The Sceptics of the Old Testament: Job - Koheleth - Agur
Emile Joseph Dillon

Part 1 out of 4

Produced by David Starner, Thomas Berger
and the Distributed Prooreaders team.



with English text translated for the first time from the primitive Hebrew
as restored on the basis of recent philological discoveries.


E. J. Dillon

Late Professor of Comparative Philology and Ancient Armenian at the
Imperial University of Kharkoff; Doctor of Oriental Languages of the
University of Louvain; Magistrand of the Oriental Faculty of the Imperial
University of St. Petersburg; Member of the Armenian Academy of Venice;
Membre de la Societe Asiatique de Paris, &c. &c.

* * * * *


* * * * *


_My Dear Paschkoff,

In the philosophical problems dealt with by the Sceptics of the Old
Testament, you will recognise the theme of our numerous and pleasant
discussions during the past sixteen years. Three of these are indelibly
engraven in my memory, and, if I mistake not, in yours.

The first took place in St. Petersburg one soft Indian-summer's evening,
in a cosy room on the Gagarine Quay, from the windows of which we looked
out with admiration upon the blue expanse of the Neva, as it reflected
the burnished gold of the spire of the Fortress church. At that time we
gazed upon the wavelets of the river and the wonders of the world from
exactly the same angle of vision.

The second of these memorable conversations occurred after the lapse of
nine years. We had met together in the old place, and sauntering out one
bitterly cold December evening resumed the discussion, walking to and fro
on the moonlit bank of the ice-bound river, until evening merged into
night and the moon sank beneath the horizon, leaving us in total
darkness, vainly desirous, like Goethe, of "light, more light."

Our last exchange of views took place after six further years had sped
away, and we stood last August on the summit of the historic Moenchsberg,
overlooking the final resting-place of the great Paracelsus. The long and
interesting discussions which we had on that occasion, just before
setting out in opposite directions, you to the East and I to the West,
neither of us is likely ever to forget.

It is in commemoration of these pleasant conversations, and more
especially of the good old times, now past for ever, when we looked out
upon the wavelets of the Neva and the wonders of the world from the same
angle of vision, that I ask you to allow me to associate your name with
this translation of the primitive texts of the Sceptics of the Old

Yours affectionately,


TREBIZOND, January 3, 1895._

* * * * *


A careful perusal of this first English translation of the primitive text
of "Job," "Koheleth," and the "Sayings of Agur" will, I doubt not,
satisfy the most orthodox reader that I am fully warranted in
characterising their authors as Sceptics. The epithet, I confess, may
prove distasteful to many, but the truth, I trust, will be welcome to
all. It is not easy to understand why any one who firmly believes that
Providence is continually educing good from evil should hesitate to admit
that it may in like manner allow sound moral principles to be enshrined
in doubtful or even erroneous philosophical theories. Or, is trust in God
to be made dependent upon the confirmation or rejection by physical
science of, say, the Old Testament account of the origin of the rainbow?
Agur, "Job" and "Koheleth" had outgrown the intellectual husks which a
narrow, inadequate and erroneous account of God's dealings with man had
caused to form around the minds of their countrymen, and they had the
moral courage to put their words into harmony with their thoughts.
Clearly perceiving that, whatever the sacerdotal class might say to the
contrary, the political strength of the Hebrew people was spent and its
religious ideals exploded, they sought to shift the centre of gravity
from speculative theology to practical morality.

The manner in which they adjusted their hopes, fears, and aspirations to
the new conditions, strikes the keynote of their respective characters.
"Job," looking down upon the world from the tranquil heights of genius,
is manful, calm, resigned. "Koheleth," shuddering at the gloom that
envelops and the pain that convulses all living beings, prefers death to
life, and freedom from suffering to "positive" pleasure; while Agur,
revealing the bitterness bred by dispelled illusions and blasted hopes,
administers a severe chastisement to those who first called them into
being. All three[1] reject the dogma of retribution, the doctrine of
eternal life and belief in the coming of a Messiah, over and above which
they at times strip the notion of God of its most essential attributes,
reducing it to the shadow of a mere metaphysical abstraction. This is why
I call them Sceptics.

"Job" and "Koheleth" emphatically deny that there is any proof to be
found of the so-called moral order in the universe, and they
unhesitatingly declare that existence is an evil. They would have us
therefore exchange our hopes for insight, and warn us that even this is
very circumscribed at best. For not only is happiness a mockery, but
knowledge is a will-o'-the-wisp. Mankind resembles the bricklayer and the
hodman who help to raise an imposing edifice without any knowledge of the
general plan. And yet the structure is the outcome of their labour. In
like manner this mysterious world is the work of man--the mirror of his
will. As his will is, so are his acts, and as his acts are, so is his
world. Or as the ancient Hindoos put it:

"Before the gods we bend our necks, and yet
within the toils of Fate
Entangled are the gods themselves. To Fate,
then, be all honour given.
Yet Fate itself can compass nought, 'tis but the
bringer of the meed
For every deed that we perform.
As then our acts shape our rewards, of what
avail are gods or Fate?
Let honour therefore be decerned to deeds

But what, I have been frequently asked, will be the effect of all this
upon theology? Are we to suppose that the writings of these three
Sceptics were admitted into the Canon by mistake, and if not, shall we
not have to widen our definition of inspiration until it can be made to
include contributions which every Christian must regard as heterodox? An
exhaustive reply to this question would need a theological dissertation,
for which I have neither desire nor leisure. I may say, however, that
eminent theologians representing various Christian denominations--Roman
Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran--have assured me that
they could readily reconcile the dogmas of their respective Churches with
doctrines educible from the primitive text of "Job," "Koheleth," and
Agur, whose ethics they are disposed to identify, in essentials, with the
teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. With the ways and means by which
they effect this reconciliation I am not now concerned.

My object was neither to attack a religious dogma, nor to provoke a
theological controversy, but merely to put the latest results of
philological science within the reach of him who reads as he runs. And I
feel confident that the reader who can appreciate the highest forms of
poetry, or who has anxiously pondered over the problems of God,
immortality, the origin of evil, &c., will peruse the writings of "Job,"
"Koheleth" and Agur with a lively interest, awakened, and sustained not
merely by the extrinsic value which they possess as historical documents,
but by their intrinsic merits as precious contributions to the literature
and philosophy of the world.


CONSTANTINOPLE, _New Year's Day, 1895._


[1] In Agur's case, this is but an inference from his first saying, but
an inference which few would think of calling in question.

* * * * *










* * * * *


According to a theory which was still in vogue a few years ago, the
ancient races of mankind were distinguished from each other no less by
their intellectual equipment than by their physical peculiarities. Thus
the Semites were supposed to be characterised, among other things, by an
inborn aptitude for historical narrative and an utter lack of the mental
suppleness, ingenuity, and sharp incisive vision indispensable for the
study of the problems of philosophy; while their neighbours, the Aryans,
devoid of historical talent, were held to be richly endowed with all the
essential qualities of mind needed for the cultivation of epic poetry and
abstruse metaphysics. This theory has since been abandoned, and many of
the alleged facts that once seemed to support it have been shown to be
unwarranted assumptions. Thus, the conclusive proof, supplied by Biblical
criticism, of the untrustworthiness of the historical books of the Old
Testament, has removed one alleged difference between Aryans and Semites,
while the discoveries which led to the reconstruction of the primitive
poem of Job and of the treatise of Koheleth have undermined the basis of
the other. For these two works deal exclusively with philosophical
problems, and, together with the Books of Proverbs and Jesus Sirach, are
the only remains that have come down to us of the ethical and
metaphysical speculations of the ancient Hebrews whose descendants have
so materially contributed to further this much-maligned branch of human
knowledge. And if we may judge by what we know of these two books, we
have ample grounds for regretting that numerous other philosophical
treatises which were written between the fourth and the first centuries
B.C. were deemed too abstruse, too irrelevant, or too heterodox to find a
place in the Jewish Canon.[2] For the Book of Job is an unrivalled
masterpiece, the work of one in whom poetry was no mere special faculty
cultivated apart from his other gifts, but the outcome of the harmonious
wholeness of healthy human nature, in which upright living, untrammelled
thought, deep mental vision, and luxuriant imagination combined to form
the individual. Hence the poem is a true reflex of the author's mind: it
dissolves and blends in harmonious union elements that appeared not
merely heterogeneous, but wholly incompatible, and realises, with the
concreteness of history, the seemingly unattainable idea which Lucretius
had the mind to conceive but lacked the artistic hand to execute; in a
word, it is the fruit of the intimate union of that philosophy which,
reckless of results, dares to clip even angels' wings, and of the art
which possesses the secret of painting its unfading pictures with the
delicate tints of the rainbow. Rich fancy and profound thought co-operate
to produce a _tertium quid_--a visible proof that the beautiful is
one with the true--for which neither literature nor philosophy possesses
a name. It is no wonder, then, that this unique poem, which gives
adequate utterance to abstract thought, truly and forcibly states the
doubts and misgivings which harrow the souls of thinking men of all ages
and nations, and helps them to lift a corner of the veil of delusion and
get a glimpse of the darkness of the everlasting Night beyond, should
appeal to the reader of the nineteenth century with much greater force
than to the Jews of olden times, who were accustomed to gauge the
sublimity of imaginative poetry and the depth of philosophic speculation
by the standard of orthodoxy and the bias of nationality.

The Book of Job, from which Pope Gregory the Great fancied he could piece
together the entire system of Catholic theology, and which Thomas of
Aquin regarded as a sober history, is now known to be a regular poem,
but, as Tennyson truly remarked, "the greatest poem whether of ancient or
modern times," and the diction of which even Luther instinctively felt to
be "magnificent and sublime as no other book of Scripture." And it is
exclusively in this light, as one of the masterpieces of the world's
literature, that it will be considered in the following pages. Whatever
religious significance it may be supposed to possess over and above, as
one of the canonical books of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, will,
it is hoped, remain unaffected by this treatment, which is least of all
controversial. The flowers that yield honey to the bee likewise delight
the bee-keeper with their perfume and the poet with their colours, and
there is no adequate reason why the magic verse which strikes a
responsive chord in the soul of lovers of high art, and starts a new
train of ideas in the minds of serious thinkers, should thereby lose any
of the healing virtues it may have heretofore possessed for the suffering
souls of the believing.

But viewed even as a mere work of art, it would be hopeless to endeavour
to press it into the frame of any one of the received categories of
literary composition, as is evident from the fact that authorised and
unauthorised opinion on the subject has touched every extreme, and still
continues oscillating to-day. Many commentators still treat it as a
curious chapter of old-world history narrated with scrupulous fidelity by
the hero or an eye-witness, others as a philosophical dialogue; several
scholars regard it as a genuine drama, while not a few enthusiastically
aver that it is the only epic poem ever written by a Hebrew. In truth, it
partakes of the nature of each and every one of these categories, and is
yet circumscribed by the laws and limits of none of them. In form, it is
most nearly akin to the drama, with which we should be disposed to
identify it if the characters of the prologue and epilogue were
introduced as _dramatis personae_ in action. But their doing and
enduring are presupposed as accomplished facts, and employed merely as a
foil to the dialogues, which alone are the work of the author. Perhaps
the least erroneous way succinctly to describe what in fact is a
_unicum_ would be to call it a psychological drama.

