded by this mortal body; until God may have delivered us from all these miseries, to which we are subject, there will never be in us an integrity which is perfect, as we have said. Nevertheless, we must come to this openness, and we must renounce all pretense and falsehood. Besides, let us note that true holiness begins within; even if we should have the finest appearance in the world before men, even if our life were so well ruled that everyone should applaud us, if we have not this openness and integrity before God, it will be nothing. For the fountain must be pure, and then the streams trickle down from it pure; otherwise the water could well be clear, and yet it will not cease to be bitter or to have some other evil corruption in it. We must, then, always begin by what is said, namely, "God wishes to be served in spirit and in sincerity of heart," as he says in Jeremiah (5:3). [In an endnote the editor notes: "I think Calvin means Jeremiah 3:10 and John 4:24."] We must, then, learn in the first place to conform our hearts to the obedience of God.

Now after Job has been called "entire," it is said, "He was upright"; this uprightness is referred to the life which he has led, which is as it were the fruits of this root, that the Holy Spirit had put first. Did Job, then, have his heart up-right and whole? His life was simple, that is to say, he walked, and lived with his neighbors without harming anyone, without injuring or molesting anyone, without applying his study to fraud or to malice, without seeking his profit at the expense of another. This, then, is the meaning of the "uprightness," which is here added. Now by this we are admonished to have a conformity between the heart and the outward senses. It is true (as I have said) that we can well abstain from doing evil, we can well have fine appearance before men, but it will be nothing, if before God there is hidden hypocrisy and fiction, when we examine this root, which is within the heart. What is necessary, then? that we should begin at this end, as I have said; yet to have good integrity, the eyes, and the hands, and the feet, and the arms, and the legs must respond, that in all our life we may declare that we wish to serve God, and that it is not in vain that we protest that we wish to keep the integrity within. And that is also why St. Paul exhorts the Galatians (5:25) to walk according to the spirit if they live according to the spirit as if he said, "It is true that it is necessary that the Spirit of God should dwell in us, and that He should govern us; for it would be nothing to have a beautiful life, which pleased men, and which was in great esteem, unless we were renewed by the grace of God. But what then? We must walk, that is to say, we must show in fact, and by our works how the Spirit of God reigns in our souls, for if our hands are polluted either by larcenies, or by cruelty, or other injuries, if the eyes are infected by evil and immodest glances, by coveting the goods of another, or by pride, and by vanity the feet run to evil (as the Scripture speaks of it) [in Proverbs: 1:16], by this we shall show well that the heart is full of malice and of corruption; for there are neither feet, nor hands, nor eyes which are led by themselves; the leading comes from the Spirit and from the heart." So then, let us learn to have the conformity that Scripture shows us in this passage, when it is said, "Job, having this integrity and openness, also lived uprightly," that is to say, he conversed with his neighbors without any injury, without seeking his particular profit, but he kept equity with all the world. And this is also wherein God wishes to prove whether or not we serve Him faithfully; not that He has need of our service, or of all that we can do for Him; but when we do good to our neighbors, and we keep loyalty to each one, as even nature teaches us, by this we render testimony that we fear God. We shall see many, whom we make great zealots, if it is only a matter of disputing and holding many conversations, to say that they study to serve God and to honor Him; but as soon as they have to do with their neighbors, it is known what is in their heart; for they seek their own advantage, and they have no conscience against drawing to themselves and cheating when they will have the power to do so by any means whatever. Those, then, who seek their advantage and profit—there is no doubt that they are hypocrites, and that their heart is corrupted; however beautiful zealots they may be, God declares that there is only filth and poison in their heart. And why? If there is openness, it is necessary that there should be uprightness, that is to say, if the affection is pure within, when we converse with men, we shall procure the good of each one, so that we shall not be addicted to ourselves, and to our particular interest, but we shall have the equity which Jesus Christ said is the rule of life, and the whole sum of the Law and the Prophet—that we should not do to anyone except what we would wish done to us. So then, let us note that in this praise of Job there are many people who are condemned when the Holy Spirit declares that this man had not only an integrity before God, but also uprightness and openness among men. This openness that He pronounces will serve sentence and condemnation against all those who will be full of malice, against all those who ask only to ravish and to entrap the goods of another, who ask only to pillage the substance of others. These are condemned by this word.

Now it follows, "He feared God, he was a God-fearing man, and he withdrew from evil. " Also when Job had the praise of having kept uprightness and equity among men, it was very necessary that he walked before God; for without this the rest would be considered nothing. It is true that we cannot live with our neighbors (as I have already said) without doing evil to anyone, procuring the good of each one, except we regard God; for those who follow their nature, though they may have beautiful virtues (it will seem), yet are preoccupied with love of themselves, and compelled only by ambition, or some other consideration, so that all appearance of virtue which is in them, is corrupted by this; but although we may not be able to have this uprightness without fearing God, yet these are two distinct things: (1) serving God, and (2) honoring our neighbors, as also God has distinguished them in His Law, when He willed that it should be described in two tables. Let us note, then, that as by putting before us the word "uprightness" the Holy Spirit wished to declare how Job conversed among men, also when He says, "He had fear of God," He wishes to bring out the religion which was in him. Now by this we are admonished that to rule our life well we must regard God and then our neighbors; let us regard God, I say, in order to give ourselves to Him, in order to render Him the homage which is due Him; let us regard our neighbors in order to acquit ourselves of our duty toward them according as we are admonished to help them, to live in equity, and uprightness; and since God has joined us to one another, let each one be advised to employ all his faculties to the common good of all. That is how we have to regard both God and men to rule our life well, for he who regards himself—it is certain that there is only vanity in him; for if a man wishes to order his life so that it seems to men that there is nothing to find fault with in him and meanwhile God disavows him, what will he gain when he will have taken much trouble to walk in such a way that everyone magnifies him? There is only pollution before God, and the sentence written by Saint Luke (16:15) must be fulfilled: "He who is high and excellent before men is only abomination before God." Let us note, then, that we never shall be able to order our life properly, if we have not our eyes fixed on God, and toward our neighbors. On God, any why? In order that we may know that we are created to His glory, to serve and adore Him; for although He may not have to do with us as our neighbors will have to and though this may bring Him neither hot nor cold, yet He wished to have reasonable creatures, who would recognize Him, and, having recognized Him, would render to Him what belongs to Him. Besides, when it is spoken of the fear of God, let us note that it is not a servile fear (as it is called) but it is for the honor that we owe Him, as He is our Father and our Master. Would we fear God? It is certain that we should ask only to honor Him, and to be entirely His own. Would we recognize Him? We must do it according to such attributes as He declares of Himself: namely, our Creator, and He Who sustains us, and Who shows such a fatherly goodness that we surely must be His children if we do not wish to be too ungrateful to Him. Also we must recognize the mastery and superiority which He has over us, in order that, rendering to Him the honor which is due Him, each one of us may learn to please Him in everything and by everything. That is how under the word "fear of God" all religion is comprehended, namely, all the service, and the homage that creatures owe to their God. Now it was a very excellent virtue in Job to fear God thus, seeing that all the world had turned away from the right road. When we hear this, let us learn that we shall have no excuse, though we may converse among the worst outcasts in the world, if we are not given to the service of God; as we ought to be. Now it is well to note this, because it seems to many people, when they are among thorns, that they are thereby acquitted and fully excused; and if afterwards they are corrupted, if they are hurled among wolves (as they say), that it is all right, and that God will pardon them. On the contrary, here is Job who is called a Godfearing man. In what country? It is not in Judea, it is not in the city of Jerusalem, it is not in the Temple; but it is in a polluted place, in the midst of those who were entirely perverted. Being then, among such people, yet he was preserved, and he lived in such wise that he walked purely with his neighbors, although all were then full of cruelty, outrages, pillaging, and like things. Let us note that this will return to us with all the greater shame, if on our part we do not, consider how to reserve ourselves purely for the service of God, and for our neighbors, when he gives us such occasion for it as we have, namely, that daily the Word of God is preached to us, that we are exhorted, that it sets us right when we have failed. We surely must, then, be attentive to what is here shown us.

Now in conclusion let us note well what is here added to the text, "He kept himself from evil." For this is how Job surmounted all difficulties and battles which might have hindered him from serving God and from living uprightly with men: it is because he recalled to himself that he well knew that, if he had given himself license to do like others, he would have been a man completely addicted to vice, he would have been an enemy of God. Job, then, did not thus walk in the fear of God, in such openness and integrity without many battles, without the devil's having schemed to pervert him and to lead him to all the corruptions of the world; but he withdrew from evil, that is to say, he held himself back. What, then, must we do? Though we are in the Church of God, yet we shall see many evils; and (though it should be) there will never be such openness or purity, that we would not be mixed among many despisers, debauchees, who will be firebrands from hell, deadly pests to infect everything. We must, then, be on our guard, seeing that there are great scandals and all manner of lewdness, by which we would be immediately debauched. What must we do then? We must withdraw from evil; that is to say, we must fight against such assaults after the example of Job; and when we shall see many vices and corruptions ruling in the world, though it may be necessary for us to be mixed among them, nevertheless we must not be polluted by them and we must not say, as is customary, that we must howl among the wolves; but rather we must be advised after the example of Job to withdraw ourselves from evil, and to withdraw from it in such a way that Satan may not be able to make us give ourselves to him by means of all the temptations which he will put before us; but we must allow that God should purge us of all our filth and infections, as He has promised us in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, until He may have withdrawn us from the stains and pollutions of this world, to join us with His Angels, and to make us partakers of the eternal felicity to which we ought now to aspire.

Now we shall present ourselves before the face of our God.

Voltaire (essay date 1764)

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Voltaire (essay date 1764)

SOURCE: "Job," in Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, Volume III, translated by William F. Fleming, 1903. Reprint by The Lamb Publishing Company, 1910, pp. 314-19.

[A principal figure of the French Enlightenment, Voltaire promoted the highest ideals of the Age of Reason, particularlythe ideal of faith in man's ability to perfect himself He was also a formidable satirist who was both feared and denigrated by the victims of his biting wit. Voltaire's works encompass diverse genres including drama, poetry, history, essays, literary criticism, political and social treatises, autobiography, and contesshort adventure tales. Also among his esteemed works are philosophical works including Letters philosophiques (1734; Letters Concerning the English Nation) and Dictionaire philosophique (1764; Philosophical Dictionary). The following is an excerpt from the Philosophical Dictionary, in which Voltaire presents a humorous overview of The Book of Job, commenting on the moral failure of Job's friends and arguing that the work is Arabic in origin.]

Good day, friend Job! thou art one of the most ancient originals of which books make mention; thou wast not a Jew; we know that the book which bears thy name is more ancient than the Pentateuch. If the Hebrews, who translated it from the Arabic, made use of the word "Jehovah" to signify God, they borrowed it from the Phoenicians and Egyptians, of which men of learning are assured. The word "Satan" was not Hebrew; it was Chaldæan, as is well known.

Thou dwelledst on the confines of Chalda. Commentators, worthy of their profession, pretend that thou didst believe in the resurrection, because, being prostrate on thy dunghill, thou hast said, in thy nineteenth chapter, that thou wouldst one day rise up from it. A patient who wishes his cure is not anxious for resurrection in lieu of it; but I would speak to thee of other things.

Confess that thou wast a great babbler; but thy friends were much greater. It is said that thou possessedst seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand cows, and five hundred she-asses. I will reckon up their value:

Seven thousand sheep, at three livres ten
sous apiece … 22,500
Three thousand camels at fifty crowns apiece . 450,000
A thousand cows, one with the other, cannot
be valued at less than … 80,000
And five hundred she-asses, at twenty francs
an ass … 10,000
The whole amounts to … 562,500
without reckoning thy furniture, rings and jewels.

I have been much richer than thou; and though I have lost a great part of my property and am ill, like thyself I have not murmured against God, as thy friends seem to reproach thee with sometimes doing.

I am not at all pleased with Satan, who, to induce thee to sin, and to make thee forget God, demanded permission to take away all thy property, and to give thee the itch. It is in this state that men always have recourse to divinity. They are prosperous people who forgot God. Satan knew not enough of the world at that time; he has improved himself since; and when he would be sure of any one, he makes him a farmer-general, or something better if possible, as our friend Pope has clearly shown in his history of the knight Sir Balaam.

Thy wife was an impertinent, but thy pretended friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuite, and Zophar, the Naamathite, were much more insupportable. They exhorted thee to patience in a manner that would have roused the mildest of men; they made thee long sermons more tiresome than those preached by the knave V—e at Amsterdam, and by so many other people.

It is true that thou didst not know what thou saidst, when exclaiming—"My God, am I a sea or a whale, to be shut up by Thee as in a prison?" But thy friends knew no more when they answered thee, "that the morn cannot become fresh without dew, and that the grass of the field cannot grow without water." Nothing is less consolatory than this axiom.

Zophar of Naamath reproached thee with being a prater; but none of these good friends lent thee a crown. I would not have treated thee thus. Nothing is more common than people who advise; nothing more rare than those who assist. Friends are not worth much, from whom we cannot procure a drop of broth if we are in misery. I imagine that when God restored thy riches and health, these eloquent personages dared not present themselves before thee, hence the comforters of Job have become a proverb.

God was displeased with them, and told them sharply, in chap. xlii., that they were tiresome and imprudent, and he condemned them to a fine of seven bullocks and seven rams, for having talked nonsense. I would have condemned them for not having assisted their friend.

I pray thee, tell me if it is true, that thou livedst a hundred and forty years after this adventure. I like to learn that honest people live long; but men of the present day must be great rogues, since their lives are comparatively so short.

As to the rest, the book of Job is one of the most precious of antiquity. It is evident that this book is the work of an Arab who lived before the time in which we place Moses. It is said that Eliphaz, one of the interlocutors, is of Teman, which was an ancient city of Arabia. Bildad was of Shua, another town of Arabia. Zophar was of Naamath, a still more eastern country of Arabia.

But what is more remarkable, and which shows that this fable cannot be that of a Jew, is, that three constellations are spoken of, which we now call Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades. The Hebrews never had the least knowledge of astronomy; they had not even a word to express this science; all that regards the mental science was unknown to them, inclusive even of the term geometry.

The Arabs, on the contrary, living in tents, and being continually led to observe the stars, were perhaps the first who regulated their years by the inspection of the heavens.

The more important observation is, that one God alone is spoken of in this book. It is an absurd error to imagine that the Jews were the only people who recognized a sole God; it was the doctrine of almost all the East, and the Jews were only plagiarists in that as in everything else.

In chapter xxxviii. God Himself speaks to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, which has been since imitated in Genesis. We cannot too often repeat, that the Jewish books are very modern. Ignorance and fanaticism exclaim, that the Pentateuch is the most ancient book in the world. It is evident, that those of Sanchoniathon, and those of Thaut, eight hundred years anterior to those of Sanchoniathon; those of the first Zerdusht, the "Shasta," the "Vedas" of the Indians, which we still possess; the "Five Kings of China"; and finally the Book of Job, are of a much remoter antiquity than any Jewish book. It is demonstrated that this little people could only have annals while they had a stable government; that they only had this government under their kings; that its jargon was only formed, in the course of time, of a mixture of Phoenician and Arabic. These are incontestable proofs that the Phoenicians cultivated letters a long time before them. Their profession was pillage and brokerage; they were writers only by chance. We have lost the books of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, the Chinese, Brahmins, and Guebers; the Jews have preserved theirs. All these monuments are curious, but they are monuments of human imagination alone, in which not a single truth, either physical or historical, is to be learned. There is not at present any little physical treatise that would not be more useful than all the books of antiquity.

Søren Kierkegaard (essay date 1843)

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Søren Kierkegaard (essay date 1843)

SOURCE: "The Lord Gave, and the Lord Hath Taken Away, Blessed Be the Name of the Lord," in Edifying Dis-courses, Volume II translated by David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson, Augsburg Publishing House, 1944, pp. 7-26.

[Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian who is widely regarded as the founder of Existentialist philosophy. He was primarily concerned with ethical questions as they were experienced by individuals, and he observed three possible approaches to life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. According to his thought, the religious path would allow the greatest freedom for the self but would necessarily involve suffering. The human response to misfortune is the subject of the following essay, originally published in his Opbyggelige Taler (1843; Edifying Discourses), in which he upholds the figure of Job as "a teacher of mankind, "focusing on the significance of the passage Job 1:20-21.]

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground and worshipped, and said: Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. [Job 1:20-21]

Not only do we call that man a teacher of men who through some particularly happy talent discovered, or by unremitting toil and continued perseverance brought to light one or another truth; left what he had acquired as a principle of knowledge, which the following generations strove to understand, and through this understanding to appropriate to themselves. Perhaps, in an even stricter sense, we also call that one a teacher of men who had no doctrine to pass on to others, but who merely left himself as a pattern to succeeding generations, his life as a principle of guidance to every man, his name as an assurance to the many, his own deeds as an encouragement to the striving. Such a teacher and guide of men was Job, whose significance is by no means due to what he said but to what he did. He has indeed left a saying which because of its brevity and its beauty has become a proverb, preserved from generation to generation, and no one has been pre-sumptuous enough to add anything to it or to take anything away from it. But the expression itself is not the guidance, and Job's significance does not lie in the fact that he said it, but in the fact that he acted in accordance with it. The expression itself is truly beautiful and worthy of consideration, but if another had used it, or if Job had been different, or if he had uttered it under different circumstances, then the word itself would have become something different—significant, if, as uttered, it would otherwise have been so, but not significant from the fact that he acted in asserting it, so that the expression itself was the action. If Job had devoted his whole life to emphasizing this word, if he had regarded it as the sum and fulfillment of what a man ought to let life teach him, if he had constantly only taught it, but had never himself practiced it, had never himself acted in accordance with what he taught, then Job would have been a different kind of man, his significance different. Then would Job's name have been forgotten, or it would have been unimportant whether anyone remembered it or not, the principal thing being the content of the word, the richness of the thought it embodied.

If the race had accepted the saying, then it would have been this which one generation transmitted to the next; while now, on the contrary, it is Job himself who guides the generations. When one generation has served its time, fulfilled its duty, fought its battle, then Job has guided it; when the new generation, with its innumerable ranks and every individual among them in his place, stands ready to begin the journey, then Job is again present, takes his place, which is the outpost of humanity. If the generation sees only happy days and prosperous times, then Job faithfully goes with them, and if, nevertheless, an individual in his thought experiences the terrible, is apprehensive because of his conception of what life may conceal of horror and distress, of the fact that no one knows when the hour of despair may strike for him, then his troubled thought resorts to Job, dwells upon him, is reassured by him. For Job keeps faithfully by his side and comforts him, not as if he had thus suffered once for all what he would never again have to endure, but he comforts him as one who witnesses that the terror is endured, the horror experienced, the battle of despair waged, to the honor of God, to his own salvation, to the profit and happiness of others. In joyful days, in fortunate times, Job walks by the side of the race and guarantees it its happiness, combats the apprehensive dream that some horror may suddenly befall a man and have power to destroy his soul as its certain prey.

Only the thoughtless man could wish that Job should not accompany him, that his venerable name should not remind him of what he seeks to forget, that terror and anxiety exist in life. Only the selfish man could wish that Job had not existed, so that the idea of his suffering might not disturb with its austere earnestness his own unsubstantial joy, and frighten him out of his intoxicated security in obduracy and perdition. In stormy times, when the foundation of existence is shaken, when the moment trembles in fearful expectation of what may happen, when every explanation is silent at the sight of the wild uproar, when a man's heart groans in despair, and "in bitterness of soul" he cries to heaven, then Job still walks at the side of the race and guarantees that there is a victory, guarantees that even if the individual loses in the strife, there is still a God, who, as with every human temptation, even if a man fails to endure it, will still make its outcome such that we may be able to bear it; yea, more glorious than any human expectation. Only the defiant could wish that Job had not existed, so that he might absolutely free his soul from the last vestiges of love which still remained in the plaintive shriek of despair; so that he might complain, aye, even curse life; so that there might be no consonance of faith and confidence and humility in his speech; so that in his defiance he might stifle the shriek so that it might not even seem as if there were anyone whom it defied. Only the effeminate could wish that Job had not existed, so that he might relinquish every thought, the sooner the better; might renounce every emotion in the most abhorrent impotence and completely efface himself in the most wretched and miserable oblivion.

The expression which, when it is mentioned, at once reminds us of Job, immediately becomes vividly present in everyone's thought, is a plain and simple one; it conceals no secret wisdom that must be unearthed from the depths. If a child learns this word, if it is entrusted to him as an endowment, he does not understand for what purpose he will use it; when he understands the word, he understands essentially the same thing by it as does the wisest. Still, the child does not understand it, or rather he does not understand Job; for what he does not comprehend is all the distress and wretchedness with which Job was tested. About that the child can have only a dark premonition; and yet, happy the child who understood the word and got an impression of what he did not comprehend, that it was the most terrible thing imaginable; who possessed, before sorrow and adversity made its thought cunning, the convincing and childishly vivid conviction that it was in truth the most terrible. When the youth turns his attention to this word, then he understands it, and understands it essentially the same as do the child and the wisest. Still he perhaps does not understand it, or rather, he does not understand Job, does not understand why all the distress and wretchedness should come in which Job was tried; and yet, happy the youth who understood the word and humbly bowed before what he did not understand, before his own distress made his thought wayward, as if he had discovered what no one had known before. When the adult reflects on this word, then he understands essentially the same by it as did the child and the wisest. He understands, too, the wretchedness and distress in which Job was tried; and yet perhaps he does not understand Job, for he cannot understand how Job was able to say it; and yet, happy the man who understood the word, and steadfastly admired what he did not understand, before his own distress and wretchedness made him also distrustful of Job. When the man who has been tried, who fought the good fight through remembering this saying, mentions it, then he understands it, and understands it essentially the same as the child and as the wisest understood it; he understands Job's misery, he understands how Job could say it. He understands the word, he interprets it, even though he never speaks about it, more gloriously than the one who spent a whole lifetime in explaining this one word.

Only the one who has been tried, who tested the word through himself being tested, only he interprets the word correctly, and only such a disciple, only such an interpreter, does Job desire. Only such a one learns from Job what there is to learn, the most beautiful and blessed truth, compared with which all other art and all other wisdom is very unessential. Therefore we rightly call Job a teacher of mankind, not of certain individual men, for he offers himself to every man as his pattern, beckons to everyone by his glorious example, summons everyone in his beautiful words. While the more simple-minded man, the one less gifted, or the one less favored by time and circumstances, if not enviously yet in troubled despondency, may sometimes have wished for the talent and the opportunity to be able to understand and absorb himself in those things which scholars from time to time have discovered, may also have felt a desire in his soul to be able to teach others, and not always be the one to receive instruction, Job does not tempt him in this way. How, too, could human wisdom help here? Would it perhaps seek to make that more intelligible which the simplest and the child easily understood, and understood as well as the wisest! How would the art of eloquence and fluency help here? Would it be able to produce in the speaker or in some other man what the simplest is able to do as well as the wisest—action! Would not human wisdom rather tend to make everything more difficult? Would not eloquence, which, despite its pretentiousness, is nevertheless unable to express the differences which always dwell in the heart of man, rather benumb the power of action, and allow it to slumber in extensive reflection! But even if this is true, and even if, as a result of this, the speaker endeavors to avoid intruding disturbingly between the striving individual and the beautiful pattern which is equally near to every man, so that he may not increase sorrow by increasing wisdom; even if he takes care not to ensnare himself in the splendid words of human persuasiveness, which are very unfruitful, still it by no means follows that the reflection and the development might not have their own significance. If the one reflecting had not hitherto known this word, then it would always be an advantage to him that he had learned to know it; if he had known it, but had had no occasion to test it, then it would always be an advantage to him, that he had learned to understand what he perhaps might some time have to use. If he had tested it, but it had deceived him, if he even believed that it was the word which had deceived him, then it would be advantageous to him that he had previously reflected upon it, before he fled from it in the unrest of the strife and the haste of battle! Perhaps the reflection would sometime become significant to him; it might perhaps happen that the reflection would become vividly present in his soul just when he needed it in order to penetrate the confused thoughts of his restless heart; it might perhaps happen that what the reflection had understood only in part, would sometime gather itself regenerated in the moment of decision; that what reflection had sowed in corruption would spring up in the day of need in the incorruptible life of action.

So let us endeavor to understand Job better in his beautiful words: The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

In the land toward the east there lived a man whose name was Job. He was blessed with lands, innumerable herds, and rich pastures; "his words had lifted up the fallen, and had strengthened the feeble knees"; his tent was blessed as if it rested in the lap of heaven, and in this tent he lived with his seven sons and three daughters; and "the secret of the Lord" abode there with him. And Job was an old man; his joy in life was his pleasure in his children, over whom he watched that no evil might come upon them. There he sat one day alone by his fireside, while his children were gathered at a festival at the oldest brother's house. There he offered burnt offerings for each one individually, there he also disposed his heart to joy in the thought of his children. As he sat there in the quiet confidence of happiness, there came a messenger, and before he could speak there came another, and while this one was still speaking, there came a third, but the fourth messenger brought news concerning his sons and daughters, that the house had been overthrown and had buried them all.

"Then Job stood up and rent his mantle and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground and worshipped." His sorrow did not express itself in many words, or rather he did not utter a single one; only his appearance bore witness that his heart was broken. Could you wish it otherwise! Is not that one who prides himself on not being able to sorrow in the day of sorrow put to shame by not being able to rejoice in the day of gladness? Is not the sight of such imperturbability unpleasant and distressing, almost revolting, while it is affecting to see an honorable old man, who but now sat in the gladness of the Lord, sitting with his fatherly countenance downcast, his mantle rent and his head shaven! Since he had thus surrendered himself to sorrow, not in despair but stirred by human emotion, he was swift to judge between God and himself, and the words of his judgment are these: "Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." With these words the struggle was decided, and every claim which would demand something from the Lord, which He did not wish to give, or would desire to retain something, as if it had not been a gift, was brought to silence in his soul. Then follows the confession from the man whom not sorrow alone but worship as well had prostrated on the ground: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

The Lord gave, the Lord took. What first arrests the attention is that Job said, "The Lord gave." Is not this word irrelevant to the occasion; does it not contain something different from what lay in the event itself? If a man in a single moment is deprived of everything dear to him, and deprived of the most precious of all, the loss will perhaps at first so overwhelm him that he will not even trust himself to express it, even if in his heart he is conscious before God that he has lost everything. Or he will not permit the loss to rest with its crushing weight upon his soul, but he will put it away from him, and in his heart's agitation he will say, "The Lord took." And thus to humble one's self before the Lord in silence and humility is indeed worthy of praise and emulation, and in the struggle such a man saves his soul though he loses all his gladness. But Job! At the moment when the Lord took everything, he did not say first, "The Lord took," but he said first, "The Lord gave." The word is short, but in its brevity it perfectly expresses what it wishes to indicate, that Job's soul is not crushed down in silent submission to sorrow, but that his heart first expanded in gratitude; that the loss of everything first made him thankful to the Lord that He had given him all the blessings that He now took from him. It did not happen with him, as Joseph predicted, that the abundance of the seven fruitful years would be entirely forgotten in the seven lean years. The nature of his gratitude was not the same as in that long vanished time when he accepted every good and perfect gift from the hand of God with thanksgiving; but still his gratitude was sincere, as was his conception about the goodness of God which now became living in his soul. Now he is reminded of everything which the Lord had given, some individual thing perhaps with even greater thankfulness than when he had received it. It was not become less beautiful to him because it was taken away, nor more beautiful, but still beautiful as before, beautiful because the Lord gave it, and what now might seem more beautiful to him, was not the gift but the goodness of God. He is reminded again of his abundant prosperity, his eyes rest once more upon the rich pastures, and follow the numerous herds; he remembers what joy there was in having seven sons and three daughters, who now needed no offering except that of thankfulness for having had them. He is reminded of those who perhaps still remembered him with gratitude, the many he had instructed, "whose weak hands he had strengthened, whose feeble knees he had upheld." He is reminded of the glorious days when he was powerful and esteemed by the people, "when the young men hid themselves out of reverence for him, and the old men arose and remained standing." He remembers with thankfulness that his step had not turned away from the way of righteousness, that he had rescued the poor who complained, and the fatherless who had no helper; and therefore, even in this moment, the "blessing of the forsaken" was upon him as before.

The Lord gave. It is a short word, but to Job it signified so very much; for Job's memory was not so short, nor was his thankfulness so forgetful. While thankfulness rested in his soul with its quiet sadness, he bade a gentle and friendly farewell to everything at once, and in this farewell everything disappeared like a beautiful memory; moreover, it seemed as if it were not the Lord who took it, but Job who gave it back to Him. When therefore Job had said, "The Lord gave," then was his mind well prepared to please God also with the next word, "The Lord took."

Perhaps there might be someone who on the day of sorrow was also reminded that he had seen happy days, and his soul would become even more impatient. "Had he never known happiness, then the pain would not have overcome him, for what is pain, after all, other than an idea which he does not have who knows nothing else, but now happiness had so educated and developed him as to make him conscious of the pain." Thus his happiness became pernicious to him; it was never lost but only lacking, and it tempted him more in the lack than ever before. What had been the delight of his eyes, he desired to see again, and his ingratitude punished him by conjuring it up as more beautiful than it had formerly been. What his soul had rejoiced in, it now thirsted for again, and his ingratitude punished him by painting it as more desirable than it had previously been. What he had once been capable of doing, that he now wished to be able to do again, and his ingratitude punished him with visions that had never had reality. Thus he condemned his soul to living famished in the never satisfied craving of want.

Or there awakened a consuming passion in his soul, because he had not even enjoyed the happy days in the right way, had not imbibed all the sweetness from their voluptuous abundance. If there might only be vouchsafed to him one little hour, if he might only regain the glory for a short time so that he might satiate himself with happiness, and thereby learn to disregard the pain! Then he abandoned his soul to a burning unrest; he would not acknowledge to himself whether the enjoyment he desired was worthy of a man; whether he ought not rather to thank God that his soul had not been so extravagant in the time of joy as it had now become in his unhappiness; he was not appalled by the thought that his desires were the cause of his perdition; he refused to be concerned by the fact that more wretched than all his wretchedness was the worm of desire in his soul, which would not die.

Perhaps there might be another man who at the moment of loss also remembered what he had possessed, but who had the audacity to try to prevent the loss from becoming intelligible to him. Even if it were lost, his defiant will would still be able to retain it as if it were not lost. He would not endeavor to bear the loss, but he chose to waste his strength in an impotent defiance, to lose himself in an insane preoccupation with the loss. Or in cowardice he immediately avoided humbly attempting to understand it. Then oblivion opened its abyss, not so much to the loss as to him, and he did not so much escape the loss in forgetfulness as he threw himself away. Or he lyingly sought to belittle the good which he had once enjoyed, as if it never had been beautiful, had never gladdened his heart; he thought to strengthen his soul by a wretched self-deception, as if strength lay in falsehood. Or he irrationally assured himself that life was not so hard as one imagined, that its terror was not as described, was not so hard to bear, if one, as you will remember that he did, began by not finding it terrifying to become such a person.

In fact, who would ever finish, if he wished to speak about what so frequently has happened, and will so frequently be repeated in the world? Would he not tire far sooner than would passion of that ever new ingenuity for transforming the explained and the understood into a new disappointment, wherein it deceives itself!

Let us rather, therefore, turn back to Job. On the day of sorrow when everything was lost, then he first thanked God who gave it, defrauded neither God nor himself, and while everything was being shaken and overthrown, he still remained what he had been from the beginning—"honest and upright before God." He confessed that the blessing of the Lord had been merciful to him, he returned thanks for it; therefore it did not remain in his mind as a torturing memory. He confessed that the Lord had blessed richly and beyond all measure his undertakings; he had been thankful for this, and therefore the memory did not become to him a consuming unrest. He did not conceal from himself that everything had been taken from him; therefore the Lord, who took it, remained in his upright soul. He did not avoid the thought that it was lost; therefore his soul rested quietly until the explanation of the Lord again came to him, and found his heart like the good earth well cultivated in patience.

The Lord took. Did Job say anything except the truth, did he use an indirect expression to indicate what was direct? The word is short, and it signifies the loss of everything; it naturally occurs to us to repeat it after him, since the expression itself has become a sacred proverb; but do we just as naturally link it to Job's thought? For was it not the Sabeans who fell upon his peaceful herds and killed his servants? Did the messenger who brought the news say anything else? Was it not the lightning which destroyed the sheep and their shepherds? Did the messenger who brought the news mean something else, even though he called the lightning the fire from heaven? Was it not a wind-storm from out of the desert which overturned the house and buried his children in the ruins? Did the messenger mention some other perpetrator, or did he name someone who sent the wind? Yet Job said, "The Lord took"; in the very moment of receiving the message, he realized that it was the Lord who had taken everything. Who told Job this? Or was it not a sign of his fear of God that he thus shifted everything over to the Lord, and justified Him in doing it; and are we more devout, we who sometimes hesitate a long time to speak thus?

Perhaps there was a man who had lost everything in the world. Then he set out to consider how it had happened. But everything was inexplicable and obscure to him. His happiness had vanished like a dream, and its memory haunted him like a nightmare, but how he had been cast off from the glory of the one into the wretchedness of the other, he was unable to understand. It was not the Lord who had taken it—it was an accident. Or he assured himself that it was the deceit and cunning of men, or their manifest violence, which had wrested it from him, as the Sabeans had destroyed Job's herds and their keepers. Then his soul became rebellious against men; he believed he did God justice by not reproaching Him. He fully understood how it had happened, and the more immediate explanation was that those men had done it, and furthermore it was because the men were evil and their hearts perverted. He understood that men are his neighbors to his injury; would he perhaps have understood it in the same way if they had benefited him? But that the Lord who dwells far away in heaven might be nearer to him than the man who lived next to him, whether that man did him good or evil, such an idea was remote from his thought. Or he fully understood how it had happened, and knew how to describe it with all the eloquence of horror. For why should he not understand that when the sea rages in its fury, when it flings itself against the heavens, then men and their frail accomplishments are tossed about as in a game; that when the storm rushes forth in its violence, human enterprises are mere child's play; that when the earth trembles in terror of the elements and the mountains groan, then men and their glorious achievements sink as nothing into the abyss. And this explanation was adequate for him, and, above all, sufficient to make his soul indifferent to everything. For it is true that what is built on sand does not even need a storm to overthrow it; but would it not also be true that a man cannot build and dwell elsewhere and be sure his soul is safe! Or he understood that he himself had merited what had befallen him, that he had not been prudent. For had he rightly calculated in time, it would not have happened. And this explanation explained everything by first explaining that he had corrupted himself and made it impossible for him to learn anything from life, and especially impossible for him to learn anything from God.

Still who would ever finish if he tried to explain what has happened and what will frequently be repeated in life? Would he not become tired of talking, before the sensual man would weary of deluding himself with plausible and disappointing and deceptive explanations? Let us therefore turn away from that which has nothing to teach us, except in so far as we knew it before, so that we may shun worldly wisdom and turn our attention to him from whom there is a truth to be learned—to Job and to his devout words, "The Lord took." Job referred everything to the Lord; he did not retard his soul and extinguish his spirit in reflections or explanations which only engender and nourish doubt, even if the one who dwells on them does not realize it. In the same instant that everything was taken from him he knew that it was the Lord who had taken it, and therefore in his loss he remained in understanding with the Lord; in his loss, he preserved his confidence in the Lord; he looked upon the Lord and therefore he did not see despair. Or does only that man see God's hand who sees that He gives; does not that one also see God who sees that He takes? Does only that one see God who sees His countenance turned toward him? Does not that one also see God who sees Him turn His back upon him, as Moses always saw only the Lord's back? But he who sees God has overcome the world, and therefore Job in his devout word had overcome the world; was through his devout word greater and stronger and more powerful than the whole world, which here would not so much carry him into temptation but would overcome him with its power, cause him to sink down before its boundless might. And yet how weak, indeed almost childishly so, is not the wild fury of the storm, when it thinks to cause a man to tremble for himself by wresting everything away from him, and he answers, "It is not you who do this, it is the Lord who takes!" How impotent is the arm of every man of violence, how wretched his shrewd cleverness, how all human power becomes almost an object of compassion, when it wishes to plunge the weak into the destruction of despair by wresting everything from him, and he then confidently says, "It is not you, you can do nothing—it is the Lord who takes."

Blessed be the name of the Lord! Hence Job not only overcame the world, but he did what Paul had desired his striving congregation to do: after having overcome everything, he stood. Alas, perhaps there has been someone in the world who overcame everything, but who failed in the moment of victory. The Lord's name be praised! Hence the Lord remained the same, and ought He not to be praised as always? Or had the Lord really changed? Or did not the Lord in truth remain the same, as did Job? The Lord's name be praised! Hence the Lord did not take everything, for He did not take away Job's praise, and his peace of heart, and the sincerity of faith from which it issued; but his confidence in the Lord remained with him as before, perhaps more fervently than before; for now there was nothing at all which could in any way divert his thought from Him. The Lord took it all. Then Job gathered together all his sorrows and "cast them upon the Lord," and then He also took those from him, and only praise remained in the incorruptible joy of his heart. For Job's house was a house of sorrow, if ever a house was such, but where this word is spoken, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," there gladness also has its home. And Job indeed stands before us, the image of sorrow, expressed in his countenance and in his form; but he who utters this word as Job did still bears witness to the joy, even if his testimony does not direct itself to the joyous but to the concerned, and yet speaks intelligibly to the many who have ears to hear. For the ear of the concerned is fashioned in a special manner, and as the ear of the lover indeed hears many voices but really only one—the voice of the beloved, so the ear of the concerned also hears many voices, but they pass by and do not enter his heart. As faith and hope without love are only sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, so all the gladness in the world in which no sorrow is mingled is only sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, which flatter the ear but are abhorrent to the soul. But this voice of consolation, this voice which trembles in pain and yet proclaims the gladness, this the ear of the concerned hears, his heart treasures it, it strengthens and guides him even to finding joy in the depths of sorrow.

My hearer, is it not true? You have understood Job's eulogy; it has at least seemed beautiful to you in the quiet moment of reflection, so that in thinking of it you had forgotten what you did not wish to be reminded of, that which indeed is sometimes heard in the world in the day of need, instead of praise and blessing. So let it then be forgotten, you will deserve, as little as I, that the memory of it should again be revived.

We have spoken about Job, and have sought to understand him in his devout expression, without the speech wishing to force itself upon anyone. But should it therefore be entirely without significance or application, and concern no one? If you yourself, my hearer, have been tried as Job was, and have stood the testing as he did, then it truly applies to you, if we have spoken rightly about Job. If hitherto you have not been tested in life, then it indeed applies to you. Do you think perhaps that these words apply only under such extraordinary circumstances as those in which Job was placed? Is it perhaps your belief that if such a thing struck you, then the terror itself would gave you strength, develop within you that humble courage? Did not Job have a wife, what do we read about her? Perhaps you think that terror cannot get as much power over a man as can the daily thralldom in much smaller adversities. Then look you to it that you, as little as any man, do not become enslaved by some tribulation, and above all learn from Job to be sincere with yourself, so that you may not delude yourself by an imagined strength, through which you experience imaginary victories in an imaginary conflict.

Perhaps you say, if the Lord had taken it from me, but nothing was given to me; perhaps you believe that this is by no means as terrible as was Job's suffering, but that it is far more wearing, and consequently a more difficult struggle. We shall not quarrel with you. For even if this were true, the quarrel would still be unprofitable, and increase the difficulty. But in one thing we are in agreement, that you can learn from Job, and, if you are honest with yourself and love humanity, then you cannot wish to evade Job, in order to venture out into a hitherto unknown difficulty, and keep the rest of us in suspense, until we learn from your testimony that a victory is also possible in this difficulty. So if you then learn from Job to say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," this applies to you, even if the preceding is less applicable.

Or perhaps you believe that such a thing cannot happen to you? Who taught you this wisdom, or on what do you base your assurance? Are you wise and understanding, and is this your confidence? Job was the teacher of many. Are you young, and your youth your assurance? Job had also been young. Are you old, on the verge of the grave? Job was an old man when sorrow overtook him. Are you powerful, is this your assurance of immunity? Job was reverenced by the people. Are riches your security? Job possessed the blessing of lands. Are your friends your guarantors? Job was loved by everyone. Do you put your confidence in God? Job was the Lord's confidant. Have you reflected on these thoughts, or have you not rather avoided them, so that they might not extort from you a confession, which you now perhaps call a melancholy mood? And yet there is no hiding place in the wide world where troubles may not find you, and there has never lived a man who was able to say more than you can say, that you do not know when sorrow will visit your house. So be sincere with yourself, fix your eyes upon Job; even though he terrifies you, it is not this he wishes, if you yourself do not wish it. You still could not wish, when you survey your life and think of its end, that you should have to confess, "I was fortunate, not like other men; I have never suffered anything in the world, and I have let each day have its own sorrows, or rather bring me new joys." Such a confession, even if it were true, you could still never wish to make, aye, it would involve your own humiliation; for if you had been preserved from sorrow, as no other had, you would still say, "I have indeed not been tested in it, but still my mind has frequently occupied itself seriously with the thought of Job, and with the idea that no man knows the time and the hour when the messengers will come to him, each one more terrifying than the last."

Josiah Royce (essay date 1898)

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Josiah Royce (essay date 1898)

SOURCE: "The Problem of Job" in Studies of Good and Evil: A Series of Essays upon Problems of Philosophy and of Life, D. Appleton and Company, 1898, pp. 1-28.

[Royce was an American philosopher whose writings encompass the fields of mathematical logic, psychology, metaphysics, religion, and social ethics. He is noted for developing an idealist philosophy emphasizing individuality and the human will rather than intellect. In the following excerpt from his essay "The Problem of Job" in Studies of Good and Evil (1898), he examines the problem of suffering as depicted in The Book of Job, employing the tenets of philosophical idealism, by which God may be viewed as an entity that is interconnected with humans rather than as a separate being.]

In speaking of the problem of Job, the present writer comes to the subject as a layman in theology, and as one ignorant of Hebrew scholarship. In referring to the original core of the Book of Job he follows, in a general way, the advice of Professor C. H. Toy; and concerning the text of the poem he is guided by the translation of Dr. Gilbert. What this paper has to attempt is neither criticism of the book, nor philological exposition of its obscurities, but a brief study of the central problem of the poem from the point of view of a student of philosophy.

The problem of our book is the personal problem of its hero, Job himself. Discarding, for the first, as of possibly separate authorship, the Prologue, the Epilogue and the addresses of Elihu and of the Lord, one may as well come at once to the point of view of Job, as expressed in his speeches to his friends. Here is stated the problem of which none of the later additions in our poem offer any intelligible author develops all his poetical skill, and records thoughts that can never grow old. This is the portion of our book which is most frequently quoted and which best expresses the genuine experience of suffering humanity. Here, then, the philosophical as well as the human interest of our poem centres.

Job's world, as he sees it, is organized in a fashion extremely familiar to us all. The main ideas of this cosmology are easy to be reviewed. The very simplicity of the scheme of the universe here involved serves to bring into clearer view the mystery and horror of the problem that besets Job himself. The world, for Job, is the work of a being who, in the very nature of the case, ought to be intelligible (since he is wise), and friendly to the righteous, since, according to tradition, and by virtue of his divine wisdom itself, this God must know the value of a righteous man. But—here is the mystery—this God, as his works get known through our human experiences of evil, appears to us not friendly, but hopelessly foreign and hostile in his plans and his doings. The more, too, we study his ways with man, the less intelligible seems his nature. Tradition has dwelt upon his righteousness, has called him merciful, has magnified his love towards his servants, has described his justice in bringing to naught the wicked. One has learned to trust all these things, to conceive God in these terms, and to expect all this righteous government from him. Moreover, tradition joins with the pious observation of nature in assuring us of the omnipotence of God. Job himself pathetically insists that he never doubts, for an instant, God's power to do whatever in heaven or earth he may please to do. Nothing hinders God. No blind faith thwarts him. Sheol is naked before him. The abyss has no covering. The earth hangs over chaos because he orders it to do so. His power shatters the monsters and pierces the dragons. He can, then, do with evil precisely what he does with Rahab or with the shades, with the clouds or with the light or with the sea, namely, exactly what he chooses. Moreover, since he knows everything, and since the actual value of a righteous man is, for Job, an unquestionable and objective fact, God cannot fail to know this real worth of righteousness in his servants, as well as the real hatefulness and mischief of the wicked. God knows worth, and cannot be blind to it, since it is as real a fact as heaven and earth themselves.

Yet despite all these unquestioned facts, this God, who can do just what he chooses, "deprives of right" the righteous man, in Job's own case, and "vexes his soul," becomes towards him as a "tyrant," "persecutes" him "with strong hand," "dissolves" him "into storm," makes him a "byword" for outcasts, "casts" him "into the mire," renders him "a brother to jackals," deprives him of the poor joy of his "one day as a hireling," of the little delight that might come to him as a man before he descends hopelessly to the dark world of the shades, "watches over" him by day to oppress, by night to "terrify" him "with dreams and with visions"—in brief, acts as his enemy, "tears" him "in anger," "gnashes upon" him "with his teeth." All these are the expressions of Job himself. On the other hand, as, with equal wonder and horror the righteous Job reports, God on occasion does just the reverse of all this to the notoriously and deliberately wicked, who "grow old," "wax mighty in power," "see their offspring established," and their homes "secure from fear." If one turns from this view of God's especially unjust dealings with righteous and with wicked individuals to a general survey of his providential government of the world, one sees vast processes going on, as ingenious as they are merciless, as full of hints of a majestic wisdom as they are of indifference to every individual right.

A mountain that falleth is shattered,
And a rock is removed from its place;
The waters do wear away stones,
Its floods sweep the earth's dust away;
And the hope of frail man thou destroyest.
Thou subdu'st him for aye, and he goes;
Marring his face thou rejectest him.

Here is a mere outline of the divine government as Job sees it. To express himself thus is for Job no momentary outburst of passion. Long days and nights he has brooded over these bitter facts of experience, before he has spoken at all. Unweariedly, in presence of his friends' objections, he reiterates his charges. He has the right of the sufferer to speak, and he uses it. He reports the facts that he sees. Of the paradox involved in all this he can make nothing. What is clear to him, however, is that this paradox is a matter for reasoning, not for blind authority. God ought to meet him face to face, and have the matter out in plain words. Job fears not to face his judge, or to demand his answer from God. God knows that Job has done nothing to deserve this fury. The question at issue between maker and creature is therefore one that demands a direct statement and a clear decision. "Why, since you can do precisely as you choose, and since you know, as all-knower, the value of a righteous servant, do you choose, as enemy, to persecute the righteous with this fury and persistence of hate?" Here is the problem.

The human interest of the issue thus so clearly stated by Job lies, of course, in the universality of just such experiences of undeserved ill here upon earth. What Job saw of evil we can see ourselves to-day whenever we choose. Witness Armenia. Witness the tornadoes and the earthquakes. Less interesting to us is the thesis mentioned by Job's friends, in the antiquated form in which they state it, although to be sure, a similar thesis, in altered forms, is prevalent among us still. And of dramatic significance only is the earnestness with which Job defends his own personal righteousness. So naïve a self-assurance as is his is not in accordance with our modern conscience, and it is seldom indeed that our day would see any man sincerely using this phraseology of Job regarding his own consciousness of rectitude. But what is today as fresh and real to us as it was to our poet is the fact that all about us, say every child born with an unearned heredity of misery, or in every pang of the oppressed, or in every arbitrary coming of ill fortune, some form of innocence is beset with an evil that the sufferer has not deserved. Job wins dramatic sympathy as an extreme, but for the purpose all the more typical, case of this universal experience of unearned ill fortune. In every such case we therefore still have the interest that Job had in demanding the solution of this central problem of evil. Herein, I need not say, lies the permanent significance of the problem of Job—a problem that wholly outlasts any ancient Jewish controversy as to the question whether the divine justice always does or does not act as Job's friends, in their devotion to tradition, declare that it acts. Here, then, is the point where our poem touches a question, not merely of an older religion, but of philosophy, and of all time.

The general problem of evil has received, as is well known, a great deal of attention from the philosophers. Few of them, at least in European thought, have been as fearless in stating the issue as was the original author of Job. The solutions offered have, however, been very numerous. For our purposes they may be reduced to a few.

First, then, one may escape Job's paradox by declining altogether to view the world in teleological terms. Evils, such as death, disease, tempests, enemies, fires, are not, so one may declare, the works of God or of Satan, but are natural phenomena. Natural, too, are the phenomena of our desires, of our pains, sorrows and failures. No divine purpose rules or overrules any of these things. That happens to us, at any time, which must happen, in view of our natural limitations and of our ignorance. The way to better things is to understand nature better than we now do. For this view—a view often maintained in our day—there is no problem of evil, in Job's sense, at all. Evil there indeed is, but the only rational problems are those of natural laws. I need not here further consider this method, not of solving but of abolishing the problem before us, since my intent is, in this paper, to suggest the possibility of some genuinely teleological answer to Job's question. I mention this first view only to recognize, historically, its existence.

In the second place, one may deal with our problem by attempting any one, or a number, of those familiar and popular compromises between the belief in a world of natural law and the belief in a teleological order, which are all, as compromises, reducible to the assertion that the presence of evil in the creation is a relatively insignificant, and an inevitable, incident of a plan that produces sentient creatures subject to law. Writers who expound such compromises have to point out that, since a burnt child dreads the fire, pain is, on the whole, useful as a warning. Evil is a transient discipline, whereby finite creatures learn their place in the system of things. Again, a sentient world cannot get on without some experience of suffering, since sentience means tenderness. Take away pain (so one still again often insists), take away pain, and we should not learn our share of natural truth. Pain is the pedagogue to teach us natural science. The contagious diseases, for instance, are useful in so far as they lead us in the end to study Bacteriology, and thus to get an insight into the life of certain beautiful creatures of God whose presence in the world we should otherwise blindly overlook! Moreover (to pass to still another variation of this sort of explanation), created beings obviously grow from less to more. First the lower, then the higher. Otherwise there could be no Evolution. And were there no evolution, how much of edifying natural science we should miss! But if one is evolved, if one grows from less to more, there must be something to mark the stages of growth. Now evil is useful to mark the lower stages of evolution. If you are to be, first an infant, then a man, or first a savage, then a civilized being, there must be evils attendant upon the earlier stages of your life—evils that make growth welcome and conscious. Thus, were there no colic and croup, were there no tumbles and crying-spells in infancy, there would be no sufficient incentives to loving parents to hasten the growing robustness of their children, and no motives to impel the children to long to grow big! Just so, cannibalism is valuable as a mark of a lower grade of evolution. Had there been no cannibalism we should realize less joyously than we do what a respectable thing it is to have become civilized! In brief, evil is, as it were, the dirt of the natural order, whose value is that, when you wash it off, you thereby learn the charm of the bath of evolution.

The foregoing are mere hints of familiar methods of playing about the edges of our problem, as children play barefoot in the shallowest reaches of the foam of the sea. In our poem, as Professor Toy expounds it, the speeches ascribed to Elihu contain the most hints of some such way of defining evil, as a merely transient incident of the discipline of the individual. With many writers explanations of this sort fill much space. They are even not without their proper place in popular discussion. But they have no interest for whoever has once come into the presence of Job's problem as it is in itself. A moment's thought reminds us of their superficiality. Pain is useful as a warning of danger. If we did not suffer, we should burn our hands off. Yes, but this explanation of one evil presupposes another, and a still unexplained and greater evil, namely, the existence of the danger of which we need to be thus warned. No doubt it is well that the past sufferings of the Armenians should teach the survivors, say the defenseless women and children, to have a wholesome fear in future of Turks. Does that explain, however, the need for the existence, or for the murderous doings of the Turks? If I can only reach a given goal by passing over a given road, say of evolution, it may be well for me to consent to the toilsome journey. Does that explain why I was created so far from my goal? Discipline, toil, penalty, surgery, are all explicable as means to ends, if only it be presupposed that there exists, and that there is quite otherwise explicable, the necessity for the situations which involve such fearful expenses. One justifies the surgery, but not the disease; the toil, but not the existence of the need for the toil; the penalty, but not the situation which has made the penalty necessary, when one points out that evil is in so many cases medicinal or disciplinary or prophylactic—an incident of imperfect stages of evolution, or the price of a distant good attained through misery. All such explanations, I insist, trade upon borrowed capital. But God, by hypothesis, is no borrower. He produces his own capital of ends and means. Every evil is explained on the foregoing plan only by presupposing at least an equal, and often a greater and a preëxistent evil, namely, the very state of things which renders the first evil the only physically possible way of reaching a given goal. But what Job wants his judge to explain is not that evil A is a physical means of warding off some other greater evil B, in this cruel world where the waters wear away even the stones, and where hopes of man are so much frailer than the stones; but why a God who can do whatever he wishes chooses situations where such a heaped-up mass of evil means become what we should call physical necessities to the ends now physically possible.

