Wednesday, November 13, 2019


There’s a book in the Old Testament called Job, after the central character. Job is portrayed as a righteous man, the servant of God, who loses everything. His flocks and herds are carried away by raiders; his buildings collapse; his children are killed; his intercessary prayers on their behalf no longer appear to have any efficacy; his own body is covered with terrible sores. What follows is a literary masterpiece of theatre, as Job and his friends discuss what has taken place, suggesting reasons why, and what Job might do to restore his fortunes. Themes cover the great existential questions, why do bad things happen to good people, and, if they do, is there any point to being upright?

But Job is no outpouring of individual angst. Though it is set in a far more ancient time, it in fact (most probably) dates from the time of the Babylonian exile, when Jerusalem had been destroyed and her royal court and civil service carried into captivity. Job is a literary cipher for the exiles—and so are his friends. In this, one of the greatest works of literature to survive from antiquity (and arguably one of the greatest literary works ever composed), a community sit down and try to make sense of what the hell has just happened to them.

We could do with a bit more Job today.

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