Job’s wheel of Fortune I: Wealth of Naiveté

Job’s wheel of Fortune I: Wealth of Naiveté
Type: Oil
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) 48/60
Year: 2006

This painting is the first of a four paneled mural portraying the first of four phases of Job’s life. In his first phase of life, Job (I) is the apple of G-d’s eye leading a charmed life. He is the greatest man of the East, a man of unlimited wealth with many possessions including countless servants, three thousand camels, seven thousand sheep, five hundred oxen, and five hundred donkeys. Job is portrayed wealthily clad. On the torso of his garment is written the letter aleph (A), the first letter of his name (AYVB). Each panel has a letter of his name on his garment such that when all four panels are put together they spell his Hebrew name from right to left. His name “Eyuv” is written on the red portion of his garment. To the bottom right of the painting is a sampling of his livestock with their numerical census written on them

He is the father of seven sons and three daughters. They are always gathering to have parties. They are shown in the middle right of the painting dancing in unison in a very wealthy home, with musical notes in the background. Despite Job’s fortune, or perhaps because of it, we will each decide as the narrative unfolds, he is as pious as he is wealthy. As described by God himself, he is “pure and straight, he fears God and avoids evil” (written on the orange portion of Job’s garment). So enamored is God of Job that one day when the sons of God and Satan gather before him, God rhetorically asks Satan with great pride in his human creation “are you not impressed with Job? He is unique and there is no one like him”.

Satan answers, “Well what do you expect? Look how successful you’ve made him. Stretch out your hand, touch everything he has, and believe you me he will blaspheme you to your face”. God picks up the gauntlet, and gives Satan carte blanche permission to proceed with this test. “Everything Job has is at your disposal, but his life you can’t touch”. What Satan proceeds to do is the subject of Job panels II and III.

There are several problematic issues with respect to this narrative from a Jewish perspective. Firstly, the existence of the “sons of god” hints at polytheism, or at the very least monolatry which acknowledges other gods, greater or lesser, that are simply not worshipped. One could say that the “sons of god” are metaphoric angels, but this is not the terminology used. The text is never shy to use the term “angel” when “angel” is what is meant. The terminology “sons of god” first appears in Genesis at the end of Bereshit, when the “sons of G-d” descend and have their way with ordinary women, and does not reappear again in the Torah. This terminology does however appear repeatedly in the Dead Sea scrolls. Secondly, the concept of Satan as an executor of evil (mean justice?), although with the acquiescence of God, who acts somewhat independently, appears infrequently in Jewish literature and is far more common in Christian writings e.g. the Book of Revelations. Thirdly the concept of God sitting in heaven, and wagering bets with his celestial colleagues and /or peers, on the behavior of human beings, the mere playthings of the gods, strikes one conceptually as more Greco-Roman than Jewish.

It may be for these reasons that the majority opinion found in the Talmud and Medrashim is that Job is not Jewish. Job was written in approximately 500 BCE. Based on the above mentioned reasons, and the thoroughly Socratic structure and composition of the text it is entirely possible that there was a strong Greek influence on this work. Portions of the text read like a Greek tragedy with an Odysseus (which means son of pain) type of character. Nevertheless to bring these concepts into the Jewish realm I have resorted in this painting, to the usage of visual Kabbalistic symbolism of divine representation. I have interpreted God, his sons and Satan as different manifestations, Sefirot, of the Godhead. I have chosen to use the symbolism of hands (historically used kabbalisticly) as the Seferot. I also chose this based on the words of Satan, “Put your HAND upon him”. Also kabbalisticly, the Sefira Din /Justice traditionally sits on the left hand of God, and symbolizes that Evil /Justice is part and parcel of the God-head, keeping the universe in balance.

In the upper right of the painting we see this symbolism portrayed with Ketter (Crown), the highest Sefirah of the Godhead being in the center (also portrayed as a bright sun) surrounded by five additional concentric circles (the number of Sefirot in Lurianic mysticism). Emanating from Keter/Ein Sof are nine hands with their fingers spread out in priestly benediction. Together with Ketter this adds up to ten sefirot of traditional kabalistic thought. The hands are literally bathing Job, his children and all that he owns, with rays of light (symbolic for blessings) emanating from their fingertips. Incidentally, this is conceptually similar to ancient Egyptian pyramid paintings portraying the sun god Ra as a sun with rays of light at the end of which are hands holding ankhs, symbols of life. The hands closest to Job are Chesed (mercy), Malkut (Kingdom) and, Tiferet, (Beauty). Directly opposite Chesed, and farthest away from Job is Din /Justice, or in this case, Satan. Written on the second through fourth digits of all the fingers of the Sefirot is the Tetragramatton, YHVH. Birds in the background sky are flying upward to heaven in the direction of Job’s gaze, bathing in divine light along with Job.

Job’s children are dancing on a checkered black and white marble floor. The floor looks like a chess board, and they are like chess pieces. The floor’s foundation is adrift on an unstable body of water. In the calm water are happily swimming fish. Job’s children are dancing happily, oblivious to their future destiny which is completely out of their hands. From God’s point of view they are dispensable props, chess pieces on a chess board, mere extensions of Job, just another one of his many possessions, whose earthly utility is to test Job’s obedience. To further emphasize this point, written on the roof of Job’s house, under the red triangles, is the Yiddish expression, “Mann tracht unt gutt lached”, “Man thinks and God laughs”, i.e. we may plot and plan all we wish, but only God knows the future, and thus laughs at our plans. We are in the dark, vis-a- vis God’s actions. This will become evident in Job II-IV with the unfolding narrative and its visual representation.