Koheleth, or the Preacher, is likewise a literary puzzle which for
centuries has baffled the efforts of commentators and aroused the
misgivings of theologians. Regarded by many as a _vade mecum_ of
materialists, by some as an eloquent sermon on the fear of God, and by
others as a summary of sceptical philosophy, it is impossible to analyse
and classify it without having first eliminated all those numerous
later-date insertions which, without improving the author's theology,
utterly obscure his meaning and entirely spoil his work. When, by the aid
of text criticism, we have succeeded in weeding it of the parasitic
growth of ages, we have still to allow for the changing of places of
numerous authentic passages either by accident or design, the effects of
which are oftentimes quite as misleading as those of the deliberate
interpolations. The work thus restored, although one, coherent and
logical, is still susceptible of various interpretations, according to
the point of view of the reader, none of which, however, can ignore the
significant fact that the sceptically ideal basis of Koheleth's
metaphysics is identical with that of Buddha, Kant, and Schopenhauer, and
admirably harmonises with the ethics of Job and the pessimism of the New

The Sayings of Agur, on the contrary, tell their own interesting story,
without need of note or commentary, to him who possesses a fair knowledge
of Hebrew grammar, and an average allowance of mother wit. The lively
versifier, the keenness of whose sense of humour is excelled only by the
bitterness of his satire, could ill afford to be obscure. A member of the
literary fraternity which boasts the names of Lucian and Voltaire, a firm
believer in the force of common sense and rudimentary logic, Agur
ridicules the theologians of his day with a malicious cruelty which is
explained, if not warranted, by the pretensions of omniscience and the
practice of intolerance that provoked it. The unanswerable argument which
Jahveh considered sufficient to silence his servant Job, Agur deems
effective against the dogmatical doctors of his own day:

"Who has ascended into heaven and come down again?

* * * * *

Such an one would I question about God: What is his name?"


[2] Job and Ecclesiastes were inserted in the Jewish and, one may add,
the Christian Canon, solely on the strength of passages which the
authors of these compositions never even saw, and which flatly
contradict the main theses of their works.

* * * * *


Purged of all later interpolations and restored as far as possible to the
form it received from the hand of its author, the poem of Job is the most
striking presentation of the most obscure and fascinating problem that
ever puzzled and tortured the human intellect: how to reconcile the
existence of evil, not merely with the fundamental dogmas of the ancient
Jewish faith, but with any form of Theism whatever. Stated in the terms
in which the poet--whom for convenience sake we shall identify with his
hero[3] manifestly conceived it, it is this: Can God be the creator of
all things and yet not be responsible for evil?

The Infinite Being who laid the earth's foundation, "shut in the sea with
doors," whose voice is thunder and whose creatures are all things that
have being, is, we trust, moral and good. But it is His omnipotence that
strikes us most forcibly. Almighty in theory, He is all active in fact,
and nothing that happens in the universe is brought about even indirectly
by any one but Himself. There are no second causes at work, no chance, no
laws of nature, no subordinate agents, nothing that is not the immediate
manifestation of His free will.[4] This is evident to our senses. But
what is equally obvious is that His acts do not tally with His attribute
of goodness, and that no facts known or imaginable can help us to bridge
over the abyss between the infinite justice ascribed to Him and the
crying wrongs that confront us in His universe, whithersoever we turn.[5]
His rule is such a congeries of evils that even the just man often
welcomes death as a release, and Job himself with difficulty overcame the
temptation to end his sufferings by suicide. All the cut-and-dried
explanations of God's conduct offered by His human advocates merely
render the problem more complicated. His professional apologists are
"weavers of lies," and contend for Him "with deception," and, worse than
all else, He Himself has never revealed to His creatures any truth more
soothing than the fact they set out with, that the problem is for ever
insoluble. Wisdom "is hid from the eyes of all living,"[6] and the dead
are in "the land of darkness and of gloom,"[7] whence there is no issue.

The theological views prevalent in the days of the poet, as expounded by
the three friends of Job, instead of suggesting some way out of the
difficulty were in flagrant contradiction with fact. They appealed to the
traditional theory and insisted on having that accepted as the reality.
And it was one of the saddest theories ever invented. Virtue was at best
a mere matter of business, one of the crudest forms of utilitarianism, a
bargain between Jahveh and His creatures. As asceticism in ancient India
was rewarded with the spiritual gift of working miracles, so upright
living was followed in Judea by material wealth, prosperity, a numerous
progeny and all the good things that seem to make life worth living. Such
at least was the theory, and those who were satisfied with their lot had
little temptation to find fault with it for the sake of those who were
not. In sober reality, however, the obligation was very one-sided:
Jahveh, who occasionally failed to carry out His threats, observed or
repudiated His solemn promises as He thought fit, whereas those among His
creatures who faithfully fulfilled their part of the contract were never
sure of receiving their stipulated wage in the promised coin. And at that
time none other was current: there was no future life looming in the dim
distance with intensified rewards and punishments wherewith to redress
the balance of this. And it sadly needed redressing. The victims of
seeming injustice naturally felt that they were being hardly dealt with.
And as if to make confusion worse confounded, their neighbours, who had
ridden roughshod over all law, human and divine, were frequently exempt
from misfortune, lived on the fat of the land, and enjoyed a monopoly of
the divine blessings. To Job, whose consciousness of his own
righteousness was clearer and less questionable than the justice of his
Creator, this theory of retribution seemed unworthy of belief.

The creation of this good God, then, is largely leavened with evil for
which--all things being the work of His hands--He, and He alone, is
answerable. There was no devil in those olden times upon whose broad
shoulders the responsibility for sickness, suffering, misery and death
could be conveniently shifted. The Satan or Adversary is still one of the
sons of God who, like all his brethren, has free access to the council
chamber of the Most High, where he is wont to take a critical, somewhat
cynical but not wholly incorrect view of motives and of men. In the
government of the world he has neither hand nor part, and his
interference in the affairs of Job is the result of a special permission
accorded him by the Creator. God alone is the author of good _and of
evil_,[8] and the thesis to be demonstrated by His professional
apologists consists in showing that the former is the outflow of His
mercy, and the latter the necessary effect of His justice acting upon the
depraved will of His creatures. But the proof was not forthcoming.
Personal suffering might reasonably be explained in many cases as the
meet and inevitable wage for wrong-doing; but assuredly not in all. Job
himself was a striking instance of unmerited punishment. Even Jahveh
solemnly declares him to be just and perfect; and Job was admittedly no
solitary exception; he was the type of a numerous class of righteous,
wronged and wretched mortals, unnamed and unknown:

"Omnes illacrymabiles....
ignotique longa
Nocte, carent quia vate sacro."

Job is ready to admit that God, no doubt, is just and good in theory, but
he cannot dissemble the obvious fact that His works in the universe are
neither; indeed, if we may judge the tree by its fruits, His
_regime_ is the rule of an oriental and almighty despot whose will
and pleasure is the sole moral law. And that will is too often
undistinguishable from malice of the blackest kind. Thus

"He destroyeth the upright and the wicked,
When his scourge slayeth at unawares.
He scoffeth at the trial of the innocent;
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked."

In a word, the poet proclaims that the current theories of traditional
theology were disembodied, not incarnate in the moral order of the world,
had, in fact, nowhere taken root.

The two most specious arguments with which it was sought to prop up this
tottering theological system consisted in maintaining that the wicked are
often punished and the good recompensed in their offspring--a kind of
spiritual entail in which the tenant for life is denied the usufruct for
the sake of heirs he never knew--and that such individual claims as were
left unadjusted by this curious arrangement were merged in those of the
community at large and should be held to be settled in full as long as
the weal of the nation was assured. In other words, the individual sows
and his offspring or the nation reaps the harvest. But Job rejects both
pleas as illusory and immoral, besides which, they leave the frequent
prosperity of the unrighteous unexplained. "Wherefore," he asks, "do the
wicked live, become old, yea wax mighty in strength?" The reply that the
fathers having eaten sour grapes, the children's teeth will be set on
edge, is, he contends, no answer to the objection; it merely intensifies
it. For he who sows should reap, and he who sins should suffer. After
death the most terrible punishment meted out to the posterity of
criminals is powerless to affect their mouldering dust. That, surely,
cannot be accepted as a vindication of justice, human or divine.

"Ye say: God hoards punishment for the children.
Let him rather requite the wicked himself that he may feel it!
His own eyes should behold his downfall,
And he himself should drain the Almighty's wrath.
If his sons are honoured, he will not know it;
And if dishonoured, he will not perceive it.
Only in his own flesh doth he feel pain,
And for his own soul will he lament."

As to the latter argument, that the well-being of the nation was a
settlement in full of the individual's claims to happiness, it was
equally irrelevant, even had the principle underlying it been confirmed
by experience. Granting that a certain wholesale kind of equity was
administered, why must the individual suffer for no fault of his own?
Wherein lies the justice of a Being who, credited with omnipotence,
permits that by a sweep of the wild hurricane of disaster, "green leaves
with yellow mixed are torn away"?

But the contention that, viewing the individual merely as a unit of the
aggregate, justice would be found to be dealt out fairly on the whole,
ran counter to experience. The facts were dead against it. The Hebrew
nation had fared as badly among neighbouring states as Job among his
friends and countrymen. In this respect the sorely tried individual was
the type of his nation. The destruction of the kingdom of Samaria which
had occurred nearly two hundred years before and the captivity of Judah,
which was not yet at an end, gave its death-blow to the theory. "The
tents of robbers prosper and they that provoke Shaddai[9] are secure."

