Discussing
How A Serious Man is not like the Book of Job

Josh Larsen

SiarlysJenkins
October 24, 2009

The most orthodox Talmudic scholars are clear that the book of Job is an allegorical story for moral instruction, not a chronicle of actual events. That is a good thing, because I would have to think twice about saying "God is good," if God allowed a man's sons and daughters to be killed for no other purpose than testing their father's faith. I couldn't do anything to prevent it, God would still be omnipotent if God was capable of such banal evil, but I might cower in fear, run away, and wonder whether joining the Mormon Church would give me a chance to someday do better. Somehow though, I doubt that my moral sense is superior to God's.<br><br>It is also worth noting that Satan appears in the book of Job in the original sense intended by Jewish writers: not as a "fallen angel," not as God's enemy, but as God's faithful servant, welcome to appear in the counsel's of heaven, who TESTS the servants of God -- as indeed, he did when he tested the man Jesus to make sure he was fully capable of carrying out his mission as the Christ.<br><br>So, this movie... well, it wasn't produce by Talmudic scholars, much less by angels, so I guess we can't expect it to be much more than comedy. The producers apparently don't know WHAT God would say out of the whirlwind this time, so they wisely don't try to fake it.

Rick
October 27, 2009

Whether or not Talmudic scholars considered Job allegorical, God considered him a real historical character. As did Ezekiel and James as well. <br><br>When God mentions men of exemplary virtue in Ezekiel 14:14, He lists Daniel, (a historical character), Noah (a historical character), and Job. Why would two be historical and one be allegorical? God talks about Job’s sons and daughters in Ezekiel. James, the brother of Jesus considered the man Job as a great example of perseverance. In James 5:11 he talks about what God brought about in Job’s life. James does not think twice about saying God is good. In the face of Job’s circumstance, James comments, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.“ <br><br>Even if you consider Job allegorical that doesn’t remove your charge of accusing God of banal evil. If you consider God evil here, I can think of scores of examples in the Old Testament where God commands much more horrifying things. I think the problem is perspective. Every single one of us 6.6 billion people on earth die sooner or later. Innocent people die every day, 6 million men, women and completely innocent children died in the ovens of the holocaust. The point is, our life is a brief vapor compared to the eons of eternity that we will be living in. Job, in a few short years, was able to hug and kiss every one of his sons and daughters and enjoy them in peace and happiness for eternity. In fact the very injustice of life is what drtove Job to the inescapable conclusion that there must be justice in an afterlife “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” <br><br>Satan appears no different in the book of Job then he appeared in Revelation. John says in Revelation 12 that he is an angel and currently has access to the courts of heaven, calling him “the accuser of the brethern”, which is exactly what he does this account. John says he stands before God in heaven today making accusations. He will lose his access sometime in the near future which will trigger the worst of the tribulation. Peter says he prowls or wanders about the earth looking for people to destroy, as he did in Job’s case. Satan answers God that he has been "roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." Satan can be quite angelic, diplomatic, respectful and clever when needed as he was in the temptations of Jesus.

