Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: The Book of Job: A Biography


The University of Princeton Press has a provocative series entitled, Lives of Great Religious Books. This series studies the creation, history, interaction, and influence of revered religious books throughout the ages.

One new entry into the series is Mark Larrimore's The Book of Job. Larrimore's book is not only a history of Job but a study of the history of human philosophy about suffering and God's involvement in human suffering. The problem of  suffering presented in Job, are these: Can the reason behind a particular person's suffering be fully known to any but God? Can it be fully understood by human reasoning? Is one human being's suffering innately incomprehensible to other humans? Is God behind human suffering? Does God have to explain himself to the sufferer (and if He did would the sufferer understand the wisdom of an almighty otherworldy inscrutable (and personal) God? Job is at its essence a book about interpreting pain and about discourses on understanding the mind of God.

Larrimore begins his book with a brief introduction which begins somewhat academically while it quickly traces the problem of Job. The introduction ends surprisingly with a very elegant heartfelt commentary on friendship and on how the book posits its readers. Such an introduction happily prepares the reader for the writer's academic skill as well as the writer's heart.

Larrimore goes on to show how mistranslations, lack of knowledge of Hebrew, lost or wrongly-placed passages, the translator's choice of words, emotional state, ethical temperaent, misconceptions about the idea of "patience," the interpreter's acquaintance (or lack thereof) with grief and suffering, and a saccharine idea of Job have affected the book's history.

He begins this by discussing the apocryphal "Testament of Job," a book which in effect smooths out the rough places and makes all of Job's suffering palatable by explaining everything that could be challenging to the righteous mind's conception of God and God's goodness to His followers. The portions and summary of Testament of Job which Larrimore excerpts sound like a fairytale, which the Book of Job (which the western Bible has) decidely is not.

Larrimore includes rabbinical discourse and --later on-- Christian religious (of the major denominations) about the Book of Job. In addition, he shows how Christian secular (Chaucer) and not-so secular (Voltaire and the enlightenment, Rene Girard, Elie Weisel, and David Rosenberg have attempted to decipher and understand the mind, heart, and artifice behind the book of Job.

In the end, Larrimore states:
"Keeping company with Job, as friend or interpreter, is a worthy activity. Only the one who sees no challenge in Job or the questions his book is thought to raise should be dismissed. Recognizing that Job's questions are not only 'unfinalized' in the book of Job, but 'unfinalizable', we may conclude that our obligation is to keep the retelling going in all its difficulty."
The Book of Job: A Biography is highly recommended.







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