Self-Cursing

This is something else that intrigues me. There are a myriad versions of the self-curse, usually beginning with (and sometimes going no further than) “Well, I’ll be . . . ” The biblical commandment refers only to using the name of God in vain . . . which often leads me to wonder whether selfish, petitionary prayers — the staple of TV ministries — may not, in fact, be blasphemous! (What could be more vain, more of a presumption and an offense against the divine will, than praying for a new SUV?)

Let’s remember the original point of this commandment: to ensure divine sovereignty/autonomy by situating the deity beyond all human control. In the magico-religious worldview, ritual naming – invoking – is a fundamental assertion of power over the being or object named. Hence YHWH’s bullshitting answer to the soon-to-be wizard Moses at the burning bush: “I will be who I will be. Tell them I Will Be has sent you!” To regard the wagering of oneself also as a transgression would seem to involve the slightly unorthodox notion of the God within.

Job’s wife’s utterance is powerful precisely because of this kind of ambiguity. In an age that could not conceive of atheism, the worst one could do was to invite one’s own damnation. But this was also an age without the belief in an afterlife reward for the virtuous. God favors his chosen with the promise of innumerable descendents. So is Job’s wife really advising him to court damnation? He will go down to Sheol one way or another, and God has already killed off all his heirs. Any possibility of further blessings thus seems already out of the question.

Pious people have always had a huge problem with Job. He is in the end rewarded for talking back to God, and his friends are severely chastised because they insist on mouthing pieties! Job’s God asserts for all time that the ultimate heresy is presuming to pass judgement in God’s stead, which encompasses, finally, any definitive statement about “life, the universe, and everything!”

Scholars maintain that the prologue and epilogue derive from the folk tradition, the remainder being the work of a master poet. Thus, in the prologue Job gives one answer to his wife, and over the course of the dialogues with his companions, a very different answer. But obviously the composer/poet left the preliminary answer intact for a reason. What at first seems to be submission to the will of a transcendent, unknowable deity is transformed into an unflinching belief in one’s own innocence and integrity — even against God Himself.

The prominent old testament scholar Marvin H. Pope, in his Job volume for the Anchor Bible, says that the passage Christians have traditionally understood as an anachronistic reference to Jesus — “I know my Redeemer liveth” in the King James Version — is in reality a plea for a lawyer. Well, I’ll be damned!

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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