In truth, there was but one issue out of the difficulty: divine justice
might not be bounded by time or space; the law of compensation might have
a larger field than our earth for its arena; a future life might afford
"time" and opportunity to right the wrongs of the present, and all end
well in the best of future worlds. This explanation would have set doubts
at rest and settled the question for at least two thousand years; and it
seemed such a necessary postulate to the fathers of the Church, who
viewed the matter in the light of Christian revelation, that they
actually put into Job's mouth the words which he would have uttered had
he lived in their own days and been a member of the true fold. And they
effected this with a pious recklessness of artistic results and of
elementary logic that speaks better for their intentions than for their
aesthetic taste. In truth, Job knows absolutely nothing of a future life,
and his friends, equally unenlightened, see nothing for it but to
"discourse wickedly for God," and "utter lies on His behalf."[10] There
was, in fact, no third course. Indeed, if the hero or his friends had
even suspected the possibility of a solution based upon a life beyond the
tomb, the problem on which the book is founded would not have existed. To
ground, therefore, the doctrines of the Resurrection, the Atonement, &c.,
upon alleged passages of the poem of Job is tantamount to inferring the
squareness of a circle from its perfect rotundity. In the Authorised
Version of the Bible the famous verses, which have probably played a more
important part in the intellectual history of mankind than all the books
of the Old Testament put together, run thus: "For I know _that_ my
redeemer liveth, and _that_ he shall stand at the latter _day_
upon the earth: and _though_ after my skin _worms_ destroy this
_body_, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for
myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; _though_ my
reins be consumed within me."[11]

Now this, it is hardly necessary to say, is not a translation from the
poem nor from any known text of it, but the embodiment of the salutary
beliefs of well-intentioned theologians--of St. Jerome among others--
momentarily forgetful of the passage: "Will ye speak wickedly for God?"
The Christian conception of a Redeemer would, had he but known it, have
proved balm to the heart of the despairing hero. As a matter of mere
fact, his own hope at that critical moment was less sublime and very much
less Christian: the coming of an avenger who would punish his enemies and
rehabilitate his name. It was the one worldly and vain longing that still
bound him to the earth. Other people demanded happiness as their reward
for virtue, too often undistinguishable from vice; Job challenged the
express approval of the Deity, asked only that he should not be
confounded with vulgar sinners. The typical perfect man, struck down with
a loathsome disease, doomed to a horrible death, alone in his misery,
derided by his enemies, and, worse than all, loathed as a common criminal
by those near and dear to him, gives his friends and enemies, society and
theologians, the lie emphatic--nay, he goes the length of affirming that
God Himself has, failed in His duty towards him. "Know, then, that God
hath wronged me."[12] His conscience, however, tells him that inasmuch as
there is such a thing as eternal justice, a time will come when the truth
will be proclaimed and his honour fully vindicated; Shaddai will then
yearn for the work of His hands, but it will be too late, "For now I must
lay myself down in the dust; and Thou shalt seek me, but I shall not be."
And it is to this conviction, not to a belief in future retribution, that
the hero gives utterance in the memorable passage in question:

"But I know that my avenger liveth,
Though it be at the end upon my dust;
My witness will avenge these things,
And a curse alight upon mine enemies."

He knows nothing whatever of the subsistence of our cumbrous clods of
clay after they have become the food of worms and pismires; indeed, he is
absolutely certain that by the sleep of death

"we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to."

And he emphasises his views in a way that should have given food for
wholesome reflection to his commentators.

"There is a future for the tree,
And hope remaineth to the palm;
Cut down, it will sprout again,
And its tender branch will not cease.

"Though its roots wax old in the earth,
And its stock lie buried in mould,
Yet through vapour of water will it bud,
And put forth boughs like a plant.

"But man dieth and lieth outstretched;
He giveth up the ghost, where is he then?
He lieth down and riseth not up;
Till heaven be no more he shall not awake."[13]

Nothing could well be further removed from the comforting hope of a
future life, the resurrection of the body, and eternal rewards, than this
unshaken belief that Death is our sole redeemer from the terrible evils
of life.


[3] Although the former was a Jew and the latter a Gentile.

[4] _Cf._ Translation, strophe ci.:

"Is not the soul of every living thing in his hand,
And the breath of all mankind?"

Strophe civ.:

"With him is strength and wisdom,
The erring one and his error are his."

[5] Strophe cxcii.-cxciii.:

"Look upon me and tremble,
And lay your hand upon your mouth!
When I remember I am dismayed,
And trembling taketh hold on my flesh."

Strophe ccxxi.:

"Why do the times of judgment depend upon the Almighty,
And yet they who know him do not see his days?

[6] Strophe ccxxxiv.

[7] Strophe lxxxix.

[8] "The erring one and his error are his" (God's): strophe civ. _Cf_.
also strophe cvii.

[9] God.

[10] Strophe cxi.

[11] Job xix. 25-27. The Revised Version gives the passage as follows:
"But I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand up at
the last upon the earth: and after my skin hath been thus destroyed,
yet from my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and
mine eyes shall behold, and not another."

[12] Strophe clxix.

[13] Job, strophes cxxiv.-cxxvi. of my English translation.

* * * * *


It is perhaps hardly necessary to point out that the doctrine of eternal
pains and rewards as laid down by the Christian Church, unless reinforced
by faith, neither solves the problem nor simplifies it. If the truth must
be told, it seems to unenlightened reason to entangle it more hopelessly
than before. In simple terms and in its broadest aspect the question may
be stated as follows: God created man under conditions of His own
choosing which necessarily led to the life-long misery of countless
millions upon earth and their never-ending torments in hell. To the
question, Did He know the inevitable effect of His creative act, the
answer is, God is omniscient. To the query, Could He have selected other
and more humane conditions of existence for His creature--conditions so
adjusted that, either with or without probation, man would have been
ultimately happy? the reply is, God is almighty.

Involuntarily, then, the question forces itself upon us, Is He all-good?
Can that Being be deemed good who, moved by no necessity, free to create
or to abstain from creating, at liberty to create for happiness or for
misery, calls mankind into existence under such conditions and
surroundings that myriads are miserable, so unutterably miserable, that,
compared with their tortures, the wretch bleeding and quivering on the
wheel is lolling in the lap of enjoyment? Why did God make man under such
conditions? Or at least how are we to reconcile His having done so with
His attribute of goodness? To this question there are many replies but no
answer, the former being merely attempts to explain the chronic effects
of the primordial ethical poison commonly called original sin.

Job's main objection to the theological theories in vogue among his
contemporaries, and, indeed, to all conceivable explanations of the
difficulty, is far more weighty than at first sight appears. Everything,
he tells us--if anything--is the work of God's hands; and as pain,
suffering, evil, are everywhere predominant, it is not easy to understand
in what sense God can be said to be good. The poet does not formulate the
argument, of which this is the gist, in very precise terms, nor press it
home to its last conclusions. But he leaves no doubt about his meaning.
Some men are relatively good by nature, others wicked; but all men were
created by God and act in accordance with the disposition they received
from Him. If that disposition or character brought forth sin and evil,
these then are God's work, not man's, and He alone is responsible
therefor. The individual who performs an act through an agent is rightly
deemed to have done it himself. A man, therefore, who, being free to do a
certain thing or to leave it undone, and perfectly aware of the nature of
its necessary consequences, performs it, is held to be answerable for the
results, should they prove mischievous. Much greater is his
responsibility if, instead of being restricted to the choice between
undertaking a work certain to prove pernicious and abstaining from it, he
was free to select a third course and to accomplish it in such a way that
the result would not be evil, but unmixed good. In this case it would
hardly seem possible to exonerate the doer from a charge of wanton
malice, diabolic in degree. And such is the position in which many
theologians seem--to those who view things in the light of reason--to
have placed God Himself. It was open to Him, they maintain, to create or
to refrain from creating. Having declared for the former alternative, He
is chargeable with the consequences. The consequences, however, need not
have been evil; He might, had He so willed it, have endowed His creature
with such qualities and placed him in such surroundings that, without
ceasing to be man, he would never have fallen at all. Yet it did not
please Him to adopt that course. This admission, rationalists urge, is
conclusive as to the origin of sin and evil.

But the arguments are not yet exhausted. Even then the Creator might have
made everything right by an act which it seems impossible to distinguish
from elementary justice. Had He regarded the first man who brought sin
into the world as a mere individual, and treated him as such--and this,
theologians assure us, He could easily have done[14]--He might have
punished him as an individual, and the matter would have been at an end.
But instead of this, He contemplated him as the type and representative
of the human race, and decreed that his sin should, like a subtle
spiritual poison, infect the soul of every man coming into the world. In
other words, God, who is supposed to hate evil so profoundly that He
damns for ever in hell a man guilty of one single "mortal" transgression,
enacted that if one sin were committed it should be needlessly made to
engender myriads of other sins, and that the tiny seed of evil which was
first thrown upon the earth by His creature in a moment of pardonable
weakness, and might have so easily been trampled out, should take root,
sprout up and grow into a vast Upas tree whose poisonous branches
overshadow all creation. This proposition, it is contended, explicitly
taxes God, if not with the sole authorship of sin and evil, at least with
the moral responsibility for propagating it. And this is the prevailing
view among modern apologists.

As to the origin of evil, it is to be sought for, theologians have
discovered, in the free will with which God endowed man. This, they
allege, shifts all the responsibility on the human creature because,
instead of evil, he might have chosen good. Unfortunately, the same
argument would seem to apply to the Creator Himself.[15] He, too, being
omnipotent, might have chosen good instead of evil subjects, and created
human beings whose acts would have been blameless and virtuous, their
will remaining what it is. Further, not having done this and having
needlessly allowed an abyss to be made by sin between Himself and the
first man, it was still open to Him to have abstained from widening it
until it became an impassable gulf between Himself and the entire human
race. But He did not abstain; instead of localising, He deliberately and
wantonly spread the evil, and the ruin that overwhelmed all mankind
cannot therefore be said to have sprung from the will of the race, but
from His own. Again, the interposition of a free will between God and
evil, it is urged, affords no real solution of the problem, for the
question still remains, why were the workings of that free will evil and
not good? Obviously because such was its God-created nature; for the
action of outward circumstances upon the will neither builds up nor
modifies this nature, but simply discloses it to our view.

These ideas were adopted, developed and defended by a few of the most
profound Christian philosophers of the early Church, and most ably of all
by Scotus Erigena,[16] who held that the origin of evil which cannot be
sought for in God must not be placed _in the free will of man_,
because the latter hypothesis would still leave the responsibility with
the Creator, the human will being His own handiwork.

At the root of this argument lies yet another consideration upon which
unbelieving thinkers rely still more: it is drawn from the alleged
incompatibility between the conception of a created being and free will,
and will be noticed presently. It is commonly regarded as the principal
difficulty which Theists and Pantheists are condemned continually to
encounter without ever being able to explain--the rock, so to say, upon
which their optimistic systems strike, and are shattered to
pieces--unless protected by the armour of supernatural faith.

But besides the Christian and Pantheistic theories, there is another
explanation of the origin of evil offered by the religion of more than
one-third of the human race. It is a theory which can readily be labelled
and libelled by the most unphilosophical reader, but cannot be grasped
and appreciated without serious study and reflection by the most
intelligent, for it is based upon the doctrine that time, space and
causality have no existence outside the human mind.[17] The world which
we see and know, therefore, and everything it contains is "such stuff as
dreams are made of"--the woof and warp being evolved from, and interwoven
by, our own minds. Underlying the innumerable illusive appearances which
we call the world is a reality, a being or force which is one. We and
everything else are but manifestations, in time and space, of this one
reality with which, however, each and every one of us is at bottom
identical and whose sole attribute is unity. This force or will manifests
itself in myriads of facets, so to say, in the universe, and these
manifestations are not good, constitute, indeed, a sort of fall.
Intelligence is not one of the primary attributes of this eternal will.
It attained to clear consciousness and knowledge only in man and then for
the first time perceived that the existence for which it yearned is evil
and not good. Man therefore is his own work; and existence, as it
constitutes a fall, is its own punishment; for his life is a series of
inane desires which, when momentarily satiated, are immediately succeeded
by others equally vain, fruitless and hollow, and the cessation of desire
is the beginning of tedium which is oftentimes still less endurable,
seeing that it leaves little room for hope.

