The Book of Job: A biography
Princeton University Press £16.95
Church Times Bookshop £15.25 (Use code
THIS beautifully written and presented book should be compulsory
reading for anyone concerned with the irrationality of life,
atheist and believer alike; for, just as unjust suffering
challenges the believer, so does his faith amid such suffering
challenge the atheist.
There is no more profound examination of the issue of theodicy
than the book of Job.
Larrimore sets out to describe the reception of the book of Job
from biblical times to the modern era. For successive generations,
the book has questioned both the place of man in the created order
and the nature of the God with whom he (if he chooses) has to deal
- though, as Larrimore points out, it is only with the rise of
modernity that man has had that choice. Before then, it was not
whether or not to live with God, but how.
In five chapters, the author examines the ancient interpreters;
the use by medievalists of Job in philosophical discourse; the
place of Job outside the text; the problem of theodicy; and the
impact of historical critical biblical study on the interpretation
of the text.
In his conclusion, Larrimore highlights the contemporary
vitality of Joban interpretation, particularly for Jewish writers
in light of the Shoah.
So, among a large cast, the author refers to the apocryphal
Testament of Job, the Talmud, St Gregory the Great, Maimonides, St
Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Christian liturgies, Pope, Kant,
Chesterton, Blake, Elie Wiesel, and Margarete Susman.
The paradox of Job is God's charge against him for speaking
without knowledge, yet vindicating him for having spoken rightly
-which makes nonsense, of course, of the spurious claim that Job's
restoration rested on his recantation, however one translates those
difficult verses in the epilogue.
Nowhere does Larrimore make reference to the Eden narrative. Yet
there - perhaps centuries before Job was written - the parameter of
what it meant to be human is spelt out in the forbidden fruit. Man
can enjoy neither immortality nor the knowledge of good and evil -
that is the kind of knowledge which God alone possesses, through
being outside his creation.
While man is free to explore that creation to establish its
order, he must yet die in ignorance of all that lies beyond it,
which includes the origin of evil. Our faith must, by the very
nature of our creation, have within it an agnostic component.
Yet, as Job illustrates, man must ever challenge the facile
answers of the friends improperly seeking to defend their God.
Indeed, it is only by his challenge to God that Job's faith is made
This is a lesson that the Church needs to take on board, as its
weekly mouthings become increasingly irrelevant to "man come of
age". Job deserves to be venerated as a saint, as Larrimore's
superb biography of his book confirms.
Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of the King's