Book Of Job Summary Essay Samples

Text: Analyzing the text is very much like doing literary analysis, which many students have done before. Use all of your tools of literary analysis, including looking at the metaphors, rhythm of sentences, construction of arguments, tone, style, and use of language. Example:

The organization of "essay title" is effective/ineffective because ___________ . The essay's opening causes the reader to ___________ . The essay's style is ___________ and the tone is shown by ___________ . The language used is___________ . The essay's argument is constructed logically/illogically by ___________. The essay is organized by ___________ (give a very brief description of the structure of the essay, perhaps telling where the description of the problem is, where claims are made, and where support is located—in which paragraphs—and why this is effective or ineffective in proving the point).

Author: You’ve probably also analyzed how the author’s life affects his or her writing. You can do the same for this sort of analysis. For example, in my sample reading the response about Michael Crichton's "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves" article, students noted that the fact that Crichton is the author of doomsday thrillers like Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park makes his argument that we shouldn't pay much attention to current doomsday scenarios like global warming rather ironic. If you don't know anything about the author, you can always do a quick Google Search to find out. Sample format:

The author establishes his/her authority by ___________ . The author's bias is shown in ___________ . The author assumes an audience who ___________ . He/She establishes common ground with the audience by ___________ .

Reader: You can write this section by inferring who the intended reader is, as well as looking at the text from the viewpoint of other sorts of readers. For example,

Readers are interested in this issue because of the exigence of ___________. Constraints on the reader's reaction are ___________. I think the reader would react to this argument by ___________. I think that the author's ___________ is effective. ___________ is less effective because ___________ includes ___________. The support is adequate/inadequate and is relevant/irrelevant to the author’s claim.

The Book of Job, in the Old Testament, opens with words both majestic and once-upon-a-time-ish: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Job has ten children, three thousand camels, seven thousand sheep, and many servants. He is the richest man in the East. He doesn’t take his good fortune for granted. Always, the Bible says, he gets up early and makes burnt offerings to God.

As the action begins, God is being visited by angels, together with Satan, who at this point in the Bible is not the agent of all evil but a sort of officer of God. (Some translations call him “the Accuser”; a note in the HarperCollins Study Bible says that he is something like a C.I.A. operative.) God boasts to Satan, Have you seen my servant Job, so pious, so devoted to me? Satan answers, Why shouldn’t he be devoted? You have given him everything he could ever want: “But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” Well, God says, let’s see, and he gives Satan permission to ruin Job’s life.

This test is the subject of the Book of Job. Is there such a thing as disinterested faith? Will people go on believing in God if they are not rewarded—indeed, if they are unjustly punished? And why should they be faithful to a God who allows the wicked to triumph and the innocent to suffer? Mark Larrimore, the director of the religious-studies program at the New School, has published “The Book of Job: A Biography” (Princeton University Press), which is a “reception history,” chronicling the answers given to that riddle by commentators from the midrash—the rabbinical meditations that were first compiled in the third century—down to Elie Wiesel.

When God first unleashes Satan on Job, he tells him that he must not damage the man physically. So Satan just kills Job’s children, servants, and livestock. In response, Job tears his robe, shaves his head, falls to the ground—and worships God! “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” he says. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Satan returns to God and complains that as long as Job remains physically unharmed the test isn’t valid: “But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” God gives Satan permission, and soon Job is covered with boils from head to toe. “My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust,” he says. “My skin is broken, and become loathsome. . . . My life is wind.” He sits down in a pile of ashes. His wife tells him to give up: “Curse God, and die.” But Job stands firm: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Three of Job’s friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—come to visit him, and what they say is, basically, what Satan said. God and human beings give to each other as they receive. If Job is afflicted in this way, then he must have sinned. But I didn’t, Job says. Nor, he now realizes, does God administer that kind of justice. It doesn’t matter what you do. The world makes no moral sense.

Almost the entire middle section of the Book of Job is taken up with the debate over this riddle. Again and again, the friends tell Job that God must have had a reason for destroying his life, and Job says no. This could get boring, but for the fact that there is a tense internal drama. Everyone becomes increasingly passionate and bitter—above all, Job. “Miserable comforters are ye all,” he says to the three men. His language is now furious. “I am a brother to dragons,” he cries. Meanwhile, he sees the wicked prosper:

Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.

Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.

They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.

The “little ones” are especially painful to read about. Job’s children can’t dance; they’re dead. His feelings about his loss of status are also poignant. He had been proud of his wealth, proud of being able to feed others at his table and to help the needy. People respected him. Now “I called my servant, and he gave me no answer. . . . My breath is strange to my wife.” Still, Job will not curse God: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Nevertheless—and this is crucial—“I will maintain mine own ways before him.” That is the answer to Satan’s challenge. Job acknowledges God’s greatness, but he will not give up the idea that he has not sinned.

