Lecture given by Prof. Frye on Feb. 24, 1981 for the Bible and Literature course. Videotaped for the Bible and Literature series.
Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University
LECTURE TRANSCRIPT: Lecture 20
JOB: A TEST
I would like to approach the Book of Job at this point in the course as a work that pertains to the categories of both wisdom and prophecy. If you look at the sequence of books of the Old Testament in the King James order, that is from Genesis to Malachi, with the Apocrypha in a separate section, you see an order which is derived from the Septuagint translation—the Hebrew order is a much more schematic one—and it seems to be pure accident that it actually makes its own kind of sense.The books from Genesis to Esther are concerned with three themes: law, history and ritual; the closing one, Esther, is a story which explains the latest of the Hebrew rituals to be established, the feast of Purim. The second half of the Old Testament, from Job to Malachi, is concerned also with three different themes: with poetry, prophecy and wisdom. In that order, which as I say may be pure accident but still is an order, Job would occupy the place of a poetic and prophetic Genesis. It deals with the theme of how man was plunged into his present alienating situation, but deals with it in terms of poetry and prophecy and wisdom rather than of law and history and ritual.When Milton, after pursuing the English Revolution of the seventeenth century through four of its stages, was finally checkmated completely by the restoration of the monarchy, he settled down to ask himself why the bid for liberty among the English people had met with so inglorious a failure, and why the great Exodus which had been undertaken in 1640 should have ended, in his phrase, with 'a captain back for Egypt'. That was why he told the story of the fall of man, which is based on the Christian conception of original sin, the notion that man, being born in a state of mortality, is conditioned from birth with a kind of inertia that makes it impossible for him to achieve any of the things that he really wants to do without divine assistance. Man says he wants freedom and—still paraphrasing Milton—thinks he wants freedom, but as a matter of fact, he does not want freedom: and if he gets it, it is only because freedom is something that God is determined he shall have.Well, the story of the fall of Adam is a story of a breach of contract, which has always made it clear to the heart of theological lawyers, because it provides them with what passes for an explanation of the human situation. Why do we live in a world where we all die, and where we suffer various inconveniences ranging from earthquakes to mosquito bites? The answer in the Book of Genesis is: well, it was like this: many years ago, a hungry girl long past her lunch time reached for an apple on the wrong tree, and as a result, all this has taken place. The answer is insane, it's psychotic, but then, so is most theology; and at any rate, it is a kind of answer. The advantage of studying the Book of Job is that it deals with the same question: how has man come to be in this alienating situation? But there is no contract; there is no alleged explanation. There is no quasi- or pseudohistorical element in it. It is given simply in purely imaginative terms.When I was dealing with wisdom, I said that wisdom is conceived in the Bible existentially as more of an attitude of mind than as anything connected with knowledge, because knowledge is specific: it is knowledge of this or that; whereas wisdom deals more with the potential. We think, for example, of Jesus as a wise man, but not necessarily as a knowledgeable man: that is not the point about him. Wisdom, we said, was the conception of law in individualized form, the way in which law permeates society.Prophecy, we found, was an individualizing of the revolutionary spirit which seems to be peculiar to the Biblical tradition. The prophet is typically a figure who is isolated because of the unpopularity of the message he brings, and who is very frequently persecuted. He is a figure whose authority no society knows how to deal with, because society by itself has no standards for distinguishing an authority above the law from an authority below it. That is, the prophet who denounces society cannot be distinguished from the troublemaker or the subversive, and not only in the Hebrew tradition, but in Greek culture as well. As the figure of Socrates reminds us, most societies have difficulty distinguishing the authority of prophecy.Consequently, the assumption arose very early in both Judaism and Christianity that the age of the prophets was over; and this assumption was accepted with a great deal of relief. In medieval Europe, for example, there was a High King and a High Priest, a Pope and an Emperor. But there was no place for prophetic authority as such; and the fates of such people as Joan of Arc and Savonarola indicate the same difficulty that society has always had. The liberty of prophesying was one of the things that the Protestant Reformation was supposed to be all about, but Protestantism can hardly be said to have succeeded in establishing a prophetic authority. That is, its prophets never strayed very far away from pulpits: they were not really a distinct class from the priesthood. Nevertheless, that position of the prophet as an isolated or alien figure who has an authority very difficult for his own society to accommodate enters into the structure of the whole Bible.The