Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is there one Job or two?

N. H. Tur Sinai in his 1967 commentary on Job after a lifetime of living with the story and much depth of understanding of ancient languages postulates that the story part and the poetical part are not portraying the same Job.

In the story, Job holds fast to his integrity to the end, refrains from reproaching God and from sinning with his lips and so God can eventually say that the friends were wrong and that Job spoke the thing that is right (Job 42:7-8). In the poem, however, Job accuses God in terms which admit of no conciliatory interpretation, and even swears that God has taken away his judgment (Job 27:2), and God reproves Job, saying that he is speaking by words without knowledge (Job 38:2).
I was intrigued with Tur Sinai's commentary and felt I could learn much more from it than say from the 1939 articles on Job by the Dallas Theological Seminary such as this or this. I could not bring myself to read any more of such drivel. But I am now somewhat disappointed with Tur Sinai also - in that he is imposing his reason on the text rather than seeing if there is any way to slide the razor between the words of the text itself.

Of course he knows more than I do. That doesn't mean I am going to believe him. I have already used his commentary to read Job 1 and 2 in Hebrew without the English and to scan some of his remarkable ideas on the language. He considers that the story - the frame in chapters 1, 2 and 42 - was originally in Hebrew and the poetic parts were translated from an Aramaic original written in the early part of the exile. This explains the 100s of odd words in the poem. I have to take his word for it for the moment. He may be right.
His theory is far more attractive than those who think Job is historical. But it does not mean we have two different Jobs - one who is upright and one who "accuses God in terms which admit of no conciliatory interpretation".

Job is one of many ancient dialogues over theodicy, he says, and this sounds plausible. But the real question is does Job 'do the job' of dealing with theodicy and if so, how? I recall a teacher who had survived a near fatal car accident - and I have a son in a similar situation. The teacher wondered why God needed to test Job - why God fell for the agent's insinuation that Job might not really be righteous.

There are some intriguing aspects of the God word in Job - in the story part the names
יהוה and אלהים appear but in the poetical parts, אלוה a singular form is used of God - and this form is mostly used in Job, rarely in other Biblical books. One wonders how to translate the phrase בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים. It is rare in the psalms but common elsewhere as I see from my Hebrew-Latin concordance! Tur Sinai renders it godly beings - odd to me. I like children of God because it implicates all of us in the role of accuser.

Job is, for its size, not much referenced in the NT. Perhaps the following: Job 3:21 - Revelation 9:6, Job 5:13 - 1 Corinthians 3:19, Job 11:8 Ephesians 3:18, Job 34:11 - Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6 - All of these are religious commonplaces are they not. My favorite allusion is never noted: Job 39:9 and the Christmas pageant - O magnum mysterium. Perhaps others and of course Job 42:10 - James 5:11.

Are we missing something? Where is the wisdom of God?


scott gray said...


i’m not sure when the different redacted versions of job are dated, so i don’t know what the social, political, military, and religious community contexts have been across the job-timeline. one thing i will guess, though, is that for most of it, society was hierarchically stratified, especially with regard to royalty and leadership.

as an american, one of the things i value is that, at least in theory, the governing leaders are chosen by the governed, from among the governed. in hierarchical classed societies, the governed have little or nothing to do with choosing governing leaders. so in america, non-hierarchically, we are citizens, not subjects.

i find that i want my religious affiliations, with church leaders, fellow parishioners, jesus, and god him/herself to be more citizen-oriented and less subject-oriented. yet the judeo-christian paradigm is filled with jesus as lord, god as king, royal priesthood, and other subject-oriented relationships. i find i have little resonance at all with these hierarchical configurations. i’m trying to sort out how to stay engaged in a religious paradigm rooted in hierarchical subject-oriented relationships, and yet function as a responsible ‘citizen.’

job’s god is the enraging epitome of ‘royal subjectation’ gone bad. god behaves as whimsically in this story as any god ever did before the concept of ethical monotheism.

now i know i’m taking the story out of historical, social, political, and theological context when i make this judgement. but if the stories and lessons are to have value in contemporary context, then removing them from historical context has to be a valid place to begin one’s homiletic wrestling with the texts. i have no use for the ‘moral’ of the story having anything to do with one’s willful subjugation to god, purposeful or whimsical. we can excuse the story by saying it was written and read in a different context than our own, but it loses all value by this kind of excusing—it becomes another horror story. which i’ll comment about in a minute.



Bob MacDonald said...

Scott - you raise an interesting question. I suspect there is more affinity between us and them in spite of this observation re culturally enforced subjection to hierarchy and cultural creation and agreement to the same rule - checks and balances notwithstanding.

None of us gets to choose 'God' if such a God is real. Any can choose 'protection' - sometimes that sort of racket is imposed by the stronger on the weaker.

Jesus could hardly be more citizen oriented! We are called kings, priests, friends, citizens of heaven, members of his body - how much more egalitarian do you get?

Now your point that this 'god' is whimsical - that should be considered. But not yet - I think I have to wait and see what the translation uncovers. I know the King James reading and have read a few others like Mitchell - but I have not read it myself in Hebrew/whatever else it is. Bear with me and let's see if I can get anywhere - I did manage the psalms, but Job may be beyond me.

