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The Origins of Apocalypticism

In my previous post I began to explain how, in 1985, while teaching a class at Rutgers on the Problem of Suffering, I came to realize that I simply didn't accept any longer most of the views of the Bible on why there was suffering in the world.  But one view did continue to appeal to me, the apocalyptic view that emerged toward the end of the New Testament period, and became the view of Jesus, John the Baptist before him, the apostle Paul after him, and, in fact, most of the early Christians. This would be a good time to review where this view came from and what motivated it.  For that I am going to return to a post that I made on the blog a couple of years ago.  Here I set up what apocalypticists believed (especially about suffering) by contrasting it with the view out of which it arose and to which it was reacting, the view of the traditional Hebrew prophets. ********************************************************************** The Prophetic Perspective We have seen that the [...]

Explaining a Columbian Mudslide

During the term when I was teaching my class on the problem of suffering at Rutgers in 1985, one of those unthinkable natural disasters occurred that made headline news and disturbed all caring people around the world.   The night before there had been a volcanic incident in Columbia that caused a mudslide that wiped out several villages, killing thousands of people in their sleep.  The death toll in the end was 23,000, men women and children. Some people blamed the Columbian government – they shouldn’t have allowed these villages to be near a volcano.  Fair enough I suppose.  You have to blame *someone*.  And who can blame a volcano?   But why do disasters like this have to happen in the first place?  And how do people who believe in the God of the Bible account for such things?   Blaming government officials for a volcanic eruption seems a bit lame.  And it didn’t occur to most of us at the time, as we were reading accounts in the papers.  Instead, our reactions were “Oh my God!  [...]

2020-04-03T02:09:33-04:00July 10th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Variety of Views of Suffering in the Bible

Some thirty years ago now, when I taught my class at Rutgers on “The Problem of Suffering in the Biblical Traditions,” I came to realize – or at least came to realize more clearly – that a number of the views set forth in the Bible simply did not resonate with me.  Which, I suppose, is a more tactful way of saying that I simply didn’t agree with them. By far the most prominent explanation for suffering in the Bible is that God is using pain, misery, and human disaster in order to punish his people because they have failed to live up to his standards and to follow his will.  He penalizes them by inflicting pain  That is why there are droughts, famines, economic crises, and military disasters.   That lesson is taught time after time after time in the Hebrew Bible – just read Deuteronomy, or Amos, or Jeremiah, or, well, any of the prophets.  I suppose when I was a fundamentalist I completely accepted that view.   But eventually – probably when teaching this [...]

Job and the God Who Refuses To Answer

This will be my last post in this thread within a thread on Job.  I ended my last post by pointing out that near the end of the poetic dialogues (chs. 3-42a), Job pleads to have a chance to defend himself before God himself.  Before he is granted – or made to suffer – such a chance, another so-called friend, Elihu appears and states forcefully the view of all the “friends,” that Job is suffering because he has committed sins and God is punishing him. This is where I pick up the plot in my book God’s Problem, as I set out the ultimate view of suffering for the author of these backs-and-forths, the view that becomes clear only when God blasts Job with his Almighty presence. **************************************************************** Job has no time – or need – to reply to this restatement of his friends’ views.  Before he can respond, God himself appears, in power, to overwhelm Job with his presence and to cower him into submission in the dirt.  God does not appear with a [...]

2020-04-03T02:26:01-04:00April 18th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Was Job Really Innocent?

In this thread within a thread I have been talking about the book of Job and its two authors and their two different views of suffering.  In the narrative that begins and ends the book (chs. 1-2, 42), by one of the authors, suffering is a test from God to see whether Job will remain faithful even if he suffers dearly.  Does he really worship God because God deserves it, or because of what he can get from it? In the poetic section (chs. 3-41) Job’s friends insist that Job suffers not as a test or for any reason but one: Job has sinned and God is punishing him.  This we saw in my last post.  Here, in this one, I will lay out Job’s response.  Again, this discussion is taken from my book God’s Problem. ************************************************************ For Job, the charges his friends level against him (that he is unrighteous) is itself unjust.  He has done nothing to deserve his fate and to maintain his personal integrity, he has to insist on his own innocence.  [...]

2020-04-03T02:26:14-04:00April 17th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Job’s So-called Friends (With Friends Like These….)

