Secret sunshine: Si ce n’est Lui, qui donc alors? (A mysterious Job-like story of faith from a Korean Kieslowski)

Job, après avoir touché le sommet du drame, remue le fond de la philosophie ; il montre, le premier, cette sublime démence de la sagesse qui, deux mille ans plus tard, de résignation se faisant sacrifice, sera la folie de la croix. Stultitiam crucis. Le fumier de Job, transfiguré, deviendra le calvaire de Jésus. Victor Hugo
Il est un athéisme qui est purification de l’idée de Dieu. Simone Weil
Nos modes intellectuelles ne veulent voir de la violence que dans les textes, mais d’où vient réellement la menace ? Aujourd’hui, nous vivons dans un monde dangereux où tous les mouvements de foule sont violents. Cette foule était déjà violente dans les Psaumes. Elle l’est dans le récit de Job. Elle demande à Job de se reconnaître coupable : c’est un vrai procès de Moscou qu’on lui fait. Procès prophétique. N’est-ce pas celui du Christ adulé par les foules, puis rejeté au moment de la Passion ? Ces récits annoncent la croix, la mort de la victime innocente, la victoire sur tous les mythes sacrificiels de l’Antiquité. René Girard
Comment un homme aurait-il raison contre Dieu? (…) Si, devant lui, la lune même perd son éclat, si les étoiles ne sont pas sans tache à ses yeux, que dire alors de l’homme qui n’est qu’un vermisseau? « Ami » de Job (Job 25: 4-6 – reprise de Job 4: 18-19)
Suis-je vraiment intègre? Je ne saurais le dire (…) Que m’importe, après tout! C’est pourquoi j’ose dire: «Dieu détruit aussi bien l’innocent que l’impie.» Quand survient un fléau qui tue soudainement, Dieu se rit des épreuves qui atteignent les justes. (…) Et si ce n’est pas lui, alors, qui est-ce donc? Job (Job 9: 20-24)
Il y eut un vent fort et violent qui déchirait les montagnes et brisait les rochers: l’Éternel n’était pas dans le vent. Et après le vent, ce fut un tremblement de terre: l’Éternel n’était pas dans le tremblement de terre. Et après le tremblement de terre, un feu: l’Éternel n’était pas dans le feu. Et après le feu, un murmure doux et léger. Elie (I Rois 19 : 11-12)
Il fait lever son soleil sur les méchants et sur les bons. Jesus (Mathieu 5: 45)
Des gens lui rapportèrent l’affaire des Galiléens dont Pilate avait mêlé le sang à celui de leurs sacrifices. Il leur répondit : Pensez-vous que ces Galiléens étaient de plus grands pêcheurs ? (…) Et ces dix-huit personnes sur lesquelles est tombée la tour à Siloé ? (…) Non … Jésus (Luc 13: 1-5)
Qui a péché, cet homme ou ses parents, pour qu’il soit né aveugle? Jésus répondit: Ce n’est pas que lui ou ses parents aient péché … Jésus (Jean 9: 2-3)
Lequel de ces trois te semble avoir été le prochain de celui qui était tombé au milieu des brigands? Jésus (Luc 10: 36)
Je pense que nous continuons à vivre avec la foi parce que nous en avons besoin. Même les athées croient en quelque chose – dans quelque chose d’autre. Cependant, je n’ai pas vraiment voulu faire un film sur la foi, mais une réflexion sur ce qui passe à l’intérieur de nous. Le cinéma est un grand outil, une manière de parler de l’invisible à travers le visible. Chang-dong Lee

Qui l’eût cru?

Un film, de surcroit encensé et primé à Cannes, qui ose parler de foi et de conversion et, tabou des tabous, de notre propre christianisme?

Il n’y a plus que des derniers venus comme la Corée ou autrefois la Pologne (avec cet autre rafraichissant mais fugitif OVNI qu’avait pu être, dans les années 80, un Krzysztof Kieslowski et sa série du « Décalogue ») pour oser une telle audace!

En tout cas, c’est tout le mérite du dernier film de Chang-dong Lee (« Myriang », « Secret sunshine » en anglais) que d’aborder cette question dans le pays du Nord-est asiatique certes le plus christianisé (26% contre 0,7 au Japon par exemple).