"Life which ye prize is long-drawn agony;
Only its pains abide, its pleasures are
As birds which light and fly."

Every wish springs from want which causes pain, the attainment of the
wished-for object--commonly called pleasure--is but the cessation of that
pain: in other words it is a mere negation. Man's life is a never-ending
oscillation between pleasure and pain: the former mere illusion, the
latter a dread reality. The origin of this and of all other evil is
individual existence, and individual existence is the free act of the one
substance or force which is identical with each and all of us.

This theory excludes creation. For free will is utterly incompatible with
the state of a created being;[18] because _operari sequitur
esse_--_i.e._, the operation, the working of every being, must be
the necessary result of its qualities which are themselves known only by
the acts they bring forth. If these acts be praiseworthy, the qualities
are good: if reprehensible, they are bad. But if the acts are to be free,
they should be neither good nor bad. A being therefore to be perfectly
free should have no qualities at all--_i.e._, should not be created.
For it must be borne in mind that it is not the motives that impart to
the will its ethical quality. Motives are accidental and operate in the
same way as the rays of the sun falling upon a tree or a flower: they
reveal the nature of the object but are powerless to change it, for
better or for worse.[19] But if this be so, one may ask, why do we feel
sorrow, shame, repentance for acts which we were not free to perform or
abstain from performing? Because we are "metaphysically" free, that is to
say, our inborn disposition from which they necessarily emanate, is the
work of our free will, which specific acts are not. No doubt, when we do
right or wrong, we are conscious that we might have acted
differently--_had we willed it_. But this proves nothing; the
all-important question being, could we, under the circumstances, have
willed otherwise than we did? And to this the reply is an emphatic
negative. But for our personal character, be it good or evil, we are
answerable, and therefore likewise for the acts that flow from it with
the rigorous necessity characteristic of all causality. For individuality
in the human race is identical with character, and as individuality is
the work of our own free will exercised outside the realm of time and
space, we are responsible for it, and conscious of the responsibility,
although not of the manner in which it was incurred.

Our acts, therefore, and they only, show us what we really are; our
sufferings what we deserve. The former are the necessary outcome of our
character which external circumstances, in the guise of motives, call
into play; just as gravitation is acted upon when we shake an apple off
the tree. Our deeds then being the inevitable resultant of that
self-created character acted upon by motives, must consequently follow
with the same necessity as any other link in the chain of cause and
effect. The knowledge of our character and the foreknowledge of these
outward events which, in the unbroken chain of cause and effect, act upon
it, would suffice to enable us to foresee our future as readily as
astronomers foresee eclipses of the sun and moon. Now if the root of all
evil be individuality, the essence of all morality is self-denial; and no
act performed for the purpose of obtaining happiness, temporal or
eternal, is moral. The evil and pain, therefore, which befall us upon
earth cannot be regarded as the retribution for the deeds done in this
life; for these are necessary and inevitable. They are the fruits of our
character whence these acts emanate; and it is only our character which
is our own work. With the ethical nature of that character each
individual gradually grows acquainted as well in his own case as in that
of his neighbour's, solely from a study of his own acts, which often
astonish himself quite as much as his friends.

Brahmanism and Buddhism symbolized these notions in the somewhat gross
but only intelligible form in which the mind can readily grasp them,
viz., in the dogma of the transmigration of souls, according to which a
man's good deeds and bad follow him like his shadow from one existence to
another, and in this life he expiates the sins or enjoys the fruits of a
previous existence:[20]

"Each man's life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss.

"That which ye sow ye reap. See yonder fields!
The sesamum was sesamum, the corn
Was corn. The Silence and the Darkness knew!
So is man's fate born."

In the former religion, Brahma, who is identical with all of us, produces
the world by a kind of fall from his primeval state and remains therein
until he has redeemed himself. In the latter there is no god; man being
his own handiwork and sin and evil the result of his blind striving after
individual existence. It is however in his power, and in his alone, to
right the wrong and remedy the evil, by starving out the fatal hunger for
life. And in this work, faith, supplication and sacrifice avail him

"Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!
Ah, brothers, sisters! seek
Naught from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruits and cake;
Within yourself deliverance must be sought:
Each man his prison makes."

The ethical bearing of this view is more easily discerned than its
metaphysical basis. Individual existence with its tantalising mirage of
pleasures being the root of all evil, the first step towards finding a
remedy is to recognise this truth, to obtain insight into the heart of
things athwart the veil of Maya or delusion. The conviction that all
beings are not merely brothers but one and the same essence, is the death
of egotistic desire, of the pernicious distinction between me and thee,
and the birth of pity, love and sympathy for all men. And this is a very
old doctrine. In India it was taught in the Veda and the Vedanta under
the formula _tat tvam asi_--thou art this--_i.e._, individual
differs not essentially from individual, nor a man from the whole human
race. He who obtains this insight and perceives how sorrow is shadow to
life, who weans his thirst for existence, seeks not, strives not, wrongs
not, starves out his passions, resigns himself wholly to pain and
suffering as to "ills that flow from foregone wrongfulness" and asks for
no clue from the Silence which can utter naught, he is truly blessed and
released from all misery forever. He glides "lifeless to nameless quiet,
nameless joy, blessed Nirvana."

It is probable, not to say certain, that it was an intuition of this kind
that finally reconciled Job with the grey monotony of misery and seeming
injustice which characterises all human existence and enabled him to
resign himself cheerfully to whatever might befall. This at least would
seem to be the only reasonable construction of which Jahveh's apparition
and discourse are susceptible. That they are resorted to by the poet
solely as an image and symbol of the inner illumination of his hero's
intellect, is evident to most readers. Nothing that Jahveh has to
disclose to Job and his three friends even remotely resembles a clue to
the problem that exercised them. The human mind would be unable to grasp
a solution if any existed, for it possesses no forms in which to
apprehend it. This will soon become apparent even to the
non-philosophical reader who endeavours to _reason_ about a state in
which time, space, _and causality_ have no existence. But there is
no solution. Jahveh virtually asks, as Buddha had asked before:

"Shall any gazer see with mortal eyes,
Or any searcher know with mortal mind?
Veil after veil will lift--but there must be
Veil upon veil behind."

Unless we assume some such sudden illumination of the mind as Buddha
obtained under the shadow of the fig-tree and the author of the 73rd
Psalm among the ruins of the kingdom of Juda, it is impossible to account
for Job's unforeseen and entire resignation, or to bring his former
defiant utterances into harmony with the humble sentiments to which he
now gives expression. For nothing but his mind had meanwhile undergone a
change. All the elements of the problem remained what they were. The
evils that had fired his indignation were not denied by their presumptive
author, nor was any explanation of them vouchsafed to him. No remedy was
promised in this life, no hope held out of redress in a possible world to
come. On the contrary, Jahveh confirms the terrible facts alleged by His
servant; He admits that pleasure and pain are not the meed of deeds done
upon earth, and that the explanation we seek, the light we so wistfully
long for, will never come; for human existence is not a dark spot in an
ocean of dazzling splendour, but a will'-o'-the-wisp that merely
intensifies the murkiness of everlasting Night.

Moreover, Job was detached from the world already. He had overcome all
his passions and kept even his legitimate affections under control. He
had no word of regret on losing his cattle, his possessions, his
children. During his most exquisite sufferings, he declared that he held
only to his good name. This, too, he now gives up and demanding nothing,
avers that he is satisfied. "I resign and console myself. Though it be in
dust and ashes." Complete detachment from existence, and not for the sake
of some other and better existence (for there is none) is the practical
outcome of Job's intuition. But in a God-created world made for the
delectation of mankind, to forego its pleasures would be to offend the
Creator, if indeed stark madness could kindle His ire. But to curb one's
thirst for life and to spurn its joys because one holds them to be the
tap root of all evil, is an action at once intelligible and wise. And
this is what Job evidently does when he practises difficult virtues and
undergoes terrible sufferings without the consciousness of past guilt or
the faintest hope of future recompense.

As Buddha taught his followers: "When the disciple has lost all doubt as
to the reality of suffering; when his doubts as to the origin of
suffering are dispelled; when he is no longer uncertain as to the
possibility of annihilating suffering and when he hesitates no more about
the way that leads to the annihilation of suffering: then is he called a
holy disciple, one who is in the stream that floweth onwards to
perfection, one who is delivered from evil, who is guaranteed, who is
devoted to the highest truth."[21]


[14] One of the best accredited exponents of this theory, which is now
generally accepted by Catholic divines, is Father (now Cardinal)

[15] And Job more than once applies it.

[16] _Cf._ Editio Princeps, Oxford, 1681, p. 287.

[17] Many pious Christians who scoff at such emotions, without
endeavouring to understand them, would do well to remember that
whatever truth there is in the dogma of the immorality of the soul,
is dependant upon this proposition, that time, space, and the law of
casuality have no real existence whatever, but are merely the
furniture of the human mind--the forms in which it apprehends. As
time exists only in our consciousness, and as beginning and end can
take place only in time, they can affect only our consciousness,
which ends in death, but not our souls, which are distinct from mind
and consciousness.

[18] Job, who rejected all secondary causes whatever, could not in logic,
and did not in fact, believe in free will as it is commonly
understood in our days.

[19] _Cf_. Matt. xii. 33-35.

[20] Even the Bible is not wholly devoid of traces of the same symbol
employed to convey the same ideas; _cf._ Matt. xi. 14, John ix. 2,
for the New Testament, and Ps. xc. 3 for the Old. The apparent inner
absurdity of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls arises
mainly from our inability to grasp and realise the two propositions
which it presupposes--viz., that there is no such thing as time
outside of the human mind, and therefore no past or future; and,
secondly, that soul is but individualised will momentarily illumined
by the intellect which is a function of the brain. Metempsychosis was
originally no more than a symbol.

[21] "Samyuttaka-Nikayo," vol. iii. chap. iii. p. 24. _Cf._ Dr. K.
E. Neumann's "Buddhistische Anthologie," Leiden, 1892, p. 204.

