Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Was Job a real person?

1. Not surprisingly, recent commentaries on Job (e.g. Gerald Wilson, John Walton, Tremper Longman) question or deny the historicity of Job. Not just the protagonist, but the book as a whole. I say "not surprisingly," because evangelical scholarship has shifted to the left.  

i) One contention is that the historicity of Job has no bearing on the theological lessons in the book. But that's a somewhat circular claim to evaluate. If, in fact, Job is fictional, then it's theological value is independent of historicity. But, of course, its historicity is the very question at issue. So we can't just assume the conclusion.

ii) All things being equal, whether or not Job was a real person does seem to be quite germane to the theological value of the book. When pious Jews and Christians find themselves in the midst of a personal ordeal, they take encouragement from the fact that other believers have gone through the same kind of ordeal. They endured. God preserved them. They emerged intact on the other side of the ordeal. 

If, however, Job is a fictional character, then he wasn't really hurting. He couldn't be hurt. 

In that event, his survival doesn't give us any concrete encouragement. He didn't experience the doubts and emotions that real believers experience in that situation. He didn't actually work through that ordeal. 

I think Job loses most of its inspirational value if the historicity of the protagonist is denied. At that level it's about as edifying as movies about superheroes who overcome great adversity. 

iii) A stock objection to the historicity of Job is the speeches. Surely a grieving man (and his friends) didn't really talk in those long, highflown speeches. Likewise, the symmetry of the beginning and ending, where his restoration doubles what he had before. Isn't that unrealistic?

And there's undoubtedly a grain of truth to that objection. But it's a shallow objection. 

Poetry and historicity are not antithetical. Take the Psalter. Take historical Psalms like Pss 78, 105, 106, 136). These are historical overviews, historical narratives, of God's dealings with ancient Israel. The form is poetic, but the content is historical. 

Or take the Psalms of David and Asaph. These are autobiographical. When David and Asaph prayed in private, I don't think they used that elevated language. Yet these psalms are based on real prayers, real-life experience. Because they were written for public consumption, they are stylized. They tone up the original language. Use picturesque metaphors. 

But it's not fictional. David and Asaph were real people. They had to face real challenges. They prayed real prayers. These aren't just literary constructs. 

2. A related question is whether the antagonist in Job 1-2 is the devil. Once again, it's not surprising that the same commentators distance themselves from the traditional identification.

i) One objection is that the designation is a title, not a proper name. It has a definite article. Therefore, it should be rendered the Adversary or the Accuser rather than Satan. 

I think that's true as far as it goes. Of course, to call the antagonist the Adversary or the Accuser would be perfectly consistent with his diabolical identity. Indeed, Rev 12:10 refers to Satan as the "accuser of the brethren" (KJV). 

ii) Recent commentators identify the antagonist as a member of the divine council. But as I read it, he isn't included as a regular member of that body. Rather, he happens to present himself on that occasion. He might just as well be a former member. 

iii) Commentators also think it's unrealistic that Satan would retain that kind of access to God. Wasn't he expelled from heaven? Surely they deactivated his keycard. He can't swipe the lock and enter the throne room whenever he pleases. 

In a sense, I agree, but it's a shallow objection. The entire depiction is anthropomorphic. And that's true concerning Biblical scenes of heaven generally. 

I don't think God dwells in a celestial palace. I don't think he holds an audience with the angelic entourage in the throne room. That's picture language, borrowed from earthly examples.

If God and angels are supersensible beings, they don't have face-to-face meetings. They don't communicate with each other in Hebrew. 

So the question is how do angels relate to God? I assume it's mind-to-mind rather than face-to-face. They communicate telepathically. 

(BTW, it's interesting that even people born blind can dream. But they have auditory dreams.)

In that sense, Satan does have access to God. He can make his thoughts known to God. God knows what Satan is thinking. And Satan can direct his thoughts to God, just as Christians in silent prayer can direct their thoughts to God. 