Now comes a striking event. God appears, in a whirlwind. Throughout the Old Testament, as Freud claimed, God takes the part of the angry father. Here he surpasses himself, by pointing out to the four men what he is and they are not: the creator of all things. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” He proudly inventories the wonders he fashioned. Most thrilling, perhaps, is his portrait of the warhorse:

Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.

He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. . . .

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.

He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

“Ha, ha!” That is the spirit of God’s answer to Job. I am power itself, he says. How dare you question me?

Job immediately apologizes for challenging his maker: “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Now God addresses the three friends, who told Job that God is just. He punishes them for presuming to say that they understand his ways. Then he turns to Job and tells him that he alone has spoken the truth—apparently, that God is not understandable. For this, God rewards him.

The story is bewildering, from beginning to end. How could God, being God, allow Satan to seduce him into destroying a good man? More important is the moral: that we have no right to question him for doing such things. (God, for all that he says from the whirlwind, never answers Job’s questions.) Furthermore, the Book of Job seems to claim that all wrongs can be righted by property. If everything was taken away from Job, the problem is settled by God’s giving it all back, mostly twofold—fourteen thousand sheep for his seven thousand, etc. As for the ten dead children, in this case Job gets only ten back, but the new daughters are more beautiful than any other women in the land.

For people who take the Bible seriously as an explanation of life and as a guide to right conduct, all this is mysterious. It is certainly not the first instance in which God inflicts appalling misery on his people. In Genesis, he killed everyone on Earth except those on Noah’s ark. But Job is highly individualized—a person like us. He is probably the character in the Old Testament we sympathize with most closely. (David is his only competition.) Therefore, his struggle to go on believing in God is something that theologians and moralists have had to think about. Their conclusions are the subject of Mark Larrimore’s book.

Discouragingly, it begins by listing all the things that we don’t know about Job. In our lifetime, Job has been regarded as a sort of Jewish saint, a symbol of suffering Jewry, but we don’t know whether he was Jewish. (No lineage is provided, and neither Job nor his friends have Jewish names.) Nor is there any certainty about whether the Book was written by Jews. We know nothing about the setting of the tale (where was Uz?), or about how it came to be written. Scholars think that it, or parts of it, was handed down over centuries as an oral tale, and finally recorded sometime after the seventh century B.C.

The text we have is clearly corrupt in many places. The central section—where Job speaks to his friends, and God speaks to them all—is in verse, and its language is impassioned: pleading, sweeping, vaulting. The outer sections are written in prose, and in a blunt, matter-of-fact manner. This stylistic contrast, together with the subject matter, underlies the main puzzle of the Book: the profound nature of Job’s complaint and of God’s answer versus the cynicism of the outer sections, where God bargains with Job’s life and then, at the end, pays him off. Many modern scholars believe that the outer sections may have been written independently of the central section—perhaps slapped on to make it a story, with a beginning and an ending. More daringly, some writers have suggested that God’s speeches are interpolations. God rarely makes such a grand appearance in the Old Testament. Why here, in his most dazzling entry, is he not given any sort of introduction? (All we get is “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”) And why is this proud, thundering deity so different from the cold executive of the opening and closing sections? Also, his pronouncements from the whirlwind are often inconsistent with what he says elsewhere in the Bible. As Larrimore puts it, “The pious asseverations of Job’s friends, condemned by God, are the passages of the book that best square with other texts accepted as scriptural.”

That is by no means the end of the textual problems. Sometimes you can’t figure out what’s happening. Job will make a statement to his friends that doesn’t seem to be addressed to them. Passages have apparently been moved or omitted or inserted. Immediately before God’s arrival, we suddenly hear, at length, from a man named Elihu, who adds little to the discussion and is never mentioned again. But Job’s text was not questioned until the Renaissance, and the investigation didn’t really get going until the nineteenth century, at German universities. For many centuries before that, philosophers and theologians took the Book as canonical and analyzed it as such. Not surprisingly, their main question was the one debated by Job and his friends: Why does God allow evil in the world?

The first single commentator to whom Larrimore gives serious attention is Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great (540-604), who wrote a six-volume study of Job. His book, as Larrimore explains it, is our introduction to many centuries of allegorical interpretation of the Book of Job—indeed, of the entire Old Testament—as parallel to the New Testament; in particular, Job’s torment was thought to presage the sufferings of Jesus. Some modern readers find this sort of thinking far-fetched, but it certainly wasn’t confined to the Middle Ages, or to Roman Catholics. Luther’s Bible, one of the earlier vernacular testaments, had illustrations that combine, in the same frame, events in Job that occurred many verses apart. This was not to save money on woodcuts. It was an expression of the view of time that had been held for many centuries, by both Jewish and Christian commentators. To them, the Old Testament was divinely inspired, and, if it seemed to contain contradictions or errors, that was not its fault but ours. We needed to dig for deeper, subtler meaning. [cartoon id="a17910"]