SiarlysJenkins
October 27, 2009

Well written and well referenced. I would suggest that in Ezekiel 14:14, God was using Job, Daniel and Noah allegorically. If these three were present (they are not), they would save only themselves, none of the others currently living that God is referring to. Another interesting twist though, is that Daniel and Ezekiel were contemporaries. So Daniel WAS there, on earth at that time. Noah was not, nor was Job. That is the problem with making the logical jump from "the Bible is the Word of God" to treating every verse literally. Its not literal, it is quite poetic, but the divinity issuing it is indeed frighteningly real. Personally, I believe that Noah is also allegorical in a limited sense -- God was conveying a sense of something done several times, some before the creation of the Adam, some afterward. A small example of how the text can be misunderstood: it is a common conundrum that all the animals described could not have fit into a ship of the dimensions given in Genesis. It turns out, God commanded Noah to build a <i>teyva</i>, a box, not a boat. And the answer to how everything fit is, it was Noah's job to build the box exactly as instructed, it was then God's job to save two of every kind.<br><br>Now, as to killing Job's sons and daughter, that is a very different thing from, e.g., killing the Amalekites, or killing idol worshippers who passed their first born sons through the fire. I suppose there might have been a few of this tribe or that harbored doubts about human sacrifice, but the entire culture had to be destroyed. In the story of Job, his children are essentially ciphers -- take away everything Job has to test him. But in real life, not an allegory, each of them is an individual life, which is infinitely precious, however ephermeral.<br><br>Satan is not mentioned in Revelations 12. Some beast is. One of the weaknesses of John's account is that he gratuitously links Satan and Ba'al Zevuv, Lucifer Son of the Morning, the serpent in the garden, and whatever menagerie of beasts populated his vision. He was wrong. I don't take a Talmudic scholar's word for the meaning of the Gospels, because by definition they are not Christian, but if I want to know the original meaning of the original language in which God spoke, to the prophets and to Moses, I definitely rely on someone who knows the Hebrew inside and out, not from taking a college class, but from being immersed in it for forty years or more, and being conversant with 2500 years of study of the meaning. Peter was wrong. Likewise, Satan did not "prowl" the earth in Job, he walked upon it, not to see whom he might destroy, but what was happening.

Tony
November 4, 2009

. . . except Larry is beset by a serious illness as is implied at the end, and at least one of his children may be killed by the tornado. There are also subtler things like the three rabbis representing Job's comforters (but instead using modern representations of what the Coen brothers feel are typical forms of advice from people meant to comfort someone in Larry's situation), and the story about his ancestors and the dubnyk representing the notion which Jesus refuted in the new testament, that the sins of the past can cause harm to future descendants. Things change when you do something as a modern retelling, because the modern world isn't the same as the old. It's an amazing movie, and gives Larry Gobnik the frailties of the modern human being, but keeps the same question we all find ourselves asking, "why do bad things happen to good people?" And it leaves the answer up to the viewer. I think the mistake you make is that a modern retelling needs to be a verbatim of the Book of Job with people driving cars and wearing different clothes. Artistically speaking, its not the same thing, and I'm glad the Coen brothers didn't go that route. It's the same thing they did with O Brother Where Art Thou and the Odyssey, and it was genius. Christian or not, everyone should see A Serious Man

Rick
November 4, 2009

Tony's comment does not show up? Is this another special feature of Disqus?

Jerod
November 5, 2009

I'm guessing so. We didn't do anything from what I can tell. Seriously...Disqus drives me crazy some days.

LostTurntable
November 7, 2009

I'm not a Christian and I haven't read the Book of Job, so I'm not one to comment on it or the film's similarities to it. However, I think you made one mistake in your analysis of the film, you call Larry's action at the end of the film a "rare moral misstep." However, it's not likely that this was the first "moral misstep" he made. He was never really living his life, he was going through the motions. That's why his wife wanted to leave him, his daughter is a brat, his kid smokes pot and he's not an accomplised academic (he has nothing published). He was living a life of sloth and laziness, and much of misfortune put upon him in the film is a direct result of it.

SiarlysJenkins
November 8, 2009

There were several other comments on this post. I assume it is all Disqus fault again. Is there any way to recover them? If not, after a few more incidents like this, any chance you will replace Disqus with something more reliable?

