Monday 18 November 2013

From the Deep - Feeling Monstrous - Leviathan in the Book of Job

William Blake
We've spent the last 5 weeks wrestling with the book of Job, the book of the Bible most packed with explicit references to Leviathan and primordial sea monsters. We saw three instances when Job mentions the sea monsters, Job 3, when he calls on those who seek to rouse the monster, Job 7, in which Job identifies with the creature, under a constant vigilant watch, and Job 26 in which he describes God's slaying of the Leviathan in ages past. We could also have discussed Job 9 - and will at some point soon - another one of Job's speeches.

Why does Job spend so much time talking about sea monsters? Why are all the instances put in Job's mouth, when his three 'friends' are silent on the subject? And why does God conclude His speech from the whirlwind with a description of Leviathan?

Job is suffering, he has lost everything and can't see the reason for it - he did what was right in the eyes of God, and has no lost his wealth, his health and his family. When he finally speaks out against the unfairness he has experienced, blaming God for punishing him for no reason, he begins to identify with the sea monsters, the primordial enemy of God.

Job sees his theological doubts as so troubling that they threaten the order of the cosmos itself, shaking the roots of the earth as the Leviathan did in ages past. He thinks that God has struck him down for no reason, and can't reconcile that with the traditional theology of God rewarding the righteous and punishing sinners. Job feels crushed, beaten and destroyed, and the experience has made him identify with God's ancient enemy.

Sometimes we feel like we aren't welcome in synagogue, we feel like our views and theology surely exclude us from being welcome. We can feel crushed and defeated by life, and therefore so angry at God and the universe that the last thing we want to do is be on God's side.

God's response then is that God has seen far worse.

Job thinks he is dangerous and subversive, feels removed and exiled - but God says that Job doesn't even know from dangerous. Leviathan is beyond anything Job can imagine, and the universe is infinitely more bizarre and terrifying than Job ever realised.

The response is not much of an answer.

It doesn't solve any of Job's theological questions and doesn't reassure Job at all. Yet there is a deep truth here, that no matter how much Job feels angry, at the end of the day the universe is much bigger than he has ever realised, and whatever he may be, he is not the enemy of God.

No matter how far Job may have fallen away from the derech, what he understands to be orthodox theology, he is never outside God's light.

You might think that you're way outside the box, that if God exists, God probably doesn't agree with you. You may think that you're theology will shake organised religion to the foundations - but God has seen worse, and you aren't as monstrous as you think you are.

Next week on 'From the Deep' - Miscellaneous Biblical References - Last 'From the Deep' in the current run!

'From the Deep' has been made possible by Nishma, a summer of learning in the JTS Beit Midrash.

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