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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Book of Job in Early Modern England

  • Author(s): Hedlin, Kimberly Susan
  • Advisor(s): Shuger, Debora K
  • et al.

“The Book of Job in Early Modern England” examines how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers used Job to broach some of the most contentious issues of their era. The project probes the intersection of post-Reformation biblical exegesis and other literary forms, ranging from treatises on heliocentricism to religious lyric. The dissertation begins at the publication of the first English Protestant primer, which was innovative in its suggestion to read Job’s complaints as an expression of one’s own suffering. English Protestantism’s attention to Job’s complaints (rather than just his patience, as in patristic and medieval readings) signals a turn from using the Book of Job as hagiography to what early modern Protestants called “history” and what we might call psychological realism.

The volatile religio-political climate of post-Reformation Europe was a particularly fascinating time in Job’s reception history. Commentators’ newfound interest in primary Hebrew sources, the emergence of textual criticism, and debates about how the Bible expressed its truth put the Book of Job’s “slipperiness” (to use Jerome’s term) at the center of controversy. Chapter 1 describes the groundbreaking shift toward a more “human” Job in Lutheran commentary, a shift that is reflected in early modern theologians’ obsession with Job’s historicity. Chapter 2 examines John Calvin’s defense of Job’s Edomite lineage, which became a matter of delineating the insiders and outsiders of God’s church. Chapter 3 traces how four theologians (ending with John Milton) used Job to “justify the ways of God,” either by insisting on God’s absolute power or suggesting how God shares his power with man. Chapter 4 recovers Job’s role in the Copernican Revolution by examining how the Augustinian monk Diego de Zu�iga used Job to consider man’s peripheral place in the cosmos. Finally, Chapter 5 considers how the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan finds in Job’s confusion and complaints an opportunity to encounter the sublime. “The Book of Job in Early Modern England” captures the diversity of the Bible’s uses in early modern literature and sheds new light on a turbulent period of ecclesiastical history.

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