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Redefining Job & the Conundrum of Suffering

Available on the publisher’s site at a 20% discount. Hardcovers will be available through this site or by contacting me.

I have never seen Job as a crushed and weeping man sitting on an ash heap desperate for mercy. No, my Job has always been a hero. A hero that looks at the world, the universe, and still dares to demand of his Creator an answer to the suffering in the world. He is a man who accepts that “bad things” happen, but that the intensity, the seeming randomness, is inexplicable. The presumed “patience” of Job never made sense to me. I saw a man determined to find answers, whatever the cost may be.

Many years ago, while still in the formative stages of this work, I met the man who would become my late husband. Of all our natural bonds, our shared sense of wonder drew us together like children, sharing the latest discovery or some favored bit of knowledge while sequestered in some secret tree house deep in the woods. These explorations were not just about Job, but about a number of things within the humanities and natural sciences. Before vascular dementia took his mind away we would spend hours discussing, debating, quibbling over a whole spectrum of subjects in literature, history, the sciences, and in scripture. His knowledge of the ancient languages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew gave my thought process depth. His educational background included a PhD in philosophy from the University of North Carolina and he spoon fed me with the framework of logical argument, the formal process of thinking through a philosophy or hypothesis. He encouraged, prodded, and inspired me to write about those things I most loved. There is a bittersweet tone to every milepost my Job passes. I sincerely hope you find as much value in his story as I always have.

Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is arranged in five parts.

Nuts and Bolts: In order to better understand the message of Job, I felt I needed to first take apart the story and examine all of the parts. The text looks at who the characters may have been, when the tale was written, when it happened, or if it was legend formed of events known to have occurred at some point to a person with status and commitment. I also look at some of the reasons the authorship is dated by many scholars to the time of the Persian Empire. This investigation includes elements of the language and something of the cultural atmosphere within the text and evident in the usage of the language. This exploration closes with a primer on philosophy and the the Greek thought that formed the foundation of theological thought for many of the commentators quoted in following chapters.

Theodicy and Philosophy: A good place to start in the process of dissecting interpretations of Job is by working through the works of the early church fathers and the Medieval Jewish philosophers. The commentary described and analyzed includes the work of theologians during nearly 1,500 years beginning in the first century CE. Cultural context and brief biographical material on each of the authors aids in the understanding of their works and interpretations.

A Different Point of View: If I was looking for new ways to interpret Job, I needed to investigate something broader than the Judeo-Christian heritage. For that, I drew on material describing the traditions within preliterate faiths and ancient faiths rooted in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. This portion of the text closes with a return to the Abrahamic faiths and a look at how Islam views Job and the part that suffering plays in the human story.

Recasting Job: Modern scholars have taken different paths to discovering the meaning of this passage. Current studies involve research to determine the answers to such questions as whether Job (or indeed the entire Bible) really has anything to say about suffering, or if, for instance it is a lesson on communication between the Creator and the created. There is a chapter on the comic vision found in scripture and whether the story of Job is Hebrew comic relief dealing with the vagaries of life. Finally, there is a chapter on the role of suffering in literature and how authors can use the fictional world to build a path to restoration or peaceful acceptance.

Redefining the Conversation: Drawing from all aspects of how humanity has viewed the question of suffering, this part of the book begins by defining the inherent issues in so many of the trembling houses of cards built to defend or define God’s role in suffering. These chapters build a vision of the world in which the author wrote and what knowledge may have been available to them. Then, one by one, the text looks at the speeches attributed to God to pull the lesson from ancient and modern knowledge. What can we learn if we know the measure of the earth, the fierce and unforgiving balance of nature, and the nature of evil? In the end, Job declares that first he heard, and then he saw. I believe he saw answers.

“…[O]nce upon a time lasts forever.” Deep into the process of reviewing one of the final edits of this book, I was challenged to think about voice. How did I want this work to come across and what audience did I want to reach? The material in this book was developed using the accumulated research of many decades. There are also hints of personal experience and something of the pastoral for those in need of comfort. Was it possible to effectively reach multiple audiences and use the same content?

Philip Pullman from his acceptance speech for the carnegie award for “northern lights.

I sincerely believe I did.

Follow this link to see the graphics and charts used within the text.

