JOB’S WIFE: THE BACK STORY   2 comments

I’m spending this month focusing on getting “Mrs. Job” republished after she was set free by TM Publishing when they ran out of funding. But this time around, the working title will be “Job’s Wife: A Biblical Love Story.” Maybe people won’t be so tempted to pronounce “Job” as if it referred to paid employment rather than one of the “wisdom” books in the bible.

It’s sad, I think, that she is without a home because a publisher liked her well enough to offer her a new home and had me cancel her contract with iUniverse a year ago, but then couldn’t afford to move her in. But it does no good to wallow in regrets, so I’m actively seeking a new placement for her.

As starters, I’m looking for agents and examining the offerings of self-publishing sources. Besides, right now I’m sharing a part with you. .. the section at the end where I describe what lay behind my writing the book in the first place and making the decisions I did.

I do have some copies of “Mrs. Job” left on my shelf as she was with iUniverse before the improvements edited in while working with TM publishing.

Any agents out there? Any smart folks with good suggestions? Any comments .. suggestions for a new title .. new cover?

You can see the old cover and some comments if you go to Mrs. Job at amazon.com.

ADDENDUM: THE STORY OF THE STORY

The issue of forgiveness seized my attention in the mid 1980s, at a time when I was still engaged in the psychology of women, my special area of instruction during the last fifteen years of my academic career. An essential aspect of forgiveness is concern for justice. Given that I also have a lay student’s interest in the Bible, it probably isn’t surprising that I chose to study Biblical justice as reflected in the Book of Job. And it seemed especially appropriate to view the story from the point of view of his wife who suffered the severe losses of the trials along with him. So my interests coalesced in what seemed to me to be a very comfortable and meaningful way.

Applying my psychologist’s focus to the study, I found myself annoyed with the somewhat pervasive portrayal of “the patience of Job” as a kind of wimpy, uncomplaining  acceptance of any punishment, no matter how unjust. I saw him instead as a pretty strong character, one of the first self-actualizers who knew his own strengths and weaknesses and would not yield to anyone’s pressure to lie about himself in order to gain favor. I liked that Job.

My career as an academic had schooled me to examine everything I could about a topic of interest. That isn’t bad training if one is working on topics that are already familiar, and if the amount of relevant material is reasonably limited. So I began reading about the Book of Job, and discovering interesting interpretations and speculations. But when I visited the Yale Divinity School Library and saw the huge wall of writings about Job, I realized I’d either have to give up the project or curb my perfectionism. I wasn’t a theologian, and previous researchers had been more abundant than I could handle and still maintain my own life and professional activities.

I confess that the dilemma froze my Joban activities, but he was never far out of my thoughts. Then, in 1992, Safire identified Job as “the first dissident,“[i] not that different from my Self-actualizing Job, I thought, and I was fired up again. The perfectionism yielded a little, and I thought maybe I could continue to explore Job for pleasure, not as if I were writing a dissertation.

The Job I liked had a firm commitment to justice rather than self-righteous justification. In 2000, my sister provided me with a book by Alan Dershowitz[ii] which helped me understand more clearly the covenant relationship which Job invoked in his demand that God declare the charges he had against him. Like a good lawyer, Job called on his right to know, and the demand was justified with God’s appearance to him and the ultimate restoration of his family and wealth. And I felt a little freer to enjoy Job.

Not only was Job a self-actualizing dissident with the courage unyieldingly to maintain his integrity, he was also an early feminist. Why else would such a point be made that he named the three daughters in his second family and saw to it that they got an equal share of the inheritance?  To name is to grant power, as is inclusion in one’s will, so to speak. Of course, the Biblical story doesn’t mention the daughters in his first family. He probably named them too, as he would have done all his children. But the writer of Job chose to make a point of his care for the three daughters in his second family. Something must have happened during the trials or as their consequence to inspire him to act in such a counter-cultural manner. So Job himself opened up the issue of the women in Job’s life.

Job’s wife is mentioned three times in the Book of Job (NRSV). First, in 2:9-10,

“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity?  Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak.  Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

The most common understanding of this encounter has been, over the centuries, to accuse Mrs. Job of being in league with the devil. That interpretation is a little unsatisfactory, since neither she nor Job knew the exchange that was taking place between God and The Satan, or the Accusing Angel,[iii] who, by the way, was then an agent of God and not the Devil we have come to know in later times.[iv]

Other explanations include the suggestions that the word for “curse” could also be translated “bless,” that Mrs. Job is invoking a customary Jewish usage of the opposite to express the real meaning of her intent, or, in a more humorous vein, cartoons and poems about the nuisance Job is, sitting around in the ashes, while she has to do all the work. (“Lift your legs,” she says to the seated Job in one cartoon, while she vacuums under his feet.)

