At a gathering of friends recently, a game of trivia broke out. Well, it was actually planned because we were not using the cards and pie wedges that we grew up with, but were making up our own questions. The submitter of the question was the final arbiter on whether an answer was correct or not. As usual, I probably overthought the process, trying not to make my questions too hard or too easy. Maybe my ideal contestant was a student in one of my intro classes since much of what I submitted was what I covered in my courses. Other questions were drawn from choice bits of this blog (something to which I never subjected my students). In any case, one of my submissions asked for the name of Job’s fourth friend. I was honestly surprised when nobody in the grew knew, or could even name one of poor Job’s friends. My slip of paper went into the unanswered pile in the middle, a stack alarmingly dominated by my own questions. Afterward, the friend who knew me the longest, and who grew up in a church-going family, asked “Did you really think anyone had read the book of Job?” Coming so shortly, as it did, after another friend in a different context had indicated that my interests are arcane, I began to feel my age.
Biblical literacy is a topic for which some scholars actively lobby the reading public. I’m not sure if the entire Bible need be known fully, although my job increasingly relies upon its popularity. Students used to ask if I still found the Bible meaningful, even though I spent my career parsing it apart. The answer is always the same: yes, the Bible is worthy of the attention lavished upon it. It has sections of unsurpassed beauty and even some lessons the world could still stand to learn. It is uneven, however. There are bits that probably should’ve never been canonized. There are moral lows as well as highs. And the book of Job is among the greatest pieces included in it.
On that point I would receive some argumentation, I’m sure. Many people detest the book of Job. The eponymous hero of the book seems almost blasphemous to some, and a complaining ingrate to others. In the course of his suffering four friends stop by. The last one, surely a later addition to the text, toes the party line of orthodoxy that the book severely shreds. Job also contains some of the finest poetry from the ancient world and has given modern English several catchphrases still currently in use. I’ve always felt a kinship with Job. While my lot has not been as pathetic as his, I have had enough set-backs to lend the book a kind of nostalgic patina. Even in their wrongheadedness Job’s friends can spill out poetry. And there is wisdom to be had in that dusty book. In the end I was probably the one who was wrong. There is nothing trivial about the book of Job.