moral significance of the life of Jesus has been traditionally assumed to be his perfect conformity to a moral code, as the one man who did not sin. But perhaps equally important is his significance as a figure that no organized or established society could possibly have tolerated. That is, the Christian teaching about who crucified Christ is not that the Romans or the Jews or whatever people happened to be there did, but that you and I did, and that all human societies without exception are involved in the crucifixion of Christ. That sense of the figure who was negatively as well as positively outside history is something that has to be taken into account in trying to see what the importance of prophecy is. Society, in order to preserve itself, has to assume the priority of its interests to those of any individual; and what the high priest Caiaphas says in the Gospel of John, 'It is expedient that one man die for the people', is a statement that has been echoed by every human being without exception at some point or other. I want to approach Job primarily as an example of a book of wisdom which cannot be satisfactorily understood without some reference to this conception of prophecy as well.The Book of Job is relatively late among Old Testament books, I suppose around 300 B.C. or thereabouts. It seems to be dramatic in construction: there are even things in it that remind us of certain things in the great tragedies, such as having the catastrophe announced by a messenger, though it is extremely unlikely that the author of Job was thinking of any kind of theatrical presentation. In fact, it is unlikely that he had seen a theater or knew what a theater was. It is more likely that the particular idiom in which Job is cast is, insofar as it is dramatic, something of an accident, because the dramatic form to which it is closest is not so much that of acted plays, whether tragedies or comedies, but to the Platonic dramatic form of the symposium, the discussion in which certain themes are pursued from different points of view.The story is an ancient folk tale; and this ancient folk tale, which is in prose, appears at the beginning and at the end of the Book of Job that we have. But the author of Job simply cut the tale in two with a pair of scissors—that is, if scissors had been invented by that time: I'm a very sloppy scholar in some respects—and between the first and the second half put this enormous expansion of the theme which is the book that we know.According to the story, then, we begin with Satan in the court of God, and that, at once, is unique. It's not just that it's a tremendous act of poetic originality that has haunted the imaginations of every great poet ever since, down to Goethe's Faust and beyond. It is also because it illustrates something I've mentioned before, that in the account of Creation at the beginning of Genesis, God is said to have separated the light from the darkness and the firmament from the chaos, the deep. So you can think of darkness and chaos as outside the Creation, and therefore as enemies of God. But the Creation actually incorporated darkness as an alternate to light, and it incorporated chaos in the form of the sea, as distinct from the land. Consequently, we can also think of chaos and darkness as incorporated dialectically within Creation, and as creatures of God rather than enemies. In most of the prophets, the forces of chaos and darkness are thought of as God's enemies, as certainly Satan is. But in the Book of Job, and there alone, both Satan and the powers of darkness are treated primarily as creatures of God, as things which he tolerates within his creation.We've already seen that a legal metaphor runs all through the Bible, and that it is appropriate therefore that we should speak of the end of all things as a Last Judgment, as a trial in which God is thought of as the judge, in which there is a defendant and a prosecutor. The role of the prosecutor is the traditional role of Satan. The word means 'adversary', and his primary function is that of the accuser of mankind. The Greek word diabolos, which is the origin of our word 'devil' originally meant or included the meaning of the person opposed in a lawsuit.So all through the Book of Job, this metaphor of a trial and a judge is hovering in the background. If you were killed in a feud, the person whose duty it was to avenge your death would be called your go'el or avenger, and the same word could be applied to someone who would go bail for you if you were accused, or who in general would take the part of the accused person. In the Book of Job, Job expresses his own confidence that he has such a defender. In Job 19:25, he says, 'I know that my go'el liveth.' The King James translation is 'redeemer', which is perhaps an overly Christianized translation: but the general sense is that he is sure that there is somebody on his side in this lawsuit. Then the question is, who is his accuser, and much more important than that, what is he being accused of? Because if there is anything particularly nightmarish about a tyranny or a rule of terror, it is the possibility of being arrested and held without being told what the charge is. That is a situation that one finds in Kafka's novel The Trial; and almost all of Kafka's writings form an extended commentary on the Book of Job.And so Job says, 'Why hasn't my adversary written a book? Why hasn't he stated the case against me?' That is of course the question to which the poem mainly addresses itself. First of all comes