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Lecture 3.A.1 -- Job Lecture

Job is a type of literature called theodicy.  A theodicy is an attempt to respond to the problem of suffering in a world ruled by an all-powerful, all-good God. The problem is best stated in the play J.B.(based on the book of Job) by Archibald MacLeish: "If God is good, he isn't God:
If He's God, he isn't good."
How can an all-powerful God permit evil if he is also all-good? and vice versa

Mark Twain gives an indictment of the justice of God with his usual clarity:

Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man — if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one, perhaps, would desire to associate with, now that Nero and Caligula are dead. In the old Testament His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly. He is always punishing — punishing trifling misdeeds with thousand-fold severity; punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers; even descending to wreak bloody vengeance upon harmless calves and lambs and sheep and bullocks, as punishment for inconsequential trespasses committed by their proprietors. it is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading, by contrast.

Mark Twain

As part of its attempt to answer the indictment, the book of Job introduces one of the great characters of literature -- Satan.  Originally, 'Satan' was not a name but a title.  In Job, he is one of the sons of God, and he's called 'ha-satan' (הַשָּׂטָן), which translates as 'the Accuser.'  This is more of a title than a name; it indicates his job in God's court, which is to accuse people in legal proceedings.  So he is God's district attorney or attorney general.  So in the story, Satan brings charges against Job, God judges Job, and Job defends himself, not before the judgment seat of God with an argument, but by undergoing a trial by ordeal.  All the rest of Satan's activities are designed to better help him make his accusations. 

In early texts, God was the sole cause of everything, making some of his behavior hard to understand.  He was the one to try to kill the world through a flood and the one to save it through Noah.  In the parallel stories about the flood, some gods would try to destroy the world through flood, other gods would work to save it.  With Satan, we can finally have that opposition.  The cosmic war between good and evil will come later in Babylon when Judaism adopts it from Manichaeism.

Satan's Activities


Lecture 3.A.2 -- Jonah Lecture

Jonah is a short book, but one that has attracted a great deal of controversy because of the big fish story in the middle of it.  Unfortunately, debate about the miracle has led people to miss the point, just as debate over the creation accounts has led most of us to miss the point of Genesis.  And Jonah and Genesis make almost precisely the same point: we ARE our brother's keeper.  Or in this case, our enemy's.  And the average person will go to almost any lengths to keep from realizing and applying that message. 

The outline of Jonah is simple.  While chapters and verses were added centuries after the books of the Bible were written, in this case the chapters accurately reflect the sections of the book.

  1. Jonah flees God's command and gets caught in a storm.
  2. Jonah prays in the belly of the beast.
  3. Jonah preaches, and the Ninevites repent.
  4. Jonah pouts outside the city. 

The outline of Jonah may be simple, but when we look at it from the perspective of narratology, it is incredibly complex.  Narratology divides stories into levels (like Rusian nesting dolls)  based on the interactions in and around the text:


The author and the reader interact; the character is limited to interacting with other characters.  What makes the three levels so complex in the book of Jonah is that every layer has a Jonah, some of them at war with the other Jonahs, and the book itself is named Jonah:

  1. Jonah the book
  2. Jonah the physical author (we assume)
  3. Jonah the narrator
  4. Jonah the character

Jonah reflects a debate in Judaism, one that is also in other religions; our relation to outsiders.  The two sides of the debate are xenophobia vs xenophilia: fear and loathing of the outsider vs love and acceptance of the outsider.  Most Biblical books are firmly on one side or the other.  Joshua reflect homicidal xenophobia; Judges, Ezra, and Nehemiah are not far behind, especially with their dire warnings against the wiles of foreign women.  On the other side of the debate is Ruth, where the foreign woman marries not one, but two Jewish men (not at the same time!) and becomes the ancestor of both David and Jesus.  In the book Jonah, the character Jonah represents raging xenophobia that has turned into hatred.  Unlike most xenophobes, Jonah the character recognizes that his God actually loves the stranger, and he resents that love.  So the conflict in the story is between the hateful Jonah and the loving God.  That conflict is reversed on the narrative and nonfictional levels, where the loving narrator / author is confronting the xenophobia of his addressees / readers.  In fact, he still confronts today with out xenophobia.  Most of us tend to be like Jonah, loving our material possessions (our gourd) more than we love our neighbors, especially our enemies.  And we divert ourselves from this spiritual insight by getting sidetracked by spectacle - whales, TV, and smart phones. 

So remember, if your main reaction to Jonah is to make you want to punch a scientist, then you have missed the point, which is not the whale, but the gourd, and the fact that in this world the gourd matters less than our brother.  That insight is the beginning of spirituality.  Or least one of them.

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