Saturday, 9 March 2013

Good Job God!

William Blake, Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils c.1826
The Book of Job in the Bible is a curious book. Like the story of Noah and the Flood, its only purpose seems to be to remind us what a capricious, murderous and unpredictable deity Yahweh is, as thought whoever decided to include it in the Bible thought we needed to be frightened of the deity in it and cowed into submission lest we dared to question what the priests were telling us.

Like Noah and the Flood, and much of the Old Testament for that matter, it seems to carry no moral message for mankind, unless the morality being espoused is "Obey without question or suffer the consequences and never take Yahweh for granted", like the lesson taught by a protection racketeer's heavies when they accidentally drop that antique vase or set fire to a shop down the road, just to remind you to show your appreciation for Big Ron's protection. Or maybe the moral is, "Just keep smiling and all will turn out right in the end - and don't ask us why things don't seem to be right just now!", like a rogue trader who's taken your money with no intention of ever delivering.

The book of job is one of the most powerful arguments against God in the atheist arsenal. It proves once and for all that YHWH is not a good god. Even if such a god exists, we surely cannot rely on him to define our morals, to tell us what is good or bad. If holiness is what gods do, then holiness is a terrible thing.

Like the Flood myth, Job seems to be based heavily on a folk tale rather than someone's idea of real history, although, in the days before writing, there was probably no real distinction between traditional stories and 'history' as both would have been related by story-tellers with a blurred distinction between fact and fiction. Curiously, in another example of the glaring contradictions in the Bible which Christians find so embarrassing they have to pretend not to have noticed them, Job is described as 'perfect', so, presumably, the author of this tale was unaware of the Adam and Eve story when God decreed that everyone was to be a sinner, and therefore definitely not perfect. Another example of authors writing stuff they never imagined at the time would be gathered together with other stories, bound up in a single book and presented as inerrant truth - a problem which plagues the New Testament even more than it does the Old.

Like the Flood and the story of Lot and the 'Cities of the Plain', Job seems to be derived from a volcano god, or at least a god of natural disasters. As we shall see, the killing of Job's flocks of sheep seems to be the work of a volcano god.

The story is that Job was a 'perfect and upright man' who (understandably as things turned out) 'feared God'. He was rich and successful and owned a lot of sheep, and offered sacrifices every day just in case his sons and daughters had got up to anything improper during the previous night's feasting and drinking.

Now the story takes a bit of a strange turn, and one in which the previous banishment of Satan from God's presence seems to have been set aside for the sake of the narrative, or because the author was, yet again, unaware of the other Bible stories. One day, God and 'the sons of God' (who they?) were gathered together when who should turn up but Satan, apparently one of the lads. Satan tells God he's been taking a bit of a look at Earth and God asks what he thinks of Job, like Job is some sort of prize exhibit.

The story seems to be set in time when there were lots of gods and this particular god was the father of them, like the Graeco-Indian god, Dyaus Petar (God the Father) who became Zeus, Jupiter, Dios, Dei and Theos, and God and his sons would regularly gather together in Heaven to watch the humans below.

Satan then taunts God and says Job only fears him because he's protected him and prevented anything bad happening. "I bet he'd soon change his mind if you took away everything he has", say's Satan.

"Rubbish!", says God, who, although he's the supreme ruler of the Universe and accountable to no one, decides he's got to prove himself to Satan by making life unbearable for Job

William Blake, Job's Sons and Daughters Overwhelmed by Satan 1821
Satan 1: God 0.
And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them: And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house:

And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

Wow! What a class act, eh? When you need a roll-model, look no further than God for how to treat those who love and trust you when they need to prove themselves to one of the lads!

But it gets worse!

A few days later, Satan happens by again and taunts God some more, with, "That was nothing! All you did was take away his property and kill all his children! Hurt him! See what he does then!"
And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.

And Satan answered the Lord, and said, 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 curse thee to thy face.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

So God gave Job to Satan to do whatever he wanted with him, except let him die, no matter how much he wanted to, and Satan, ever the imaginative demon, gave Job a nasty case of the boils.

Satan 2: God 0.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, after Job has been urged by his wife (who then mysteriously seems to disappear from the story) to put a stop to all this by cursing God, and after being mocked by his friends, he still refuses to curse the person responsible for it, so God speaks out of a whirlwind (I'm not making this up!) and Job agrees that God can do whatever he wants, proving the point to Satan, at least to God's satisfaction, so God gives him back everything he had taken away, with a bit extra for his trouble, and gives him some replacement children to make up for those he had killed to win his bet with Satan and they all live happily ever after.

Apart from the disappeared wife, and the murdered children, and the servants (i.e. slaves) who obviously counted for nothing.

So, who won the bet exactly?

At the start of the story, God is benignly watching over a man and his family making a success of their lives and enjoying the rewards for their endeavours; at the end of it, God has shown himself to be a psychopathic bully, quite capable of victimising an innocent man, killing his family and his equally undeserving servants, and making his life a misery to prove himself to one of the lads, like an insecure adolescent trying desperately to one of the gang and having to go through some sort of laddish rite of passage.

And Satan has proved he can make God do whatever he wants him to do because God has a need to prove himself and God shows that, for all practical purposes, he is indistinguishable from a malevolent, evil god, quite capable of inflicting suffering on a capricious whim with no thought for his victims - and so not the omnibenevolent, omnipotent god children are told about in Sunday school and Bible class, and which even some otherwise perfectly rational adults still believe in.

Some giver of morals, eh?

Satan 3: God 0.

But very effective for frightening superstitious people with, as no doubt the Bible's authors intended.

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