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Reviews429 The Bitterness ofJob: A Philosophical Reading, by John T. Wilcox; 224 pp. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989, $27.95. William Blake's famous poem, "The Tyger," expresses die problematics of the Book ofJob: What immortal hand or eye could frame the fearful symmetry of this most perplexing Biblical poem? In The Bitterness ofJob, John Wilcox discusses what sort ofGod could first praise and then countenance die affliction of his most upright servant. Wilcox maintains that Job's sufferings engender a bitterness that drives him to blasphemy. Imputing to God many unsavory qualities, Wilcox's Job delivers a powerful indictment of the Deity for failing to uphold die moral world order he—and we—expect of Him. The opening half of Wilcox's book delineates a psychology of blasphemy emerging in the dialogues. Pitting the orthodoxy of the friends against Job's integrity, Wilcox concludes that the friends' traditional views of the connection between sin and retributivejustice are simply false. For his part, Job scratching his open sores with a "potsherd" (2:8) is the objective correlative of his spiritual torment. Wilcox sees Job oscillating between recriminations against deliberate Divine indifference to the suffering of the innocent or weak, on the one hand, while desperately affirming God's essentialjustice on the other. For Wilcox, the balance finally tilts in favor ofblasphemy—Job curses God, only to be answered out of the whirlwind by a voice and message totally incommensurate with his protestations. Wilcox's most provocative thesis emerges in the latter halfofhis book, devoted mainly to the two speeches of the theophany. Through the violent and fecund images of the Leviathan and Behemoth, Wilcox argues that the world the theophany's God sarcastically and ironically throws back in the face ofJob has nothing to do with moral order or justice. Instead, it is a harshly beautiful natural world, a violent balance between predator and prey supporting an entirely amoral reading ofGenesis 1 :25: "God saw that it was good." Remarking parallels with Baal myths and patterns in Job, Wilcox declares that Job's expectations of a "Moral World Order" are simply inapplicable in a universe largely unconcerned with and unaffected by man. While his learning and the energy of his arguments are engaging, it seems to me that Wilcox defuses the main tension at die core of the Book ofJob and misses the reason for its inclusion in the Hebrew canon. To consider Job a Nietzschean yea-saying to suffering and violence as somehow natural and even beautiful is potentially to justify Malthusian explanations of famine as divine population control—and to ignore our own role in causing and alleviating such disasters. Moreover, as a Nietzsche scholar, Wilcox might also recall how the Nazis perverted Nietzsche's philosophy into one of "natural" racial superiority. Wilcox's lengthy discussion of the theophany does insufficientjustice to the 430Philosophy and Literature poetry of the dialogues—or to their narrative and thematic weight (chapters 38-^41 are the theophany, chapters 2—37 form the dialogues). More crucially, Wilcox contends diat the fundamental Hebraic idea ofcovenant is unimportant in the Book ofJob. His reading of the theophany makes the notion absurd. ButJob is not merely bitter (a psychological state Wilcox condemns as counter to the Nietzschean ideal oflife-affirming acceptance), he is outraged. Like Abraham above Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.l9:23-33) and Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex.32:7-14),Job calls God to account fora violation ofHis side ofthe covenant; whether Job and his friends are Hebrews is moot, for Job's inclusion in the Hebrew canon makes the covenant ideal implicit. God's reply is perhaps protesting too much, but His rhetorical mysteries are nonetheless a reply—and Job's integrity is reaffirmed by the divine restoration of his family and wealth. Wilcox's reading of the theophany as a return to natural religion denies the very elements that make this poem a compelling drama, for it slights the human, all-too-human concern forjustice, the compassion for suffering, and the ethical outrage that rank the Book ofJob among literature's most compelling tributes to the persistence and questioning of the moral spirit. University of WashingtonMichael Yogev What Is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 429-430
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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