Et de plus au moment même où celui-ci était déchiré par la polémique (jusqu’à, selon le désormais très classique syndrome de Stockholm, la condamnation du christianisme lui-même!) suscitée par la prise en otages d’un groupe de 23 jeunes missionnaires évangéliques par les Taliban l’été dernier qui, au-delà de la forte rançon payée, a obligé la Corée à retirer toute assistance à un peuple afghan qui en a tant besoin …

Surtout que, loin de l’anti-christianisme auquel tant de nos critiques français le réduisent, son film fait preuve d’une remarquable subtilité, ne chargeant jamais aucun des protagonistes.

Certes, comme le célèbre roman du non moins célèbre écrivain et scénariste Chong-jin Yi dont il est tiré (”Polle Yiagi”: “Une histoire de vers” – “Story of insects” en anglais, d’où par parenthèses le regard, Cinémascope aidant, d’entomologiste du cinéaste), les chrétiens évangéliques ne sont pas ménagés dans ce véritable chemin de croix d’une jeune femme sur laquelle s’acharne le sort.

Et ils apparaissent en effet le plus souvent comme de faux “consolateurs” qui vont tenter, comme pour le Job de la Bible, de lui faire renoncer à sa révolte contre un Dieu dont la volonté (étrange consensus entre tant de croyants et non-croyants) serait la mort et la souffrance de ses créatures.

Mais ils n’en constituent pas nécessairement une critique définitive du christianisme puisque la principale figure positive du film (ce grand balourd de garagiste) a elle tout d’un chrétien naturel qui, à l’instar d’un monsieur Jourdain du christianisme, va se révéler le véritable chrétien de l’histoire.

Ainsi, à la manière du bon samaritain de la parabole qui aurait seul compris (certes confusément) ce que c’est de se montrer le prochain de ceux qui souffrent, il finit par sauver la vie à la jeune femme en empêchant, dirait René Girard, le « cercle de l’unanimité violente » de se refermer totalement sur elle.

Cercle d’unanimité violente constitué d’ailleurs autant du Dieu tout puissant et désincarné du groupe d’évangélistes que des ragots et de l’hypocrisie des voisins ou de la froide indifférence de son frère ou des invectives de sa propre famille (l’accusant notamment, pendant la scène de funérailles, de « porter la mort »).

Mais aussi, comme pour le Job antique, des propres moments de défaillance de la victime elle-même (jusqu’aux portes, après le mensonge sur ses capacités financières qui déclenchera la tragédie, de la folie et du suicide) où elle en vient à douter de sa propre innocence.

Avant, on l’espère, qu’elle finisse par retrouver (avec l’aide nul doute de son « ange gardien » de garagiste) les paroles de vie et d’espoir de Job (« Je sais, moi, que mon Défenseur est vivant » Job 19: 25) comme du Christ.

A travers le si discret rayon de soleil que, dans son plutôt désespérant plan final, le réalisateur se résoud néanmoins à laisser filtrer sur les vermisseaux du petit coin maculé de terre de la cour de son héroïne …

« Miryang » ou la lumière du salut?
Kim Chi-mi
Hankyoreh
Traduit par Courrier international
16 mai 2007

[Myriang, le film du réalisateur sud-coréen Lee Chang-dong, en compétition au festival de Cannes, aborde des thématiques austères. Le quotidien Hankyoreh s’enthousiasme pour la qualité de la réalisation et le jeu des acteurs.]

Le salut, le pardon et la réconciliation sont aujourd’hui en Corée du Sud des thèmes prisés par le cinéma de qualité. L’approche diffère néanmoins suivant les cinéastes. Les personnages de Park Chan-wook [Grand Prix du jury à Cannes en 2004 pour Old Boy] vont jusqu’au bout de leur vengeance avant de comprendre les choses, quand Kim Ki-duk [réalisateur de Locataires] parle d’un salut transcendant pour des âmes incapables de communiquer entre elles.

Pour Im Kwon-taek [Prix de la mise en scène à Cannes en 2002 pour son film Ivre de femmes et de peinture], de retour sur les écrans avec son centième film, Chonnyonhak (Beyond the years), c’est dans l’art que chacun démêle ses nœuds intérieurs. Dans son nouveau film, Miryang [présenté à Cannes sous le titre Secret Sunshine], Lee Chang-dong semble donner au sujet une dimension plus quotidienne.

