Nov 20, 2015

Adele Berlin on the Message of Job

I do not agree with everything Adele Berlin argues for in her explanation of the main message of the book of Job, but I think that her concluding paragraph is worth thinking about.

“If Job was wise at the beginning of the story, he is even wiser at its end, especially about God’s ways. His wisdom far surpasses that of his friends, who “did not speak correctly” about God as Job did (42:7). And we the readers, who saw in the prologue a God that Job did not see and thought that we knew more about the workings of God than Job knew, must now admit that our knowledge of God was also severely limited. By learning first-hand about God’s wisdom, Job learned about what it means to be human. Our human-ness is most evident in our drive to acquire wisdom at any price, as we see from the Garden of Eden story, a story which, by the way, not only says that the acquisition of wisdom eliminated the possibility of immortality, but also tells us that the result of this acquisition is that the human condition is one of pain and toil. At the same time, despite God’s concern that wisdom renders humans God-like, human wisdom will never reach the level of God’s wisdom. It can only approximate divine wisdom when it is accompanied by the fear of the Lord, the Bible’s sine qua non for wisdom. This, of course, is the teaching of all the biblical wisdom books. Job, however, needed to learn it for himself, for throughout the book Job based his knowledge on personal experience rather than on traditional teachings. Does the book of Job, then, add nothing to the traditional teachings? Does it take us on that tortuous journey of the mind only to return us empty to our starting-place? Yes and no. Like Gilgamesh, whose quest for immortality is the flip side of Job’s quest for understanding, we return home without the answer we set out to find, but we are much wiser for the journey. So what does the book add to traditional teachings? Let me suggest that if traditional teaching says that the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, the book of Job shows that wisdom leads to the fear of the Lord.”

Adele Berlin, “What Is the Book of Job About?” in A Common Cultural Heritage: Studies on Mesopotamia and the Biblical World in Honor of Barry L. Eichler, ed. Grant Frame; Barry Lee Eichler; et al. (Bethesda, MD: CDL, 2011), 119.

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