a disaster which wipes out his family, his goods and his possessions—all but his wife, and his wife turns against him as well. Then comes another disaster, which takes the form of boils. We are told in the opening scene that Satan is taking his usual part of prosecutor, and is telling God that according to the Code of the Book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere, he has really set things up in such a way that he can't lose. If it is in man's interest to obey the law and to follow the precepts of God, then man is an incredible fool if he does not do so. And if it is true that the good man is always rewarded, and that it is only the bad man who is punished, then God has really created a race of automata who are not free beings at all. God says, 'Well, maybe that's true: but there is one man called Job, and I think that he would stick to me no matter what happened'. And Satan says, 'All right, let's try'. And so the disasters fall.At that point, Job's three friends come to see him. The three friends have become proverbial as stupid and unimaginative people. We get this impression partly from Job himself, who says, 'Miserable comforters are ye all'; and so we tend to think of them simply as replicas of Satan in the lower world, and as carrying on the whole process of accusation. On the other hand, whatever one thinks of them, they are certainly not fair-weather friends. They have nothing to gain from coming to see Job in his utter destitution. In chapter 2, the last three verses end, 'So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights'— that's the ritual period of mourning—'and none spake a word unto him, for they saw that his grief was very great'. And so, if we are tempted to think of the three friends as stupid and unimaginative, we should not forget either those seven days of silent sympathy.At the same time, the three men, while they are devout, pious and eloquent men—they are all fine poets—still are very heavily conditioned by their own understanding of the law and the way it operates: that if you obey the Deuteronomic Code, you will be happy and prosperous, and if you don't, you'll be miserable. Job is quite clearly unhappy and miserable: so he must have done something to break the law. They begin to suggest this more and more deviously as time goes on: there is even a suggestion that Job might have done something unconsciously, as Oedipus did in Greek drama. But it is also said that Job has taken care of unintentional offenses by the sacrifices that he has made before he fell into this state of things. And in any case, Job eventually begins to understand what they are saying; and he feels outraged, not because of the imputations of divine justice, but because what he is really saying is that what has happened to him does not bear any kind of sane relationship to anything he could conceivably have done. If it is a question of punishment for wrongdoing, the situation is utterly insane, and raises more questions than it could possibly solve.The three friends and Job remain devout and pious men. Consequently, the one explanation that never once occurs to them, and never possibly could occur to them, is the one that has already been given to the reader: namely, that Job is not being punished at all, but that he is being tested for something. And the reason it couldn't have occurred to them is that the bet with Satan suggests that God has a stake of his own in the matter. That just doesn't come into their conception of the universe anywhere. But we have in fact been told that God is actually risking something, and risking it on Job's fidelity. In the kind of view of God that both Job and the friends have, he could never be as vulnerable as that in his relationships with human beings.The discussion reaches a deadlock, and we're told that these three men cease to answer Job because he was righteous in his own eyes. That is an extremely unfair comment to make about Job, and is perhaps expressed only from their point of view. Then Elihu comes in. Elihu is a later writer's addition: he came two or three centuries later probably. He says he is a young man, and consequently is following the custom which says that the old fools have to speak until their senility is fully exposed, and then he will get into the discussion himself. However, though he is a fine and eloquent poet, he doesn't really add much to the argument: he really just sums it up again. Job lets this go by without any comment at all, partly because it is a later addition. Then God himself enters the discussion, and speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.Now at first we are deeply disappointed in what God says. He is a pretty fair poet too: he's not as good as Elihu, but he begins by saying, 'Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?' If he means Elihu, he's a bit ungrateful, because he's cribbed a great deal of his speech from Elihu. But in any case, his speech seems to consist of a number of rhetorical questions, all of which, as they say in Latin grammars, expect the answer 'no'. The questions are all to the same effect: were you around when I made the world? Do you know how it was made? No? Then why are you questioning the justice of my ways? And Job says, 'Yes, Lord, I know nothing, and you know everything'. Whereupon God says, 'Well, that's better', and proceeds to restore to him everything that he had before.Now, if that is what the Book of Job actually means, then we can only conclude that some bungling and terrified poet took over