Saturday, April 14, 2007

An Estoeric Reading of Job

An interesting post from MD on David Plotz's blogging the Bible series for Slate--on the Book of Job. Just got me thinking about Job.

For the reader unfamiliar with the text, a little background. A very brief (and poor) summary of the work:

Job is a righteous man who has a lovely wife, good kids, is wealthy, the whole nine (ancient) yards. The figure of Satan--making his first appearance in the Bible (no that serpent in the Garden doesn't count)--argues that Job only follows God because he is rich and has a good life. God then "allows" Satan to kill his family, destroy his livelihood, and afflict him with bodily sores (making him impure by the Holiness Code like lepers).

Job's friends show up to tell him these bad things have befallen him because he must have disobeyed the Lord. If they were alive today they would say "this is God's punishment." Or if they were Buddhist they would say, "This is because of bad karma." Or if New Age: "You choose to accept this experience so you could learn what it would be like to live this way."

Job is unimpressed and continually professes his innocence and states he will be vindicated by his Redeemer. He eventually speaks to God who questions Job whether he [Job] was there at the foundation of the universe, does he know the mind of all Reality? Then God blasts Job's friends and interestingly, in a way, upholds Job's innocence without admitting any wrong on God's part. Job gets a new family

Scholars think the beginning and ending of the text--God and the Devil--is a latter addition. It functions something like a folktale. The Devil is the Trickster figure: he is God's prosecuting attorney if you like. Think something like the Devil went down to Georgia. Or being at the Crossroads kinda thing. It gives a narrative effect to the piece.

As a sidenote: It is worth reading the text of Job without the beginning and end. That filter forms how we read it. I've found it a very different piece without the "baggage" of the God-Devil gamesmanship.

Still the God-Devil interaction has always been the source of massive spiritual, religious, and philosophical speculation. Particularly since the Devil is God's agent. The Devil is not in this text yet the fearsome opposing fallen angel of later lore.

One of the more interesting if not stranger ones is the esoteric reading of the Devil-God storyline. It was used as the storyline of the comic (and movie) Constantine. This story, by this reading, is the Bible's version of the Eastern myth of the Great SELF being the only one and playing a game (lila) to create a supposed other and forgetting itself as Itself in all Reality. [Upanishads].

The reading goes like this......

The Devil-God wager is a game between the two for all the souls in existence. Thereby the entire relative sphere perpetuates...including heaven and hell. When not understood as a game, it is a battle and a serious one at that. All religion, the opposing "camps", information and dis-information propaganda campaigns from both armies (e.g. Devil's Temptations) all flow from taking what is the game to be a real thing.

In other words the way to be free is to choose neither side and to laugh at the entire project. [If you are wondering, yes I've been re-watching the Matrix films]. In the Grail tradition the angels who hold the Grail (symbol for Nondual Consciousness) are the neutral angels interestingly. The angels who took no side in the war between heaven and hell.

Hadewijch of Brabant, a 12th century Nondual Christian mystic--possibly my favorite--talks about a point of the spiritual journey known as unfaith. It is not she says believing in say atheism. Believing the world is meaningless. But it is fascinatingly not traditional faith in God either. It is the suspension and inquiry into the process by which faith/lack of faith arises. Into the very process of the relational, the conditioned heart-mind.

Unfaith is sitting in the choice of neither and waiting for the Redeemer. It is a very dangerous moment--the threat towards nihilism or extreme evil is strong--and should not be undertaken lightly. Certainly by one who has not first gone through traditional ethical training.


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

ok ok, I couldn't read this and not comment on it, since I just did a presentation on Job about a month ago for a class...

Random comments:
1) A certain professor, who will remain nameless, once referred to Job's friends as "B+ MDiv students", ones whose pastoral care skills aren't particularly adept at helpfully offering theological reflections. Now that's funny. B+. Ha!

2) Calling "ha-satan" (transliterated Hebrew) Satan or the Devil, isn't quite faithful to the text. "the satan", not as a proper noun, but definite noun, is a better translation. This character is a member of the divine council, but not quite Satan or the devil the way we'd probably think of it (which you do point out).

3) Your Hadewijch comment is fascinating. Job is such an interesting character, he never once loses faith, it's not God he's questioning, it's what has happened to him that he questions.

4) One narrative analyst notes that the anti-climax of the story is Job's "friend" Elihu who tells him he's foolish to demand that God shows up, because it raises the stakes even higher for the moment when God actually shows up, to everyone's surprise it seems, even the reader, if you don't already know what's going to happen.

5) I question the "happy ending" of this story (pasted-on or original, doesn't really matter, it's there. Ok, it does matter, but it's not important to this comment). If God really wanted to restore Job's life, why didn't God bring back Job's wife and children from the dead? Does a new wife and new children really replace the old? And from a thoroughly modern, western way of seeing things, Job's going to carry the scars, bodily and psychologically, of this event for the rest of his life. Makes for an awfully long "long life".

6) Narratively speaking, this is a great read, one I've started recommending. I used to think Job was a whiner, "righteous in his own eyes". But now I've developed some sympathy for the guy. Maybe we should demand that God show up and give us a face-to-face meeting more often - interpret that "meeting" however you like :)


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