Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jose Saramago on Job

I'm currently reading Nobel Prize winner for literature Jose Saramago's novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, a fascinating retelling of the gospel story that delves in and out of dilemmas of morality, etc. A couple major issues are: was the "angel" who appeared to Mary from God or Satan? A second major dilemma is why didn't Joseph warn the rest of the village when he discovered Herod's plans to massacre all the infants in Bethlehem? In the book, the angel (from God? from Satan?) comes and tells Mary that Joseph's inaction in this respect is unforgivable and, in fact, for the rest of his life he will be haunted by nightmares (from God? from Satan?) about this deadly fault of omission. In fact, at points, the novel puts Joseph and God in the same boat: why didn't GOD warn the rest of the people? Both God and Joseph are haunted by their mistake that costed so many innocent lives. In this context, a short reverie on God and Satan's bet concerning Job occurs:

It is true that God compensated Job by repaying him twice as much as He had taken, but what about all those other men, in whose name no book was ever written, men deprived of everything and given nothing in return, to whom everything was promised and nothing fulfilled.
(Trans. Giovanni Pontiero)

In his sorrow and his attempt to overcome his error, Joseph tries to have as many children as possible with Mary and they do have many, but he cannot replace all of the children. In such a context, the narrator of the tale brings in a story of a man who lost all of his children and receives "replacements" at the end of the tale--twice as many sons and daughters. But can they ever really be "replaced"? How can you possibly replace a life, particularly your own child's? Even if Joseph could numerically account for all the children killed by Herod's men, that is not a replacement. But this passage indicates that Job, a special case in righteousness, a special case in suffering, is also a special case in repayment: no one else seems to get repaid double or even equivalent of what was once lost. Promised everything by God, by prophets, by religious and civil authorities, the anonymous ones (those "whose name no book was ever written") receive nothing.

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