the conclusion and spoiled what was originally one of the great visionary dramas in the world's history. That is the view of it that Bernard Shaw takes when he speaks of the ignoble and irrelevant retort of God at the end of the book. Bernard Shaw also has a story called The Black Girl in Quest of Her God, where a young African woman armed with a big stick goes out to find God. The first god she meets is the God of Noah's Flood, who makes thunderous noises at her, so she whacks him over the head with her knob and he disappears. Then she meets a god who says, 'Now I do love to have my creatures argue with me, so I can tell them how much wiser I am than they are. Do you have any questions?' She doesn't ask any questions, she just whacks him over the head and he disappears. Well, this is a conceivable view of the Book of Job. I don't think it is the right one: but if the King James Bible is right when it puts in its marginal headings at the top of the page that 'God convinceth Job of ignorance', then it seems to be almost the only moral that we can take from the story. So maybe we should retrace our steps a bit.In this speech of God, there is the series of rhetorical questions that I mentioned, followed by two lyrical poems at the end: at least I am going to assume that there are two. They are about two fabulous monsters that we have met already in the imagery of the Bible, a land monster named Behemoth and a sea monster named Leviathan. The New English Bible notes that behemoth is simply the intensive plural of the word for 'beast' in Hebrew, and consequently, it reduces them to one, to the Leviathan only, but I am going to ignore that. Traditionally, there have always been two, a land monster and a sea monster: you'll find them referred to even as early as II Esdras in the Apocrypha.God says in 40:15, where the two great hymns start, 'Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee', and then goes on to talk about Leviathan in chapter 41. The two animals seem to have developed out of the kernels of the hippopotamus and the crocodile. That is, they are both Egyptian animals, and it is perhaps significant that Job, although he observes the Israelite law, comes from Uz in the kingdom of Edom, and so is strictly speaking outside the jurisdiction of the Biblical countries.But we remember that the account of the Creation at the beginning of Genesis, where God creates light from darkness and the firmament from chaos, is a later development of what was originally a dragon-killing myth, and that the dragon-killing myth has been referred to many times in the Old Testament, though always as a poetic myth rather than as a matter of belief. And we see that of these two creatures, Satan and Leviathan, one appears at the beginning of the poem, the other at the end of it. And that everywhere else in the Bible, Satan is the enemy of God, and Leviathan the dragon who is to be hooked and landed in the last day. But here, Satan is a tolerated guest in the court of God. And I imagine that Goethe sums up the feeling of Job rather accurately in his Prologue in Faust where Mephistopheles walks out of heaven saying to himself, 'I like to talk to the old boy now and again; it is really very decent of him to talk to me'. Similarly, the behemoth and leviathan are not spoken of here as enemies of God, or as outside his order. God is pointing to them with something of the nervous admiration of an artist, saying, 'Look, Job, aren't they splendid, aren't they wonderful? I made them, you know: don't you like them?' And if you think of them in that context, you'll see that it is not really a problem in the poem that we hear no more about Satan, and that at the end of the poem, God makes no reference to the original deal that he made with Satan. According to our table of demonic symbols which we drew up last fall, Satan and the leviathan are metaphorically the same thing, but are simply seen from different points of view. And by pointing out these two monsters to Job, God is implying, or at least the author of the poem is implying, that Job is outside them. He must be outside them, or he couldn't see them. You remember that we are mythologically all born inside the belly of Leviathan, and that the whole fishing imagery of the Gospels is connected with that fact.So it's possible that Job is getting a genuine enlightenment and is not being told just to shut up. Further, if the conventional understanding of Job were right, that Job is merely being bullied by God into silence, then his three friends must have been right about God all along; because their point of view throughout has consistently been that God rewards the righteous and punishes the disobedient. And if that doesn't happen, then all we can say is that the ways of God are mysterious and too high for us to understand. As I say, if that is the meaning of the poem as a whole, then the friends' conception of God is vindicated. But God says explicitly that the friends are wrong in what they said about him. What they said is forgivable—they are welcomed into the community at the end—but what they have said is wrong. Another thing which seems clear is that if Job had suffered in silence all the way through the poem, there would have been no revelation either to him or to anybody else at the end. It is only because Job yells bloody murder that there is a Book of Job at all. Job's protests, his loud demands to know why this has happened, are the kind of things which indicate the integrity that God insisted he had from the first.
