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Literary Analysis on the Book of Job

In: English and Literature

Submitted By jreiland
Words 3072
Pages 13
Jonathan M. Reiland
5th Period
Mr. Nabors
English 4206 [ 11 November 2010 ]
The Book of Job: An Examination Of all of the stories, fables, proverbs, and histories of the Bible, The Book of Job is one of the most compelling due to its unique literary style and the complex treatment of the issue of suffering. Unlike other books of the Bible, The Book of Job details a conflict between man and God within a poetic structure, and is the only book in the Bible to take on the problem of suffering as its main purpose. Throughout the book, Job pleads to God for all of the misfortunes that have befallen him. This type of discourse found in Job cannot be found anywhere else in scripture. Upon examination of the roles of protagonist and antagonist, it becomes apparent that the roles may be alternated between Job and Satan. Moreover, different conclusions and interpretations of the book can be made. Theological complications due to the existence of evil in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god will be attempted to be reconciled by theodicy. As coined by Gottfried Leibniz, theodicy is a branch of apologetics which attempts to reconcile the apparent evil in the world with God’s benevolent nature.
Job’s nature and wealth is described in the first three verses of the book. He is depicted as “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). It would seem unlikely that Job would ever find himself on the negative side of God, but this seems to be exactly what has happened. In the dialogue between God and Satan (Job 1:7-12), a contest is put forth to test Job’s devotion to God. Satan argues that Job will turn from God if all of his wealth is taken from him. God’s role throughout the narrative is one of an overseer or mediator. God sets the stage and all of the actions that occur are allowed by God. From this perspective it would seem odd that God would commission two different and opposing parties – Satan and Job – two different purposes. Job’s purpose is to follow God even through extreme circumstances. Satan’s purpose is to test whether or not Job is truly a follower of God. This ambiguity is clarified from the reader’s perspective; each individual’s own bias, interpretations, and beliefs determine the role of Satan and Job. If Satan is put forth as the protagonist in the conflict between Job and God, then Job can be seen as the antagonist. The onus is then on Satan to progress the plot and it is his mission and purpose to bring havoc and destruction upon all of Job’s possessions and all that he holds dear. Job, on the other hand, is working against Satan by pleading to God to cease the suffering that Satan is placing upon Job. Job is clearly the antagonist in this situation. Most people are more likely to view Job as the good guy, as the victim who is a pawn between God and Satan. The problem of suffering arises when it is asserted that God is morally just and righteous. Since God is allowing Satan to bring suffering into Job’s life and ultimately the world, God is ultimately responsible for everything that takes place on earth. Job pleads to God in order to obtain an answer for all of the misfortunes that have befallen him. Morristan writes, “They [Job’s friends] believe that, contrary to appearances, Job is being punished for some sin. Job, on the other hand, proclaims his innocence” (341). After Satan destroys Job’s home, family, cattle, and general livelihood, Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and later on Elihu, come to visit him in order to determine the cause for the suffering that Job has to endure. Job’s friends believe God to be totally just and would only bring his wrath upon someone who incurred it. If this is true, the description of Job in the beginning of the book must be inaccurate. “The only logical explanation was that Job must not have been as righteous as he claimed” (Johnson 393). Can the argument be made that Job’s friends believe that he is arrogant and his audacity to question the divine is what prompts God’s punishment for his sins or is Job being made to suffer unjustly? God’s answer in chapters thirty-eight through thirty-nine takes the form of a series of questions to Job meant to display God’s power and mastery over all creation. When Satan is viewed as the protagonist then the will of the supernatural realm supersedes the will of the corporeal realm, it then follows that Job should not challenge the actions of Satan and should submit to the will of the heavens. Whenever Job complains about the suffering he is meant to endure he is actively working against the progression of the narrative, and by doing so becomes the antagonist of the plot. It is now Job’s purpose to work against Satan and ultimately God in order to maintain this alignment of characters. When Job is considered to be the protagonist then the plot of the story should be working towards accomplishing Job’s goals. If Job’s goals and ultimate purpose in life is to demonstrate undying devotion to God, then Satan’s influence must be considered a negative act meant to tempt Job away from God. Just as God allows Satan to become a hindrance to Job’s faith, He mandates worship and praise from Job. Job’s suffering is interpreted by some scholars to be a way of strengthening Job