* * * * *


The question which frequently exercised the ingenuity of former
commentators, whether the poem of Job is the work of one or of many
authors, has no longer any actuality. It is absolutely certain that the
book, as we find it in the Authorised Version, and even in the best
Hebrew manuscripts, is a mosaic put together by a number of writers
widely differing in their theological views and separated from each other
by whole centuries; and it is equally undoubted that, restored to its
original form, it is "a poem round and perfect as a star"--the
masterpiece of one of the most gifted artists of his own or any age. To
the inquiry where he lived and wrote, numerous tentative replies have
been offered but no final answer. To many he is the last of the venerable
race of patriarchs, and his verse the sweet, sublime lisping of a
childlike nature, disporting itself in the glorious morning of the

This, however, is but a pretty fancy, which will not stand the ordeal of
scientific criticism, nor even the test of a careful common-sense
examination. The broader problems that interest thinking minds of a late
and reflective age, the profounder feelings and more ambitious
aspirations of manhood and maturity, are writ large in every verse of the
poem. The lyre gives out true, full notes, which there is no mistaking.
The hero is evidently a travelled cosmopolitan, who has outgrown the
narrow prejudices of petty patriotism and national religious creeds to
such an extent that he studiously eschews the use of the revealed name of
the God of his people, and seems to believe at most in a far-away and
incomprehensible divinity who sometimes merges into Fate. In the God of
theologians he had no faith. His comforters, who from the uttermost ends
of the earth meet together in a most unpatriarchal manner to discuss the
higher problems of philosophy, allude to the views in vogue in the
patriarchal age as to traditions of bygone days before the influence of
foreign invaders had tainted the purity of the national faith; and
passages like xii. 17, xv. 19, seem to point to the captivity of the
Hebrew people as an accomplished fact. In a word, the strict monotheism
of the hero, which at times borders upon half-disguised secularism, has
nothing in common with the worship of the patriarchs except the absence
of priests and the lack of ceremonies. The language of the poem,
flavoured by a strong mixture of Arabic and Aramaic words and phrases,
and the frequent use of imagery borrowed from Babylonian mythology, to
say nothing of a number of other signs and tokens of a comparatively late
age, render the patriarchal hypothesis absolutely untenable.[23] This, at
least, is one of the few results of modern research about which there is
perfect unanimity among all competent scholars.

If the date of the composition of Job cannot be fixed with any approach
to accuracy, there are at least certain broad limits within which it is
agreed on all hands that it should be placed. This period is comprised
between the prophetic activity of Jeremiah and the second half of the
Babylonian Exile. The considerations upon which this opinion is grounded
are drawn mainly, if not exclusively, from authentic passages of Job
which the author presumably borrowed from other books of the Old
Testament. Thus a comparison of the verses in which the hero curses the
day of his birth[24] with an identical malediction in Jeremiah (xx.
14-15), and of the respective circumstances in which each was written,
leads to the conviction that the borrower was not the prophet whose
writings must therefore have been familiar to the poet. This conclusion
is confirmed by a somewhat far-fetched but none the less valid argument
drawn from the circumstance that Ezekiel,[25] who would probably have
known the poem had it existed in his day, obviously never heard of it;
for this prophet, broaching the question, apparently for the first time
among his countrymen, as to the justice of human suffering, denies point
blank that any man endures unmerited pain,[26] and affirms in emphatic
terms that to each one shall be meted out reward or punishment according
to his works.[27] And this he could hardly have done had he been aware of
the fact that the contradictory proposition was vouched for by no less an
authority than Jahveh Himself.

Again, it is highly probable, although one would hardly be justified in
stating it as an established fact, that certain striking poetic images
clothed in the same form of words in Job and in the Second Isaiah,[28]
are the coinage of the rich imagination of the latter,[29] from whose
writings they must consequently have been taken by the author of Job. If
this assumption be correct, and it is considerably strengthened by
collateral evidence, we should have no choice but to assign to the
composition of the poem a date later than that of the Second Isaiah who
wrote between 546 and 535 B.C. The ingenious and learned German critic,
Dr. Cornill, holds it to be no less than two or three hundred years
younger still, and bases his opinion principally upon the last verse of
the last chapter of the Book of Job, where the expression (Job died) "old
and full of days," is, in his opinion, borrowed from the Priests' Code.
It is, however, needless to analyse this argument, seeing that the verse
in question was wanting in the Septuagint[30] version, and must therefore
be held to be a later addition.

Another question, once a sure test of orthodoxy, the discussion of which
has become equally superfluous to-day, is to what extent the narrative is
based upon historical facts. The second council of Constantinople
solemnly condemned Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia, one of the most
enlightened Fathers of the Church, for having advanced the opinion that
the story of Job was a pious fiction and the doctrine it embodies
irreconcileable with orthodoxy. It would be rash to say what conclusion a
council sitting at the end of the nineteenth century would be likely to
arrive at. But it would hardly find fault with the majority of
contemporary critics who hold that the prologue and epilogue, which are
in prose and contain in outline the popular legend of Job, were anterior
to the colloquies between the hero and his friends, bear in fact the same
relation to the poem that the mediaeval legend of Johan Faustus does to
the masterpiece of Goethe. And it was to the popular legend, not to the
poem, that Ezekiel alluded in the passage in which he instances Job as
the type of the just man. But one must needs be endowed with a strong and
child-like faith to accept, in the light of ancient history and modern
science, as sober facts the familiar conversation between Jahveh and the
Adversary in the council-chamber of heaven, the sudden intervention of
the latter in the life of Job, the ease with which he breaks through the
chain of causality and bends even the human will to his purpose, the
indecent haste with which he overwhelms the just man with a torrent of
calamities in the course of one short day, the apparition of Jahveh in a
storm-cloud, and many other equally improbable details. Improbability,
however, is the main feature of all miracles; and faith need not be
dismayed even by the seemingly impossible. In any case where it is
hopeless to convince, it is needless to discuss, and if there still be
readers to whose appreciation of the poem belief in its historical truth
is absolutely indispensable, it would be cruel to seek to spoil or even
lessen their enjoyment of one of the most sublime creations known to any
literature of the world.


[22] One of the main grounds for this opinion is the absolute ignorance
of the Mosaic law manifested by the author of Job. The line of
reasoning is that he must have been either a Jew--and in that case
have lived before or simultaneously with Moses--or else an Arab, like
his hero, and have written the work in Arabic, Moses himself probably
doing it into Hebrew. To a Hebrew scholar this sounds as plausible as
would the thesis, to one well versed in Greek, that the Iliad is but
a translation from the Sanscrit. The Talmud makes Job now a
contemporary of David and Solomon, now wholly denies his existence.
Jerome, and some Roman Catholic theologians of to-day, identify the
author of the poem with Moses himself, a view in favour of which not
a shred of argument can be adduced. _Cf._ Loisy, "Le Livre de Job,"
Paris, 1892, p. 37; Reuss, "Hiob.," Braunschweig, 1888, pp. 8 ff.

[23] The subject of the date and place of composition has been treated by
Cornill, "Einleitung in das Alte Testament," 235 fol., by Prof.
Duhm, "The Book of Job" (_cf._ "The New World," June, 1894), and
others. But the most lucid, masterly, and dispassionate discussion of
the subject is to be found in Prof. Cheyne's "Job and Solomon,"
chaps. viii.-xii.

[24] Job A.V. iii. 3-10.

[25] 592-572 B.C.

[26] Ezek. xviii. 2, 3.

[27] _Ibid._ 4-9.

[28] "The Second Isaiah" is the name now usually given to the unknown
author of one of the sublimest books of the Old Testament, viz.,
chaps, xl.-lxvi. of the work commonly attributed to Isaiah. It was
composed most probably between 546 and 535 B.C.

[29] They may be found by referring to the parallel passages given in the
margin of the Authorised Version of Job; for instance, chap. xiv.
One example may suffice: In the Second Isaiah, xl. 6-8, we read
"The Voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is
grass, and all the goodliness thereof _is_ as the flower of the
field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of
the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people _is_ grass. The grass
withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for
ever." In Job we find the winged word embodied in the verse 2, chap.
xiv. A.V. (strophe cxxi.).

Man that is born of a woman,
Poor in days and rich in trouble;
He cometh forth as a flower and fadeth,
He fleeth like a shadow and abideth not.

[30] For the value of the testimony of the Septuagint, _cf_.
following chapter.

* * * * *


Our Authorised Version of Job is based upon the text handed down to us in
existing Hebrew manuscripts and upon Jerome's Latin translation. None of
the manuscripts, the most important of which are those of the
Vatican,[31] of Alexandria[32] and of Sinai,[33] go further back than the
fourth century A.D. And some of the modifications, made by Jerome in the
Latin translation, particularly in chap. xxi. 25-27, into which he
introduces the Christian idea of the Resurrection, were not based upon
the various readings of the Codices, but inspired by a pious desire to
render the work more edifying. As our Hebrew manuscripts are all derived
from a single copy which was probably contemporaneous with the reign of
the Emperor Hadrian,[34] the words and the corrections of which they
reproduce with Chinese scrupulosity, the utmost we can expect from them
is to supply us with the text as it existed at that relatively late age.

The comparative indifference that reigned before that time as to the
purity of the text of the most important books of the Canon, and the
utter carelessness with which down to the first century of the Christian
era the manuscripts of the Hagiographa[35] were treated, render it highly
probable that long before the reign of Hadrian the poem of Job had
undergone many and serious modifications. The ease with which words
written with consonants only, many of which resembled each other, were
liable to be interchanged, strengthens this probability; while a detailed
study of the various manuscripts and translations transforms it into
certainty. The parallel passages alone of almost any of the books of the
Old Testament yield a rich harvest of divergences.

But involuntary errors of the copyists are insufficient to explain all
the bewildering changes which disfigure many of the books of the Sacred
Scriptures. The gradual evolution of the Hebrew religion from virtual
polytheism to the strictest monotheism seemed peremptorily to call for a
corresponding change in the writings in which the revelation underlying
it was enshrined. A later stadium of the evolution--which, of course, was
never felt to be such--might naturally cause the free and easy views and
lax practices which once were orthodox and universal to assume the odious
form of heresy and impiety, and a laudable respect for the author of
revelation was held to impose the sacred duty of bringing the documentary
records of ancient practices into harmony with present theories. This was
especially true of the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, in which not only
was the general tone lacking in respect for all that the Jewish community
held sacred, but likewise long and eloquent passages directly called in
question the truth of revelation and blasphemously criticised the
attributes of the Most High.

Gauged by the narrow standards of the Jewish community,[36] some of Job's
most sublime outbursts of poetic passion must have seemed as impious to
his contemporaries as to the theologians of our own country the
"blasphemies" hurled by Byron's Lucifer against the "Everlasting Tyrant."
There can be no doubt that it is to the feeling of holy horror which his
plain speaking aroused in the minds of the strait-laced Jews of 2400
years ago that we have to ascribe the principal and most disfiguring
changes which the poem underwent at the hands of well-meaning censors. It
is quite possible even now to point out, by the help of a few disjointed
fragments still preserved, the position, and to divine the sense, of
certain spiritful and defiant passages which, in the interest of
"religion and morals," were remorselessly suppressed, to indicate others
which were split up and transposed, and to distinguish many prolix
discourses, feeble or powerful word-pictures and trite commonplaces which
were deliberately inserted later on, for the sole purpose of toning down
the most audacious piece of rationalistic philosophy which has ever yet
been clothed in the music of sublime verse.

The disastrous results of these corrections which were made at various
times and by different persons is writ large in the present text of Job
as we find it in the Hebrew manuscripts and our Authorised Version, which
offer us in many places a jumble of disjointed fragments, incoherent,
irrelevant or self-contradictory.