Northrop Frye and Michael Dolzani
Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University
TEACHERS GUIDE: Lecture 20Lecture 21, Part 1
JOB: A TEST
(Note: AV=Authorized Version, OT=Old Testament, NT=New Testament)
The fact that the Book of Job opens with Satan present in the court of God illustrates a very significant fact: that only in the Book of Job are Satan and the powers of darkness and chaos treated as creatures of God rather than as his enemies. Satan in that court is acting as the Accuser in a lawsuit, and Job expresses his faith that he will have an advocate or 'Redeemer'. Job's three friends are also thinking in terms of law and accusation, which is why they are certain that Job is being punished for some infraction of the Deuteronomic Code. But Job's case goes beyond the legal perspectives of law and even wisdom, for the reason that nothing he could possibly have done could warrant such extreme punishment. Job is rather being tested by God. To turn God's actions into a puzzle, however, turns Job's suffering into an intellectual problem of theodicy. There can never be a satisfying answer to a problem so stated: its only value is to force us to question the assumptions behind the question itself, so that by reformulating them, we might escape from the world or the mental level which they consolidate.Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts
- The tremendous act of poetic originality that opens the Book of Job with Satan in the court of God provides one key to the book's meaning. Only in the Book of Job are the darkness and chaos with which Creation began in Genesis treated as creatures of God tolerated within his Creation, rather than as excluded adversaries.
- As representative of those forces within God's court, Satan acts as the prosecutor or Accuser of mankind, carrying on the legal metaphor or 'judgment' that runs all the way through the Bible.
- Job expresses faith (19:25) that he will find an advocate or 'Redeemer', though the charges against him remain a terrifying mystery.
- Job's three friends are 'miserable comforters' for all their real devotion because, in being unwilling to believe in any situation not covered by their interpretation of the Mosaic Code, they insist that Job must necessarily have done something wrong; and in doing so, they carry on Satan's business of accusation.
- But what has happened to Job does not bear any sane relation to anything he could conceivably have done. Therefore, the legal perspective of law and wisdom, insofar at least as it is limited to ideas of reward and punishment, must be expanded in Job's case to include prophecy's vision of an entire fallen world of reality.
- Job is not being punished: he is being tested by God. God's reasons for this are bound up with the whole intellectual problem of theodicy, the question of the origin of good and evil. But there can be no satisfactory answer to a question framed in these terms.
- We are forced to return to the original mystery and reformulate the assumptions behind it. The Book of Job refuses to give an 'answer' to the situation it portrays, in order to force us to reinterpret and transform the way in which we have defined, and thereby in a sense created, that situation for ourselves.