According to Larrimore, this was also, essentially, the opinion of the great Jewish scholar Maimonides, in the twelfth century, and of the formidable St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth. Aquinas, emboldened by the dispute between Job and his friends, treated the Book as a quaestio, or debate, the primary mode of learning at the University of Paris, where he was a celebrated professor. (Job won the debate, of course.) As Larrimore points out, such a method has the problem of omitting the matter of the hero’s extreme suffering. Maimonides, in his “Guide for the Perplexed,” from 1190, is more modest and quizzical, but he, too, obedient to the tradition, says that we must yield to the text’s divine authority. In Job, he believes, we can understand God’s message only in glimpses. In 1536, John Calvin wrote his “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” with meditations on Job. Calvin’s view was the most radical, in terms of theodicy—that is, the attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with a benevolent and omnipotent God. Calvin said that God had a higher justice, veiled to human eyes. Other thinkers did not buy that. (After all, the Old Testament shows God issuing codes of justice for us—the Ten Commandments, for example.) The problem was stated most succinctly two centuries later, by David Hume: “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?”

One logical answer is that there is no God. But before the eighteenth century, and during most of it, atheism was not an option, even for the most strong-minded. To choose between two positions, a person must have two to choose from. Before the Enlightenment, the vast majority of Europeans did not. Larrimore quotes the French historian Lucien Febvre, writing in the early twentieth century:

Today we make a choice to be Christian or not. There was no choice in the sixteenth century. One was a Christian in fact. One’s thoughts could wander far from Christ, but these were plays of fancy, without the living support of reality. One could not even abstain from observance. Whether one wanted to or not, whether one clearly understood or not, one found oneself immersed from birth in a bath of Christianity from which one did not emerge even at death.

What Febvre said of the sixteenth century was also true of the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth. Bold minds might question God’s care of us, but few doubted his existence. Larrimore quotes a passage from Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759): “ ‘What difference does it make,’ said the dervish, ‘if there is good or evil? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry about whether or not the mice are comfortable on board?’ ” Voltaire said that Candide was “Job brought up to date.”

Many philosophers, probably without meaning to, inched their way toward the same position. Kant said that all we could do with doubts about God was admit them. For Kant, Larrimore writes, “the book of Job shows that the problem of evil must remain an open wound.” Larrimore thinks that’s still true: that the dispute between Job and his friends epitomizes modern thought. There are no answers, only riddles. In the face of that impasse, the discussion often shifts from content to style. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a number of people who wrote on Job—the German theorist Johann Gottfried von Herder, the Anglican bishop Robert Lowth—stopped trying to figure out God’s plan, and instead focussed on his poetry, whose sublimity, they felt, was meaning enough. Indeed, the ambiguity boosted the sublimity. This position was undoubtedly reassuring, but the new aestheticism could also be seen as a failure of moral seriousness. Furthermore, it placed God at a very far remove from humankind. One of the reasons that Job complains so bitterly is that he thought that he and God had a relationship. Now it is sundered: “I cry unto thee and thou dost not hear me.”

His sense of abandonment is a great part of the poignance of the Book. But as the Enlightenment, whose efficient universe had little place for a punishing God, yielded to Romanticism, with its worship of passion, many thinkers had less need for a pleasant, companionable God. An excellent example is William Blake, who between 1805 and 1810 produced a series of twenty-one watercolor illustrations for the Book of Job. Blake did not need God to make sense. He wanted him to be a figure of pure energy, like the “Tyger, burning bright.” Nor did Blake mind conflicts. Larrimore quotes his “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

Blake’s thunderbolt was bracing, but soon it, too, was not enough. In the twentieth century, the most pressing new influence on the interpretation of Job’s story was the Shoah, after which, Larrimore writes, Job “became Jewish.” The person most responsible for his conversion was Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor. Wiesel began lecturing about Job as early as 1946. He regards the Book as a great text, and a great torture. For many, Job epitomized the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War and also their perceived response to it, which, in the nineteen-sixties, Hannah Arendt described as going like lambs to the slaughter. As God played dice with his life, Job grieved and protested, but he didn’t take any action. This interpretation anguished Wiesel. An alter ego in one of his novels “never ceased resenting Job.” He says, “that biblical rebel should never have given in.” Eventually, Wiesel decided that Job hadnt given in.

This, to my knowledge, is the beginning of the modern recasting of the Book of Job. Wiesel, in his “Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends” (1976), argues that, contrary to the usual reading, Job did not submit when God told him that he must. You can tell, Wiesel says, because, in the text that we have, he submitted so fast. He was just pretending. The true ending, Wiesel preferred to believe, was lost. More recently, he has changed his mind, and settled on the idea that Job merely chose silence, not submission. Job, he wrote, had “learned that he lived in a world that was cold and cynical—a world without true friends,” but one, nevertheless, in which “God seeks to join man in his solitude.”

