Micah Henning

On the Book of Job

In the Harvard Classics reading list for the history of the world, there exists just one work categorized as belonging to the East in patriarchal times--that is, during times when men held predominant power over women. That work is the Hebrew parable of Job, which is found both in the Ketuvim of the Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

Patriarchal assuredly it is, and arguably also dystopian, but poetic nonetheless. The story is of an extraordinarily wealthy man named Job (rhymes with robe) who suffers the injustice of an enigmatic God who nonchalantly permits his torment from Satan in order to prove a point, namely this: Satan seeing Job as a righteous and pious man, if he were to lose everything, surely he would at once renounce his faith in God and turn his back on him. So Satan, with the permission of God, causes Job his livestock to be stolen or destroyed, his servants to be slain, and all his children to be killed. But despite these things Job persists in his faith, (even though his wife attempted to dissuade him):

"Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah."

Satan, unsatisfied, wants to test further. So, with God having granted permission once again, Satan causes boils to appear all over Job's body. Now is where the bulk of the story occurs as dialogue between Job and three of his friends, of whom argue that surely he must not be righteous, for God only punishes the sinners. Job continually retorts that he is indeed righteous, and that what is happening to him is an injustice to which God is obligated to explain, an injustice so great that he denounces the day of his birth and prays to God to just let him die, for death is more satisfactory than his present state. The three friends having nothing more to say to Job, a young (and overbearingly respectful) man declares that God is far too marvelous and majestic to be understood.

To end the story, God speaks to the group (from a whirlwind, of course) declaring himself responsible for the ways of all living creatures and the cause of all weather, before denouncing the three friends and requiring them to each give Job a number of their livestock. Then God gives Job double what he originally had in assets, and seven new children.

I think the moral of the story is that we have no control over anything, that if the deity is Jehovah then those whose faith is greatest in him will suffer injustice on account of them being pawns in a chess game against a pseudo-deity (called as such because Satan requires permission from God, but still transcends man), but that good will eventually come to them afterward. Also, human lives are somehow replaceable.

The Book of Job is beautiful and poetic, but I am disappointed that it was chosen to represent the East in ancient times when it is most obviously a parable, therefore bearing no credibility regarding the ways and attitudes of the people therein, save for the author, who is, unfortunately, unknown.