Now that I have started talking about the book of Job in the context of the afterlife, I feel like I need to keep going, on a bit of a subthread to this thread, and talk about the bulk of the book, the poetic dialogues that take place in chapters 3-41.  These are glorious, powerful, and gripping chapters.   To make sense of them will take several posts.  I have lifted the discussion from my book God’s Problem. ******************************************************************* The Poetic Dialogues of Job: There is No Answer As I indicated at the beginning of this discussion, the view of suffering in the poetic dialogues of Job differs radically from that found in the narrative framing story of the prologue and epilogue.  The issue they dealt with, however, is the same.  If God is ultimately in charge of all of life, why is it that the innocent suffer?   For the folktale it is because God tests people to see if they can retain their piety despite undeserved pain and misery.  For the poetic dialogues, there are [...]

2020-04-03T02:26:37-04:00April 13th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Why I Find the Story of Job is Disturbing

In yesterday’s post I summarized the narrative of Job (the story that frames the book, chs. 1-2 and 42, which come from a different author from the poetic dialogues of Job and his “friends” of chs. 3-41), with a few words about its view of why a good person might suffer.  Life’s miseries could be a test from God to see if a person will remain faithful, not just when he is thriving but also when he is in the midst of dire hardship.  Does this person worship God for what he can get out of it (wealth, prestige, stature) or because God deserves to be worshiped no matter what? When I was a Christian I was drawn to this story and thought that it taught a valuable lesson.  It was important to be faithful, even when times were hard.  Suffering might simply be a test to see if I truly loved God and wanted to serve him, no matter what. I no longer see the story that way, but instead find it disturbing on [...]

2020-04-03T02:26:49-04:00April 12th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Understanding the Story of Job

In this thread on the afterlife in the Bible, I have turned to Ecclesiastes and Job as providing alternative views to what is found in most of the Hebrew Bible.  In my previous post I noted that Job appears to be two different books by two different authors edited together at some point into one long account.  The beginning and end of the book represent a short folk tale, with an intriguing view of why it is people suffer (a matter of importance to views of the afterlife, as we will see in the next post,).  Here is what I say about the tale in my book God’s Problem: **************************************************************** The Folktale: The Suffering of Job as a Test of Faith The action of the prose folktale alternates between scenes on earth and in heaven.  It begins by indicating that Job lived in the land of Uz; usually this is located in Edom, to the southeast of Israel.  Job, in other words, is not an Israelite.  As a book of “wisdom,” this account is not [...]

2020-04-03T02:27:02-04:00April 11th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Two Books of Job: A Blast from the Past

I have been arguiong that there are different views of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  The dominant view is that all people go to Sheol when they die -- either they stay in the grave or there is some place that they all gather, a completely uninteresting, dark, dreary place where nothing really happens.  Some authors, though, suggest there is no afterlife at all.  Ecclesiastes, in one or two places, seems to suggest this, as does the book of Job. Before looking at the relevant passage in Job, I need to say something about the book as a whole, since it is one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible, in part because most readers don't realize that the book comes from the hands of two different authors, living at different times and places, with very different points of view.  Here is how I explain it all in a post I made over four years ago, in the context of a thread dealing with how biblical authors deal with the problem of suffering. *********************************************************** [...]

2020-04-03T02:27:28-04:00April 10th, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Evaluation of Job’s View of Suffering

When I evaluated the short story of Job – found now in the first two and the final chapters of the book – I indicated that I love it as a story. But I do not at *all* find its view of suffering (why it happens) satisfactory. Just the contrary – I find it offensive and even somewhat repulsive. That God would kill innocent children in order to see whether their loving father would curse him seems completely beyond the pale to me. And now, what about the poetic section in chapters 3-41, Job’s dialogues with his three, and then four, friends, and God’s final response to Job in which he silences his claims and protestations by revealing himself in all his awesome and completely overwhelming glory? Here too I find the book mesmerizing and powerful, a real masterpiece of dialogue that reaches a breath-taking climax. This is one of the great pieces of literature from antiquity. But again I find the view of suffering it presents to be completely inadequate and offensive. Let me [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:43-04:00July 23rd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Suffering in the Poetic Section of Job