Au début du film, il est question de trouver la « lumière » cachée dans le nom d’une petite ville, Miryang [ce qui peut se traduire littéralement par « ensoleillement secret »] ; par la suite, la « lumière » prend un caractère plus spirituel, le personnage central, perdu dans ses ténèbres, lançant vers elle un cri de désespoir.

Miryang constitue le décor du film, mais renvoie aussi par son sens au message qu’il véhicule. Cette ville provinciale existe réellement; c’est, dans le film, le pays natal du mari de l’héroïne Shin-ae, interprétée par Jeon Do-yeon. Après sa disparition, la jeune femme décide de s’y installer avec son jeune fils. Avant même qu’elle n’ait pu résoudre la question de ses sentiments ambigus à l’égard du défunt, son fils est kidnappé et assassiné. Le choc plonge Shin-ae dans un état confus où alternent le chagrin et la rage. Jong-chan, joué par Song Kang-ho, un homme simple que le hasard a introduit dans sa vie dès son premier jour à Miryang, tourne autour d’elle avec affection, cherchant par tous les moyens à lui venir en aide.

Le sens du salut chrétien et les limites psychologiques de l’être humain qui l’empêchent d’y parvenir apparaissaient déjà dans Polle iyagi (Une histoire d’insectes), la nouvelle de Yi Chongjun dont s’est inspiré Lee Chang-dong. Le film constitue une exception dans le climat cinématographique coréen, qui rechigne à mettre en avant le christianisme. Mais, sans s’y confiner, il mène une réflexion plus générale sur les religions en mettant en scène la crise existentielle de son héroïne tombée dans un gouffre et sa tentative d’autopersuasion pour accéder à un salut et un pardon mensongers.

Lee Chang-dong ajoute par ailleurs une tonalité mélodramatique à l’histoire en remplaçant par Jong-chan le personnage du mari dans la nouvelle, qui était lui un narrateur cérébral tentant d’analyser les faits. Mais le film maintient une distanciation par rapport aux événements qu’on trouve déjà dans le texte. La tragédie ne vire pas à la bluette. Au lieu de prendre parti pour ou contre la religion, le film se focalise sur la question de savoir quelles sont les parts respectives de l’humain et du divin dans le pardon et le salut. Contrairement à l’écrit, il laisse entrevoir la possibilité d’une issue positive.

Le magnifique équilibre de Miryang doit également beaucoup au jeu stupéfiant des acteurs. Jeon Do-yeon et Song Kang-ho, dont on croyait tout savoir quant à leur talent, réussissent encore à nous surprendre. Elle rend si crédible le personnage de Shin-ae qui, submergée par une douleur suffocante, se ferme au monde extérieur, lui incarne si bien Jong-chan que tout spectateur a l’impression d’avoir rencontré quelque part ces personnages. La chute de Shin-ae, entraînée par son désespoir, est en quelque sorte amortie par l’humour et le réalisme de Jong-chan, et la tension dramatique ne faiblit jamais pendant toute la durée du film, plus de deux heures. Les autres acteurs et les figurants apportent aussi de la chair à ce sujet philosophique et permettent à Miryang d’être un espace vivant.

Voir aussi, sur le contexte de la sortie du film, cette intéressante tribune d’une étudiante de Séoul dans un journal coréen en anglais :

A travers la vie tragique d’une femme, Secret sunshine pose la question de l’origine du salut de l’humanité. (…) Dieu existe-t-il ? S’il existe, pourquoi toutes ces tragédies m’arrivent-elles à moi et pourquoi ce monde dur et laid reste-t-il le même ? Pourquoi le vrai salut ne vient-il jamais ? Ce sont là les questions qui conduisent Shin-ae près de la folie et sont exactement les mêmes arguments que le mouvement anti-chrétien emploie pour attaquer le christianisme (…) Bien qu’il y ait le soleil – Dieu ou la grace de Dieu – nous devons vivre sur cette terre toute sale et nous confronter aux fragments de douloureux souvenirs et à l’injustice quotidienne.

Anti-Christianity and Secret Sunshine
Lee Yoo-eun
Korea Times
10-03-2007

While 23 captives were shivering with growing fear in the hands of Taliban, a Korean site intentionally distributed images mocking a famous Islam prophet and posted the fact that no one was in fact a real doctor or nurse among the Saemmul church medical service volunteers.