No real explanation of the presence of evil can succeed which declares evil to be a merely physical necessity for one who desires, in this present world, to reach a given goal. Job's business is not with physical accidents, but with the God who chose to make this present nature; and an answer to Job must show that evil is not a physical but a logical necessity—something whose nor-existence would simply contradict the very essence, the very perfection of God's own nature and power. This talk of medicinal and disciplinary evil, perfectly fair when applied to our poor fate-bound human surgeons, judges, jailors, or teachers, becomes cruelly, even cynically trivial when applied to explain the ways of a God who is to choose, not only the physical means to an end, but the very Physis itself in which path and goal are to exist together. I confess, as a layman, that whenever, at a funeral, in the company of mourners who are immediately facing Job's own personal problem, and who are sometimes, to say the least, wide enough awake to desire not to be stayed with relative comforts, but to ask that terrible and uttermost question of God himself, and to require the direct answer—that whenever, I say, in such company I have to listen to these half-way answers, to these superficial plashes in the wavelets at the water's edge of sorrow, while the black, unfathomed ocean of finite evil spreads out before our wide-opened eyes—well, at such times this trivial speech about useful burns and salutary medicines makes me, and I fancy others, simply and wearily heartsick. Some words are due to children at school, to peevish patients in the sickroom who need a little temporary quieting. But quite other speech is due to men and women when they are wakened to the higher reason of Job by the fierce anguish of our mortal life's ultimate facts. They deserve either our simple silence, or, if we are ready to speak, the speech of people who our selves inquire as Job inquired.

A third method of dealing with our problem is in essence identical with the course which, in a very antiquated form, the friends of Job adopt. This method takes its best known expression in the doctrine that the presence of evil in the world is explained by the fact that the value of free will in moral agents logically involves, and so explains and justifies, the divine permission of the evil deeds of those finite beings who freely choose to sin, as well as the inevitable fruits of the sins. God creates agents with free will. He does so because the existence of such agents has of itself an infinite worth. Were there no free agents, the highest good could not be. But such agents, because they are free, can offend. The divine justice of necessity pursues such offenses with attendant evils. These evils, the result of sin, must, logically speaking, be permitted to exist, if God once creates the agents who have free will, and himself remains, as he must logically do, a just God. How much ill thus results depends upon the choice of the free agents, not upon God, who wills to have only good chosen, but of necessity must leave his free creatures to their own devices, so far as concerns their power to sin.

This view has the advantage of undertaking to regard evil as a logically necessary part of a perfect moral order, and not as a mere incident of an imperfectly adjusted physical mechanism. So dignified a doctrine, by virtue of its long history and its high theological reputation, needs here no extended exposition. I assume it as familiar, and pass at once to its difficulties. It has its share of truth. There is, I doubt not, moral free will in the universe. But the presence of evil in the world simply cannot be explained by free will alone. This is easy to show. One who maintains this view asserts, in substance, "All real evils are the results of the acts of free and finite moral agents." These agents may be angels or men. If there is evil in the city, the Lord has not done it, except in so far as his justice has acted in readjusting wrongs already done. Such ill is due to the deeds of his creatures. But hereupon one asks at once, in presence of any ill, "Who did this?" Job's friends answer: "The sufferer himself; his deed wrought his own undoing. God punishes only the sinner. Every one suffers for his own wrongdoing. Your ill is the result of your crime."

But Job, and all his defenders of innocence, must at once reply: "Empirically speaking, this is obviously, in our visible world, simply not true. The sufferer may suffer innocently. The ill is often undeserved. The fathers sin; the child, diseased from birth, degraded, or a born wretch, may pay the penalty. The Turk or the active rebel sins. Armenia's helpless women and babes cry in vain unto God for help."

Hereupon the reply comes, although not indeed from Job's friends: "Alas! it is so. Sin means suffering; but the innocent may suffer for the guilty. This, to be sure, is God's way. One cannot help it. It is so." But therewith the whole effort to explain evil as a logically necessary result of free will and of divine justice alone is simply abandoned. The unearned ills are not justly due to the free will that indeed partly caused them, but to God who declines to protect the innocent. God owes the Turk and the rebel their due. He also owes to his innocent creatures, the babes and the women, his shelter. He owes to the sinning father his penalty, but to the son, born in our visible world a lost soul from the womb, God owes the shelter of his almighty wing, and no penalty. Thus Job's cry is once more in place. The ways of God are not thus justified.

But the partisan of free will as the true explanation of ill may reiterate his view in a new form. He may insist that we see but a fragment. Perhaps the soul born here as if lost, or the wretch doomed to pangs now unearned, sinned of old, in some previous state of existence. Perhaps Karma is to blame. You expiate to-day the sins of your own former existences. Thus the Hindoos varied the theme of our familiar doctrine. This is what Hindoo friends might have said to Job. Well, admit even that, if you like; and what then follows? Admit that here or in former ages the free deed of every present sufferer earned as its penalty every ill, physical or moral, that appears as besetting just this sufferer to-day. Admit that, and what logically follows? It follows, so I must insist, that the moral world itself, which this free-will theory of the source of evil, thus abstractly stated, was to save, is destroyed in its very heart and centre.

For consider. A suffers ill. B sees A suffering. Can B, the onlooker, help his suffering neighbor, A? Can he comfort him in any true way? No, a miserable comforter must B prove, like Job's friends, so long as B, believing in our present hypothesis, clings strictly to the logic of this abstract free-will explanation of the origin of evil. To A he says: "Well, you suffer for your own ill-doing. I therefore simply cannot relieve you. This is God's world of justice. If I tried to hinder God's justice from working in your case, I should at best only postpone your evil day. It would come, for God is just. You are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison. What can I do about it? All this is your own deed come back to you. God himself, although justly punishing, is not the author of this evil. You are the sole originator of the ill." "Ah!" so A may cry out, "but can you not give me light, insight, instruction, sympathy? Can you not at least teach me to become good?" "No," B must reply, if he is a logical believer in the sole efficacy of the private free will of each finite agent as the one source, under the divine justice, of that agent's ill: "No, if you deserved light or any other comfort, God, being just, would enlighten you himself, even if I absolutely refused. But if you do not deserve light, I should preach to you in vain, for God's justice would harden your heart against any such good fortune as I could offer you from without, even if I spoke with the tongues of men and of angels. Your free will is yours. No deed of mine could give you a good free will, for what I gave you from without would not be your free will at all. Nor can any one but you cause your free will to be this or that. A great gulf is fixed between us. You and I, as sovereign free agents, live in God's holy world in sin-tight compartments and in evil-tight compartments too. I cannot hurt you, nor you me. You are damned for your own sins, while all that I can do is to look out for my own salvation." This, I say, is the logically inevitable result of asserting that every ill, physical or moral, that can happen to any agent, is solely the result of that agent's own free will acting under the government of the divine justice. The only possible consequence would indeed be that we live, every soul of us, in separate, as it were absolutely fireproof, free-will compartments, so that real coöoperation as to good and ill is excluded. What more cynical denial of the reality of any sort of moral world could be imagined than is involved in this horrible thesis, which no sane partisan of the abstract and traditional free-will explanation of the source of evil will to-day maintain, precisely because no such partisan really knows or can know what his doctrine logically means, while still continuing to maintain it. Yet whenever one asserts with pious obscurity, that "No harm can come to the righteous," one in fact implies, with logical necessity, just this cynical consequence.

There remains a fourth doctrine as to our problem. This doctrine is in essence the thesis of philosophical idealism, a thesis which I myself feel bound to maintain, and, so far as space here permits, to explain. The theoretical basis of this view, the philosophical reasons for the notion of the divine nature which it implies, I cannot here explain. That is another argument. But I desire to indicate how the view in question deals with Job's problem.

This view first frankly admits that Job's problem is, upon Job's presuppositions, simply and absolutely insoluble. Grant Job's own presupposition that God is a being other than this world, that he is its external creator and ruler, and then all solutions fail. God is then either cruel or helpless, as regards all real finite ill of the sort that Job endures. Job, moreover, is right in demanding a reasonable answer to his question. The only possible answer is, however, one that undertakes to develop what I hold to be the immortal soul of the doctrine of the divine atonement. The answer to Job is: God is not in ultimate essence another being than yourself. He is the Absolute Being. You truly are one with God, part of his life. He is the very soul of your soul. And so, here is the first truth: When you suffer, your sufferings are God's sufferings, not his external work, not his external penalty, not the fruit of his neglect, but identically his own personal woe. In you God himself suffers, precisely as you do, and has all your concern in overcoming this grief.

The true question then is: Why does God thus suffer? The sole possible, necessary, and sufficient answer is, Because without suffering, without ill, without woe, evil, tragedy, God's life could not be perfected. This grief is not a physical means to an external end. It is a logically necessary and eternal constituent of the divine life. It is logically necessary that the Captain of your salvation should be perfect through suffering. No outer nature compels him. He chooses this because he chooses his own perfect selfhood. He is perfect. His world is the best possible world. Yet all its finite regions know not only of joy but of defeat and sorrow, for thus alone, in the completeness of his eternity, can God in his wholeness be triumphantly perfect.

This, I say, is my thesis. In the absolute oneness of God with the sufferer, in the concept of the suffering and therefore triumphant God, lies the logical solution of the problem of evil. The doctrine of philosophical idealism is, as regards its purely theoretical aspects, a fairly familiar metaphysical theory at the present time. One may, then, presuppose here as known the fact that, for reasons which I have not now to expound, the idealist maintains that there is in the universe but one perfectly real being, namely, the Absolute, that the Absolute is self-conscious, and that his world is essentially in its wholeness the fulfillment in actu of an all-perfect ideal. We ourselves exist as fragments of the absolute life, or better, as partial functions in the unity of the absolute and conscious process of the world. On the other hand, our existence and our individuality are not illusory, but are what they are in an organic unity with the whole life of the Absolute Being. This doctrine once presupposed, our present task is to inquire what case idealism can make for the thesis just indicated as its answer to Job's problem.

In endeavoring to grapple with the theoretical problem of the place of evil in a world that, on the whole, is to be conceived, not only as good, but as perfect, there is happily one essentially decisive consideration concerning good and evil which falls directly within the scope of our own human experience, and which concerns matters at once familiar and momentous as well as too much neglected in philosophy. When we use such words as good, evil, perfect, we easily deceive ourselves by the merely abstract meanings which we associate with each of the terms taken apart from the other. We forget the experiences from which the words have been abstracted. To these experiences we must return whenever we want really to comprehend the words. If we take the mere words, in their abstraction, it is easy to say, for instance, that if life has any evil in it at all, it must needs not be so perfect as life would be were there no evil in it whatever. Just so, speaking abstractly, it is easy to say that, in estimating life, one has to set the good over against the evil, and to compare their respective sums. It is easy to declare that, since we hate evil, wherever and just so far as we recognize it, our sole human interest in the world must be furthered by the removal of evil from the world. And thus viewing the case, one readily comes to say that if God views as not only good but perfect a world in which we find so much evil, the divine point of view must be very foreign to ours, so that Job's rebellious pessimism seems well in order, and Prometheus appears to defy the world-ruler in a genuinely humane spirit. Shocked, however, by the apparent impiety of this result, some teachers, considering divine matters, still misled by the same one-sided use of words, have opposed one falsely abstract view by another, and have strangely asserted that the solution must be in proclaiming that since God's world, the real world, in order to be perfect, must be without evil, what we men call evil must be a mere illusion—a mirage of the human point of view—a dark vision which God, who sees all truth, sees not at all. To God, so this view asserts, the eternal world in its wholeness is not only perfect, but has merely the perfection of an utterly transparent crystal, unstained by any color of ill. Only mortal error imagines that there is any evil. There is no evil but only good in the real world, and that is why God finds the world perfect, whatever mortals dream.

Now neither of these abstract views is my view. I consider them both the result of a thoughtless trust in abstract words. I regard evil as a distinctly real fact, a fact just as real as the most helpless and hopeless sufferer finds it to be when he is in pain. Furthermore, I hold that God's point of view is not foreign to ours. I hold that God willingly, freely, and consciously suffers in us when we suffer, and that our grief is his. And despite all this I maintain that the world from God's point of view fulfills the divine ideal and is perfect. And I hold that when we abandon the one-sided abstract ideas which the words good, evil, and perfect suggest, and when we go back to the concrete experiences upon which these very words are founded, we can see, even within the limits of our own experience, facts which make these very paradoxes perfectly intelligible, and even commonplace.

As for that essentially pernicious view, nowadays somewhat current amongst a certain class of gentle but inconsequent people—the view that all evil is merely an illusion and that there is no such thing in God's world—I can say of it only in passing that it is often advanced as an idealistic view, but that, in my opinion, it is false idealism. Good idealism it is to regard all finite experience as an appearance, a hint, often a very poor hint, of deeper truth. Good idealism it is to admit that man can err about truth that lies beyond his finite range of experience. And very good idealism it is to assert that all truth, and so all finite experience, exists in and for the mind of God, and nowhere outside of or apart from God. But it is not good idealism to assert that any facts which fall within the range of finite experience are, even while they are experienced, mere illusions. God's truth is inclusive, not exclusive. What you experience God experiences. The difference lies only in this, that God sees in unity what you see in fragments. For the rest, if one said, "The source and seat of evil is only the error of mortal mind," one would but have changed the name of one's problem. If the evil were but the error, the error would still be the evil, and altering the name would not have diminished the horror of the evil of this finite world.

But I hasten from the false idealism to the true; from the abstractions to the enlightening insights of our life. As a fact, idealism does not say: The finite world is, as such, a mere illusion. A sound idealism says, whatever we experience is a fragment, and, as far as it goes, a genuine fragment of the truth of the divine mind. With this principle before us, let us consider directly our own experiences of good and of evil, to see whether they are as abstractly opposed to each other as the mere words often suggest. We must begin with the elementary and even trivial facts. We shall soon come to something deeper.

By good, as we mortals experience it, we mean something that, when it comes or is expected, we actively welcome, try to attain or keep, and regard with content. By evil in general, as it is in our experience, we mean whatever we find in any sense repugnant and intolerable. I use the words repugnant and intolerable because I wish to indicate that words for evil frequently, like the words for good, directly refer to our actions as such. Commonly and rightly, when we speak of evil, we make reference to acts of resistance, of struggle, of shrinking, of flight, of removal of ourselves from a source of mischief—acts which not only follow upon the experience of evil, but which serve to define in a useful fashion what we mean by evil. The opposing acts of pursuit and of welcome define what we mean by good. By the evil which we experience we mean precisely whatever we regard as something to be gotten rid of, shrunken from, put out of sight, of hearing, or of memory, eschewed, expelled, assailed, or otherwise directly or indirectly resisted. By good we mean whatever we regard as something to be welcomed, pursued, won, grasped, held, persisted in, preserved. And we show all this in our acts in presence of any grade of good or evil, sensuous, aesthetic, ideal, moral. To shun, to flee, to resist, to destroy, these are our primary attitudes towards ill; the opposing acts are our primary attitudes towards the good; and whether you regard us as animals or as moralists, whether it is a sweet taste, a poem, a virtue, or God that we look to as good, and whether it is a burn or a temptation, an outward physical foe, or a stealthy, inward, ideal enemy, that we regard as evil. In all our organs of voluntary movement, in all our deeds, in a turn of the eye, in a sigh, a groan, in a hostile gesture, in an act of silent contempt, we can show in endlessly varied ways the same general attitude of repugnance.

But man is a very complex creature. He has many organs. He performs many acts at once, and he experiences his performance of these acts in one highly complex life of consciousness. As the next feature of his life we all observe that he can at the same time shun one object and grasp at another. In this way he can have at once present to him a consciousness of good and a consciousness of ill. But so far in our account these sorts of experience appear merely as facts side by side. Man loves, and he also hates, loves this, and hates that, assumes an attitude of repugnance towards one object, while he welcomes another. So far the usual theory follows man's life, and calls it an experience of good and ill as mingled but exclusively and abstractly opposed facts. For such a view the final question as to the worth of a man's life is merely the question whether there are more intense acts of satisfaction and of welcome than of repugnance and disdain in his conscious life.

But this is by no means an adequate notion of the complexity of man's life, even as an animal. If every conscious act of hindrance, of thwarting, of repugnance, means just in so far an awareness of some evil, it is noteworthy that men can have and can show just such tendencies, not only towards external experiences, but towards their own acts. That is, men can be seen trying to thwart and to hinder even their own acts themselves, at the very moment when they note the occurrence of these acts. One can consciously have an impulse to do something, and at that very moment a conscious disposition to hinder or to thwart as an evil that very impulse. If, on the other hand, every conscious act of attainment, of pursuit, of reinforcement, involves the awareness of some good, it is equally obvious that one can show by one's acts a disposition to reinforce or to emphasize or to increase, not only the externally present gifts of fortune, but also one's own deeds, in so far as one observes them. And in our complex lives it is common enough to find ourselves actually trying to reinforce and to insist upon a situation which involves for us, even at the moment of its occurrence, a great deal of repugnance. In such cases we often act as if we felt the very thwarting of our own primary impulses to be so much of a conscious good that we persist in pursuing and reinforcing the very situation in which this thwarting and hindering of our own impulses is sure to arise.

In brief, as phenomena of this kind show, man is a being who can to a very great extent find a sort of secondary satisfaction in the very act of thwarting his own desires, and thus of assuring for the time his own dissatisfactions. On the other hand, man can to an indefinite degree find himself dissatisfied with his satisfactions and disposed to thwart, not merely his external enemies, but his own inmost impulses themselves. But I now affirm that in all such cases you cannot simply say that man is preferring the less of two evils, or the greater of two goods, as if the good and the evil stood merely side by side in his experience. On the contrary, in such cases, man is not merely setting his acts or his estimates of good and evil side by side and taking the sum of each; but he is making his own relatively primary acts, impulses, desires, the objects of all sorts of secondary impulses, desires, and reflective observations. His whole inner state is one of tension: and he is either making a secondary experience of evil out of his estimate of a primary experience of good, as is the case when he at once finds himself disposed to pursue a given good and to thwart this pursuit as being an evil pursuit; or else he is making a secondary experience of good out of his primary experience of evil, as when he is primarily dissatisfied with his situation, but yet secondarily regards this very dissatisfaction as itself a desirable state. In this way man comes not only to love some things and also to hate other things, he comes to love his own hates and to hate his own loves in an endlessly complex hierarchy of superposed interests in his own interests.

Now it is easy to say that such states of inner tension, where our conscious lives are full of a warfare of the self with itself, are contradictory or absurd states. But it is easy to say this only when you dwell on the words and fail to observe the facts of experience. As a fact, not only our lowest but our highest states of activity are the ones which are fullest of this crossing, conflict, and complex interrelation of loves and hates, of attractions and repugnances. As a merely physiological fact, we begin no muscular act without at the same time initiating acts which involve the innervation of opposing sets of muscles, and these opposing sets of muscles hinder each other's freedom. Every sort of control of movement means the conflicting play of opposed muscular impulses. We do nothing simple, and we will no complex act without willing what involves a certain measure of opposition between the impulses or partial acts which go to make up the whole act. If one passes from single acts to long series of acts, one finds only the more obviously this interweaving of repugnance and of acceptance, of pursuit and of flight, upon which every complex type of conduct depends.

One could easily at this point spend time by dwelling upon numerous and relatively trivial instances of this interweaving of conflicting motives as it appears in all our life. I prefer to pass such instances over with a mere mention. There is, for instance, the whole marvelous consciousness of play, in its benign and in its evil forms. In any game that fascinates, one loves victory and shuns defeat, and yet as a loyal supporter of the game scorns anything that makes victory certain in advance; thus as a lover of fair play preferring to risk the defeat that he all the while shuns, and partly thwarting the very love of victory that from moment to moment fires his hopes. There are, again, the numerous cases in which we prefer to go to places where we are sure to be in a considerable measure dissatisfied; to engage, for instance, in social functions that absorbingly fascinate us despite or even in view of the very fact that, as long as they continue, they keep us in a state of tension which makes us, amongst other things, long to have the whole occasion over. Taking a wider view, one may observe that the greater part of the freest products of the activity of civilization, in ceremonies, in formalities, in the long social drama of flight, of pursuit, of repartee, of contest and of courtesy, involve an elaborate and systematic delaying and hindering of elemental human desires, which we continually outwit, postpone and thwart, even while we nourish them. When students of human nature assert that hunger and love rule the social world, they recognize that the elemental in human nature is trained by civilization into the service of the highest demands of the Spirit. But such students have to recognize that the elemental rules the higher world only in so far as the elemental is not only cultivated, but endlessly thwarted, delayed, outwitted, like a constitutional monarch, who is said to be a sovereign, but who, while he rules, must not govern.

But I pass from such instances, which in all their universality are still, I admit, philosophically speaking, trivial, because they depend upon the accidents of human nature. I pass from these instances to point out what must be the law, not only of human nature, but of every broader form of life as well. I maintain that this organization of life by virtue of the tension of manifold impulses and interests is not a mere accident of our imperfect human nature, but must be a type of the organization of every rational life. There are good and bad states of tension, there are conflicts that can only be justified when resolved into some higher form of harmony. But I insist that, in general, the only harmony that can exist in the realm of the spirit is the harmony that we possess when we thwart the present but more elemental impulse for the sake of the higher unity of experience; as when we rejoice in the endurance of the tragedies of life, because they show us the depth of life, or when we know that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, or when we possess a virtue in the moment of victory over the tempter. And the reason why this is true lies in the fact that the more one's experience fulfills ideals, the more that experience presents to one, not of ignorance, but of triumphantly wealthy acquaintance with the facts of manifold, varied and tragic life, full of tension and thereby of unity. Now this is an universal and not merely human law. It is not those innocent of evil who are fullest of the life of God, but those who in their own case have experienced the triumph over evil. It is not those naturally ignorant of fear, or those who, like Siegfried, have never shivered, who possess the genuine experience of courage; but the brave are those who have fears, but control their fears. Such know the genuine virtues of the hero. Were it otherwise, only the stupid could be perfect heroes.

To be sure it is quite false to say, as the foolish do, that the object of life is merely that we may "know life" as an irrational chaos of experiences of good and of evil. But knowing the good in life is a matter which concerns the form, rather than the mere content of life. One who knows life wisely knows indeed much of the content of life; but he knows the good of life in so far as, in the unity of his experience, he finds the evil of his experience not abolished, but subordinated, and in so far relatively thwarted by a control which annuls its triumph even while experiencing its existence.

Generalizing the lesson of experience we may then say: It is logically impossible that a complete knower of truth should fail to know, to experience, to have present to his insight, the fact of actually existing evil. On the other hand, it is equally impossible for one to know a higher good than comes from the subordination of evil to good in a total experience. When one first loving, in an elemental way, whatever you please, himself hinders, delays, thwarts his elemental interest in the interest of some larger whole of experience, he not only knows more fact, but he possesses a higher good than would or could be present to one who was aware neither of the elemental impulse, nor of the thwarting of it in the tension of a richer life. The knowing of the good, in the higher sense, depends upon contemplating the overcoming and subordination of a less significant impulse, which survives even in order that it should be subordinated. Now this law, this form of the knowledge of the good, applies as well to the existence of moral as to that of sensuous ill. If moral evil were simply destroyed and wiped away from the external world, the knowledge of moral goodness would also be destroyed. For the love of moral good is the thwarting of lower loves for the sake of the higher organization. What is needed, then, for the definition of the divine knowledge of a world that in its wholeness is perfect, is not a divine knowledge that shall ignore, wipe out and utterly make naught the existence of any ill, whether physical or moral, but a divine knowledge to which shall be present that love of the world as a whole which is fulfilled in the endurance of physical ill, in the subordination of moral ill, in the thwarting of impulses which survive even when subordinated, in the acceptance of repugnances which are still eternal, in the triumph over an enemy that endures even through its eternal defeat, and in the discovery that the endless tension of the finite world is included in the contemplative consciousness of the repose and harmony of eternity. To view God's nature thus is to view his nature as the whole idealistic theory views him, not as the Infinite One beyond the finite imperfections, but as the being whose unity determines the very constitution, the lack, the tension, and relative disharmony of the finite world.

The existence of evil, then, is not only consistent with the perfection of the universe, but is necessary for the very existence of that perfection. This is what we see when we no longer permit ourselves to be deceived by the abstract meanings of the words good and evil into thinking that these two opponents exist merely as mutually exclusive facts side by side in experience, but when we go back to the facts of life and perceive that all relatively higher good, in the trivial as in the more truly spiritual realm, is known only in so far as, from some higher reflective point of view, we accept as good the thwarting of an existent interest that is even thereby declared to be a relative ill, and love a tension of various impulses which even thereby involves, as the object of our love, the existence of what gives us aversion or grief. Now if the love of God is more inclusive than the love of man, even as the divine world of experience is richer than the human world, we can simply set no human limit to the intensity of conflict, to the tragedies of existence, to the pangs of finitude, to the degree of moral ill, which in the end is included in the life that God not only loves, but finds the fulfillment of the perfect ideal. If peace means satisfaction, acceptance of the whole of an experience as good, and if even we, in our weakness, can frequently find rest in the very presence of conflict and of tension, in the very endurance of ill in a good cause, in the hero's triumph over temptation, or in the mourner's tearless refusal to accept the lower comforts of forgetfulness, or to wish that the lost one's preciousness had been less painfully revealed by death—well, if even we know our little share of this harmony in the midst of the wrecks and disorders of life, what limit shall we set to the divine power to face this world of his own sorrows, and to find peace in the victory over all its ills.

But in this last expression I have pronounced the word that serves to link this theory as to the place of evil in a good world with the practical problem of every sufferer. Job's rebellion came from the thought that God, as a sovereign, is far off, and that, for his pleasure, his creature suffers. Our own theory comes to the mourner with the assurance: "Your suffering, just as it is in you, is God's suffering. No chasm divides you from God. He is not remote from you even in his eternity. He is here. His eternity means merely the completeness of his experience. But that completeness is inclusive. Your sorrow is one of the included facts." I do not say: "God sympathizes with you from without, would spare you if he could, pities you with helpless external pity merely as a father pities his children." I say: "God here sorrows, not with but in your sorrow. Your grief is identically his grief, and what you know as your loss, God knows as his loss, just in and through the very moment when you grieve."

But hereupon the sufferer perchance responds: "If this is God's loss, could he not have prevented it? To him are present in unity all the worlds; and yet he must lack just this for which I grieve." I respond: "He suffers here that he may triumph. For the triumph of the wise is no easy thing. Their lives are not light, but sorrowful. Yet they rejoice in their sorrow, not, to be sure, because it is mere experience, but because, for them, it becomes part of a strenuous whole of life. They wander and find their home even in wandering. They long, and attain through their very love of longing. Peace they find in triumphant warfare. Contentment they have most of all in endurance. Sovereignty they win in endless service. The eternal world contains Gethsemane."

Yet the mourner may still insist: "If my sorrow is God's, his triumph is not mine. Mine is the woe. His is the peace." But my theory is a philosophy. It proposes to be coherent. I must persist: "It is your fault that you are thus sundered from God's triumph. His experience in its wholeness cannot now be yours, for you just as you—this individual—are now but a fragment, and see his truth as through a glass darkly. But if you see his truth at all, through even the dimmest light of a glimmering reason, remember, that truth is in fact your own truth, your own fulfillment, the whole from which your life cannot be divorced, the reality that you mean even when you most doubt, the desire of your heart even when you are most blind, the perfection that you unconsciously strove for even when you were an infant, the complete Self apart from whom you mean nothing, the very life that gives your life the only value which it can have. In thought, if not in the fulfillment of thought, in aim if not in attainment of aim, in aspiration if not in the presence of the revealed fact, you can view God's triumph and peace as your triumph and peace. Your defeat will be no less real than it is, nor will you falsely call your evil a mere illusion. But you will see not only the grief but the truth, your truth, your rescue, your triumph."

Well, to what ill-fortune does not just such reasoning apply? I insist: our conclusion is essentially universal. It discounts any evil that experience may contain. All the horrors of the natural order, all the concealments of the divine plan by our natural ignorance, find their general relation to the unity of the divine experience indicated in advance by this account of the problem of evil.

"Yes," one may continue, "ill-fortune you have discovered, but how about moral evil? What if the sinner now triumphantly retorts: 'Aha! So my will is God's will. All then is well with me.' " I reply: What I have said disposes of moral ill precisely as definitely as of physical ill. What the evil will is to the good man, whose goodness depends upon its existence, but also upon the thwarting and the condemnation of its aim, just such is the sinner's will to the divine plan. God's will, we say to the sinner is your will. Yes, but it is your will thwarted, scorned, overcome, defeated. In the eternal world you are seen, possessed, present, but your damnation is also seen including and thwarting you. Your apparent victory in this world stands simply for the vigor of your impulses. God wills you not to triumph. And that is the use of you in the world—the use of evil generally—to be hated but endured, to be triumphed over through the very fact of your presence, to be willed down even in the very life of which you are a part.

But to the serious moral agent we say: What you mean when you say that evil in this temporal world ought not to exist, and ought to be suppressed, is simply what God means by seeing that evil ought to be and is endlessly thwarted, endured, but subordinated. In the natural world you are the minister of God's triumph. Your deed is his. You can never clean the world of evil; but you can subordinate evil. The justification of the presence in the world of the morally evil becomes apparent to us mortals only in so far as this evil is overcome and condemned. It exists only that it may be cast down. Courage, then, for God works in you. In the order of time you embody in outer acts what is for him the truth of his eternity.

A. B. Davidson and C. H. Toy (essay date 1911)

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A. B. Davidson and C. H. Toy (essay date 1911)

SOURCE: "Job," in The Voice out of the Whirlwind: The Book of Job, edited by Ralph E. Hone, Chandler Publishing Company, Inc., 1960, pp. 87-103.

[Davidson was editor of The Book of Job for the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, and Toy was a distinguished American scholar of Hebrew. In the following essay, originally published as "Job" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1911), the authors outline the progression of events in The Book of Job, commenting: "Two threads…run through the bookone the discussion of the problem of evil between Job and his friends, and the other the varying attitude of Job's mind towards God.…" The authors also consider various theories concerning the book's origin.]

[The Book of Job], in the Bible, the most splendid creation of Hebrew poetry, is so called from the name of the man whose history and afflictions and sayings form the theme of it.

As it now lies before us it consists of five parts. 1. The prologue, in prose, ch. i.—ii., describes in rapid and dramatic steps the history of this man, his prosperity and greatness corresponding to his godliness; then how his life is drawn in under the operation of the sifting providence of God, through the suspicion suggested by the Satan, the minister of this aspect of God's providence, that his godliness is selfish and only the natural return for unexampled prosperity, and the insinuation that if stripped of his prosperity he will curse God to His face. These suspicions bring down two severe calamities on Job, one depriving him of children and possessions alike, and the other throwing the man himself under a painful malady. In spite of these afflictions Job retains his integrity and ascribes no wrong to God. Then is described the advent of Job's three friends—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite who, having heard of Job's calamities, come to condole with him. 2. The body of the book, in poetry, ch. iii.-xxxi., contains a series of speeches in which the problem of Job's afflictions and the relation of external evil to the righteousness of God and the conduct of men are brilliantly discussed. This part, after Job's passionate outburst in ch. iii., is divided into three cycles, each containing six speeches, one by each of the friends, and three by Job, one in reply to each of theirs (ch. iv.-xiv.; xv.-xxi.; xxii.-xxxi.), although in the last cycle the third speaker Zophar fails to answer (unless his answer is to be found in ch. xxvii.). Job, having driven his opponents from the field, carries his reply through a series of discourses in which he dwells in pathetic words upon his early prosperity, contrasting with it his present humiliation, and ends with a solemn repudiation of all the offences that might be suggested against him, and a challenge to God to appear and put His hand to the charge which He had against him and for which He afflicted him. 3. Elihu, the representative of a younger generation, who has been a silent observer of the debate, intervenes to express his dissatisfaction with the manner in which both Job and his friends conducted the cause, and offers what is in some respects a new solution of the question (xxxii.-xxxvii.) 4. In answer to Job's repeated demands that God would appear and solve the riddle of his life, the Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind. The divine speaker does not condescend to refer to Job's individual problem, but in a series of ironical interrogations asks him, as he thinks himself capable of fathoming all things, to expound the mysteries of the origin and subsistence of the world, the phenomena of the atmosphere, the instincts of the creatures that inhabit the desert, and, as he judges God's conduct of the world amiss, invites him to seize the reins, gird himself with the thunder and quell the rebellious forces of evil in the universe (xxxviii.-xlii.6). Job is humbled and abashed, lays his hand upon his mouth, and repents his hasty words in dust and ashes. No solution of his problem is vouchsafed; but God Himself effects that which neither the man's own thoughts of God nor the representations of the friends could accomplish: he had heard of him with the hearing of the ear without effect; but now his eye sees Him. This is the profoundest religious deep in the book. 5. The epilogue, in prose, xlii. 7-17, describes Job's restoration to a prosperity double that of his former estate, his family felicity and long life.

With the exception of the episode of Elihu, the connexion of which with the original form of the poem may be doubtful, all five parts of the book are essential elements of the work as it came from the hand of the first author, although some parts of the second and fourth divisions may have been expanded by later writers. The idea of the composition is to be derived not from any single element of the book, but from the teaching and movement of the whole piece. Job is unquestionably the hero of the work, and in his ideas and his history combined we may assume that we find the author himself speaking and teaching. The discussion between Job and his friends of the problem of suffering occupies two-thirds of the book, or, if the space occupied by Elihu be not considered, nearly three-fourths, and in the direction which the author causes this discussion to take we may see revealed the main didactic purpose of the book. When the three friends, the representatives of former theories of providence, are reduced to silence, we may be certain that it was the author's purpose to discredit the ideas which they represent. Job himself offers no positive contribution to the doctrine of evil; his position is negative, merely antagonistic to that of the friends. But this negative position victoriously maintained by him has the effect of clearing the ground, and the author himself supplies in the prologue the positive truth, when he communicates the real explanation of his hero's calamities, and teaches that they were a trial of his righteousness. It was therefore the author's main purpose in his work to widen men's views of the providence of God and set before them a new view of suffering. This purpose, however, was in all probability subordinate to some wider practical design. No Hebrew writer is merely a poet or a thinker. He is always a teacher. He has men before him in their relations to God, and usually not men in their individual relations, but members of the family of Israel, the people of God. [In a footnote, the critic adds: "Exceptions must be made in the cases of Esther and the Song of Songs, which do not mention God, and the original writer in Ecclesiastes who is a philosopher."] It is consequently scarcely to be doubted that the book has a national scope. The author considered his new truth regarding the meaning of affliction as of national interest, and as the truth then needful for the heart of his people. But the teaching of the book is only half its contents. It contains also a history—deep and inexplicable affliction, a great moral struggle, and a victory. The author meant his new truth to inspire new conduct, new faith, and new hopes. In Job's sufferings, undeserved and inexplicable to him, yet capable of an explanation most consistent with the goodness and faithfulness of God, and casting honour upon his faithful servants; in his despair bordering on unbelief, at last overcome; and in the happy issue of his afflictions—in all this Israel may see itself, and from the sight take courage, and forecast its own history. Job, however, is not to be considered Israel, the righteous servant of the Lord, under a feigned name; he is no mere parable (though such a view is found as early as the Talmud); he and his history have both elements of reality in them. It is these elements of reality common to him with Israel in affliction, common even to him with humanity as a whole, confined within the straitened limits set by its own ignorance, wounded to death by the mysterious sorrows of life, tortured by the uncertainty whether its cry finds an entrance into God's ear, alarmed and paralysed by the irreconcilable discrepancies which it seems to discover between its necessary thoughts of Him and its experience of Him in His providence, and faint with longing that it might come into His place, and behold him, not girt with His majesty, but in human form, as one looketh upon his fellow—it is these elements of truth that make the history of Job instructive to Israel in the times of affliction when it was set before them, and to men of all races in all ages. It would probably be a mistake, however, to imagine that the author consciously stepped outside the limits of his nation and assumed a human position antagonistic to it. The chords he touches vibrate through all humanity—but this is because Israel is the religious kernel of humanity, and because from Israel's heart the deepest religious music of mankind is heard, whether of pathos or of joy.

Two threads requiring to be followed, therefore, run through the book—one the discussion of the problem of evil between Job and his friends, and the other the varying attitude of Job's mind towards God, the first being subordinate to the second. Both Job and his friends advance to the discussion of his sufferings and of the problem of evil, ignorant of the true cause of his calamities—Job strong in his sense of innocence, and the friends armed with their theory of the righteousness of God, who giveth to every man according to his works. With fine psychological instinct the poet lets Job altogether lose his self-control first when his three friends came to visit him. His bereavements and his malady he bore with a steady courage, and his wife's direct instigations to godlessness he repelled with severity and resignation. But when his equals and the old associates of his happiness came to see him, and when he read in their looks and in their seven days' silence the depth of his own misery, his self-command deserted him, and he broke out into a cry of despair, cursing his day and crying for death (iii). Job had somewhat misinterpreted the demeanour of his friends. It was not all pity that it expressed. Along with their pity they had also brought their theology, and they trusted to heal Job's malady with this. Till a few days before, Job would have agreed with them on the sovereign virtues of this remedy. But he had learned through a higher teaching, the events of God's providence, that it was no longer a specific in his case. His violent impatience, however, under his afflictions and his covert attacks upon the divine rectitude only served to confirm the view of his sufferings which their theory of evil had al-ready suggested to his friends. And thus commences the high debate which continues through twenty-nine chapters.

The three friends of Job came to the consideration of his history with the principle that calamity is the result of evildoing, as prosperity is the reward of righteousness. Suffering is not an accident or a spontaneous growth of the soil; man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards; there is in human life a tendency to do evil which draws down upon men the chastisement of God (v. 6). The principle is thus enunciated by Eliphaz, from whom the other speakers take their cue: where there is suffering there has been sin in the sufferer. Not suffering in itself, but the effect of it on the sufferer is what gives insight into his true character. Suffering is not always punitive; it is sometimes disciplinary, designed to wean the good man from his sin. If he sees in his suffering the monition of God and turns from his evil, his future shall be rich in peace and happiness, and his latter estate more prosperous than his first. If he murmurs or resists, he can only perish under the multiplying chastisements which his impenitence will provoke. Now this principle is far from being a peculiar crotchet of the friends; its truth is undeniable, though they erred in supposing that it would cover the wide providence of God. The principle is the fundamental idea of moral government, the expression of the natural conscience, a principle common more or less to all peoples, though perhaps more prominent in the Semitic mind, because all religious ideas are more prominent and simple there—not suggested to Israel first by the law, but found and adopted by the law, though it may be sharpened by it. It is the fundamental principle of prophecy no less than of the law, and, if possible, of the wisdom of philosophy of the Hebrews more than of either. Speculation among the Hebrews had a simpler task before it than it had in the West or in the farther East. The Greek philosopher began his operations upon the sum of things; he threw the universe into his crucible at once. His object was to effect some analysis of it, so that he could call one element cause and another effect. Or, to vary the figure, his endeavour was to pursue the streams of tendency which he could observe till he reached at last the central spring which sent them all forth. God, a single cause and explanation, was the object of his search. But to the Hebrew of the later time this was already found. The analysis resulting in the distinction of God and the world had been effected for him so long ago that the history and circumstances of the process had been forgotten, and only the unchallengeable result remained. His philosophy was not a quest of God whom he did not know, but a recognition on all hands of God whom he knew. The great primary idea to his mind was that of God, a Being wholly just, doing all. And the world was little more than the phenomena that revealed the mind and the presence and the operations of God. Consequently the nature of God as known to him and the course of events formed a perfect equation. The idea of what God was in Himself was in complete harmony with His manifestation of Himself in providence, in the events of individual human lives, and in the history of nations. The philosophy of the wise did not go behind the origin of sin, or referred it to the freedom of man; but, sin existing, and God being in immediate personal contact with the world, every event was a direct expression of His moral will and energy; calamity fell on wickedness, and success attended right-doing. This view of the moral harmony between the nature of God and the events of providence in the fortunes of men and nations is the view of the Hebrew wisdom in its oldest form, during what might be called the period of principles, to which belong Prov. x. seq.; and this is the position maintained by Job's three friends. And the significance of the book of Job in the history of Hebrew thought arises in that it marks the point when such a view was definitely overcome, closing the long period when this principle was merely subjected to questionings, and makes a new positive addition to the doctrine of evil.

Job agreed that afflictions came directly from the hand of God, and also that God afflicted those whom He held guilty of sins. But his conscience denied the imputation of guilt, whether insinuated by his friends or implied in God's chastisement of him. Hence he was driven to conclude that God was unjust. The position of Job appeared to his friends nothing else but impiety; while theirs was to him mere falsehood and the special pleading of sycophants on behalf of God because He was the stronger. Within these iron walls the debate moves, making little progress, but with much brilliancy, if not of argument, of illustration. A certain advance indeed is perceptible. In the first series of speeches (iv.-xiv.), the key-note of which is struck by Eliphaz, the oldest and most considerate of the three, the position is that affliction is caused by sin, and is chastisement designed for the sinner's good; and the moral is that Job should recognize it and use it for the purpose for which it was sent. In the second (xv.-xxi.) the terrible fate of the sinner is emphasized, and those brilliant pictures of a restored future, thrown in by all the speakers in the first series, are absent. Job's demeanour under the consolations offered him afforded little hope of his repentance. In the third series (xxii. seq.) the friends cast off all disguise, and openly charge Job with a course of evil life. That their armoury was now exhausted is shown by the brevity of the second speaker, and the failure of the third (at least in the present text) to answer in any form. In reply Job disdains for a time to touch what he well knew lay under all their exhortations; he laments with touching pathos the defection of his friends, who were like the winter torrents looked for in vain by the perishing caravan in the summer heat; he meets with bitter scorn their constant cry that God will not cast off the righteous man, by asking: How can one be righteous with God? what can human weakness, however innocent, do against infinite might and subtlety? they are righteous whom an omnipotent and perverse will thinks fit to consider so; he falls into a hopeless wail over the universal misery of man, who has a weary campaign of life appointed him; then, rising up in the strength of his conscience, he upbraids the Almighty with His misuse of His power and His indiscriminate tyranny—righteous and innocent He destroys alike—and challenges Him to lay aside His majesty and meet His creature as a man, and then he would not fear Him. Even in the second series Job can hardly bring himself to face the personal issue raised by the friends. His relations to God absorb him almost wholly—his pitiable isolation, the indignities showered on his once honoured head, the loathsome spectacle of his body; abandoned by all, he turns for pity from God to men and from men to God. Only in the third series of debates does he put out his hand and grasp firmly the theory of his friends, and their "defences of mud" fall to dust in his hands. Instead of that roseate moral order on which they are never weary of insisting, he finds only disorder and moral confusion. When he thinks of it, trembling takes hold of him. It is not the righteous but the wicked that live, grow old, yea, wax mighty in strength, that send forth their children like a flock and establish them in their sight. Before the logic of facts the theory of the friends goes down; and with this negative result, which the author skilfully reaches through the debate, has to be combined his own positive doctrine of the uses of adversity advanced in the prologue.

To a modern reader it appears strange that both parties were so entangled in the meshes of their preconceptions regarding God as to be unable to break through the broader views. The friends, while maintaining that injustice on the part of God is inconceivable, might have given due weight to the persistent testimony of Job's conscience as that behind which it is impossible to go, and found refuge in the reflection that there might be something inexplicable in the ways of God, and that affliction might have some other meaning than to punish the sinner or even to wean him from his sin. And Job, while maintaining his innocence from overt sins, might have confessed that there was such sinfulness in every human life as was sufficient to account for the severest chastisement from heaven, or at least he might have stopped short of charging God foolishly. Such a position would certainly be taken up by an afflicted saint now, and such an explanation of his sufferings would suggest itself to the sufferer, even though it might be in truth a false explanation. Perhaps here, where an artistic fault might seem to be committed, the art of the writer, or his truth to nature, and the extraordinary freedom with which he moves among his materials, as well as the power and individuality of his dramatic creations, are most remarkable. The rôle which the author reserved for himself was to teach the truth on the question in dispute, and he accomplishes this by allowing his performers to push their false principles to their proper extreme. There is nothing about which men are usually so sure as the character of God. They are ever ready to take Him in their own hand, to interpret His providence in their own sense, to say what things are consistent or now with His character and word, and beat down the opposing consciences of other men by His so-called authority, which is nothing but their own. The friends of Job were religious Orientals, men to whom God was a being in immediate contact with the world and life, to whom the idea of second causes was unknown, on whom science had not yet begun to dawn, nor the conception of a divine scheme pursuing a distant end by complicated means, in which the individual's interest may suffer for the larger good. The broad sympathies of the author and his sense of the truth lying in the theory of the friends are seen in the scope which he allows them, in the richness of the thought and the splendid luxuriance of the imagery—drawn from the immemorial moral consent of mankind, the testimony of the living conscience, and the observation of life—with which he makes them clothe their views. He remembered the elements of truth in the theory from which he was departing, that it was a national heritage, which he himself perhaps had been constrained not without a struggle to abandon; and, while showing its insufficiency, he sets it forth in its most brilliant form.

The extravagance of Job's assertions was occasioned greatly by the extreme position of his friends, which left no room for his conscious innocence along with the rectitude of God. Again, the poet's purpose, as the prologue shows, was to teach that afflictions may fall on a man out of all connexion with any offence of his own, and merely as the trial of his righteousness; and hence he allows Job, as by a true instinct of the nature of his sufferings, to repudiate all connexion between them and sin in himself. And further, the terrible conflict into which the suspicions of the Satan brought Job could not be exhibited without pushing him to the verge of ungodliness. These are all elements of the poet's art; but art and nature are one. In ancient Hebrew life the sense of sin was less deep than it is now. In the desert, too, men speak boldly of God. Nothing is more false than to judge the poet's creation from our later point of view, and construct a theory of the book according to a more developed sense of sin and a deeper reverence for God than belonged to antiquity. In complete contradiction to the testimony of the book itself, some critics, as Hengstenberg and Budde, have assumed that Job's spiritual pride was the cause of his afflictions, that this was the root of bitterness in him which must be killed down ere he could become a true saint. The fundamental position of the book is that Job was already a true saint; this is testified by God Himself, is the radical idea of the author in the prologue, and the very hypothesis of the drama. We might be ready to think that Job's afflictions did not befall him out of all connexion with his own condition of mind, and we might be disposed to find a vindication of God's ways in this. There is no evidence that such an idea was shared by the author of the book. It is remarkable that the attitude which we imagine it would have been so easy for Job to assume, namely, while holding fast his integrity, to fall back upon the inexplicableness of providence, of which there are such imposing descriptions in his speeches, is just the attitude which is taken up in ch. xxviii.

It is far from certain, however, that this chapter is an integral part of the original book.

The other line running through the book, the varying attitude of Job's mind towards God, exhibits dramatic action and tragic interest of the highest kind, though the movement is internal. That the exhibition of this struggle in Job's mind was a main point in the author's purpose is seen from the fact that at the end of each of his great trials he notes that Job sinned not, nor ascribed wrong to God (i. 22; ii. 10), and from the effect which the divine voice from the whirlwind is made to produce upon him (xl. 3). In the first cycle of debate (ix.-xiv.) Job's mind reaches the deepest limit of estrangement. There he not merely charges God with injustice, but, unable to reconcile His former goodness with His present enmity, he regards the latter as the true expression of God's attitude towards His creatures, and the former, comprising all his infinite creative skill in weaving the delicate organism of human nature and the rich endowments of His providence, only as the means of exercising His mad and immoral cruelty in the time to come. When the Semitic skin of Job is scratched, we find a modern pessimist beneath. Others in later days have brought the keen sensibility of the human frame and the torture which it endures together, and asked with Job to whom at last all this has to be referred. Towards the end of the cycle a star of heavenly light seems to rise on the horizon; the thought seizes the sufferer's mind that man might have another life, that God's anger pursuing him to the grave might be sated, and that He might call him out of it to Himself again (xiv. 13). This idea of a resurrection, unfamiliar to Job at first, is one which he is allowed to reach out of the necessities of the moral complications around him, but from the author's manner of using the idea we may judge that it was familiar to himself. In the second cycle the thought of a future reconciliation with God is more firmly grasped. That satisfaction or at least composure which, when we observe calamities that we cannot morally account for, we reach by considering that providence is a great scheme moving according to general laws, and that it does not always truly reflect the relation of God to the individual, Job reached in the only way possible to a Semitic mind. He drew a distinction between an outer God whom events obey, pursuing him in His anger, and an inner God whose heart was with him, who was aware of his innocence; and he appeals from God to God, and beseeches God to pledge Himself that he shall receive justice from God (xvi. 19; xvii. 3). And so high at last does this consciousness that God is at one with him rise that he avows his assurance that He will yet appear to do him justice before men, and that he shall see Him with his own eyes, no more estranged but on his side, and for this moment he faints with longing (xix. 25 seq.).

After this expression of faith Job's mind remains calm, though he ends by firmly charging God with perverting his right, and demanding to know the cause of his afflictions (xxvii. 2 seq.; xxxi. 35, where render: "Oh, that I had the indictment which mine adversary has written!"). In answer to this demand the Divine voice answers Job out of the tempest: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" The word "counsel" intimates to Job that God does not act without a design, large and beyond the comprehension of man; and to impress this is the purpose of the Divine speeches. The speaker does not enter into Job's particular cause; there is not a word tending to unravel his riddle; his mind is drawn away to the wisdom and majesty of God Himself. His own words and those of his friends are but re-echoed, but it is God Himself who now utters them. Job is in immediate nearness to the majesty of heaven, wise, unfathomable, ironical over the littleness of man, and he is abased; God Himself effects what neither the man's own thoughts of God nor the representations of his friends could accomplish, though by the same means. The religious insight of the writer sounds here the profoundest deeps of truth.

Doubts whether particular portions of the present book belonged to the original form of it have been raised by many. M. L. De Wette expressed himself as follows: "It appears to us that the present book of Job has not all flowed from one pen. As many books of the Old Testament have been several times written over, so has this also" (Ersch and Gruber, Ency., sect. ii. vol. viii.). The judgment formed by De Wette has been adhered to more or less by most of those who have studied the book. Questions regarding the unity of such books as this are difficult to settle; there is not unanimity among scholars regarding the idea of the book, and consequently they differ as to what parts are in harmony or conflict with unity; and it is dangerous to apply modern ideas of literary composition and artistic unity to the works of antiquity and of the East. The problem raised in the book of Job has certainly received frequent treatment in the Old Testament; and there is no likelihood that all efforts in this direction have been preserved to us. It is probable that the book of Job was but a great effort amidst or after many smaller. It is scarcely to be supposed that one with such poetic and literary power as the author of chap. iii.-xxxi., xxxviii.-xli. would embody the work of any other writer in his own. If there be elements in the book which must be pronounced foreign, they have been inserted in the work of the author by a later hand. It is not unlikely that our present book may, in addition to the great work of the original author, contain some fragments of the thoughts of other religious minds upon the same question, and that these, instead of being loosely appended, have been fitted into the mechanism of the first work. Some of these fragments may have originated at first quite independently of our book, while others may be expansions and insertions that never existed separately. At the same time it is scarcely safe to throw out any portion of the book merely because it seems to us out of harmony with the unity of the main part of the poem, or unless several distinct lines of consideration conspire to point it out as an extraneous element.

The arguments against the originality of the prologue—as, that it is written in prose, that the name Yahweh appears in it, that sacrifice is referred to, and that there are inconsistencies between it and the body of the book—are of little weight. There must have been some introduction to the poem explaining the circumstances of Job, otherwise the poetical dispute would have been unintelligible, for it is improbable that the story of Job was so familiar that a poem in which he and his friends figured as they do here would have been understood. And there is no trace of any other prologue or introduction having ever existed. The prologue, too, is an essential element of the work, containing the author's positive contribution to the doctrine of suffering, for which the discussion in the poem prepares the way. The intermixture of prose and poetry is common in Oriental works containing similar discussions; the reference to sacrifice is to primitive not to Mosaic sacrifice; and the author, while using the name Yahweh freely himself, puts the patriarchal Divine names into the mouth of Job and his friends because he regards them as belonging to the patriarchal age and to a country outside of Israel. That the observance of this rule had a certain awkwardness for the writer appears perhaps from his allowing the name Yahweh to slip in once or twice (xii. 9, cf. xxviii. 28) in familiar phrases in the body of the poem. The discrepancies, such as Job's references to his children as still alive (xix. 17, the interpretation is doubtful), and to his servants, are trivial, and even if real imply nothing in a book admittedly poetical and not historical. The objections to the epilogue are equally unimportant—as that the Satan is not mentioned in it, and that Job's restoration is in conflict with the main idea of the poem—that earthly felicity does not follow righteousness. The epilogue confirms the teaching of the poem when it gives the divine sanction to Job's doctrine regarding God in opposition to that of the friends (xlii. 7). And it is certainly not the intention of the poem to teach that earthly felicity does not follow righteousness; its purpose is to correct the exclusiveness with which the friends of Job maintained that principle. The Satan is introduced in the prologue, exercising his function as minister of God in heaven; but it is to misinterpret wholly the doctrine of evil in the Old Testament to assign to the Satan any such personal importance or independence of power as that he should be called before the curtain to receive the hisses that accompany his own discomfiture. The Satan, though he here appears with the beginnings of a malevolent will of his own, is but the instrument of the sifting providence of God. His work was to try; that done he disappears, his personality being too slight to have any place in the result.