MWood919
November 9, 2009

I think you're kinda wrong about this one. I gotta agree with Tony almost 100% and I think LostTurntable makes a very interesting point as well.<br><br>I just got done seeing 'A Serious Man' and although I'm not a Christian - more of an agnostic - I went to see it with a Christian friend who recognized the basis of the story fairly quickly. Both he and I are big Coen Brothers fans, although not totally devout, and we both agreed that we loved the film.<br><br>But just because the film is "based" on the book of Job, that's not saying that it is "telling the story" of Job. Job had his story - this story is about Larry Gopnik. It's as though God and Satan are playing the old game again... this time in a more modern-day context with a new man. There are similarities to the rules of the game, but there are new consequences this time around. ("Everything has consequences in THIS office!" Hmmmm!)<br><br>And as Tony stated, "A Serious Man" is an adaptation of Job just as "O Brother, Where Art Thou" is an adaptation of The Odyssey... with emphasis on the word "adaptation," meaning to change with the times, to adapt to new surroundings. It's as if the Coens are asking the question, "What would this story mean today?" Or perhaps, they're not re-telling the story - they're asking an old question of a new age. <br><br>"Why?"

Jerod
November 9, 2009

We've been looking at replacing Disqus for quite some time now. There are several issues keeping us from making the switch right away including making sure we don't lose the archive of comments. <br><br>So I apologize to anyone having Disqus issues. Hopefully we can move to a better option sometime soon.

Andrew
February 6, 2010

The Coen Brothers aren't trying to retell the Book of Job, as they make pretty clear in this interview:<br><br><a href="http://www.movies.ie/interviews/Coen_Brothers_interview_for_A_Serious_" rel="nofollow">http://www.movies.ie/interview...</a> Man <br><br>They're just telling a story. They leave it up to you to decide how connected any of the cosmic events in this story are, if at all. And Larry Gopnik isn't (and isn't supposed to be) half the man Job was.<br><br>This post, just stumbling upon it, sounds a little defensive to me...

Guest
March 4, 2010

In my opinion, this review of "A Serious Man" falls short for two reasons which can be identified within the author's analysis. 1.) The author assumes that "Serious" is a retelling of the Book of Job. As stated in the post above, the Coen bros. made a point of saying that this film is not a retelling. Rather, "Serious" focuses on the same themes (suffering, etc.) introduced in the biblical story. While Job provides a limited explanation, the Coen's approach the same subject from a completely nihilistic viewpoint in which explanation does not matter (If you knew why you were suffering, would that really take away the pain?) 2.) The author produces a number of personal assertions which are substituted for fact. While Job may not be a comedy, it cannot be said that there is a complete absence of comedic material, or that one cannot find specific aspects of the biblical story to be funny (ex. the hubris of Job's friends). Remember that this is a treatment of a similar theme, not a remake of the same story. Similarly, to assume that Job is "more devastating" is to simply state one's opinion of the movie. I, for one, found both Larry's and Job's struggles to be incredibly moving and powerful. Both men lost their means of living, lost (or almost lost) members of their family, and the physical suffering described in Job is hinted at in "Serious" at the end of the film. Finally, author fails to acknowledge the possibility that all of the events in "Serious" are merely a precursor to the actual tribulation. Is that God/Judgement in the whirlwind, or is that the actual beginning of Larry's troubles. Has Larry survived potential trauma, or is there more to come? In a movie focused on the struggle to find meaning and answers, the Coens reply with the answer "Does it really matter?"