Those of us who study the history and psychology of women are not surprised by the identification of Job’s wife with the devil. It has been tradition, until feminist reexamination changed our way of looking at things, to identify women with evil. But that’s another fascinating and ongoing study of women in the Bible which can wait for another time.

I have chosen to extract three major points from this encounter, the first of which requires knowing the situation from outside, when God tells The Satan to spare Job’s life. In my story, I have chosen to see that Mrs. Job’s life was therefore spared since, as Job’s wife, she was one with him, a part of him, and therefore covered by the injunction to spare his life.

If you see that as a stretch, I understand why, but two other points seem more obvious to me, and, I think, may be more acceptable to you. His reply to her, essentially saying, “Now you sound like any foolish woman” suggests to me that he holds her in high respect, surprised when she sounds foolish. Like the claim in the previous paragraph, I have chosen to make this respect an integral part of the story of Mrs. Job.

Finally this exchange has provided the opportunity for a clear statement from Job that God is in charge, and may mete out both good and bad. There is nothing in this response that would reflect the views we will hear from his so-called comforters who are so convinced that punishment is always justified, and must reflect sin on the part of the sufferer. Therefore, they “know” that Job can end his suffering if only he will tell God he’s sorry he’s been such a sinner. The position of the “comforters” is that people can control God by their own right behavior. Job’s position puts God in charge. Theirs puts humans in charge. By the end of the story, God confirms Job’s argument that humans do not have the power of self-justification and rebukes the other men for their self-aggrandizement.

And now for the second time Job’s wife is mentioned:, “My breath is repulsive to my wife.” (19:17 NRSV) That his breath is repulsive is no surprise. Ill and depressed, Job has not been eating, a natural consequence of which is halitosis. But I think there’s more to be gleaned from this about their relationship. Clearly she has been close enough to him to be offended by his breath, so we know he hasn’t driven her away, literally or figuratively. And I also read into this an intimacy strong enough that she can come right out and tell him his breath is bad. I choose to see that kind of intimacy as an integral part of their relationship.

Finally, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, then let my wife grind for another, and let other men kneel over her. For that would be a heinous crime; that would be a criminal offense; for that would be a fire consuming down to Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my harvest.” (31: 9-12 NRSV)

If one really wanted to, one could find explanations – probably legalistic – of other meaning behind these words. But for me, it seems most simple and direct to accept this at face value – that he has been faithful to his wife. True, in the society of Job’s time, he might have taken other wives or concubines, but it seems to me like a stretch to go beyond this simple statement of monogamy. I have chosen for my story to assume that Job and his wife respect and love each other.

Working since 1970 with secular textbooks and articles about women, I encountered an occasional reference to Proverbs 31:10-31, “Ode to a Capable Wife” (See Appendix). It has often been presented as a negative example of how hard a woman’s life is. Women sometimes recognized it when I incorporated it into my talks, but Jewish women’s groups always nodded in positive reaction to “the woman of valor.”

As I thought about the women in my own extended family, I realized how many of my aunts fit the picture of this woman who is basically in charge of everything involved in daily life: buying, selling, merchandizing, traveling, dispensing charity, sharing wisdom, providing the necessities of food and warmth. And, unless they are living in dire poverty, these are the women who feel good about themselves, productive, useful, and respected. Depression was more likely to develop for women who were assigned a more dependent role in our culture.

I came to understand that the ideal wife in Proverbs 31 had an important function, and freed her husband to perform his, which was, at that time, to study, worship, and sacrifice to God. While the culture of the 1970s valued buying, selling, merchandizing, traveling, dispensing charity, sharing wisdom, and providing the necessities of food and warmth as primarily an honorable masculine function, to really understand women of the time of Proverbs 31, we had to understand the different culture. If Job, in standing respectfully before God, was an honorable Self–actualizer, then so was his wife as she went about her busy, productive life of tending to daily needs.

Now I knew I wanted to write the story of Job’s wife, and I felt comfortable with the psychology of it.  But this is a Biblical story, so I needed some confirmation from an appropriate scholar. I called Brevard Childs, the noted Old Testament scholar at Yale,[v] and asked him if it would be appropriate to take the ideal wife of Proverbs 31 as a model for Mrs. Job. His answer was an unhesitating “yes.” The book of Job and the “ideal wife” are both part of wisdom literature, probably from the patriarchal period. And he encouraged me to write it. Little could either one of us know how long it would be before Mrs. Job finally got birthed.

Professor Childs is not responsible for any of the other assumptions I’ve made in writing this story. He is, however, responsible for my developing the courage to write it. As I understand it, wisdom literature is exactly that – attempts to define and teach wisdom. It was for that reason that I chose to name Job’s wife “Dara” (Wisdom). Equally in the running for a name was “Hope” which, I felt, reflected a particularly strong element of her personality, but perhaps hope is just one small part of wisdom, so Dara she is.