Biblical Passages CitedJob 19:25.—'For I know that my redeemer liveth'.Job 16:2.—'Miserable comforters are ye all'.Job 2:11-13.—Job's friends: 'So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights'.The Teacher's PerspectiveThe three lectures on the Book of Job, of which this is the first, are in many ways the climax to this entire series, and recreate its content in microcosm. This is in part because the Book of Job does something similar to the entire Bible: as The Great Code says on page 193, it is 'the epitome of the narrative of the Bible, as the Book of Revelation is the epitome of its imagery'. But it is also because, like their subject, the Job lectures seem to have an impact that is particularly dramatic, even more so than the version of them that appears in The Great Code itself. For that reason, it is very satisfying to be able to preserve them in something like their original form, though the teacher should notice that, even now, material remains in the transcripts that might very well be made use of.There is another reason for this expanded treatment, however. For the purposes of this series, Job has absorbed the perspective of prophecy in such concentrated form that no separate discussion of prophecy remains in the video lectures. The advantage of this lies in the capacity of the Book of Job to isolate the salient characteristic of prophecy as a phase of revelation: the vision of reality as a fallen world, a world of radical alienation and discontinuity that becomes the dialectical opposite of the reality of custom, tradition and continuous institutions embodied in law and wisdom. These two perspectives keep recreating each other throughout the entire Biblical tradition. Though the Book of Job is sometimes classed with the wisdom books, it might be more illuminating to think of the Old Testament as divided between legal and historical material on the one hand and the more purely imaginative material of poetry and wisdom on the other, with prophecy's application of the imagination to history forming a link between them, and with Job itself as a kind of key to prophecy. The work's concerns are in themselves non-historical: Job is from Edom, not Israel, and he uses the general terms El, Elohim and Shaddai ('the Almighty') for his God. But it is in Job that we find the vision that the prophets apply to history, the vision of reality as a dark, fallen world of violence and terror. If we are not to view the prophets simply as political malcontents screaming their lungs out whenever the established authority refused to follow their recommendations, we must give them credit for some such larger vision. They are not merely wasting something like one quarter of the length of the Bible with paranoiacally-repetitive threatening and cursing: they are trying to tell us that we are living in hell.Examining the poetic aspect of the prophetic material might enable the class to make this distinction more clearly. The teacher may ask the students to discuss how the political propaganda aspect of the prophets' message is in tension with the visionary and imaginative thrust of its highly figurative language: why should the latter remain so prominent, as well as so haunting to posterity, if the prophets were only looking for a violent chastisement of their enemies or even of their own people? Comparison with examples of real political propaganda might help to make this difference clear.Nowhere is the pre-eminence of figurative language in prophecy more apparent than in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55). The class may find the comparison with Job to be very striking, not only in the imagery of the 'suffering servant' and the idea that redemption might come out of victimage and endurance, but in the repeated use of the same term go'el, 'redeemer'. Scholars find it striking too: some of them even hypothesize a direct influence, given the probable closeness of the two texts in date of composition (somewhere in the area of the 6th-4th centuries B.C.).But Job has other, more general resemblances to prophecy. We may remember that Elijah, the archetypal prophet, is also spoken to by God in connection with a violent wind (I Kings 19:11-12). A windstorm is a common Biblical accompaniment to a theophany, and some scholars think that this goes back to the alleged origins of Yahweh as a desert storm god (or maybe storm demon). But what is more important is that Elijah, in making his way back to Mt. Horeb, is repeating the original covenant-making ceremony of Moses with God; and that Job, in his own encounter with God, is also both repeating and transcending the conditions of that original contract, and thereby expanding the legal perspective that had come down from it. If this seems at first only a farfetched analogy, it would be well to remember how intensely Job recapitulates the vision of the entire Bible, including the Exodus-dominated perspective of so much of the Old Testament. As The Great Code puts it: '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' (197).It is interesting to examine how the question of good and evil and the problem of suffering inevitably frame themselves in a legal perspective, so that metaphors of trial and imprisonment are hovering in the background. In Christian legalism, the rationalization for the existence of evil and suffering is the doctrine of original sin, which goes back to the sense of a contract or covenant with God that was broken by Adam. Though Christ is supposed to have redeemed us from Adam's sin, and left us baptism as the perpetual renewal of his redemptive act through history, most versions of Christianity have prudently postponed the final efficacy of his redemption until the end of time. Even Milton, pressured to explain why, if Christ has already redeemed