Job after Auschwitz

By Haar, Murray J. | Interpretation, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Job after Auschwitz


Haar, Murray J., Interpretation


More than any other book of the Bible, Job lends itself to addressing the theological implications of the Holocaust. As the biblical Job called God to account for his own suffering, so God-and we-must be called to account for the victims of the Holocaust.

ALTHOUGH "MIDRASH" IS NOT A FAMILIAR WORD to many Christians, it is intimately related to the way Christians have interpreted Old Testament tradition. Historically, midrash was a form of biblical interpretation that mediated between tradition and certain unprecedented events that questioned or transformed such tradition. After the Babylonian exile, for example, Jews debated with Jews over why the event had occurred and where God was in the midst of such evil. There were differing answers. Some urged a return to the Torah. Others offered apocalyptic resolutions. Still others blamed God. Such responses were given expression in midrashim, which intended to recast earlier tradition in light of this milestone event. Indeed, a number of biblical texts can be considered midrashic: Third Isaiah, for example, is a midrash on earlier portions of Isaiah; much of Revelation can be considered a midrash on Daniel. Broadly speaking, the Book of Job should also be included. Whereas older Wisdom traditions upheld various notions of retribution, Job did not. Job reexamined these notions by comparing the undeserved sufferings of a nation in exile, Israel, to the sufferings of an innocent man.

Similarly, the early church called for a reexamination of ancient Israel's scriptures. Even though the Old Testament does not specifically or explicitly mention Christ, the very fact that Christ had come in history allowed Christian exegetes and tradents to read the Hebrew scriptures as if Christ were present in the text. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were events of such revelatory significance that Israel's scriptures had to be interpreted in light of them. The goal of midrash, thus, was to preserve tradition and at the same time propose new ways of thinking that would sustain tradition. Midrash claimed to make explicit what was believed to be implicit in the text in light of an event experienced as nothing less than revelatory.

But what distinguishes authentic midrash from mere imaginative fiction? Midrash must be authenticated by a community. Midrash has validity only when a community finds that a certain text discloses a truth of scripture in response to a decisive historical event or context, such as the Babylonian exile or the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today, Jews and Christians live under the shadow of the Holocaust, an unprecedented manifestation of evil that requires readers of scripture to reexamine the ancient texts. As one who sees the Holocaust as revelatory, I am compelled to reinterpret scripture in light of this event. In particular, I have read the Book of Job through the eyes of the Holocaust. Why Job? Of all the books of the Bible, Job confronts most directly the problem of evil and innocent suffering in the world; it broaches most honestly the conundrum of God's responsibility in catastrophe or suffering. The Book of Job, which may have been a response to the catastrophic event of the exile, is then a natural resource for reflecting on theodicy. What follows is a midrash on the biblical Job that is cast as a sequel to the book. This midrash, like the Book of Job, profiles a defiant protagonist who is willing to push the theological envelope vis-a-vis a new catastrophe, the Holocaust.

A midrash

Fifty years ago in the small Polish village of Krasnobrod, Job came to live among the Jews of Poland. Among the twenty-eight hundred Jews of the village, Job encountered refugees from other small towns and hamlets across Poland who told of what had happened in their villages. The Nazis had come, rounded up all the Jews and marched them out of town. The men, women, girls, and boys were made to undress. They were forced to dig holes in the ground.

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