Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I'm doing something a bit naughty in my "Reading Job" class. The class is advertised as all about readings of the "Book of Job," but we're not scheduled actually to start reading it until the fifth class meeting. And not because we're spending the first four classes looking at historical antecedents or contexts (which are in any case hard to find). Instead, I'm trying to expose the students to a multiplicity of Job traditions, mainly oral, before arriving at the text, so that they can experience the text as an intervention in this universe of Job stories, not its origin.
This is not news - it's a widely held view that the poet of Job took a preexisting narrative and ran with it. But the way I'm trying to seed the discussion may be novel. In the first class, we listened to two readings, one a short version read by Laurence Olivier (one side of an LP set called "The Living Bible" from the 1960s) and the other the newly released "Word of Promise Audio Bible." Both have cringe-inducing soundtracks, so we also listened to the quite atonal theophany from Peter Maxwell Davies' 1997 oratorio "Job." For today's class, students were asked to spend some time online seeing what Job-related things they could find.
Today, before asking what people had found, we passed around David Rosenberg's "translation," each student reading a page aloud, which includes pretty much everything the "Living Bible" version omits and vice versa. Some students loved it, others hated it - for some of the same reasons: it's in contemporary language, with references to current things like nuclear bombs, factories, railroad ties and abortion. Then students were given a few minutes to jot things down and had to tell the story of Job to a partner. After a discussion of Job and Job-interest in the Web, I passed around the Global Recording Network's Job account, which students had to read to each other, the listener imagining she was an animist hearing this for the first time. After analyzing and critiquing the omissions and insertions here, we looked over the four selections of Job in the Revised Common Lectionary, which give a quite different picture. Finally, I introduced Anna Ruth Henriques' Book of Mechtilde, a modern illuminated manuscript narrating the illness and death of the Chinese-Jamaican Sephardic author's mother, in which the entire text of the Book of Job is transcribed. Not just the story but the very language of Job - unabridged here - becomes the stuff for framing of experience.
(Pictures above are from this book.) By the time we get to the Book of Job itself (which we'll read first in Raymond Scheindlin's translation), it will seem both familiar and unfamiliar, old and new. But that's still more than a week away! Before that we read the "Testament of Job," a concretization of the "legend of Job" which haunted the Book of Job for much of the first millennium CE, and David Clines' incendiary essay "Why Is There A Book of Job and What Does It Do to You When You Read It?"

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