Much graver are the suspicions that attach to the speeches of Elihu. Most of those who have studied the book carefully hold that this part does not belong to the original cast, but has been introduced at a considerably later time. The piece is one of the most interesting parts of the book; both the person and the thoughts of Elihu are marked by a strong individuality. This individuality has indeed been very diversely estimated. The ancients for the most part passed a very severe judgment on Elihu: he is a buffoon, a boastful youth whose shallow intermeddling is only to be explained by the fewness of his years, the incarnation of folly, or even the Satan himself gone a-mumming. Some moderns on the other hand have regarded him as the incarnation of the voice of God or even of God himself. The main objections to the connexion of the episode of Elihu with the original book are: that the prologue and epilogue know nothing of him; that on the cause of Job's afflictions he occupies virtually the same position as the friends; that his speeches destroy the dramatic effect of the divine manifestation by introducing a lengthened break between Job's challenge and the answer of God; that the language and style of the piece are marked by an excessive mannerism, too great to have been created by the author of the rest of the poem; that the allusions to the rest of the book are so minute as to betray a reader rather than a hearer; and that the views regarding sin, and especially the scandal given to the author by the irreverence of Job, indicate a religious advance which marks a later age. The position taken by Elihu is almost that of a critic of the book. Regarding the origin of afflictions he is at one with the friends, although he dwells more on the general sinfulness of man than on actual sins, and his reprobation of Job's position is even greater than theirs. His anger was kindled against Job because he made himself righteous before God, and against his friends because they found no answer to Job. His whole object is to refute Job's charge of injustice against God. What is novel in Elihu, therefore, is not his position but his arguments. These do not lack cogency, but betray a kind of thought different from that of the friends. Injustice in God, he argues, can only arise from selfishness in Him; but the very existence of creation implies unselfish love on God's part, for if He thought only of Himself, He would cease actively to uphold creation, and it would fall into death. Again, without justice mere earthly rule is impossible; how then is injustice conceivable in Him who rules over all? It is probable that the original author found his three interlocutors a sufficient medium for expression, and that this new speaker is the creation of another. To a devout and thoughtful reader of the original book, belonging perhaps to a more reverential age, it appeared that the language and bearing of Job had scarcely been sufficiently reprobated by the original speakers, and that the religious reason, apart from any theophany, could suggest arguments sufficient to condemn such demeanour on the part of any man. (For an able though hardly convincing argument for the originality of the discourses of Elihu see Budde's Commentary.)

It is more difficult to come to a decision in regard to some other portions of the book, particularly ch. xxvii. 7-xxviii. In the latter part of ch. xxvii. Job seems to go over to the camp of his opponents, and expresses sentiments in complete contradiction to his former views. Hence some have thought the passage to be the missing speech of Zophar. Others, as Hitzig, believe that Job is parodying the ideas of the friends; while others, like Ewald, consider that he is recanting his former excesses, and making such a modification as to express correctly his views on evil. None of these opinions is quite satisfactory, though the last probably expresses the view with which the passage was introduced, whether it be original or not. The meaning of ch. xxviii. can only be that "Wisdom," that is, a theoretical comprehension of providence, is unattainable by man, whose only wisdom is the fear of the Lord or practical piety. But to bring Job to the feeling of this truth was just the purpose of the theophany and the divine speeches; and, if Job had reached it already through his own reflection, the theophany becomes an irrelevancy. It is difficult, therefore, to find a place for these two chapters in the original work. The hymn on Wisdom is a most exquisite poem, which probably originated separately, and was brought into our book with a purpose similar to that which suggested the speeches of Elihu. Objections have also been raised to the descriptions of leviathan and behemoth (ch. xl. 15-xli.). Regarding these it may be enough to say that in meaning these passages are in perfect harmony with other parts of the Divine words, although there is a breadth and detail in the style unlike the sharp, short, ironical touches otherwise characteristic of this part of the poem. (Other longer passages, the originality of which has been called into question, are: xvii. 8 seq.; xxi. 16-18; xxii. 17 seq.; xxiii. 8 seq.; xxiv. 9, 18-24; xxvi. 5-14. On these see the commentaries.)

The age of such a book as Job, dealing only with principles and having no direct references to historical events can be fixed only approximately. Any conclusion can be reached only by an induction founded on matters which do not afford perfect certainty, such as the comparative development of certain moral ideas in different ages, the pressing claims of certain problems for solution at particular epochs of the history of Israel, and points of contact with other writings of which the age may with some certainty be determined. The Jewish tradition that the book is Mosaic, and the idea that it is a production of the desert, written in another tongue and translated into Hebrew, want even a shadow of probability. The book is a genuine outcome of the religious life and thought of Israel, the product of a religious knowledge and experience that were possible among no other people. That the author lays the scene of the poem outside his own nation and in the patriarchal age is a proceeding common to him with other dramatic writers, who find freer play for their principles in a region removed from the present, where they are not hampered by the obtrusive forms of actual life, but are free to mould occurrences into the moral form that their ideas require.

It is the opinion of some scholars, e.g. Delitzsch, that the book belongs to the age of Solomon. It cannot be earlier than this age, for Job (vii. 17) travesties the ideas of Ps. viii. in a manner which shows that this hymn was well known. To infer the date from a comparison of literary coincidences and allusions is however a very delicate operation. For, first, owing to the unity of thought and language which pervades the Old Testament, in which, regarded merely as a national literature, it differs from all other national literatures, we are apt to be deceived, and to take mere similarities for literary allusions and quotations; and, secondly, even when we are sure that there is dependence, it is often uncommonly difficult to decide which is the original source. The reference to Job in Ezek. xiv. 14 is not to our book, but to the man (a legendary figure) who was afterwards made the hero of it. The affinities on the other hand between Job and Isa. xl.—lv. are very close. The date, however, of this part of Isaiah is uncertain, though it cannot have received its final form, if it be composite, long before the return. Between Job iii. and Jer. xx. 14 seq. there is, again, certainly literary connexion. But the judgment of different minds differs on the question which passage is dependent on the other. The language of Jeremiah, however, has a natural pathos and genuineness of feeling in it, somewhat in contrast with the elaborate poetical finish of Job's words, which might suggest the originality of the former.

The tendency among recent scholars is to put the book of Job not earlier than the 5th century B.C. There are good reasons for putting it in the 4th century. It stands at the beginning of the era of Jewish philosophical inquiry—its affinities are with Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiastes, and the Wisdom of Solomon, a body of writings that belongs to the latest period of pre-Christian Jewish literary development…its points of connexion with Isa. xl.-lv. relate only to the problem of the suffering of the righteous, and that it is later than the Isaiah passage appears from the fact that this latter is national and ritual in scope, while Job is universal and ethical.

The book of Job is not literal history, though it reposes on historical tradition. To this tradition belong probably the name of Job and his country, and the names of his three friends, and perhaps also many other details impossible to specify particularly. The view that the book is entirely a literary creation with no basis in historical tradition is as old as the Talmud (Baba Bathra, xv. 1), in which a rabbi is cited who says: Job was not, and was not created, but is an allegory. This view is supported by Hengstenberg and others. But pure poetical creations on so extensive a scale are not probable in the East and at so early an age.

The author of the book is wholly unknown. The religious life of Israel was at certain periods very intense, and at those times the spiritual energy of the nation expressed itself almost impersonally, through men who forgot themselves and were speedily forgotten in name by others. Hitzig conjectures that the author was a native of the north on account of the free criticism of providence which he allows himself. Others, on account of some affinities with the prophet Amos, infer that he belonged to the south of Judah, and this is supposed to account for his intimate acquaintance with the desert. Ewald considers that he belonged to the exile in Egypt, on account of his minute acquaintance with that country. But all these conjectures localize an author whose knowledge was not confined to any locality, who was a true child of the East and familiar with life and nature in every country there, who was at the same time a true Israelite and felt that the earth was the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and whose sympathies and thought took in all God's works.

James Strahan (essay date 1913)

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James Strahan (essay date 1913)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Book of Job, T. & T. Clark, 1913, pp. 1-30.

[In the following excerpt from the introduction to his critical study The Book of Job Interpreted, Strahan interprets The Book of Job as a visionary author's response to an era of change in Israel which called for clarification and strengthening of the nation's theology, theodicy, and morality, particularly in regard to the problem of human suffering.]

Pervaded by the thought and feeling of a period in some ways singularly resembling our own, the Book of Job is the most modern of all Hebrew writings, though some readers may naturally find themselves more at home in Ecclesiastes. The post-exilic age which produced the great drama of spiritual doubt transcended by faith was, on the one hand, heavily oppressed by that increase of knowledge which brings increase of sorrow; and it is doubtless true that, [as stated by A. B. Davidson], 'when the Semitic skin of Job is scratched, we find a modern pessimist beneath.' But the age felt, on the other hand, that its richer culture and its wider outlook only constituted a fresh call to realise the union of the spiritual and eternal with its manifestation in time. The greatest thinkers of the period sought to conquer its pessimism with a higher, nobler, purer faith. Perceiving that the God of history was breaking with the past only to fulfil Himself in new and more wondrous ways, they endeavoured to enlighten the bewildered mind and establish the wavering faith of their nation by guiding it into a deeper knowledge of His will and a closer fellow-ship with Himself. Spiritual revolutions, however, are never effected without pain. 'Periods of religious transition, when the advance has been a real one, always have been violent, and probably will always continue to be so. They to whom the precious gift of fresh light is given are called upon to exhibit their credentials as teachers in suffering for it. They, and those who oppose them, have alike a sacred cause; and the fearful spectacle arises of earnest vehement men contending against each other as for their own souls, in fiery struggle;…and, at last, the old faith, like the phoenix, expires upon the altar, and the new rises out of the ashes', [according to James Anthony Froude].

In the Book of Job nothing less than a campaign of centuries is dramatically compressed into a single decisive battle. The Israelites of the pre-exilic time, mastered by a mighty monotheism that had not yet reached the stage of enlightenment at which the origin and existence of evil become an urgent speculative problem, have a facile explanation of all sufferings. To them, as their scriptures mirror their minds to us, there is no mystery of pain. God being all in all, and every event, morally or materially hurtful as well as beneficial, being traced to His immediate action, He rules the affairs of men with a justice so rigid and exact that it is always well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. The divine government accomplishes that which the best human government can only attempt—it rewards the deserving and punishes the guilty. The causal nexus between goodness and prosperity, sin and suffering, is never broken. Health, wealth, peace, comfort, long life are the lot of the true servants of God; sickness, poverty, trouble, disaster, early death the portion of the wicked. One's outward condition is always tell-tale, success being the indication of God's favour, failure of His anger. Accident and partiality are alike unknown. Famine, earthquake, pestilence, defeat in war are the punishment of sin; abundance of corn, wine, and oil, a peaceful home, and a numerous progeny, the reward of righteousness. In the field of destiny, which is this earth, men reap what they have sown. No light of immortality has yet been shed upon human lives; there is no judgment in Sheol, where all things are alike to all. The present life, rounded and complete in itself, alone counts for anything, and between the cradle and the grave men receive what they merit. A man's life and his lot in life must correspond, otherwise God would be unjust.

There can be no doubt that the doctrine of retributive justice is clearly and emphatically taught by all the early prophets, whose religious subject, however, is not the individual Israelite, but the nation Israel. According to them, every event is a revelation of God's righteousness. The physical has no meaning in itself; it is nothing but a medium for the display of the moral. God deals with His people by an unchanging, calculable law, and His external treatment of them manifests His real attitude towards them. The righteous nation is always exalted, the wicked always cast down. The equation between conduct and lot is perfect, the balance of justice so true that it needs no redress in an after-life. The course of events is God's adequate self-expression, His providence made visible. The early prophetic faith might be expressed in Schiller's words, Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht, 'The history of the world is the judgment of the world.'

From the time of Josiah the doctrine of retributive righteousness was embodied for Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy, which was the practical outcome of a strenuous endeavour to apply prophetic ideas to life. 'Do well and fare well' is the burden of all the exhortations of the ideal legislator who speaks in the divine name. 'Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; the blessing if ye shall hearken unto the commandments of Jahweh your God, which I command you this day: and the curse if ye shall not hearken unto the commandments of Jahweh your God.' [Deuteronomy 11:26-28].

The sunny creed which connected unbroken earthly happiness with religious fidelity was a relic of Israel's golden age. It was the faith of a strong, hardy, youthful race, which had, by the blessing of its God, triumphed in the struggle for life. But it was evidently exposed to some grave objections. First, so long as good conduct was the surest passport to divine favour and worldly success, the natural accompaniment of religion was a frankly utilitarian morality. If the basis of God's relations with His people was a covenant, in which He promised that upright living would be recompensed by temporal prosperity, virtue was practised for the sake of the results, and men felt that they had the right to remonstrate if ever the reward of their good deeds was withheld. A second objection is still more serious. If prosperity was regarded as the evidence of God's favour, it is apparent that religion was still the possession of the rich, the free, the healthy, the happy, while it had no message for the poor, the broken, the defeated, the wretched. 'So long as the community flourished, the fact that an individual was miserable reflected no discredit on divine providence, but was rather taken to prove that the sufferer was an evil-doer.… Such a man was out of place among the happy and prosperous crowd that assembled on feast days before the altar;…the unhappy leper, in his lifelong affliction, was shut out from the exercises of religion as well as from the privileges of social life. So the mourner, too, was unclean, and his food was unclean, as his food was not brought into the house of God; the very occasions of life in which spiritual things are nearest to the Christian, and the comfort of religion is most fervently sought, were in the ancient world the times when a man was forbidden to approach the seat of God's presence. To us, whose habit it is to look at religion in its influence on the life and habits of individuals, it seems a cruel law; nay, our sense of justice is offended by a system in which misfortunes set up a barrier between a man and his God. But whether in civil or in profane matters, the habit of the old world was to think much of the community and little of the individual life; and no one felt this to be unjust even though it bore hardly on himself.'

It is certain that the Prophetic and Deuteronomic faith in the success of righteousness, containing as it did a large element of truth, took a firm hold of the national consciousness, as is proved by the fact that it became the burden of many of the Psalms and of the whole Book of Proverbs, as well as the perpetually recurrent moral of all the Hebrew histories. Orthodoxy teaches that the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord 'shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water…and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper' [Psalms 1:3]. 'I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread' [Psalms 37:25]. 'Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: how much more the wicked and the sinner!' [Proverbs 11:31].

Yet long before these confident words of poets and sages were written, the decline and fall of the State of Judah began to evoke the first murmurs of dissent from the traditional creed. The times were out of joint, and the victories of the heathen sorely tried the faith of the people of God. Brave, loyal, heroic men suffered manifoldly and tragically. The accepted theology appeared to be in violent conflict with facts; God's doings could not be harmonised with His attributes; He seemed to have broken His covenant, to be unfaithful to His promises, untrue to Himself. Men brooded on these mysteries till their faith shook and their reason almost reeled.

The Hebrew prophets themselves—God's confidants, sensitive to every whisper of His spirit, every leading of His providence—were the first Hebrew sceptics. Their doubt was faith perplexed, faith tried, faith bewildered, faith tortured. The strength and purity of their progressive ethical monotheism constrained them to ask questions, to expostulate with God, to complain in the anguish of their hearts. Their very faith became a cruel problem, a well-nigh intolerable burden. They could not shut their eyes to the moral confusion of the world, and the mysterious silence, the apparent indifference, of God appalled them. 'Righteous art Thou, O Jahweh,' says one of them, 'when I plead with Thee: yet would I reason the cause with Thee: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they at ease that deal very treacherously?' [Jeremiah 12:1]. 'Wherefore,' cries another, 'lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and hidest Thy face when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he?' [Habakkuk 1:13]. And in the long centuries of misrule that follow the destruction of the Jewish State, plaintive voices become more and more common: 'Thou hast cast off and rejected, Thou hast been wroth with Thine anointed.… O Jahweh, where are Thy former mercies, which Thou swarest unto David in Thy faithfulness?' [Psalms 89:39, 49].

An old and consecrated dogma never lacks defenders, and many attempts were still made to buttress the traditional belief which connected all suffering with sin. If it could not be denied that ideal justice, which theoretically rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked, was in practice often painfully impartial, it was maintained that in the end the balance was always adjusted. In Psalms 37,49, and 73, where the difficulty is felt, relief is sought in the idea that occasional aberrations from the ordinary course of providence are not permanent; that before the close of life, well-doers and evil-doers alike receive their due reward, while the righteous see it and are glad, their faith being thereby re-established. Yet such a theodicy was felt by many to be unsatisfying, for the simple reason that it was not true. And thus the intellect of the nation, enlarged and enlightened by observation and experience, came into sharp conflict with the devotional spirit of religious acquiescence. There was no possibility of theological progress on the old lines, for it had become abundantly evident that God does require the innocent to suffer with the guilty. At such a crisis there was no possibility of standing still; not to go forward was to go backward. If faith was afraid to face the facts of life, faith must perish.

But in the days of storm and stress a new era begins. One seer after another arose in Israel, not to defend the ancient tradition, but to offer a new solution of the mystery of suffering. The greatest of these was the unknown prophet of the Exile, and after him came the author of the Book of Job. Absolutely convinced that the simple creed of the nation's childhood was inadequate for its manhood, they felt themselves constrained to render to their people that greatest of all services—the purifying and ennobling of its spiritual faith.

The writer of the Book of Job is a born dramatist. It is of the essence of his active mind to recognise and state all the arguments which make for and against the conclusion which he himself has reached; and he finds a rudimentary form of dramatic art the fittest medium for a full and adequate discussion of the burning question of his age. Out of the rich store of the nation's legends he chooses the case of a blameless, upright, God-fearing sheikh, the greatest of the sons of the East, who was suddenly cast from the height of prosperity to the lowest depth of misery. Stripped of his wealth, bereft of his family, struck down with a loathsome disease, doomed to an early and painful death, regarded as a common criminal by those near and dear to him, this man presents an absolute contradiction to the ideal union of moral rectitude and worldly happiness. By means of a daring prologue in Heaven, the poet claims the divine sanction for his own view that the suffering of the righteous man is not the punishment of sin but the trial of faith. Job himself, though ignorant of this aspect of the case, at first bears his unparalleled misfortunes with exemplary patience; but, having been educated in the old faith, and necessarily regarding the calamities which have overtaken him as signs of God's anger, he is gradually forced to the agonising conclusion that God is unjust.

Job's three friends represent religious society and its verdicts. So long as they dare to trust their instincts, they are kind and gentle, but their sympathy is soon chilled by their creed. Holding the old dogma of retribution, not, like the early prophets, in its national aspect, but, like Ezekiel (ch.18), in its individual bearing, they apply their grim tenet to their friend with an ever-increasing rigour and vigour. The poet gives them full scope, and uses all the resources of his genius in stating the old doctrine which he wishes to discredit. He does not forget that he belongs to a nation which has cherished that theory for centuries as an orthodox belief. Eliphaz the seer, Bildad the traditionalist, Zophar the ordinary zealot, have all of them great thoughts of the absolute power, the perfect wisdom, the ideal justice of God. They contend that they are striving to keep the nation's sacred heritage pure and intact. What they do not see is that the new conditions in which they live imperatively demand a modification of the nation's faith. Their fundamental error is that they refuse to admit patent facts, and it is the fruitful cause of others. Constituting themselves special pleaders on behalf of God, they become so enmeshed in scholastic jargon that they cease to be conscious of the poignant realities with which they trifle. They sacrifice their friend to their creed. Tantum religio potuit suaderc malorum. 'Of all the cruelty inflicted in the name of orthodoxy there is little that can surpass the refined torture due to this Jewish apologetic. Its cynical teaching met the sufferer in the anguish of bereavement, in the pain and depression of disease, when he was crushed by sudden and ruinous losses.… Instead of receiving sympathy and help, he found himself looked upon as a moral outcast and pariah on account of his misfortunes; when he most needed divine grace, he was bidden to regard himself as a special object of the wrath of Jehovah. If his orthodoxy survived his calamities, he would review his past life with morbid retrospection, and persuade himself that he had indeed been guilty above all other sinners' [W. H. Bennett in The Book of Chronicles].

Job is thus placed in an extraordinary dilemma. If the old doctrine of retribution is true—and he cannot yet doubt that it is—his good conscience is incompatible with the goodness of God, and he must sacrifice the one or the other. If, on the one hand, he trusts his moral sense, he is driven to distrust God; and if, on the other, he trusts God and his creed, he is compelled to deny his own integrity. In the awful conflict which becomes inevitable, will his creed or his conscience win the day?

Job is true to himself. His consciousness of his own innocence is clearer to him than the justice of God. He opposes his moral sense to the verdict of his friends, the judgment of society, the traditions of his race. He is not, like Athanasius, alone with God against the world; he is in the more tragic position of being alone against God and the world.

It is evidently one of the main purposes of the poet to assert the moral rights of personality. He realises two things with equal sureness—the meanness and the dignity of man. Job knows that he is but a driven leaf, a thing of nought, petty, ephemeral, infinitely to be pitied. But he knows also that he is a moral being; and, as he cannot deny his primal certainties, he vindicates his rights against wanton infringements not only at the hands of man, but also at the hands of a despotic God. He does not for a moment assert that he is sinless, but he knows that he has committed none of the crimes of which he is suspected, and no argument can induce him to declare himself guilty against his better knowledge. Omnipotence may crush him in an instant, but cannot compel him to violate his conscience. In reading the Book of Job one is constantly reminded of Pascal's words [in Pensées]: 'L'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut que l'Univers entier s'arme pour l'écraser. Une vapeur, une goute d'eau, suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l'Univers l'écraserait, l'homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu'il sait qu'il meurt, et l'avantage que l'Univers a sur lui. L'Univers n'en sait rien.' Job's friends have a kind of fanatical belief in the greatness of God and the worthlessness of man. The former doctrine Job accepts, but his words are an eternal protest against the latter. The spirit of man asserts the absolute character of its highest convictions against any array of external reasons. 'It was a momentous step when the soul in its relations to God ventured to take its stand upon itself, to trust itself ' [according to Wellhausen in History of Israel]. 'The doctrine of man's dignity receives in the person of Job its noblest exposition in all ancient literature' [according to R. H. Charles in his Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life].

It is Job's loyalty to his moral nature that leads him to a higher faith—to the belief in a God who owns the moral claims of the creature upon the Creator. So long as he doubts whether God is infinitely good as well as great, he is in spiritual darkness. If God is to be judged by the outward phenomena which seem to be the expression of His mind, His rule must be accounted the régime of an omnipotent despot whose arbitrary will is the sole moral law. But against such a conception Job's whole being triumphantly asserts itself. The God for whom his heart yearns, the God of righteousness and love, must be the true God. He knows that above all the dark things of earth such a God lives, that He is the Witness of his innocence, and that He will one day be his Vindicator. Though indisputable facts point to an awful God who has become his Enemy, his heart assures him of a gracious God who is his Friend and has never ceased to love him. And the strangest thing in the drama is his appeal to the God of Heaven against the God of earth. The antinomy indicates that he is groping after a higher conception of God. All his wild words, in some of which he comes perilously near to anathematising God, are directed against a pitiless and undiscriminating Force. And his new faith, which is not fabricated in the schools of logic, but forged in the furnace of affliction, is faith in a God who loves and can be loved.

In nothing is the Book of Job more modern than in its impressive protest against absolutism in theology, its plea for a reasonable service based upon the moral affinity and the mutual understanding of God and man. Is humanity to worship an Almighty Being, though His justice may not be as human justice, nor His mercy as the mercy of man, who may, in fact, for aught we know, be a despotic and revengeful Tyrant? Job's friends said 'Yes,' and therefore he regarded them as sycophants, trembling worshippers of might instead of right, cowards cringing before the unknown Cause of all things, good and bad alike, in nature and in providence. Before such a Deity of absolute power, who did not realise his moral ideal, Job steadily refused to bow. When Hamilton and Mansel unwittingly revived in Britain the doctrine of Job's friends, it was Stuart Mill who repeated, in different language, Job's fiery protest: 'I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.' But if the theological difficulties of the ancient East and the modern West are essentially the same, the heart's intuitions are also everywhere alike, and 'in the person of Job the poet struggles towards the only conception of God which has hope for the universe' [according to A. M. Fairbairn in The City of God]. At the altar of that God the East and the West will meet.

There is yet another possible solution of the enigma of suffering innocence; and when Job is at the height of his great argument, he catches a glimpse of it. His theology is charged with white-hot emotion, and emits lightning flashes of prophecy. As if it were not enough to dispute with men, he dares to face that 'strange hero—Oαvaτoσ.' It is one of the presuppositions of the drama that this world is the only field in which divine justice is exercised, and there is at first no suggestion that the wrongs of the present may be righted in an after-life. But when it becomes apparent to Job that he can never get justice in this world, his mind leaps instinctively to the thought of a posthumous vindication. From the depth of despair he suddenly rises to grapple with the last enemy, to put his foot on the neck of Death. For at least one supreme moment he stands convinced that as a disembodied spirit he will be recalled from Sheol to hear himself justified and to see his Vindicator. It is true that what he expects is not immortality, but simply a favourable verdict which he will be summoned to receive after death. Seed-thoughts, however, grow, and one man's germinal faith—'apart from my flesh shall I see God'—may ultimately become all mankind's invincible hope of eternal life in the presence of God.

In his perplexity Job again and again expresses the passionate desire to come before God, to plead his cause, and to hear the explanation of his sufferings. He is confident that if God will speak, it will not be to condemn but to justify him. At length he is in a measure gratified. The divine speech…from the whirlwind is at once the crowning audacity and the literary glory of the poem. 'It transcends all other descriptions of the wonders of creation or the greatness of the Creator which are to be found either in the Bible or elsewhere' [according to Samuel Driver]. One may admit that in a sense it is disappointing. It does not account for Job's afflictions, and it throws little fresh light upon the moral anomalies of the divine government of the world. It certainly does not explain the ultimate mysteries; it leaves the universe still (in Carlyle's ironical phrase) 'a little abstruse.' But it admirably serves the poet's purpose of bringing his hero back to a sane and true conception of the character of God. If it does not answer the questions raised by the inquisitive intellect, it satisfies the hungering heart. It turns Job's brooding mind from the problem of evil to the problem of good. It plies him with humbling interrogations as to his knowledge of the infinite resources of the Divine Mind. It suggests to him that He who lavishes so much thoughtfulness and kindness upon inanimate and animate nature, cares still more for man. It uses the argument of Isaiah, 'Lift up your eyes on high, and see: who hath created these? … He giveth power to the faint' [Isaiah 40:26, 29], and of the Sermon on the Mount, 'Behold the birds of the heaven.… Consider the lilies,…shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?' [Matthew 6:26, 28, 30].

The searching but none the less tender irony of the speech has often been strangely misunderstood. Renan, [in his History of the People of Israel], thinks that it simply 'crushes the pride of the man who pretends to understand anything of the works of God.' Professor Cornill, who holds that the true solution of the problem of the poem is found in the speeches of Elihu, says that in the divine speeches not the slightest attempt is made to refute or persuade Job, 'but with an unparalleled brutality, which is usually palliated and styled divine irony, but which, under such circumstances and conditions, should much rather be termed devilish scorn (teuflischer Hohn), his mouth is simply stopped.' In that case the poet, as Duhm observes [in The New World], proves himself to be an entirely incapable thinker. The genius of Ewald [in The Book of Job] long ago divined the real meaning of the great utterance. 'The most suitable manner for these divine speeches is that of irony, which combines with concealed severity and calm superiority the effective and benevolent incisiveness of a higher insight that is used in bright sportiveness, a manner of speech which shows, without wounding or crushing, clearly and tellingly the disproportion of the human in its one-sidedness to the truly divine, of the clouded human understanding to the clear, complete wisdom, of powerless human defiance to true power. If the perfectly divine reveals itself in opposition to the limited and human, it is always like an involuntary irony in relation to the latter, even when it punishes and destroys: but in this case there is also a condescension which is really in its inmost nature of the most gracious character.' The hero is not in the end overwhelmed by the poet with diabolical scorn; like Gerontius, he is 'consumed, yet quickened, by the glance of God.' 'He humbles himself in the very dust; not, however, with painful resignation, but in the elevating assurance that God has acknowledged him, and that he must regard all the elements of his lot as evidence of an all-wise and loving will, [Kautsch].

The Book of Job was a great teacher's appeal to the heart of the Hebrew-speaking race in an age of transition, and in the measure in which its teachings were received it clarified the nation's theology, theodicy, and morality. (i.) In a period of intellectual unrest the faith of many Jews apparently reduced itself to a belief in a vague inscrutable Power, sublime, inaccessible, unfeeling, not to say blundering, on which they hesitated to bestow the ancient name of Israel's God. If the poet himself was for a time bound and cramped by such a conception, his spirit was ultimately liberated, and his message to his nation is, that by fidelity to its moral ideals it will recover the vision of a living personal God, the Witness and Vindicator of righteousness, the Light of those who seek Him, the Strength of those who find Him. Given such a conception of God, it matters little by what name He is called. The modern mind is tempted to depersonalise God, preferring 'the Divine' …, 'the something not ourselves that makes for righteousness,' to the eternally righteous Ego, who, having given us minds to know Him and hearts to love Him, reveals Himself that He may satisfy the instincts He has created. Renan thinks that what the writer of Job, who 'displayed great freedom of thought,' still needed to learn was, that 'no special will governs the world, and that what happens is the result of a blind effort tending upon the whole toward good.' It is a pity that the supreme Hebrew master of irony could not have replied to the patronising savant. He would probably have numbered him among Job's 'tormenting comforters.' At any rate, he would not have worshipped a Blind Effort. 'Dark as the problem of evil is, it would be immeasurably darker if we were compelled to believe that there is no infinite Righteousness and Love behind, from which a solution of the problem may ultimately be hoped for, [according to J. Orr in The Christian View of God and the World].

(ii.) The writer sought to purify Israel's theodicy. If he could deliver the national conscience from its age-long obsession by the belief that all pains are penalties, all afflictions evidences of the wrath of Heaven,—if he could prevent the massing of sin and suffering together as one complex blot upon human life, and so prepare for a higher conception of the meaning of sorrow,—he felt that he would not have lived in vain. If he could portray a Servant of God, perfect, upright, eschewing evil, and yet enduring unparalleled sufferings, what might not the next development in the nation's religion be? Of that the writer could probably have no presentiment, and doubtless he thought it enough if he lived his own life and did his own work well. But he builded better than he knew. Job's (and Israel's) forlorn doubt—the maze, the struggle, the labour, the anguish of it all—formed a true praeparatio evangelica. 'If the Jew was to accept a Messiah who was to lead a life of sorrow and abasement, and to be crucified between thieves, it was necessary that it should be somewhere or other distinctly taught that virtue was not always rewarded here, and that therefore no argument could be drawn from affliction and ignominy against the person who suffered it.' [J. B. Mozley, Essays].

(iii.) The poet endeavoured to refine his nation's ethics. In days of oppression and dishonour there were doubtless many Jews who impatiently asked, 'Must we serve God for nought?' And if not a few of them proved unfaithful, the cynical world thought it only natural. But the writer of Job dramatically rallies his people to a purer faith and a nobler morality. He commends that service of God which is not synonymous with prudence, expedience, utility, enlightened self-interest; which is rendered not merely in cheerful and happy times, but in the darkest and dreariest hours. He has discovered that man's love of God is of the higher, diviner order, not when life is smooth and prosperous, but when it is full of sorrow and strife. 'Doth Job serve God for nought?' asks the cynic; 'touch his bone and his flesh, and he will renounce Thee to Thy face.' But it is the cynic who is disillusioned. And the poet's appeal to his people is, Let your faith rise in eternal refutation of the cynicism which would kill the soul of a nation. Nowhere is the poem more modern than here. Paley defined virtue as 'the doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness.' Substitute 'lifelong' for 'everlasting,' and this is the Satan's definition. No greater service can be rendered to a nation than the displacement of utilitarian by ideal ethics. 'Schemes of conduct grounded on calculations of self-interest … do not belong to Moral Science, to which, both in kind and purpose, they are in all cases foreign and, when substituted for it, hostile.' [Coleridge, in Seth's English Philosophers.] To love and serve God for His own sake, as man's moral and spiritual Ideal, and thereby to quench the accusing spirit of sceptical cynicism, are the principles of action which are inculcated in the Book of Job, and there are none higher. They are the principles which made the Hebrews, with all their faults, the foremost nation in history, and they are the principles which make nations great to-day. 'A people cannot be regenerated by teaching them the worship of enjoyment; they cannot be taught a spirit of sacrifice by speaking to them of material rewards. It is the soul which creates to itself a body; the idea which makes for itself a habitation.… Say to men, Come, suffer; you will hunger and thirst; you will, perhaps, be deceived, be betrayed, cursed; but you have a great duty to accomplish: they will be deaf, perhaps, for a long time, to the severe voice of virtue; but on the day that they do come to you, they will come as heroes, and be invincible' [Mazzini, Essays].

Morris Jastrow, Jr. (essay date 1920)

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Morris Jastrow, Jr. (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: "The Folktale of Job and The Book of Job," in The Book of Job: Its Origin, Growth and Interpretation, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1920, pp. 25-63.

[In the following essay from his critical study and translation The Book of Job: Its Origin, Growth and Interpretation, Jastrow views the poetry section of The Book of Job as a philosophical discussion in which the traditional explanation for human suffering presented in the older folktale of Job is questioned.]

The ambition of the student of Biblical Literature to try his hand at an interpretation of the Book of Job appears to be as irresistible as the longing of every actor—even though he begins his career with low comedy—to end as Hamlet. [In a footnote, the critic adds: "The list of interpretors of Job extends from Theodore of Mopsuestia who in the fifth century of our era endeavored to show that Job is a tragedy after the pattern of the Greek drama, to the year 1918 in which Dr. H. M. Kallen made the same futile attempt. The interpreters include the greater lights and smaller satellites among Biblical scholars from the Jewish commentators of the Middle Ages: Ibn Ezra, Kimchi and Rashi, to Ewald, Renan, Dillman, Duhm, Budde, Graetz, Cheyne, Szold, Genung, Delitzsch, Siegfried, Peake, Cox, Barton, Strahan, Blake, Ehrlich, Driver, Gray and Buttenwieser in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."] The difficulties with which the book bristles from its challenge, as the intensely human problem with which it deals explains the fascination which it has ever exercised on every one who can sympathize—and who can not?—with the pathetic effort of the human soul to pierce the encompassing darkness and mystery of human life. Carlyle calls it "A noble book; all men's book" [in Heroes and Hero Worshippers, II]. It makes, in truth, a universal appeal, and this is the more remarkable because there is no other book in the Biblical collection which is so puzzling the moment one endeavors to penetrate beneath the surface, as there is none in regard to which so many misunderstandings are still current. It may be said without exaggeration that every thing about the book is puzzling. The language is difficult and in many cases almost hopelessly obscure, the text has come down to us in a very corrupt form, in part due to the obscurity of the language, the arrangement is most complicated, the setting is as strange as it is non-Jewish, and what adds to these difficulties, the entire book has been manipulated in the interest of conventional orthodoxy, so that its original import can only be discovered by a most exacting study.

We must at the outset recognize that the Book of Job in its original form was a skeptical composition—skeptical in the sense of putting a question mark after the fundamental axiom in the teachings of the Hebrew prophets of the ninth and succeeding centuries, that the government of the universe rests on justice. We will see that there is no single author in the modern sense to any part of the book. The group that produced the original book, while not denying the existence of a watchful Creator, is not satisfied with the mere repetition of a pious phrase,

"God's in His heaven,
All's right with the world!"

They wish to test the phrase. Anatole France tells us in that charming narrative of his childhood—Le Petit Pierre—in which one suspects that he has used the Goethean device of combining "Wahrheit und Dichtung"—that he declined to follow his mother's suggestion to put an interrogation mark after the title of his earliest composition "What is God," because, as he insisted, he purposed to answer the question. Since then, he tells us, he has changed his mind and is inclined to put a question mark after everything that he writes, thinks or does. The unknown thinker to whom we owe the first draft of the Book of Job is one of the great questioners of antiquity, and those who followed in his wake in enlarging the book often add two interrogation marks to statements that were accepted as a matter of course by the age in which they lived.

The personage of Job is merely an illustration of a man who endured in patience. The folktale is a peg on which to hang the discussion of the problem involved in Job's sufferings. This problem is resolved into the question—Why should the just man suffer? Job is "Everyman," and what happened to him represents merely on a large scale what on a smaller one may be taken as typical of the common human experience. For who has not at some time in his life suffered innocently and felt convinced of his martyrdom? Even the most fortunate experience disappointments which seem to involve injustice towards them. We are all at some time buffeted by the waves of fortune, and when we look about us we behold on all sides the sea strewn with the wrecks of human careers, as a result of the merciless fury of the elements aroused to anger through no cause that can be reconciled with the conception of a moral and just Neptune. In the larger field of human history—the fate of nations and countries—cunning, deceit, brute power, oppression of the masses seem to be the forces in control.

"Right forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne."

A "gentle cynic" like Koheleth can deal lightly with a topsy-turvy world in which he sees "a righteous man who perishes by his righteousness, and there a wicked man rounding out his life in his wickedness." [Ecclesiastes, 7:15] The one who is willing to take things as they come can reach the conclusion that there is "nothing better for a man than to be happy and enjoy himself in his life" [Ecclesiastes, 3:12]. Not so the writers in the original Book of Job, who are neither gentle nor cynical. For them the fact that wickedness usurps the place of justice, and "where the righteous should have been, the wicked was" [Ecclesiastes, 3:16] constitutes the most serious problem of life, since it involves the possibility that at the head of the universe stands a blind and cruel fate in place of a loving Father of mankind. The questioner scans the heavens and finds the supposed throne of mercy without an occupant; and the discovery bears heavily on his disturbed soul.

This, then, must constitute our point of departure in any endeavor to penetrate into the meaning of the philosophic poem in its earliest form, that its spirit is skeptical. The Book of Job arose out of a circle which was not content with the conventional answer to the question why the innocent suffer in this strange world. Hence the manifest sympathy of the writers to whom we owe the Symposium (chapters 3-27) with Job. The three "friends" introduced as participants in the discourse are merely foils to press home the arguments of Job against the assumptions of the prevailing orthodoxy. Job is the Alpha and Omega in the situation, the climax and the anti-climax.

But the objection may be interposed, why designate Job as a book that questions the current view that suffering is for a good cause, when we have the speeches of the three companions who in answer to Job's complaints uphold the orthodox point of view? Besides there are the discourses of Elihu (chapters 32-37) in defence of orthodoxy, and the magnificent series of poems (chapters 38-41), put into the mouth of God Himself. Is not the orthodox point of view triumphant? Does not Job repent and only after his repentance is rewarded for his sufferings by having health, wealth and happiness restored to him? Why not judge the book from this angle? Such indeed was the prevailing view taken of Job till the advent of modern Biblical criticism, and even among the critical students there are at present some—and in the former generation there were more—who look upon the Book of Job as written for the purpose of vindicating the story of Job, instead of questioning the basis on which that story rests.

If we take the book as it stands in our ordinary Bible translations, there is no escape from the conclusion that Job is a powerful argument for the maintenance of Jewish orthodoxy of post-exilic days, but the fatal objection to the conclusion is that we cannot take the book as it stands. As we have it, the production is far removed from its original draft. It is not a unit composition, as little as is the Book of Koheleth. It is composite not to the same degree as the Pentateuch is a gradual growth, but of the same order. It consists of a trunk on which branches have been grafted. In the course of its growth from the first draft to its final form it covers a considerable period, just as the compilation of the five books into which the Psalms are divided stretches over several centuries. It received in the course of its growth large additions the purpose of which was to counteract the tendency of the original draft, precisely as was the purpose of the additions to Koheleth.

Now in order to establish this, let us try to make clear to ourselves how a Symposium such as we have in Job based on the story of Job may have arisen. We must take as our starting-point not an individual author—for there were no authors in any real sense of the word among the Hebrews till some time after the contact with Greek culture—but rather a circle in which the problem suggested by the folk-tale would form the subject of discussion. Some thinker in such a circle, gifted with insight into human nature and an observer of what was happening in the world around him, raised the question whether such a story as that of Job was a true one, that is, in the sense of representing what would really happen if misfortune should overtake a thoroughly good and virtuous and God-fearing man. Would such a man act in the manner indicated in the folk-tale, like Job accept the evil in the same spirit as the good and bow his head in silent resignation? The third chapter in which Job begins by cursing the day on which he was born, and ends by complaining that God will not grant release to those who long for death more than for hidden treasures,

"Who rejoice at the thought of the mound,"

furnishes the answer. "There you have the real Job," exclaims the thinker. That is the way in which a man who feels keenly the injustice of being made a butt of misfortune would feel. To be deprived of family possessions and station and finally to be tortured with loathsome disease would change the pious and God-fearing man into a violent accuser of the Deity. Throughout the Symposium, Job is represented as protesting against his cruel and unjustifiable treatment. He wrings our soul with pity by his bitter outcries. Those who write the speeches which they put into his mouth visualize for us the sufferings of Job beyond human endurance. Ever and again he breaks out in his anguish and indulges in indictments against Divine injustice that know no bounds.

A second question put by our thinker, who analyzes the story that was repeated from generation to generation, was even more pertinent. What about God? What an awful Deity to permit a man "perfect and removed from evil" (1, 2) to be thus wracked on the wheel! The introduction of the scene between Yahweh and Satan only enhances the callousness of the former in heaping misfortunes on an innocent head, just for the satisfaction of winning a wager. What a shocking and immoral story, we can fancy the thinker saying, to tell children and to impress upon their elders. Even if Job had acted as he is represented in the folktale, what is there to be said in justification of God? The good "Sunday School" story is thus transformed under the searching test of those who approach it from a more critical angle, into a most objectionable tale. Its supposed lesson to suffer without murmuring is punctured by the two questions thus raised in regard to it, the one of a psychological nature, the other of a theological order. How can one reconcile the conduct of Yahweh in the story with the conception of God taught by the Hebrew prophets of the century and a half preceding the downfall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), as a Being ruling the world and the destinies of mankind by laws of justice, tinctured with mercy? That is the problem as it appeared to the circle within which at some time a thinker arose, who put his two questions and who stimulated his fellow thinkers to discuss the theme involved in what on the surface appeared to be an altogether proper and impressive folktale.

The Symposium in which arguments and counter arguments are exchanged by Job and his friends is the outcome of these discussions. The purpose of the Symposium is not to elaborate the story, but to illuminate the religious problem which may, in other words, be briefly defined as the search for the reason of suffering and evil in a world created by a supposedly merciful, just and loving Creator. One must enlarge the problem to one of suffering and evil, for the one implies the other. The counterpart to Job, the innocent sufferer, is the wicked man who escapes punishment. Our thinker is unsparing in his search, for no less typical than Job's case of what is happening daily is the con-current instance of the wrongdoer who eludes the fate that is his due. The one who heaps up ill-gotten gain enjoys his wealth without even a twinge of conscience at forcing others to tread the mill, so that he may acquire substance. The tyrant on the throne, the thief who robs his fellow, the murderer who mounts over the prostrate body of his victim, the dishonest dealer who defrauds his customers by false scales, the brutal employer who grinds the faces of the poor—are they not all around us, happy and prosperous while the weak and defenseless perish? Such is the terrible indictment that we encounter in the utterances put into the mouth of Job. Here is a problem indeed, well worthy of discussion. Where is God while innocent suffering and terrible injustice is going on in His world? Is a solution possible?

The circle in which the problem thus extended into a general discussion of the reason for suffering and evil in the world was tossed to and fro must have consisted of bold thinkers who had freed themselves from the shackles of traditional views to plunge fearlessly into the maelstrom of doubt and rationalism. They knew of the counter arguments that would be brought forward in orthodox circles against the position taken by Job. In order to illuminate the problem from all sides, the three friends of the folktale are introduced as the representatives of the prevailing orthodoxy, but it is evident throughout the Symposium that although the speeches put into the mouth of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are from the literary point of view fully as impressive as those of Job, the sympathy of the writers is on the side of Job. It is only when we come to the four speeches of a fifth personage—Elihu—that we obtain compositions in which the attempt is made to divert our sympathy, but Elihu takes no part in the Symposium proper.

We are led to a post-exilic date for the existence of such a circle of free thinkers, sufficiently bold and advanced to tackle the most perplexing problem that arises when religion passes from the earlier stages in which the chief attribute of the gods is strength, arbitrarily exercised, to the highest level in which ethical motives enter into the conception of the Divine government of the universe. With the appearance of the great series of prophets, about the middle of the ninth century, B.C. the Hebrews definitely advance to this level, for the burden of the teachings of Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah is that Yahweh, the national deity of the Hebrews, is a Power "making for righteousness." He does not act arbitrarily, but rewards or punishes according to the good or bad deeds of his people. The obedience that He exacts is to dictates of justice. He knows no favorites and cannot be bribed by sacrifices or homage to divert just punishment from wrongdoers. The pre-exilic prophets do not stress the universal sway of Yahweh. For them Yahweh is still, or at least primarily, the God of the Hebrews. In this sense the Hebrews are His chosen people, but the corollary that a God of justice and righteousness must be a unifying force, in control of the universe and exercising His sway over all nature and all mankind, was in due time drawn, though it is not until the exilic period that a genuine ethical monotheism was preached by the successors of the earlier prophets, by Ezekiel, by the anonymous prophets whose utterances are embodied in the second part of Isaiah [Chapters 40-66, with some scattered utterances also in the first 35 chapters], by Zephaniah and Zechariah.

We must descend well into the fifth century before Judaism, as we know it, became part and parcel of the life of the people. In the Symposium God is viewed as a power of universal scope. There is no longer any trace of the former nationalistic limitations; and it is just because the doctrine of the prophets involved the rule by this universal Power of the destinies of mankind by self-imposed laws of righteousness and justice, that the problem as to the cause of innocent suffering and unchecked evil in the world becomes real and intense. For religions of the older type, the difficulty did not exist. The gods were arbitrary. They could not be held to account. It was man's sole endeavor to keep them in good humor and favorably disposed by doing what would please them. If despite gifts and homage, the gods were disposed to manifest their anger by sending disease, by catastrophes and miseries of all kinds, there was nothing to be done but to wait until their dis-pleasure had passed away. The circle from which the Book of Job emanated could therefore not have arisen in Palestine, where the book originated, before the fifth century, B. C. and scholars are generally agreed to proceed far into this century for the first draft of our book. The discussions on the vital problem may have gone on orally for some time before the thought rose of giving a written form to them, and we are probably safe in fixing upon 400 B. C. as the approximate date for the Symposium.

The problem of the Book of Job is thus one which directly arises out of the basic doctrine of post-exilic Judaism; and it was inevitable that the question would some time be raised, whether what the prophets taught of the nature of God which the people accepted as guidance in their lives was compatible with the facts of experience. Is there a just and loving Providence at the helm of the universe? If so, why does man live in a vale of sorrow? As the Psalmist asks:

"Why standest Thou afar off, O Yahweh,
Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?"
[Psalm 10: 1]

The questioning spirit arises in the circles of the orthodox and pious quite as much as among those who boldly challenge conventional views, but the significance of the Symposium consists in the thorough manner in which for the first time the problem is discussed in the light of a particularly significant example of a contrast between what ought to be in a world that is supposed to be ruled by justice, and what is. Occasionally in other literatures of the ancient East, the problem is touched upon. So, for example, in a remarkable Babylonian poem of a king of Nippur, who despite his piety is smitten with disease. Tabiutul-Enlil, as the king is called, is represented as indulging in reflections on the prevalence of suffering in the world.

"I had reached and passed the allotted time of
Whithersoever I turned—evil upon evil;
Misery had increased, justice had disappeared."

But under the limitation of the Babylonian conception of the gods, who although not insensible to justice, yet exercise their power according to their pleasure and in arbitrary fashion, the poem goes no farther than to suggest that the ways of the gods are unfathomable, and that without apparent cause man's fate is subject to constant change.

"What, however, seems good to oneself, to a god
 is displeasing,
What is spurned by oneself finds favor with a
  Who is there that can grasp the will of the gods
 in heaven?
The plan of a god full of power (?)—who can understand
How can mortals learn the way of a god?
He who was alive yesterday is dead to-day.
In an instant he is cast into grief,
Of a sudden he is crushed.
For a moment he sings in joy;
In a twinkling he wails like a mourner.
Like opening and closing, their (ie. mankind's)
  spirit changes;
If they are hungry, they are like corpses;
Have they had enough, they consider themselves
 equal to their god.
If things go well, they prate of mounting to heaven;
If they are in distress, they speak of descending
   into Irkalla."

In the Upanishads of ancient India, from about the seventh and following centuries, the tragedy of life is the constant theme, and the spirit in which life is viewed is preëminently philosophical, but we have sporadic reflections rather than a genuine attempt to get at the core of the problem. In this respect the Symposium of Job is unique. Its philosophy is not academic but intensely human. It brings the problem home to us in a way that betrays its origin in a circle which responded sympathetically to the hard experiences of life from which few escape, a circle that was alive to the consciousness of frequent failure, despite all endeavors to follow the dictates of an ethical code of life and that grasped the bitterness of seeing wrong triumphant while virtue is trampled under foot. The Symposium is all the more remarkable because despite its rebellious tone, its boldness is kept within the limits of an honest search for truth, undertaken in a profoundly serious frame of mind. Its pessimism is free from any tinge of cynicism or frivolity; its skepticism is never offensive, because it keeps close to intense sympathy for suffering mankind as typified by Job. The Symposium, quite apart from its literary qualities, stands out for these reasons in the world's literature as one of the boldest attempts to attack a problem which to-day, after two thousand years and more, still baffles religious minds.

A further condition for a proper understanding of the book that follows from what has just been set forth, is the separation of the story of Job from the philosophical discussion occasioned by the story; and here we touch upon the most significant of misunderstandings in regard to our book which is still widely prevalent. To the average person who has been accustomed to think of the Book of Job as a unit composition, written by one person as a book generally is in our days, there is only one Job. In reality there are two, the Job of the story and the Job in the discussions with his three companions. The only connection between the two Jobs is the similarity in the name.

An uncritical tradition is responsible for the confusion, for the compilers of the book in its original form did all that lay in their power to distinguish between the two. Even externally the Job of the story is separated from the Job in the discussions. The story of the pious, patient, taciturn Job is told in prose [Chapters I and 2 and the conclusion of the story (though modified from its original form) chapter 42,7-17. The distinction is made evident in the Revised Version, as in other modern translations.], whereas the other Job who is impatient, and rebellious, voluble in the denunciation of the cruel fate meted out to him, and blasphemous in his charges of injustice against the Creator of the universe in control of the destinies of mankind is made to speak in poetry, as are his friends. Apart from this, the Job who when misfortunes follow upon disasters in close succession exclaims—

"Yahweh has given, and Yahweh has taken,
Blessed be the name of Yahweh."
[Job 2:21]

cannot possibly be the same as the one who at the outset of the Symposium between him and his companions gives vent to his embittered soul in the most vehement terms:

"Perish the day on which I was born,
And the night when a male was conceived."
[Job 3:3]

Can there be a more striking contrast than between the Job in the story who, when called upon by his unsympathetic wife to do away with himself and thus put an end to his sufferings, asks:

"Should we indeed receive the good from God,
but the evil we should not receive"?
[Job 2:10]

and the Job in the discussion, whose piercing cry of despair resounds through the ages:

"Why did I not die at the womb,
Come forth from the lap and perish?
Why did knees receive me?
And why were there breasts to give me suck?"
[Job 3:11-12]

One must admire the persistency of the uncritical tradition which thus succeeded in confusing the two Jobs, in the face of the contradiction between the one as not "sinning with his lips," (2, 10) despite all that he had to endure, and the unbridled blasphemy of the other Job who exclaims to God,

"I will not restrain my mouth;
  I will give voice to my despair.
I prefer strangling of my soul,
Death rather than my pains.
I refuse to live any longer;
Cease, for my days are vanity."
[Job 7:11 and 15-16]

Nor does the Job of the discussion stop short of accusing God of deliberate injustice. He goes so far as to suggest that it is God's nature to be cruel, to take pleasure in seeing the innocent suffer:

"If I were in the right, my mouth [ie., my complaints
  against fate] would condemn me;
If I were entirely right, He would twist the verdict.

The guiltless and the wicked He destroys.
If a scourge should suddenly strike one dead,
He would laugh at the death of the innocent."
[Job 9:20-23]

Can a denial of a merciful Providence go further? The Job of the story has sublime faith in God's justice, despite all appearances to the contrary. The Job of the discussions conceives of God as strong and powerful, but as arbitrary and without a sense of justice. Such are the two Jobs, the one as far removed from the other as heaven is from earth—

"Look here, upon this picture, and on this."

The contrast between the story and the setting in the discussion extends to the portrayal of the three friends and to the conception of God. In the story, as told in the opening two chapters, the friends are intensely sympathetic. They are shocked at the appearance of Job; they are so deeply moved by the misfortunes that have overwhelmed him and by the sufferings that he endures as to be incapable of speech. Their sympathy is expressed by their silence. But note the contrast when we come to the Symposium. Their sympathy changes to harshness in a steadily ascending scale, Eliphaz, the first to speak, begins, to be sure, in an apologetic strain, excusing himself as it were for venturing to offer a suggestion to Job as to the cause of his suffering, but only to advance to a rebuke that is none the less stinging for being put in the form of a question:

"Can man be more righteous than God?
Can a man be purer than his Maker?"
[Job 4:17]

The implication is clear, and with subtle skill Eliphaz advances to a more direct charge that Job must have committed some great wrong which brought on his hard fate.

"I have seen the foolish take root;
But his habitation of a sudden is swept away.
His sons far from salvation,
And crushed, with none to save [them]."
[Job 5:3-4]

Eliphaz uses the milder term "foolish," but he means "wicked;" and he wishes to leave no doubt in Job's mind that his only hope is to confess his guilt and to throw him-self on the mercy of God.

