In this part of the book I shall examine two quite different biblical figures, whose treatment over subsequent centuries has diverged considerably from their biblical starting points. Inevitably what happened to one of them—the Virgin Mary, the subject of Chapter 5 —is much the better known, but no less dramatic changes occurred in treatments of the story of Job (the topic of the earlier Chapter 4). Linking an undoubted historical figure such as Mary with someone who may never have existed may seem odd, 1 but, though in my discussion of Mary consideration will be given to the extent to which the biblical narratives that concern her are historical, this is not where our primary focus will lie. Rather, I want to use the two figures to illustrate the way in which the biblical narrative, far from closing options, has in the past operated as a powerful stimulus towards new insights into the nature of discipleship, Jewish as well as Christian, particularly in response to changing patterns of human experience. Wider cultural changes mean that suffering has not always been experienced in the same way, and neither has the impact on Christians of the image of Mary.
It seems to me implausible to suggest that the resultant insights derived from the inherent meaning of the text alone. Although, as we shall see, it is possible to identify some promising biblical trajectories, not only was the precise course they eventually took heavily dependent on other factors, sometimes the net result was