spiritually. Johnson explains that some scientists when studying the human psyche have noticed a strengthening of the spirit. “In developing the theory of Logotherapy, Vickor Frankl noticed through his own suffering that one’s spirituality was strengthened when he was able to focus his attention on the problems of others and the hopes of the future” (Johnson 393). Others might agree with the end result of spiritual growth but not agree with the means by which God attempts to achieve this objective. It is also brought into question whether or not Job even obtained spiritual growth at the end of his entire ordeal because of his quick and unexplained reacceptance of God. In Job 42:3 Job says “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, / Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” It appears that Job is ceasing to challenge God and realizes how very small and weak he is compared to God. “Therefore I abhor myself, / And repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). This is the very last line of dialogue from Job and it appears that he has certainly given up his contest with God and is willing to surrender to the Almighty. Job finds it to be morally acceptable to follow a being simply because said being is more power than himself, but could Job’s intentions be dramatically different from those directly inferred from the text? Could Job actually be in conflict with God at the end of the story and submitted to God in order to restore some amount of peace to his life. Brown suggests that examining Job’s nature may be a way to answer this question. “Is he [Job] rebellious or repentant by the time he is restored? Determining Job’s character will say much about how the book is appropriated” (Brown 228). The proposition that “might makes right” is brought into light when God’s only answer to Job are two lengthy speeches detailing God’s ultimate power and dominion over all creation. A common answer to Job’s suffering is that God has a good reason and Job should not expect to know what it is.
Job complains that God has no good reason for permitting the evil that befalls him. He believes that God doesn’t have a good reason because he, Job, can’t imagine what that reason might be. In reply, God does not tell him what the reason is; instead, he attacks Job’s unthinking assumption that if he can’t imagine what reason God might have, then probably God doesn’t have a reason at all. And God attacks this assumption by pointing out that Job’s knowledge is limited along these lines. (Plantinga 497)
This answer is still not satisfying to many because it does not reveal what God’s reason for Job’s suffering might be. To truly judge whether or not God is just, the person judging must be presented with God’s reason and then judge whether or not that reason is just. Job’s innocence should also be questioned. If God is willing to let Job become Satan’s plaything, then – if God is indeed just – Job must be guilty of something. One must be wondering what the true motives of God actually are. God permits Satan, who has an unfathomable aptitude for deceit, to have his way with a relatively weak man. How could God possibly expect Job to keep his faith in him? Another question would be whether or not Job should continue to worship a god who has rained down destruction upon his life?
At first glance, Job is caught between two diametrically opposed supernatural beings, God who is believed to be benevolent, and Satan who is believed to be malevolent. However, upon further analysis a contradiction in this assumption is apparent. Because God permits suffering could God actually be the being of malevolence? Could Satan be a being of benevolence because he is activity working to separate Job from a vengeful God?
This brings into question whether or not Job and humanity as a whole should submit to an unalterable, celestial, and ultimately dictatorial autocrat. If Job is indeed the true protagonist then the liberation of Job from his oppressor is of vital importance. Job ought to challenge the will of God and take control of his own life; he should indulge in a spirit of individualism. It is now man’s turn to make moral decisions on his own. Alan Wolfe states that “Moral freedom means that individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life” (159). To view Job as the protagonist is to take the view of a humanist. Humanism, to put it simply, is the view that man can determine his own morals and way of life by relying on his own reason. A heavenly judge becomes superfluous when it is realized that such a being would become redundant and possibly a hindrance.
Having examined the roles of the main characters presented in the narrative and by looking at different conclusions that can be drawn, the next step would be to examine how the problem of evil as presented is reconciled within the theological framework of the book. Theodicy is a branch of theology which attempts to answer the problem the evil; evil has always existed in the world and having asserted that God is good and omnipotent this evil must be given a righteous cause. One version of theodicy is that God has a good and righteous purpose for everything that happens in the world, but due to the limited knowledge that man possesses it would be impossible for man to judge anything and have an absolute judgment. “Thus it could be argued that theodicy gets off the ground only if it is granted the supposition that it is possible to understand what goes on in the universe in terms of a larger, divine order” (Surin 226). If we acknowledge that man does not and cannot know everything then a justification for every evil that happens cannot be obtained. “It makes no sense to seek a justification of God vis-à-vis the fact of evil” (Surin 226).