If Eliphaz in his first speech is somewhat restrained, not so Bildad and Zophar, who introduce their arguments with sharp invectives, and whose example is followed by Eliphaz in his subsequent speeches. There is no trace of friendly sympathy in Bildad's greeting:

"How long wilt thou babble thus?
Thy words are a mighty wind."
[Job 8:1]

and there is downright hostility in Zophar's opening taunt:

"Should one full of words remain unanswered?
Should a babbler be acquitted?"
[Job 11:1]

The friends in the story of Job become the accusers in the discussion. One after the other declares that Job—in flagrant contradiction to the assumption throughout the story—is a wicked sinner whose punishment is merited because of his unrepentant nature, which manifests itself in the charges of injustice that he hurls against the Almighty as the cause of his ills and woes. We almost lose sight of the main discussion in the great variety of the taunts, rebukes and charges brought by the three companions against Job.

There are also two conceptions of God. The Yahweh of the story is a different being from the Elohim in the discussions. [In a footnote the critic adds: "Elohim, varying with El, is a generic designation like our 'God' or 'Deity,' in contrast to Yahweh, the name of the old national deity of the Hebrews. So personal was the name Yahweh that it be-came customary to avoid the pronunciation and to substitute for it 'Adonai' meaning 'Master,' 'Lord.' The substitute was not due to the holiness of the name Yahweh, as the later tradition assumed, but on the contrary to its distasteful association with a deity limited in scope to one people and restricted in jurisdiction to the territory controlled by that people. The later documents in the Pentateuchal compilation use 'Elohim,' i.e., Deity, which is impersonal, just as we might to-day prefer 'Almighty' to the term 'God,' because of the strong implication of personality in the current use of God."] Yahweh is proud of Job's piety and has supreme confidence that His "servant Job" will endure the test to which he is put at the instigation of Satan. Yahweh boasts of Job as one might take pride in a fine achievement.

"Hast thou observed my servant Job? There is none like him in the earth—pious and upright."

"There's a fine fellow," Yahweh says to Satan. See what a splendid creature I have made of him! One is tempted to say that the dialogue between Yahweh and Satan has a touch of bonhomie in it that is in refreshing contrast to the severe and forbidding picture we receive of the Deity in the philosophical poem. Goethe in the prologue to Faust, based on the two introductory chapters of Job, has caught this spirit in the scene between the Almighty and Mephistopheles, though he has also intensified it by a thorough modernization of the scene itself.

The use of a generic designation of the Deity like Elohim to avoid the personal quality involved in the more specific name Yahweh—is intentional; and similarly, El, Eloah and Shaddai are employed as synonyms of Elohim, because they conjure up the picture of a Being of universal scope and power whom one approaches in awe, and whose decision once made is unchangeable. The God portrayed by the friends is stern and unbending, while for Job He becomes a cold tyrant, indifferent to appeals for mercy even when they come from those whose lips are clean and whose hearts are pure.

How, then, are we to account for the two Jobs, the two varying portrayals of the three companions and the two conceptions of God? It is only necessary to put the question in order to show the obviousness of the answer that the story of Job is independent of the philosophical poem; and if independent also older. Three passages in Ezekiel come to our aid in establishing the existence in early days of a current tradition about a man of great piety whose name was Job [Ezekiel 14, 14; 16, 18 and 20]. The prophet, in order to drive home his doctrine that, on the one hand, God does not punish His people without cause, and that, on the other, punishment for wrongs and crimes cannot be averted by the existence of some righteous members of the community—as in the case of Abraham's plea to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the few righteous in the multitude of sinners,—declares that even if such men as Noah, Daniel and Job were living in the midst of the sinful nation, their virtues would only secure their own deliverance from the four scourges—the sword, famine, evil beasts and pestilence—decreed for Jerusalem. The juxtaposition with Noah and Daniel shows that Job, like these two men, had come to be regarded as a model and type of piety and human excellence. Ezekiel, is anterior to the Book of Job, as he is by four centuries earlier than the Book of Daniel, in which the traditional Daniel is utilized as a medium for encouraging pious Jews, suffering under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), to remain steadfast in their faith. The tradition about Job survives, however, the composition of the book which is called by his name, for in the Epistle of James (5, 11), Job is incidentally referred to as an example of piety and patience. As late as the days of Theodore of Mopsuestia, (died c. 428 A. D.)… the story of the patient Job who becomes in the popular conception a holy prophet was still current in a form which suggests to Theodore that the author of the Book of Job had taken some undue liberties with the original tale. The Arabs have preserved traditions about Job, which point to the growth of the popular tale even after it had been given a literary form among the Hebrews.

We are, therefore, justified in concluding that from an early age, Job had become a popular figure among the Hebrews. In accordance with the tendency of folktales the story received additions from time to time, and it also shared the fate of popular tales in being carried from one people to another.

It does not follow that the tale of the pious man who became the prototype for the virtuous man not to be moved from his position by any misfortunes that might sweep over him originated among the Hebrews. Indeed, the name Job—for which there is no satisfactory Hebrew etymology and which we do not encounter elsewhere in the Old Testament—points to a foreign origin; and if, as we may properly assume, the statement in the prologue to the Book of Job that he lived in the land of Uz, which lies to the east of Palestine, was part of the popular tale as it circulated among the Hebrews, it becomes even more definite that Job was not a Hebrew, as little as the three companions were Hebrews. [Shown by the names and by the statement of their homes in parts of Arabia.] The entire setting of the story is in fact non-Hebraic. Job is described as "greater than any of the sons of the East," (1, 3) in a manner to suggest that he belongs to that vague region known as "East," but without any suggestion of a connection with the "sons of Israel"; and it is rather surprising that in the adaptation of the tale to the purposes of the discussion, which we must perforce assume, a more Hebraic atmosphere should not have been given to it. In the dialogue between God and Satan, the specific Hebraic name Yahweh is introduced, but Job himself is represented as using the general name Elohim, (1,5 and 2,10) as is also his wife (2, 9.) It is only in his pious submission to the Divine will, that the name Yahweh is introduced in what is probably a quotation from a "Yahweh" prayer. That such a touch as Job himself bringing sacrifices without the mediation of a priest, as demanded by the Pentateuchal codes, should have been retained in the adaptation may be taken as a further proof of the unconscious influence exerted by the non-Hebraic origin of the tale—an influence strong enough to have kept out of it any reference to specific Hebraic rites or customs. [In a foot note the critic adds: "The term used for sacrifices is the most general that could have been selected. The annual festival that brings Job's family together (1, 4-5) is similarly of a most general character—without any warrant in any of the Pentateuchal codes."]

We are thus led to the conclusion that the story of Job was a tale that became current in ancient Palestine and wandered, as tales do from place to place, subject to modification as it passed down the ages, altered to some extent in its adaptation to different localities, but retaining enough traces of its origin to preserve its distinctive character as a general illustration of the spirit in which misfortunes and sufferings should be received and endured. The story of a pious man who maintains his firm faith and his simple piety under most distressing circumstances, who bore all trials in patience was what we would nowadays call a good "Sunday School" tale—one that might be told with profit to encourage the young and to edify their elders. Tales of this character are common enough in antiquity. The "good man" is a type in folktales as common as is his counterpart—the "bad man." It is not surprising, therefore, to encounter "Jobs" elsewhere, as, for example, in India where [in Indian Fairy Tales, 1879] we have the tale of an "upright king" who loses his possessions and sells his boy, his wife and finally himself in order to carry on his works of charity, and to whom all is restored in the end because he had endured the burdens of misfortunes in patience and without complaint.

Similarly, in the story of the pious king of Nippur,… who, like Job, is smitten with sore disease and is finally restored to health through the intervention of the gods, there are analogies with the philosophical discussions in Job that are most suggestive, but even such literary analogies furnish no warrant for assuming a direct influence from the outside on our Biblical book. The problem suggested by the sufferings of Job is a perfectly natural one, so that if we find it discussed elsewhere it would merely point to a stage of intellectual development in which people—or at least the choice spirits—were no longer entirely satisfied with the conventional view that sufferings are due to sin.

It is not necessary to assume that a definite literary form was given to the tale among the Hebrews before it was incorporated into the Book of Job, though, on the other hand, one cannot dogmatically assert that this could not have been the case. Stories in the ancient East, as to a large extent still in the East of today, are recited, not read. Our specifically Western attitude towards mental productivity can hardly conceive of literature except as embodied in a definite written form, whereas until the East came under the influence of the West through contact with Greek civilization in the second half of the fourth century B. C., the oral transmission without a definite literary form was the regular mould of literature to which the written form, if it existed at all, was entirely secondary and incidental—memoranda to serve as a prop in the further oral transmission. Under such conditions a story or even a book might have existed for ages before it received what we would call a book form. One of the chief reasons why the modern critical study of the Bible aroused such hostility when its results began to be disseminated among the lay public and why it is still eyed with suspicion in many circles, is because we thoughtlessly—almost unconsciously—apply our modern and Western conceptions of literary composition to an age to which they do not apply. As I have pointed out elsewhere, we can hardly conceive of a book without a title and an author, whereas these two features are precisely the ones which are lacking in ancient compositions until we reach the age of Greek literature, which may be said to have invented the author.

The written form, when it arose in the ancient Orient, was not due to the promptings of the literary instinct, or to an ambition on the part of certain individuals to be known as authors, but purely as a preservative method to prevent tales and traditions that no longer enjoyed a full spontaneous existence among the people from perishing or from being distorted. Writing begins when genuine production comes to an end. As long as a tale retained its full popularity, as long as a tradition formed, as it were, part and parcel of the life of the people there was no urgent necessity to give the tale or tradition a written form. It lived in the minds and the hearts of the people. And so with the exhortations of a prophet, with the decisions of a lawgiver, or even with the prayers of a Psalmist, giving expression to emotions shared by the entire group. There was no occasion for the definite written form until with the advent of a new age with new interests and new problems, the tale no longer made its appeal, the tradition was no longer living, the exhortation was in danger of becoming a memory, the law needed reinforcement, and the prayer through the development of the cult was embodied into a fixed ritual.

It is also immaterial whether such a man as Job ever existed, just as it is of no consequence whether there was such a man as Noah or Daniel. A rabbi of the Talmudic age [Talmud Babli, Baba Bathra], betraying a critical spirit which is quite exceptional, declares in one place that Job is a product of popular fancy; and it is at all events clear that he as well as Noah and Daniel, as likewise Abraham, became a mere type of steadfast piety, just as to a later age David and Solomon, despite the historical character of much—though far from everything—that is told of them become types, David of the pious king to whom an unhistorical tradition subsequently ascribed the Psalms, and Solomon of the wise king to whom Biblical productions embodying the wisdom of the age were assigned. This tendency to transform traditional or historical personages into types is a by-product of the spirit peculiar to the ancient East, which only gradually reaches the point where the individual stands out in sharp outline from his surroundings.

Paul Weiss (essay date 1948)

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Paul Weiss (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "God, Job, and Evil," in The Dimensions of Job: A Study and Selected Readings, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, Schocken Books Inc., 1969, pp. 181-93.

[Weiss was a leading American philosopher whose works include Nature and Man (1947), Man's Freedom (1950), Modes of Being (1958), The World of Art (1961), Art and Religion (1963), The Making of Men (1967), and Right and Wrong: A Philosophical Dialogue between Father and Son (1967). In the following essay, originally published in Commentary in 1948, he considers The Book of Job "one of the great works of literature, " emphasizing its treatment of broad, universal problems that are not confined to any specific religion.]

Great literature is a universe framed in words. Offering a scheme of things more dramatic, more intelligible, more beautiful, more self-revealing than the universe in which we live, it at once inspires, restrains, and enriches the wise man, providing him with an endless source and a satisfying measure of spiritual growth.

The Book of Job is surely one of the very great works of literature of the world. It touches the core of existence; it probes to the root of the problems of good and evil, the destiny of man, the meaning of friendship, the wisdom and goodness of God, and the justification of suffering.

We may call ourselves atheists. We may swear by the latest anthropological pronouncements that all values are relative except those that make anthropologists respectable. We may claim to have no use for anything other than the discoveries or rules of economics, history, politics, music, or physics. This will in no way prevent us from being radically informed and perhaps transformed by the book of Job. That book depends for its power on no prior commitment to any particular religion-or to religion at all.

The problem it deals with is unconfinable within any limited doctrine, philosophy, or creed. We must try to read it with the kind of sympathetic objectivity and resolute courage we normally reserve for our favorite modern writers-a Dostoevsky or a Freud, a Blake or a Kierkegaard—but then I think we will find in it much to despise as well as much to admire.

Though written in a magnificent style and sustaining brilliant insights, the book of Job is not a pleasant tale. It is not reasonable, and it violates our sense of what is right and wrong. Its value lies primarily in that it forces to the fore the mystery of human existence, where the righteous sometimes suffer and the evil apparently prosper mightily.

To get the most out of the book of Job, it is desirable, I think, to state the story in such a way as to stress traditionally neglected features. One will then be able to look in a fresh way at the perennial problem of evil, and perhaps even to make a little progress in grasping what existence means to man.

In outline the story is rather simple. A childishly conceived God, a childlike God in fact, boasts about Job to His angel Satan as a child might about a dog. Satan shrewdly observes that men well cushioned against the world of tragedy and disease, poverty and contempt, have no great temptation to abuse the source of their goods. God is provoked by this sensible remark. He sets Himself to prove that Job will stand firm though he lose all that is precious. God does not want to show that Job will stand firm in goodness, virtue, or decency. All that He wants to show is that if Job is cut off from the fat of existence he will not blaspheme in the face of God.

God, from a strictly legalistic point of view, is shown in the end to be right and Satan to be wrong. Job does not blaspheme in God's face. But of course no one could possibly do this, for that would be at one and the same time to see God and not to see Him, to know Him and not to know Him, to face Him and to turn away. But if it is simple blasphemy that is in point, there is no doubt but that God lost and Satan won, for Job blasphemed again and again, sincerely, roundly, and wholeheartedly.

What shocks us and should shock us is not Job's blasphemies, but God's. With a callousness, with a brutality, with a violence hard to equal in any literature, secular or divine, God, just to make a petulant point, proceeds to do almost everything the most villainous of beings could want. Not only does He kill, in one fell swoop, without excuse, explanation, or warrant, all of Job's cattle, but He follows this up by killing all Job's servants and then all his sons and daughters.

The inhumanity of the author (or of his God, if one prefers) has been almost matched by the insensitivity of those commentators who accept the prologue to the book of Job and do not feel a need to underscore an abhorrence of God's project and performance. Putting aside the question of whether Job's health and happiness are justifiably jeopardized because Satan is unconvinced by God's boasts, and ignoring the rights of cattle to love, there is the fact that the servants, if not the sons and daughters of Job, are human beings as vital, as precious, as worthy of life, dignity, and a defense against Satan as Job himself.

The author of the book of Job thought of Job as a pawn between God and Satan. But less than Job, infinitely less, was the value he set on Job's servants and children. He thought of them as rightfully used and even abused just to make Job uncomfortable, to try his faith, to confound Satan.

It is really amazing that Job should find, not the death of his servants or of his children, but that of his body cells, the most trying of experiences. Our modern torturers know better. They know that the core of a decent man can be more readily and vitally touched by killing his dependents than by making him sick or wracking him with pain.

Three friends come to comfort Job. He entertains them with a long lament and a set of curses calculated to make the heart curl. To this they reply with little human sympathy. They are friends of an eternal law, not of a suffering spirit. Still, it is with considerable justice and good solid traditional wisdom that they observe that Job is not as pure as he thinks he is. His sufferings, they insist, are undoubtedly deserved.

In the epilogue, God reproves the three friends, apparently for believing that human suffering comes from God and that it is bestowed on those who do wrong. If the reproof is just, we should tremble for the souls of those who assure us that God is on the side of what we have learned is the right. The refusal to affirm that good men are the nurslings of God, to be fittingly rewarded before their days are done, is today often called a lack of faith in religion. Actually, it is one of the characteristics of God as He appears in the book of Job.

Job is not a pleasant person, rich or poor, in health or in sickness, with children or without. His answer to his friends was that he was at least as good as any—which he undoubtedly was, except for saying so. He insists, a little too violently, that there is no wickedness in his heart and that his conduct is above reproach. He suffers damnably because of the searing pain to which he is subjected. But he suffers also at least as much because he is overwhelmed with shame. He is in anguish because he is looked on with contempt by the children of those he despised. And even more than cure and peace, he wants to argue with God and make God show due cause. But whatever his faults, his sufferings were real. And his question, whether taken to refer to him alone, to someone else, or to an indefinite number of men, demands an answer: Why should a good man suffer?

After an interlude in which Elihu, a brash youngster, repeats in principle what his elders said, God comes out of a whirlwind and confronts them all. He answers that He is omnipotent and therefore evidently possessed of a wisdom no man can rightly measure or rightly judge, a proposition that will not withstand logical scrutiny, and, so far as it does, cannot please those who think of God as having the same ideas of goodness and justice as man. The story ends with God reproving the friends (without making clear the exact nature of their fault), and with an inadequate attempt by God to make amends to Job by making him wealthy and respected once again, and by endowing him with a new set of children.

The Book of Job does not explicitly answer the question it so unmistakably asks. Instead, it forces one to try to answer the question oneself and therefore to re-examine what one had previously believed about God and man, and the nature of good and evil.

There are at least ten different kinds of evil, though philosophers have been inclined to mention only three. Since there are no well-turned designations and definitions for most of them, we must make up a set as we go along. With some warrant in tradition, we can perhaps designate the different kinds of evil as sin, bad intention, wickedness, guilt, vice, physical suffering, psychological suffering, social suffering, natural evil, and metaphysical evil

The most characteristically human evils are the first two, for they are privately inflicted. Of these, the more radical is the religious, what we normally speak of as sin. It can be defined in such a way as to be applicable both to those who, like the followers of Confucius and Marx, are without a God, and to those who, like Job, firmly believe in one. He sins who is disloyal to a primary value accepted on faith. Blasphemy is one form of sin and treason another, treason being in fact but practical blasphemy in the realm of the state. These and other forms of sin but begin a process of alienation from the land of consistent living and almost always end in a deserved spiritual and sometimes physical death.

All men take some supreme value to serve as the pivot and justification of the things they think and do. It is one which they have not rationally justified and can perhaps not rationally defend. On the contrary, it is usually what is needed in order to justify their use of reason and their activities. When they go counter to it, they go counter to themselves. He sins who denies his people, just as surely as does he who violates the fiats of his God.

The book of Job affirms—I think correctly—that it is not necessary for a man to sin (see 23:12; 13:15). Job was a righteous man, a man who lived up to the demands of his God, who feared God and shunned evil, who was tam, perfect, without blemish. This God affirms as well as Job. It never is denied.

Over against the theologians' belief that no mortal since the days of Adam can be without sin, is the testimony of the book of Job. It is not necessary that a man sin. But though we do not have to sin, all of us do. We are faithless again and again to the things we most cherish and which give our lives meaning and unity. The only thing "original" or unavoidable about sin is that each man sins in his own way.

Job is not a sinner. Since he suffers, suffering and the multiple evils of the world ought not to be attributed to man's failure to avoid sin. It is foolish to hope that a perfect world could be achieved if only men were true to God, the state, or science. He who claims that the solution of the problems left behind by the atomic bomb depends on man's willingness to subscribe to a single or triune God, to democracy or federalism, to physics or pragmatism, goes counter to the insights of the Book of Job.

An apparent hair's breadth from sin and yet a world away is bad intent, ethical evil, the setting oneself to break an ethical command. Like sin, this is privately achieved. It is a matter of the inward parts. Unlike sin, it has a this-worldly reference always, and is concerned with the good as open to reason. The man of bad intent fails internally to live up to what reason commends.

He who wants to cheat the orphan and the widow, who steals, lies, kills, is one who violates what reason endorses as right. He who is not religious does not necessarily find these prospects more delightful than does he who is. A religious man may in fact at times be more unethical than an irreligious one, for a religion may demand of its adherents that, on behalf of it, they defy their reason and destroy the lives, property, and prospects of others.

The history of religion is in good part a story of the improvement of the morals of the gods. Throughout the ages we have edited supposed divine words to make them conform to what we know to be ethically correct. He who would avoid all ethical evil must not cling too close to the practices and faith of his fathers.

It is conceivable that a man might be without evil intent, though it is hard to believe that there ever was a man so insensitive that he never was tempted by the smell of novelty, a challenge to his daring, or the promptings of his conceit and flesh to think pleasantly of what his reason tells him is wrong.

Evil intent and suffering do not necessarily go together. There are those who intend to do good to others and those who intend to be good to themselves. Often it is the former who get the grit while the latter enjoy the grain. And Job affirms that there is no afterlife in which the balance will be righted (see 7:9).

The brutal fact of the matter is that God's good is not identical with what we take to be ethically good. This is evident occasionally to Job:

Though I be righteous, mine own mouth shall
 condemn me;
Though I be innocent, He shall prove me perverse.

But it is also affirmed by God. Despite Elihu's claim that

The Almighty, whom we cannot find out, is excellent
 in power,
Yet to judgment and plenteous justice He doeth
 no violence.

God cries to Job out of the whirlwind:

Wilt thou even make void my judgment?
Wilt thou condemn Me, that thou mayest be justified?

If the Book of Job be any guide, we must oppose those contemporary prophets who affirm that God's wisdom is ours, and that what we take to be good, God will eventually endorse.

Every man has evil intentions, if only for passing moments. Fortunately for our society and civilization, most of us do not allow such intentions to pass the threshold of the mind and be expressed in practice. Privately and occasionally unethical in intent, we publicly and regularly do much that is good. Though we may not escape the first and second forms of evil, most of us avoid the third, wickedness, the evil of carrying out evil intentions.

Job, who was a little too sure that he was righteous and well intentioned, was quite right in insisting that he was not wicked (see 29:14). Those who are wicked are the enemies of mankind. Yet they seem to prosper (21:7-13). Why should this be so?

Philosophers such as Maimonides (twelfth century) and Gersonides (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries) thought the answer was to be found in the theory that God's providential care did not extent to individuals. They held that men prospered or suffered as the outcome of natural laws, and regardless of whether or not they conformed to a religious or ethical demand. But their theory does not cover the issue. Putting aside the fact that the story of Job had God and Satan actually interfering with the lives and fortunes of individual men, there is the fact that the participants have no doubt but that God could apportion health, wealth, children, and reputation in any way He wished. To the question, why is it that God did not reward the good and punish the bad, the answer given in the book of Job is that God has His own business, that he does not use our standards, that He has His own reasons, that His idea of the good is beyond the reach of man's knowledge.

The philosophers and the Bible are not, however, altogether opposed. It is possible to hold that God does not interfere with the detailed workings of the world and that He has His own standards of what ought to be and what ought to be done. The philosophers, I think, are right in affirming that God does not—in fact, cannot—interfere with the ways of the world. But the author of the Book of Job is right in thinking that God does not allow man's standard of true virtue, right action, and real justice to dictate to Him what He is to do. With scathing scorn God asks Job:

Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens?
Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the

Doth the hawk soar by thy wisdom?

He who is wicked does not necessarily incur the wrath of God. Nor does he necessarily suffer. If a man ought to avoid wickedness, the reason cannot be that he would thereby escape either the anger of God or natural ills. We do not know what God will be angry about and whether, if He were, He could or would do anything to those who aroused Him.

A man ought to avoid wickedness because otherwise he stands in his own light. It is of his nature to need his fellows and to be obligated to preserve and enhance the good that is theirs. He who is wicked opposes himself, since he does what the very completeness of his nature requires that he should not do. He may gain the whole world, but since he thereby loses himself, it cannot be himself whom he profits.

It is not true that the wicked prosper. They may be at their ease, they may have pleasure, property, admiration, honor, security. They may be unconscious of any wrong. Everyone may account them happy. Yet it would be wrong to say that they really prosper, since they defeat themselves, forcing themselves as they do further and further away from the status of a complete man.

The wicked never really prosper. But do not the good suffer? And if they do, can the suffering be justified?

The answer to this question requires, I think, some grasp of the fourth form of evil, guilt.

A man ought to intend to do the good and ought to avoid injuring others. But he ought also not neglect the plight of any. Every single being deserves to be helped, cherished, loved. Yet he who concentrates on one here must slight others there. Each has only finite energy, finite funds, finite interest; none can be everywhere. Each thus fails to fulfill an obligation to realize the good completely. Not necessarily wicked, each is necessarily guilty, humanly evil—one who fails to do all that ought to be done.

Eliphaz correctly charges Job with a neglect of hosts of needy (22:7). He spoils the charge by supposing that Job deliberately neglected the needy. To be sure, so long as he had a shekel and another did not, Job was chargeable as selfish, as having a narrow vision, as being unwilling to extend himself. But since his actions were not rooted in a deliberate malicious intent, he could not be rightly said to be wicked. He was, however, guilty.

Even if Job gave up all that he owned, he would still be guilty. He would be guilty of failing to fulfill an infinite obligation to do good to every being everywhere. Just as no man can claim that his poverty frees him from a duty to repay a loan, so no one can claim to be without guilt because unable to fulfill this infinite obligation. Job, even if he had given up all his possessions, which he was far from doing, would still have been infinitely guilty of neglecting the needs of most of mankind.

A guilty man deserves to be punished. Were there a God and were He just, did He measure punishment according to human standards of right and wrong, everyone would be subject to infinite punishment. Anything less than this would be an undeserved bounty, warranting paeans of thanks to any God that there might be. It is some such view as this, I think, that is characteristic of much of Jewish thought. Job, in his belief that he deserved to prosper, goes counter to the dark, somber, and reasonable temper of most Jews to the effect that men deserve nought but punishment. Every reward for the Jew is an unwarranted blessing, a sign of the infinite mercy of a just God.

Job deserved punishment. He was in fact a guilty man who was made to suffer less than he ought. Zophar rightly says to him:

Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less
 than thine
iniquity deserveth.

But what Zophar did not say or see is that Job is no more guilty than anyone else, that his suffering was no evidence of his being more wicked, of his having unethical thoughts, or of his being irreligious. And what none of them sees or says is that the point could be made without referring to God at all. Despite our guilt, we have the good fortune to live in a universe where only some of us suffer and then only part of the time.

A fifth form of evil is vice, the habit of doing what injures others. This, though it looms large in the writings of ethicists and is of great interest to educators and lawmakers, is not dealt with in the book of Job. We must therefore regretfully pass it by, but not before we remark that it is produced by men and not by God, that it is independent of intent, and that it need not entail suffering.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth forms of evil can be dealt with together as different modes of suffering. Men suffer in their bodies, physically; in their minds, psychologically; and as both together, socially. Job suffered in all three ways (7:5; 30:17; 7:13 ff.; 19:9, 13, 17 f.).

Torn in his body, by his mind, and from his fellow man, Job has no place to rest. In him evil has found a lodging; there it festers and grows. His sufferings are real, painfully real, or everything we could possibly know is nought but an allusion.

Those philosophers who assure us that such sufferings are like ugly spots in paintings, which disappear when seen as part of the beautiful whole they make possible, overlook a slight point: it is a living man who suffers.

The suffering may seem like nothing from the perspective of the world. But it is all the world to him who suffers. It is real, it is vital, it is ultimate; it must be reckoned with. As the story of Job makes abundantly clear, it has nothing necessarily to do with other forms of evil. It is to be conquered, not by improving our morals, but by improving our bodies, our minds, and our societies.

Good men will undoubtedly help us advance in medicine, psychology, and politics more than those who are bad. But it will not be because they are religiously or ethically good that they will make progress in these fields, but because they are good as doctors, psychologists, and sociologists.

It is not necessary that men should suffer. Some remain healthy throughout their days, others are perpetually at peace with themselves, and still others are perfectly at home with their fellows. It is hard to see why any one man might not enjoy all three types of good. In any case, it is one of the tasks of all to make this true of each.

Beyond these evils, usually neglected in this anthropocentric age, is a ninth, a natural evil, an evil embodied in the wild, destructive forces of nature. Cataclysms of all kinds, earthquakes, tidal waves, and hurricanes, "the leviathan and the behemoth," are forces of destruction which

esteemeth iron as straw
and brass as rotten wood.

They ought not to be. They do not arise, however, because there is something bad in man. The wind does not blow violently, the earth does not rock, because men sin or kill. To suppose that nature is geared to the goodness and badness of men is to suppose either a mysterious harmony between ethics and physics, or that spirits can really move mountains.

It is God, according to the book of Job, who is responsible for the forces of nature.

Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoar-frost of heaven, who hath gendered

It is God

Who hath cleft a channel for the waterflood
Or a way for the lightning of the thunder,
To cause it to rain on a land where no man is.
(38:25 f.)

But then, either God is responsible for natural evils, or He has His own mysterious reasons for allowing what He does, or the universe and its evils are independent of Him. The first of these alternatives is untenable. If God is responsible for the occurrence of evils, it must be because He is not good and therefore not God. We must take one or both of the remaining alternatives, unpalatable though they are to the traditionally minded. The former says that God is not necessarily on the side of what men term the right, while the latter says that God does not interfere with the workings of the universe. As we saw earlier in discussing wickedness, these two are compatible: men and God may not only have different standards of goodness but may be quite independent in nature.

God has His own standards of goodness and does not disturb the natural order of things. If "providence" be understood to refer to an irresistible divine force supporting what men take to be good, there is then no providence. But God could offer material which the universe might utilize in its own way, and God could preserve whatever goods the universe throws up on the shores of time. If He did, He would exhibit a providential concern for the universe and its inhabitants, but one that does not conflict with the brutal fact that there are both human and natural evils.

No one of the foregoing nine forms of evil is necessary. It is conceivable that none of them might be. To be sure, wherever there are men, there is the evil of guilt; but men need not exist. To be sure, if we have a universe of inter-playing things, there will be destructive natural forces, but the universe might conceivably reach a stage of equilibrium. Each atom might vibrate in place and interfere with nothing beyond. What could not be avoided by the things in any universe whatsoever is the tenth kind of evil, metaphysical evil, the evil of being one among many, of possessing only a fragment of reality, of lacking the reality and thus the power and good possessed by all the others.

Any universe whatsoever, created or uncreated, is one in which each part is less than perfect precisely because it is other than the rest, and is deprived therefore of the reality the rest contain. God might have made, could He make anything at all, a better universe than this, for He could have eliminated or muted some of the forms of evil that now prevail. But He could not have made this universe in detail or as a whole completely free of all defect. No matter how good and concerned God might be, and no matter how few of the other nine types of evil happen to exist, there is always metaphysical evil to mark the fact that the universe is not God and God not the universe.

Much of the foregoing can be summarized in four questions and answers:

Why do bad men prosper? They do not.

Why does God not make bad men suffer more than they do? He does not interfere with the workings of the universe on the whole or in detail.

Why do good men suffer? Suffering and goodness have quite dissimilar causes.

Is God on the side of the right? God has His own standards. But to be religious is to have a faith that His standards will eventually be ours.

Samuel Terrien (essay date 1957)

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Samuel Terrien (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "The Fear and Fascination of Death," in Job: Poet of Existence, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1957, pp. 40-65.

[Terrien is a French-born American theologian, educator, and pastor whose writings include The Psalms and Their Meaning for Today (1952), Le Livre de Job: Commentaire (1963; The Book of Job: A Commentary), and The Elusive Presence: Prolegomenon to an Ecumenical Theory of the Bible (1978). In the following excerpt from his Job: Poet of Existence, he discusses Job's experience of despair and isolation in relation to the concept of death in The Book of Job.]

How does man answer the riddle of self and existence? Not in being a marvel of obedience and submission, as Job was in the prose tale when he said, "What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2:10), but on the contrary in refusing to bless the name of the Deity, in revolting against the faith of his childhood and of his community, in separating himself even from his dearest and most intimate friends, in losing willfully even more than he had lost unwillingly, in repudiating his reputation of honor among his fellow men.

If in the poem Job had spoken glowingly of accepting the will of God, he would have received approval from his community. Indeed, this is exactly the line of conduct which his three friends recommend that he should take. In the prologue, Job had lost his posterity—that is to say, his only hope in immortality—his wealth and his health, but not his reputation as an extraordinary man, a man of faith. He could have safeguarded this reputation. He could have enhanced it. He could have made it even more legendary than it was. But no. Job fell into despair.

This is the supreme irony of the human situation. Faith that does not know despair prevents man from ever forcing the riddle of self and existence; but despair kills faith and, when carried to the extreme, may bring about self-annihilation. Job falls into despair as soon as he rejects simple trust in a loving God. The faith he has expressed in the prologue becomes in the dialogue an unfaith. It becomes an unfaith because Job, in the dialogue, insists not on the love of God but on his own rights and achievements. Without knowing it, he answers in the negative the satan's question of the prologue, "Doth Job fear God for nought?" Throughout the poetic discussion, he repeats again and again, "My right is still with me. I am perfect but God declares me crooked. I am clean and even if my clothes were white as snow, God would throw me down in a ditch and splash them with mud. I shall never abandon the certitude of my integrity. He may kill me but I shall wait for him. I shall maintain my right before him until the end."

Death is therefore the ultimate risk one takes in order to prove one's worth; and Job is tossed about, throughout the dialogue, between the fear of death and its fascination. Be-fore he reaches this dilemma, however, he begins elementally with the fear of life and the attraction of nothingness.

Job's religion has failed, but not altogether. In the prologue his wife, moved by compassion more than contempt, taunted him, saying, "Curse God and die!" She was proposing in effect a theological method of euthanasia. In the poem, however, if Job no longer blesses God, he does not curse him either. He merely asks to be put out of his misery, yet he never takes any practical measure toward suicide. He calls for death and even "non-being" but he does not curse God. He only curses life, envies the dead and makes his first philosophical quest.

Let the day perish wherein I was born,

  and the night in which it was said, There is a
    man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness;
  let not God regard it from above,
  neither let the light shine upon it.
Let them claim it for their own, darkness and
    shadowy gloom;
 let a cloud settle upon it;
 let an eclipse grasp it as a prey.
That night—let obscurity possess it;
 let it not be joined unto the days of the year;
 let it not come into the number of the months.
That night—let it be barren from loneliness,
 let no shriek of delight be heard therein.

Let them curse it that curse the day,
  who are ready to raise up Leviathan.
Let them fade, the stars of the twilight thereof;
  let it wait for light but have none,
  neither let it see the eyelids of dawn open.
For it shut not up the doors of my mother's
  nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.

Why died I not in my mother's womb?
 why did I not expire as soon as I was born? Why hath there been two knees to receive me,
 and two breasts to suckle me?
For now should I lie down in stillness,
 I should be asleep and at rest.
With kings and counsellors of the earth
  who built desolate places for themselves;
Or with princes that had gold
  and silver heaped in their tombs;
Or as a hidden untimely birth I had not been;
  as infants which never saw the light.

There the wicked cease from troubling;
  and the weary be at rest.
There the prisoners are left at ease;
  they hear not the voice of the jailer. The small and great are there alike;
  and the slave is free from his master.

Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery,
 and life unto the bitter in soul;
Which long for death but it cometh not;
 and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Which rejoice exceedingly,
 and are glad, when they can find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hid,
 whom God hath hedged in as a beast?

For my sighing cometh before my bread,
  and my roarings are poured out like waters. For the thing which I greatly feared is come
  upon me,
  and that which I was afraid of hath befallen
I have neither peace nor tranquillity;
  instead of rest cometh my torment.

This poem should be viewed in its present context: it is more than a cry from the depths; it is a disruption of seven days and seven nights of silence (2:13). The three friends have come from afar to comfort the sufferer, and their silence should not be interpreted as a mark of hostility or even condemnation. The poet quite clearly endorses the validity of the note in the prose tale, "And none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great" (2:13).

In the opening lament, moreover, Job does not address his friends at all, nor even by the slightest implication does he acknowledge their presence. Indeed, the initial poem deserves to be called a soliloquy, for its very mood bespeaks the hero's most grevious suffering: his solitude.

The theme of man's isolation in the universe appears many times in the poem: it is already subjacent to the opening chords. For the first result of true pain, whether it be physical or mental, moral and spiritual, is the breakdown of communication with other men, even with intimates. The oriental bonds of community have already been symbolically and therefore actually broken in the note of the tale: "And he sat down among the ashes" (2:8), just outside the village or the encampment. The silent proximity of friends did not succeed in renewing the ancient ties. "They recognized him not" (2:12). Suffering and disease had wrought their changes. Thus the poem opens with the curse of life.

In the first strophe (3:3-10), Job wishes that he had never been born. Nights and days are mythopoetically endowed with personal existence (as in Ps. 19:3). If only the day of Job's birth—nay, the night of his conception"had never come to pass, if it had not been called into being by those heavenly creatures which are, according to ancient mythology, the masters of the calendar, if Leviathan had been stirred up (vs. 8), then chaos would have overcome the created order and Job would not have received life. The pain he now endures would never have excruciated him.

Here the poet hints at the spiritual disintegration which is beginning to pervert Job's personality. Under the impact of suffering, the hero begins to lose a sense of perspective on life. He almost suggests that the world, as far as he is concerned, might just as well have been nonexistent since it produced only sorrow for him—a thought that has been echoed often in other literatures, as for instance by Shakespeare in King John:

A wicked day and not a holy day!
What hath this day deserv'd? what hath it done,
That it in golden letters should be set
Among the high tides in the calendar?
Nay, rather turn this day out of the week,
This day of shame, oppression, perjury:
Or, if it must stand still, let wives with child
Pray that their burdens may not fall this day,
Lest that their hopes prodigiously be cross'd.

It would be too easy to condemn Job's lack of concern for the fate of others, and to regret that pain, leading to isolation, in turn may induce irresponsibility. The poet was aware of the dangers of egocentricity, which is the natural fruit of grief, for he has taken up the theme again in the course of the work.

Some might find it tempting, at least among non-Latin Westerners, to censure Job's outburst as a display of Mediterranean self-pity. Modern psychology, however, has called attention to the therapeutic significance of literary expostulation. There is a seed of healing in the articulate exteriorization of grief. Alone "the damned don't cry," said Eugene O'Neill in Mourning Becomes Electra.

The second strophe (3:11-19) introduces a new motif as it passes from the hatred of life to the love of death. The ancient Hebrews did not believe in natural immortality. Perhaps in revulsion against the Egyptian funerary rituals which were destined to insure an after-death resurrection and which consumed, ironically enough, most of the energies of the living, Israel accepted for more than a thousand years the early Semitic idea of near annihilation. Life after the grave was not believed to be life, indeed, but a gray sort of partial survival, without joy and without peace. Thus, the Old Testament generally calls for a long life upon this earth and the Psalmists in particular pray with passion that death be postponed, since "the dead cannot praise the Lord." Only with the latest books of the Hebrew Bible did the idea of a full existence with God after death gain access to the religious mind of Judaism (Isa. 25-26; Dan. 12). Conceived through the symbol of the resurrection of the flesh—as the seat of personal identity, emotion, thought and power—this idea of immortality was radically different from either the early Semitic belief in partial survival in the grave or the Hellenic concept of a natural permanence of the human soul. It represented a rebirth through an act of divine recreation. This late Old Testament motif found its way into the faith of the early Christian Church.

At the outset of the second strophe, Job reveals a view of the afterlife which stands in sharp contrast with that of the Old Testament in general and is equally distant from the later Judeo-Christian faith in resurrection. The sequence of thought is similar to that of Sophocles, who could say a century later in Oedipus at Colonus,

Not to be born is the most
To be desired; but having seen the light,
The next best is to go whence one came
As soon as may be.

For Job at the threshold of the argument, to die is to find an exit from present hell. More, for a prisoner or a slave, it is to receive freedom and even to enjoy the company of the great men of the past. Death is the only genetrix of man's hollow desires for liberty, fraternity, equality. Emily Dickinson, who said,

Unto the dead
There is no geography,

might have added, "but a knowledge of history," sublimated in cold promiscuity with the kings and counselors of the earth.

Here is a view of attractive death which is not unlike that of some Egyptian wisemen. The author of the "Dialogue Between the Man Weary of Life and His Soul," for example, was almost tireless in describing the attractiveness of the afterlife:

Death is in my sight today
  (Like) the recovery of a sick man,
  Like going out into the open after a
Death is in my sight today
  Like the odor of myrrh,
  Like sitting under an awning on a
  breezy day.

Death is in my sight today
  Like the odor of lotus blossoms,
  Like sitting on the bank of drunkenness.
Death is in my sight today
  Like the passing away of rain,
  Like the return of men to their houses
    from an expedition.
Death is in my sight today
  Like the clearing of the sky,
  Like a man fowling thereby for what he
    knew not.
Death is in my sight today
  Like the longing of a man to see his
    house (again),
  After he has spent many years held
    in captivity.

Why surely, he who is yonder
  Will be a living god.…

Let it be made clear that Job did not accept the Egyptian idea of a resurrection. He toyed with such a hope several times in the course of the poem, but he rejected it even in the famous passage on the living Redeemer (19:25-26). Nevertheless, the second strophe reveals the vigor of his nonconformism. Such a romantic interpretation of death represents man's need for an ultimate security. After Job, many were those who cried,

Would that the womb could have been the tomb
 of me.

At the moment of extremity in the struggle, here and now, the romantic hero can always command, as did Cleopatra,

Give me my robe; put on my crown; I have
Immortal longings in me.…

But this represents final self-deceit. In Job, the will "to end it all" does not spring from the attraction of nothingness. "Death is not the opening of a gate," wrote Geoffrey Moore on Swift, "but the closing of a wound." And thus, although Job would not say, with a modern poet like Donald Hall,

Life is hell, but death is worse,

he is only "half in love with easeful death." He is fascinated, yes, but not enough to follow the advice of his distraught spouse in the prologue. The Joban hero, even in the poem, maintains the will to live. And he can do so because he still stands in a personal rapport with a personal Deity. To be sure, this God is at best a deus absconditus, a hidden God, and at worst a hostile God. But Job never brings himself to dismiss the reality of a living God from his world. He feels desperately his isolation precisely because he can ignore neither man nor God.

In the third strophe, therefore, God at last is named (3:20-26). The question "why?" is more theological than philosophical. It is not spoken by a man out of mere intellectual curiosity. It is thrown at the void that surrounds him by a man who has known intimate communion with a God he loved and who now discerns in the character of that same God a dimension of hate. Indeed, it is not the philosophical problem of evil which moves the poet. It is rather the deeply religious anxiety that rises from a doubt over God's intentions for man. At the same time, Job's return to the awareness of God is simultaneous with his fascination for death, but little by little the awareness of God, even of a hostile God, chases away the thought of extinction. But the attraction for nothingness is not a superfluous element in the pilgrimage of suffering. Indeed, this fascination itself may well have lost its power through its very exercise. "Only those who have grasped their non-being," says Julius Caesar in Thornton Wilder's Ides of March, "are capable of praising the sunlight."

Furthermore, Job's quest appears at a moment when the egocentricity he expressed in the first strophe is no longer running the risk of deteriorating into social irresponsibility. Just as he becomes again aware of God, so also he re-discovers, however indistinctly, his solidarity with the mass of sufferers; and it is in their name that he speaks as a champion for their cause. His self-centeredness finds a channel into a concern for the lot of aching humanity.

Richard B. Sewall (essay date 1959)

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Richard B. Sewall (essay date 1959)

SOURCE: "The Book of Job," in The Vision of Tragedy, revised edition, Yale University Press, 1980, pp. 9-24.

[Sewall is an American critic and educator whose critical study The Vision of Tragedy, originally published in 1959, was lauded by critics and declared an "academic bestseller. "In the following essay from that work, Sewall discusses the concept of tragedy in The Book of Job in relation to several works of fiction, concluding that Job may be considereda somewhat "dangerous" or rebellious work in the context of traditional Hebrew literature.]

We look at a work of literature and call it "optimistic" or "pessimistic" or "epic" or "tragic." The book is there be-fore us, and we find the term to describe it. But the work comes first. It is not right to say that without the vision of life embodied in the Old Testament, and notably in The Book of Job, the term "tragedy" would have no substance, for the Greeks invented the term and gave it a great deal of substance. But knowing what we do now about the full depth and reach of tragedy, we can see with striking clarity in the writings of the ancient Hebrews the vision which we now call tragic and in The Book of Jobthe basic elements of the tragic form. The cultural situation, the matrix out of which Job came, is the very definition of "the tragic moment" in history, a period when traditional values begin to lose their power to comfort and sustain, and man finds himself once more groping in the dark. The unknown Poet's "action," his redoing of the orthodox and optimistic folktale of the pious and rewarded Job, is (as we can say now) a classic example of the dynamics of tragedy, of vision creating form. And the great figure of his creation, the suffering, questioning, and unanswered Job, is the towering tragic figure of antiquity. More than Prometheus or Oedipus, Job is the universal symbol for the western imagination of the mystery of undeserved suffering.

Of all ancient peoples, the Hebrews were most surely possessed of the tragic sense of life. It pervades their ancient writings to an extent not true of the Greeks. "Judaism," writes Paul Weiss [in "The True, the Good, and the Jew," Commentary, October, 1946], "is Moses in the wilderness straining to reach a land he knows he never can. For the Christian this truth is but the necessary first act of a Di-vine Comedy. The history of the universe for the Christian is in principle already told. For the Jew history is in the making. It has peaks and valleys, goods and bads, inseparably together and forever." The Hebraic answer to the question of existence was never unambiguous or utopian; the double vision of tragedy—the snake in the garden, the paradox of man born in the image of God and yet recalcitrant, tending to go wrong—permeates the Scriptures. No case is ever clear-cut, no hero or prophet entirely faultless. The Hebrews were the least sentimental and romantic of peoples. The Old Testament stories are heavy with irony, often of the most sardonic kind. And yet their hard, acrid realism appears against a background of belief that is the substance of the most exalted and affirmative religion, compared to which the religions of their sister civilizations, Egyptian, Babylonian, and even Greek, presented a conception of the universe and man both terrible and mean. The Hebraic view of God, man, and nature, wrought through the centuries out of hard experience and exalted vision, presented to the Poet of Job a rich and fullnerved tradition, containing all the alternatives, for evil as well as good, but founded on the belief in a just and benevolent Creator, in man as made in His image, and in an ordered universe.

Throughout their history as it is unfolded in the Old Testament, the Hebrews showed a strong critical sense, a tendency to test all their beliefs, even Jehovah Himself, against their individual experience and sense of values. This skepticism is at the root of much of their irony, and it implies, of course, a very high estimate of individual man. They had a sufficient confidence in their own native and immediate insights to set themselves, if need be, against their God. This was an affirmation about man, the Deity, and the relationship between the two, which the Babylonians and Egyptians surely never achieved, nor, as a people, did the Greeks. The Hebrews saw man not only as free and rational but free, rational, and righteous even before God. The eating of the apple was in a sense an act of the free critical intelligence. Why should there have been even one prohibition, arbitrary and unexplained?

The failure in actual experience of the orthodox teaching that God would reward the righteous and punish the wicked gave rise in later times to a whole literature of dis-sent, ranging from the disturbed and melancholy psalms, the ambiguous attitude toward the Deity in stories like Jonah, to the complaints of Ecclesiastes and the full-scale protests of Job. It is hard to see why Simone Weil said of the Hebrews [in "The Iliad, or, The Poem of Force," in Politics, November, 1945] that they "believed themselves exempt from the misery that is the common human lot" and that only in parts of Job is "misfortune fairly portrayed." Their belief in Jehovah and their hope for a Messiah served rather to intensify their sense of present inequity and to increase the anxiety which permeates this pro-test-literature.

But another aspect of the Hebraic tragic vision gives it its peculiar depth and poignancy, and it is the very clue to Job. It comes from the conception of Jehovah as a person, to be communed with, worshiped, feared, but above all to be loved. In the transactions of the Greeks with their gods, no great amount of love was lost. There was no doctrine of Creation, nor a Creator to be praised (as in psalm after psalm) for his loving-kindness and tender mercies. The Greek gods were fallible, imperfect, finite, and, above all, laws unto themselves; to rebel against them might be disastrous but it involved no inevitable spiritual dilemma or clash of loyalties. But Jehovah, in the eyes of the orthodox Hebrew, was righteous, just, and loving—and a being to whom one could appeal in the name of all these virtues. The protest embodied in The Book of Job came not from fear or hate but from love. Job's disillusionment was deeply personal, as from a cosmic breach of faith. However critical of the Deity, Job spoke not in arrogance and revolt but in love, and in this at least he was the true representative of an ancient piety.

The unknown Poet of Job, however, saw the old story of Job not as illustrating the ancient piety—that is, a good man blessing the Lord even in his afflictions and being rewarded for his constancy—but as throwing it into grievous question. All the latent doubts and questionings of his race came to a head. Job had trusted in The Covenant and followed The Code; God had watched over him; God's lamp had lighted his way through the darkness, His friendship had been upon his tent. Job was the beloved patriarch of a large family and a man of consequence in the community. And then, suddenly and unaccountably, the face of the universe changed. It was not only that he suffered misfortunes, lost his property, family, position, and health. Mortal man must face losses; the proverbial wisdom of the Hebrews had taught for generations that man was born for trouble, as the sparks fly upward. The shock of the story for the Poet did not lie there, if we may judge by how he retold it. The succession of catastrophes that befell Job, as the folk story recounts them, was systematic, the result of a wager between God and Satan to test Job. Job, who could know nothing of the wager, suffered at the hands of a God whom to worship and to love had been his daily blessing and who had turned suddenly hateful and malign. There was no mortal cause for his sufferings, nothing in his past to account for these repeated, calculated blows. If he had sinned, he had not sinned that much.

From the depth of an ancient skepticism and a sense of justice which dared to hold Deity itself to account, the Poet saw the story, as we would say, in the light of the tragic vision. The primitive terror loomed close. The resolution of the folk story, by which Job for his piety and suffering was rewarded by twice his former possessions and a new family, was unacceptable. The Poet saw Job's suffering as a thrust of destiny that raised the deepest issues, not to be accounted for by a heavenly wager and bought off by a handsome recompense. The suffering had been real; it could not be taken back; and it had not been deserved.

What to do about it? One can imagine in earlier times the primitive response of propitiation or lament, the wailing at the wall, the sharing of communal grief over inexplicable suffering. In later times, psalmists caught the mood in the most beautiful of melancholy and anguished lyrics; rabbis taught men to regard such suffering as punishment for secret sin or as God's way of testing man's loyalty. So Eliphaz (5:17) interpreted Job's suffering [in The Authorized Vision]: "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty." Again, none of the ancient Hebrew writers responded to the fact of undeserved suffering more sensitively than Ecclesiastes or was truer to the realities of human misery: "The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows," wrote Melville [in Moby-Dick], "and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe." But it was not for Ecclesiastes to discover the full possibilities of the "boundary-situation," to hammer from the hard steel of woe the full dimensions of the tragic form. He observed, and contemplated, and recorded movingly what he saw. But he stopped, halfway, with pathos—the single-voiced lament, the lyric expression of a reserved and passive acceptance.

The Poet of Job chose still another way, and with him tragic vision is fulfilled in tragic form. His response was dynamic and positive. He saw in Job's story the possibili-ties of a significant action, not only the lamentable blows that fell upon Job but the counterthrust that makes drama. He imagined Job as striking back in the only possible way when the adversary is Destiny—that is, with words. The Poet did not deal in plotted physical action, as in a Greek play; rather, he conceived of ideas, or inner realities, functioning like actions and as fully freighted with consequences. Although Job and his Counselors do not budge from the ash- heap (which 2:8 suggests as the setting of the drama) and do not exchange blows or even threats of blows, they are actually at death-grips. Each side sees survival at stake. The parts of the drama—character, incident, minor actions—are not clearly articulated as in plays to be performed, but the vital tension and forward movement of formal drama are clear. This method of the Poet's—sustained tension throughout the thrustand-parry of ideas, the balancing of points of view in the challenge-and-response of argument—is the inner logic, or dialectic, of the tragic form as it appears in fully developed drama.

It is a way, of course, of making an important—and "tragic"—statement about the nature of truth. In tragedy, truth is not revealed as one harmonious whole; it is many-faceted, ambiguous, a sum of irreconcilables—and that is one source of its terror. As the Poet contemplated Job's case, he saw that the single-voiced response—the lament or the diatribe—was inadequate. The case was not clear; at its center was a bitter dilemma, every aspect of which, in the full and fair portrayal of human suffering like Job's, must be given a voice. The Counselors were partly right, and Job was partly wrong. Job was at once justified in complaining against his God, and deeply guilty. There was no discharge in that war. The dramatic form above all others conveys this sense of the jarring conflict of ideas-inaction, gives each its due, and shows how each qualifies and interacts on every other. It conveys directly what Jung called "the terrible ambiguity of an immediate experience" [in Psychology and Religion]. Comedy presents ambiguities but removes their terror; in tragedy the terror remains.

This method, like the tragic vision which was a part of the Poet's racial inheritance, was not new in the literature of the Hebrews. Job is merely the fullest development of a racial way of expression observable in the earliest writings. For example, after the single-voiced and full-throated praise of the Creator and the Creation in the first chapter of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall moves into a different mode. Many voices are heard, including the Serpent's. This is one way of saying that even this case was not entirely clear. Kierkegaard, who had a lively sense of the tragic aspect of the Old Testament, shows how Adam and Eve, though guilty, were in part justified. The Almighty had "goaded" them. The story of Abraham and Isaac, which moves forward in a kind of tragic dialectic, has frightening undertones, as Kierkegaard's famous discussion in Fear and Trembling shows. Moses, Jonah, and many of the Old Testament heroes and prophets argued with Jehovah, questioned his judgment, criticized his harshness or (as with Jonah) his leniency, in actual dialogue. In such ways the Hebrews surrounded even their most sacred religious figures and truths with an aura of ambiguity and qualification. Ideas, or truth, were not regarded apart, as abstractions or final causes. They were ideas-in-action, lived out and tested by men of flesh and blood. Thus like men they were in a constant process of becoming. Even Jehovah, as we see him in the Old Testament, evolved.

