Consider Leviathan

Consider Leviathan: Narratives of Nature and the Self in Job

Brian R. Doak
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Consider Leviathan
    Book Description:

    Theologians and philosophers are turning again to questions of the meaning, or non-meaning, of the natural world for human self-understanding. Brian R. Doak observes that the book of Job, more than any other book in the Bible, uses metaphors drawn from the natural world, especially of plants and animals, as raw material for thinking about human suffering. Doak argues that Job should be viewed as an anthropological “ground zero” for the traumatic definition of the post-exilic human self in ancient Israel. Furthermore, the battered shape of the Joban experience should provide a starting point for reconfiguring our thinking about “natural theology” as a category of intellectual history in the ancient world. Doak examines how the development of the human subject is portrayed in the biblical text in either radical continuity or discontinuity with plants and animals. Consider Leviathan explores the text at the intersection of anthropology, theology, and ecology, opening up new possibilities for charting the view of nature in the Hebrew Bible.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-8951-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    The question of nature’s meaning or non-meaning is a loaded one, capable of eliciting ferocious responses, even tearing apart the moral and intellectual fabric of a society. Consider, for example, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, an event powerfully analyzed by Susan Neiman in her bookEvil: An Alternative History of Philosophy(Princeton University Press, 2004). Now-famous thinkers of the period, such as Kant, Voltaire, Rousseau, and even Goethe as a six-year-old boy could all be counted among those agitated by the disaster, which in ten minutes of intense shaking killed some 15,000 people and threw Europe into panic about the goodness...

  6. 1 Consider the Ostrich
    (pp. 1-32)

    In some of the more subtly cruel lines spoken by a deity in world literature, the Joban God, in the midst of an elongated zoological lecture, has the following to say about the “ostrich” (Hebrewrĕnānîm, literally “joyous one”):¹

    The wings of the ostrich flutter jubilantly,

    even though she lacks pinions or the right kind of feathers for flying.

    She leaves her eggs on the ground,

    and upon the dust they grow warm;

    she forgets that a foot might crush them,

    or a beast of the field might trample them.

    She acts harshly against her sons,

    as if they were...

  7. 2 Eco-Anthropologies of Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible
    (pp. 33-102)

    In ancient Israel, Egypt, and Mesopotamia the category of “wisdom” (Hebrewḥokmāh; ḥākām) could encompass many different activities and skill sets, exemplified through diverse sub-categories such as upstanding moral behavior, religious observance, expert craftsmanship, scribal prowess, esoteric abilities, political savvy, and storytelling powers.¹ Perhaps the most frequently discussed aspect of wisdom discourse with relation to ecological concerns is the category of creation, strikingly on display through the recitation of a creation narrative or isolated creation motifs.² Specifically, and related to the creation theme, wisdom activity could include compiling lists or delivering learned discourse on plants and animals, and we find...

  8. 3 Eco-Anthropologies in the Joban Dialogues
    (pp. 103-182)

    Job’s Friends are infamous for their attempts to comfort Job, and the broad strokes of their arguments are well known: righteous behavior produces a life of harmony and prosperity while wickedness causes sure ruin. In truth, however, the notion that the Friends represent a single viewpoint or argumentative strategy is not exactly borne out by a close reading of the text.¹ Rather, the Friends offer a storm of conflicting viewpoints. Here are two of them: First, there is the “Deuteronomistic,”² or “Proverbial” strategy—life is a type of cosmic math equation (framed as a covenant) in which excellent moral choice...

  9. 4 Eco-Anthropologies in the Joban God-Speech
    (pp. 183-232)

    Since his own assent to the Adversary’s acts of torture in Job 2, God has not spoken—a haunting silence. As Paul Ricoeur explains, the process of narrativization can proceed with two distinct effects: (1) The narrative interprets by way of amplification or explanation, by providing a “why” (God did thisbecause…), or (2) the “inverse of amplification,” or “reticence.”¹ Opacity has its own power—the longer the Joban characters have argued about Job’s personal relationship to nature and wrongdoing, the longer God is silent, and the more intensely the characters must wonder about the divine perspective. After thirty-five...

  10. 5 Natural Theologies of the Post-Exilic Self in Job
    (pp. 233-288)

    In this final chapter I turn to the intersection of ecology, politics, and the role of the specifically Joban “self” in the creation of new possibilities for Israel’s existence in the sixth to fifth centuries bce. In the previous two chapters I have argued that this Joban “self” is a rather insecure entity, torn among several competing fragments of ancient Israelite self-making projects. The Friends’ alluring nature-response covenant posited that Job’s suddenly stunted economic life and blistered body came by way of a morally disobedient self. Job had sinned, and the world reacted. They attempted to restore Job from the...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 289-296)

    Through its multiple and sometimes shocking nature images Job provides an ecological transition for Israel that facilitates survival at the juncture between the older ideals of nature covenant and the new era of diaspora and the “little community” at home in Judah. The explosion of nature images in the Dialogues not only reflects the intense focus on the status of the land but also comes to function as a creative, metaphorical guide for several avenues of ecological thinking, none of which is ultimately regnant, and the intensity and indeterminacy of that debate demonstrates just how difficult it is to make...

  12. Index
    (pp. 297-302)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)