The book of Mrs. Job is fiction, but there are two areas where it has to be faithful to the source. First, while the interpretation of the particular events of the trials and their aftermath are mine, their depiction must be true to the Biblical story. Second, the details of their life must reflect the reality of the time in which they live.

My sister, the one in the family with the MFA in writing, has told me that one reads, takes notes on, and experiences a lot of material, but when it comes to writing fiction, all that serves as background against which the story is created. She finally helped free me of my academic perfectionist trap. Her final nudge was to give me a very attractive journal to be used only for writing about Job’s wife. What follows is some of the background that informed Mrs. Job’s story as I was freed to create it.

Essentially in my research I have found no scholar who claims that the book of Job is the description of a particular man, his friends and family, and the events of his life, though there may be those who believe in the literal inerrancy of the Bible who will disagree with me.  I hope they too can enjoy whatever wisdom there is in my story of Job’s wife. I have found scholars, however, who have made suggestions about Job’s location in time and place, and some have suggested men of history who may have been models for the character Job. Since no one is really sure about Job’s roots, what follows is a description of the choices I’ve made.

The Book of Job is part of wisdom literature, which includes Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible. There is no definitive agreement on who wrote the Book of Job, or even how many authors were involved, but a good guess is that the poet/author was writing somewhere between the 9th and 6th century BCE and may have placed the story as far back as 2200 BCE.  There is general agreement that the Job of the story was an Edomite, or alternatively from Uz which is in the region of Edom. I have chosen to identify the Job of my story as an Edomite, because it gives me context for many aspects of my story.

The Edomites were semi-nomads who followed their herds in spring, summer, and autumn, and lived within a walled city in the winter. A characteristic of Edom as revealed by a search of the internet is that at least some of their city homes were in caves. Edom was located on the eastern side of what we call the Dead Sea, largely in an area which is now part of Jordan.

Choosing to identify Job as an Edomite helped define many other parts of Mrs. Job’s story. Edom is another name for Esau, whose mother and younger twin brother, Jacob, basically cheated him of his father’s blessing and the heritage that should have been his. (Genesis 27:1-40.) When Jacob fled to his Uncle Laban to escape Esau’s wrath, Esau took as an additional wife the daughter of Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave girl. He did that knowing it would offend his mother.

Choosing to accept the Edomite background for Job, then, opened up the possibility of understanding Job’s piety as that of one converted to a lost faith – lost because of the heritage of anger and resentment. In the background of my thought, I see Eliphaz and the others, along with Job, recovering the God of Abraham and his sons Isaac, patriarch of the Jews, and Ishmael, patriarch of the Islamic faith.

Every bit as important in the story of Esau and Jacob as background for Job is the reconciliation that occurred, basically because of Esau’s forgiveness, when Jacob returned with his family and flocks to the land of his father. As he approached Edom, the land in which Esau had settled, Esau met him with an embrace. (Genesis 33: 1-17.) Without the fact of that forgiveness and reconciliation, it would have been harder to portray the generosity and ultimate piety of Job.

The background for my assumptions about Job’s heritage was aided even further by another exploration of the internet where I came upon NABATAEA.NET, “The Hyksos, Kings of Egypt and the land of Edom: Chapter IV: The Book of Job.”  (Most recently reviewed 8/17/07.) Here the author proposes that Job is modeled on King Jobab, who, if I understand the author correctly, can trace his lineage back to Esau. Please understand that I am in no position to claim or dispute the accuracy of these assumptions, but they do allow me to embed my story in a reasonable framework. Here is the lineage. Esau fathered Ruel and Eliphaz (and King Bela?). Ruel fathered Zerah who fathered Jobab. In adopting this base for my story, I am, therefore, making Job the great grandson of Esau and a relative to Eliphaz.

But here’s the wrinkle created by artistic preference, or something like that. I had almost finished the first draft when I realized that, to be true to this assumption, Job’s father should have been Zerah, not Ruel as I had been calling him. So, I set my computer to work changing all the “Ruels” to “Zerah.” Uncle Ruel was gone from my manuscript and instead there was this stranger, Uncle Zerah. Now I know what writers mean when they talk about identifying with their characters. Truly, I went into mourning over the loss of Uncle Ruel, whom I had come to love, and perceived Uncle Zerah as an undesirable intruder. After a conference with my writer sister, I concluded with her help that, since this is fiction, I could bring Uncle Ruel back – a great relief to me. Then Pastor Beth Warpmaeker, much to my delight, pointed out that Zerah would have been Ben Ruel (son of Ruel) so I can feel even more justified calling him Uncle Ruel for short.

