Lesson 6: The Book of Job

Lesson Objectives:

To learn basic structure of The Book of Job; to arrive at an interpretative understanding of the voice from within the whirlwind; and to compare and contrast Job with Oedipus, both heroes who, each in their own tradition, seek to make sense of their suffering.


Read: The Book of Job (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Note: I deliberately chose translations of religious texts that are distinct from the King James translations in order to remind students that we are not reading these texts for religious but educational and specifically scholarly purposes.

 Lecture Notes:

Our ancestors tried to believe in ordeals which would distinguish the innocent from the guilty; but experience seems to show that the sun shines equally on the righteous and the unrighteous: fire burns them, water drowns the, arsenic poisons them both with the absolute impartiality. (Murray, 56)

The table below illustrates the dialogic structure of The Book of Job. The numbers corresponding to each character signify the strophes in which they speak.

Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Cycle 3
4-14 15-21 22-27
Eliphaz 4-5 15 22
Job 6-7 16-17 23-24
Bildad 8 18 25
Job 9-10 19 26-27
Zophar 11 20
Job 12-14 21

In the article “Expostulation with the Divine,” Milo Kaufmann rightfully calls both Job and Oedipus “dramatic assaults upon the riddle of human suffering” (66). The table below visually illustrates the major points of Kaufmann’s essay. On the left column are observations about Job and on the right are the correlating observations about Oedipus.

Job Oedipus
 In Job, God is in control of the world.  In Oedipus, Fate is in control of the world.
 Job disputes his fate with his creator.  Oedipus does not dispute his fate with his his creator.
 The movement of the drama in Job is forward toward the divine disclosure; he pursues the divine word. Oedipus’s life is an odyssey of a person fleeing a pursuing destiny; he flees the divine word.

In the Greek conception, Fate is something even the Gods, such as Apollo, cannot control. In other words, Apollo can predict the fate of Oedipus, but it is not within Apollo’s powers to alter that fate. As noted in the lectures for the Iliad, the Gods of Ancient Greece have no connection with human morality, whereas the God of the Hebrew Bible directly gives his moral demands to his people in the form of the Ten Commandments.


Works Cited

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