Another approach to theodicy is to claim that evil is not God’s problem but instead man’s problem. Instead of a theodicy it should be called an “anthropodicy” (Surin 228). As presented in Genesis, God is not responsible for the entrance of evil into the world; rather it is man’s fault because man has taken fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Thus all of the evils that have occurred in history and even in the present are not the responsibility of God but of man. Man should then work to rid the world of evil and cease to blame God. This secularization of theodicy is unique in that it circumnavigates the benevolent nature of God. However, it still does not answer why God would not try to prevent evil from occurring. This is not to say that God is responsible but instead why would God not want to prevent an evil act from occurring if he could. After examining the proposition that it is not God’s fault that evil exists in the world but rather man’s own fault we are still left with the problem of God’s natures: omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence. Can a god truly be omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent all at the same time? One of David Hume’s quotes sums this problem up quite well. “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Hume 186). However, there is a theodicy which attempts to sufficiently answer this problem by claiming that man’s free will is the root cause of all of evil. It is then man’s fault that evil exists because it is man that commits this evil. God is benevolent by allowing man to possess free will and even more benevolent by not controlling man like a robot. “The Free Will Theodicy (FWT), favoured by a number of prominent philosophic theists, claims that, contrary to God’s commands, humans misuse their free will and thereby cause the [suffering of the innocent] known as moral evil” (Schoenig 457). However, it would seem that God would know that humans would misuse their free will in the first place. Most theists say that this is just “a regrettable but justified price that even God must accept in order to realize a greater good than could otherwise be realized in a world without free will” (Schoenig 458).
Some attempt to formulate a theodicy in a purely theoretical context. However this does not address the much more real problem of evil. Philosophers need not to formulate ideas in a vacuum away from the presence of the ordinary people. This solves nothing because it does not take practical ideas into consideration. Thus, theodicy cannot be formulated in a purely theoretical mental exercise it must be applicable to every-day society and every-day living. Another theodicy draws up a description of possible worlds and shows that the world with free will and evil is the most favorable world to live in. A world without free will would end up having God act as a total ruler and puppet master of humanity. This would not contain evil but it would not allow for man to grow intellectually and spiritually. A positive aspect of this would be that the people in a world without free will would not have to deal with the consequence of committing evil. Theodicy can also deal with the very definition of evil. Can a particular action or occurrence be considered evil? This brings into question if there is a good justification for a particular evil. It is asserted that God must have a justification and that man should have faith in God that he will always have a just reason for all evil. In Leibniz’s theodicy he argues that because God is a perfect being than he must have created the best possible world; he argues that God permits evil in order to shape mankind and to ultimately create the best (187). In conclusion, The Book of Job’s unique literary style and complex treatment of the issue of suffering is something that has sparked a great amount of intellectual discourse throughout history and is a work that should be regarded as an excellent early attempt at formulating a theodicy. Unlike other books of the Bible, The Book of Job details a conflict between man and God, and it is within this poetic structure that the brilliance of human expression is presented. The book is the only of the Bible to take on the problem of suffering as its sole purpose as is therefore one of the first great pieces of literature to formulate a theodicy. Based solely on the text one can only draw that “might makes right”, and that God must be righteous because of the immense power that he wields. A person of any education and general knowledge of history can easily detect the moral dilemma that becomes apparent if this assertion is given credence. Does man gain spiritual maturity through experiencing suffering? Unfortunately there is no definitive answer for this question and it is up to each individual to determine a solution. The Book of Job is also unique because, depending on the reader’s own perspective, the roles of protagonist and antagonist can be switched around. This will give the reader the ability to draw conclusions that may differ from the mainstream view.