us, tyranny and corruption are still flourishing, ends by putting some self-defensive speeches in God's mouth in Paradise Lost , Book III.The political version of the legal argument is traditionally the idea of the social contract, put forth in positive terms by Edmund Burke and in negative ones by Rousseau. It is usually dependent at some point on its religious counterpart, since it bases its claim for the necessity of law and authority on the assertion that the heart of man is fundamentally corrupt. If we are tempted to dismiss these as a blatant rationalization for tyranny, however, we may remember Prof. Frye's remark that what the high priest Caiaphas said in the Gospel of John (11:50) has been echoed at some point by every human being whatsoever: that it is expedient that one man die for the people. The teacher may have the class read some version of the quintessential statement of this problem of 'the greatest good for the greatest number', a parable whose power to haunt the imagination has caused it to be repeated by a number of writers, including Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain (the chapter called 'Snow') and Ursula LeGuin in 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas'. The dilemma is this: if the whole world's suffering were to be ended, and the only price exacted were that one innocent child were to be tortured forever in a back room of Utopia, would you consent to it? Can one avoid being involved in guilt by either choice, in fact, since to say no is to condemn untold numbers of other people to suffering and death?The point of this story is that it is essentially a retelling of the legal aspect of the Book of Job. One condition of the bargain is that the child is never even to be told why he is being tormented, so that from his point of view, his sufferings will seem as mysterious as Job's do to him. The students will probably be familiar with the story of the young Charles Dickens in the debtors' prison and the blacking factory, recounted in fictional terms in David Copperfield, and be able to realize how Dickens in a very real way personally re-enacted that parable, with shattering effect on his personality. The image of the tormented child or childlike person shows up relentlessly in his fiction: from Mr. Pickwick to Amy Dorrit, who is swallowed up by the Marshalsea, the prison where Dickens went with his family. In Little Dorrit, the prison not only becomes the same kind of symbol as Leviathan in the Book of Job, but in a passage where shafts of sunlight become bars of the prison of 'this lower world', the whole world is suddenly revealed as being caught in that prison, engulfed by that Leviathan. It is the saintlike Little Dorrit herself who becomes the go'el, the redeemer, for the hero Arthur Clennam. Biblical images in this novel are nearly obsessive: Clennam's Calvinistic and self-righteous mother has a picture of the plagues of Egypt on her wall, just to make sure that we get the message.The point is that no real God could be the kind of judge implied by a child-tormenting parable: the legal perspective, in its simplistic formulation at least, has to be transcended, which is one reason why the bet with Satan drops out of the Book of Job itself. The question has to be reformulated. The whole business of asking better questions is really another aspect of the idea of phases of revelation, the sense of an increasingly-expanding comprehension. The teacher may have the class look at Shaw's The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, mentioned by Prof. Frye in the transcripts, which reads like a humorous version of Blake's Seven Eyes of God. On a more serious level, there is Jung's Answer to Job, with its idea of a blind, unconscious deity who has to develop into consciousness and discrimination, of which more later in these programs. There is also a profoundly relevant passage in Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God, volume 4, Creative Mythology, called 'The Symbol Without Meaning'. Finally, on a more abstract and philosophical level, the French philosopher of language Jacques Derrida has founded his influential philosophy of deconstructionism on the postulate that symbols, including words in a language, do not point to meanings, but only to other symbols, since any 'meaning' we give for a verbal symbol has to be articulated with other verbal symbols. Thus, there is never any meaning or 'signified': there is only an endless chain of symbols or 'signifiers'; which is to say that there are no answers, only different questions. But in Derrida, we are stuck with the 'letter', the signifier; the spirit, the meaning or signified, turns out to be an illusion, and we are left with the ironic images of an imprisoning 'chain of signifiers' and a riddling labyrinth of language, Leviathan with his mouth sealed shut.Supplementary Reading1. Biblical PassagesIsaiah 53.—The suffering servant.I Kings 19:11-12.—Elijah at Mt. Horeb.John 11:50.—'It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people'.2. Corresponding Passages in The Great CodeChapter Five. Typology II.pp. 125-29. Prophecy.Chapter Seven. Myth II.pp. 193-98. The Book of Job.Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions
- Prof. Frye refers to theodicy as 'that dreary chess game'. Given the meaning of the film, how does this evoke that actual chess game that the Knight plays against Death in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal? Are there ways in which this film resembles the Book of Job? What Biblical echoes are found in it?
- Provide some examples to illustrate Prof. Frye's remark that Kafka's works can be considered an extended commentary on the Book of Job.
- Discuss Yeats' poem 'At Algeciras: A Meditation Upon Death' in light of our discussion of the Book of Job.