In addition to common sense aided by cautious text criticism which
enables us to recognise interpolations, to correct copyists' errors and
occasionally even to determine the place and the tendency of expunged
passages, the means at our disposal for the restoration of the poem are
principally two: The laws of Hebrew poetry (parallelism and metre) on the
one hand, and a comparison of the Hebrew text with the ancient Greek
translation of the Septuagint,[37] on the other. A judicious use of these
helps which are recognised as such even by the most conservative
Christians, who condemn without hearing the tried methods and least
doubtful conclusions of biblical criticism, enables one to accomplish all
that is now possible towards restoring the poem of Job to its original

The nature and the laws of Hebrew metre, the discovery of which is
indissolubly associated with the name of Prof. Bickell,[38] are identical
with those of Syriac poetry. The unit is the line, the syllables of which
are numbered and accentuated, the line most frequent containing seven
syllables with iambic rhythm. Accentuated syllables alternate regularly
with unaccentuated, whereby the penultimate has the accent; and the
poetic accent always coincides with the grammatical, as in Syriac poetry
and in the Greek verse of early Christian times, the structure of which
was copied from the Syriac. Compare for instance the following:

Hae parthenos saemeron
Ton epouranion tiktei,
Kai hae gae to spaelaion
To aprosito parechei.]

with a strophe from Job:

Shamati khellae rabbot:
Menachme 'amal kool' khem,
Hakec ledibere rooch?
Ma-yamric'kha, ki tahnae?

The second characteristic of Hebrew poetry, which is occasionally to be
found even in prose, is that repetition of the same thought in a slightly
modified form which is commonly known as parallelism. Thus, in the poem
of Job the second line of the strophe expresses an idea very closely
resembling that embodied in the first; and the third and fourth run
parallel in like manner. For instance, Eliphaz, expounding the
traditional teaching that the wicked man is punished in this life, says:

"His offshoot shall wither before his time,
And his branch shall not be green;
He shall shake off his unripe grape, like the vine,
And shall shed his flower, like the olive."

The second important aid to emendation is a careful comparison of the
Hebrew text with the Greek translation known as the Septuagint (LXX.),
which, undertaken and completed in Alexandria between the beginning of
the third and the close of the second century B.C., offers the first
recorded instance of an entire national literature being rendered into a
foreign tongue. The extrinsic value of this work is obvious from the fact
that it enables us to construct a text which is centuries older than that
of which all our Hebrew manuscripts are servile copies, and is over a
thousand years more ancient than the very oldest Hebrew codices now
extant.[39] Not indeed that the poem of Job had undergone no changes
between the time of its composition and the second century B.C. On the
contrary, some of the most important interpolations had already been
inserted[40] and various excisions and transpositions made before the
translator first took the work in hand. But at least the ground is
cleared considerably, seeing that no less than four hundred verses which
we now read in all our present Bibles, Hebrew and vernacular, were tacked
on to the poem at a date subsequent to the Greek translation and
therefore found no place in that version. These additions may, on the
faith of the Septuagint, be struck out with all the less hesitation that
both metre and parallelism confirm with their weighty testimony the
trustworthy evidence of the orthodox translation that the strophes in
question are insertions of a later date.

But the value of the Septuagint depends upon its greater or less immunity
from those disfiguring changes which render the Hebrew text
incomprehensible and from which few ancient works are wholly free. And
unfortunately no such immunity can be claimed for it. What happened to
the original text likewise befell the Greek translation. Desirous of
putting an end to the disputes between Jews and Christians as to the
respective merits of the two, a proselyte from Ephesus, Theodotion by
name, undertook to do the Bible into Greek anew somewhere between 180-192
A.D. The basis of his work was the Septuagint, of which he changed
nothing that in his opinion could stand; but at the same time he
consulted the Hebrew manuscripts and vainly endeavoured to effect a
compromise between the two. Among other innovations, he inserted in his
translation the four hundred interpolated verses which, having been added
to the Hebrew text after it had been first rendered into Greek, could not
possibly have formed part of the Septuagint version. Later on (232-254
A.D.) Origen, anxious to throw light upon the cause of the divergences
between existing translations and the original text, and to provide the
means of judging of the respective merits of these, undertook one of
those wearisome works of industry, which later on constituted a special
feature of the activity of the Benedictine monks. The result of his
researches was embodied in the Hexapla--a book containing, in six
parallel columns, the original text in Hebrew and in Greek letters, the
Greek translation by Aquila, another by Symmachus, the text of the
Septuagint edited by himself, and Theodotion's version. Now Origen,
acting upon the gratuitous assumption that the passages wanting in the
Septuagint had formed part of the original Book of Job and had been
omitted by the translators solely because they failed to understand their
meaning, took them from Theodotion and incorporated them in his edition
of the Septuagint as it appeared in the Hexapla, merely distinguishing
them by means of asterisks. Unfortunately, in the course of time these
distinctive marks disappeared partially or wholly, thus depriving the old
Greek translation of its inestimable value as an aid to text criticism;
and there remained but five manuscripts in which they were to some extent

Until recently it was generally taken for granted by Biblical scholars
that there were no codices extant in the world but these five, which
contained data of a nature to enable us to reconstruct the text of the
Septuagint. And the assistance given by these manuscripts was dubious at
best, for they included the misleading additions incorporated in the text
by Origen, merely marking them with asterisks, which were not only
insufficient in number, but oftentimes wrongly distributed. No one
ventured to hope that there was still extant a version from which the
spurious verses were rigorously excluded. And the discovery of such a
text by my friend, Prof. Bickell, marks a new epoch in the history of
Biblical criticism.

One day that distinguished scholar, while sauntering about Monte Pincio
with the late Coptic Bishop, Agapios Bsciai, was informed by this
dignitary that he had found and transcribed a wretched codex of the
Saidic[42] Version of Job in the Library of the Propaganda. Hearing that
numerous passages were wanting in the newly discovered codex, Prof.
Bickell at once conjectured that this "defective" version might possibly
prove to be a translation of the original Septuagint text without the
later additions; and having studied it at the bishop's house saw his
surmise changed to certainty; the text was indeed that of the original
Septuagint without the disfiguring additions inserted by Origen. The late
Prof. Lagarde of Goettingen then applied for, and received, permission to
edit this precious find; but owing to the desire conceived later on by
Pope Leo XIII. that an undertaking of such importance should be carried
out by an ecclesiastic of the Roman Catholic Church, Lagarde's hopes were
dashed at the eleventh hour, and Monsignor Ciasca, to whom the task was
confided, accomplished all that can reasonably be expected from pious
zeal and patient industry.

The Saidic version, therefore, as embodying a purer and more ancient text
of the Book of Job than any we had heretofore possessed, is one of the
most serviceable of the instruments employed in restoring the poem to its
primitive form.[43] It frequently enables us to eliminate passages which
formerly rendered the author's meaning absolutely incomprehensible, and
at other times replaces obscure with intelligible readings which, while
differing from those of the Massoretic manuscripts, are obviously the
more ancient.


[31] Fourth century A.D.

[32] Fifth century A.D.

[33] Fourth century A.D.

[34] A.D. 117-138.

[35] The Hagiographa--or, as the Hebrews term them, _Ketubim_--include
Job, Proverbs, the Psalms, the Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, the
Lamentations, Koheleth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and

[36] As distinguished from the pre-exilian people. Before the Captivity
the Israelites lived the political life of all independent nations.
After the Exile they were but a religious community--a Church. It was
for this Church that the "Mosaic" legislation of the Priests' Code
was written and the ancient historical records retouched.

[37] Completed probably in the second century B.C.

[38] Ewald and others had conjectured long before that the colloquies of
Job were in verse, but their attempts to reduce them to strophes
were of a nature to weaken rather than confirm the theory. That
the strophes consisted of four lines is a discovery of Prof.
Bickell's. At first listened to with scepticism, it is now accepted
by some of the leading critics of Germany, and received with favour
by such English scholars as Prof. Cheyne.

[39] St. Paul in his quotations from the Old Testament usually follows
the Septuagint. But the poem of Job he quotes from a lost version,
some traces of which are to be found in the works of Clement of

[40] "Inserted" is the strongest term that can be applied to editors who
lived in a time when to foist one's own elucubrations upon a
deceased genius was a work of piety deserving praise. Some of the
acts which were virtues in Job's days have assumed a very different
aspect in ours; but good intentions are always at a premium, and the
Jewish interpolators were animated by the best.

[41] Two Greek, two Latin, and one Syriac.

[42] Also called the Thebaic Version.

[43] As a translation it is a poor performance.

* * * * *


Having thus briefly sketched the instruments by means of which the
reconstruction of the poem of Job was undertaken, it may not be amiss to
illustrate the manner in which they are employed in the light of a few
examples. To begin with the structure of the metre. In the Authorised
Version we find (chap. xii. 12) the words: "With the ancient is wisdom,
and in length of days understanding." This in Hebrew is

Bishishim chokhma
Veorekh yamim t'buna.

The first line therefore has five instead of seven syllables and is
consequently defective; something must have fallen out. This conclusion,
based upon the laws of the metre, is fully borne out by a study of the
context; for it is enough to read Job's reply from the beginning to see
that he could not have set himself to prove, as he is here made to do,
that God is as wise as man; his contention really being that man's
knowledge is ignorance compared with the wisdom of the Being who governs
the universe. For he is arguing against the traditionalists who assert
that justice is the essential characteristic of the conduct of the world,
a thesis refuted by almost everything we see and hear around us. Bildad
besought his sorely tried friend to learn of bygone generations and to
view things through their eyes. "Shall they not teach thee?" he asks
(viii. 10), to which Job's reply is an emphatic negative: "There is
_no_ wisdom with the ancient, nor understanding in length of days."
To agree with his "friend" would be to throw up his case, and this the
Authorised Version makes him do. God alone is endowed with wisdom; but is
He likewise good? To this question His government of the universe alone
can furnish an answer. There must evidently then have been a negative
particle in the text which a copyist, shocked at the seemingly rash
assertion, expunged. If now we add the words "for not" the metre is in
order and the sense perfect:

Ki en bishishim chokhma
Veorekh yamim t'buna.

Take another instance. The first part of v. 14, chap. xiv. is rendered in
our version as follows: "If a man die shall he live again?" and the
translation would be faithful enough if the Hebrew word were
_hayichyae_, as our MSS. testify, but as an interrogation would
destroy the parallelism of the strophe, it is evident that the syllable
_ha_, which in Hebrew consists of one and not two letters, is an
interpolation, and the word should be _yichyae_ and the strophe
(composed of v. 13 and 14a).

"Oh, that thou wouldst hide me in the grave!
That thou wouldst secrete me till thy wrath be passed!
That thou wouldst appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If so be man could die and yet live on."