God's character is vital - if God is whimsical - whether of Job or some other Tsunami - what can we do? The Hebrew way seems to be a certain faithful defiance - but I am not at all sure whether Job is even in this covenant - Eloah is the name of God - singular instead of the YHWH Elohim of the Psalms and HSD - the covenant mercy only occurs 3 times in the poem, RXM - the womb-like nature of God, not at all.

I am not sure what clues to look for. What, I wonder, is the nature of Job's 'service' to God?

scott gray said...


farah mendlesohn has written a book rhetorics of fantasy in which she presents four modes of fantasy writing: portal fantasy, immersive fantasy, intrusion fantasy, and liminal fantasy.

portal fantasy is where the protagonist moves from the real world into a make-believe, or supernatural world through a door, dream state, or such. immersive fantasy begins and ends in a make believe world. lord of the rings is a good example. intrusion fantasy is when a make believe, or supernatural world or entity, breaks into the ‘real’ world. magic realism literature from latin america is a good example of this. liminal fantasy (threshold fantasy) is where the fantastic, or supernatural, never quite breaks through into the real world, but always seems to be a paper-thin wall away, or looking over one’s shoulder, yet not directly perceivable.

as presented in the hebrew scripture, job seems to me to be intrusion fantasy. but with muddled twists, because job’s ‘real world’ includes god, and this god interacts with job on a regular basis (prayer, abundant blessings, job's 'service to god,' and the like). job’s 'real world' is ‘magic realism’ to me, and this is one of the perception problems believers and non-believers have when talking about ‘data pertaining to god.’ for one person, it is 'real.' for the other, it is 'imaginary.'

job has a ‘normal’ interaction with god, then, from job’s perspective, things go sour-- deaths in the family, physical ailments, financial ruin—- and because job’s worldview includes a supernatural god, this same god is the source of all the maladies in job’s life as well. the prologue and epilogue make this story a rock hard intrusion fantasy.

but the story is creepier if it is treated without the prologue and epilogue. it then becomes luminal fantasy. bad things happen, but they seem natural—-at first. the accumulation of so much pain moves the story from realism to doubt about one’s understanding about what is happening, to suspicion that something intrusional is happening. i can imagine that many readers might resonate with this understanding of how bad things happen in their lives—normal acceptance, to doubt about the mechanism, to suspicion that all is not natural here.

then the theophany drives the story into intrusion fantasy. and the betrayal by one’s god, that one has trusted for so long, on a whimsical bet, makes this truly a horror story—one is powerless to interact with the supernatural deity in any fashion that influences such malicious whimsy.

i can see how readers in a god-believer paradigm would feel all these things. but for me, it’s magical realism, not the ‘real world’ that includes a supernatural god who intrudes into this world. but i admit that ones man’s ‘magical realism’ is another man’s ‘real world.’

at what point does one experience a numinous presence of god, and to what degree? is god's numinous participation withe people only benevolent? when does one’s numinous experience become theophany?



Bob MacDonald said...

Well Scott - 4 fantasy types - and I in the middle of reading Harry Potter - I always distrusted Severus Snape.

You raise problems of time, presence, psychology, cause, absence, free will, determinism, evil, good - so many!

My fantasy is of love. It is certainly immanent and by inference transcendent. It stops time. I learned it through new life in Christ in this case Jesus and his death and the work of the Spirit. All this fantastical language - all the miracles - deaf hear, blind see, and good news preached to the poor, - it is all impossible. But they are there in the words of ancient minds who otherwise seem to have some affinity with me - well not much, but some.

>>the accumulation of so much pain moves the story realism to doubt about one’s understanding about what is happening<<

I wonder if Job's service - that is Job, the book, is to point us to a common insoluble problem space. Job is story - a rehearsal of the best arguments that they could make at the time. Ours are not better.

>>the theophany drives the story into intrusion fantasy<<
Yes - intrusive. My fantasy is of such intrusion. Not just for the ancients but for me too in all my weakness.

scott gray said...


interesting responses on your part. richard beck talked about mirror cells-- when we see others in pain, we empathize because our memory cells imitate facial and physical behaviors, which then indicate pain. when we see job's pain, do we empathize? and is the dialog so long, and so comprehensive, so that everyone who reads it finds a place of empathy? as you say, a 'common insoluble problem space?'

of course, job's friends should have lifted him out of the ashes, fed him, given him comfort, instead of a legalistic response to his pain-- as though their memory cells were broken!!

your covenential issues ring deeply with me, as well. if not with an anthropomorphic god, certainly with covenential relationships gone bad. is this the behavior in relationship of a covenential entity/god? how could that be?


scott gray said...

the theophany at the end of job reminds of a violist joke.

the violist gets off the bus and walks down the street to his house. his neighbor comes rushing up to him and says,'oh, it's terrible!! the maestro came to your house, and killed your dog, and busted up your viola, and raped and beat your wife, and burned your house to the ground!!'

the violist grabs his neighbor by the lapels and says,'you mean the maestro came to my house?'