In my last post I reviewed a book by William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation, that read God’s speeches in the Book of Job as a creation story. This was a very new perspective for me. It made me take a look back at my little journey through Job in recent months. I’ve been reading Job all my life, but for the most part it’s been through the lens of pure theology, particularly theodicy, the problem of evil. But I’ve been hugging Job’s book tightly for three months now, and the rewards have been at least three vital and new ways of reading this ancient text.
- With Robert Alter, I learned to think of the Book of Job as poetry. I learned to hear God’s answer to Job as particular words which in their very form spoke to the form of Job’s words. I learned, in short, that there was content to be looked for in the form of the words.
- With Tom McLeish, I learned to think of the Book of Job as a text curious about the natural world and its workings – a text that asked questions about what we would call scientific subjects. I learned, in this vein, to hear God’s questions to Job as modern-day scientists often do when they read this Biblical text, as questions about nature, and not as rhetorical blasts of sarcasm.
- With William P. Brown, I learned to recognize that the Book of Job was meant to present readers with forms of life that were wild and beyond all human understanding at the time. This tells me in turn that to step into Job’s shoes I must think of wild horses and mountain goats not as I think of them but as Job would have – not as Nat Geo specimens barely able to raise my interest on a Friday afternoon, but as creatures that Job would feel desperately lucky to see from a distance of a hundred meters, if ever: living things, the sighting of which would make him genuinely stop and linger, would leave him with a frustrating and tantalizing memory. I must think of Leviathan not as a modern would see it, ie, a mythical-and-thus-bloodless thing, but as it would be for Job, a terrifying reality.
This is all very similar to when I read Moby-Dick and I must think of the sperm whale not as an exhibit as the Museum of Natural History but as Melville regarded it in the 19th century – as Job’s still-living Leviathan.
The only way for me to do any of this as a modern is to do as Brown does, and to imagine God answering Job in the present day by taking him into the oceans – the only place on earth that remains an unknown wilderness to us. So I must hear God asking me to think of eyeless sharks living beyond light at depths of 20,000 feet; to imagine the countless species that scientists surmise to live undiscovered in the deep waters; or still other species that have been as yet rarely glimpsed. When I do that, then I can be shaken into something like the despairing but perduring and aching wonder that Job must have felt when God took him on that whirlwind tour.
I’ve now discovered that Brown did a podcast about Job only a few weeks ago: Job 38–41 (The Divine Speeches) with William P. Brown.
The podcast is hosted at The Two Testaments, and it’s available at YouTube:
The podcast draws largely from another work of Brown’s, which I haven’t read, Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature.
The podcast covers serious matters but is genuinely fun, and Brown manages to bring out the wonder that he argues Job must have felt.
Some highlights for me: the mistranslation of the famous verse in Job 42:6 (“dust and ashes”); a lovely connection with Proverbs 30:17-18 (“there are three things that are too amazing for me”); God describing himself as provider and midwife; and the theme of creation’s wildness.