Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Convocation on Job - Session I

It's been almost two weeks since the Convocation on Job and its high time I wrote more than the few words I posted shortly after the event.

Links to the other posts in this series.
Overview of Session II - James Sanders
Overview of Session III - John Wilcox
Overview of Session IV - George Pixley

Loren Fisher's recent work on the Book of Job provided the impetus for this gathering. So it was fitting that Loren spoke first. He reviewed his work, added a few new thoughts, set his work within a philosophical context. Ziony Zevit, Distinguished Professor in Bible Northwest Semitic Languages, at the University of Judaism responded to Loren's remarks. The following three sessions, which I will discuss in future posts, each began with a different scholar's reflections on Job and Loren's work with Loren responding. In a final session, Loren provided a summary of his thoughts after the daylong event and favored us with two original poems written for the occasion. I will post one of them near the end of this series. John Cobb presided over this first session.

Loren's presentation was a tour de force ranging from Whitehead's observations concerning "flashes of freedom," to the Babylonian Theodicy and other Akkadian tales to the extent of Egyptian influence on the whole of the Near East. The last point was illustrated with reference to The Story of Sinuhe, The Eloquent Peasant, The Story of Wen-Amon and, perhaps most important for the understanding of Job, The Man and His Ba.

To a large extent, Loren's opening comments assumed that those in attendance were familiar with his scholarly works of Job (The Rebel Job) and his novels. His novels are The Jerusalem Academy and The Minority Report, Silenced by Religion are also extremely relevant. For those who were not at the Convocation on Job, I will outline Loren's position as can be seen in the above works and integrate some of his opening remarks in this post.

It may seem strange to many academics that works of fiction play a role in communicating one's scholarly position. I hope you will come to see why Loren uses fiction in the way he does and to appreciate its use.

The highest level explanation of Loren's position takes the present Book of Job as two interacting stories that once had, at least for a short time, an independent existence. Of course, as he acknowledges, he is not the first to have this position. To arrive fully at the current Book, one must add certain supplemental material like the wisdom poem in Job 28 and the speeches of Elihu (Job 32-37) to the two Job hypotheses.

According to Loren, Old Job, Job I, is a very old story indeed, having its origin in the Bronze Age if not earlier. It shares this old age with the story of Dan'el, now known from Ugarit, who, along with Job and Noah in Ezekiel 14:14-20, as examples of particularity righteous people of old. Job I survives in the following parts of the Book of Job: Job 1:1-2:13 (the prose prologue), Job 27:1-23, Job 29:1-31-41, Job 38:1-42:17 with its prose epilogue. Loren actually divides the prologue a little more finely but it is not very important to the over all understanding of his interpretation. See Job 3-28, Who Hears the Cries of the Innocent, page 16. In Job I, Job is orthodox. He believes the just are rewarded and the evil are punished. And while, based on his own experience, he is somewhat confused about this, he believes God has some reason behind his actions.

Loren tells us that Rebel Job, Job II (Job 3:1-26:14) reacted against the orthodox position. This Job is "far from orthodox." While the Job of Job II is not an atheist in the modern sense, he does believe that the god of Job I and of his friends in Job II is dead. Whatever remains of god is neither just nor omnipotent. It is this Rebel Job that Loren and I admire. He represents what Whitehead referred to as one of those "flashes of freedom." As such, Job II joins many of the Egyptian works cited by Loren as also representing such flashes.

But alas, the Rebel's poem could not withstand the orthodox backlash for long. Job II becomes integrated into the old Job I story. By this action, Job II is "baptized" into the very orthodox tradition it sought to overcome. How did all this come about? No one knows. It is here that Loren turns to fiction and places the origin of Job II within a scribal school associated with David's court in Jerusalem. The strong negative reaction comes from the Priests who are also associated with David's court and from David himself. Remember this is fiction. While I think Loren believes that most of the book as we have it today originated by this process at the time of David, he knows that this cannot be adequately supported on the existing evidence so he turns to fiction. But what is to be learned from The Minority Report, Silenced by Religion is not primarily that the book of Job goes back to the time of David but that it resulted from a two fold reaction, first a reaction against the orthodox position of Job I and secondly a reaction against the unorthodox position of Job II. For Loren, one should read the Book of Job as two works that stand in opposition each to the other.

Ziony Zevit responded to Loren's opening statement. I do not have the benefit of a written copy of Zevit's remarks and my notes have gotten a little cold and were not so good to begin with, so forgive me if I don't get this exactly right. Zevit tried to show that the Rebel Job may not be quite the Rebel Loren thinks. First, according to the worldview in the Hebrew Bible, everyone, the righteous and the unrighteous alike, go to She'ol when they die. Second, there is not a problem if one ignores YHWH. The prohibition is against trafficking in other gods. Job II, in his view of how god treats both the righteous and the unrighteous, is in line with the general perception of what happens at the end of one's life. And Job II does not turn to other gods; he only turns away from YHWH (here called Eloah). For these reasons, Job II can be understood within the Israelite religious context. Zevit's position was, in many ways, the most supportive of Loren's. He took Loren's position very seriously and tried to provide an explanation of how Job II could have arisen and been maintained. In so doing, he made the rebel a little less rebellious than Loren might have liked.

I will be sharing more of Loren's position over the next few post on the Convocation. I will also give my take on the many issues raised in a final post. Don't think I will let any of these scholars get way completely free. But the next post will be on James A. Sanders' paper on Job and Loren's reaction to it.

Update: April 3, 2007
Added link to session II post

Update: April 8, 2007
Added link to session III post

Update: April 10, 2007
Added link to session IV post


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this website for a Hegelian philosophical reading of the Book of Job.

4:00 PM  

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