Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Book of Job: A Biography

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Book of Job: A Biography

Article excerpt

The Book of Job: A Biography BY MARK LARRIMORE PRINCETON, Z96 PAGES, $Z4-95

The book of Job has served as a philosophical Rorschach blot for its most outspoken interpreters, from the Talmudic rabbis and Church Fathers through their medieval philosophical successors and down to modern philosophers, theologians, and creative writers. The individual characters in whose elusive speech the narrative unfolds-God, Satan, Job himself, his three interlocutors, the belated guest Elihu-tend to become stock representatives of philosophical positions or exemplars of religious judgment.

Mark Larrimore has undertaken the daunting task of capturing this two-thousand-year record of interpretation. He spends significant time on the pseudepigraphic Testament of Job, in which Satan is a ubiquitous agent of temptation while Job remains pious throughout. Larrimore implies that this work is a reaction to the rebellious Job of the biblical book and that the proverbial "patience of Job" in the Epistle of James is influenced by the Testament.

For Larrimore the medieval and early modern periods mark the rise of the Book of Job as disputation, with Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin as his chosen representatives. These writers see the book through the prism of the question of evil. Maimonides is the first of them to ascribe specific philosophical views to Job and to the other speakers in the dialogue. For the sake of argumentative consistency and focus, Maimonides dismisses many powerful emotional passages as philosophically irrelevant digressions. Other theologians, in the service of Job's pious image, play down his pungent sayings. Calvin, for whom Job is a vehicle for communicating the transcendence and inscrutability of God, cites some of Eliphaz's utterances as if they were Job's, assuming, as did other Jewish and Christian writers, that all Scripture delivers the same message, irrespective of the speaker.

With the modern problem of theodicy, the readings of Job that attract Larrimore's attention are increasingly embedded in larger philosophical, literary, or academic projects. …

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