Works Cited
Brown, William P. “Introducing Job.” Interpretation 53.3 (1999): 228. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Oct. 2010.
The Holy Bible: Old and New Testaments in the King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1970. Print.
Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: The Second Edition. London: Albert R. Graves, 1729. Google Books. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
Johnson, Fred. “A Phonological Existential Analysis to the Book of Job.” Journal of Religion and Health 44.4 (2005): 391-401. JSTOR. Web. 31 Oct 2010.
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil. New York: Cosimo Inc., 2009. Google Books. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
Morriston, Wesley. “God’s Answer to Job.” Religious Studies 32.3 (1996): 339-356. JSTOR. Web. 31 Oct 2010.
Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Google Books. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
Schoenig, Richard. “The Free Will Theodicy.” Religious Studies 34.4 (1998): 457-470. JSTOR. Web. 31 Oct 2010.
Surin, Kenneth. “Theodicy?” The Harvard Theological Review 76.2 (1983): 225-247. JSTOR. Web. 31 Oct 2010.
Wolfe, Alan. The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2002. Google Books. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.

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...Guide to Writing the Literary Analysis Essay I. INTRODUCTION: the first paragraph in your essay. It begins creatively in order to catch your reader’s interest, provides essential background about the literary work, and prepares the reader for your major thesis. The introduction must include the author and title of the work as well as an explanation of the theme to be discussed. Other essential background may include setting, an introduction of main characters, etc. The major thesis goes in this paragraph usually at the end. Because the major thesis sometimes sounds tacked on, make special attempts to link it to the sentence that precedes it by building on a key word or idea. A) Creative Opening/Hook: the beginning sentences of the introduction that catch the reader’s interest. Ways of beginning creatively include the following: 1) A startling fact or bit of information  Example: Nearly two hundred citizens were arrested as witches during the Salem witch scare of 1692. Eventually nineteen were hanged, and another was pressed to death (Marks 65). 2) A snatch of dialogue between two characters  Example: “It is another thing. You [Frederic Henry] cannot know about it unless you have it.” “ Well,” I said. “If I ever get it I will tell you [priest].” (Hemingway 72). With these words, the priest in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms sends the hero, Frederic, in search of the ambiguous “it” in his life. 3) A meaningful quotation (from the book you are......

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The Decline and Fall of Literature

...The Decline and Fall of Literature November 4, 1999 ANDREW DELBANCO E-mail Print [pic]Share [pic] [pic]In Plato’s Cave[pic] by Alvin Kernan A couple of years ago, in an article explaining how funds for faculty positions are allocated in American universities, the provost of the University of California at Berkeley offered some frank advice to department chairs, whose job partly consists of lobbying for a share of the budget. “On every campus,” she wrote, “there is one department whose name need only be mentioned to make people laugh; you don’t want that department to be yours.”1 The provost, Carol Christ (who retains her faculty position as a literature professor), does not name the offender—but everyone knows that if you want to locate the laughingstock on your local campus these days, your best bet is to stop by the English department. The laughter, moreover, is not confined to campuses. It has become a holiday ritual for The New York Times to run a derisory article in deadpan Times style about the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, where thousands of English professors assemble just before the new year. Lately it has become impossible to say with confidence whether such topics as “Eat Me; Captain Cook and the Ingestion of the Other” or “The Semiotics of Sinatra” are parodies of what goes on there or serious presentations by credentialed scholars.2 At one recent English lecture, the speaker discussed a pornographic “performance......

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