To make sense of the following post, you should probably read yesterday's! ********************************************************************************************************************** Over the years scholars have proposed a wide range of options for interpreting this closing back and forth between God from the whirlwind and Job cowing down in awe before him. This interpretive decision is important, for in some sense the entire meaning of the poetic dialogue hinges on how we understand its climactic ending. One thing that is clear to all interpreters: the view of traditional wisdom is wrong: it is not the case that only the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job really was innocent, and yet he suffered. But why? The answer depends on how we understand God’s awesome appearance at the end and Job’s response. Among some of the leading options of interpretation are the following. • Job finally gets what he wants (in a good way): an encounter with God. This interpretation is true to a point, but the problem with it is that Job does not actually get what he wants, which is a chance [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:51-04:00July 22nd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Key Passages in Job’s Back and Forth

  As waters fail from a lake                 And a river wastes away and dries up So mortals lie down and do not rise again;                 Until the heavens are no more , they will not awake                 Or be roused out of their sleep. (14:11-12) At times God’s attacks on Job are portrayed in extremely violent and graphic terms.                 I was at ease, and he broke me in two;                                 He seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;                 He set me up as his target;                                 His archers surround me.                 He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy;                                 He pours out my gall on the ground.                 He bursts upon me again and again;                                 He rushes at me like a warrior. (16:12-14)   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, NOW'S YOUR CHANCE!!! Throughout it all, Job maintains his own integrity and refuses to confess to sins that he has [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:02-04:00July 21st, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

The Poetic Section of Job

In my last couple of posts I dealt with the short story of Job and evaluated its view of suffering.  For the next two or three posts I’ll talk about poetic section that takes up the bulk of the book, chs. 3-42.   This is how I discuss these sections in my new Bible Intro (due out in the Fall). *********************************************** Since the same characters appear in the poetic section of the book as in the prose narrative, either the author of the poetry was familiar with the story in a written form, or there were various accounts of Job and his friends floating around in oral circulation in ancient Israel.   Along with Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, a fourth friend comes to be introduced as well into the poetic section, a man named Elihu. I have a called this large middle section a “poetic dialogue.”  That is because, obviously, it is set in poetry and because it involves a discussion between Job and his friends, whose friendly advice is actually filled with animosity and condemnation.   The [...]

2020-10-23T04:15:18-04:00July 20th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Evaluation of Job’s Short Story

                In my previous post I laid out the “short story” of Job – the prose narrative that begins and ends the book that was, I contended, originally a free-standing story that existed independently of the poetic dialogues between Job and his friends that take up the great bulk of the book (this isn’t my idea: it’s been a standard view in scholarship for a long time).   This short story has a different view of Job, of the reason for his suffering, of his response to suffering, and just about everything else from the poetic exchanges of chapter 3-42.   Interpretations simply get fuzzy and confused when they treat the book as a literary whole – or at least the views of each of the two constituent parts gets completely altered when they are combined together into a rather large work, as was done by an unknown editor who spliced them into the book that we now have today.                 And so, just sticking with what we find in the [...]

2017-12-31T20:48:41-05:00July 19th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Prose Story of Job

I’ve decided to devote a few posts to the book of Job.   I’ll separate out the two authors and their accounts, and in this post talk about the prose narrative that begins and ends the book – that originally was just one story, without all the intervening materials (chs. 3-39) present in them. The book begins by describing Job, who is not, as it turns out, an Israelite.  He comes from the land of Uz , which appears to be a fictional place.  Job nonetheless worships Yahweh, and is unusually righteous and upright.  As a result God has rewarded him handsomely.  He has a large family – seven sons and three daughters – and an unbelievable number of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants.   He is so righteous that he not only makes sure that he himself never sins, but he regularly offers burnt sacrifices to God on behalf of his children in case any of them has sinned. One day the “sons of God” come up to God in heaven, including one called Satan.  [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:20-04:00July 17th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

The Two Books of Job

In my previous post I mentioned that the book of Job is almost certainly the work of two different authors, with two different views – of Job, of Job’s relation with God, of the reason for Job’s sufferings, of Job’s reaction to suffering, and just about everything else. I’ve been asked to give reasons that scholars have (long) thought that this is the case – that there are two different works that have been spliced together. Here I’ll lift my introduction to Job from my yet-to-be-published textbook on the Bible, due to come out in the Fall. In my next post or so I’ll say a few words at greater length about the views of suffering in the two different parts of Job.   ***************************************************************************** One of the difficulties that most readers have with Job – possibly without realizing that they are having the problem – is that they do not realize that this book is not simply the work of one author with one consistent view of how to explain the problem of suffering, [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:27-04:00July 16th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|
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