Again starting from the recognised principle that the entire poem is
composed on a regular plan and consists exclusively of four-line
strophes, it is obvious that all the tristichs in chapters xxiv. and xxx.
must be struck out. The circumstances that their contents are as
irrelevant to the context as would be a number of stanzas of "The Ancient
Mariner" if introduced into "Paradise Lost," that in form they are wholly
different from the strophes of the poem of Job, and that there is
obviously a sudden break in the text of the latter just when heterodoxy
merges into blasphemy, have forced critics to the conclusion--about which
there is hardly any difference of opinion--that these tristichs are
extracts from a very different work, which were inserted to fill up the
void created by orthodox theologians of a later date.[44]

Besides the four hundred verses which must be excluded on the ground that
they are wanting in the Septuagint Version, and were therefore added to
the text at a comparatively recent period,[45] the long-winded discourse
of Elihu[46] must be struck out, most of which was composed before the
book was first translated into Greek. Common sense, unaided by any
critical apparatus, suffices to mark this tedious monologue as an
interpolation. The poet knew nothing of him who is supposed to have
uttered it. In the prologue in prose where all the actors in this
psychological drama are enumerated and described, Elihu is not once
alluded to; and in the epilogue, where all the debaters are named and
censured, he alone is absolutely ignored. Nay, it is evident that when
Jahveh's discourse was written, the poet had no suspicion of the
existence of this fourth friend; for at the conclusion of the "fourth
friend's" pretentious speech, composed of scraps borrowed from those of
the other actors in the drama, Jahveh addressed all present in a form of
words which implies that not Elihu but Job was the last speaker, and had
only that instant terminated his reply. This fact alone should be
conclusive. But it is confirmed by other weighty considerations which
leave no place for doubt: Thus, Elihu's style is _toto coelo_
different from that of the other parts of the poem: artificial, vague,
rambling, prosaic, and strongly coloured by Aramaic idioms, while his
doctrinal peculiarities, particularly his mention of interceding angels,
while they coincide with those of the New Testament, are absolutely
unknown to Job and his friends. Moreover, if Elihu had indeed formed one
of the _dramatis personae_ of the original work, the _role_ he
would and should have assumed is not dubious; he must be the wise man
according to the author's own heart. This he is or nothing. And yet, if
he were really this, we should have the curious spectacle of the poet
developing at great length an idea which runs directly counter to the
fundamental conception underlying the entire work. For Elihu declares
Job's sufferings to be a just punishment for his sins; whereas the poet
and Jahveh Himself proclaim him to be the type of the just man, and
describe his misery as a short, unmerited and exceptional probation.
Evidently then Elihu is the elaborate production of some second-rate
writer and first-class theologian awkwardly wedged into the poem perhaps
a century or more after it had been composed, and certainly before the
work was first translated into Greek.

The confusion introduced into the text by this insertion is bewildering
in the extreme; and yet the result is but a typical specimen of the
inextricable tangle which was produced by the systematic endeavours of
later and pious editors to reduce the poem to the proper level of
orthodoxy. Another instance is to be found in Job's reply to the third
discourse of Bildad: in two passages of this discourse the hero
completely and deliberately gives away the case which he had been
theretofore so warmly defending, and accepts--to reject it later on as a
matter of course--the doctrine of retribution.[47] Now, on the one hand,
if we remove these verses, Job's speech becomes perfectly coherent and
logical, and the description of wisdom falls naturally into its right
place; but, on the other hand, we have no reason whatever to call their
authenticity in question and to strike them out. The solution of this
difficulty is that Zophar who, in our versions, speaks but twice, really
spoke three times, like each of his three colleagues, and that the verses
in question were uttered by him, and not by Job. His discourse was
intentionally split up into two portions, and incorporated in a speech
delivered by Job, in order to represent the hero as an advocate of the
dogma of retribution.

Another example of obviously intentional transposition occurs in chap.
xl. where two verses are introduced as one of Job's replies to God, so as
to allow of the latter delivering a second speech and utilising therein a
fine description of the hippopotamus and the crocodile. Lastly, it needs
little critical acumen to perceive that the scraps of dialogue attributed
to Jahveh in the Hebrew text and Authorised Version are, in so far as
they can claim to be regarded as authentic, but fragments of a single
discourse. It would be preposterous to hold a poet or even an average
poetaster responsible for the muddle made by the negligence of copyists
and the zeal of interpolators who sought thus awkwardly to improve the
author's theology at the cost of his poetry. But it is enough to consider
the elements of this particular question for a moment to perceive that
there can be but one solution. Jahveh makes a long and crushing reply to
Job, gradually merges into fine descriptive but irrelevant poetry, and
then suddenly calls for a rejoinder. The hero, humbled to the dust,
exclaims[48] that he is vile and conscious of his impotence, and will lay
his hand upon his mouth and open his lips no more. Here the matter should
end, for Job has confessed himself vanquished. But no, Jahveh, instead of
being touched by this meek avowal and self-humiliation, must needs
address the human worm as if he had turned against his Creator, and asks
such misplaced questions as "Hast thou an arm like God?" As a matter of
fact, Jahveh, whose apparition is but a poetic symbol of the sudden flash
of light which illumined the mind of the despairing hero, spoke but once.
For Job, one glimpse through the veil was enough, one rapid glance at the
realm where all is dark, and deep lies

"under deep unknown,
And height above unknown height."


[44] Chap. xxiv. 5-8, 10-24 and chap. xxx. 3-7 take the place of Job's
blasphemous complaint about the unjust government of the world.

[45] For the benefit of readers who shrink from making any alteration in
the Bible, and who are mostly unaware that innumerable and
wide-reaching changes were effected in it by the negligence or
design of scribes, theologians, and others, it may be well to point
out that none of the changes rendered necessary by the reconstruction
of the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes in any way affects whatever
degree of inspiration they feel disposed to attribute to the Bible as
a whole, or to the interpolations in particular. The point of view of
the critic, if by no means identical with that of the pious
worshipper, need not to clash with it. An interpolation may be--and
as we here see very often is--much more orthodox than an original
text, and the more recent its origin the greater the chances that it
will be so.

[46] xxxii.-xxxvii. In the Septuagint Version Elihu's discourse occupies
but little more than half the number of verses to be found in the
Hebrew manuscript and in the Authorised Version.

[47] xxvii. 8-10, 14-23.

[48] xl. 4-5.

* * * * *


Although the main object of the poet is to present in a clear,
comprehensive and palpable form the sphinx riddle of human existence, his
work abounds nevertheless in a variety of interesting data, which throw
considerable light upon the philosophical and theological theories in
vogue among the thoughtful spirits of the Jewish community. Their
"natural philosophy" offers little that is likely to interest and nothing
of a nature to instruct the well-informed reader of to-day. But the
mythological concreteness and palpitating vitality of all its elements
profoundly impress us, less because of the curious standard they supply
by which to gauge the intellectual level of that age than as the symbols
chosen by the poet to express the identity and nothingness of all things
living and inanimate. Before God, all creatures think, reason, speak,
like man, because all are equal to him and he is but a breath. The stars,
which are relatives of the Satan and of God's own children, wax
enthusiastic and shout for joy; the lightning hearkens to the voice of
its Creator and, flashing athwart the heavens, announces its presence.
The sun is in continual danger of being devoured by a rapacious monster
upon whom a watch has to be set; and all things live and move in the same
way and by exactly the same force that dwells and acts in man with whom
they are one in essence; and he himself is but a flower that sprouts,
fades and dies.[49] Death is the end of man and beast and flower and
grass alike; and after death comes dismal darkness. There is no
difference among them. Man is no more and no less than all the rest.
_Sheol_, or the realm of the dead, is a murky, silent and dreary
abode, the shadowy inmates of which are as if they were not, unconscious
as infants "which never saw the light."

This state, which is not perhaps absolutely equivalent to complete
annihilation, is yet identical with that of "an hidden untimely birth."
Translated into the language of philosophy this somewhat vague notion
might be expressed as follows: All things, past, present and to come,
which flit as unreal shadows on the wall of time and space, are
manifestations of the one sole force which is everlasting and
omnipresent. They are not parts of a whole which is one and divisible:
all that we see and know of them in life is nothing; and after death they
are what they were before--identical with the one.

"One life through all the immense creation runs,
One spirit is the moon's, the sea's, the sun's;
All forms in the air that fly, on the earth that creep,
And the unknown nameless creatures of the deep--
Each breathing thing obeys one mind's control,
And in all substance is a single soul."

For Job's theory of the universe is dynamic and recognises but one force,
which is so vague and indefinite that he hesitates to bestow upon it the
name of the concrete God of the Jews.[50] There is no multiplicity, no
duality, no other substance, no other cause. The One is and does alone.
All things are shadowy delusions; He alone is real. We are nothing except
in Him. Evil as well as good is His work. The Satan who tortures Job is
one of the sons of God to whom special power is exceptionally delegated;
but, as a rule, God Himself punishes the just and showers His blessings
on the wicked. Everything that happens is the outcome of His will. There
is no nature, no causation, no necessary law in the physical world; every
event is the embodiment of the one will which is absolutely free, and
therefore, neither to be foreseen nor explained.

Like Koheleth, Job seems to hold that intelligence is something secondary
not primordial. Man, who is richly endowed with it on earth, knows really
nothing, never can know anything, about the origin and reason of things.
They are absolutely unknowable. He finds abyss yawning under abyss,
height towering above height, and dark mysteries encompass him

"But wisdom--whence shall it come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hid from the eyes of all living" (cxxxiv.).

And if there be at most but will-o'-the-wisps on this side of the shadow
of Night, there is nought but absolute darkness beyond.

These considerations would seem to offer a very satisfactory explanation
of the monotheism of the poet which is far in advance of that of his
contemporaries, to whatever age we may assign him. It is a purely
philosophical conception which never was and never can be enshrined in a
theological dogma, and to seek for its genesis in the evolution of the
Jewish religion is far less reasonable than to derive it from the
philosophy of the Greeks or the Hindoos.

Job's theory of ethics differs widely from that of his friends and
contemporaries, and indeed from that of the bulk of mankind of all times.
The Jews believed in fleeting pleasures and pains in this life as the
sole recompense for virtue and sin; their modern heirs and successors
hope for eternal bliss or fear everlasting suffering in the next. The
motives deducible from both creeds are identical, and philosophy connotes
them as egotism. Whether the meed I long for or the pain I would shun be
transitory or everlasting, the moment my individual well-being becomes
the motive of my conduct it is not easy to perceive where morality comes
in. And so universally is egotism to be found at the root of what appear
to us to be the most generous actions, that the Adversary was right
enough in refusing, without conclusive proof, to enrol Job's name in the
short list of exceptions. But Job's ethics were many degrees above proof.
In no book of the ancient Testament and in no religion or philosophy of
the old world, if we except Buddhism, do we find anything to compare with
the sublime morality inculcated in the poem that bears his name. It
utterly ignores the convenient and profitable virtue known as "duty to
one's self" and bases all the other virtues on pity for our fellows, who
are not merely our brethren but our very selves. The truly moral man
should be able to say with Job:

"I delivered the poor that cried aloud,
And the orphan and him that had none to help him;
And I gladdened the heart of the widow (ccxlvii.).

I became eyes to the blind,
And I was feet unto the lame (ccxlviii.).