Rick
March 4, 2010

I finally saw the film. My take on a Serious Man:<br><br>A Serious Man is a very Jewish film and deals with ancient Talmudic themes. I love it for that. Like Ecclesiastes, it is the account of a man estranged from God. The main character, Larry, is a sincere, serious man who approaches every question, large or small, with equal amounts of gravitas. He wants to believe that there are answers, that there is purpose, that being good counts, that life has logic and meaning.<br><br>There is a very telling scene in the film where Larry, a college physics professor, writes equations on the chalkboard and instructs his students about the Heisenberg uncertainty principal. At a sub-atomic level, the principal states that “it is not possible to know a particle's location and momentum precisely at any time.” In other words, you can never know anything for certain. This is a philosophy and tension that many Jews seem to live with live with, one that has defined their character since the Diaspora 2000 years ago. It is the “Why” question of Job, the essence of the book of Ecclesiastes. Where is God, and if He is good, why do bad things happen to decent people?<br><br>The old Rabbi in the beginning of the folk fable may be a ghost, or he may not. Appearances are deceiving and there may be supernatural forces at work behind the exigencies of ordinary life. This fable establishes the mood and theme of the movie. Larry may receive tenure at the university, he may not. He is living life in a world of uncertainties, shifting shadows in the middle of suburbia. Unknown people are mailing defamatory letters to the tenure committee. Larry is being judged and his character is being tested throughout the movie. Like Job, he is unable to confront his accuser, therefore unable to rebut the accusations with any precision because he doesn’t even know the actual content of the accusations. <br><br>The musical theme of the movie is the song, Someone to Love, by the Jefferson Airplane, which tells the story of Alice in Wonderland. It gives us a clue that nothing is what it seems to be. We go through life like Alice, amazed but confused. The Red Queen may say, “off with her head” at one moment, the cheshire cat may appear at another, all the while we are enjoying a tea party with a mad hatter. The conclusion of the song is, “don’t you want somebody to love?” The Tornado at the end of the movie may or may not strike the school. The x-rays in question at the end of the movie may or may not indicate that Larry has lung cancer. We are left in uncertainty. <br><br>Larry is a very logical, serious man, but upon examination, life seems increasingly arbitrary. The three Rabbis have no definitive answers. His brother is writing a book about the meaning of the world and it turns out that the book is meaningless gibberish. Like much in his life, Larry’s property lines keep moving. His TV Antenna never seems to quite work. He is never quite tuned in. One way to deal with the quandaries of life is to escape in a haze of marijuana smoke as his son and neighbor do.<br><br>Another character advises, “those who aren’t willing to “accept the mystery,” of life are unlikely to enjoy it.” I love the Rabbi’s story about the dentist and his apocryphal story that may or may not be true. He delivers an enigmatic, maybe yes-maybe no pearl of wisdom, "Helping others?" he says with a Talmudic shrug. "It couldn't hurt."<br><br>The most important line of the film: “God doesn't owe us the answers; instead it's the other way around.” This is the wisdom of Elihu at the end of the book of Job. In an existential leap of faith, despite the appearance of the irrationality of life and God’s apparent silence, it is better to chose good, to choose love. Obviously the Coen Brother’s film does not end in hope, but it does say something about the transcendent call of God upon our lives, despite our questions. It ends much like Job who says, “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both! (Job 9:33).” The truth, which lies outside this film, is that we are all in need of a mediator, a go-between who reveals God to us.<br><br>Siarly, The apostle John was wrong and Peter was wrong?<br>

Coventina
March 23, 2010

But Job is not caught in a cosmic contest between God and Satan. Satan is acting out God's request. As you said, it is God who tells Satan to "try him". It is God who puts Job through the trial, not Satan. Job is about uncertainty, not certainty. To turn it into a cosmic contest is to seek certainty which misses the point of Job (and "A Serious Man".)<br><br>Job's insistence on understanding and defining "why things happen" is important. His friends don't want him to ask such questions. But it is the asking of the questions that finally allows Job to genuinely accept things as they are. And once he finally accepts what is, he is freed from his suffering. It's the Rashi quote at the beginning of the film: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you."

Tvm
May 8, 2011

I disagree with you on many levels. I think Job does ask the existential question, "Why?" ... as does "A Serious Man." Secondly, Job, like the Book of Jonah, is a farcical, comedic book. In fact, when we read Jonah, we are suppose to fall-over laughing that a man was swallowed by a fish. ... as is "A Serious Man." Job further asks the question when we are lied-to by society, toyed-with by God, despaired by circumstances out of our control, we should respond with love - an antithetical assumption. ... ditto in "A Serious Man." (Note: A similar theme later discussed by Jesus in the gospels, especially Matthew.) The best of all Coen movies, in my humble opinion.<br>

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