So the Poet of Job, true to his tradition, set his protagonist—Job, or the "Job-idea"—free to run the dialectical gamut, to test it not only against Jehovah but against all the standard human formulations that had traditionally resolved such situations. He gave Job human adversaries as well as divine, to try him at every point. Thus the movement of statement-and-reply between Job and the Counselors, now swift, now slow, gives the sense not of the static opposition of ideas in a debate but of men in action, temperamental and passionate. Job is in turn bitter and despairing, angry and defiant, pensive and exalted. The Counselors, in their turn, console, plead, argue, scold, and threaten. Nothing is left untouched in the furious spirals of the debate. The method allows for the fullest "existential" exploration of the concerns—the nature of man and the universe—without which, after the achievement of Job and the Greeks, tragedy is purely nominal. Again, what tragedy seems to be saying—what Job and the Greeks made it say—is that we come closest to the nature of man and universe in the test-situation, where the strength or weakness of the individual, to endure or let go, is laid bare. Only then does the final "yea" or "nay" have meaning. When Job in his extremity puts ironically the question of the pious psalmist, "What is man, that thou are mindful of him?" the Poet gives no pat answer. The answer is the total Book of Job, all that Job says and becomes, all that the Counselors say and do not become, all that the Voice from the Whirlwind says about man and his place in the universe. The answer is the full drama, not in any one of its parts—least of all in the pious and comforting resolution of the folk story in the last chapter.

No analysis can convey more than the bare structure of the Poet's meaning. But the heart of his meaning, and surely the chief source of the tragic meaning for subsequent artists, is contained in the so-called Poem of Job, all that occurs between Job's opening curse (ch. 3) and 42:6, the last verse before the folk-story conclusion. This is the agon, the passion-scene, where the discoveries are made of most relevance to average, suffering, questioning humanity.

Job in the opening curse is in the torment of despair. The shock of his calamities has more than unbalanced him; it has prostrated him. For "seven days and seven nights" he has sat among the ashes, for "his grief was very great." His world has collapsed, his inherited values have been dis-credited. He faces at least four possible choices. He may follow the advice of his wife to "Curse God, and die." He may come to terms with his fate and accept it as deserved—the advice which his Counselors later give him. He may accept his fate, whether deserved or not, and con-template it, like Ecclesiastes, with melancholy equanimity. Or he may strike back in some way, give vent to his feelings and carry his case wherever it may lead. The Poet does not present Job in his tragic moment as weighing these alternatives openly, although in "seven days and seven nights" he has had time to consider them all. But we get no sense of a closely reasoned choice. All we know is that he did not commit suicide (although the thought of it recurs to him later), that he "opened his mouth" and talked, and that he took this action through some mysterious dynamic within himself. There was no goddess whispering encouragement at his shoulder or divine vision leading him on. He was "unaccommodated man," moved in his first moment of bitterness to give up the struggle, but for some reason making a "gesture" first. It is this action, and the action which follows from it, which establishes Job as hero. It had what Aristotle called "magnitude": it involved Job totally, and he was a man of high estate on whom many people depended; it involved Job's world totally, since it questioned the basis of its belief and modes of life; it transcended Job's world, horizontally as well as vertically, as the perennial relevance of Job's problem, from his time to ours, shows. And it involved Job in total risk: "Behold he will slay me; I have no hope."

Although there is little in literature as black as the opening verses of Job's curse, in the speech as a whole there is a saving ambiguity which predicts the main movement of the Poem. This movement, in brief, is from the obsessive egotism (like Lear's or Ahab's) that sees particular misfor-tune as a sign of universal ruin (and even wills it, for revenge or escape or oblivion) toward a mood more rational, outgoing, and compassionate. Job's first words are of furious, not passive, despair. He has been wounded in his pride, humiliated as well as stricken. He curses life and the parents who gave him life. He would have his birthday blotted from the calendar; he would have all men go into mourning on that day and the light of heaven be darkened. He rages in the worst kind of arrogant, romantic rebellion. Yet gradually there is a change, however slight. The furious commands of the opening verses change to questions: "Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?" The plaintive tone leads to one more contemplative, as he thinks not of universal darkness but of rest with all those who have gone before, "the kings and the counsellors of the earth … princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver." He has a word for the weary and oppressed, the small as well as the great. The first-person pronoun changes to the third: "Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul … ? Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?" Although he returns in the last three verses to a mood of anguish and dread, it is more like the response to a spasm of pain—"For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me"—than the nihilism of the opening verses.

Thus Job does not abandon life, and as he rallies and reorganizes he opens up new and redeeming reaches of life. In the reverse of the way they expect, the Counselors assist in the process. Their arguments sting and thrust, kindle new energies in him, and compel him to ever greater expressive efforts. The dialectic works beneficently with Job. Eliphaz's first speech (ch. 4) is a curious combination of scolding ("Behold, thou hast instructed many … But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest"), of mystical witness ("Now a thing was secretly brought to

me … in thoughts from the visions of the night"), and of the proverbial comforts about suffering as the common lot and as a corrective discipline. At the end of the speech Job is thoroughly aroused. He will not abide such half-faced fellowship. He will not be accused of impatience by men who have never had their own patience put to the test. He asks of them neither material aid nor deliverence "from the enemy's hand." What he wants is instruction. "Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred." This is a great gain over the nihilism of the Curse. To be sure, as often hap-pens in the long sequences to come, Job relapses in the second half of his answer to Eliphaz (ch. 7) into self-pity and lamentation: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope." But the speech ends in a surge of vigor, in defiance not so much of the Counselors as of Jehovah himself.

It is in this passage (7:11-21) that he commits himself to the ultimate risk: "Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." Later, in his first reply to Zophar (ch. 13), it is clear that he understands the full terms of the risk: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him." But by now Job has come to see his own ways and his own complaints in a different light. He sees his misfortunes not as unique but as typical of man's lot. In one phase of his being, at least, he is becoming a partisan of the human race. "What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him"—only to torment him? He never forgets his own personal grievances, but his thoughts turn ever more outward; he does not, [in the words of T. S. Eliot] "rest in his own suffering." He discourses upon God's capricious ways with all mankind: "He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them" (12:23); upon the flourishing of the wicked and the oppression of the poor (chs. 21, 24); upon the element of chance in all life (ch. 21). For all his frequent lapses into despair, as sudden pain strikes him or as his thoughts turn back to happier times or forward to an uncertain future, he speaks as one having shouldered the burden of humanity.

But this growing sense of partisanship—like Ahab's [in Moby-Dick], "for all that has maddened and tormented the whole race from Adam down"—is only one phase of Job's experience, the structure of which, as the Poet presents it, represents an ordering of experience which many subsequent tragedies have imitated and all of them shared in part, some emphasizing one aspect, some another. It was not until Job gained some mastery over his despair, chose his course, and began his defense, that the full meaning of his position grew upon him. This realization was to be the source of his greatest suffering, beside which his physical afflictions were easy to bear. In justice he could decry the miseries of the human lot and the baffling ways of the Almighty, but he could not forget that it was Jehovah's hands that had (as he says) "made me and fashioned me together round about … [and] granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit." He was on the horns of a terrible dilemma—the clue to the nature of his suffering. He saw that what he had done, though justified, was wrong. He had been justified in asserting his innocence and in speaking out for all men who had been afflicted as he had. But it was wrong, as the Counselors repeatedly and rightly dinned into his ears, to defy the God whom he loved. If he could have regarded the idea of Justice abstractly, his suffering would not have involved this peculiar anguish. It was the Person in the impersonal that Job loved and could not repudiate—and which monomaniac Ahab hated and spat upon. It is this agony of dilemma, of the knowledge of the ambiguity of every choice, that, since Job and the Greeks, has defined tragic suffering. The capacity for such suffering (and even Ahab "has his humanities") has ever since been the mark of the tragic figure—he who is caught between the necessity to act and the knowledge of inevitable guilt. Job felt duty-bound to challenge God, Orestes to kill his mother, Hamlet to kill his uncle; and all of them knew guilt. Job had progressed from the experience of mere pain and dis-tress to the experience of suffering.

In the course of the long ordeal, the Poet reveals many personal qualities in Job that have since been appropriated into the tradition of formal tragedy. "The ponderous heart," the "globular brain," the "nervous lofty language" which Melville saw as the qualities of the tragic hero are all in Job. After Job and the Greeks, it became part of the function of tragedy to represent, and make probable, figures of such stature. What would break lesser folk—the Counselors, or the members of the chorus—releases new powers in Job. His compulsion toward self-justification sends him far and wide over all the affairs of men, and deep within himself; and the agony of his guilt propels him ever nearer his God. He sets himself in solid debate against the Counselors: "I have understanding as well as you: I am not inferior to you." He answers their arguments in the full sweep of a massive mind, rich in learning and in the closest observation of human life. He resists every temptation to compromise or turn back, like Ahab denying Star-buck, or Hamlet thrusting aside his friends. As he gains in spiritual poise (though his course is very uneven), his mental processes become more orderly. He talks increasingly in legal terms. The universe becomes, as it were, a local court of justice where his "cause" can be "tried." "Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified." In one mood he complains that there is no "daysman," or umpire, to judge his case; in another he calls upon God to act as judge against Himself. He speaks of his "witness" and his "record" and longs to have his case recorded in a book—like Othello or Hamlet, wanting his full story told.

Nothing is more revealing of Job's (and the tragic hero's) stature than the contrast which the Poet develops between Job and the Counselors. Job outstrips them in every way. By chapter 28 Job has achieved an ironic reversal of roles: the Counselors who came to teach him are now being taught by him—and on the subject of Wisdom. He fails to convince them of the injustice of his suffering or even of the possibility of a flaw in their pat theology. But in failing to change their minds he demonstrates the littleness of minds that cannot be changed. He grows in stature as they shrink. He knows that he has achieved a vision, through suffering, beyond anything they can know. He has mystical insights, as when he sees into the time, perhaps long after his death, when his Vindicator "will stand up upon the earth," and when "without my flesh I shall see God." On his miserable ash-heap (and this is what the Counselors never see) Job rises to heights he never reached in the days of his worldly prosperity, when in his presence "the aged arose and stood up, the princes refrained talking." His summing up, the Oath of Clearance (chs. 30-31), is orderly and composed. He is the master of his spirit. When the Voice from the Whirlwind begins its mighty oration, the Counselors seem not part of the picture at all. They return in the folkstory conclusion (41:7) only to be rebuked: "the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath."

So far, the meaning of Job for the tragic tradition is this: A new dimension of human experience, a new possibility, has been explored and rendered probable. Vision, working on the raw materials of experience, has hammered out a form. New value has been found where it was least expected—in the clearest possible case of unjustified suffering. Suffering itself, as the Poet of Job defines it, has been made to yield knowledge, and the way has been plotted out. After this achievement by the Poet of Job and after the similar achievement by Aeschylus in what may have been the same ear of antiquity (the fifth century), the "tragic form" was permanently available. No subsequent artist whose imagination was attracted to this mode of writing could ignore it.

It has seemed to many that in the final stages ofJob—the speech of Elihu, the Voice from the Whirlwind, Job's repentance, and the folk-story ending—tragic meaning, as the Poet has so far defined it, is swallowed up in mystical revelation or orthodox piety. In one sense it is true that the final phase of Job's experience carries him beyond the tragic domain, and the book as a whole is a religious book and not a formal tragedy. The revelation granted Job, and his repentance, would seem to deny the essence of his previous situation—the agony of dilemma, of the opposing compulsions of necessity and guilt. Certainly no such un-equivocal Voice speaks to Antigone or Hamlet or Hester Prynne, who conclude the dark voyage in the light of their own unaided convictions, and live out their dilemmas to the end. But in these final scenes the tragic vision of the Poet is still active. Ambiguities remain, and the central question of the book is unanswered. Also, in the treatment of Job's pride, in the final revelation of how Job learned humility, in the irony with which the "happy ending" of the folk story is left to make its own statement, the Poet includes much that is relevant, as we can now see, to the tragic tradition.

At the end of his Oath of Clearance, Job had achieved a state of what Aristotle called catharsis. He had challenged the Almighty, made his case, and purged his spirit. He was in a Hamlet-like state of readiness. In taking him beyond catharsis into abject repentance and self-abhorrence, the Poet makes of him a religious rather than a tragic figure; but the Poem as a whole makes an important statement about pride, which the Greeks were to make repeatedly, though from a different perspective. According to the Poet, and to the Greek tragedians, pride like Job's is justified. It has its ugly and dark side, but it was through pride that Job made his spiritual gains and got a hearing from Jehovah himself. The Lord favored Job's pride and rebuked the safe orthodoxy of the Counselors. The pride that moved Job is the dynamic of a whole line of tragic heroes, from Oedipus to Ahab. It is always ambiguous and often destructive, but it is the very hallmark of the type.

Although the speech of Elihu (chs. 32-37) is generally regarded as not the work of the original Poet of Job, and al-though it repeats tiresomely much of what the other Counselors had said, it has the distinction of dealing not so much with Job's past sinfulness as with his present pride. Elihu, young, fiery, and a little pompous, is shocked that the Counselors have allowed Job in his pride to have the last word, and he sets out to humble him. Job's eyes have been blinded by pride, and his ears deafened: "For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not … he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man." "Why dost thou strive against him?" Elihu suggests a way of learning humility that is a curious blend of religious insight and the wisdom of tragedy. Job must see in God's chastisement not only discipline and a just judgment, but he must see that in his affliction there is "delivery"—through suffering he may learn: "He delivereth the afflicted by their affliction, and openeth their ear in oppression." But not only this: Job must see with his own eyes. More than the other Counselors, Elihu turns Job's eyes outward. As if to prepare Job for the revelations of the Voice from the Whirlwind (in this respect Elihu's speech is a firm dramatic bridge between Job's "Oath of Clearance" and the climactic chapters of the book), Elihu asks him to contemplate the magnificence of the external universe. "Stand still," he says, "and consider the wondrous works of God." He rhapsodizes on the lightning, the thunder, and the wind; and he sees God's con-cern for men even in the snow, ice, cold, and rain,

Whether it be for correction, or for his land,
Or for lovingkindness …
[Translation from the American Standard

The main movement of Job's experience, from the morbid concern for his own suffering toward membership and partisanship in the human family, is extending even farther outward. He must now experience the Infinite or the Absolute. Even though in formal tragedy there is no such apocalypse as Job presently experiences, the direction is the same. Through suffering, as Aeschylus wrote, men learn—not only their littleness and sinfulness but the positive and creative possibilities of themselves and the world they live in. They learn them, in Job as in later tragedy, not from Counselors or friends, but directly, on their pulses. As in the long debate with the Counselors Job made many discoveries about himself and the human realm, so now the Voice from the Whirlwind opens up for him the vast economy of the universe. In this new perspective, the question "Why did I suffer?" loses its urgency.

The question loses its urgency—Job never asks it again—but it is never answered. To the Poet, in contrast to the teaching of the Counselors or The Book of Proverbs or the first Psalm, the universe was not reasonable and not al-ways just. He did not see it as a sunny and secure place for human beings, where to prosper one only has to be good. Even after the Voice ceased, Job was no nearer an understanding of what justice is than when he began his complaints. Unjustified suffering must be accepted as part of a mystery; it is not for man to reason why. The universe is a realm of infinite complexity and power, in which catastrophe may fall at any time on the just as well as the unjust. There may be enough moral cause-and-effect to satisfy the members of the chorus or the Counselors. But all the hero can do, if he is visited as Job was, is to persevere in the pride of his conviction, to appeal to God against God, and if he is as fortunate as Job, hear his questionings echo into nothingness in the infinite mystery and the glory.

Even the folk-story ending contains a tantalizing ambiguity. Few people go away happy at the end ofJob, or if they do they miss the point. Of course, the sense of frustration is largely eliminated by Job's rewards. God is good; justice of a sort has been rendered; the universe seems secure. We are inclined to smile at how neatly it works out—the mathematical precision of the twofold restoration of Job's possessions and his perfectly balanced family, seven sons and three daughters—a sign perhaps that we are in the do-main of something less elevated than Divine Comedy. But the universe seems secure only to those who do not question too far. Can a new family make up for the one Job lost? What about the faithful servants who fell to the Sa-beans and Chaldeans? These questions the folk story ignores, and its reassuring final picture also makes it easy to forget Job's suffering and his unanswered question. Al-though the irony of the folk conclusion seems unmistakable, it was no doubt this easy piety, like the pious emendations to the bitterness of Ecclesiastes, that made The Book of Job acceptable to the orthodox for centuries. Actually, it is a "dangerous" book. Although the Hebrews had their recalcitrant figures, capable, like the Poet of Job, of deep penetration into the realm of tragedy, they are rightly regarded as the people of a Covenant, a Code, and a Book. This is one reason, perhaps, why they never developed a tragic theater, where their beliefs and modes of living would be under constant scrutiny. Their public communication was through synagogue and pulpit; their prophets and preachers proclaimed the doctrine of obedience to divine law, and the rabbis endlessly proliferated the rules for daily life. The rebellious Job was not typical. For the most part, their heroes were lonely, God-summoned men whose language was that of witness to the one true light.

Eugene Goodheart (essay date 1961)

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Eugene Goodheart (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: "Job and the Modern World," in Judaism, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter, 1961, pp. 21-28.

[Goodheart is an American critic and educator. In the following essay he contrasts modern interpretations of Job's suffering in several fictional works with the original intent of TheBookof Job.]

Behind much of the modern literature of suffering is the greatest single work of the Bible, The Book of Job. We hear echoes of Job in books as different from one another as The Brothers Karamazov, Jude the Obscure and The Castle. If, however, we return to Job from a reading of these works, we have the strange experience that the view of life that it presents is almost as alien to the modern sensibility as the story of the sacrifice of Isaac or the gospels of Christ. The Jobean element on The Brothers Karamazov or Jude the Obscure, for instance, represents the exploitation of what is most accessible in Job to the modern sensibility: the sense of gratuitous suffering, the impassioned indignation, but in the rhythm of Job the suffering and the indignation have significance that radically distinguishes Job from the modern works I have just mentioned. (The only modern writer who has affinities with Job is Shakespeare and particularly the Shakespeare of King Lear. It is significant that the multiple author of Job is frequently characterized by critics and scholars anachronistically as the Shakespeare of the Bible.)

I am going to try to recapture the essential intention of Job and distinguish the ethos of its sensibility from the ethos of the modern sensibility. But first I want to rehearse the main action of the book.

Job is the perfect and upright man whom God, on a dare from Satan, victimizes in the most outrageous fashion in order to test his faith. Job first loses his material prosperity, then his family and finally experiences the most acute physical suffering. He endures—up to a point; his patience is proverbial. Finally however, there is a great outburst of indignation. In an anguish of flesh and spirit, he challenges divine justice. Now that the torrent has been loosed, nothing can stop it. Friends of his come to console him, and each one presumes to discover a purpose in Job's afflictions. Perhaps he is suffering for the sins of his fathers or those of his children. Each consolation has the undeniable stamp of sophistry (for what do his friends know of God's purposes?), and Job's refusal to be consoled is simply an-other vindication of his integrity, his integrity even in defiance of his fate. We are never left with the slightest doubt of Job's character. He remains throughout perfect and up-right.

Such has been the force of Job's indignation that God, turning aside the false pieties of the comforters, feels called upon to declare himself. And yet the Voice Out of the Whirlwind, despite the undeniable magnificence of its utterance, neither explains nor justifies God's treatment of Job. Job's indignant questions go unanswered. Indeed, the immediate impression is that questions are treated as impertinences, almost beneath the notice of the divinity which the magnificent poetry of the Voice is celebrating. And yet just as mysteriously as the Voice has spoken, Job with the perfect economy of movement that characterizes not only Job, but the whole of the Bible, abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes.

In light of the multiple authorship of Job can we talk about it as a unified work? There is obviously a conflict of intentions. The prose passages that concern God and Satan have the effect of rationalizing Job's afflictions: the prologue makes them into a test of Job's faith, and the epilogue subverts the scepticism of the poetry by seeing to it that justice is done. Job's anguished claim that the virtuous are unrewarded and the vicious unpunished is, as it were, denied by the epilogue. The fact of multiple author-ship, however, does little damage to the coherence of the book; its inconsistencies are like the inconsistencies of a Gothic cathedral, many hands conspiring in their individuality to create a unified impression. Moreover, the conflict of intention is superficial. One might say that the poetic passages represent a deepening, rather than a contradiction of the original conception of the Job story. If the greatness of Job lies chiefly in the poetic passages, that greatness is not to be understood as belonging solely to its scepticism: that is, to its sense of the gratuitous cruelty of the universe. The greatness of Job lies as well in its triumphant religious clarity, and here the intentions of the narrative and the poetry virtually coincide. The greatness of Job is in the way in which it answers a question which every age must ask and which was asked in the nineteenth century by Dostoievsky in The Brothers Karamazov.

Towards the end of The Brothers, Dmitri dreams that he is riding in his carriage on the steppes and that he suddenly comes upon a woman and her child. They have been victims of fire and they are wandering away from their village, homeless. Dmitri asks the coachman why the child is crying, and the coachman, good empirical-rationalist that he is, answers that their house has burned down. But Dmitri is asking another kind of question. Not what has happened, but why it has happened. Why was the world made in such a way that houses must burn down and the innocent must suffer. Dmitri's question is the question that Job asks himself, a question that must be asked again and again in every age. Indeed, the test of the integrity of an age is its capacity to ask the question and to seek the answer.

What kind of answer does Job give to the question? The answer certainly is not to be found in any explicit statement in the book. The book is not a philosophical treatise, it is a dramatic poem and its significances lie in character and situation, in the relationships between characters, in the relationship between character and situation. And yet having said this, the problem of interpretation is as formidable as ever. For so much of the meaning of Job seems to be—at least for the modern reader—in what is left out. For instance, we want to know what went on in Job's mind during the time that the Voice speaks out of the whirl-wind. What is the human and psychological burden of the simple phrase: "then Job abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes."

Has Job reluctantly surrendered to his ineluctable fate? Is his refusal to persist in his indignation the result of a sudden perception that his faith is being tested, that his utterance during his period of patience ("though he slay me, yet will I trust in him") is in danger of being betrayed by his indignation and that he must inhibit the indignation if he is to remain a moral man? Or is his surrender simply an act of cowardice, an unwillingness to assume the role of the romantic hero? In his submission, from another point of view, the only moral alternative, the others being suicide or dissipation or a romantic refusal to accept his fate?

It is possible to make out a case for the heroism of Job's final action. One might say that Job is accepting, not God's cruelty, but the limits that God has set upon Job's capacity to understand its meaning. God's imposition is so final that further evidence would be even morally superfluous. For what could Job hope to gain from continued indignation? Job is not confronted by Adam's choice of knowledge and suffering vs. ignorance and happiness. When Adam eats of the tree of knowledge, he is not defying his destiny, he is creating it. And one could interpret Adam's action as an heroic one. But in Job no price is put on the kind of knowledge that Job desires. It cannot be won even by suffering, for that kind of knowledge is fate, fate which has already been created and for which mystery is its necessary condition. Thus, the only honorable course for Job-in this interpretation-is to make his peace with God. The alternatives, suicide and dissipation, share a common characteristic: both involve a surrender of one's integrity, an unmaking of self. But Job in his act of submission remains true to himself. He responds to God's cruelty by his stern refusal to disintegrate. He is uncompromised at the end, free of the mealy-mouthed pieties of his comforters. One might say that the book demonstrates the superiority of Job's morality to the cruelty of divine justice.

The biblical narrative-I have in mind particularly The Pentateuch—in its spare and elliptical character invites the kind of interpretation I have just made. The modern reader feels a demand to supply the psychological and moral detail of actions that are so sparingly rendered. In Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and Mann's Joseph and His Brothers we are given glimpses of the characters of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, glimpses that we never get in the Bible. What is the value of such glimpses? In what sense do they constitute interpretations of the Bible? They illustrate, it seems to me, a power which all great works have and which the Bible has supremely, the power to change its life in every age and thus to remain alive. Each interpretation invests the work with new life. This, of course, cannot be accomplished by the interpretation it-self. There must be something in the work which elicits the life-giving interpretation. The work must present the kind of experience—we call it universal experience—of which each age has its own conception or version. So that the interpretation may not only have the value of adding life or significance to the work, it may also be a way that the imagination of the age reveals itself, a way in which it clarifies its own conception. Thus Kierkegaard's interpretation of the Abraham story becomes an opportunity for Kierkegaard to express the dilemmas of religious belief in the modern world—and the leap of faith that is necessary to transcend those dilemmas.

When a work is used in this fashion, it is in danger of having its spirit violated. Sometimes the experience that the work embodies is no longer accessible to the interpreter, and he fastens on to an aspect of the work that is accessible in order to make something entirely new. Here is an instance of the way in which Kierkegaard interiorizes the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, changing it from a drama of deed to a drama of motive:

… Then Abraham lifted up the boy, he walked with him by his side, and his talk was full of comfort and exhortation. But Isaac could not understand him. He climbed Mount Moriah, but Isaac understood him not. Then for an instant he turned away from him, and when Isaac again saw Abraham's face it was changed, his glance was wild, his form was horror. He seized Isaac by the throat, threw him to the ground, and said, "Stupid boy, dost thou then suppose that I am thy father, I am an idolater. Dost thou suppose that this is God's bidding? No, it is my desire." Then Isaac trembled and cried out in his terror, "O God in heaven, have compassion upon me. If I have no father upon earth, be Thou my father!" But Abraham in a low voice said to him-self, "O Lord in heaven, I thank Thee. After all it is better for him to believe that I am a monster, rather than that he should lose faith in Thee."

How the Biblical narrative has been altered by the act of conceiving the inner lives of Abraham and Isaac! Brilliant as Kierkegaard's reading is, it is a typical instance of the modern refusal to accept the mystery of the story, it is an instance of the modern need to rationalize it by fleshing it out with the psychological and moral detail of our own experience. As in the story of the sacrifice, the truth of Joblies not in what is absent or hidden; it lies chiefly in what the work reveals.

Let me return for a moment to the last sentence of my summary of the action of Job. "And just as mysteriously as the Voice has spoken, Job with the perfect economy of movement that characterizes not the book, but the whole of the Bible, abhors and repents in dust and ashes." This certainly does not seem like an explanation of Job's action, but it is to my mind better than an explanation. Properly understood, it represents the manner by which we are to intuit the meaning of Job's submission to God.

What fails to satisfy us about the submission is the mystery of it. We either disbelieve it or mistrust it and our first impulse is to make it visible. We must solve the mystery—for the idea of the mysterious gives us a sense of the unre-solved. But if we read Job with the kind of suspension of disbelief that Coleridge advocated as the necessary condition of an imaginatively critical reading, we may have a perception of the utter rightness of the book, the rightness of the impression that it makes upon us despite our moral and intellectual resistance to it. The rhythm of the work, its discords, the resolution of the discords and the final harmony to which the Book conspires and which it reaches depend completely on the mysterious—that is, on nothing that we can explain by modern rationalism or psychology. If we try to get behind the action to psychology, the interpretation, however internally coherent it might be, is bound to fail to correspond with our sense of the book's rhythm, where it seems to me the intrinsic meaning lies. Our experience of the rhythm of the book certainly does not justify the interpretation that Job, by submitting, is slyly affirming himself in his moral integrity against God's gratuitous cruelty.

Let me state the issue somewhat differently. Aristotle distinguishes among four kinds of causes, among which are the efficient cause and the final cause. Normally speaking, the efficient cause-that which makes something move—is motive, psychological motive, the final cause is the pur-pose of the action. In Aristotelian terms the movement in Job is created not by an efficient cause but by the final cause. The action of Job abhorring himself and repenting is significant not for any motives in Job, but for its movement towards Someone beyond Job. The mere presence of God is sufficient to command or explain Job's action. It is for this reason that the lack of psychological or moral detail is not a function of the primitivism of the writer, but rather a function of the book's meaning—a way the book has of indicating that its meaning is not in Job's psychology, but in Job's relationship to God.

While a psychological attention to Job might produce interesting interpretations, it would do violence to the integrity of the work. Nothing must subvert out sense of the authenticity of Job's final gesture. To understand it as cowardice or a sly assertion of superiority over God is to mis-take the rhythm of the work. Job "abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes." The phrase is burdened by no hidden motives; it bears the pressure only of the Voice of God, of Job's hearing it and of his consequent seeing of it with his mind's eye. And here it seems to me we have the essential difference between the sensibilities of the biblical and the modern worlds.

The modern protest occurs in a world in which the voice of God is not heard. All that is heard is the echo of protest.

The result is that the protest is magnified and amplified. Since there is no answering voice the protest is limited only by the limits of the energy of the protest. When we contemplate the great outcries of romantic heroes in nineteenth-century literature—of the Byronic hero, of the Dostoievskian hero, of the Hardyian hero—we are contemplating Job's indignation raised to the hundredth power. If we have come to the modern romantics from Job we may even be struck by a sense of the absurd and the grotesque, of the extravagant posturing of the Jobean characters in modern literature: a sense which may even defeat our ability to sympathize with their suffering.

Notes from the Underground is a graphic instance of what has happened to the Jobean protest in the modern world. Early in the novel there is a contemptuous attack on the tragic view (which is the view of Job) from the romantic standpoint.

With people who know how to avenge them-selves and to stand up for themselves in general, how is it done? Why, when they are possessed, let us suppose, by the feeling of revenge, then for the time being there is nothing else but that feeling left in their whole being. Such a gentleman simply dashes straight for his object like an infuriated bull with its horns down, and nothing but a wall will stop him. (By the way: facing the wall, such gentlemen—that is, the straightfor-ward persons and men of action—are genuinely nonplused. For them a wall is not an evasion, as for us who think and consequently do nothing; it is not an excuse for turning aside, an excuse which we always are very glad of, though we scarcely believe in it ourselves, as a rule. No they are nonplused in all sincerity. The wall has for them something tranquilizing, morally soothing, final—perhaps even something mysterious—but of this wall more later.)

We turn a page and find this about the wall.

As though such a stone wall really were a consolation and really did contain some word of conciliation, simply because it is true as that two times two makes four. Oh absurdity of absurdi-ties! How much better it is to understand all, to recognize all—all the impossibilities and the stone wall; not to be reconciled to one of those impossibilities and stone walls if it disgusts you to be reconciled to it; by the way of the most inevitable, logical combinations to reach the most revolting conclusions on the everlasting theme: that you yourself are somehow to blame even for the stone wall, though again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the least, and therefore grinding your teeth in silent importance to sink into luxurious inertia, brooding on the fact that there's no one for you even to feel vindictive against, that you have not and perhaps never will have, an object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit of jugglery, a cardsharper's trick, that it is simply a mess, no knowing what and no knowing who. But in spite of all these un-certainties and juggleries, there is still an ache in you, and the more you do not know, the worse the ache.

The stone wall represents the laws of nature. In the novel, science indifferently performs the role of God, defining, as it were, the human condition. But what a difference between the arithmetic of the stone wall and the creative power of a living God. Naturally, the underground man refuses to be reconciled to the stone wall, though he lacks the courage to run his head against it. In his imagination where all his courage resides, he can conceive grandiose defiant gestures and refuse to submit to the inevitable. And this is what the romantic protest amounts to: a refusal to submit to the inevitable, a curiously mixed hatred of and disbelief in the inevitable. The objective world dis-solves into the psychological confusions of the under-ground man. The stone wall is at once reality and illusion: inimical to and identical with the underground man, im-possible to transcend and yet impossible to accept, the torment with which he is undeservedly afflicted and yet which he himself has created. The novel is obsessed by paradox and dilemma, a testimony to what happens to man when he can no longer experience life beyond the self—when the private self is hypostatized as the real world.

The psychological orientation of so much of modern literature, indeed of modern culture, reflects the inevitable egotism of a Godless universe. It is inconceivable that Job could have persisted in his indignation after he had heard the Voice of God, not because the Voice had intimidated him, but because it has defined the limits of his protest, and by extension of his egotism. Job learns that his suffering is not the world—that there is a great world, an infinitely greater world, beyond his suffering. If the writer of Job had given us a glimpse of Job's thoughts and feelings at the end, he would have destroyed the superb balance that is created between God's self-assertion and Job's sub-mission. The values ofJob are perfectly distributed by the economy of its imaginative attention.

The submission of Job is an act of freedom and paradoxically an act which is made possible by the divine power that limits him. The only modern work I know that has a similar perception of the meaning of freedom—in the interaction of self and otherness—is King Lear. The trans-formation that takes place in Lear from monumental vanity to the most compassionate concern for the welfare of others has something of the rhythm of Job's self-exaltation in his suffering and his final acquiescence in the inevitable. The transformation is incredibly painful—there is even more pain in Lear than in Job—but it is also magnificent, full of that grace that redeems and purifies. If we remember the religious connotation of the word grace, then we will have the right sense of the hero's will—of Job's and Lear's will—a supple strength, unlike the fixed, disem-bodied and abstract strength of the romantic hero's will. The power to endure catastrophe gracefully is an heroic power and a power that the modern spirit has yielded to self-exaltation through suffering.

What a presumption of Archibald MacLeish [in his drama J. B.] to have magnified the suffering of Job and minimized the counter-balancing presence of God. If MacLeish had intended satire, he might have revealed not only the suffering of the modern person, but the poverty of his suffering in his impulse towards self-magnification. But MacLeish takes his version of Job seriously-indeed, with a desperate seriousness. God and Satan are reduced to circus performers and the smug J. B., an unwitting Babbitt, vice-president of Organization Incorporated, becomes the center of significance. And the most flagrant demonstration of MacLeish's failure to be inspired by the original text is in the way in which he resolves the misfortunes of his organization man. All pretense at a concern with the manGod relation disappears. J. B. and his wife come together again after a short estrangement, and we are supposed to respond to the triumph of life in the new "inter-personal" relations that J. B. establishes with his wife. Love conquers all-this time with the hygienic sanction of revisionist Freudian psychology. MacLeish is simply incapable of imagining life beyond the squalid domesticities of middle class existence.

One cannot reproach MacLeish for what is a cultural failure. We cannot demand that a man envisage God in an epoch in which, as Nietzsche has remarked, God is dead. But we can demand of those gifted with the intelligence and the imagination to conceive works of art that they learn contempt for such an epoch, that they learn to regard the petty egotisms of men as less than world-shaking. There is at least one great writer of our century who had a vision of the other world which recalls the vision that we find in the Bible, D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence under-stood Job better than any modern I know. In a letter to a young novelist he writes as follows:

I think the greatest book I know on the subject of egotism is the Book of Job. Job was a great splendid egotist. But whereas Hardy and the moderns end with "Let the day perish—" or more beautifully—"the waters wear the stones; thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; thou destroyest the hope of man:

Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he pas-seth: thou changest his countenance and sendest him away."—the real book of Job ends—"Then Job answered the Lord and said:

I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden thee.

Who is he that hideth counsel without knowl-edge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not: things too wonderful for me, which I know not.

Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

I have heard of thee by hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." If you want a story of your own soul, it is perfectly done in the BookofJob—much better than in Notes from the Underground.

But the moderns today prefer to end insisting on the sad plight which was really Prometheus Un-bound, only the Prometheus Bound and terribly suffering on the rock of his own egotism.

It has been said of Kafka, whose profound despair puts him at the opposite pole of a writer like Lawrence, that his perception of the relations between man and God in The Trial and The Castle has affinities with the perception of Job: the human and divine spheres are incommensurable and it is the moral tragedy of man that the ultimate significance of his life is forever unavailable to him, in a word, he is doomed to experience life as meaningless.

Nothing could be further from the vision of Job than Kafka's despair. Though the human and divine spheres are indeed incommensurable in both Kafka and Job, the biblical work, indeed the whole of the Bible, conceives the two spheres as interpenetrable.

Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak:
    I will demand of thee, and declare
    thou unto me.
I have heard of thee by the hearing
     of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.

What a world of difference between Job and Kafka's heroes, who hear only the silence of despair and see only the abyss of suffering and vacuity.

If Job has learned from hearing things that were too wonderful for him we must at least learn that we have failed to hear them. Then perhaps the experience of Job will become available to us.

Robert Gordis (essay date 1965)

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Robert Gordis (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "The Lord out of the Whirlwind," in The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job, The University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 117-34.

[Gordis is an American rabbi, theologian, and editor who has written broadly on Jewish culture and theology. In the following essay he focuses on God's speeches in The Book of Job, examining various critical perspectives concerning their authenticity and form and emphasizing the importance of allusion in Hebrew literature.]

As Elihu's words end, a storm is seen rising in the east. The Lord himself appears in the whirlwind and addresses Job in two speeches, after each of which Job offers a brief reply [Job, 38: 1-40:2, 40:3-6, 40:6- 41:26]. These chapters are among the greatest nature poetry in world literature. Their purpose, however, is not the glorification of nature, but the vindication of nature's God.

The contention of the Friends that Job must be a sinner because he is a sufferer is treated with the silence it deserves. Nowhere does God refer to the misdeeds of which he had been accused by the Lord's "defenders." This silence is richly significant on several counts. It speaks eloquently of God's rejection of the conventional theology expounded by the Friends, which begins in untruth and ends in cruelty. (Eliphaz, who begins the dialogue with courtliness and consideration [chaps. 4, 5], ends by wildly accusing Job of every conceivable crime [chap. 22].) Later, when God and Job are reconciled, the Lord passes severe judgment upon the Friends: "The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My anger is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me as has My servant Job' " (42:7); but at the present juncture, silence is the most effective refutation of their position.

The Lord consciously refrains from referring to Job's suffering, not from callous indifference but, on the contrary, from exquisite tact and sensibility. Job's agony cannot be justified by the platitudes of conventional religion, nor can it be explained away as imaginary. If man is to bear his suffering at all, the entire problem must be raised to another dimension. This is the burden of the words of the Lord spoken out of the whirlwind.

Can Job comprehend, let alone govern, the universe that he weighs and now finds wanting? Earth and sea, cloud and darkness and dawn, sleet and hail, rain and thunder, snow and ice, and the stars above—all these wonders are beyond Job. Nor do they exhaust God's power. With a vividness born of deep love and careful observation, the poet pictures the beasts, remote from man, yet precious to their Maker. The lion and the mountain goat, the wild ass and the buffalo, the ostrich, the wild horse, and the hawk, all testify to the glory of God (chaps. 38, 39).

The creatures glorified by the poet are not chosen at random. For all their variety they have one element in common—they are not under the sway of man, nor are they intended for his use. The implication is clear—the universe and its Creator cannot be judged solely from the vantage point of man, and surely not from the limited perspective of one human being. This call to rise above the anthropocentric view will be emphasized even more strikingly in the Lord's second speech. Job is overwhelmed and confesses his weakness:

Job answered the Lord, saying,
Behold, I am of small account; how can I answer
I lay my hand to my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not reply again;
Twice, but I will proceed no further.
[Job 40:3-5]

God, however, ignores Job's surrender and with torrential force launches into His second speech. He begins by asking whether Job is ready to subvert the entire order of the universe so that he may be vindicated:

Will you deny My justice,
Put Me in the wrong, so that you may be in the

The climax of this divine irony, infinitely keen yet infinitely kind, is now reached: God invites Job to assume His throne and take the reins of majesty and power into his own hands. If he is able to humble the arrogant and crush the evildoers, God himself is prepared to do obeisance to him!

Have you an arm like God;
Can you thunder with a voice like His?
Deck yourself in majesty and dignity,
Clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Scatter abroad your mighty wrath,
And as you see each proud sinner—abase him!
As you look on each arrogant one—bring him

And tread down the wicked in their place.
Bury them all in the dust,
Press their faces into the grave—
Then I, too, will render thee homage,
When your right hand will have brought you

Here on the one hand is God's moving acknowledgment that the world order is not perfect, and on the other, an affirmation of the complexity of the universe and of the conflicting interests which divine concern must encompass and reconcile. All these elements man must reckon with before he presumes to pass judgment on the universe and its Governor.

Thus God has conceded that there are flaws in His creation, and evils which He has not conquered. Yet the world is not evil merely because there is evil in it. Evil is not dismissed as illusory or unimportant, but neither is it permitted to usurp a position of dominance in the universe.

Then follow exultant descriptions of two massive beasts—Behemot, the hippopotamus (40:15-24), and Leviathan, the crocodile (40:25-41:26). These are not literal, exact delineations, but poetic pictures rich in hyperbole. It is possible that, carried along by his enthusiasm and exultation, the poet borrowed images from ancient oriental myths which tell of the creative god who fights and conquers primordial beasts of terrifying dimensions. But he is not interested in imaginary creatures from the dim mythological past—he is concerned with the actual present, with the vast universe as it is governed by its Maker. The hippopotamus and the crocodile are real beasts and their choice for inclusion in these paeans of praise is by no means accidental.

The first speech of the Lord has glorified creatures like the mountain goat, the ostrich, the horse, and the hawk. To be sure, they were not created for man's use, yet they do possess a beauty and grace that man can appreciate. The poet now goes a step further. The hippopotamus and the crocodile can lay no claim to beauty, but on the contrary, are physically repulsive. When the poet glorifies these beasts he is calling upon us to rise completely above the anthropocentric point of view which, however natural for man, distorts his comprehension of the world. Precisely because they are unbeautiful by human standards, these monstrosities, fashioned by God's hand, are a revelation of the limitless range of God's creative thought. Since His ways are not man's ways, how can man's thoughts grasp God's thoughts—and what is more, pass judgment upon Him?

Job replies briefly and for the last time (42:1-6). It is note-worthy that exactly as in his closing responses in the first and second cycles of the dialogue, he employs the device of quoting his opponent's words, using them as a basis for his own reply:

Then Job answered the Lord,
I know that You can do all things
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
You have said,
"Who is this that hides My plan without knowledge?"
Indeed, I have spoken without understanding,
Of things too wonderful for me which I did not
You have said,
"Hear, and I will speak;
I will ask you, and do you inform Me."
I have heard of You by hearsay,
But now my own eyes have seen You.
Therefore I abase myself
And repent in dust and ashes.

With these words of submission, the dialogue ends.

No reader can fail to be stirred by the power and beauty of these magnificent poems in praise of the wonders of nature and of nature's God. Herder undoubtedly had these chapters in mind, along with other biblical passages, when he wrote in his famous Vom Geist der Ebraäischen Poesie:

I have been particularly struck by its (the Jewish people's) perfect sympathy with brutes and the whole animate creation and was delighted even in childhood to find that it treated the brute animals (so called because they are dumb) as the brothers of man who want nothing but the power of speech. The wild beasts that the Hebrew language calls 'living creatures' are the living, because domestic animals are in comparison, as it were, still and dead. I was delighted when I found the voice and language of brutes so forcefully expressed in the language; when the prophet coos with the crane and the turtle dove, and mourns with the ostrich in the wilderness. I rejoiced at finding the form of the stag, the lion and the ox, sometimes their strength, stateliness, and velocity, at others, the acuteness of their senses, their habits of life and their character described and painted in appropriate terms. I wished that in place of some of the sacred songs we had more of its fables, parables and riddles respecting the brute creation, in short, more of the poetry of nature; for this seems to me to be among this people the most happy and the most perfect simplicity.

Granted the magnificence of the God speeches, several important questions arise. Most readers have been struck by the fact that these chapters make no reference whatsoever to the theme of man's suffering, with which the rest of Job is concerned. This has led some critics to assume that the work was left unfinished and that another poet added these chapters which, however beautiful in themselves, are irrelevant. Some of these scholars assume that the book originally was confined to a discussion of Job's misfortunes and that it grew to its present size via successive editions.

This view, rightly stigmatized by [R.H. Pfeiffer in Le Probléme du Livre de Job] as "gratuitous," is generally rejected on several grounds. One argument is based on the literary greatness of these chapters. [S. R. Driver, in Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament], after paying high tribute to the literary quality of the God speeches, makes the wise comment, "It is difficult to believe that there could be found a second poet of equal scope (as the author of the Dialogue) to retouch the work of the first." Another argument is based on the fact that throughout the dialogue Job has demanded that God answer him; the book would be highly unsatisfactory without some reply from the Lord. Most scholars, therefore, accept the view that the God speeches are authentic, although many critics have deleted one or more sections: the passage on the ostrich (39:13-18) in the first speech of the Lord, or the descriptions of the hippopotamus and the crocodile which constitute the bulk of God's second speech.

The section on the ostrich has been rejected principally because it does not appear in the Septuagint. The fact is, however, that the Greek translation of Job represents a very drastic abridgment of the text, being fully one-sixth shorter. This is undoubtedly due to the manifold difficulties of the Hebrew text, which frequently proved too great for the Greek translator, and for that matter, for all interpreters to the present day. Moreover, the long poetic passages which employ the Semitic device of parallelism would seem repetitious and hence uncongenial to a Greek reader. Since the description of the ostrich is particularly difficult, there would be every inducement for the translator to eliminate it from his version even if it existed in the original. Moreover, it should be noted that the ostrich passage leads directly into the description of the horse (39:19 ff.), the authenticity of which is not doubted.

Many critics have sought to delete the sections on Behemot and Leviathan. Several arguments concerning style have been adduced in this connection, some readers maintaining that the second speech is inferior to the first as literature. This is a highly subjective point of view which I do not share. Only a great poet could paint the vivid picture of the hippopotamus, lying at his ease in the Nile among the lotus leaves, swallowing an entire river in one mouthful (40:24)! There is undeniable power, too, in the portrait of the mighty crocodile, encased in his coat of mail and impervious to the harpoon as he swims through the waters, stirring them up and leaving behind him a trail of white foam like an old man's beard (41:22).

Some critics have pointed out that the passages on the hippopotamus and the crocodile are not couched in the question form which is characteristic of the descriptions in the first speech. There is, however, no reason for assuming that the poet would monotonously employ a single rhetorical form throughout four long chapters (chaps. 38-41). On the contrary, as a gifted poet he would be far more likely to vary his style. Moreover, an analysis of the text discloses a regular pattern—each God speech consists of sections alternating between the question form and the direct statement, thus retaining both the force of repetition and the interest of variety.

Considerations of content have probably been most influential in leading critics to delete these sections. It has been argued that God's second speech adds nothing to the discussion and that Job's second recantation is also an unnecessary duplication. If these paragraphs are deleted (and the remaining material transposed) we are left with only one speech for God, and Job's two responses can be combined into one.

If we penetrate to the full meaning of the poet it becomes clear, I believe, that the proposed solutions are unnecessary and have served only to create new problems. As has already been indicated, the second speech is far from being a repetition of the first: it represents a higher level in the argument, an ascent from God's creative power as manifested in creatures that are independent of man, to God's creative joy in creatures that are positively dangerous and repugnant to man.

Job's responses are not redundant either, nor can they easily be combined. The final verse in Job's first reply ends with the words, "I will proceed no further" (literally, "I shall not continue to speak"). This is entirely appropriate if Job now subsides into silence, but not if we append an-other passage, as some critics would have us do. More-over, each of the two responses is informed by a different spirit, with a crescendo of emotion in each corresponding to the progression of thought in the two God speeches. Job's first answer strikes the note of submission and silence; it is only in the second that he attains a measure of repentance and acceptance. Job is convinced by God's words, but not easily: two stages are required for the argument.

It is, of course, impossible to "prove" that none of the pas-sages in these chapters was interpolated by a later hand and that the sections are all in their proper sequence. What is clear is that if we fully understand the meaning of the received text and take into account the architecture of the book as a whole, we find the entire section highly relevant in content and thoroughly appropriate in form.

The question of the authenticity of the various passages in these chapters, though interesting, is far less important than another basic issue: What are the meaning and relevance of the God speeches? Unless we solve this problem, Job has eluded us. In all the magnificent nature description of the God speeches there is no concern with the problem of suffering and sin. Are we then to assume that the author of Job, after giving ample testimony of his intellectual powers, threw up his hands and permitted his masterpiece to end in a total collapse of thought? Obviously we should not "impose the strait-jacket of Aristotelian logic and consistency on an Oriental poet of great imagination and insight" [as stated by Pfeiffer], for the Hebrew genius had its own canons of thought and concept of beauty; but we have a right to expect that the tragic theme of the book not be totally abandoned.

A modern philosophical writer raises the issue clearly when he asks, "What did God reveal to him that suddenly rent asunder the cover of darkness over Job's soul and made divine truth shine forth before him in all its splendor?" He then answers, "The poor logic and weakness of God's arguments and speeches against Job are truly astonishing. Actually, He does not reply at all. He explains nothing. He only makes sport of the little worm Job; He only unfolds before him gigantic images of creation as seen in nature and taunts him: Canst thou do this? Dost thou at least understand how this is done?" [Chaim Zhitlowsky in Job and Faust].

That an author of transcendent genius should be guilty of a total abdication of logic and reason, particularly when dealing with the theme of his lifework, is not merely astonishing—it is unbelievable. To adopt such a view of the poet is a confession of failure.

This effort to impugn the author's intellectual powers is at times associated with an attack on his moral character. Thus a twentieth-century biblical scholar [Pfeiffer] comes to the conclusion that "the author's wonder before the magnificence of nature, which conveys but a faint idea of the power and wisdom of the Creator, contrasts with his contempt for miserable human beings, in whom God is no more interested than in wild animals" (my italics).

Now the Book of Job is incontrovertible proof that the tragic fate of one human being preoccupied the poet for years. Is this compatible with the notion that he, or his God, would exhibit nothing but "contempt for miserable human beings"? There is not the slightest warrant in the text for attributing to God such an attitude, either toward man or toward the other animals. The entire section expresses God's deep joy in the wild creatures of the field, crag, and desert, and His care for them and their young. Even if God's concern for man were no greater than for the wild animals, that would be interest indeed!

A subtler but even more far-reaching attack on the integrity of the poet is inherent in another approach to the God speeches, [for example, that of K. Fullerton in "The Original Conclusion of Job"]. According to this view, the heart of the book is to be sought in Job's passionate protest against God's cruelty and injustice, which is the burden of the first two cycles of the dialogue (chaps. 3-19). As for the remainder of the book, nearly all of it is unauthentic: the third cycle is not only disorganized, but critically suspect of having been tampered with by orthodox apologists; the Elihu chapters are obviously interpolated; chapters 38-41, the second God speech and Job's second reply, are also to be deleted. In this view, only the first God speech (38:1-40:2) and the first confession of Job (40:3-5) are genuine. Coming immediately after chapters 3-19 they form the original conclusion of the book.

What is significant, according to this theory, is that these authentic sections in the God speeches were deliberately written by the poet ambiguously, with tongue in cheek. They were intended by the author for two totally different classes of readers, the traditionalists and the skeptics. The pious believer would find a conventional religious answer in God's reaffirmation of His power and in Job's submission, while the critical thinker would derive from the same lines the heterodox conclusion that the world as a whole and man's suffering in it constitute a riddle to which there is no solution. The motive for adding these God speeches with their double entendre was to get a hearing for the dialogue in circles that it would not otherwise have reached.

This ingenious theory rests upon no objective evidence in the text, either for the extensive interpolations or for the conscious deception. It should be noted, too, that by this theory the Book of Job would not be a case in which an author is misunderstood by his readers, but one in which he consciously seeks to mislead them. Moreover, several basic questions remain unanswered: What could the author of Job hope to accomplish if he disguised his true meaning so effectively that conventional readers would find only conventional answers? How does this kind of deception comport with the poet's preoccupation with Job's integrity and love of truth throughout the book? What need is there for the long and passionate dialogue by Job and his friends if no reference is made to the theme of their discussion thereafter and no solution to the problem is offered except the cold and impersonal conclusion that life is a meaningless riddle?

Another striking interpretation of the intent of the God speeches, and by that token of the book as a whole, has recently been advanced by E. M. Good who, [in Irony in the Old Testament], interprets the book as exhibiting "the irony of reconciliation." Good finds that after the God speeches Job "repents for a sin he now knows perfectly well and it has nothing to do with external suffering." His sin has consisted of "his being satisfied to know all about God at second hand and for elevating himself to Deity's rank." In conclusion, "God finds man guilty and acquits him. That is the fundamental irony of the Book of Job and of biblical faith." Unfortunately, this interpretation, acute as it is, does not carry conviction. Neither element of the irony that Good finds in the God speeches appears in the text either explicitly or by implication. Nowhere does God declare Job to be guilty and nowhere does He acquit him of his "guilt." Not only is no sin imputed by God to Job but, on the contrary, he is explicitly vindicated in the jointure following the poetic dialogue when the Lord informs the Friends, "You have not spoken the truth about Me as has My servant Job" (42:7, 8).

Whatever may have been the case with the Greeks, it was no act of hybris, of insolence or arrogance, for a Hebrew to demand justice of his God: the patriarch Abraham, whose faith was exemplary, voiced the challenge, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25.)

Differing in spirit but not in substance is the view of the God speeches that seems to be presented by the American poet, Robert Frost. When a modern writer uses a biblical or classical theme we cannot be certain whether he is setting forth his understanding of the original source or is simply utilizing the familiar material as a framework for his own independent vision. A case in point is afforded by Frost's "A Masque of Reason." In an ironic passage God thanks Job for "liberating" Him from ethical enslavement to the human race by denying His righteousness. Job has thus freed his Maker from the obligation of observing the moral law that men have imposed upon Him when they demand that the good must prosper and the wicked suffer. In governing the world, God is now free to disregard the moral imperative.