Endorsements:

“I have been teaching the biblical book of Job for many years and Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is the most comprehensive treatment of the book I have seen. Adams takes up the problem of suffering and evil with preliterate cultures and moves methodically through the history of religious and philosophical approaches to the problem. She situates Job within its historical and cultural context, and also brings forward the book’s handling of questions that are no less relevant today than they were centuries ago. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is an essential reference for professors, students, and ministers dealing with the book of Job. It is also a valuable resource for all of us who struggle to make sense of unearned suffering in the world. In Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering, Adams has baited her hook for Leviathan.”
—VIC SIZEMORE
Author of Goodbye My Tribe: An Evangelical Exodus

“Steeped in traditional interpretations, philosophically attuned, psychologically sensitive, scientifically informed, Adams—in her modern Christian perspective on Job—seeks a theological understanding of suffering that is considerate of and perhaps even comforting to people who suffer. A special feature is Adams’ attention to outlooks and sources behind and beyond the Abrahamic religions.”
—EDWARD L. GREENSTEIN
Author of Job: A New Translation

“Victoria Adams has taken on the issue of suffering in the world by centering her topic around the classic tale of Job and the scholarship surrounding this beloved, ancient story. She demonstrates a mastery of the published material, provides many topics for class study and discussion; however, her most accomplished task in this book is centering the story of Job and the topic of suffering within the person who suffers. In doing so, Victoria accomplishes two things: she challenges all who suffer to give voice to their experience and, through honest communication with the creative forces religion calls God, to seek restoration and new life from the experience of loss and injustice.”
—CHRISTINE KESTERSON
Prison chaplain and founder of Immaculata Home, Inc.

“Remember as a kid how delighted you were to occasionally receive that special sixtyfour- crayon box of Crayola crayons, the one with the built-in sharpener? That’s what Victoria Adams’ book on Job is to anyone fascinated with theology, history, literature, or drama. She offers more nuances and shades of color to understand this timeless tale than you can imagine. This palette of interpretation will serve scholars and lay readers alike.”
—MARK WINGFIELD
Executive Director and Publisher of Baptist News Global

“This scholarly yet readable work illuminates the rich social context and profound interpretive legacy of this paradigmatic tale of suffering, faith, resilience, perseverance, and ultimately, joy in the human condition. Adams invites us to rethink what it means to lay our trust in God in the midst of our brokenness. She calls us to develop tenets to live by, through which our own and Job’s suffering opens up spaces of compassion, love, and caring as we call ourselves to account for harm, blame, and complacency in crafting a meaningful life.”
—ZAYN KASSAM
John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College

“This is a masterfully careful and deeply thoughtful look at one of the most important texts on suffering in all of human literature, and one of the most challenging stories in the Bible. I can’t imagine a more complete or illuminating treatment of how we can best understand the famous and powerful book of Job. A wonderful book and highly recommended!”
—TOM MORRIS
Author of Our Idea of God

Reviews:

Reviewed for “The Bible Today,” Pending Mar-April pp 127)
“More than any other book of the Bible, Job has attracted the attention of believers and nonbelievers, biblical scholars, theologians and philosophers, psychologists and sociologists from diverse cultures in both East and West. Job, after all, deals with the problem of unearned suffering that most people face at one time or another. This is not a commentary or a scholarly monograph but an extended essay on the central theme of Job: why do bad things happen to good people? The author does not neglect to rehearse the more familiar approaches to Job while also reading Job through the lens of her own experience. There are many good popular treatments of Job available. This book rates among the best.

William Mayer – from Amazon
Reviewed in the United States on December 23, 2020
The Book of Job is often overlooked in studies. After reading Victoria Adams’ examination of it though I think that overlooking it is a major mistake. Adams looks at the work through scholarship from all three Abrahamic religions, and then adds on insights from other world religions. Se writes both with the intellect of a scholar and a heart of compassion. For anyone who wishes insight into this book of the Bible, this is an excellent resource.

“marwalk” Amazon
Reviewed October 5, 2020
This book is a must-read that presents a unique perspective on human suffering that is simultaneously broad based and finely focused. Victoria Adams addresses head on the extensive amount of undeserved suffering in our own time by bringing to life multiple points of wisdom from disparate cultures, religions, and eras. After exploring different theories about whether Job was an actual person, which era the events are set in, who the author is, and when the story was written, Adams applies historical scholarship to determining the influences on the author and why the book of Job was written in the first place.

Be prepared for a rigorous and delightful scholarly journey powered by luminaries from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths, as well as non-Abrahamic perspectives from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, plus analyses from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Babylonian sources. The similarities of perception over the ages, as well as the fundamental disagreements among great minds, make for a fascinating read, especially about a topic as otherwise depressing as the story of Job. From that Adams presents clear eyed optimism.

In our own age when we face a combined threat of pandemic, economic insecurity, cruel oppression of disfavored peoples, and cultural upheaval, grappling with the dilemma of undeserved suffering is directly relevant to everyone’s experience. In this book, Adams illustrates how the book of Job delivers a profound rebuke to blame-the-victim ideology—and comfort for those who are suffering.

C. Koepp Amazon
Reviewed August 22, 2020
The story of Job is a tale about a man besieged by unfortunate circumstances and the way he deals with it. It’s less about why people suffer and more about dealing with the situations when they occur, even when friends and family are less than helpful.

Ms. Adams takes a close look at how multiple cultures and religions have addressed the story of Job and the nature of suffering. In the end, she provides a practical suggestion for how to help those around us.

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