The Internet post spread to world media, including Aljazeera, and led them to report on it. Many supposed that this could have effectively aroused the Taliban militants’ anger toward the hostages.

It has been over two months since the hostages returned home safely, but the anti-Christian torrent in South Korea is far from fading away. Everywhere from news coverage, newspaper editorials, to the Internet, are angry debates on the Saemmul church’s mission work in the government-forbidden region and ferocious protests about Korean churches – some of them even verging on terrorism against Christianity itself.

Some extremist groups advocate reducing the number of churches in half or putting an age limit on those who can read the Bible. With almost 40 percent of its citizens becoming Christians over the past 30 years, Korean Christianity has made unprecedented progress in size, many critics point out.

Despite the comment of Lee Myung-bak, former Seoul city mayor, on his dedication of the country’s capital to the « Lord,’’ church related fraud covered by the local media, the aggressive and pharisaical behavior of some Christians, and the methodical and conservative orthodoxy of churches has provoked worry, disappointment and anger.

Lee Chang-dong’s latest movie « Secret Sunshine’’ or « Mil-yang,’’ which won an award at the Cannes International Film Festival this year, leaves us an elusive answer to the problem with Korean Christianity. The uncomfortably realistic portrayal of Korean churches in Secret Sunshine, at first drew criticism from these churches.

Scenes showing over-emotional and shallow church group meetings, the « Christian’s’’ mean and aggressive ways of preaching and the adultery of a devoted church member were painfully realistic.

Secret Sunshine, by showing one woman’s tragic life, questions where humanity’s salvation comes from. The main character, Lee Shin-ae, moves with her only son to her husband’s hometown, Mil-yang, after he is killed in a car accident. But her son is also killed after being kidnapped and Lee, who is on the verge of losing herself, goes to church where she gets a moment of comfort. But after she met the person who killed her son, she hits the dead-end of human kinds’ unresolved questions.

Does God exist? If He is here, why do all these tragedies happen to me and why does this harsh and ugly world remain the same? Why does true salvation never comes? These are the questions that drive Shin-ae almost into madness and are the very same arguments that the anti-Christian movement uses when attacking Christianity.

Secret Sunshine ends by showing Shin-ae cutting her hair in her dirty yard. Dust and dirt, small gravel and scattered fragments of something can be seen in the swath of the earth. When the camera slowly moves to the corner of the yard, a bright side appears. However, the area, which warm sunrays landed on, is not different land. This sun shining area also has a pile of shaggy used bottles thrown on and this area, together with the shadowy part of the land, comprises of Shin-ae’s yard.

Though there is the sun – God or God’s grace – we still have to live on this dirt-covered earth and deal with the fragments of painful memories and daily injustice. And it is natural for people to stare only at one’s own shadow or linger on the dark side of the land and complain about the sun, while the sun is always there shining above everyone.

It is time to stop blaming the sun for everything while sitting in the shadow. Rather, it is just the right moment to get ourselves out of the shadow. We can save ourselves by stopping arguing over time consuming matters like some dirty spots left on our yard or the sun’s existence and try to understand the real side of the sun. The moment when saving oneself finally replaces blaming God or religion itself, is when the true reformation of Christianity can begin in South Korea.

Lee Yoo-eun is a senior student double majoring in journalism and English literature at Ewha Womans University.

Voir enfin de notre Victor Hugo national:

L’autre, Job, commence le drame. Cet embryon est un colosse. Job commence le drame, et il y a quarante siècles de cela, par la mise en présence de Jéhovah et de Satan ; le mal défie le bien, et voilà l’action engagée. La terre est le lieu de la scène, et l’homme est le champ de bataille ; les fléaux sont les personnages. Une des plus sauvages grandeurs de ce poëme, c’est que le soleil y est sinistre. Le soleil est dans Job comme dans Homère, mais ce n’est plus l’aube, c’est le midi. Le lugubre accablement du rayon d’airain tombant à pic sur le désert emplit ce poëme chauffé à blanc. Job est en sueur sur son fumier. L’ombre de Job est petite et noire et cachée sous lui comme la vipère sous le rocher. Les mouches tropicales bourdonnent sur ses plaies. Job a au-dessus de sa tête cet affreux soleil arabe, éleveur de monstres, exagérateur de fléaux, qui change le chat en tigre, le lézard en crocodile, le pourceau en rhinocéros, l’anguille en boa, l’ortie en cactus, le vent en simoun, le miasme en peste. Job est antérieur à Moïse. Loin dans les siècles, à côté d’Abraham, le patriarche hébreu, il y a Job, le patriarche arabe. Avant d’être éprouvé, il avait été heureux : l’homme le plus haut de tout l’Orient, dit son poëme. C’était le laboureur roi. Il exerçait l’immense prêtrise de la solitude. Il sacrifiait et sanctifiait. Le soir, il donnait à la terre la bénédiction, le « barac ». Il était lettré. Il connaissait le rhythme. Son poëme, dont le texte arabe est perdu, était écrit en vers ; cela du moins est certain à partir du verset 3 du chapitre ni jusqu’à la fin. Il était bon. Il ne rencontrait pas un enfant pauvre sans lui jeter la petite monnaie kesitha ; il était « le pied du boiteux et l’œil de l’aveugle. » C’est de cela qu’il a été précipité. Tombé, il devient gigantesque. Tout le poëme de Job est le développement de cette idée : la grandeur qu’on trouve au fond de l’abîme. Job est plus majestueux misérable que prospère. Sa lèpre est une pourpre. Son accablement terrifie ceux qui sont là. On ne lui parle qu’après un silence de sept jours et de sept nuits. Sa lamentation est empreinte d’on ne sait quel magisme tranquille et lugubre. Tout en écrasant les vermines sur ses ulcères, il interpelle les astres. Il s’adresse à Orion, aux Hyades qu’il nomme la Poussinière, et « aux signes qui sont au midi. » Il dit : « Dieu a mis un bout aux ténèbres. » Il nomme le diamant qui se cache : « la pierre de l’obscurité. » Il mêle à sa détresse l’infortune des autres, et il a des mots tragiques qui glacent : la veuve est vide. Il sourit aussi, plus effrayant alors. Il a autour de lui Éliphas, Bildad, Tsophar, trois implacables types de l’ami curieux, il leur dit : « Vous jouez de moi comme d’un tambourin. » Son langage, soumis du côté de Dieu, est amer du côté des rois, « les rois de la terre qui se bâtissent des solitudes », laissant notre esprit chercher s’il parle là de leur sépulcre ou de leur royaume. Tacite dit : solitudinem faciunt. Quant à Jéhovah, il l’adore, et, sous la flagellation furieuse des fléaux, toute sa résistance est de demander à Dieu : « Ne me permettras-tu pas d’avaler ma salive ? » Ceci date de quatre mille ans. A l’heure même peut-être où l’énigmatique astronome de Denderah sculpte dans le granit son zodiaque mystérieux, Job grave le sien dans la pensée humaine, et son zodiaque à lui n’est pas fait d’étoiles, mais de misères. Ce zodiaque tourne encore au-dessus de nos têtes. Nous n’avons de Job que la version hébraïque, attribuée à Moïse. Un tel poëte fait rêver, suivi d’un tel traducteur ! L’homme du fumier est traduit par l’homme du Sinaï. C’est qu’en effet Job est un officiant et un voyant. Job extrait de son drame un dogme ; Job souffre et conclut. Or souffrir et conclure, c’est enseigner. La douleur, logique, mène à Dieu. Job enseigne. Job, après avoir touché le sommet du drame, remue le fond de la philosophie ; il montre, le premier, cette sublime démence de la sagesse qui, deux mille ans plus tard, de résignation se faisant sacrifice, sera la folie de la croix. Stultitiam crucis. Le fumier de Job, transfiguré, deviendra le calvaire de Jésus.

Victor Hugo (Les génies)

Voir par ailleurs:

« Marduk, les cieux ne peuvent porter le poids de ses mains,
mais sa main légère retient (l’homme) voué à la mort.
Par sa colère, les tombes s’ouvrent,
par sa miséricorde, il relève de la catastrophe l’homme tombé.

