Gita and Job, shoutout to JRR

Time again to draw some lines between texts, for fun and maybe more.

Texts today: Book of Job, Bhagavad Gita, Lord of the Rings, Gilgamesh

Compare –

Your hands have formed me and made me,
Put me together—then destroyed me!
Mind now, it is you who made me like clay,
And will return me to the dust!

He elevates nations, then disperses them;
He expands nations, then deports them.

Job 10:8-9, 12:23 (Edward L. Greenstein)

– to these passages in the Gita:

And I am all-snatching Death, and I am too the birth of all that shall come into being. Among feminine qualities I am glory and beauty and speech and memory and intelligence and steadfastness and forgiveness.

I am the Time-Spirit, destroyer of the world, arisen huge-statured for the destruction of the nations.

X, 34 and XI, 32 (Sri Aurobindo)

Compare –

He removes language from orators,
And takes sense away from elders.

Job 12:20 (Greenstein)

– to these two passages in the Gita:

Of orators, I am the speech

X, 32 (Stephen Mitchell)

(Other translations have logicians or debaters, etc., instead of orators.)

I am in all hearts,
I give and take away
Knowledge and memory

XV, 15 (Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood)

Compare –

As a hearing by the ear I have heard you,
And now my eye has seen you.

Job 42:5 (Greenstein)

– to this in the Gita:

I am thrilled,
and yet my mind
trembles with fear
at seeing
what has not been seen before.
Show me, God, the form I know—
be gracious, Lord of Gods,
Shelter of the World.

XI, 45 (Barbara Stoler Miller)

Compare –

But whence does wisdom come,
And what is the site of understanding?

It is hidden from the eyes of the living,
Concealed from the birds of the sky.

Abaddon and Death say,
“Our ears have heard something about it.”

Job 28:20-22 (Greenstein)

– to this in the Gita:

Some perceive it directly
in all its awesomeness; others
speak of it with wonder; others
hear of it and never know it.

II, 29 (Mitchell)

Compare Eliphaz taunting Job –

Call out now! Does anyone answer you?
To whom of the holy ones can you turn?

Job 5:1 (Greenstein)

– to Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh:

But, as for you, O Gilgamesh, who will convene the Gods on your behalf?  Who will speak for you, that you may obtain life everlasting which you seek?  Come now, let us ascertain if you are worthy and put you to the test.

Tablet XI (Gerald J. Davis)

Compare Job mourning in silence –

And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word to him, for they saw that the pain was very great.

Afterward, Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.

Job 2:13, 3:1 (Robert Alter)

– to this passage from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”:

Such was the tale that Nár brought back to Thráin; and when he had wept and torn his beard he fell silent. Seven days he sat and said no word. Then he stood up and said: ‘This cannot be borne!’

“The Return of the King”, Appendix A-III (“Durin’s Folk”)

Finally, these words by God about the creation of the heavens and the earth –

when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy

Job 38:7 (Alter)

– remind me of this passage in “The Return of the King”:

Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

Stephen Mitchell, in the introduction to his translation of the Gita, makes the link with Job:

The vision of God as elemental undifferentiated energy is an aspect of the truth, a difficult aspect for many Western readers to understand or accept. There is little precedent for it in our own scriptures, which split the universe into good and evil and place God solely on the side of the good. The only exceptions are the Voice from the Whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job and a single, hair-raising verse from Second Isaiah: “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” [Is. 45:7]

A recent essay, by Eric Nicholson, linking Job to Eastern religion:

The Lord Answering Job Out of the Whirlwind (William Blake)

3 thoughts on “Gita and Job, shoutout to JRR

    1. I agree with that completely. The links with Eastern religion, as always, may be superficial, or they might mean something; but Tolkien may actually have drawn directly on the Book of Job, and the links with LOTR were the ones I really enjoyed making, in this post. If you find evidence that Nain’s mourning was based on Job’s in any way, pass it along, and thanks as always for commenting.

      1. In my undergraduate days, I read a Pure Land Buddhist text. If one had substituted Jesus Christ for Amitabha Buddha and Heaven for the Pure Land in the West, one would have had a Christian hymn.

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