Frost seems here to go beyond the contention that man's reason cannot demonstrate a universal and inevitable correspondence between his actions and his destiny. It is not merely that the moral standards of God are beyond man's comprehension but that morality is man's own invention, one he has sought to foist upon God. Actually, God is "beyond good and evil," free to rule His world untrammeled by the necessity of seeing justice done.

Intriguing as this view may be to some modern minds, it does not represent the thought of the ancient Hebrew poet, whose God could not so easily abrogate the law of justice in the world. Throughout the dialogue, as we have seen, Job has steadfastly insisted upon an arbiter, a witness to speak for him (9:33; 16:19). He has expressed his passionate conviction that a Redeemer exists who will vindicate him. He has demanded that his cause be engraved on a monument to last into the future. In spite of all provocations and temptations, Job has held fast to two convictions—that his agony is unjustified and that there must be justice in the world.

In the brief passage (42:7-10) by which the poet links his dialogue to the traditional epilogue, the Lord twice declares to the Friends, "You have not spoken the truth about Me as has My servant Job" (42:7, 8). Far from denying Job's insistence that justice must somehow inhere in the universe, the Lord vigorously confirms it. Job has spoken the truth not only about his unmerited suffering but "about Me," the nature of God. Thus the Book of Job demonstrates what could have been inferred a priori—a God without justice is no God to an ancient Hebrew.

To be sure, reconciling Job's two basic convictions is a difficult task. Therein lies the major problem in understanding the book as a whole and the God speeches in particular. But it does not help matters to attribute to the author of Job an incapacity for rational thought, a devious mentality, or a callous indifference to human suffering. A convincing explanation of the meaning of the God speeches must disclose their relevance to the themes of human suffering and God's justice, and, by that token, to the other sections of the book. Most students of Job have therefore attempted, in a variety of ways, to relate the God speeches to the earlier dialogue.

One widespread view maintains that God wins Job over by picturing His limitless might as seen in Creation. But this answer does not hold water. Job has frequently conceded God's might himself during the earlier debate with the Friends. If this be the point of the God speeches they are entirely unnecessary; Job himself has given more than one description of God's power as reflected in the world of nature. It is not God's might but His righteousness that Job calls into question:

However wise and stouthearted a man might be,
Has he ever argued with God and emerged unscathed?
If it be a matter of power, here He is!
But if of justice, who will arraign Him?
Who would remove God's rod from me,
So that my dread of Him would not terrify me.
Then I would speak, and not fear Him,
For He is far from just to me!
[Job 9:4, 19, 34, 35]

Who does not know in all this,
That the hand of the Lord has made it?
With God are wisdom and strength,
His are counsel and understanding.
[12:9, 13]

Remove Your hand from me,
And let not the dread of You terrify me;
Then You may call and I shall respond,
Or I shall speak, and You answer me.

Oh that I knew where to find Him,
That I could come to His dwelling!
I would lay my case before Him,
And my mouth would not lack for arguments.
Would He contend with me merely through His
 great power?
No, He would surely pay heed to me.
[23:3, 4, 6]

If Job suddenly surrendered before the spectacle of power which he had so passionately challenged in his cry for justice, it would be a stultifying conclusion to a brilliant debate. Were this the intent of the God speeches one would be driven to Cornill's view [in Introduction to the Canonical Books of the Old Testament] that they are of "unparalleled brutality, which is usually palliated and styled divine irony, but which, under such circumstances and conditions, should much rather be termed devilish scorn."

This conclusion is so thoroughly contradictory to the theme of the book and the entire tenor of biblical thought that scholars have been driven to the opposite extreme: it has been suggested that the message of the God speeches is that God remains near to man in his suffering. Throughout the dialogue, Job has contended that his Maker op-presses him while remaining indifferent to his misfortune. This unconcern is disproved by the mere fact that God appears to Job in the whirlwind and speaks to him. Job has won because he has succeeded in compelling God to answer him, and his vindication is marked by his experiencing the nearness of God. Thus one writer [Zhitlowsky] movingly declares, "It is as though a child who, lost and alone at night in a dense forest, scratched by thorns, terrified by the ghosts he sees in every tree, in every bush, were suddenly to hear the steps and the voice of his father, were to feel himself lifted up in the paternal arms and carried home. Who listens then to the scolding words of the father, and what difference does it make what happened! He is safe, close in the paternal embrace.…This was certainly also the psychology of Job, 'Formerly I merely heard about Thee, now mine eye beholds Thee!'—and an end to all questions." Another, more theologically oriented scholar finds in the God speeches the voice of a suffering God and sees in the Book of Job a foreshadowing of the need for a Christ.

To be sure, the idea that God shares in the suffering of His creatures does find expression in biblical thought. It is an extension of the doctrine of the covenant between God and man which unites their destiny in an indissoluble bond: "I shall be your God, and you shall be My people" (Leviticus 26:12, and often). On the one hand, this common link between God and Israel becomes the basis for the prophets' castigation of the wayward people who violated the covenant at Sinai. On the other hand, the notion of the bond is used by the prophets in their intercessions on behalf of sinful Israel, since the destruction of the nation would represent a profanation of the divine name.

From the concept that God and man are linked together by mutual responsibilities under the covenant, religious faith makes the bold leap to the conviction that God Himself suffers when man is in agony.

This theme is articulated in both the Prophets and the Psalms:

In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the angel of His presence saved them;
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them;
And He bore them, and carried them all the days
 of old.
[Isaiah 63:9]

He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him, and bring him to honor.
[Psalms 91:15]

The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon
To all that call upon Him in truth.
[Psalms 145:18]

In post-biblical thought this theme was further broadened to include the conviction that God shares in the exile and suffering of Israel, as well as in its redemption. To cite one rabbinic utterance, "When Israel went into exile, the Divine Presence went with them." In Christianity, the doctrine of the suffering God assumed a central role which needs no elaboration here.

The biblical doctrine of God is, however, characterized by polarity. Side by side with this emphasis on the nearness of God is the frequent stress on the vast gulf between God and man in creative power, in wisdom, and in moral quality. It is God's perfection and man's imperfection that lie at the root of the differences in their natures: man is changeable and perverse, but God is trustworthy and constant in His purpose; man is capable of falsehood and cruelty, while God is merciful and just. The divine transcendence and the consequent mystery of God's being are expressed in Moses' encounter with the Unseen God and his fruitless request to "see His face" (Exodus 33:12-23). They underlie the prohibition in the Decalogue against making an image of the Deity (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:8). They are basic to the vision of Isaiah, whose God cannot be seen by human eyes because of man's sinfulness (6:5), though He is exalted through man's righteousness:

Man is bowed down,
Man is brought low,
And the eyes of the lofty are humbled;
But the Lord of Hosts is exalted through justice,
And God the Holy One is sanctified through
[Isaiah 5:15, 16]

Biblical religion is the result of the creative tension between God's covenant and His transcendence, the sense of man's intimacy with God and the recognition of the vast difference between them. Both elements of this polarity find matchless expression in the Eighth Psalm. Here the pettiness and the grandeur of man are both related to the greatness of God; it is not God descending to man, but man ascending to God!

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your
The moon and the stars that You have made,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man, that You have regard for
Yet You have made him little lower than divine
And crowned him with glory and honor.
[Psalms 8:4-6]

The tension between these two themes was expressed by the Hasidic teacher Rabbi Bunam: "A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ' I am but dust and ashes.' On the other, 'For my sake was the world created.' And he should use each stone as he needs it."

This sage counsel to draw upon each element of the polarity of God and man as needed was anticipated and followed by the author of Job. The conviction that God is near was deeply imbedded in Job's spirit during his days of well-being. In his final pathetic soliloquy he recalls with longing his previous intense intimacy with God:

Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
As in the days when God watched over me,
When His lamp shone upon my head
And by His light I walked through darkness;
As I was in my days of vigor
When God was an intimate in my tent,
When the Almighty was still with me,
And my children were all about me.
[Job 29:2-5]

In an earlier plea as well, he recalled this loving fellowship:

Your hands fashioned and made me
Altogether—yet now You destroy me!
Remember that You made me of clay
And will return me to the dust.
In Your love You granted me life;
Your command kept me alive.
[10:8, 9, 12]

More than once he passionately pleads for a restoration of this relationship, which had expressed God's erstwhile love, now unaccountably turned to cruelty:

If a man die, can he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
Till my hour of release should come.
You would call and I would answer You;
You would be longing for the work of Your
[14:14, 15]

We may gain an insight into man's yearning for fellowship with God in a significant observation by Gershom Scholem. In his classic work on Jewish mysticism [Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism], he points out that there are three main stages in monotheistic religion: (1) the primitive, when the communion between God and the worshiper is immediate and no abyss exists between them; (2) the creative, when consciousness of the transcendence of God develops, so that the distance between God and man is acutely felt as absolute; and (3) the mystical, which Scholem calls the "romantic" period, when the attempt is made to bridge the abyss by evolving new means of communion and by re-establishing unity between man and his Maker. The observation may be made that the third stage thus reverts to the first or mythical level, but with significant differences. At all events, the first and third periods are mutually illuminating.

Whether or not this suggestive thesis is accepted, it is clear that nowhere in the God speeches in Job is it indicated, even by implication, that God is near to man and his suffering. On the contrary, it is the transcendental aspect of the Deity which finds expression here. With all the power at his command the poet underscores the tremendous chasm between Job and his Maker.

To be sure, Job is comforted by God's speaking to him, by the knowledge that he is not ignored. That sin separates man from God is clear from the very beginning of the Bible, when Adam, after his sin, is thrust out of the Garden of Eden. Hence, if suffering is the result of sin, at least part of the penalty lies in the sense of alienation from God. It is this estrangement from God which Job feels so keenly, and it is in the re-establishment of their relationship that he finds evidence of his vindication.

But if it were merely a matter of God's manifesting His fellowship with Job, His appearance itself, perhaps augmented by a few words of sympathy, would have sufficed. Actually, the God speeches express no sympathy for Job's suffering, which, as we have previously indicated, is no-where referred to. Nor is the length of God's rejoinder to be ignored: not merely that God speaks, but what He says, is crucial. The content of God's words must therefore have a bearing upon the basic issue of evil in a world created by a good God.

The beauty of these chapters is not their sole excuse for being: they are distinctly germane to the issue at hand. What is needed is a recognition of the extensive role which allusiveness (the use of indirection and implication rather than categorical assertion) plays in the Hebrew literature of all periods. The ancient reader could be counted upon to understand a hint and, what is more, to revel in the intellectual pleasure of gathering the meaning from an indirect presentation of the theme under discussion. This rhetorical usage by the poet is particularly effective here, where he is concerned with issues that transcend the mundane and the experiential, so that a hint is far more eloquent than an outright statement. Not denotation, but connotation, is the heart of poetry in general, and of the God speeches in particular.

All of man's explanations of human suffering, varied and imperfect, have been set forth by the Friends and Elihu and have been countered by Job. The human protagonists are now silent. Any deeper word must be spoken by God, who makes His point by implication, but nonetheless effectively on that account. The vivid and joyous description of nature is not an end in itself: it underscores the insight that nature is not merely a mystery, but is also a miracle, a cosmos, a thing of beauty. From this flows the basic conclusion at which the poet has arrived: just as there is order and harmony in the natural world, though imperfectly grasped by man, so there is order and meaning in the moral sphere, though often incomprehensible to man.

The analogy is compelling, not only on the logical and psychological level, but aesthetically. For the poet, the harmony of the universe is important as an idea and as an experience. When man steeps himself in the beauty of the world his troubles grow petty, not because they are unreal, but because they dissolve within the larger plan, like the tiny dabs and scales of oil in a painting. The beauty of the world becomes an anodyne to man's suffering—and the key to truth. In Robert Louis Stevenson's words [in his essay "The Lantern Bearers" in The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson], "The true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action. That is the explanation, that the excuse."

The force of the analogy and its implications are not lost upon Job, and it is before this truth that he yields. He repents his attack upon God, in which he failed to reckon with the limitations in his own understanding. Thus he is able to submit to God's will in a spirit of genuine acceptance.

In the author of Job we have a superb example of the creative artist at work, as Havelock Ellis describes him:

Instead of imitating these philosophers who with analysis and syntheses worry over the goal of life and the justification of the world, and the meaning of the strange and painful phenomenon called Existence, the artist takes up some fragment of that existence, transfigures it, shows it: There! And therewith the spectator is filled with enthusiastic joy, and the transcendent Adventure of Existence is justified. All the pain and the madness, even the ugliness and commonplace of the world, he converts into shining jewels. By revealing the spectacular character of reality he restores the serenity of his innocence. We see the face of the world as of a lovely woman smiling through her tears.

The poet's ultimate message is clear: Not only Ignoramus, "we do not know," but Ignorabimus, "we may never know." But the poet goes further. He calls upon us Gaudeamus, "let us rejoice," in the beauty of the world, though its pattern is only partially revealed to us. It is enough to know that the dark mystery encloses and in part discloses a bright and shining miracle.

Marvin H. Pope (essay date 1965)

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Marvin H. Pope (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: An introduction to Job, translated by Marvin H. Pope, Doubleday & Company, 1965, pp. XVLXXXIV.

[In the following excerpt from his introduction to The Anchor Bible: Job, Pope examines several points of critical debate surrounding The Book of Job: the question of textual integrity, the form and origin of the book, the place of the work in the literary canon, and the philosophical and educational intentions of the book's author(s).]

To summarize the contents of the Book of Job raises the question of its literary unity and integrity. The same issue is raised by the problem of classifying the work in its literary form because the whole suggests a sort of piecemeal composition.

The problem of literary integrity is most immediately evident in the incongruities and inconsistencies between the Prologue-Epilogue and the Dialogue. The Prologue presents to us the traditional pious and patient saint who retained his composure and maintained his integrity through all the woes inflicted on him and refused to make any accusation of injustice against Yahweh, but rather continued to bless the god who had afflicted him. In the Dialogue we meet quite a different Job whose bitter complaints and charges of injustice against God shock his pious friends who doggedly defend divine justice and persistently reaffirm the doctrine of exact individual retribution. In view of these attitudes, the Epilogue, in which the friends, not Job, are rebuked for not having spoken the truth about Yahweh comes as something of a shock. In the Dialogue Job effectively demolishes the friends' doctrine that wickedness is always punished and virtue always rewarded. But in the final settlement in the Epilogue this dogma is sustained by the highly artificial manner in which Job is both compensated for his pains and restored to health and prosperity. There are other minor incongruities, for example, in the Prologue-Epilogue Job is scrupulous in his observance of the sacrificial cultus, but the Dialogue betrays not the slightest interest in this particular concern and in his final apology for his life Job makes no claim on this account. The names used for God are different in the Prologue-Epilogue and the Dialogue; the former uses Yahweh and Elohim while the latter employs variously the terms El, Eloah, Elohim, and Shaddai. The temper and mood of the Prologue-Epilogue and of the Dialogue are quite distinct: the Prologue reflects a rather detached and impersonal attitude toward the cruel experiment to test the basis of Job's piety; by contrast the Dialogue is highly charged with emotion and the anguish of a tortured soul. The literary forms are also different: The Prologue-Epilogue is in prose, though in its epic style a number of lines have such poetic quality that we have ventured to arrange portions of the Prologue as poetry; the Dialogue is in poetry throughout. In view of these incongruities, critics have generally regarded the Prologue-Epilogue and the Dialogue as having diverse authorship and origin, although some have thought the author of the Dialogue composed the Prologue-Epilogue as the setting for his work. Most critics, however, regard the Prologue-Epilogue as part of an ancient folk tale which the author of the Dialogue used as the framework and point of departure for his poetic treatment of the problem of suffering. Whether this ancient folk tale was in written form or transmitted orally, it had probably attained a relatively fixed form and content which the author of the Dialogue could not modify in any radical fashion. It has epic style and the charm and flavor of an oft told tale. Ezekiel xiv 14, 20 indicates that there was a legendary figure named Job, of great antiquity—like Noah and Danel (the ancient prototype of the biblical Daniel now known to us from the Ugaritic epic). The great antiquity of the literary motif of the righteous suferer has been established by S. N. Kramer's recovery of a Sumerian poetic essay dating from ca. 2000 B.C. dealing with the same problem as the Book of Job and giving an answer very much like that offered in the Epilogue [S. N. Kramer, "Man and his God: A Sumerian Variation on the 'Job' Motif," in Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East]. How much of the ancient folk tale is preserved by the Prologue-Epilogue and what modifications the author of the poetic Dialogue had to make in the old story is impossible, at this time, to determine. Probably very little of the old tale has been lost because the Prologue and Epilogue together present a fairly complete story. It may be that the older prose tale included an episode in which the friends counseled Job (as his wife had done) to curse God and die. This would ex-plain God's censure of the friends and praise of Job in the Epilogue. It is not likely that the rebuke to the friends was added to reconcile the Prologue-Epilogue with the Dialogue, for, although it is clear that Job had the better of the argument, the Epilogue betrays no awareness that the doctrine of retribution had been refuted or even questioned.

The essential unity of the Dialogue (iii-xxxi) has not been seriously questioned. Though textual and exegetical difficulties abound in this section, a marked unity in style and consistency in the opposing viewpoints suggest a single author. It is clear that the author's sympathy is with Job, but he attempts to be fair to the friends' viewpoint, sparing no effort to present their arguments fully. Some of the difficulties in the Dialogue, particularly in Job's speeches, appear to have been produced by pious tampering with the text by well-meaning meddlers who felt compelled to mitigate Job's shocking charges against God. Considerable effort and ingenuity appears to have been expended in this effort and sometimes a very clever twist is given to the sense, but generally the attempt is unsuccessful and betrayed by the context. In some cases it would appear that failing to alter the sense, effort has been made to obscure it. The Masoretes on occasion indulge in this activity by imposing a tendentious vocalization on the consonantal text. The most extensive meddling with the text has occurred in chapters xxiv-xxvii where Bildad's third speech is vestigial and Zophar's is missing altogether. Here, Job suddenly expounds the friends' viewpoint which he had all along denied. Some critics have considered this dislocation accidental, but it was more likely a deliberate attempt to refute Job's argument by confusing the issue. The commentaries suggest various rearrangements of chapters xxiv-xxvii, but the order we have adopted appears the simplest and most satisfactory.

The poem on Wisdom (xxviii) is almost universally recognized as extraneous. Its style and language, however, show similarities to those of the rest of the Dialogue and some scholars have regarded it as an independent composition by the same author, though not an integral part of the Book of Job. It is hardly appropriate in Job's mouth since the burden of its message—that wisdom, the secrets of the universe and of divine providence are inaccessible to man—does not comport with Job's desire to bring God into court, as it were, and question him. The poem has some affinities with the Theophany and might have been better interpolated there. Despite its extraneous character, we may be grateful that the poem has been preserved, for it is one of the finest in the Old Testament.

The Elihu speeches (xxxii-xxxvii) are rejected as interpolations by many critics who regard them as having scant value either as literature or as a solution to the problem of evil. Their style is diffuse and pretentious, a large part of the content of the four discourses being devoted to prolix and pompous prolegomena. For the most part Elihu's arguments merely echo what the friends have already said repeatedly, yet he has the effrontery to offer them as if they were novel and decisive. If Elihu has anything distinctive to contribute, it is the elaboration of the idea that suffering may be disciplinary (xxxiii 14-33), already suggested by Eliphaz in his first speech (v 17). In spite of these considerations, a few critics regard Elihu's diatribes as the climax of the work and the author's best word on the problem of evil. There are, of course, many phraseological parallels between the Dialogue and the Elihu speeches, but these are easily explicable as imitation by the author of the Elihu speeches. It is difficult to believe that the author of the Dialogue would repeat the argument of the friends through the mouth of Elihu and represent it as something new. It seems more likely that the author of the Elihu speeches, shocked at Job's blasphemous accusations against God, and disappointed at the failure of the friends to silence him, and perhaps equally dissatisfied with the content of the divine speeches, felt impelled to attempt some vindication of divine justice. The author could not, of course, make the attempt after Yahweh had spoken and had humbled Job, but he had to get into the argument before the Theophany. His lavish apologies for presuming to speak at all, and his reassurances to Job that he is after all only a man and not God, may reflect more his own misgivings about intervening ahead of the deity than concern for deference to his elders. Elihu sets the stage for the divine discourses by anticipating and bolstering the weak points in their argument. This could be regarded as the foresight of a single author or the hindsight of an interpolator. The strongest evidence that the Elihu speeches are interpolated is the fact that Elihu is completely ignored in the Epilogue. It is true that the Satan is also passed over in the Epilogue, but he had already completed his role in the Prologue and had no part in the Dialogue. If the Elihu speeches were an integral part of the Dialogue, and if a single author valued them as highly as Elihu did, one would expect some recognition of this in the attribution of praise and blame in the Epilogue.

Yahweh's speeches from the storm have been regarded as secondary by some critics who reason that the author of the Elihu speeches could not have known them, else he would not have dared intrude. We have already noted, however, that Elihu could scarcely be permitted to speak after the divine discourses. Moreover, Job's challenge, "Here is my signature, / Let Shaddai answer me," demands a divine response and not repetition of a discredited dogma by a young upstart. Yahweh's first speech has been praised as a work of genius unequaled in world literature, surpassing all other attempts to describe the greatness of God and the marvels of his creation. Critics who do not regard it as an original part of the work give a much less enthusiastic appraisal of the poem's literary and theological value. Some see in it only brutal irony and utter lack of concern for man's predicament.

The authenticity of Yahweh's second speech is less widely accepted than that of the first. The poems on the mythological monsters Behemoth and Leviathan (generally misunderstood as the hippopotamus and the crocodile) which make up almost the entire second speech are commonly considered spurious and inferior. Nevertheless, the second speech also has its champions, and some critics regard it as the climax of the book and a more original form of the divine reply than the first speech. A second speech by Yahweh after Job had been humbled and silenced seems like nagging, but it could be regarded as driving the lesson home. Job is only silenced at the end of the first speech (xl 3-5); after the second speech he is not only subdued but repentant (xlii 6).

The discrepancies between the Epilogue and other parts of the book have already been noted. Most striking is the fact that in the Epilogue the friends are rebuked, not Job, as is the case in the divine speeches. Kaufmann explains [in The Religion of Israel, 1960] the inconsistency by suggesting that the friends were reprimanded because they had taken the easy way of contending with conventional clichés and empty phrases, while Job had challenged God out of a moral duty to speak the truth before him. Job had indeed already charged the friends with asserting a lie in order to curry favor with God, and had warned them that God would rebuke such hypocritical sycophancy. Job's rehabilitation, in which he receives a bonus for his pains, appears to confirm the very doctrine of retribution which Job had so effectively refuted in the Dialogue. This incongruity, however, was unavoidable. In the old folk tale on which the Book of Job was based, as in its Mesopotamian prototypes, the hero must certainly have been restored and rewarded in the end. The author was naturally limited by the prefabricated materials with which he had to work and could not have taken a great deal of liberty with a familiar story. How else could the book have brought to a conclusion? It would certainly not do to leave Job in his misery after God had vindicated him, although the doubling of his material possessions is a highly artificial device and incompatible with Job's realistic observations in the Dialogue.

The Book of Job in its present form can hardly be regarded as a consistent and unified composition by a single author. Nevertheless, there is a considerable degree of organic unity despite the incongruities. Even the Elihu speeches, though probably interpolated, are blended into the whole with such skill that some scholars have seen Elihu as a reflex of the author of the Dialogue.

A good deal of the considerable discussion of the literary form of the Book of Job has been unprofitable. The naïve view that it represents sober history need not be taken seriously, but it may very well be that there was a historical personage behind the story. Rabbi Simeon-ben-Laqish opined that Job never existed and that the story is simply a poetic comparison or parable (māšāl) (cf. Midrash Rabba Gen lxvii; Talmud Babli, Baba Bathra 15a). The term is very fitting since Job is in a sense the type of any and every man who experiences the mystery of seemingly senseless and undeserved suffering. The notion that Job, like the Suffering Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah lii 13-liii 12, represents the nation Israel in a sort of historical allegory is intriguing. Certainly, if the work was composed in the exilic or early post-exilic period, as many critics believe, it would be difficult if not impossible for the author to ignore the parallel between the sufferings of the individual and the nation. There is, however, not the slightest suggestion of interest in the fate of the nation Israel betrayed anywhere in the book. The choice of a descendant of Esau as the representative righteous sufferer would rule out any likelihood that the narrator had in mind the nation Israel or Judah.

Theodore of Mopsuestia in the fourth century regarded the Book of Job as being modeled on the Greek dramas. Theodore Beza [in Job Expounded] considered the book as a tragedy and Milton regarded it as an epic. The Homeric epics have been compared, but actually have little in common, with Job. More appropriate is the comparison with the tragic dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, but even here the similarity is less in form than in an occasional ideological parallel. H. M. Kallen has argued [in The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy Restored, 1918] that the Book of Job actually has the form of a Greek tragedy, including the chorus and the denouement by means of the deus ex machina (Yahweh from the storm). The dialogues of Plato have been mentioned for comparison, but there is scant similarity between the long poetic monologues of the so-called Dialogue of the Book of Job and the brief, precise, and analytical conversations of Plato's Dialogues.

In point of fact, there is no single classification appropriate to the literary form of the Book of Job. It shares something of the characteristics of all the literary forms that have been ascribed to it, but it is impossible to classify it exclusively as didactic, dramatic, epic, or anything else. The book viewed as a unit is sui generis and no single term or combination of terms is adequate to describe it. Definition of literary form generally presumes literary unity and this point is still disputed with regard to the Book of Job.

It is scarcely possible to speak of the author of any biblical book in the modern sense of the word, for virtually all biblical books are composite in some degree, as were most literary productions in the ancient Near East. Many different hands and minds must have contributed to the formation of the Gilgamesh Epic, before it reached its more or less standard or canonical form. The Book of Job, in the opinion of most biblical scholars, bears evidences of such compositeness. Yet, in the heart of the book, in the Dialogue (chs. iii-xxxi), there is a characteristic literary excellence which suggests the influence of a single personality. This person we can know only through his work, and it is altogether likely that he will remain forever anonymous, like the author of the great poems of the latter half of the Book of Isaiah. There can be no question that we are confronted with a poet of genius, for his work has been acclaimed as one of the great masterpieces of world literature. He must have been a profoundly religious person, sensitive to the tragic predicament of humanity, especially to individual suffering. The poet had himself probably experienced physical and mental agony, since it is hard to understand how one could have written thus without personal knowledge of suffering. The sincerity and depth of the poet's thought and feeling, his keen insight into human nature, the vivid beauty and the raw realism of his metaphors and similes give his work the power to move men's minds and hearts in every time and place.

There is no certainty that the author was an Israelite. Some parts of the book may suggest familiarity with the prophetic, and didactic writings of the Old Testament, but there is nothing very specific or definite. Job's bitter outcry recalls some of the biblical psalms of lamentation (Psalms xxxviii, lxxxviii, cii). Lamentation, however, was a common literary genre in the ancient Near East. There are figures of speech in the Book of Job that comport with a Palestinian background, but again there is nothing that could not be taken as reflecting some other part of the ancient Semitic world as well. The author appears to be acquainted with Egypt and perhaps had traveled widely. In any event, his familiarity with world literature is evidenced by numerous allusions to mythological motifs now known from ancient literature of Mesopotamia and Syria. We may be sure that the author belonged to the intellectual elite of his day. Recent studies of ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature indicate that "wisdom" had a strongly international and cosmopolitan flavor. The seeker of wisdom in the ancient world, even as today, tended to ignore geographical boundaries and political barriers. The author of the Book of Job cannot be precisely placed temporally or geographically, but this is of no great consequence for he speaks to and for all humanity about a problem that has perplexed thinking and feeling men in all times and places.

Ginsberg [in Conservative Judaism, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1967] has affirmed "that the author was a Jew, 100 per cent." (It is not clear whether the percentage applies to Ginsberg's certainty or to the author's Jewishness, or to both.) One good reason why the author can be only a Jew, according to Ginsberg, is his horror at the injustice in the world, as expressed, for example, in xxi 6. "Now this reaction is possible only in Israel," Ginsberg asserts. Without wishing to detract from ancient Israel's merited praise for concern about social justice and sensitivity to injustice, at least on the part of some gifted spokesmen, it does not seem reasonable to deny the possibility of this basically human reaction to non-Israelites. The section on Parallel Literature below, condensed as it is, may serve to mitigate the assurance of Ginsberg's assertion. Ginsberg, of course, is thoroughly familiar with the Parallel Literature and mentions it in connection with the assertion cited, but finds the horrified reaction to injustice exclusively Israelite.

The Book of Job finds its place in the last of the three divisions of the Hebrew scriptures, the Sacred Writings, or Hagiographa. Despite the unsettling character of the book, its right to be included in the Canon was never challenged, except by Theodore of Mopsuestia. Among the Writings its position has varied somewhat. The Talmud gives the order of the Writings as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Chronicles. In Codex Alexandrinus the order is Psalms, Job, Proverbs, but Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Jerome, Rufinus, and the Apostolic Canons attest to the order Job, Psalms, Proverbs. In Jewish usage the poetic trilogy is designated by two sets of initials corresponding to the two orders, Job, Proverbs, Psalms ('mt), and Psalms, Job, Proverbs (t'm). The Latin Church Fathers mention other orders, but the order favored by St. Jerome, with Job in the initial position, was fixed by the Council of Trent and this official order of the Vulgate has been generally followed in modern western versions of the Scriptures.

It has been generally assumed that the purpose of [The Book of Job] is to give an answer to the issue with which it deals, the problem of divine justice or theodicy. This question is raised inevitably by any and every instance of seemingly unmerited or purposeless suffering, and especially the suffering of a righteous man. Job's case, whether real or imaginary, poses the problem in the most striking possible way. A man of exemplary rectitude and piety is suddenly overwhelmed with disasters and loathsome disease. How can such a situation be reconciled with divine justice and benevolent providence? It must be admitted first and last that the Book of Job fails to give a clear and definitive answer to this question. This, however, does not mean that the book is to be discounted as a magnificent misadventure or a conspicuous failure. The problem of theodicy continues to thwart all attempts at rational solution. Virtually every basic argument that has been adduced in connection with the problem is touched on in the Book of Job. Of the various attitudes suggested in the different parts of the book, it is difficult to say which, if any, was intended as decisive.

The Prologue presents Job's woes as imposed by the Satan with the permission and approval of Yahweh in order to determine whether Job's piety was completely unselfish. Some interpreters find the question of theodicy resolved here in advance. The reader is given a glimpse behind the scenes and made privy to the plot within the celestial council. The action is prompted by Yahweh himself when he calls the Satan's attention to Job as a paragon of virtue and provokes him into questioning the basis and the genuineness of Job's piety. Yahweh himself sets the limits of the testing and Job endures all with magnificent calm and without protest or complaint. Thus is proved to gods and men that disinterested virtue and piety are possible. The victory is seen in Job's confession of unshakable trust:

Yahweh gave, Yahweh took away.
Blessed be Yahweh's name.


Shall we accept good from God,
And not accept evil?

Some interpreters have regarded this as approaching the profoundest insight of both the Old Testament and the New, the doctrine of vicarious atonement by an innocent victim, as the Suffering Servent of the Lord (Isaiah lii 13-liii 12), or the Cross of Christian faith. Helpful as this insight may be, it derives from the hindsight of Christian faith and experience rather than from any hint in the biblical story. It is one thing for a rational person to choose to suffer or risk suffering for a cause, but it is quite another to become the victim of suffering which appears to have no meaning. We are informed in the Prologue that Job was innocent. The question naturally rises, why the devilish sadistic experiment to see if he had a breaking point? (This is reminiscent of a pessimistic Mesopotamian myth which represents the production of human deformities as a drunken diversion of the gods at the end of a spree celebrating the creation of mankind as slaves for the gods.)H. H. Rowley [in Bulletin of John Rylands Library 41 (1958)] has given an interesting and useful answer to this difficulty. In assuring us that Job's sufferings were innocent, the author makes an important contribution to the problem. Job, of course, was not aware that God reckoned him as righteous. If he had known he was merely being tried, it would have been no real test and there could be no meaning in this for the man who has to suffer without knowing why. The issue at stake in the testing of Job was not simply the winning of a wager, idle or diabolical, but the vindication of mutual faith of God in man and man in God. The Job of the Prologue thus agrees with the distorted sense of xiii 15,

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.

He would have been willing to be damned for the glory of God. One may admire such faith without raising the question how this sort of damnation may reflect on the character of God or redound to his glory.

In the Dialogue the question is treated in a radically different fashion. The friends argue that Job must have sinned and earned his woes because God is just and rewards and punishes. Any apparent exception to this rule is unreal, or only temporary. But Job vehemently denies that he has sinned, at least not seriously enough to merit such misery as has been inflicted on him. Justice, he argues, often appears abortive in the world and for this God must be held responsible. Hence Job infers that God has no concern for justice or for human feelings. The Dialogue thus makes little contribution to the solution of the problem. Actually it is scarcely appropriate to call this section of the book a dialogue. There is not here the give-and-take of philosophical disputation aimed at the advancement of under-standing and truth. Rather each side has a partisan point of view which is reiterated ad nauseam in long speeches. There is no real movement in the argument. Attempts to find progression in the debate and subtle differences in the character and personality of the three friends are labored and unconvincing. It is true that the friends grow progressively vehement in their indictment of Job. Their exasperation appears to mount round by round as Job steadfastly refuses to accept their argument—that God is always just and therefore he must be guilty—or their advice—that he admit his guilt and plead for mercy. As the exchange continues, Job grows more serene in his despair, as he gropes and grasps for an answer. He wishes to argue his case with God, but he cannot find God nor force him to grant a fair hearing. Job asks for an umpire to ensure fair treatment. It has been suggested that in Job's appeal to a mediator, an umpire or witness, we have a sort of prophetic testimony to the necessity for a Christ, a being both human and divine who could effect a reconciliation between God and Job. This theory appears to have some merit and validity, but it is doubtful whether this person should be described as messianic. It appears likely that behind Job's appeal to a mediator, an umpire or witness (ix 33) lies the ancient Mesopotamian idea of a personal god whose function and duty it was to look after his client's interest and plead his cause before the great gods in the divine assembly. This conception appears to be related more closely to the belief in guardian angels than to messianism, although the figure of the Messiah as Paraclete seems to derive from this sphere of ideas rather than from royal ideology. Job reverts to his appeal to an umpire or friendly witness in xvi 19, 21 (the verb in the latter passage being cognate with the term rendered "umpire" in ix 33). Job uses what seems to be legal jargon, and his tribulations take on the aspect of a legal process. All that he demands is a fair trial, the right of friendly witness, and of defense counsel.

Beginning with a plea to be allowed to escape his misery through death, Job in chapter xiv considers the possibility of an afterlife. This thought is entertained only momentarily, however, as he dismisses it and resigns himself to the inevitability and finality of death. It is often assumed that a hope of recompense in a future life would have sustained Job and solved his problem. Certainly it would have mitigated the difficulty considerably. But whether the prospect of future bliss gives one the strength and consolation to bear present pain, a pain that is meaningless and unjustified, is questionable.

The famous passage, xix 25-27, has been commonly regarded as the climax of Job's quest. Unhappily, these lines are extremely difficult, the text having suffered irreparable damage. It is clear that Job expects to be vindicated, but it is not certain whether he expects his vindication to come in the flesh or after his body has disintegrated. The traditional Christian understanding of the passage is based more on the interpretation of the Vulgate than on the Hebrew. Jerome thought that Job here prophesied the resurrection of the body but this is contradicted by xiv 12 and by several other passages (iii 11-22, vii 9-10, x 18-22, xvi 22, xvii 1, 13-16, xxi 23-26). Many critics, ancient and modern, have recognized that Job refers to his hope for vindication in the flesh (as expressed in xiii 15-16, xxiii 7,10) and to his hope for restoration (as in ch. xxix). This passage has to be interpreted in the light of Job's other utterances, as well as of the immediate context. In spite of textual difficulties, it should be apparent that the vindicator on whom Job pins his hopes is not God, but the person elsewhere called an umpire (ix 33) and a witness (xvi 19,21). This vindicator or redeemer, like the umpire or witness, would defend his case, acquit him of guilt, and restore him to favor with God. Job does not, as has been alleged, surrender all claim on God and put his trust in a sort of heavenly high priest. Rather he continues to press his demand for vindication which must come sooner or later. In spite of all his protests and railings against God, Job never completely gives up his conviction that justice must somehow triumph. Even if his flesh rots away and his body turns to dust, in his mind's eye he sees his ultimate vindication and expects to be conscious of it when it comes, though it be beyond this life in the dust of the netherworld.

As a last resort, Job appeals to the ancient test of the oath. The taking of an oath was the last word in assertion of innocence, tantamount to acquittal, since it was assumed that the terror of the sanctions of the self-imprecations would deter anyone from swearing falsely. After the oaths there is no more the friends can say. It is now up to God to strike down the blasphemer or acquit him.

Some scholars have assumed that the intent of the Dialogue is to refute once and for all the doctrine of exact individual retribution, or terrestrial eschatology, as it has been called, the doctrine that righteousness always brings prosperity and wickedness misfortune, in this life. The corollary of this doctrine is, of course, that prosperity is proof of divine favor and misfortune of sin. This dogma is doubtless a great comfort to the healthy and the prosperous, but a cruel taunt to the sick and the poor. This corollary doctrine is often expounded in the Old Testament, especially as applied to Israel and the nations (cf. Exodus xxiii 20 ff.; Leviticus xxvi; Deuteronomy xxviii; Jeremiah vii 5-7, xii 14-17), but also to the individual (cf. Psalms i, xxxvii, xlix, lxxiii; Isaiah lviii 6-14; Jeremiah xvii 5-8; Ezekiel xviii). This view has been called "orthodox," with the implication that it is normative for the Old Testament. Now it must be admitted that there is considerable justification for the use of the term "orthodox" as applied to such statements as the famous utterance of Psalm xxxvii 25,

I was once young, and now have grown old;
And I never saw a righteous man forsaken
Or his offspring begging bread.

Righteousness certainly ought to be rewarded and wickedness punished and it sometimes happens thus. All too often, however, the very opposite seems to be the case, as Qoheleth observed (Ecclesiastes iii 16, viii 14). There ought to be no exceptions, and Job's comforters argue that there are in fact none. But Job refutes their doctrine thoroughly, not only with reference to his own case but to the world at large. The friends would have been well advised to maintain their discreet silence as they had in the Prologue, since the premise of their argument had already been nullified by the certification from the highest authority that Job was blameless. The author of the Dialogue could not allow either the victim or his miserable comforters to share this knowledge, else there would have been no basis for the disputation. The poet appears to give equally of his great talent to the rhetoric of both sides of the argument, but there can be no mistaking the fact that his sympathies are with Job and that the speeches of the friends are skillfully presented to show how wrong-headed traditional piety can be. The view of the friends was indeed venerable orthodoxy. The recovery of Mesopotamian Wisdom Literature now makes it clear that the position of the friends is essentially what was normative in Mesopotamian thought for centuries before Israel emerged in history. This doctrine is certainly asserted many times in the Old Testament, but to take it alone as normative is to overlook a great deal that contradicts it. The fates of Abel, Uriah, and Naboth, for example, were not recounted to suggest that they got merely what they deserved. Jeremiah, who is credited, along with Ezekiel, with refining the doctrine of individual retribution (Jeremiah xxxi 30) complains of its lack of application to himself. The thorough refutation of the doctrine in Job and Ecclesiastes did not eradicate the fallacious dogma. It persisted and was confuted again by Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke xiii 1-5; John ix 2) who urged men to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them in order that they may be sons of the heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew v 43 ff.).

The contributions of the Elihu speeches, such as they are, have already been noted. It is hard to see how some critics can regard them so highly. Kaufmann suggested [in The Religion of Israel] that Elihu is a reflex of the poet himself, while Gordis goes further [in The Book of God and Man] and regards the Elihu speeches not only as an integral part of the book but as the last and best word of the poet who in his later years put his more mature insights into the Elihu speeches and inserted them before the great climax of the divine speeches. (Gordis sees in the name Elihu a play on Eliyahu [Elijah] and an evocation of the theme of forerunner of the Lord, as in Malachi iv 5-6. The appearance of Elihu just before the theophany in the whirlwind evokes for Gordis the theme of Elijah's assumption and its attendant messianic ideology.) As for Elihu's verbosity, Gordis notes that the history of literature offers many instances in which a writer's style grows more complex and difficult with advancing years, and he cites as examples Shakespeare's Tempest, Yeats's later poems, Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and especially Goethe's Faust, which gestated over a period of some sixty years and was written over a period of thirty years. As for the substance of Elihu's argument, Gordis notes that Elihu denies the conclusions both of Job and the friends and declares that even though suffering may not be a penalty for sin, yet God's justice remains unassailable. A "virtually new" idea which Gordis finds in the Elihu speeches is one that had been advanced in another form by Deutero-Isaiah who maintained that national suffering was not the consequence of national sin, but, on the contrary, an integral element in the moral education of the human race. Elihu, however, goes substantially further, according to Gordis, and sees suffering as discipline and warning to the righteous, not only against sins actual and patent, but also against sins both potential and latent (xxxiii 16-30, xxxvi 9-12). This view of suffering as discipline, however, is not novel, and it had already been introduced by Eliphaz in his first speech, v 17 ff. It is hard to find anything new in Elihu's bombast. Whether composed by the author of the Dialogue, or by someone else, the Elihu speeches seem to represent one more futile attempt to support the same discredited traditional view which the friends had asserted.

Either the book ends in magnificent anticlimax, or we must see the highlight in the divine speeches. Job has silenced the friends with a series of terrible oaths affirming his innocence and has challenged God to answer. The con-tent of the divine answer from the storm is something of a surprise and, on the face of it, a disappointment. The issue, as Job had posed it, is completely ignored. No expla-nation or excuse is offered for Job's suffering. As Job had expected, God refuses to submit to questioning. But, contrary to expectation, God does not crush him, or brush him away, or multiply his wounds. Rather he subjects Job to questioning. God's queries are ironical in the extreme, almost to the point of absurdity. Job had already expressed his awe and wonder at God's power in hymns among the most beautiful in the Old Testament. Man's finitude and helplessness Job had fully acknowledged. He had questioned not divine omnipotence but justice and mercy. The complete evasion of the issue as Job had posed it must be the poet's oblique way of admitting that there is no satisfactory answer available to man, apart from faith. God does not need the help or advice of impotent and ignorant men to control the world, any more than he needed such to create it. God cannot be summoned like a defendant and forced to bear witness against himself. No extreme of suffering gives mere man license to question God's wisdom or justice as Job had done. It is apparently on this very point that Job repents and recants (xlii 3b, c). Note that Job does not mention the question of his innocence and integrity which we may assume he would still maintain. It is noteworthy, too, that Yahweh makes no charge against Job except that he had spoken out of ignorance. Nothing is said that would imply that Job deserved his misery. The absence of any charge of guilt must be considered tantamount to vindication. This is at least part of what Job had sought to silence the friends who had argued that he must be guilty and would be proved so if God were to speak. The Prologue already informed us that Job was blameless. Here we have the complete refutation of the argument of the friends that suffering is itself proof of sin. This is perhaps the basis for the reprimand of the friends in the Epilogue, that they asserted a lie in the foolish belief that they had to defend God. (The only other way to understand their rebuke is to assume that in the old folk tale the friends had taken quite a different attitude and, like Job's wife, had urged him to curse God and die.) The fundamental question, If not for sin, why then?, is completely ignored. The reason for this is not too difficult to under-stand, in view of the fact that virtually all the arguments the human mind can muster had already been thrashed out in the Dialogue. The problem still baffles the philosopher and theologian, and we are thrown back on faith. It is quite understandable that readers, critical or otherwise, are left with a feeling of chagrin at the seemingly magnifi-cent irrelevance of much of the content of the divine speeches. Some critics resort to surgery in the attempt to improve the divine reply, but this leads to more and more drastic cutting till scarcely a torso is left. The zoological as well as the meteorological marvels show the divine power and providence. Even the apparent stupidity of the ostrich testifies to the divine wisdom and providential care. The monsters Behemoth and Leviathan, dread powers of evil from ancient pagan Semitic myths, subdued or slain in primeval conflicts before creation of the world, are the final proof of the divine power and providence. Given but a glimpse or a whisper of God's power and glory and loving care for his creation, Job realizes that he had spoken from ignorance and rashly. His resentment and rebellious attitude disappear.

The fact that the Epilogue upholds the discredited doctrine of exact retribution has already been noted. This was doubtless a feature of the ancient folk tale that could not be altered. It is hard to imagine how else the story could end. It would scarcely do to leave Job in his misery after he had been vindicated. Perhaps the most significant line in the Epilogue is xlii 10 which seems to put Job's restoration in a temporal and perhaps causal nexus with his intercessory prayer for his friends. After all the hard things they had said to him—for his own good, as they doubtless felt—it would not have been easy to forgive them and pray for them. The possible implication of this line may be related to the idea elaborated at the end of the famous eulogy of the Suffering Servant, Isaiah liii 10-12:

Yahweh willed to crush and afflict him;
If his life were offered in expiation,
He will see progeny and prolong his life,
Yahweh's pleasure will prosper through him.
After travail of soul he will be satisfied
With the knowledge that he was righteous,
Though he bore the sins of many.
So will I allot him a share with the great,
With the mighty he will share the spoil;
Since he emptied himself to the death,
And was reckoned among the transgressors;
Yet he bore the sins of many
And for transgressors made intercession.

While the Job of the Dialogue apparently has no thought of suffering vicariously for the friends, or for anyone else, the Job of the Epilogue is placed in the line of development of the Christian doctrine of the Cross, though still a long way from it (cf. xxii 27-30).

A modern man reflecting on the Book of Job from the vantage point of two millennia of human experience must marvel at the religious insights to be found therein.

Viewed as a whole, the book presents profundities surpassing those that may be found in any of its parts. The issues raised are crucial for all men and the answers attempted are as good as have ever been offered. The hard facts of life cannot be ignored or denied. All worldly hopes vanish in time. The values men cherish, the little gods they worship—family, home, nation, race, sex, wealth, fame—all fade away. The one final reality appears to be the process by which things come into being, exist, and pass away. This ultimate Force, the Source and End of all things, is inexorable. Against it there is no defense. Any hope a man may put in anything other than this First and Last One is vain. There is nothing else that abides. This is God. He gives and takes away. From Him we come and to Him we return. Confidence in this One is the only value not subject to time.

But how can a man put his faith in such an One who is the Slayer of all? Faith in Him is not achieved without moral struggle and spiritual agony. The foundation of such a faith has to be laid in utter despair of reliance on any or all lesser causes and in resignation which has faced and accepted the worst and the best life can offer. Before this One no man is clean. To Him all human righteousness is as filthy rags. The transition from fear and hatred to trust and even love of this One—from God the Enemy to God the Friend and Companion—is the pilgrimage of every man of faith. Job's journey from despair to faith is the way each mortal must go. Almost invariably there must be initial shock and disappointment to bring a man to the realization of his predicament. Time and again it has happened, to individuals and to groups. A people that regarded itself as chosen by God and especially favored has suffered cruelly. The Son of Man who was obedient to death was put to the ultimate test. Here, as with Job, we are confronted in the most striking way with the apparently ruthless Slayer who brings to nought the life of even the most devoted servant. Only by faith can such seeming defeat be turned to victory and the anguished cry, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" give way to resignation and trust, "Father into your hands I commend my spirit." The scribal sage who altered Job's defiant protest "He may slay me, I'll not quaver" to read "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" did so advisedly in the knowledge that this was the attitude to which Job must be driven at last since there is no escape and no other refuge. The Psalmist (lxxiii 25-26) put it thus:

Whom (else) have I in heaven?
(When) with you, I care not for earth.
(Though) my flesh and mind waste away,
My mind's rock and my portion is God forever.

Northrop Frye (essay date 1981)

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Northrop Frye (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Myth Two," in The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982, pp. 169-98.

[A Canadian critic and editor, Frye is the author of the highly influential and controversial Anatomy of Criticism (1957), in which he argued that literary criticism can be scientific in its method and results, and that judgments are not inherent in the critical process. Believing that literature is wholly structured by myth and symbol, Frye views the critic's task as the explication of a work's archetypal characteristics. In the following essay from his critical study The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (1981), he views The Book of Job as a "U-shaped narrative which incorporates elements of prophetic literature.']

We may take the Book of Job, perhaps, as the epitome of the narrative of the Bible, as the Book of Revelation is the epitome of its imagery. The order of Old Testament books in most copies of the AV [Authorized Version], following the Septuagint but keeping the Apocrypha separate, seems very arbitrary at first, but it makes its own kind of sense. The books from Genesis to Esther are concerned with history, law, and ritual; those from Job to Malachi with poetry, prophecy, and wisdom. In this sequence Job occupies the place of a poetic and prophetic Genesis. It is again a U-shaped story: Job, like Adam, falls into a world of suffering and exile, "repents" (i.e., goes through a metanoia or metamorphosis of consciousness), and is restored to his original state, with interest. In contrast to Genesis, there is no breach of contract to attract theological lawyers, and Job's ordeal is not a punishment but a testing.

His friends come to see him in his misery: they may be "miserable comforters" (16:2), but they are neither foolish nor malignant. They have nothing to gain from coming to see him, and their motivation seems decent enough (see 2:13). The discussion naturally focuses on a question of causality: What has brought about Job's disasters? The friends struggle hard to contain the issue within the rather simpleminded Deuteronomic framework of law and wisdom that they understand, or feel that they understand. Job must somehow have disturbed the balance of divine justice, and the balance must right itself. If that is not the answer, there is no human answer, and we must resign ourselves to the mystery of God's ways, with the hope that they make better sense than they appear to do. At first glance Job's final acquiescence (42:3) seems to be agreeing with this, which implies that the friends have been right all along, even though they are expressly said not to be (42:7).

Job is "righteous in his own eyes" (32:1) only from the point of view of his friends: he is not protesting innocence but saying that there is a vast disproportion between what has happened to him and anything he could conceivably have done. In other words, the situation cannot be contained within the framework of law and wisdom, and no causal explanation is good enough. All four speakers, or five counting Elihu (who is thought to be a later addition), are deeply pious men, and the one type of explanation that cannot occur to them is the one that has already been given to the reader: that God had made a kind of wager with Satan on Job's fidelity. Such a notion would have seemed to them not only frivolous but blasphemous, suggesting as it does that God has a stake and a concern of his own in the matter.

The fact that God's speech at the end of Job makes no reference to the pact with Satan, and that Satan disappears totally from the action after the second chapter, is not a real difficulty, as we see if we look at our table of demonic images. Behemoth and Leviathan are metaphorically identical with Satan; what is different is Job's perspective. We noted that the Biblical account of creation is ambiguous in the sense that darkness and chaos are at first outside the created order and are then dialectically incorporated into it, with the separation of land from sea and the division of light from darkness. Hence Leviathan and Satan may be thought of either as enemies of God outside his creation, or as creatures of God within it. In the Book of Job, and consistently only there, the latter perspective is adopted: Satan the adversary is a tolerated visitor in God's court, and Leviathan is a creature of whom God seems to be rather proud.

At the beginning, however, the role of Satan is the traditional one of cynical accuser, and his appearance in the poem sets up the whole legal framework of prosecution, defense, trial, and judgment which is the "fallen" or Satan-initiated vision of the human situation. Job is confident that he has a defender on his side (19:25; the AV's "redeemer" is perhaps over-Christianized, but the general sense of Job's word go'el is not too different from this), but he also wishes, like the hero of Kafka's Trial, which reads like a kind of "midrash" on the Book of Job, that his accuser would identify himself, so that Job would at least know the case against him. He wishes for his accuser to write a book (31:35) and we have suggested that Byron may have been right in calling history "the devil's scripture." The case against Job is simply that he lives in a world in which a good deal of power is held by Satan. Job, like the good Samaritan in Jesus' parable, comes from the country of an Erbfeind of Israel (assuming that Uz is in Edom), and, however genuine his piety, he is, like Israel in Egypt, in a world exposed to an arbittary process of nature and fortune. If a soldier is asked why he kills people who have done him no harm, or a terrorist why he kills innocent people with his bombs, they can always reply that war has been declared, and there are no innocent people in an enemy country during a war. The answer is psychotic, but it is the answer that humanity has given to every act of aggression in history. And Job lives in enemy territory, in the embrace of heathen and Satanic power which is symbolically the belly of the leviathan, the endless extent of time and space.

The magnificent conclusion of Job's summarizing speech (29-31) is the climax of the poem, and nowhere in literature is there a more powerful statement of the essence of human dignity in an alien world than we get from this miserable creature scraping his boils with a potsherd. One issue in the great test is that of identity or property: how much can a man lose of what he has before the loss begins to affect what he is? God had previously drawn a rough line between Job's possessions and his "life" (2:6), but here we begin to see what "life" means for humanity: a consciousness that is neither proud nor abased, but simply responsible, and accepts what responsibility is there. God has clearly won his wager. The imagery suggests a man in the prime of his life: Job is no aged and impotent king whose daughters can be appropriately swallowed by a monster. The friends, who are old, have spoken; Elihu, who is young, has yet to speak: they are the continuing cycle of the voice of law and wisdom. Job lets Elihu's speech go by without comment on either its cocksureness or its genuine if not altogether original eloquence. He has heard it all before: it is all true, and all nonsense. He is waiting for a different kind of voice altogether. And suddenly, out of the whirlwind, it comes.

