Friday, September 4, 2015

The Dialogues in the Testament of Job

I recently read the Testament of Job. In my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha, the Testament of Job is dated from the first century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.

I first heard of the Testament of Job when I was an undergraduate. I was interested in Judaism, and I checked out from the college library an anthology of Jewish works. The Testament of Job was among the earlier works in the book, and the editorial introduction to that work contrasted the Testament of Job with the biblical Book of Job. In the biblical Book of Job, God permits the Satan to afflict Job as a test: to determine if Job will curse God or not. But, in the biblical Book of Job, there is a distraction from that story: the dialogues. Job’s three friends allege that Job must have done something wrong for him to suffer his misfortune, whereas Job affirms his innocence and even criticizes God. The Testament of Job, however, depicts Job as one who is faithful to God through all of his sufferings.

Years later, I am reading my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha for my daily quiet time, and I decide to read the Testament of Job. I notice in thumbing through the book that Job’s dialogues with his three friends, and also Elihu, are depicted in the Testament of Job. I wonder how exactly the Testament of Job will present them, since, in that anthology that I read years before, I read that the Testament of Job departs from the biblical Book of Job by focusing on Job as one who is faithful to God through his suffering, not as one who defends himself and questions God.

Overall, in the dialogues as they are depicted in the Testament of Job, Job’s friends are marveling at Job’s misfortune, whereas Job holds fast to God. I thought of Colossians 3:2 in reading Job’s speeches: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (KJV). Job particularly focuses on the blissful afterlife that he will receive. (And, on a side note, the Testament of Job is interesting in what it says about the afterlife, as it presents the themes of future resurrection, the bodily ascension of Job’s dead children to heaven, and Job’s soul leaving the body to go to heaven).

A puzzling aspect of the dialogues in the Testament of Job, however, is one of the dialogues between Job and Baldad (who is called Bildad in the biblical Book of Job). This dialogue occurs in Testament of Job 37-38.

In Testament of Job 37, Baldad asks Job in whom Job hopes, and Job answers that he hopes in God. Baldad then asks who is causing Job’s suffering, and Job replies that God is. Baldad then says the following (and I am quoting R.P. Spittler’s translation for all quotations of the Testament of Job):

“Do you hope upon God? Then how do you reckon him to be unfair by inflicting you with all these plagues or destroying your goods? If he were to give and then take away, it would actually be better for him not to have given anything. At no time does a king dishonor his own soldier who bears arms well for him. Or who will ever understand the deep things of the Lord and his wisdom? Who dares to ascribe to the Lord an injustice?”

Baldad then asks Job a question: Why do we see the sun rise in the east, set in the west, then rise in the east again? Baldad asks Job to answer this, if Job is of sound mind and is God’s servant.

Job in Testament of Job 38 responds to Baldad. Job affirms that his own mind is sound, and so he is justified to “speak out the magnificent things of the Lord”. Job says that fleshly human beings have no business meddling in heavenly matters. Job then asks Baldad a riddle about the human digestive system: who separates the water and the food that enter the mouth when they arrive at the latrine? Baldad responds that he does not know, and Job retorts, “If you do not understand the functions of the body, how can you understand heavenly matters?”

What I understand to be going on here is this: Baldad is questioning whether Job is right to be faithful to God. That is why Baldad asks Job a riddle to test Job’s sanity: Baldad thinks that Job is insane to follow a God who is mistreating his own servant. Job responds, however, by affirming that his mind is sound, that he is right to glorify God, and that humans cannot judge God because they are limited in their understanding. In the biblical Book of Job, God actually conveys to Job the third lesson, saying that Job was wrong to judge God on account of Job’s limited knowledge. In the Testament of Job, by contrast, Job does not need for God to teach him that lesson, for Job already knows that people should not judge God on account of their limitations in knowledge.

My interpretation of Testament of Job 37-38 (though I probably am not the first person to come up with it) runs into problems, though. For one, Baldad in Testament of Job 37 asks Job, “Then how do you reckon [God] to be unfair by inflicting you with all these plagues or destroying your goods?” Second, Baldad states: “Or who will ever understand the deep things of the Lord and his wisdom? Who dares to ascribe to the Lord an injustice?” It seems from these statements that Job is the one accusing God of injustice, whereas Baldad is the one who is saying that we cannot judge God because our understanding is limited. This is the opposite of what I am arguing.

I do not believe that these problems are insurmountable, however. Regarding Baldad’s question of how Job can reckon God to be unfair, the note in my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha states that the “text is corrupt.” The note refers to the Paris manuscript, which renders the passage as “How then can he be unfair by inflicting…?” In this reading, Baldad is not saying that Job is accusing God of injustice, but rather that God himself is unjust. Baldad is wondering why Job trusts in a God who would afflict him in this way. On Baldad’s statements about understanding the deep things of the Lord and ascribing to God an injustice, perhaps Baldad is being sarcastic. Baldad looks at the situation and thinks that God is being unfair, and Baldad mocks the idea that we cannot question or judge God because our understanding is limited. But Job continues to hold on to his faith.

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