on 14 March 2014
Certain parts of the bible require that you wrestle with them. At the very beginning, try sorting out the order of what happens in Genesis 1 and then do it again with chapter 2. They don' t match as narratives.
Job poses ethical and spiritual issues no reader can escape. Why is God in conversation with "hasatan" and who is "hasatan" anyway? Why does God tempt Job?
Job's reaction is not one of patience - he curses the day he was born. He complains to God and gets no straightforward answer, at least as we'd understand an answer. Then three friends try to explain it away in standard religious terms, and Job will have none of it. Then a fourth interlocutor, Elihu, appears, with a more nuanced explanation. But Job wants his answer from God, and he wants psychological truth. He wants an advocate to defend him against the all-mighty judge.
Finally, God does speak to Job, but not to justify himself - rather to emphasise the impossibility of what Job wants. Jehovah is all- powerful; his ways are not the ways of man. Dialogue is not a meaningful concept. Yet it is complaining Job who is commended, not his interlocutors. Job's response is repentance. And for this he is blessed, and richly rewarded. Motto: complain to God, and get blessed. Be pious, and you'll be condemned.
It doesn't add up to any kind of satisfying whole. It undercuts all the bases of religious duty and tradition.
This book looks at Job from numerous angles: parallels in other cultures; the history of the story before it was finally written down; the textual difficulties and lacunae; the interpretative problems; the history of its understanding, etc, etc. And it does so without losing touch with the average intelligent reader. It offers no solutions, but rather shows why there can not be any. It provides as good an account of the enigma that is Job as anything I've ever read, and puts most of the other literature in the shade. From now on, it will just not be possible to write seriously about Job without referring to this book. And that is no mean achievement.
Prepare to be challenged and unsettled; but prepare too to do much thinking about this age-old text.
This is destined to be a classic of spiritual exploration, and I can hardly commend it too highly,