The Book of Job and the problem of evil

It’s a problem as old as monotheism: how can a just, beneficent God allow bad things to happen to good people?

That’s the problem at the heart of the biblical Book of Job, the story of the righteous Job who endures terrible torments just because God decides to test his righteousness. So we, the readers, know from the start that Job is innocent and that God has decided to torture him for no good reason.

You probably can’t get a better introduction to the Book of Job than this dramatic two-part lecture (iTunes part 1, iTunes part 2)by University of Michigan literature professor Ralph Williams. Williams talks about the book and its structure, but more important, he gives dramatic readings from the book and explores its emotional and philosophic core.

In another world Williams could have been a Shakespearean actor or a fire and brimstone preacher, with his high rhetorical style and expressive voice that can, within a few phrases, go from anger to anguish to calm resignation. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that this presentation is as much one man show as it is a lecture.


Watercolor illustration of the Book of Job by William Blake. Image credit*

Technical note: In order to get the full impact of Williams’ performance, I recommend that you view the video podcast. However the video files are quite large, and if you want to transfer them to a portable audio player, check out the new, free RealPlayer, which comes with a nifty file conversion program, that easily converts video files to audio files.

(Special thanks go to reader Marisa, who wrote to recommend this lecture.)

3 guides to Shakespeare’s plays

*Image credit: Wikipedia. Public domain.
This entry was posted in Academic podcasts, Bible, Five-star professors, Lectures, Literature, Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Book of Job and the problem of evil

  1. anti_supernaturalist says:

    You have a “problem” with evil?

    facet 1: a brief guide to “immoral” gods

    The so-called ‘problem of evil’ always arises when natural disasters — those “Acts of God” for which insurance will not pay — overwhelm lands and people indiscriminately. Surely, not everyone “deserved” punishment. What’s up with God – the gods – the powers?

    This line of response begs some questions — why do think that “God” must be benevolent? Why do you think the gods must be just? Why do you assume that suffering is “punishment”?

    Religion always anxious to maintain its secular power rushes to restore status quo ante in cases of “unmerited” suffering. To preserve belief in gods, it creates a defense — a theodicy — justifying god’s ways to man. The god axiom itself can never be [permitted to be] overthrown. “God” is immune from any attempt at disproof.

    A very ancient theodicy mixes submission with raw acceptance — the powers act as they will. Their actions are subject to no constraint. The oldest of divine powers are “beyond good and evil” to use Nietzsche’s sparkling phrase. The gods of Job and Oedipus for example must be acknowledged and worshiped whatever they do.

    Morality does not grow out of religion. The truth of a wide separation of morality from religion receives a masterful summary by the eminent classicist, E. R. Dodds:

    “I need hardly say [sic!] that religion and morals were not initially interdependent, in Greece or elsewhere; they had their separate roots. I suppose that broadly speaking, religion grows out of man’s relationship to his total environment, morals out of his relation to his fellow men.” [The greeks and the irrational. Berkeley. 1951. pp. 31-32]

    Breaking a link between ‘god’ and ‘good’ appears impossible to followers of the big-3 so-called great monotheisms. But they are late comers professing doctrines which continue tie them in knots of inconsistency.

    There are 3 other standard “theodicies.” But, space does not permit posting them here.

  2. Grant says:

    Theodicy? Idiocy!


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