Wiesel has had many heirs, speaking not necessarily for the Jews but for other suffering peoples. Postmodern critics, by favoring certain political positions and by welcoming self-contradictory, ambiguous texts, have abetted this trend, arguing that the insistence on Job’s submission is a vote for authoritarianism. This is something like the upheaval in New Testament studies after the discovery, in 1945, of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, a collection of gospels from Christian communities which seem to have been judged too eccentric—or too doctrinally dangerous—to be included in the so-called canonical Gospels. With Job, the danger was that human beings could legitimately ask God why he ran the world the way he did.

But objections to Job’s capitulation came from many ideological quarters. The American rabbi Richard Rubenstein has said that we should think not just of Job, who was able to have his argument with God and be saved, but also of his barely mentioned children, slaughtered because of God’s bet with Satan. As Larrimore summarizes Rubenstein’s position, the death of Job’s children

should put us in mind of the frequency of divine infanticide in the Bible. The track record of the God of the Jews is, in fact, too awful to contemplate. Rubenstein imagines that a modern-day comforter might counsel Job to admit to guilt, even though he was innocent. Lie, or the truth will out, that God is a demon—if he exists at all.

Rubenstein was the chaplain for Jewish students at several leading colleges from the nineteen-fifties through the seventies. He no doubt had considerable influence.

Such teachings may not have been necessary. An honest modern study of Job should take into account the fact that, at least in the West, theodicy is not the issue that it once was. However much people may grieve over the undeserved suffering of others—not just Jews but Cambodians, Bosnians, Tutsis, Syrians—they are less inclined to ask God why he will allow this. Many of them don’t believe in God, or, if they do, they are less likely to regard him as a benevolent intercessor, enforcing justice in the world. They have seen too much evidence to the contrary.

Not all the objections issue from grief and anger. Another heir of Wiesel, or at least of the long-term quarrel over Job, is the translator Stephen Mitchell. In his popular rendering of the Book of Job, the hero, again, does not submit. Instead, he undergoes a “spiritual transformation”: “He has let go of everything and surrendered into the light.” Therefore, where the King James Version has Job, at the end, saying to God that he will “repent in dust and ashes” (other English-language translations have wording close to this), Mitchell’s hero—blissfully aware now that he is part of the infinite—says, “I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.” Mitchell studied Zen Buddhism for many years and, with his wife, Byron Katie, has written books—“Loving What Is” (2002), “A Thousand Names for Joy” (2007)—on how to relieve your suffering by challenging the thoughts that create it.

In all this, Larrimore maintains a supremely tolerant position. He approves of the wealth of “interpretative openings and opportunities.” Everything is O.K. with him, and he thinks that whatever disagreements there are may lead to community. (This is interesting, since an absolutely crucial aspect of Job’s trial is that he suffers alone.) Such a latitudinarian approach is perhaps appropriate to a reception study, telling who thought what, and who, after them, thought something else, but eventually it comes to seem anti-intellectual. At times, Larrimore sounds like a kindly Unitarian minister, or like Mister Rogers.

If, for many Westerners, the question of why God allows good people to be tortured is no longer a pressing issue, why is it that Job appears to be the most fascinating book of the Old Testament? I can’t think of a single character in the Bible, apart from Jesus or David, who is quoted more often than the dramatis personae of the Book of Job are.

This is without doubt due, in part, to the Book’s amorality. I believe that if you woke a lot of people in the middle of the night, and asked them why they cared about the Book of Job, they would name the most troubling, least sympathetic character in that document: God. He, not Job, is the star of the Book, and though he is not loving or fair, that seems to be part of the attraction. Once God appears and speaks, you are almost blown to the ground. “Hast thou an arm like God?” he demands. Then, in a rolling magnificat, he names the things that he has created: the earth, the sea, the night, the light, the constellations, the clouds, the winds, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the frost, the thunder and lightning. He goes on to the animals: the goats, the asses, the hinds, the peacocks, the ostriches, the grasshoppers. In two celebrated passages, he describes with pride the monsters he created: Behemoth and Leviathan, Behemoth’s counterpart in the sea: “His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.” God’s description of the warhorse is even more exalting, because this creature is unquestionably real, not fantastic. Likewise the eagle: “She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.” She brings pieces of flesh back to her children. They feed on the blood.

God’s speech slaughters the moral, the what-should-be, nature of the rest of the Book of Job. It is the knife flash, the leap, the teeth. And despite, or because of, its remorselessness, it is electrifying. It is like an action movie, or a horror movie. Of course, Job is important in the story, but today he seems the pretext, the one who is like us, and makes the argument that we would make. As for God, he makes the argument that, at least as far as nature is concerned, is true. ♦

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