If I saw one perish for lack of clothing,
Or any of the poor devoid of covering;
Then surely did his loins bless me,
And he was warmed with the fleece of my sheep (cclxix.).

I have never made gold my hope (cclxxi.).

Never did I rejoice at the ruin of my hater,
Nor exult when misery found him out (cclxxiii.).

Did not he that made me in the womb, make him? (cclxvii.)

Did I not weep for him that was in trouble?" (cclix.).

And having accomplished all this without fear of pain,

"Gaze onward without claim to hope,
Nor, gazing backward, court regret."

This is the only system of morality deserving that much-abused name; it
was preached and to a great extent practised in India by the Jainists and
the Buddhists, and for the first time in the Old Testament by the author
of our poem.

All the ills and sorrows of life, merited and unmerited alike, Job is
prepared for. They are the commonplaces of human existence and as
inseparable from it as shadow from light. But what he cannot endure is
the thought that his good name, the sole comfort left him in his misery,
shall be sacrificed to a theological theory which runs counter to every
fact of public history and private experience. This is an injustice which
seems to strike at the root of all morality, and he passionately attacks
all who uphold it, even though God Himself be of the number. For he has
unshaken faith in eternal justice as something independent even of the
deity. Its manifestations may be imperceptible and incomprehensible to
us, but it governs the universe all the same, and faith in this fact was
his lodestar when sun and moon had gone out and the aimless tornado raged
around and ghastly horrors issued from the womb of Night. The wicked may
prosper and the just man die on a dunghill, scorned by all and seemingly
forsaken by God Himself, but it is none the less true that sin and
suffering, virtue and reward are fruits of the same tree, one and
indivisible. They are the manna the taste of which adapts itself to the
eater. Job expresses the conviction, which St. Bernard so aptly
formulated when he said: "Nought can harm me but myself;" and it is this
conviction that nerves and sustains him in his defiant challenge to the
Most High and prompts his appeal to eternal justice against even God

"Will he plead against me with his almighty power?
If not, then not even he would prevail against me.
For a righteous one would dispute with him." (ccxvi.)

But after the theophany, when the truth has dawned upon the mind of the
heroic sufferer, he sees that eternal justice needs not even this
certificate of its existence, that it can dispense with the most eloquent
human advocate, and he waives what he had theretofore held to be his
indefeasible right and puts the crown on his system of ethics by enduring
his lot in silence.

Peace grounded on knowledge, therefore, is the end of Job's doubts and
misgivings. But it is not the knowledge of a reward to come, a
presentiment of the joys of heaven, of an everlasting feeding-trough
where our hunger and thirst for existence shall be satiated for ever and
ever. It is that sobering knowledge which is increase of sorrow.
Injustice in the world there is none; if all beings living are liable to
pain, and everything animate and inanimate is subject to decay and death,
the reason is that suffering and dissolution are the conditions of
existence, which is therefore an evil. To desire the one is to wish for
or accept the other. This is the conviction which brings peace to the
soul of the hero and enables him to exclaim:

"I resign and console myself,
Though in dust and ashes."


[49] Strophe cxxi.

[50] Lagarde seems to have hit the mark when he affirms that the poet's
faith in God reduces itself to a vague belief in the divine.

* * * * *


The popular legend of Job, which was current among the Hebrews and
probably among their Semitic neighbours for centuries before the poem was
composed, is embodied in the prologue and epilogue,[51] which are written
in prose. The data it contains are utilised by the author for the purpose
of clearly stating, not of elucidating, the main problem, and it would be
a grave mistake on the part of the reader to attempt to supplement the
reasoning of Job's friends by arguments drawn from the details narrated
in the legend. Thus, the conversation between Jahveh and the Satan is
obviously intended to establish the all-important fact that Job, although
not a member of the chosen people, a believer in their priestly dogmas,
nor an observer of their religious rites and ceremonies, was none the
less a truly just man, the perfect type of the righteous of all times and
countries. On the other hand, the circumstances that his sufferings were
no more than a probation, and that they were followed by fabulous wealth
and intensified happiness, are dismissed by the poet as wholly irrelevant
to the question at issue. Nor, considering their purely exceptional
character, would they have tended in any degree to solve it. If Job's
misery was an ordeal, all unmerited suffering cannot be pressed into the
same convenient category. His individual privations and pains may have
been compensated for by subsequent plenty and prosperity; but there are
other just men who rot on the dunghill and die in despair. The author,
therefore, wisely refrained from drawing on the legend more extensively
than was absolutely needful for the materials of his poem, and from thus
reducing a universal problem to the dimensions of an individual case.

The folk-story of the just man, Job, is conceived in the true spirit of
Eastern legendary lore. The colours are laid on with an ungrudging hand.
He was not merely well-to-do and contented, he was the happiest mortal
who had ever walked the earth in his halcyon days, and the most
hopelessly wretched during his probation.

But although wont, as the Preacher recommends, to fill up his cup with
the wine of life, "pressing all that it yields of mere vintage," he was
anything but an egotist. The broad stream of his sympathy flowed out
towards all his fellows, nay, to all things animate and inanimate. The
sheep, the lion, the eagle, and the oxen, were his comrades, the fire and
the wind his kinsmen. Even for his worst enemies he had no curse, nor did
he ever rejoice in their merited misfortunes. So blameless and upright
was his living and working, so completely had he eschewed even
heart-sins, that he might have carried windows in his breast that all
might see what was being done within.

Now, in accordance with the retribution-theory then in fashion--small
temporary profits and quick returns--he had amply merited his good
fortune, and might have reasonably expected to enjoy it to the close of a
long life, which for him was the end of everything. In fact, he had no
longer any serious grounds for apprehending the gathering of clouds of
misfortune to darken the sunshine of his existence, seeing that he had
already attained to a ripe age, was possessed of vast herds of cattle and
thousands of camels, was blest with a numerous family, and passed for
"the greatest of all the children of the East." But the most specious
theological theories are as powerless to guarantee the just man from the
blows of adversity as to hinder the worm from finding the blushing rose's
"bed of crimson joy"; and whether pain and sorrow be labelled "probation"
or "just punishment," they will never cease to figure among the
commonplaces of human existence.

At one of the social gatherings of the courtiers of heaven, Jahveh takes
occasion to laud the virtue of the just man, Job, whereupon the Satan,
who not only understands, but sees through the righteousness of the bulk
of mankind, expresses his conviction that it has its roots in mere
selfishness. Jahveh then empowers the Adversary to put it to the test by
depriving Job of his possessions and his family. On this, the hero's
wealth and happiness vanished as suddenly as the smile on the face of an
infant, and in a twinkling, so to say, he was changed into a perfect type
of human wretchedness.

By one of those extraordinary miracles which are characteristic of
Oriental fiction, in the course of a single day Job's four hundred yoke
of oxen were seized and carried off by the Sabeans, his seven thousand
scattered sheep were sought out and consumed by lightning, his three
thousand camels were driven away by Chaldeans, and his sons and daughters
killed by the falling of a house. Being but human, Job's soul is harrowed
up by grief; but, recognising the emptiness of all things, he endures his
lot manfully and without murmur or complaint.

When the sons of God met again in the council chamber of heaven, Jahveh
triumphantly inquired of the Adversary what he now thought of Job's
virtue and its taproot. But the Satan still clung tenaciously to his low
view of the mainspring of the hero's conduct. "Skin for skin, yea, all
that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now,
and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will renounce thee to thy face.
And the Lord said unto the Adversary: "Behold he is in thine hand; only
spare his life." Whereupon he was smitten with the most loathsome disease
known in the East, which together with the moral suffering resulting from
utter abandonment, besieged him, "even to the gates and inlets of his
life." But firm and manful, with strength nurtured by the witness of his
own conscience, and the conviction that true virtue is independent of
reward, he maintains the citadel unconquered, refusing to open the
portals even to Jahveh Himself.

Nothing can subdue Job, not even the bitter fruits of the diabolical
refinement of the Adversary who, having permission to slay all the hero's
kith and kin, spares his spouse, lest misery should harbour any
possibilities unrealised.

At last three of Job's friends come from the uttermost ends of the earth
to visit and console him. Travelling over enormous distances, and setting
out from opposite points of the compass, they all contrive to reach the
sufferer at the same moment; and at the sight of the deformed and
loathsome figure of their friend are all three struck dumb with grief.
Without any previous consultation among themselves, they sit silent and
sad for seven days and seven nights, gazing with fascinated horror on the
misshapen figure on the dunghill. This curious manifestation of
friendship unmans the hero whose fortitude had been proof against the
most cruel physical and moral suffering; utterly breaking down, he "fills
with woes the passing wind," and bitterly curses his existence. Awe at
first keeps him from censuring God's ways; truthfulness from condemning
himself. He cannot understand why he suffers, whether there be any truth
or none in the traditional doctrine of unfailing retribution upon earth;
for he has certainly done everything to merit happiness and nought to
deserve punishment. Society, however, is there in the person of his
friends to dispel this delusion. They hold a brief for the cut-and-dried
theology of the day which tells them that in Job there was a reservoir of
guilt and sin filling up from youth to age, which now, no longer able to
hold its loathsome charge, burst and overwhelmed with misery their friend
and his family. They play their parts very skilfully, at first softly
stroking, as it were, the beloved friend, as if to soothe his pain, and
then vigorously rubbing the salt in the gaping wounds of the groaning

The campaign is opened mildly by Eliphaz, a firm believer in the spooks
and spectres of borderland, who, in reply to Job's complaint, assures his
friend that no really innocent human being ever died in misery as he now
seems to be dying, and gently reminds him that "affliction shooteth not
from the dust, neither doth trouble sprout up from the ground;" they need
the fertile soil of sin, which Job must have provided, unknown to his
easy-going friends who, taking him at his own estimation, heretofore
considered him a just man. But even if he were what he would have them
believe he is, he has no ground for just complaint: for "happy is the man
whom God correcteth." To this the hero replies, accentuating his
innocence, and pouring forth his plaint in "wild words," for God "useth
me as an enemy." He seeks not for mercy, he explains, but for justice,
nay, he is magnanimous enough to be content with even less. He only asks
of God,

"That it would please him to destroy me,
That he would let go his hand and cut me off;"[52]

and this request having been refused, suicide, the ever "open door" of
the Stoics, invited him temptingly in, but he withstood the temptation,
and comforted himself with the knowledge that all things in time have an

"My soul would have chosen strangling,
And death by my own resolve.
But I spurned it; for I shall not live for ever."[53]

The arbitrary and incomprehensible will of the deity may, in ultimate
analysis, be the changeful basis of right and wrong, but, if so, divine
justice differs from human not merely in degree but likewise in
character, and not apparently to its advantage. The tuneful Psalmist had
sung in ecstatic wonder at the mercy of God: "What is man, that thou art
mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him? For thou hast
made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory
and honour."[54] Job, having looked upwards in the same direction, not
for mercy but for simple justice, and looked in vain, parodies with
bitter irony those same verses of the Psalm:

"What is man that thou shouldst magnify him?


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