Job

It’s been a while since I posted anything substantial, and I have to point to microbes as the culprits. About two weeks ago Micah got the flu. Then Mary got a virus that wasn’t the flu. Then I got a bacterial something-or-other (perhaps strep?) that was unrelated to the previous two. Then Micah got strep. Then it was Wednesday of this week before I finally had a full day to work.

So unfortunately, I’ve been coasting to some extent through Job. I have done some real intellectual work on this unit, retooling the way I teach the text to focus on Job as a character and an intellectual (a la Hamlet, really), but I still feel like I’m cheating the book. Fortunately, J.B. is a strong enough play that it pretty much teaches itself; the fast-moving scenes are packed with philosophical land mines, and such land mines make for good class discussions.

In the world of Beowulf, we’re about to translate our way into Grendel’s lair, and Dr. Evans laid out a plan today to catch us back up from his sickness. I translated for three solid hours yesterday, translating over a hundred lines and pushing my brain past translation into reading for one of the first times in my Old English career. My hope is that I’ll be able to reach that once or twice more before the semester’s out. There’s really nothing like thinking in another language as far as intellectual thrills go. I’ve had it happen to me a couple times each in Greek and Hebrew, and such experiences make me hope that wherever I land professionally, I’ll be able to teach some sort of language classes as I go.

Hopefully I’ll have some hours really to plan this week’s Job lessons. I’m realizing on this read just how interesting Job is as a character, what he sees that his interlocutors don’t. For the first time I’m realizing that the shape of the story might be secondary to Job’s own intellectual flights. I had been so focused before on Job’s speeches as apologiae that I hadn’t paid attention to their particulars, to the ways that he sees.

For instance, in today’s readings (chapters 8-10), Job does not simply participate in Bildad’s game of blame-and-respond but deconstructs (I couldn’t come up with a less trendy word) the very categories in which Bildad’s game happens, noting that the same judge that Bildad would have the innocent man convince is also the blaming prosecutor. (Job isn’t aware of chapter one’s divine bet, I don’t think.) With one character playing so many roles, Job protests, there’s no chance of his winning that game. And even as he waxes theological, another level of meaning critiques Eliphaz and Bildad themselves. (At this point in the book, Zophar and Elihu haven’t yet chimed in.)

In another for instance, chapter 9 ends with Job saying that he would speak his mind if he weren’t afraid of spurring the wrath of God. Then the form of chapter ten is a series of indirect statements that go something like, “But if I could speak freely and without fear to God, I’d say…” The arm’s-length distancing of himself from his words is brilliant, and the things he hypothetically might say but won’t be blamed for saying are positively acidic.

Ah, I have a great job…

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5 Comments

Filed under Bible, teaching

5 responses to “Job

  1. Anonymous

    Two questions for you:
    What do you make of the ending of J.B.?
    How do your observations about Job 9-10 fit in with the legal picture painted in Job 13?

    -Adrienne

  2. Nathan P. Gilmour

    I think the ending of J.B. is just as sickening as Nickles thinks it is, but it’s also pretty true to life as I understand it.

    With regards to Job 13, I think that Job is still running with the distortions in the courtroom metaphor, daring once more to point to the injustice of the divine courtroom. I take ch. 13 to be a rhetorical extension of the “if I could make God listen, I’d say thus” motif from chs. 9-10.

    The courtroom metaphor is something that Job manipulates throughout his speeches, and part of the grand shock at the end of the book is that the theophany happens in terms completely alien to Job’s and to the friends’ metaphors. Instead of Job’s being on trial for whatever precipitated the events of chs. 1-2, he’s shouted down for even presuming to take God to court. Yet the fault for situating it thus falls on Job’s friends, thus Job’s having to pray on their behalf (or sacrifice; I forget which, and I don’t have a text in front of me).

    That’s how I make sense of the legal language throughout, anyway. I see Job’s interlocutors initiating it, Job refusing the terms in which they offer, and God dispelling the metaphor entirely. To “answer like a man” is to acknowledge one’s position not as an equal but as a creature, to accept divine wisdom without presuming to make system of it.

    Or at least that’s how I’ll likely teach it to my freshmen. 😉

  3. Anonymous

    I guess I was wondering more along the lines of the way J.B.’s end response and “answer” seems to differ from Job’s.

  4. Nathan P. Gilmour

    I think I see what you’re getting at. Whereas Job’s concern with verisimilitude ends with “There once was a man in the land of Uz,” I’d say that MacLeish spends more time and energy asking how actual people go on living after Jobish things happen. Hence my initial answer. It’s sickening in light of what justice should be, but it is true to what I’ve seen when people I’ve known have lost everything.

    So I suppose I’d say that J.B. doesn’t have an “answer” in the way that Job does; the characters, who turn out to be far more “real” than the out-of-work actors Zuss and Nickles, and they go on with life the way that “real” people do. Honestly, I think that’s part of the brilliance of the work–whereas Nickles can’t turn loose of the play when the play is over, J.B. and Sarah, as the old farts often note, were never acting at all.

  5. Nathan P. Gilmour

    I realize I left a subordinate clause hanging in the void on that last post. Pardon my slip; I’ve been grading freshman papers.

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