At first we are very disappointed. God seems to be only echoing Elihu, saying that he made the world and that Job did not, and that consequently Job has no right to be questioning his ways. We begin to wonder if some quaking later editor has decided to botch the whole enterprise, in order to justify the ways of man's superstition and slave morality to God. But even if such an editor exists, he has left too much of the original poem for us to come to terms with him: he is, in short, too facile a hypothesis. The fact that God's speech is thrown into a series of rhetorical questions to which "no" is the only answer seems to give it a bullying and hectoring quality, and certainly there is no "answer" to Job's "problem." But did we ever seriously think that so great a poem would turn out to be a problem with an answer? To answer a question, we suggested at the beginning, is to accept the assumptions in it, and thereby to neutralize the question by consolidating the mental level on which the question was asked. Real questions are stages in formulating better questions; answers cheat us out of the right to do this. So even if we remain dissatisfied with God's performance, a God who was glibly ready to explain it all would be more contemptible than the most reactionary of divine bullies.

We remember that Job himself was groping toward a realization that no causal explanation of his alienated plight was possible. In a sense God is speaking out of Job's own consciousness here: any causal explanation takes us back to a First Cause, that is, the creation. The rhetorical questions really mean, then, in this context: don't look along the line of causes to the creation: there is no answer there, and no help there. How Job got into his position is less important than how he is to get out of it; and it is only because he was not a participant in creation that he can be delivered from the chaos and darkness within it. God's speech, if we are right about its general meaning, makes no sense without the vision of Behemoth and Leviathan at the end, which is the key to it. The fact that God can point out these monsters to Job means that Job is outside them, and no longer under their power.

The Book of Job is usually classified among the tragedies, but it is technically a comedy by virtue of its "happy ending," with Job restored to prosperity. In its conventional comic form of renewal, this kind of conclusion is seldom very convincing: people who lose their daughters are not really consoled with new daughters; conditions that cause suffering can be changed, but the scars of the suffering remain. Once again, a renewal or future restoration is most intelligible as a type of present transcendence. But the transcendence can hardly be to a different state of being altogether, as in waking from a dream: if the restored world were discontinuous with the world of the boils and uncomprehending friends, there would be no point in the poem.

The sequence of resolutions at the end follows the usual Biblical pattern. First is the restoration of the human community: we are told that God turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends (42:10), even though what the friends have said "in God's behalf," to use Elihu's phrase, is not acceptable. The reintegration of the human community is followed by the transfiguration of nature, in its humanized pastoral form. One of Job's beautiful new daughters has a name meaning a box of eye shadow. Perhaps if we were to see Job in his restored state we should see, not beautiful daughters or sixteen thousand sheep, but only a man who has seen something that we have not seen, and knows something that we do not know.

For all the conventional Oriental formulas of self-abasement, some kind of confidential message seems to pass between God and Job, of which we overhear only such fragments as "I abhor myself" and "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee" (42:5-6). The first statement seems to mean primarily that what we should call Job's egocentric perception has disappeared along with its objective counterpart, the leviathan. The second one, even though it continues to use the first personal pronoun, makes the shattering claim to a direct vision of God that the Bible, even in the New Testament, is usually very cautious about expressing. A previous statement to the same effect (19:26-27) seems to have been retouched by an editor. The one reference to Job in the New Testament: "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord" (James 5:11) carries on the same figure of a leap from hearing to seeing, but puts it in a Christian setting: what the readers of James have "seen" is the coming of Christ. But Job seems to have gone the entire circuit of the Bible's narrative, from creation and fall through the plagues of Egypt, the sayings of the fathers transmitting law and wisdom, the flash of prophetic insight that breaks the chain of wisdom, and on to the final vision of presence and the knowledge that in the midst of death we are in life.

We have somewhat expanded our earlier remark that the Book of Job, though classified as wisdom literature, needs the prophetic perspective to understand it. Job follows, not the horizontal line of precedent and prudence, but the U-shaped progression of original prosperity, descent to humiliation, and return. The prophetic element in the book is thus connected with its narrative shape. This in turn reminds us of the Bible's concern for narrative or mythos generally, which may be fictional, as here or in the parables of Jesus, or closer to the historical categories vaguely called "non-fiction." The emphasis on narrative, and the fact that the entire Bible is enclosed in a narrative framework, distinguishes the Bible from a good many other sacred books. The Buddhist sutras employ relatively little narrative, and the Koran consists of revelations gathered up after Mohammed's death and arranged in order of length, with no discernible narrative principle in their sequence. The narrative framework of the Bible is a part of its emphasis on the shape of history and the specific collision with temporal movement that its revelation is assumed to make. In a sense, therefore, the deliverance of Job is a deliverance from his own story, the movement in time that is transcended when we have no further need of time. Much the same thing would be true of the relation of Jesus to the Passion narrative, which is the kernel of the Gospels. The inference for the reader seems to be that the angel of time that man clings to until daybreak (Genesis32:36) is both an enemy and an ally, a power that both enlightens and cripples, and disappears only when all that can be experienced has been experienced.

René Girard (essay date 1985)

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René Girard (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The Case of Job," in Job: The Victim of His People, translated by Yvonne Freccero, The Athlone Press, 1987, pp. 3-18.

[Girard is a French scholar whose critical studies include Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (1961; Deceit, Desire and the Novel), and La Violence et le sacré (1972; Violence and the Sacred). In the following excerpt from his critical study Job: The Victim of His People, originally published in 1985 as La route antique des hommes pervers, he examines the role of the community in Job's suffering.]

What do we know about the Book of Job? Not very much. The hero complains endlessly. He has just lost his children and all his livestock. He scratches his ulcers. The misfortunes of which he complains are all duly enumerated in the prologue. They are misfortunes brought on him by Satan with God's permission.

We think we know, but are we sure? Not once in the Dialogues does Job mention either Satan or anything about his misdeeds. Could it be that they are too much on his mind for him to mention them?

Possibly, yet Job mentions everything else, and does much more than mention. He dwells heavily on the cause of his misfortune, which is none of those mentioned in the prologue. The cause is not divine, satanic nor physical, but merely human.

Strangely enough, over the centuries commentators have not paid the slightest attention to that cause. I am not familiar with all the commentaries, naturally, but those I do know systematically ignore it. They seem not to notice it. Ancients and moderns alike, atheists, Protestants, Catholics or Jews—none of them questions the object of Job's complaints. The matter seems to have been settled for them in the prologue. Everyone clings religiously to the ulcers, the lost cattle, etc.

And yet exegetes have been warning their readers for some time about this prologue. This short narrative is not on the same level as the Dialogues and should not be taken seriously. Unfortunately they do not follow their own advice. They pay no attention to the parts of the Dialogues that clearly contradict the prologue.

The new element I am suggesting is not buried in an obscure corner of the Book of Job. It is very explicit and is apparent in numerous and copious passages that are not in the least equivocal.

Job clearly articulates the cause of his suffering—the fact that he is ostracized and persecuted by the people around him. He has done no harm, yet everyone turns away from him and is dead set against him. He is the scapegoat of his community:

My brothers stand aloof from me,
 and my relations take care to avoid me.
My kindred and my friends have all gone away,
 and the guests in my house have forgotten me.
The serving maids look on me as a foreigner,
 a stranger, never seen before.
My servant does not answer when I call him,
 I am reduced to entreating him.
To my wife my breath is unbearable,
 for my own brothers I am a thing corrupt.
Even the children look down on me,
 ever ready with a gibe when I appear.
All my dearest friends recoil from me in horror:
   those I loved best have turned against me.
The Jerusalem Bible 19: 13-19,

Even the fact that Job's wife complains of his foul breath reminds us of the tragic goat, a significant detail found in many primitive myths.

This allusion to a real goat should not be misunderstood. When I speak of a scapegoat I am not referring to the sacrificial animal in the famous rites of Leviticus. I am using the expression in the sense in which we all use it, casually, in reference to political, professional or family matters. This is a modern usage not found, of course, in the Book of Job. But the phenomenon is present in a more primitive form. The scapegoat is the innocent party who polarizes a universal hatred, which is precisely the complaint of Job:

And now ill will drives me to distraction,
 and a whole host molests me,
rising, like some witness for the prosecution,
   to utter slander to my very face.
In tearing fury it pursues me,
   with gnashing teeth.
My enemies whet their eyes on me,
 and open gaping jaws.
Their insults strike like slaps in the face,
 and all set on me together.
(16: 7-10)

The text teems with such revealing passages. Since I cannot quote them all, I will choose those that are most striking in relation to my topic. One such passage introduces a subgroup that plays the role of permanent scapegoat in Job's society:

And now I am the laughing stock
 of my juniors, the young people,
whose fathers I did not consider fit
 to put with the dogs that looked after my
  The strength of their hands would have been
 useless to me,
 enfeebled as they were,
 worn out by want and hunger.
They used to gnaw the roots of desert plants,
  and brambles from abandoned ruins;
and plucked mallow, and brushwood leaves,
  making their meals off roots of broom.
Outlawed from the society of men,
  who, as against thieves, raised hue and cry
  against them,
they made their dwellings on ravines' steep
  in caves or clefts in the rock.
You could hear them wailing from the bushes,
 as they huddled together in the thistles.
Their children are as worthless a brood as they
  nameless people, outcasts of society.
And these are the ones that now sing ballads
 about me,
 and make me the talk of the town!
To them I am loathsome, they stand aloof from
  do not scruple to spit in my face.
Because he has unbent my bow and chastened
  they cast the bridle from their mouth.
That brood of theirs rises to right of me,
  stones are their weapons …
(30: 1-12)

Historians do not know whether this group of scapegoats is a racial or religious minority, or some kind of sub-proletariat subjected to the same sort of regime as the lowest castes in India. It is not important. These people are not interesting in themselves; they are there only for Job to compare himself with them and define himself as the scapegoat of these scapegoats, persecuted by those who could least indulge in persecution, the victim of absolutely everyone, the scapegoat of scapegoats, the victim of victims.

The more obstinately Job remains silent on the subject of his lost cattle and his other good reasons for complaint, the more he insists on portraying himself as the innocent victim of those around him.

It is true that Job complains of physical ills, but this particular complaint is easily linked to the basic cause of his lament. He is the victim of countless brutalities; the psychological pressure on him is unbearable.

Some would say that Job's life is not really threatened, and that there is no question of killing him. He is protected by his friends. This is absolutely false. Job thinks they are after his life, and he may think that it is particularly his life they are after. He expects to die soon, and not from the illness that his doctors are struggling to diagnose. He thinks he is going to die a violent death: he imagines the shedding of his own blood:

Cover not my blood, O earth,
  afford my cry no place to rest.
(16: 18)

I am content with the interpretation of these two lines given in The Jerusalem Bible footnotes: 'Blood, if not covered with earth, cries to heaven for vengeance […] Job, mortally wounded, wishes to leave behind a lasting appeal for vindication: on earth, his blood; with God, the sound of his prayer …'

The translation of the two lines and the footnote conform exactly to what is found in the other great translations. The language of the footnote, granted, is somewhat ambiguous. By whom is Job wounded to death? It could just be by God rather than by men, but it certainly is not against God that the blood of the victim cries for vengeance; he is crying to God for vengeance, like the blood of Abel, that first great victim exhumed by the Bible. Yahweh says to Cain: 'Listen to the sound of your brother's blood, crying out to me from the ground' (Genesis 4: 10).

But against whom is the blood that is shed crying for vengeance? Who would seek to stifle the cries of Job, erase his words to prevent them from reaching God? Strangely enough, these elementary questions have never been asked.

Job constantly reverts to the community's role in what has happened to him, but - and this is what is mysterious - he does not succeed in making his commentators, outside the text, understand him any better than those who question him within the text…No one takes any notice of what he says.

The revelation of the scapegoat is as nonexistent for posterity as it is for his friends. Yet we are really trying to be attentive to what Job is saying; we pity him for not being understood. But we are so afraid of holding God accountable for all man's misfortunes, especially if we do not believe in him, that ultimately the result is the same. We are just a little more hypocritical than Job's friends. For all those who have always appeared to listen to Job but have not understood him, his words are so much air. The only difference is that we dare not express our indifference, as his friends did:

Is there no end to these words of yours,
to your long-winded blustering?

The victim's role that Job claims is bound to be significant within a collection of texts like the Bible where victims, always and everywhere, are prominent. On further reflection, it becomes apparent that the reason for the astonishing similarity between Job's discourse and what we call the penitential Psalms can be found in the perspective common to victims surrounded by numerous enemies.

Raymund Schwager's book [Brauchen wir einen Süden bock] provides an excellent reference on the topic of the tragic Psalms. These texts describe, in an extremely condensed form, the situation found in Job's complaints: an innocent victim, usually of a lynching, is speaking. Raymund Schwager is not mistaken: a scapegoat in the modern sense is describing the cruelties he is made to endure. There is one enormous difference. In the Psalms, only the victim speaks; in the Dialogues of Job, other voices make themselves heard.

Because the texts I have just mentioned best describe Job as scapegoat, they are also those which most resemble the Psalms. In fact they are so similar that they are interchangeable. Each focuses on the surrogate victim, that powerful element shared in common by so many biblical texts yet mysteriously ignored by everyone. There is no doubt that the intellectual expulsion of this scapegoat victim is the continuation of the physical violence of antiquity.

An excellent way to dispel the erroneous influence of the prologue, and come to terms with what Job is really about, is to reread the Psalms.:

To every one of my oppressors
  I am contemptible,
loathsome to my neighbours,
  to my friends a thing of fear.

Those who see me in the street
  hurry past me;
I am forgotten, as good as dead in their hearts,
  something discarded.

I hear their endless slanders,
  threats from every quarter,
as they combine against me,
  plotting to take my life.
(Psalms 31: 11-13)

Why has Job become the object of hatred for his community? No direct answer is given. Perhaps it is better this way. If the author were to identify a precise element or mention a certain incident as the possible origin, no matter what, we would immediately think we knew the answer and stop questioning. In reality we would know less than ever.

But we must not assume that the Dialogues are completely silent. They are full of indications, if we know where to look for them. In our search for an explanation of the choice of Job as a scapegoat, we should not ask just anyone. His 'friends', for example, have nothing interesting to say on the subject. They want to make Job responsible for the cruelties he is made to endure. They suggest that his avarice was his undoing; perhaps he was harsh to his people and used his position to exploit the poor and the weak.

Job appears to be virtuous but maybe, like Oedipus, he has committed a hidden crime. Or perhaps his son or some other member of his family has done so. A man condemned by the voice of the people could hardly be innocent. But Job defends himself so vigorously that no accusation holds. The indictments gradually fade away.

Some commentators reproach Job for his vigorous selfdefence. He lacks humility and his friends are right to be scandalized. Such a reproach completely misunderstands the nature of the debate. Job's indignation must be put in its proper context, as he himself defines it, to be understood.

He does not say that he has never sinned, he says he has done nothing that deserves his extreme disgrace; just yesterday he could do no wrong and was treated like a saint, now everyone is against him. It is not he who has changed but the people around him. The Job that everyone detests cannot be much different from the man everyone revered.

The Job of the Dialogues is not just somebody who made a lot of money and then lost it all. He is not just a person who goes from splendour to misery and decides to talk over with his friends the attributes of God and the metaphysics of evil. The Job of the Dialogues is not the Job of the prologue. He is a great leader who at first commands the respect of the people and is then abruptly scorned by them:

Who will bring back to me the months that have
when my feet were plunged in cream,
 and streams of oil poured from the rocks?
When I went out to the gate of the city,
 when I took my seat in the square,
as soon as I appeared, the young men stepped
  while the older men rose to their feet.
Men of note interrupted their speeches,
 and put their fingers on their lips;
the voices of rulers were silenced,
  and their tongues stayed still in their mouths.
They waited anxiously to hear me,
 and listened in silence to what I had to say.
When I paused, there was no rejoinder,
 and my words dropped on them, one by one.
They waited for me, as men wait for rain,
 open-mouthed, as if to catch the year's last
If I smiled at them, it was too good to be true,
  they watched my face for the least sign of
In a lordly style, I told them which course to
  and like a king amid his armies,
I led them where I chose.
(29: 2-25)

Before he became a scapegoat Job lived through a period of extraordinary popularity bordering on idolatry. We see clearly from this passage that the prologue has no relevance at all. If Job had really lost his cattle and his children, his reminiscence about the past would have provided the opportunity to mention that loss. But there is no reference to it …

The contrast between past and present is not from riches to poverty, or from health to sickness, but from favour to disfavour with the very same people. The Dialogues are not dealing with a purely personal drama or a simple change of circumstance, but with the behaviour of all the people towards a statesman whose career has been destroyed.

The accusations against Job, no matter how questionable, are very revealing. Primarily, the fallen potentate is reproached for abusing his power: an accusation that could not be made against any ordinary landowner, however rich. Job reminds us of the tyrant of the Greek cities. Eliphaz asks him: Why has Shaddai turned against you?

Would he punish you for your piety,
 and hale you off to judgement?
No, rather for your manifold wickednesses,
 for your unending iniquities!
You have exacted needless pledges from your
 and men go naked now through your despoiling;
you have grudged water to the thirsty man,
  and refused bread to the hungry;
you have narrowed the lands of the poor man
  down to
  to set your crony in his place,
sent widows away empty-handed
  and crushed the arms of orphans.
(22: 4-9)

We modern readers eagerly accept the vision of the prologue because it fits our own world, or at least our idea of it. Happiness consists of having as many possessions as possible without ever becoming ill, of enjoying an eternal frenzy of consumer pleasure. In the Dialogues, on the other hand, the only thing that counts is Job's relationship with the community.

Job portrays his triumphal period as the autumn of his life—in other words, the season that immediately precedes the icy winter of persecution. The disgrace was probably recent and very sudden. The extreme infatuation with Job suddenly turned into extreme disgust. Job seems to have had no warning of the sudden change that was about to take place:

My praises echoed in every ear,
 and never an eye but smiled on me;
because I freed the poor man when he called,
  and the orphan who had no one to help
  him …

So I thought to myself, 'I shall die in honour,
  my days like a palm tree's for number.
My roots thrust out to the water,
 my leaves freshened by the falling dew at
My reputation will never fade,
 and the bow in my hands will gain new

The mystery of Job is presented in a context that does not explain it but at least allows us to situate it. The scapegoat is a shattered idol. The rise and fall of Job are bound up in one another. The two extremes seem to be connected. They cannot be understood separately, and yet one is not the cause of the other. We sense an ill-defined but very real social phenomenon in the probable unfolding of events.

The one thing in common between the two periods is the community's unanimity: first in worship, then later in loathing. Job is the victim of a huge and sudden reversal of public opinion that is obviously unstable, capricious and void of all moderation. He seems hardly more responsible for the change in this crowd than Jesus is for a similar change between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

For this dual unanimity to exist, the mimetic contagion of the crowd must be at work. Members of the community influence each other reciprocally; they imitate each other in fanatical worship and then in even more fanatical hostility.

In the last of the three Dialogues Eliphaz of Teman, one of the three friends, clearly alludes to the existence of predecessors of Job who were both powerful upstarts and scapegoats:

And will you still follow the ancient trail
 trodden by the wicked?
Those men who were borne off before their time,
  with rivers swamping their foundations,
because they said to God, 'Go away!
  What can Shaddai do to us?'
Yet he himself had filled their houses with good
  while these wicked men shut him out of their
At the sight of their ruin, good men rejoice,
  and the innocent deride them:
'See how their greatness is brought to nothing!
  See how their wealth has perished in the
(22: 15-20)

The 'ancient trail trodden by the wicked' begins with grandeur, riches and power but ends in overwhelming disaster. We have just observed these same two phases, the identical scenario, in the experience of Job.

Some day soon Job may well figure on the list of these anonymous men, who are hinted at only because their name has been 'erased'. He is one of those whose career is likely to end badly because it began too well.

Just as I have done, Eliphaz contrasts and, inevitably, compares the two phases. He recognizes that they form a whole and cannot be interpreted separately. Something in the rise of these men contributes to their fall. Our every intuition is voiced in the words of Eliphaz. Job has already travelled quite a distance along the 'ancient trail [of] the wicked'. He has reached the beginning of the final stage.

The events recalled by Eliphaz seem distant and therefore unusual, but not so unusual as to prevent the observer from recognizing in them a recurring phenomenon. The path has already been traced: many men have already taken it and now it is Job's turn. All these tragic destinies share the characteristic profile of the shattered idol. Their destiny, like Job's, is inevitably determined by the transformation of a crowd of worshippers into a crowd of persecutors.

Eliphaz could not allude to events in the past, if the disasters of wicked men were imaginary. He must be evoking an experience that everyone knows because it belongs to the entire community. The violent downfall of the wicked is alive in everyone's memory. These reversals leave too deep an impression to be forgotten, and their stereotypical character makes them easy to remember.

In the eyes of Eliphaz and of the community, the 'wickedness' of these victims is clearly demonstrated, just like Job's guilt. Once they have been denied by the crowd, former idols can never justify themselves; the poor unfortunates are condemned once and for all. The unanimity that is now formed against Job must have also been formed against them in earlier times.

The same process is beginning again and Eliphaz's warning is justified. Job would do well to pay attention to the words of this wise man. But how can he do so without adjuring himself and admitting his guilt?

Perhaps Eliphaz reproaches himself for having been too friendly with the criminal he considers Job to be. He speaks quite openly of the trial of popular 'justice' which, far from being a reprehensible act of disorder, seems legitimate to him, infallible and, quite literally, divine. His conscience is clear and he finds everything to be in order. The order is perfect, and the three 'friends' are happy that it has been forcefully reaffirmed.

Are 'wicked' men always the victims of crowd violence? Could it be a question of anything else? Reread the last four lines of the quotation. They allude to a violent form of social expulsion:

At the sight of their ruin, good men rejoice,
  and the innocent deride them:
'See how their greatness is brought to nothing!
  See how their wealth has perished in the

In the context of a rural society, the 'rejoicing of good men' and the 'derision of the innocent' are not without consequence. We must consider the formidable effect of unanimous condemnation in such an environment. To bring about the disasters ascribed to him, a god need only leave it to these good men, who are always ready to act in the name of his vengeance.

In the middle of the crowd we find the victim and all his possessions. The mob has already divided up what can be shared; perhaps they drew lots to avoid fights. What cannot be shared—which includes their former owner—will be consumed in great fires of joy.

The disaster that awaits 'the wicked' at the final stage, at the end of the 'ancient trail', must resemble those primitive feasts which, in spite of their moderated and ritualistic nature, remind us of a crowd phenomenon. Such social dramas always end with the simulated drowning or immolation of a scapegoat. Former ethnologists sensed the existence of a more extreme violence behind the ritual forms they observed. Many contemporary scholars regard them as victims of their own romantic and colonialist imagination. Yet I think that the earlier ethnologists were right. No doubt they had their prejudices, but we also have ours; the fervent Rousseauian dogma of today ignores the massive evidence that contradicts it, and thus hardly inspires confidence.

There are many other passages to suggest that the central event of the text, the terrible experience that is just beginning for the hero, is a recurring phenomenon of collective violence that is particularly, but not exclusively, directed against the 'mighty' and the 'tyrants'. This violence is always interpreted as an act of divine vengeance, as a god's punitive intervention.

I will cite only one example. It is found in the speech of Elihu, the fourth speaker in Job. This character is not generally thought to belong to the original Dialogues. His speech is probably the work of a reader who was scandalized by the impotence of the first three guardians of public order. Elihu despises the fact that the other three are rooted in tradition and strives to succeed where they have failed.

He thinks he is more able simply because he is younger and because he despises the past. He too tries to reduce Job to silence but succeeds only in restating, in a less attractive style, what the other three have already said. He belongs to a stage in which the archaic tradition is more feeble. Nevertheless, some of what he says makes the hidden topic of the Dialogues clearer than ever.

The theme of Job 'the oppressor of his people' has already been mentioned by the three friends; Elihu sets even greater store by it. The people's violence shines through his political and religious statements.

We are told that God, in an instant:

smashes great men's power without inquiry
  and sets up others in their places.
He knows well enough what they are about,
  and one fine night he throws them down for
  men to
  trample on.
He strikes them down for their wickedness,
  and makes them prisoners for all to see.
(34: 24-6)

I am quoting from The Jerusalem Bible: the identity of God and the crowd are clearly suggested in the translation. God overthrows the great, but the crowd tramples on them. God makes prisoners of the victims, but his intervention is for all to see. It takes place in the presence of that same crowd, which perhaps does not remain completely passive before such an interesting spectacle. It is hardly surprising that the power of the great is smashed 'without inquiry'. The crowd is always ready to lend God a hand when he decides to take action against the wicked. Other great men are immediately found to replace those who have fallen. God himself sets them up in their places, but it is the crowd that worships them - only to discover later, of course, that they were again wrongly chosen and were no better than their predecessors.

Vox populi, vox dei. As in Greek tragedy, the rise and fall of great men constitutes a truly sacred mystery and its conclusion is the part most appreciated. Although it never changes, it is always anticipated with great impatience.

Moshe Greenberg (essay date 1987)

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Moshe Greenberg (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Job," in The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987, pp. 283-303.

[An American professor of the Bible and of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures, Greenberg has published works that include The Religion of Israel (1963) and Introduction to Hebrew (1964). In the following essay he offers an analysis of The Book of Job, examining problems of inconsistency within the text and considering several possible interpretations of the work's meaning.]

The prophet Ezekiel mentions Job alongside Noah and Daniel as a paragon of righteousness (Ezekiel 14:12-20); from this we know that Job was a byword among the sixth-century B.C.E. Judahite exiles whom the prophet addressed. But from Ezekiel and from the late passing reference to Job's patience (or perseverance) in James 5:10-11 one would never guess the complexity of the character set forth in the book that bears his name. Indeed the book's representation of Job seems to some modern scholars so disharmonious as to warrant the hypothesis that two characters have been fused in it: "Job the patient," the hero of the prose frame of the book; and "Job the impatient," the central figure of the poetic dialogue. In the prose story, Job the patient withstands all the calamities inflicted on him to test the sincerity of his piety and is finally rewarded by redoubled prosperity. The moral is: piety for its own sake is true virtue and in the end is requited. It is this old story—often called a folktale—that is supposed to have been known to Ezekiel's audience. Later, the hypothesis continues, a far more profound thinker (perhaps a survivor of the Babylonian Exile and its crisis of faith) used the temporary misfortune of the hero as the setting for his poem, in which the conventional wisdom of the tale is radically challenged.

This theory is based on expectations of simplicity, consistency and linearity that are confuted by the whole tenor of the book. Reversal and subversion prevail throughout—in sudden shifts of mood and role and in a rhetoric of sarcasm and irony. The dialogue contains much response and reaction but no predictable or consistent course of argument. When to these disconcerting features are added the exotic language (loaded with Aramaisms and Arabisms) and the uncertain state of the text in many places—from apparent corruption of words to unintelligible sequences of verses—the confidence of some critics in their ability to reconstitute the original text by rewriting and rearrangement seems exaggerated. This essay discusses the book as we have it.

The chief literary (as distinct from theological or literary-historical) problem of Job is its coherence: do the prose and the poetry or the speeches of Job and his Friends hang together? How are they related? We must gain an awareness of the complexities of interplay among the elements of the book. The truncation of the third round of speeches and the integrality to the book of Elihu's speeches have been treated by most critics as problems to be solved by a theory of textual dislocation or adulteration. I shall try to describe how these elements in their present shape work upon the reader. This is not to assert the infallibility of the text in hand, but rather to confess our inability to justify on grounds other than individual predilection the alternatives proposed to it. It also reflects a conviction that the literary complexity of the book is consistent with and appropriate to the nature of the issues with which it deals.

The background of the dialogue is established in chapters 1 and 2 in five movements. The first movement introduces the magnate Job, one of the "dwellers in the east" (1:3)—that is, east of the Land of Israel—in the uncertainly located country of Uz (connected with Aram to the north in Genesis 10:23, but with Edom to the south in Lamentations 4:21). He is a "blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil" (1:1). His wealth and family are described in numbers typifying abundance—seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand small cattle and three thousand camels, and so forth. The happiness of the family is epitomized in the constant round of banquets held by the children; Job's scrupulousness is shown by his sacrifices on their behalf, lest in a careless moment they "bless" (euphemism for "blaspheme") God in their hearts (1:5).

In the second movement, the action that shatters this idyll starts. "One day," at a periodic assembly of the divine court (1:6), God singles out Job for praise to the Adversary (the antecedent of the later Satan and anachronistically so called in the King James Version; in Hebrew Scriptures an angel whose task is to roam the earth and expose human wrongdoing). This commendation virtually invites the Adversary to suggest that since God has built a protective hedge around Job, his piety may not be disinterested ("for nothing," 1:9): only deprive him of his possessions and see whether he won't "bless" God to his face! God accepts the challenge and empowers the Adversary to carry out the test.

The third movement takes place "one day" as a round of the children's banquets begins and they are gathered in the house of the eldest son (1:13). A terrible chain of calamities befalls Job: one messenger after another arrives to report the destruction of every component of Job's fortune, culminating in the death of his children. Job goes into mourning, but with a blessing of God on his lips (the Adversary is thwarted, but his expectation is literally realized!). The movement concludes, "In all this Job did not sin or impute anything unsavory to God" (1:22).

The scene of the fourth movement is heaven again. "One day," at the periodic assembly of the divine court (2:1), God repeats his praise of Job to the Adversary, adding, "and he still holds on to his integrity, so you incited me to destroy him for nothing" (2:3). The Adversary proposes the ultimate test: afflict Job's own body and see whether he won't "bless" God. God agrees, with the proviso that Job's life be preserved, and the Adversary hurries off to inflict a loathsome skin disease on Job, driving him to constant scratching with a sherd as he sits in the dust (the Greek translation reads, "on the dungheap far from the city"). His wife protests: "Do you still hold on to your integrity? 'Bless' God, and die" (2:9). Job remonstrates with her: "Should we then accept the good from God and not accept the bad?" (2:10). The question is rhetorical, but in every rhetorical question lurks the possible affirmation of what is ostensibly denied. Moreover, by bluntly calling what he has received from God "bad," Job has moved from his nonjudgmental blessing of God after the first stage of his ruin. The movement concludes with a variant of the preceding conclusion: "In all this Job did not sin with his lips." Is "with his lips" a mere equivalent of "did not impute anything unsavory to God," or did the talmudic sage correctly perceive in it a reservation: with his lips he sinned not, but in his heart he did. Is the impatient Job of the poem already foreshadowed in the closing stage of the narrative?

The last movement brings the three Friends of Job (also of Abrahamitic, extra-Israelite stock) into the picture. Coming from afar to comfort Job, they assume his condition—they sit on the ground with him, having torn their clothes and thrown dust on their heads. They keep him company in silence for seven days until he starts to speak.

The contrast between the simple folktale and the artful poem must not be overdrawn. In fact the artistry in the narrative is considerable. The representation of time in the first to the fourth movements progresses from duration to instant. In movement one, the regularity of happy, uneventful lives is expressed by verbs in the durational mode: "would go and would make a banquet," "would send word," "always used to do." The decision in heaven to test Job and its earthly realization in calamities (the second and third movements) occur each on separate days. Moreover, temporal disjunction is accompanied by disjunction of agent: although the Adversary is empowered to ruin Job, he is not mentioned in the subsequent story of disasters. But in the climactic fourth movement, the pace is stepped up and the events are concentrated. Events in heaven and their effect on earth occur on one and the same day; God licenses the Adversary to afflict Job's body, and the Adversary sets to work immediately and in person, as though eager to win his wager. The parallelism of the second stage of Job's trial to the first is expressed with the intensification and focusing that are characteristic of the second verset of poetic parallelism.

Dialogue and elements of poetic diction permeate the prose tale, further diminishing the contrast between the frame and the poem. Only the last movement of the story is speechless—owing to the courteous silence of the Friends. The first movement ends with Job's internal dialogue of concern lest his children blaspheme in secret. The second movement and the corresponding first half of the fourth movement consist almost entirely of dialogue between God and the Adversary, with the latter employing markedly elevated speech: parallelism ("roaming the land and walking about in it," 1:7; "the work of his hands you blessed, and his cattle abound in the land," 1:10); proverbs ("Skin for skin; all a man has he will give for his life," 2:4), emphatic repetition ("a hedge about him and about his household and about all he has," 1:10). The chain of calamities in the third movement is conveyed entirely through reports of messengers all of which exhibit the same pattern. The details of the accounts of disaster are artfully disposed: human and natural destroyers alternate, and the loss of Job's children is delayed to the end. Job's acquiescence in God's decree, with its parallelism, its compression, and its balanced lines, is poetry proper:

Naked came I forth from the belly of my mother
  and naked shall I return thither:
The Lord gave, and the Lord took away;
  blessed be the name of the Lord.

The terrestrial scene of the fourth movement is dominated by the sharp exchange between Job and his wife in which an ironic touch is visible. Job's wife unwittingly advocates the Adversary's cause to Job (" 'Bless' God, and die") while expressing her exasperation with her husband in the very terms used by God to praise him ("still hold on to your integrity"). Such reuse by one character of the language of another is a constant feature of the poem; its occurrence here in the narrative is another bond between the two parts of the book.

The preliminary narrative establishes Job's virtuous character and so provides us with inside information known to heaven and Job alone. Our judgment on what Job and his Friends will say about his character must be determined by this information. We also know—what neither Job nor his Friends do—that Job's sufferings are designed to test him. These circumstances are fertile ground for irony; their impact on our reception of the arguments put forward in the poetic dialogue is an open and intriguing issue. If we now follow the debate step by step, we will get a clearer sense of the artful interplay between statements and positions, of the elements of progression in the arguments, and of the overarching ironies of the book as a whole.

After brooding over his fate for seven days, Job breaks his silence with a bitter diatribe against his life and its symbol, light (chap. 3). He wishes that the day of his birth would be reclaimed by primeval darkness and imagines the peace he would have enjoyed in Sheol had he been stillborn. Why does God give life to the wretched, whom he has "hedged about" (that is, obstructed—a reversal of the meaning of the very phrase used by the Adversary to describe Job's security)? He recollects his lifelong fear of calamity (one thinks of his anxious sacrificing on behalf of his children) which did not avail to prevent it.

This outburst takes the Friends by surprise. They had come to commiserate and encourage, not to participate in a rebellion against God's judgment. Their first spokesman, Eliphaz, opens softly (chaps. 4-5), reminding Job of his custom of cheering victims of misfortune, and gently chiding him for breaking down under his own calamities. He preaches the doctrine of distributive justice: no innocent man was ever wiped out, while the wicked reap their deserts. He reports a revelation made to him "in thought-filled visions of the night" (4:13); man is by nature too base to be innocent before God—even the angels are not trusted by him! Short-lived as he is ("cut down from morning to evening," 4:20), man cannot acquire the wisdom to comprehend his fate. Will Job seek vindication from some (other) divine being? Only fools let vexation kill them; "taking root" for a moment, they suddenly lose everything they own through their blindness to the truth that "man is to misery born as the sparks fly upward" (5:7). In Job's place, Eliphaz would turn to God, who works wonders and benefactions and who constantly reverses the fortunes of men. It is a lucky man whom God disciplines, for if the man—here Job—accepts it and repents, he has good hope of being healed and of living prosperous and happy to a ripe old age. All this has been proved by experience.

In this first exchange, each party starts from advanced positions. Job vents his death wish with untempered passion, becoming the spokesman of all the wretched of the earth. Eliphaz's carefully modulated reply sets the pattern for all subsequent speeches of the Friends: a prologue, demurring to Job, followed by a multithematic advocacy of the conventional view of God's distributive justice. Most of the themes of the Friends' argument are included in Eliphaz's speech: man's worthlessness before God; man's ephemerality and (consequent) ignorance; a call to turn to God in penitence; praise of God; the disciplinary purpose of misfortune; the happiness of the penitent; the claim to possess wisdom greater than Job's.

The rhetoric of debate pervades the speech of Eliphaz and all that follow. Themes are introduced by expressions of interrogation ("Is/Does not …"), demonstration ("look, behold"), exhortation ("Remember! Consider! Know!"), and exception ("but, however"). Among the rhetorical questions peppering Eliphaz's speech, on exhibits the unconscious irony typical of many in the Friends' speeches: "Call now, will anyone answer you;/to which of the divine beings will you turn?" (5:1). Eliphaz is scoffing, but in the event Job will not only call upon a heavenly witness, arbitrator and vindicator; he will ultimately be answered by the greatest and holiest of them all.

A constant difference between the general and particular observations of Job and the Friends is already evident in this first exchange. Both parties pass back and forth from the particular case of Job to the general condition of mankind. But in Job's speeches his particular misfortune governs his vision of the general; his unmerited suffering opens his eyes to the injustice rampant in society at large.

In the Friends' speeches, on the other hand, the general doctrine of distributive justice governs their judgment of Job's case: he must be wicked in order to fit into their scheme of things. Job's empirically based generalities reflect reality; the Friends' perception of the particular is as fictive as the general doctrine from which it springs.

Echoes of Job's speech may be heard in that of Eliphaz. Job's "roarings" (3:24) reflect his anguish; Eliphaz speaks of the "lion's roar" (4:10). Birth and misery figure prominently in Job's speech; Eliphaz combines them in his epigrammatic "man is born to misery." Countering Job's wish for a direct passage from birth to grave, Eliphaz holds out hope of a penitent Job reaching the grave happy and in ripe old age. Such echoes and allusions pervade the dialogue, arguing against a commonly held opinion that the poem of Job consists of a series of disconnected monologues.

Job begins his reply to Eliphaz (chaps. 6-7) with a reference to ka 'as, "vexation" (which Eliphaz warned kills fools, 5:2); overwhelming vexation has caused Job to speak so intemperately (6:2-3). He is the victim of God's terrors; to hold out hope to him is mockery, for his only wish is to be speedily dispatched ("crushed" he says in 6:9, using Eliphaz's language in 5:4). He is not made of stone so as to be able to tolerate his suffering any longer (6:12; in 5:17-18 Eliphaz called it God's benign discipline). He is disappointed that his Friends have deserted him. As when thirsty travelers seek out a wadi and find it has run dry in summer heat, so now when Job looks to his Friends for support they fail him. All he asks of them is to pay attention to his case, show him his fault, and stop producing vapid arguments. Job turns Eliphaz's theme of man's ephemerality to his own use: man's life is like a hireling's term of service; his only relief is night and wages. But Job's life is a hopeless agony; night brings him only the terrors of his dreams and night visions (a bitter echo of Eliphaz). Since human life is so brief, it is a wonder that God fills it with such suffering. Job parodies a verse in Psalms: "What is man, that you are mindful of him: / mortal man, that you take note of him?" (8:4; cf. 144:3: "Lord, what is man, that you should care about him, / mortal man, that you should think of him?"). This is skewed sardonically into:

What is man, that you make much of him,
 that you fix your attention upon him—
inspect him every morning,
  examine him every minute?

If only the "watcher of men" would look away for a while and let Job live out his few remaining days in peace!

Establishing here the pattern for the following dialogues, Job's answer is longer than his predecessor's. He has been goaded by Eliphaz's pious generalities and oblique rebuke into itemizing his experience of God's enmity and its universal implications. In this way all the replies of the Friends arouse Job to ever-new perceptions of his condition and of the divine governance of the world.

Job's complaint scandalizes Bildad, the next interlocutor (chap. 8). "Will the Almighty pervert justice?" he asks rhetorically (v. 3), and proceeds to ascribe the death of Job's children to their sins. Thus Bildad lays bare the implications of the speeches of both his predecessors. Job ought to supplicate God contritely rather than assert a claim against him. Since we are so short-lived, it behooves us to consult the ancient sages; they teach that as it is nature's law that plants wither without water, so the course of the godless leads to perdition (the moral law). God will not repudiate the blameless or support the wicked; hence if Job repents, a joyous future, better than his past, is in store for him.

In his reply (chaps. 9-10), Job exploits the forensic metaphor in the rhetorical questions of Eliphaz and Bildad ("Can mortals be acquitted by God?" 4:17; "Will the Almighty pervert justice?" 8:3). It expresses the covenantallegal postulate of ancient piety with its doctrine of distributive justice, shared by all the characters in the dialogue. God refuses to follow the rules, Job asserts: "Man cannot win a suit against God!" (9:2). God indeed works wonders (echoing Eliphaz)—mainly in displays of his destructive power in nature (a parody of Eliphaz's doxology). Such aggression he directs against any who seek redress from him for calamity inflicted on them undeservedly. In language suffused with legal terms, Job denounces God's disregard of his right: he terrorizes Job into confusion; even if Job could plead, his own words would be twisted against him. Contrary to Bildad's assertion, God indiscriminately destroys the innocent and the guilty, for "he wounds me much for nothing" (9:17; ironically, Job has unwittingly stumbled on the true reason for his suffering). If God would allow him, Job would demand of him a bill of indictment. He would charge him with unworthy conduct: he spurns his creature while smiling on the wicked; he searches for Job's sin, though he knows Job is not guilty. He carefully fashioned Job and sustained him through the years—only to hunt him down with a wondrous display of power (themes of Psalm 139 are sarcastically reused here).

It is now Zophar's turn (chap. 11). After denouncing Job's mockery and self-righteousness, he speaks as one privy to God's counsels: if God would answer Job, he'd show him his ignorance; the fact is that God has treated Job better than he deserves. God's purpose is unfathomable:

higher than heaven,
  deeper than Sheol,
longer than the earth,
  broader than the sea.
(vv. 8-9)

Job should pray to God and remove his iniquity; then he will enjoy the hope, the light, the peace and the sound sleep of the righteous.

Each of the three Friends having had his say, Job now delivers his longest answer yet (chaps. 12-14). Goaded by Bildad, he mockingly acknowledges their monopoly of wisdom, but claims he is no less wise. A shower of irony and sarcasm follows. Borrowing terms from Bildad's invocation of the ancient sages and Zophar's celebration of God's boundless wisdom, Job grotesquely invokes the dumb creatures of sky, sea, and earth to teach the commonplace, "With him [God] are wisdom and power; his are counsel and insight" (12:13), followed by another parodic doxology depicting divine power exercised with sheerly destructive results in the social realm. In this context the stock praise of God that he "uncovers deep things out of darkness, brings deep gloom to light" (12:22; cf. Daniel 2:22) suggests that he tears the lid off submerged forces of death and chaos, allowing them to surface and overcome order. As for the Friends, they are quacksalvers, liars, obsequiously partial to God; they ascribe false principles to him and ought to be in dread of his ever subjecting them to scrutiny. Job, despite his ruined state, will stand up to God, convinced God must recognize integrity.

Let him slay me; I have no [or in him I will]
  yet I will argue my cause before him.
Through this I will gain victory:
  that no godless man can come into his presence.

This burst of confidence collapses into the mournful realization of his vulnerability to God's terrors. Again he asks to be allowed to converse with God, to be informed of his sin (13:20-23; cf. 6:24, 10:2). Again he complains of God's enmity, wonders at his petty keeping of accounts and his persecution of "a driven leaf" (13:25). Again he implores God to let him live out his term of service in peace, for, unlike a tree, which after being felled can still renew itself from its roots, man once cut down sleeps eternally in Sheol.

But must containment in Sheol be final? Might it not be a temporary shelter from God's wrath? "If a man dies, can he revive?" (14:14)—hope wells up in the question, and the fantasy of reversal continues: When wrath subsides, God would call and Job would answer, God would long for his creature. But this anticipation of a doctrine whose time was not yet ripe, this flight of a mind liberated by the collapse of its concept of order, is a momentary flash. Job falls back into despondency.

When the first round of dialogue began, Job rejected life; by its conclusion, he is clinging to it and longing for renewed intimacy with God. Lamentation, anger, despair, and hope succeed each other in waves, but a clear gathering of energy is visible in his speeches. The Friends, hurt by Job's challenge to their concept of the moral order, have turned from comforters to scolds, each harsher than his predecessor. Eliphaz only implies that Job is a sinner; Bildad openly proposes that his children have died for their sins; Zophar assures Job that his suffering is less than he deserves. Yet each ends with a promise of a bright future if Job will only acknowledge his guilt and implore God's forgiveness. Though they provide no direct comfort to Job, by blackening his character they rouse him out of the torpor of despair and kindle in him the desire to assert himself.

Eliphaz opens the second round (chaps. 15-21), deploring Job's mockery of his Friends' counsel. His pernicious arguments undermine piety. Is Job Wisdom personified ("Were you born before the mountains?" at 15:7 evokes Proverbs 8:25 in reference to Dame Wisdom); dose he have a monopoly of it (cf. 12:2-3)? Job's ridicule of sapiential tradition rankles with Bildad and Zophar as well ("Why are we thought of as brutes?" 18:3; "reproof that insults me," 20:3). One would think Job had listened in on God's council when in fact it was to Eliphaz that insight into man's true condition was vouchsafed in a night vision (15:14-16 repeats with slight variation the oracle on man's baseness in Eliphaz's first speech, 4:17-21). Eliphaz proceeds to depict the life and exemplary fate of the wicked as taught by the sages. This theme, briefly touched upon previously, is elaborated at length throughout the second round of the Friends' speeches. Since they cannot persuade Job to withdraw his arraignment of God, his very perseverance in his claims appears to them to convict him of sin. Hence they endeavor, in this round, to frighten him into recanting by describing in detail the punishment of the wicked. That these descriptions, ostensibly generic, contain items identical with Job's misfortunes, is of course not accidental. The poet exhibits virtuosity in playing variations on this single theme. He has Eliphaz focus on the tormented person of the wicked man (chap. 15); here the most blatant allusions to Job's condition occur. Bildad concentrates on the destruction of his "tent" and progeny:

Light has darkened in his tent;
  his lamp fails him …
Generations to come will be appalled at his fate
 [and say],
 "These were the dwellings of the wicked;
    here was the place of him who knew not

Zophar (chap. 20) develops an alimentary figure: the illgot gain of the wicked are sweets he tries to swallow but must vomit, or they will turn to poison in him and kill him.

Job answers the monitory descriptions of the fate of the wicked with pathetic descriptions of his misery (chap. 16). In response to Eliphaz he figures God as an enemy rushing at him like a hero, setting him up as his target—inverting Eliphaz's picture of the wicked playing the hero and running defiantly at God (15:25-26). He has been afflicted despite his innocence, and this very thought moves him to plead that the wrong done to him not be forgotten ("Earth, do not cover my blood," 16:18). In a transport of faith he avers he has a witness in heaven who will arbitrate between him and God, then descends again into despair.

Responding to Bildad's depiction of the wicked man's loss of home and kin, Job relates (chap. 19) how God has stripped him of honor; how friends, wife, and servants have abandoned him till only his flesh and bones remain attached to him. He implores the compassion of his Friends, wishes for a permanent record of his arguments, and consoles himself with the assurance that although he is forsaken in the present, his redeemer-kinsman (go'el)lives and will in the end appear to vindicate him.

In his reply to Zophar (chap. 21), concluding the second round of dialogue, Job bids his Friends be silent and listen to something truly appalling (Job spurns as specious the horror over the pretended destruction of the wicked described by Bildad, 18:20), namely the real situation of the wicked. Contrary to the Friends' doctrine, the wicked live long and prosper, surrounded by frolicking children; they die without pangs. They flaunt their indifference toward God with impunity. How often is their light extinguished (contrary to Bildad's claim)? Their children will pay for their sins?—why doesn't God pay them back! The Friends have reproached Job with insolence toward God: "Can God be instructed in knowledge—/ he who judges from the heights?" (21:22; the verse seems to cite the Friends, but it is a pseudo-citation since in fact they never said this; in the heat of debate Job ascribes to the Friends what can at most have been implied in their speeches). Job answers: What sort of judge distributes well-being and misfortune according to no standard? The Friends have admonished: "Where is the tent in which the wicked dwelled?" (see the end of Bildad's speech, 18:21); Job retorts: every traveler (that is, worldly-wise person, not necessarily old) knows that even in death the wicked are honored.

In the second round the Friends dwelt one-sidedly on the punishment of the wicked, intending Job to see in the wicked a mirror of himself. What they succeed in doing is to move him to particularize his own suffering and—equally one-sidedly—the success of the wicked, thus at once proving he is not one of them and confirming again God's perversity. In this round, too, Job experiences sporadic moments of hopefulness and intimations of vindication. Significant of things to come in round three is the frequency (especially in Job's last speech) with which Job cites the Friends or anticipates their responses to him. In the first speech of this round he says that were he in their place he would mouth the same sort of platitudes (16:4); in his last speech he begins to show he can do it.

Eliphaz returns to the arena yet a third time (chap. 22). Is your righteousness of any interest to God? he asks Job(v. 3); the implication seems to be that Job's clamor for a hearing is arrant presumption (Eliphaz cannot know that God indeed has a stake in Job's righteousness). In fact, he continues, you are very wicked—behaving in a cruel and callous manner toward the weak and defenseless. Eliphaz has been driven to this extreme by his tenacious adherence to the doctrine of distributive justice, the threat to which may be gauged by his incredible accusation. In the sequel, Eliphaz misconstrues Job's pseudo-citation (21:22) to mean that God cannot see through the cloud-cover to judge mankind; but, he affirms, the wicked are punished. Job must return to God, give up his trust in gold (another fabricated charge), and spray to God; reformed, he will be God's favorite, capable of interceding with him on behalf of the guilty. Once again Eliphaz suggests he knows God's counsels; he cannot know that in the end his prediction will come true when Job prays to avert God's wrath from Eliphaz and his companions!

Job replies in a soliloquy (chaps. 23-24) indirectly relating to Eliphaz. He would like to find God, not in order to repent, but to argue his case before him, for he is sure he would be cleared; but he finds him nowhere. He would emerge as pure gold from a test, and God knows it, yet the deity capriciously harasses him. A list of crimes committed by the wicked now appears, intertwined with a description of the downtrodden, and ending with the cutting reproach "Yet God does not regard it unseemly!" (24:12). After describing a trio of "rebels against the light"—murderer, thief, and adulterer, who shun the light of day—the speech becomes unintelligible till its last defiant line: "Surely no one can give me the lie / or set my words at naught" (24:25).

Bildad's third speech (chap. 25) is a mere six verses, a doxology consisting chiefly of a repetition (for the second time; see 15:14-16) of Eliphaz's threadbare oracle (cf. 4:17-21). The following speech of Job contains a doxology that might well continue this one (26:5-14); indeed many critics have taken it for the misplaced end of Bildad's speech. But an alternative interpretation is commendable for its piquancy: "Bildad's speech is short and sounds like what Job says in reply precisely because Job cuts him off and finishes the speech for him." Such mimicry accords with the tenor of the beginning of Job's speech, in which he derides Bildad's rhetorical impotence and suggests that even his banalities are not his own ("Whose breath issued from you?" 26:4). Job demonstrates with great flourish that he can better anything Bildad does. When the Friends are reduced to repeating one another and Job can say their pieces for them, we know that the dialogue has ended.

And indeed Zophar has nothing to say in this third round. To be sure, critics have identified his "lost speech" in the next speech of Job: 27:13 is a variant of the conclusion of Zophar's last speech (20:29)—picking up as it were where he ended—and the subsequent description of the doom of the wicked continues Zophar's specific theme of dispossession. That these two passages are connected can hardly be in doubt, but is the latter an alien intrusion into Job's speech? Its context permits another explanation.

After waiting in vain for Zophar to speak, Job (chap. 27) resumes his address (aptly not called a reply) with an oath invoking (paradoxically) "God who has deprived me of justice" (v. 2). He affirms his blamelessness against his Friends' vilification. He will hold on to this integrity (an echo of 2:3, 9) as long as he lives, for God destroys the impious who contend with him. He offers to teach his Friends "what is with God" (27:11)—perhaps a reference to wisdom (cf. "It is not with me," 28:14, and "[What do] you understand that is not with us?" 15:9), in respect of which the Friends held themselves superior to Job (15:9-10). For now, they must stop talking the nonsense that their own experience contradicts (27:12). As an example of such nonsense Job then offers what Zophar might have said had he spoken, in a second display of expert mimicry.

Still formally part of Job's speech is the sublime poem on wisdom that follows (chap. 28)—the wisdom by which the world is governed, by which the meaning of events is unlocked. Man knows how to ferret precious ores out of the earth; he conquers the most daunting natural obstacles in order to obtain treasure. But he does not have a map to the sources of wisdom. The primeval waters, Tehom and the sea, do not contain it; farsighted birds of the sky do not know its place; Death (the realm next to divinity) has heard only a rumour of it. God alone, whose control of the elements of weather exemplifies his wide-ranging power, comprehends it. For man he has appointed, as its functional equivalent, the obligation to fear God and shun evil—wherewith he adjusts himself to the divine order.

The topic of this poem and its serene resignation seem out of place at this juncture. Critics generally excise the poem from its context, though some ascribe it nonetheless to the author of the dialogue. It is a self-contained piece having only tangential connections with its environment; but these may account for its location. The mention of silver in the first line links the poem to the preceding description of the wicked man's loss of his silver (27:16-17). More substantial is the possible connection with Job's undertaking to teach his Friends "what is with the Almighty" (27:11), preparatory to which they should stop talking nonsense. If, as was suggested above, this is a reference to wisdom, which is with God alone, then the Friend's parade of assurance that they know the reason for Job's suffering is sheer presumption. As the medieval exegete Nahmanides put it, "He instructed them to say, 'Idon't know." A closer paraphrase might be: abandon your futile doctrine; it is a reproach to you and will not gain you God's favor. This is Job's last word to his Friends.

