Job and the shift from "pre-modern" to "modern" ways of thinkingby Prospect Team / November 14, 2013 / Leave a comment
As Mark Larrimore shows in this fluent study, the history of the Book of Job is also the history of biblical scholarship, of atheism, of the shift from “pre-modern” to “modern” ways of thinking. Since its earliest appearance, the story of Job has puzzled and challenged believers. Job is a virtuous man who God allows to suffer—his children are killed, his possessions and health destroyed—for apparently arbitrary reasons. Thus Job has long been a starting point for discussions of the “problem of evil”: the question of how a supposedly benevolent, omnipotent God can permit the suffering of the innocent.
The Book of Job has stamped itself on the English language—“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away”; “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth”—yet Larrimore has disappointingly little to say about the literary qualities of the text. Where he excels is in tracing the intellectual history of the book, showing how the interpretations of thinkers from Maimonides to GK Chesterton have reflected the assumptions of their times. Larrimore is particularly good at helping us understand ancient and medieval readings of Job. For many modern readers, the Book of Job’s confrontation with the cruelty of the universe seems like a good argument for rejecting God. Yet, as Larrimore points out, “Philosophical and religious positions are not all equally available to all people at all times.” Until the 17th century, “the question was not whether to live with God, but how?”