Now you have a pretty detailed description of the choices I have made on the way to creating “The Book of Mrs. Job.” I love Job and Dara. I also enjoy the issues of justice, self-justification, grace, and the masculinity/femininity of the deity. I am a psychologist, and it’s mostly the psychological questions that drew me.

I have come to love the other characters in the book as well. Since they are largely my own creation, I guess that’s a way of loving myself.  So be it. They say that writers don’t really create anything new, that they write about what they have experienced.  Looking back at the story, I guess that says something either about my own positive experiences in life, my own optimism, or my own Pollyanna tendencies. Whatever the reason, I see that I haven’t created even one mean and nasty person, except perhaps for the nameless attackers who brought on the trials.

I have also been pleased by the comment of Pastor Dave Olson of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. He pointed out what the Hebrew tradition sees as the purpose of Biblical stories. It is to promote discussion in depth of the issues raised. I guess that’s what Job was doing as he worshiped God, and I like to think that’s what I am doing in seeing the story of Job in this particular way.

Please remember, I’m a psychologist, a therapist, maybe a writer, but not a theologian or a historian. I’ve just tried to get Mrs. Job’s story right.


[i] William Safire (1992). The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics. New York: Random House..

[ii] Dershowitz, Alan M. (2000).  The Genesis of Justice:  Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice that Led to the Ten Commandments as Modern Law.  New York:  Warner Books.

[iii] “In many translations, the definite article precedes the word Satan in the Old Testament, suggesting a title like Special prosecutor, or Inspector General, rather than a person’s name.” Safire, Op.Cit., p. 3.

[iv] “In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an ‘evil empire,’ an army of hostile spirits who make war on God and human kind alike.  As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God.  On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants – a messenger, or angel. ..In biblical sources the Hebrew term the satan describes an adversarial role.  It is not the name of a particular character.” Elaine Pagels. (1995). The Origin of Satan,  New York:  Random House. P.39.

“Minus one cryptic reference in 1 Chronicles, Satan first appears in the Book of Job, where he works as God’s prosecuting attorney. Satan cannot do anything to Job that God will not let him do.  When Job’s children are killed, they are killed with God’s permission.  When sores erupt on Job’s body, they erupt with God’s permission.  As hard as this is for Job or his readers to swallow, it is one of the occupational hazards of monotheism. There is only one God in this story—the God who forms light and creates darkness, according to Isaiah 45—the God who makes weal and creates woe.”  Barbara Brown Taylor. (May 3, 2003) Christian Century, p. 43.

[v] I have been saddened to learn of Dr. Child’s death in summer, 2007.

Endnotes

1 Jemimah is the name given to Job’s oldest daughter in the biblical story.

2. Mitchell, Stephen. The Book of Job. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987, p. 35.

3. Safire, William. The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics. New York: Random House, 1992.

4. Dershowitz, Alan M. The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice that Led to the Ten Commandments as Modern Law. New York: Warner Books, 2000.

5. Safire, Op. Cit., p. 3. “In many translations, the definite article precedes the word

Satan in the Old Testament, suggesting a title like Special Prosecutor, or Inspector General, rather than a person’s name.”

6. Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. New York: Random House, 1995, p. 39. “In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an ‘evil empire,’ an army of hostile spirits who make war on God and human kind alike. As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily

evil, much less opposed to God. On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants—a messenger, or angel …152 In biblical sources, the Hebrew term the satan describes an adversarial role. It is not the name of a particular character.”

7. Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Who are the Bad Guys?” Christian Century. May 3, 2003: 43.

“Minus one cryptic reference in 1 Chronicles, Satan first appears in the Book of Job, where he works as God’s prosecuting attorney. Satan cannot do anything to Job that God will not let him do. When Job’s children are killed, they are killed with God’s permission. When sores erupt

on Job’s body, they erupt with God’s permission. As hard as this is for Job or his readers to swallow, it is one of the occupational hazards of monotheism. There is ”only one God in this story—the God who forms light and creates darkness, according to Isaiah 45—the God who makes weal and creates woe.”

8. I have been saddened to learn of Dr. Child’s death in the summer of 2007.

9. http://www.nabataea.net/, Gibson, David J. “The Hyksos, Kings of Egypt and the land of Edom: Chapter IV: The Book of Job” (most recently reviewed 8/17/07).

2 responses to “JOB’S WIFE: THE BACK STORY

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  1. You will add that backstory to the book, I presume? wonderful illuminating.
    I am a Job-reader. Your are not the first poetic version of Job that I have enjoyed. The story is so hot – and I do not mean sexy.
    This poem came in the mail today – I enclose tha second half as a hug for you:

    so this is the sound of you
    here and now whether or not
    anyone hears it this is
    where we have come with our age
    our knowledge such as it is
    and our hopes such as they are
    invisible before us
    untouched and still possible

    ~ W.S. Merwin ~

    (Present Company)

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