Indeed, God knows what Satan is up to even when Satan would prefer to be incognito and incommunicado. God is a mind-reader. 

So the question is whether God would respond to Satan. The answer depends whether it serves his purpose to respond to Satan.  

And, in fact, Job is a case in point. The Adversary thinks he's using God, but in reality, God is using the Adversary. 

iv) This also goes to the question of the antagonist's character in Job 1-2. Suppose the antagonist in Gen 1-2 is morally ambiguous. We can't tell if he's good or evil.

Yet that, of itself, is suspicious. There are only two kinds of angels: fallen and unfallen. Good and evil. 

Humans are morally ambiguous, but angels are not. Fallen angels are evil. There's no residual good. 

At the same time, it often serves the purpose of evil agents to conceal their true character. To pretend to be well-meaning.  

Even if the antagonist in Job 1-2 comes across as morally neutral, that, itself, is morally dubious. 

I'd also add that he cuts a very different figure than Michael or Gabriel. They're ultimate loyalties are not ambiguous. 

v) However, I don't think the antagonist in Job 1-2 is morally ambiguous. As Hartley points out, he's a troublemaker. 

Moreover, the Adversary isn't really impugning Job's fidelity. Rather, he's using Job as a stalking horse to impugn God's wisdom. The insinuation is that observant Jews are playing God for a chump. They're like obsequious courtiers. A naive king is duped by their flatteries. But they don't revere the king. The simply pander to the king to get what they need. 

It isn't Job's worthiness, but God's worthiness, that the Adversary is angling at. Yet he's too stealthy to confront God directly. 

vi) In that regard, there's family resemblance between the antagonist in Gen 3, Job 1-2, and Mt 4. In each instance, the antagonist doesn't exude pure evil. Rather, he adopts a rational pose. He attempts to sow doubt by innuendo. By leading questions. They share a common modus operandi. And that reminds me of two comparisons:

vii) Ted Bundy was a notorious serial killer. Yet he hid in plain sight. He had a disarming personality:

He was a budding lawyer, handsome, charming and bright. With all that charisma, he attracted women as if they were flies and he were sugar. It didn't hurt that he had a good job -- assistant to the governor of Washington. 
So it is not unusual that Ann Rule and Ted Bundy would become friends. Each volunteered on a crisis hot line in Seattle. She had seen him talk somebody "down." They conversed often. 
What's not to like? 
It was the early 1970s. Rule was working on a book, her first, about a Seattle-area serial killer. Imagine her shock and surprise when evidence pointed to the killer being Bundy.
Meeting the serial rapist/murderer in prison "didn't bother me," Rule said. "For a long time I was holding out hope that he was innocent, that somehow this all was a terrible mistake. And it wasn't just me, it was all the people who worked with him. In order for us to work at the crisis center, we had to pass a psychiatric evaluation, and both of us did. Everybody was expected to be pretty well adjusted there so all of his friends were saying there was no way, it couldn't be." 
viii) In addition, it reminds me of a certain type of villain. There's the kind of villain who doesn't commit crime. He doesn't take the risk. Rather, he entices others to commit crime. If caught, they take the rap.

For instance, take movies about a college student. He's an alpha male. Athletic, handsome, brilliant, dominant. A natural leader. But he's morally twisted. Cruel.

Weaker male students are drawn to him. He takes pleasure in enticing them to cross a moral or legal line of no return. A rite of passage. They are desperate to win his approval. 

But when they go through with it, they take the rap. It's their fingerprints on at the crime scene, not his.

He takes delight in ruining other people's lives at a safe distance, through entrapment. The catalyst in their downfall.

That's the attitude I see displayed by the antagonist in Gen 3, Job 1-3, and Mt 4. Satan is a trickster. He reveals his true character, less by what he says than what he beguiles others to do at his behest. His character is manifest in the disastrous outcome of taking his advice. In Job 1-2, his strategy backfires. That's because he's up against a superior opponent. God tricks the trickster. 

No comments:

Post a Comment