Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the Job

Had a very pleasant chat over the phone this morning with someone writing a profile of the author of the Book of Job: A Biography for Publisher's Weekly. She hadn't had a chance to read more than a few pages of the book but the interview was to be about how I'd come to the topic, etc., etc. - and my view of the field of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies. I had to make very clear that I'm no Biblical scholar nor pretend to be! But what should I pretend to be? Job isn't a lifelong obsession, my bread and butter, the text that will not let me go.

She sent me some of her past profiles, and they're engaging little portraits, so I got to thinking about what might make a good lede for her. I came up with something - we'll see if she takes me up on it!

It's a true story: my first real encounter with the Book of Job was through the Torrey Pines High School theater program's production of Archibald MacLeish's J. B. I wasn't Job. Nor was I God, or Satan, or one of the friends (or Mrs. Job, for that matter). I was a bearer of bad tidings, indeed, I'm remembering, all the messengers. I reread the play a few years ago and those are small parts but hard. (What I really remember - I didn't say to the interviewer - was that I had to come on stage as a jerky journalist and smack a woman on the butt so hard that the audience could hear it but without causing pain; it was barely in my power to do either; the breakthrough came when the girl playing the other part threatened me - if I didn't get it right, she'd smack me back in the show so the audience could hear; the audience heard my smack.)

What I talked about instead is how one of the distinctive elements to my approach to the Book of Job is an awareness that I am not Job, nor God. You know this already - it's all about the friends, who are, yes, lousy friends. But they're there throughout, and Job's friendships are restored before anything else is. (He doesn't get twice as many and/or better friends, as he does everything else.) They are where we could enter the story, even as it warns us to expect failure. I do not come to Job, I explained, out of grief or tragedy of my own - another thing I thought I should make very clear. I am troubled and fascinated by the hard call to be witnesses. And friends.

Starting with J. B., rather than church or shul or seminary or tragedy, I was ready to talk about storytelling and ritual and performance... But she had interesting questions of her own, which it was fun to answer. The other predictable one was about my next project, so I tried to describe "wider moral communities" in a few words, and conceded that there was perhaps a connection to Job: in the theophany, with its suggestion that the human story isn't the only story there is, and isn't a story that can be understood in the breach without knowing the stories of many other kinds of beings.

I'm curious to see what she picks up from our conversation. 500 words is long enough to tell a story... Maybe she'll mention Deborah Bird Rose on Job's dog, something I babbled about because she told me her dog had his head on her lap as she was interviewing me!

(The drawing by Hirschfeld is from the 1958 premiere of J. B.)

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