Job's speech in chapters 27 and 28 is framed by phrases that echo his initial characterization in the prose tale. At the beginning, the expressions "I will maintain my integrity / I will hold on to my righteousness" (27:5-6) recall God's praise: "he still holds on to his integrity" (2:3). At the end, the human equivalent of wisdom is "to fear the Lord and shun evil" (28:28), the very traits of which, according to the story, Job was a paragon. Between these appears Job's arraignment of God and his friends, and the denial that wisdom is accessible to man. Taken together, these evidence the sheer heroism of a naked man, forsaken by his God and his friends and bereft of a clue to understand his suffering, still maintaining faith in the value of his virtue and in the absolute duty of man to be virtuous. The universe has turned its back on him, yet Job persists in the affirmation of his own worth and the transcendent worth of unrewarded good. Perhaps this is the sense of the difficult passage in 17:8-9:

The upright are appalled at this [Job's fate];
  The innocent man is aroused against the impious
  [Job's Friends];
The righteous man holds to his way [despite it
  He whose hands are pure grows stronger.

If such is the gist of this complex speech, it marks a stage in Job's reconciliation with God, undercutting the climax in chapter 42. But did the ancient poet share our predilection for the single climax? He has depicted Job attaining to peaks of confidence several times, only to relapse into despondency. The same may hold true for Job's making his peace with his fate and with God.

Job's final speech, a long soliloquy (chaps. 29-31), reverts even more explicitly to his former state as "the greatest of all the dwellers in the east." He recollects pathetically his past glory, the awe in which he was held, his regal patronage of the needy and helpless (a pointed refutation of Eliphaz's gratuitous accusations); how he looked forward to living out his days in happiness, surrounded by his family and honored by society "like a king among his troop, as one who comforts mourners" (29:25). Instead he now drinks bitter drafts of insult from a rabble "whose fathers I would have disdanied to put among my sheepdogs" (30:1). Once again he describes his suffering—God's cruel enmity toward him—ending his lament with a line contrasting with the conclusion of the previous picture: "My lyre is given to mourning, / my pipe to accompany weepers" (30:31).

In the last section of the soliloquy (chap. 31), Job forcefully affirms his blamelessness in a form derived from the terminal curse-sanctions of covenants. The biblical models are Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28: if Israel obeys the stipulations of the Covenant, it will prosper; if not, it will suffer disaster upon disaster. Attention is directed to this traditional pattern by allusion to a "covenant" Job made with his eyes not to gaze on a maiden (31:1). In the immediate sequel he spells out the classic covenantal doctrine by which he has guided his steps: "Surely disaster is appointed for the iniquitous: / trouble for the wrongdoer" (31:3). (In the retrospective light of this conception, all of Job's speeches assume the character of a "covenant lawsuit" in reverse: man accusing God, instead of God accusing man [Israel] as in the books of the Prophets). In the thin guise of self-curses Job recites a catalogue of his virtues—the code of a nobleman who does not allow his status to weaken his solidarity with the unfortunate. The virtues come in bundles and are interrupted by an only occasional self-curse ("If I did not practice such and such a virtue, may this or that calamity overtake me"), indicating that the pattern (in which normally the curses are prominent) is more form than substance—a vehicle serving the double purpose of marking a conclusion (the function of covenant curses) and of manifesting the unbroken spirit of Job. The latter is underlined by Job's wish that his Litigant produce a bill of indictment: he would display it as an ornament, so sure is, he that it would prove him righteous!

Having played out their parts, the Friends fell silent; now Job falls silent, and the scene assumes the form it had before the dialogue began. But there is a tension in the air: will the Litigant respond?

Resolution of the tension is delayed by the sudden appearance of a new character: angry at the Friends for their inability to answer Job otherwise than by declaring him a sinner, and at Job for justifying himself against God, brash young Elihu the Buzite takes possession of the stage (chaps. 32-37). He excuses his intervention by citing the impotence of his elders and delivers himself of three highly wrought speeches, full of obscure language and not always to the point. Though insisting he will not repeat what has been said (32:14), he does go over familiar ground; new are the grandiloquence and the occasional argument in favor of positions already taken. Thus to Job's charge that God does not answer, Elihu replies (off the point) that God speaks to man through dreams and illness designed to humble man's pride and turn him from his bad course (Eliphaz said as much in 5:17-18, but without elaborating the suffering and later confession and thanksgiving of the penitent). He counters Job's complaint of God's injustice by affirming, tautologically, that the sole ruler of the earth cannot do wrong, since it is of the essence of rulership to be just. From the transcendence of God Eliphaz had argued that man's works cannot interest him (22:2-3); Job had reasoned from the same fact of transcendence that even if he sinned, it could scarcely matter to God (7:20); Elihu advances the thought that the good and evil that men do cannot affect God, but only other men. Hence—if we understand 35:9 rightly—human misery has its cause in human evil; yet God is not indifferent, and in the end he punishes the guilty. Elihu's last speech opens with an interpretation of the suffering of the virtuous as disciplinary, and concludes with a rhapsodic paean to God's greatness as evidenced in the phenomena of rain, thunder, and lightning.

Elihu has indeed championed God's cause without condemning Job (except in 34:8 Job makes common cause with the wicked); his ornate eloquence has contributed color but little substance to the debate. Critics consider his speeches redundant and hence from another hand or at least outside the original plan of the book. But if repetition is an indication of unoriginality, considerable tracts of the dialogue of Job and his Friends would have to be declared secondary. The pattern of alternating dialogue is absent in Elihu's section, but it has already lapsed in the last spell of Job's oratory. Elihu's style is different from that of his predecessors, but might not that difference be intentional, to distinguish impetuous youthfulness from more deliberative age? Our author may simply have sought another character through which to display rhetorical invention. Indeed, can a better reason be given for the extension of the dialogue for three rounds than the delight of the poet in the exercise of his gift? This very motive animates the ancient Egyptian composition called "The Eloquent Peasant," whose thematic similarity to Job has been observed: a peasant who has been robbed pleads his cause before the governor; the king, who is told of the peasant's eloquence, deliberately delays judgment of the case so as to enjoy more and more of it. By this device the author gains scope for exercising his skill in playing variations on a few themes. (A modern editor's evaluation of the piece recalls evaluations of Elihu's speeches: "The peasant's speeches are, to modern taste, unduly repetitive, with high-flown language and constant harping on a few metaphors.") Be that as it may, the unconventional representation of youth outdoing age bespeaks the author of the rest of the poem, whose hallmark is subversion of tradition. Elihu has marginally surpassed the Friends in affirming that God does speak to man, that not all suffering is punitive, and that contemplation of nature's elements opens the mind to God's greatness—a line of apology for God that does not entail blackening Job's character. We are on the way to God's answer from the storm.

The chief problem raised by God's answer to Job (chap. 38-41) is to relate the panorama it paints of God's amazing creativity to the issues the interlocutors have been wrestling with.

In opening his speech (chaps. 38-39), God exchanges roles with Job: till now, Job has demanded answers from God; now God sets unanswerable questions to Job about the foundations of the universe. Does Job know anything about the fashioning and operation of the cosmic elements—earth, sea, the underworld, and darkness? Has he knowledge of, can he control, the celestial phenomena of snow, hail, thunder, and lightning, or the constellations? From these spectacles of nature God turns to wilderness animals and their provisioning: the lions, who lie in ambush for their prey; the raven, whose young cry to God for food; the mountain goats, whose birth only God attends; the wild ass, who roams far from civilization; the wild ox, who mocks man's attempt to subjugate him; the silly ostrich; the war horse, with his uncanny lust for battle; the soaring falcon and eagle, who sight their prey from afar. None owe man anything; the ways of none are comprehended by him.

How different this survey of creation is from that of Genesis I or the hymn to nature of Psalm 104. Here man is incidental—mainly an impotent foil to God. In Genesis I (and its echo, Psalms 8) teleology pervades a process of creation whose goal and crown is man. All is directed to his benefit; the earth and its creatures are his to rule. In Psalm 104 nature exhibits a providential harmony of which man is an integral part. But the God of Job celebrates each act and product of his creation for itself, an independent value attesting his power and grace. Job, representing mankind, stands outside the picture, displaced from its center to a remote periphery. He who would form a proper judgment of God cannot confine himself to his relations with man, who is, after all, only one of an astonishing panoply of creatures created and sustained in ways unfathomable to the human mind.

Instead of confessing his ignorance and, by implication, his presumptuousness, in judging God, Job replies (40:3-5) that he is too insignificant to reply; that he can say no more. This response, as Saadya Gaon observed in the tenth century [in Iyyov 'im Targum u-Ferush Ha-gaon Rabbenu Saadya,] is ambiguous: "When one interlocutor says to his partner, 'I can't answer you, 'it may mean that he acquiesces in the other's position, equivalent to 'I can't gainsay the truth'; or it may mean he feels overborne by his partner, equivalent to 'How can I answer you when you have the upper hand?' " In order to elicit an unequivocal response, God speaks again.

In language identical with that of the first speech, God declares he will put questions to Job: "Would you impugn my justice, / condemn me, that you may be right?" (40:8). Job has dwelt on the prosperity of the wicked, attributing it to divine indifference or cruelty. God invites Job to try his hand at righting wrongs, if he has the hand to do it: "Have you an arm like God's? / Can you thunder with a voice like him?" (40:9). If he can do better, God will sing his praises. Once again, Job's ignorance and impotence are invoked to disqualify him from arraigning God; only one who comprehends the vastness and complexity of God's work can pass judgment on his performance. To drive home Job's powerlessness, two monstrous animals are described that mock the Genesis notion of man's rule of terrestrial and sea creatures. Behemoth, a land animal, is briefly described: his muscles are powerful, his bones like metal bars. Leviathan, a denizen of the waters, is a living fortress, whose parts evoke shields and military formations; flames and smoke issue from him; no weapon avails against him; his tracks are supernally luminous; he lords it over the arrogant.

The effect of this parade of wonders is to excite amazement at the grandeur and exotic character of divine creativity. By disregarding man, the author rejects the anthropocentrism of all the rest of Scripture. God's governance cannot be judged by its manifestations in human society alone. Had the moral disarray evident in society been tolerated by a mere human ruler, other humans of like nature and motives would have been entitled to judge him as vicious. But no man can comprehend God, whose works defy teleological and rational categories; hence to condemn his supervision of human events because it does not conform to human conceptions of reason and justice is improper.

Man's capacity to respond with amazement to God's mysterious creativity, and to admire even those manifestations of it that are of no use or benefit to him, enables him to affirm God's work despite its deficiencies in the moral realm. Such deficiencies, like so much else in the amazing cosmos, stand outside human judgment. Chapter 28 has already anticipated the conclusion at which Job must arrive in the face of God's wonders: for mankind wisdom consists of fearing God and shunning evil; more than that he cannot know.

Job now submits unequivocally (42:2-6). He confesses his ignorance and his presumptuousness in speaking of matters beyond his knowledge. Now that he has not merely "heard of " God—that is, known of him by tradition—but also "seen" him—that is, gained direct cognition of his nature—he rejects what he formerly maintained and "is consoled for [being mere] dust and ashes" (v. 6). Lowly creature that he is, he has yet been granted understanding of the inscrutability of God; this has liberated him from the false expectations raised by the old covenant concept, so misleading to him and his interlocutors.

The Adversary has lost his wager. Throughout his trial Job has neither rejected God (he has clung to him even in despair) nor ever expressed regret for having lived righteously (cf. Psalms 73:13-14). He thus gave the lie to the Adversary's insinuation that his uprightness was contingent on reward. Yet this last word of the poet does not pull all things together. God's answer does not relate to the issues raised in the dialogue; it seeks rather to submerge them under higher considerations. Although the poet rejects the covenant relation between God and man with its sanctions of distributive justice, he offers no alternative. In effect, he puts the relation entirely on a footing of faith—in the language of the Adversary, "fearing God for nothing" (1:9).

The narrative epilogue (42:7-17) relates Job's rehabilitation. God reproaches Eliphaz, the chief and representative of the Friends, for not having spoken rightly about him as Job did. God thus seconds Job's protest in 13:7-10:

Will you speak unjustly on God's behalf?
  Will you speak deceitfully for him? …
He will surely reprove you
 if in your heart you are partial toward him.

God forbids a conception of himself as a moral accountant, according to which the Friends interpreted Job's suffering as punishment and Job ascribed injustice to God. Since the prayer of the injured on behalf of those who injured him is the most effective intercession (cf. Abraham's intercession for Abimelech, Genesis 20:7, 17), God orders the Friends to seek Job's intervention with him on their behalf (ironically, Eliphaz promised Job this power, 22:30). With this act of mutual reconciliation, Job is restored to his material and social position: his possessions are doubled (cf. Bildad's promise, 8:7), and he has children equal to the number of those reported dead by the messenger. Unlike 1:2, 42:13 does not state that the children "were born to him"; Nahmanides infers from this difference that the original children were restored, having been only spirited away by the Adversary—a laudably humane, if unpersuasive, piece of exegesis. The story pays unusual regard to Job's daughters, noting their incomparable beauty, their exotic names—which may be rendered "Day-bright" (so ancient tradition understood Yemima), "Cassia" (a perfume-herb), and "Horn of EyeCosmetic"—and their equalization with their brothers as heirs, an egalitarian touch worthy of our unconventional author. Job dies at a ripe old age surrounded by four generations of his family (cf. 5:26, 29:18).

Critics have deemed this conclusion, yielding as it does to the instinct of natural justice, anticlimactic and a vulgar capitulation to convention; the common reader, on the other hand, has found this righting of a terribly disturbed balance wholly appropriate. In its reversal, the conclusion is of a piece with the rest of the book, so consistently subverting expectations and traditional values. Thus the story is set in motion by the Adversary's undermining the value of covenant-keeping piety, casting doubt on its disinterestedness. This instigates the immoral exercise of dealing the deserts of the wicked to pious Job in order to try his mettle—a perverse measure that cannot be avoided if doubts about his motives are to be allayed. Job, true to his character, blesses God even in adversity; however, soon thereafter he awakens to the moral disarray in the world and comes near blasphemy by accusing God of indiscriminate cruelty. Job despairs, yet continues to look to God for vindication. The Friends came to console, but exhaust themselves in vexatious arguments with Job; seeking his repentance, they incite him to ever bolder protest. They propose to teach him traditional wisdom; 'he ends by teaching them the inaccessibility of true wisdom. Job calls on God to present his bill of indictment, believing and not believing he will respond, and eager to present his defense. God does actually respond, but not to Job's questions; and Job has no answer at all. God rebukes Job for presumptuousness, but he also rebukes the Friends for misrepresenting him. Finally, when Job has resigned himself to being dust and ashes in the face of the cosmic grandeur revealed to him, God reverses his misfortune and smiles on him to the end of his life.

The piquancy of these incessant turns of plot, mood, and character is heightened by the overarching ironies resulting from the union of the frame story and the dialogue. We see a handful of men striving vainly to penetrate the secret of God's providence, guessing futilely at the meaning of what they see, while we know that behind this specific case of suffering is a celestial wager. The effect of keeping the background setting and the foreground dialogue simultaneously in mind is almost vertiginous. For example, the Friends appears so far right in insisting, and Job so far wrong in denying, that God discriminates in his visitations—for a reason none can know. All are wrong in asserting that whether Job (man) sins or not is of no account to God. Job's sardonic charge that he is persecuted just because he is righteous is truer than any of the human characters can know. At the same time, the surface meaning of the dialogue is not invalidated: appearances do support Job's contention that God is indifferent to those who cling to him and smiles on the wicked; the Friends' depiction of society as a perfectly realized moral order is really non-sense. The beacon of the righteous is not hope of reward but the conviction that, for man, cosmic wisdom is summed up in the duty to fear God and shun evil, whether or not these virtues bear fruit. The misfortunes of the righteous ought not to imply a condemnation of God, in view of the grandeur and mystery of God's creative work at large.

Vacillating between the "truth" of the story and the arguments of the dialogue, the reader may be inclined to harmonize the two: the suffering of the righteous is, or may be, a test of the disinterestedness of their virtue. This of course can never be known to the sufferers or their neighbors; the case of Job is a stern warning never to infer sin from suffering (the error of the Friends), or the enmity of God toward the sufferer (the error of Job). Although such a harmonization may offer some consolation to Job-like suffering, it is not spelled out in the book. With its ironies and surprises, its claims and arguments in unresolved tension, the Book of Job remains the classic expression in world literature of the irrepressible yearning for divine order, baffled but never stifled by the disarray of reality.

The poetry of Job is a sustained manifestation of the sublime, in the classical sense of "exhibit[ing] great objects with a magnificent display of imagery and diction" and having "that force of composition … which strikes and overpowers the mind, which excites the passions, and which expresses ideas at once with perspicuity and elevation" [according to Robert Lowth in Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews]. It embraces an extraordinary range of objects of universal interest: emotions of serenity and terror, hope and despair; the contrasting characters of men; doubts about and affirmations of cosmic justice; the splendors and wonders of animate and inanimate nature. To be sure, these appear elsewhere in biblical literature, but only in the Book of Job are these expressed with such concentration, such invention and vivid imagery.

The poet makes use of the various genres of biblical lyric and sapiential poetry: the personal complaint of Psalms in Job's self-descriptions; the moral character portraits of Proverbs (the lazybones, the drunkard) in the depictions of the righteous and the wicked; the psalmic hymns in the doxologies, which in Job are sometimes straightforward and sometimes parodic. However, Job's brilliant descriptions of weather and animal phenomena and the evocation of man's exploration and exploitation of earth's resources have only rudimentary antecedents in earlier biblical poetry.

Innovative imagery pervades the book: the tree cut down that renews itself from its roots (14:7-9) as a metaphoric foil for man's irrevocable death; humanity's kinship with maggots (17:14) and jackals (30:29) as an image of alienation and isolation; the congealing of milk (10:10) as a figure for the formation of the embryo; the movement of a weaver's shuttle (7:6), of a runner in flight, or of the swooping eagle (9:25-26) as similes for the speedy passage of a lifetime; God's hostility figured as an attacking army (19:12); God's absence represented in the image of a traveler's unfound goal in every direction (23:8; a striking reversal of the expression of God's ubiquity in Ps. 139:7-10).

The diction of the poems is distinguished by lexical richness, with many unique, unusual, and "foreign" expressions, lending color to the non-Israelite setting and characters. For example, 'or, besides its normal Hebrew sense of "light," seems to bear dialectical Aramaic senses of "evening" (24:14) and "west wind" (38:24); and there are many other terms that occur only in this book. There is much expressive repetition of sound (alliteration, assonance); the explosive p sound, for instance, dominates 16:9-14, a passage in which Job pictures himself as a battered and shattered object of God's pitiless assaults. Verbal ambiguity is abundantly exploited: be'efes tiqwah in the weaving image of 7:6 can mean "without hope" or "till the thread runs out"; in 9:30-31, the opposites bor, "soap," and shahat, "muck," are homonyms of two synonyms meaning "pit," thus conveying the suggestion "out of one pit into another." Contrariwise, the same expression recurs in different contexts, effecting cohesion while at the same time producing variety: the pair "vision / dream" serves as the vehicle of oracular experience (33:15), night-mares (7:14), or a figure of ephemerality (20:8); the pair "dust (dirt) / clay" expresses the qualities of insubstantiality (4:19), lifeless malleability (10:9), worthlessness (13:12), and multitude (27:16).

What quality in poetry makes it the preferred vehicle for this author's vision? Poetry was the form taken by sapiential observation and speculation throughout the ancient Near East. With its engagement of the emotions and the imagination, it was the usual mode of persuasive discourse. Through its compression, poetry allows stark, untempered expression that, while powerful in impact, awakens the kind of careful reflection that leads to the fuller apprehension of a subject. Moreover, the density of poetic language, compelling the reader to complement, to fill in gaps, fits it peculiarly for representing impassioned discourse, which by nature proceeds in associative leaps rather than by logical development. Spontaneous debate, too, is characterized by zigzag, repetitive, and spiral movement in which sequence is determined more by word and thought association than by linearity. Someone listening in to debate must supply the connections in a manner not very different from the complementing required for the comprehension of poetry. Such passionate argument is precisely reflected in the poetry of Job, as each interlocutor links theme to theme without troubling to arrange them according to logical sequentiality, and by that very liberty enriching the connotations and multiplying the facets of the argument.

The poetry of Job is continually astonishing in its power and inventiveness. Its compression allows multiple possibilities of interpretation, corresponding to the open, unresolved tensions in the author's vision of reality. It is a beautifully appropriate vehicle for a writer bent on compelling us to see things in new ways.

Edwin M. Good (essay date 1990)

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Edwin M. Good (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Is Job Religious for Nothing?" in In Turns of Tempest: A Reading of Job, Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 189-203.

[Good is a Cameroonian-born theologian whose writings include Irony in the Old Testament (1965) and Job and the Literary Task: A Response (1973). In the following essay he offers an analysis of the first section of The Book of Job.]

Perhaps Job 1-2 is a folktale. In some respects it reads like one: the "once upon a time" beginning, with its quick, deft encapsulation of the hero's circumstances and character, the formulaic structural points ("It was the day when,"1.6, 13; 2.1), the refrains of the messengers' speeches ("And I escaped all alone to tell you," 1.15, 16, 17, 19), the formal greetings between Yahweh and the Prosecutor(1.7; 2.2), the repeated formula defining Job, given by the narration and twice by Yahweh ("scrupulously moral, religious, one who avoids evil," 1.1, 8; 2.3).

The only reference to Job outside the Book of Job might suggest that he was the subject of a folktale. The prophet Ezekiel refers to him twice as one of the three most righteous ancient worthies: "Even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—should be in [Jerusalem], they would by their righteousness save only themselves" (Ezekiel 14.14; JPS). Yahweh goes further in 14.20, saying that Noah, Daniel, and Job "would save neither son nor daughter." Noah saved his sons from the Flood (Genesis 6-9), and if daughters-in-law counted in those days as daughters, he saved daughters too. Daniel we know not from the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible but from Canaanite epic texts recovered since the 1920's from the ancient city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) in Syria containing a tale about a king named Dan'el who has, but does not save, a son. [In an endnote, the critic adds: "For Ezekiel, spells the name in that way, dan 'el, rather than danTiyyJ'l as in Daniel. Scholars agree that Ezekiel's Dan'el has nothing to do with the Book of Daniel, whose hero is contemporary with Ezekiel and hardly comparable to Noah and Job. The Canaanite Dan'el story (the title is usually given as Aqbat, the name of Dan'el's son) is translated in Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan, and in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. by James B. Pritchard."] For Ezekiel, Job is the epitome of "righteousness" in the culture's lore. In our story, however, Job does not "save" either son or daughter but loses them all. There is some incongruity between Ezekiel's perception of Job and what happens in the book.

Perhaps, because we are dealing with a folk hero, we are engaged not with a folktale but with an epic. Nahum Sarna has argued [in "Epic Substratum"] that the original tale was written in poetry, a characteristic of ancient epics. Job's high social stature and gravity of circumstance, moreover, are comparable to those of an epic hero. The presence of prose, together with the brevity of these opening chapters, is the major difference between the Hebrew story and the Canaanite epic tales from which Sarna derives his analogy, and both characteristics may make us think of folk story rather than epic. The style of Job's story is pure in its simplicity, and I remain unpersuaded that it was ever poetry. [In an endnote, The critic adds: "I do not believe that the speeches in chaps. 1-2 are in poetry, dis-agreeing with Pope (Job, pp. lv-lvi), who notes, though he does not expand the point, that he has set the speeches as poetry."] As we will see later in this chapter, we are not dealing with naive, unsophisticated storytelling. If calling the story a folktale makes readers expect naivete (and some scholars who have called it a folktale have thought it naive), it is best to call it something else. But I do not feel required to designate the genre more closely than to call it a story or narration.

The story has six episodes, the first of which is general and introductory.

  1. Job's character and circumstances (1.1-5)
  2. First scene in Yahweh's court (1.6-12)
  3. Job's first calamity (1.13-22)
  4. Second scene in Yahweh's court (2.1-7a)
  5. Job's second calamity (2.7b-10)
  6. The coming of the friends (2.11-13)

Episodes 1 and 6, told as omniscient narration, present a certain symmetry. The first portrays Job's character and habitual activity, including a ritual of sacrifice, and the last shows a stereotypical, ritual action of the friends.

The middle four episodes alternate between Yahweh's court and Job's troubles in the land of Uz. All four are carried by dialogue: the two scenes in Yahweh's court consist of two sets of questions and answers between Yahweh and the Prosecutor followed by an imperative spoken by Yahweh. [In an endnote, the critic adds: "See Alter, Narrative, chap. 4, on the ways in which narration in the Hebrew Bible frequently rides upon dialogue."] They are framed by date- and scene-setting sentences at the beginning (1.6;2.1) and exit sentences at the end (1.12b; 2.7a). The two scenes of calamity are presented in a simpler frame: in 1.14-19, the messengers' reports form one cumulative speech, to which Job responds hymnically (v. 21); in 2.9-10, Job and his wife have one speech each. Yet these two episodes are also asymmetrical. The first calamity is told from the point of view of Job's own position, sitting at home learning the story from successive messengers. By contrast, the second calamity proceeds by objective narration combined with dialogic comment.

The balance of these middle episodes is disrupted in the move from episode 4 to episode 5. Episodes 2-4 begin with the same formula, which suggests a customary occurrence: "It was the day when." …They also end with similar conventional formality. The Prosecutor makes his exit from Yahweh's presence in 1.12b and 2.7a, and Job engages in conventional mourning behavior in 1.20-22. But episode 5 plunges abruptly into action with no structural prelude, dropping the regularity maintained through episodes 2-4. The new narrative technique signals that Job's second calamity presents a new set of circumstances.

Within its apparent symmetry, then, the tale drives from one situation to a wholly different one, from a beginning in what seems stability to an end in change and uncertainty. At the beginning and in both scenes in Yahweh's court, Job is described as "one who avoids evil" (ra' 1.1, 8; 2.3). At the end, the friends come because of "all the evil [ra 'ah] that had come upon him" (2.11). The recurring "days" also point to changed circumstances. The "feast days" in episodes 1 and 3 (1.4, 5, 13) and the customary meeting "days" of Elohim's sons in episodes 2 and 4 (1.6; 2.1) give way at the end of episode 6 to seven days of silence (2.13), a number that echoes the annual feasts of the seven sons(1.4). The feast days have turned into death—deeply ironic if those parties of Job's children were birthday dinners—the meeting days have produced Job's suffering, and now the days pass in silence. We find not a resolution of the problem but its intensification. Evil formerly avoided is now present; days have reversed their character.

On the other hand, we might seem to see a resolution. A recurring motif in the tale is blessing (see the annotation to 1.5). Job's religiousness, a question on which much turns, consists partly in his scrupulous sacrificing on the chance that his children have sinned in blessing the deity(1.5) and partly in a conventional piety that blesses Yahweh's name and avoids sin thereby (vv. 21-22). The first scene between Yahweh and the Prosecutor turns on two allegations of the Prosecutor: that Job is religious because Yahweh has blessed him with prosperity (1.10), and that if Job should come to think that Yahweh has stopped blessing him, he will bless Yahweh in another sense (v.11). In fact, with the calamity, Job does "bless" Yahweh(v. 21), and he avoids sin by doing so (v. 22). The second scene in Yahweh's court, like the first, centers on the Prosecutor's expectation that Job will bless Yahweh (2.5), and with Job's second calamity in episode 5, his wife urges him to "bless Elohim and die" (2.9). Job does not bless anyone and again avoids sin (2.10). [In an endnote, the critic adds: "The qualification 'did not sin with his lips' in 2.10 may be important. It could imply that he did sin otherwise, but nothing in the text suggests it. Yahweh himself says twice that 'there's certainly no one like him on the earth' (1.8;2.3). At the same time, 2.10 follows 2.3, and perhaps something has happened in the interim."]

From that point of view, it seems that Job has decisively avoided whatever problem has been posed. Yet the means by which he does so is strangely reversed. Twice the Prosecutor has put Job in a situation where he is sure he will bless Yahweh; once Job has avoided difficulty by blessing, and once, it seems, he has avoided difficulty by not blessing. It is not yet clear what the problem of the story is. If it is that of an evil that a good man wishes to avoid and does not, the story deepens the problem and does not resolve it. If it is the problem of a good man who is given a religious test, the problem is resolved, or seems to be resolved. We need to circle back over the story for a closer look.

The first paragraph underscores Job's extraordinary qualities. He is fecund and rich, which in his culture signified excellence. Many children—ten are many and in a decimal system are symbolically "perfect"—promise prosperity in old age. Children assured retirement security in those days, unless one had much wealth of one's own. Job has it, expressed again in stylized perfect numbers: thousands of sheep and camels that add up to ten thousand, hundreds of oxen and asses that add up to ten hundred, and—a nice breaking of the numerical symmetry—"a great many slaves."

There is more than external wealth and prosperity. We know that Job is "scrupulously moral, religious, one who avoids evil" (1.1), and in the second paragraph we see something of what that means. His family is unusual. That seven brothers would enjoy one another's company enough to have regular parties together might not seem surprising, though the fact, stated baldly, proposes a familial harmony that cannot be unremarkable. Quite exceptionally, the parties include the sisters. In those days one did not, it seems, deal socially with women, even one's sisters, as equals. The siblings' harmony appears nearly revolutionary.

Yet the oddly negative factor turns up. Job is so scrupulous that he wishes to forestall any religious fault that his children might incur in their feasts. "Perhaps my children have blessed Elohim sinfully in their hearts" (1.5). For the ancient Hebrews as for the Greeks, the heart was the seat not of emotion but of thought, decision, and intention. [In an endnote, the critic adds: "Pedersen (Israel,) refers to the heart as the operative soul, the person in action, and he believes that thinking and deciding too narrowly describe the heart's functions. But 'thought' seems most accurate if we do not confine it to its narrowest logical sense."] It had what we think of as the brain's function (the emotion we feel in the heart, they located in the bowels). They did not, moreover, distinguish an inner, genuine self (the heart) from an outer, ostensible self (the body, perhaps). Job worries, then, not about internal sin as opposed to external but about intended sin as opposed to inadvertent sin. The children may be purified of such thoughts by the religious intervention of the proper sacrifice.

What does that mean? Evidently Job is, in our day's jargon, a caring father. Equally evidently, he is entirely confident only of his own piety, not of his children's. If inadvertent sin concerns him, he need only remind his children to make the proper sacrifices. But he does it for them, apparently not trusting them to think of such precautions or to safeguard their intentions. His only thought about their intention is that they might "have blessed sinfully." An ambiguity is present. "Bless," as I said in the annotation, is only one possible meaning of the word (brk.) Another is "curse," which, combined with "sin" (ht'), seems on the surface the better meaning. We are faced here, and in several places in this part of the story, by a crucial word with diametrically opposed, simultaneous meanings.

Job further assumes that his sacrifices, the expiations of a scrupulously moral and religious father, will ward off the punishments for intentional sin from his children. The father's religious deed produces the religious effect on the children, without their needing to do anything of their own. That means, I think, that Job's religion is a magical one. I do not criticize that but only label it. [See Good's chapter on Job in Irony for further discussion]. Every religion I know anything about is magical, assuming that certain religious actions, whether external or internal, physical or spiritual, if done properly, produce certain religious effects.

The first episode, then, exhibits a hero remarkable spiritually and materially, and religiously conventional, however profoundly if not excessively scrupulous. The religiosity that Job employs in 1.5 sets up the situation that arises in the next episode.

The scene changes to the divine court on assembly day. Just as Job's sons are in close contact with their father, so are the "sons of Elohim," [In an endnote the critic comments: "The implicit polytheism may trouble some readers. I cannot in all conscience claim that the Book of Job is monotheistic."] especially the one with the Hebrew title haśśatan, "the Satan," which I have translated" the Prosecutor". He is not the Devil, not a principle of evil, but a member of the divine court whose apparent duty is to bring malefactors to the bar of divine justice. He is, then, no interloper in the assemblage of Elohim's sons but someone with every right to be there.

Yahweh evidently thinks so. He asks pleasantly after the Prosecutor's career, and the latter gives a curiously evasive answer. Can he conceal anything from Yahweh? Well, yes. Not only does this story imply polythesim, it also assumes no divine omniscience. Yahweh is interested less in the details of the Prosecutor's comings and goings than in one fact: there is a person with whom the Prosecutor will never have professional dealings. Yahweh incautiously boasts: "Have you given thought to ['set your heart on'] my servant Job? There's certainly no one like him on the earth, a scrupulously moral man, religious, one who avoids evil" (1.8). The description advances beyond what we have seen before. In 1.3 Job was "one of the greatest people of the East"; here there is "no one like him on the earth."

Both Yahweh and Job deal with hearts. Job made sacrifices on the possibility that something untoward had happened in his children's hearts, but he did not ask them about their hearts. Yahweh asks the Prosecutor about his heart: "Have you set your heart on my servant Job?" The Prosecutor's function is to think about people, to decide whether their faults, including those most concealed, deserve punishment. Yahweh wonders whether he has done his job and suggests that someone is proof against his investigations.

The Prosecutor responds with some heat. "Is Job religious for nothing?" (1.9) The rhetorical question implies a negative answer: "Of course not; he is religious for some reason." Yahweh has made sure that he would be religious by "hedging around him" with protection, by "blessing" him (brk—that word again), so that "his possessions burst out over the earth" (v. 10). The Prosecutor exaggerates Job's situation with the contradictory images of a protective hedge and of possessions bursting out. It is unfair of Yahweh to ensure by his own efforts so responsive a piety and then to boast about Job as if the man were responsible for it. The whole basis of the divine government of the world is challenged. If Yahweh is really in charge—and the crucial verb "bless" underscores that he is—then human beings have no possibility of responsibility. If they can be responsible, Yahweh is not in charge.

The Prosecutor has a still more powerful way of challenging the divine claims. He proposes that the deity "touch all [Job] has" (v. 11) and goes on: "If he doesn't curse you (brk) to your face—." Rhetorically, that clause is a curse upon the speaker, with the result clause omitted. Yahweh's hand is drastically forced. Faced with a curse (If A does not happen, may a horrible B happen to me), Yahweh has no choice. In that world, a spoken curse was an objective event, which ineluctably and with no moral entailments set in train a succession of events that had to work itself out to its end. By the risky expedient of putting himself under a curse, the Prosecutor has tied Yahweh in a knot from which only Job can extricate him. It is a crucial addition to the chain of curses and blessings I noted above.

This reading overturns the long interpretive tradition around this transaction between Yahweh and the Prosecutor, which has seen the transaction either as a test that Yahweh is persuaded to permit or as a wager between him and the Prosecutor. The tradition has been bedeviled, moreover, by reading the Prosecutor's remark in terms not of its own rhetorical form but of its paraphrase into an "equivalent." "If Job does not curse you to your face" equals "Job certainly will curse you to your face." For reasons that escape me, most interpreters have missed the additional meaning present in the sentence: "or else I will be cursed." If inflicting suffering upon Job is a test, it is meaningless, because Yahweh was seduced by the Prosecutor into permitting it (which lends a certain plausibility to identifying him as the Devil). If Job suffers because of a mere wager, the suffering is even more meaningless. Betting plays too close to the edges of blind chance, and our culture distrusts that. Suffering resulting from an illegitimate test or from a wager is by definition unjust. Nothing with the deity's fingerprints on it is supposed to be unjust.

When the sufferings result from the Prosecutor's curse upon himself, the situation is changed. The curse does not bind Yahweh in moral problems at all; Yahweh is helpless to stop the working of the curse, though he can, it seems, put limits on the worker ("but on him don't put your hand," 1.12). And the Prosecutor puts himself at hazard with his curse. We are not dealing with an underhanded trick of a Devil or with an unobservant deity who allows his most faithful servant to be the object of an experiment. We are dealing with a frontal challenge to magical religion, a religion that allows Yahweh's favorite to be religious for his own ends, not for Yahweh's. In one sense, the Prosecutor is angry not at the righteous Job but at Yahweh's system of order.

I cannot overemphasize the point that the transaction between Yahweh and the Prosecutor is not "I bet he'll do it" or "Let's see if he flunks." The Prosecutor could take no more serious step than the curse, and he himself stands to lose the most. He leaves unspoken the specific result that he calls down on himself, as is usual in such selfcurses, but it cannot be trivial, and the lack of a stated result may be more powerful than its presence. The next loser is likely to be Yahweh, if Job hurls a curse in Yahweh's face. We do not yet know what Job stands to lose.

We must pause here over two things. I have spoken as if the Prosecutor expects from Job a curse similar to his own. We are faced again with that ubiquitous word brk, which inconveniently refuses to bear but one meaning. The Prosecutor says, "If he does not brk you to your face—." Everyone thinks that brk here is a euphemism for "curse," just as everyone thinks the word had to mean that back in verse 5. But no one blinks at interpreting the same verb as "bless" in the preceding sentence. We must relax our certainty that we know what this word means.

The other point is that the ambiguous, indeterminate brk appears in a sentence that is formed as a curse. Of that there is no question. We may not with the same confidence be able to assert the English equivalents of all of the words. "If he does not brk you to your face—."

Observe the next exchange. "Put out your hand and touch all he has," says the Prosecutor (v. 11). "All that he has is in your hand," replies Yahweh (v. 12). The Prosecutor wants Yahweh's hand to do the deed, but Yahweh shifts it to the Prosecutor's hand and imposes a limitation: "On him don't put your hand" (v. 12). The limitation is formal, indeed redundant; the Prosecutor has already specified what is to be touched: "all he has" (v. 11). Perhaps Yahweh states the limitation to remind the Prosecutor who gives the orders in this universe. The command might seem a bit hollow, given that Yahweh and his power are under constraint of a curse. Still, the formality of rank is observed, and the universe is not yet absurd.

Are we sufficiently on our guard to realize how ominous the opening of episode 3 is? "It was the day" (v. 13)—the formula that began episode 2. It is the prime heir's feast day. We can easily let the fact pass as mere fact, the formulaic beginning lulling us into inattention and its significance not sinking in until the terrible message of verse 19. Yet the narrative technique continues to mask the fact. We, the readers, hear the series of messages from Job's point of view, know only what Job knows. We are drawn inside the story and into its ignorances.

The series of messages, bursting over Job like those fireworks where one shower of stars explodes into another and that into a third, is notable both for its patterned formality and for its completeness. In the first and third messages, the agents of destruction are marauding neighbor peoples; in the second and fourth, they are natural phenomena thought of in that world as being under the deity's control. The messenger calls the lightning that burned up the sheep and the servants "Elohim's fire" (v. 16); the messenger cannot know that it is from the Prosecutor, and I suspect that we, being immersed in the story, forget it. The first and fourth messages have identical structures: (1) description of the situation; (2) narration of the catastrophe;(3) death of the ne'arm; (4) escape. The second and third messages omit the description and begin immediately with the catastrophe. Such crossing and interlocking repetitions are the force of this formulaic style. The repetitious patterning makes the statements so terrible.

The catastrophes are total. In the first three, Job's wealth is taken, category by category (the elimination of his slaves is spread over all the events), in the fourth, his posterity is wiped out. Only in the fourth is the messenger allowed the exclamation of emotion: hinnēh, "Ah!" (v. 19). The very formula leaves us with a momentary ambiguity: "It [the house] fell on the ne'arīm, and they're dead." Each successive messenger has used ne'arīm to mean Job's slaves who were killed (vv. 15, 16, 17). The fourth messenger has stated the circumstance, that Job's sons and daughters were having their feast, and when he says that the house fell on the ne'arīm, perhaps we are at first relieved: "Oh, only the slaves." The relief is momentary, for we quickly realize that ne'arīm can include the sons, and we must then assume that here, unusually, it also includes the daughters. On further reflection, we may be ashamed that we have underplayed the humanity of slaves. Perhaps the messenger is being kind to Job, muting the impact of the bald statement by his formulaic repetition.

Are we prepared for Job's response? It is so utterly conventional, and the little hymn he sings (v. 21) is so banally repetitive. Verbal repetition ("Naked …and naked") and the repetitive word order (adjective-verb-adverbial expression) call attention to the opposed verbs ("came out …return") in the first two lines. The antonymous verbs in the third line ("gave …took") emphasize the repeated divine name. The final blessing formula, at last, puts the lie to the Prosecutor's curse in the same terms. "If he does not brk you—" said the Prosecutor. Job says, "May Yahweh's name be mebōrak." There is that verb again, and perhaps we are too sure that it means "blessed" here.

Job's actions and words are completely appropriate. He fulfills all of the acts expected of a mourner, tearing his robe, shaving his head, falling prostrate on the ground, singing a hymn. It is exactly what he ought to do. Conventionalities are the most important religious acts, because they channel responses to unusual events and prevent them from overwhelming people. That is what religion is for. Job's mourning behavior, however formalized and conventional, has stood him in the best possible stead. He has avoided "sin" (v. 22), and Yahweh's boast has been vindicated. Now perhaps we will find out the unspoken result clause of the Prosecutor's curse.

Instead, we find the Prosecutor among Elohim's sons on the next assembly day (2.1). The god still has his sons, though Job has lost his. What happened to the curse? Was its unspoken result so mild as to leave its object undamaged? Or did the catastrophe drop between the two senses of brk? "If he does not brk you to your face—" said the Prosecutor. When Job said, "May Yahweh's name be mebōrak, " he did brk Yahweh, whatever the Prosecutor might have meant. Magic is magic, the right word was said, and no catastrophe need befall the Prosecutor.

The preliminaries identical to those in 1.6-8 passed, Yahweh adds to his previous description of Job the triumphant statement of his success: "He is still holding to his integrity, even though you urged me against him to swallow him up for nothing" (2.3). Three points of this speech need attention. Job's "integrity" (tummah) is etymologically related to his scrupulosity.…Job's basic character has not changed, and Yahweh still boasts about him. Second, Yahweh talks as if he had done the deed against Job at the Prosecutor's instigation, doing so with a nice pun on haśśatan in "you urged me" …Third, it was "for nothing" (hinnam), a word the Prosecutor used in 1.9: "Is Job religious hinnam, for nothing?" Repeating the word, Yahweh turns it back on the Prosecutor: Job did not do his religion "for nothing," but you did something against him "for nothing."

The Prosecutor's response, like his earlier one, is heated. "Skin up to skin!" There seems to be scorn in that strange, probably proverbial statement, and beyond that it is difficult to determine what is in it. Most scholars propose variants on the notion of equal exchange. The preposition (be'ad, "up to") refers to boundaries, signifying a different idea of exchange. The Prosecutor uses it in his next sentence: "Everything the man has he will give over, right up to [be'ad] his life." It is not merely equal exchange. Job cannot give anything equivalent to his skin, for there is nothing equivalent to it. The limit on what Job can give in exchange for his life is his life. "Skip up to skin," then, means that the point at which you stop paying for skin is the point at which the price demanded is skin. Job will give anything short of life to remain alive—to give up life to stay alive is self-evidently absurd.

Now the Prosecutor's proposal is more drastic: "Touch his bone and his flesh"—his very person, his boundary of possible exchange, his life. And again the same self-curse: "If he doesn't brk you to your face—."

For the second time, the Prosecutor lays himself on the line, and again the operative word is that ambiguous brk. Again the situation is not tainted with morality or its absence; a curse on oneself is too serious for that. Does Job's earlier survival with his piety intact make us expect that it will triumph a second time, or do we expect him to fail? Either is possible.

As before, Yahweh shifts the deed to the Prosecutor's hands and emphasizes his own proviso, implied in "right up to his life." "Protect his life" is more than the rather inactive "spare his life" in most translations. The verb šmr has to do with guarding, and the Prosecutor is being told not merely to avoid killing Job but positively to guard him, indeed, to watch over him. That may be a kindly proviso. At the least Job is to remain alive. Yet we will see later that Job thinks the god watches him more closely than he likes, and he objects to the scrutiny. The lurking feeling remains that, though Yahweh cannot refuse the curse, his limitation on the Prosecutor's execution of it can be interpreted ironically as an effort to maintain the show of his own scrupulosity. He does not refuse to allow Job's suffering, and he surely does not expect the Prosecutor to slide away from the issue. Given the miscarriage of the Prosecutor's prior curse, a second following on it is nearly predictable. At least, if Yahweh cannot predict it, we must dismiss any notion of divine omniscience from the story. In any case, he does not object to the Prosecutor's touching Job's "bone and his flesh."

The catastrophe occurs, and Job is smitten with personal suffering. We might think the order of events curious, tending as we do to think of physical suffering as having less magnitude than mental or psychic suffering. Yet the story clearly proposes a crescendo of difficulty, and Job's suffering in his own person implies a greater pain than the psychic suffering he has endured at the deaths of his children.

Mental suffering is also involved, however. Job's scraping himself with a broken sherd of pottery to alleviate his pain (v. 8) is one sign. There is very little dignity in scraping one's horrid sores with a dirty potsherd. Moreover, he sits not in the midst of loving family and attentive friends, but as an outcast from social contact, in the ash heap, the garbage dump (he will lament that with vivid images in chap.30). There are no hymns in Job's mouth this time.

Now we hear, for the only time, a character whose implied presence is very strong, both in this part of the story and at its end: Job's wife (2.9). Her explicit presence is rather meager. Job will refer to her in 19.17 as disliking his breath, and she is a strange part of one of his self-curses in 31.10. Otherwise, she is the mother finally of twenty children. Her one line of dialogue has not made her a favorite with readers of the book: "You're still holding to your integrity? Curse [brk] Elohim and die?" The question repeats word for word what Yahweh had said about Job to the Prosecutor (2.3), and the imperative urges Job to do both what the Prosecutor has cursed himself about and what Job worried in 1.5 that his children might have done, to "brk Elohim."

The first sentence, which most interpreters translate as a question, contains no interrogative mark and could as well be the statement "You're still holding to your integrity." If the sentence is understood positively, as it is when Yahweh says it, the imperative barēk might very well mean something positive. If the first sentence expresses sarcasm, bark is negative. That ambiguous verb allows several alternative readings of the second sentence: farewell: Say goodbye to Elohim and die; rebellion: Throw the whole thing in Elohim's face and take the consequence of death; encouragement: Go on holding to your integrity, stand fast in your piety even to death; pity: Curse Elohim and be released from your suffering.

Job's response makes clear that he hears a negative meaning: "You're talking like a fool" (v. 10). He would not say that if he thought his wife were being supportive—unless his own mind has changed drastically since he said, "May Yahweh's name be blest" (1.21). Given the pain that has intervened since that hymn, it is quite possible that he has changed. We must investigate the next sentence: "We receive good from Elohim and do not receive evil."

As far as I know, I alone have translated this sentence as an indicative. Everyone else makes it an interrogative: "Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?" [Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text]. That is an interpretive decision, not a translational one. The Hebrew sentence has no interrogative marker, but one may legitimately translate it interrogatively if one thinks that the question gives the most sensible meaning.

The sentence allows at least three understandings. As a rhetorical question it has one meaning, and as a statement it acquires two more. The question proposes that it is irrational to accept what is pleasant from the deity and to refuse what is unpleasant. Both "good" and "evil" are to be expected and accepted, and one does not "curse Elohim" but "blesses" him for either, as Job did in 1.21. Self-evidently, the deity is the author of both good and evil, and one ought not be surprised to receive either at his hands. According to the interrogative interpretation, the world and the god's actions have no clear moral structure, but the god is in charge of all that happens in the world.

If the sentence is a statement, it may have two other meanings. Statement 1 is that, because humans receive only good from the deity and not evil, such evil as there is must come not from the deity but from some other source.

There is no single origin of all events, and the god is not in command. Statement 2 is that, because everything humans receive from the deity is good, not evil, any unpleasantness, being from Elohim, is good, however contrary to appearances. In either case, there is no reason to "curse Elohim" for it. Under Statement 1 Elohim is not responsible for the evil; under Statement 2 the apparent evil is not to be understood as evil. The two statements hold as self-evident that the deity has nothing to do with evil. Statement 1 maintains the god's moral purity but denies him total control of the world. Statement 2 maintains that, despite evidence to the contrary, the god controls the world, and the world is nothing but good.

That everything that happens comes from the deity was a common assumption in the book's world. If Job intends the question or the second statement, he shares that assumption. Yet the story lays a question against it, by showing us what Job does not know, that this evil has come not from Yahweh but from the Prosecutor. What has happened as a result of the Prosecutor's self-curse is not necessarily attributable to Yahweh, even if Yahweh accepts the blame, as he does implicitly in 2.3.

Whatever may be the import of Job's statements, the narration shows that he avoids sin again—with his lips. I have already referred to the question whether that specification glances sidelong at the integrity of his inward disposition. "Job did not sin with his lips" may suggest that he sinned with something else. On the other hand, the only thing Job is portrayed as doing besides talk is scraping himself with a potsherd. Surely he could not sin doing that. Thus "Job did not sin with his lips" refers to the only significant thing he has done, and it could mean that he did not sin at all. To be sure, Job, might have had a sinful thought that did not pass his lips as words. Yet the story's only apparent reference to Job's inner thoughts, in 1.5, does not specify that Job "said" those words within himself. It seems that the story is not concerned with the hero's inward, unexpressed thoughts. But suddenly that casual, passing phrase "with his lips" has become centrally important, and ambiguous in terms of the Prosecutor's curse, which galvanized all of this action.

At least Job has not cursed Yahweh to his face, though his wife has urged him to do so, and the provocation has been great. More than that: in this episode he has not used the crucial verb brk at all, in any of its senses. The Prosecutor, it appears, has failed, and because we see and hear no more of him, we may suppose that whatever catastrophe he called down on himself in his curse came about. His disappearance has greatly troubled some interpreters. But if we take his self-curse seriously, as I believe we must, his absence is not strange. The curse eventuated, by implication, in his banishment or destruction.

It is necessary to look back at the problem of blessing and curse, especially but not solely as it is embodied in that ambivalent Hebrew word brk. The fact that at every occurrence the verb may mean "bless" or "curse" or both at the same time strains every unambiguous interpretation of the story. The blessing/cursing is central to it, carries the episodes from one place to another, motivates nearly everything that is done, both as to the words that appear in the text and as to the verbal actions the characters take. For example, the conjunction of brk with ht' in 1.5 might require that brk mean "curse," yet I think it plausible to join ht' and brk in a hendiadys meaning something like "sinful blessing," intending the wrong deed despite using the right words, or using the wrong words while intending the right deed. If ht' means "to miss," as it sometimes does (Proverbs 8.36; Job 5.24), the sentence might be translated, "Perhaps my children have missed blessing [failed to bless] Elohim in their hearts." It seems possible to consider all three ideas simultaneously.

It is easy to take as self-evident that mebōrak in the hymnic context of 1.21 must mean "bless." Indeed, that is the sense that the line takes best. Still, the hymn emphasizes the duality of the divine activity, "giving and taking," and the duality of brk mirrors on the human level the deity's duality. I twist about through this difficulty not to propose that the meaning of brk evaporates into nothing, but rather to help readers liberate their imaginations, wherever the word appears, to focus on its depth, not its shallowness, on its multiplicity, not its illusory simplicity. The very centrality of brk prevents smug certainty that we know the meaning of this story. It means in addition to our knowing, and perhaps in spite of and in opposition to it.

Some interpreters believe that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were introduced into the story when the poetic dialogue was composed, in order to provide a transition to the dialogue. They must somehow be gotten on stage. To say that the friends appear in the story only to be in the dialogue, however, is to attribute more than we can be sure of to the intention of an author whom we cannot consult. I do not know whether Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were in the original story or not, having no access to that "original." The story we read now introduces them by the device of their hearing about evil (ra'ah) and, being friends (rē'īm), deciding to come. The pun is justification enough, and we need no permissions from an author's supposed intention.

What kind of gesture do they make toward a man otherwise isolated from human contact, who sits on his ash heap with only a seemingly unsupportive wife for company? Surely their coming to "console and comfort him" is friendly. On the other hand, their gestures in verse 12, weeping, tearing their robes (compare 1.20), and sprinkling dust on top of their heads, are those of mourning the dead, which would hardly encourage a man in pain. If Moses Buttenwieser is right that these gestures ward off from the friends the curse they perceive has fallen on Job, the ritual puts distance between the friends and Job. And though they are at least present for those seven days and nights of silence, the silence itself may signify another funeral rite.

Still, they have come because of evil (2.11), and evil was what Job so assiduously avoided. Now he has it, and the formalities of mourning underscore the fact. They have "raised their eyes" to see, and seeing have not recognized, so they have "raised their voices, weeping." Job is, it seems, as good as dead, even though he has not cursed Elohim.

The story, then, both resolves and does not resolve the issue it raises. The danger that Job might curse Yahweh is past. The Prosecutor has been defeated, and his forth-right challenge, "Is Job religious for nothing?" (1.9) has been met. Job, it seems, is religious for nothing, holds to his integrity and to his piety even when the magic goes out of his life. He apparently requires neither special hedges as protection nor evidences of wealth and prosperity to persuade him to do religiously what he is supposed to do. With the Prosecutor's disappearance, the debate in Yahweh's court about Job's piety appears to be settled.

Yet not every loose thread is tied. Evil, formerly absent from Job's life, is now present. The friends have yet to begin their consoling and comforting, and there is the rising tension of those seven days and nights of silence. The debate in the land of Uz about the divine control of the world has barely begun.


Principal English Translations


Further Reading