Monday, December 28, 2009
Mind the gap
Working with ancient texts is not something I know how to do. I remember Bruce Zuckerman likening the surviving record to the buttes of Monument Valley. Most things are lost, and those which survive have survived for reasons which may have little to do with their quality or significance or representativeness. So how can you say anything about these periods? I haven't had to before, but I need to say something about the context of the Book of Job. The main point is that we know very little, and that there are no other surviving texts which are sufficiently like it that we can see it as part of a genre. And yet it's not as simple as that. One can learn quite a lot (for instance from Carol Newsom's brilliant generic analysis of Job as a polyphonic text) by looking at other surviving texts. Above is part of one, the so-called Babylonian Theodicy, in which a sufferer invokes the comfort and help of a wise friend. It's one of the gappier parts: so tempting to see the gaps as unintentional insight, a Monument Valley in the desert of humanity's wanderings in search of meaning. But I must resist the temptation, somehow. With respect to Job, too.