December 11th, 2005


Job and the satan

In Alan F. Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West (Doubleday, New York, 2005), we read on page 148:

Many scholars have pointed to the character of Satan in the story of Job to explain evil, suffering, and death. Since Christianity, especially evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, lives with a lively sense of Satan’s kingdom in opposition to God, it naturally seeks confirmation for these beliefs in the book of Job. But the character of Satan, as he appears in Christianity and apocalyptic literature, is totally lacking in the book of Job. The character, who appears in the prose introduction, is not Satan but “the satan,” a phrase which in Hebrew means only “the antagonist” or “the adversary,” not a proper name of a character, and must be taken as a technical courtroom term such as “the prosecuting attorney.” In any event, since “the antagonist” appears consistently with the definite article (the), no one with the proper name Satan appears here. Hebrew usage of the definite article is quite like English in this one respect. That means there is no consistent evil character in the drama of Job, only one of God’s courtiers. The hassatan seems to designate the job description for a nameless member of God’s divine council, the heavenly court whose responsibility it is to argue against proposals. The title designates something like our term the “Attorney General,” referring to the office rather than the proper name of any particular attorney general, like John Ashcroft or Janet Reno.

In my opinion, the title designates someone much more like John Ashcroft than like Janet Reno, but I guess there are those who would disagree…