Quand il s’irrite, déesse et dieu reculent ;
il vient en aide à celui que (même) son dieu repousse.
Si dure que soit la punition, tout à coup il la supprime ;
il pardonne et, sur le champ, les douleurs saisissent l’accouchée ;
il accourt et lui soigne le ventre,
puis il l’entoure d’attentions comme une vache son veau.

Ses coups pénètrent, ils transpercent le corps ;
mais doux sont ses bandages, ils sauvent de la mort.
Il parle et fait tomber dans le crime ;
au jour de son euphorie, faute et pêché sont enlevés. (…)

Marduk pénètre ce que disent les dieux dans (leur) cœur,
(mais) aucun dieu n’a vent de son décret.
Si lourd que (pèse) sa main, son cœur est miséricordieux ;
si terribles que soient ses armes, sa volonté opère guérison.
Sans son bon plaisir, qui pourrait atténuer son coup ? »
— Extrait du Ludlul bel nemeqi.

Ludlul bēl nēmeqi est un texte de la littérature sapientiale mésopotamienne. Son nom antique, signifiant en akkadien « Je loue le seigneur très sage », est en fait son incipit (la première ligne du texte) comme cela est l’habitude en Mésopotamie antique. Il est couramment appelé « Poème du juste souffrant » ou « Monologue du juste souffrant ». Il a été rédigé durant la seconde moitié du IIe millénaire av. J.-C.). Il s’agit d’une complainte adressée par un homme nommé Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan à son dieu, en l’occurrence Marduk, le grand dieu de Babylone, accompagnée de descriptions de symptômes et remèdes exorcistiques et médicaux. Ce texte (ou du moins sa première partie) est couramment comparé au livre de Job dans l’Ancien Testament, qui fait à peu près les mêmes conclusions à partir d’une situation ressemblant à celle-ci, même si les conceptions théologiques sur la nature de la faute sont différentes. Un homme qui dit avoir un comportement pieux, issu d’une famille noble, est tombé en disgrâce auprès de son roi, et subit les calomnies de ses rivaux, et les critiques de sa famille. Une grande partie du texte concerne la description de maladies touchant le narrateur, et de ses tentatives de guérison avec l’aide de différents exorcistes. Il ne comprend pas pourquoi cela lui arrive, car il a été toujours respectueux de son dieu, et que sa piété est irréprochable. L’idéal mésopotamien veut en effet que les dieux punissent les impies, et récompensent ceux qui sont pieux. Le plaignant ne comprend donc pas ce qui lui arrive, puisqu’il ne voit pas où il a manqué à ses devoirs. Il finit par aboutir à la conclusion que les voies des dieux sont impénétrables, et même si l’attitude de son dieu est pour lui un mystère, il continue de lui faire confiance, et sa ferveur ne diminue pas. À la fin, Marduk finit par s’apitoyer sur le sort de son fidèle, et lui vient en aide. L’histoire se termine donc bien, et l’homme retrouve son rang passé. Ce récit reste très fidèle à la morale mésopotamienne : on ne peut certes pas comprendre l’attitude des dieux, mais même si on trouve la situation qui apparaît comme injuste, il ne faut pas leur en vouloir, et il faut rester pieux. L’expression de « juste souffrant » pour le narrateur de ce texte est contestable dans la mesure où il met surtout en avant sa piété et le fait qu’il ignore ses fautes, et non sur sa vertu et son innocence. Le propos final reste optimiste, puisque s’il est fait confiance aux dieux et au fait qu’ils connaissent la vérité même si les hommes l’ignorent, ils finissent par venir en aide à ceux qui sont vraiment pieux. Wikipedia

The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – Not Merely a Babylonian Job
Joshua J. Mark
Ancient history

06 March 2011

The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi is a Babylonian poem which chronicles the lament of a good man suffering undeservedly. Also known as `The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer’, the title translates as « I will praise the Lord of Wisdom ».  In the poem, Tabu-utul-Bel, age 52, an official of the city of Nippur, cries out that he has been afflicted with various pains and injustices and, asserting his own righteous behavior, asks why the gods should allow him to suffer so. In this, the poem treats the age old question of `why do bad things happen to good people’ and the poem has thus been linked to the later Hebrew composition The Book of Job. No scholarly consensus exists on a date for the writing of Job (nor, for that matter, when the story related is supposed to have taken place) but many point to the 7th, 6th, or 4th centuries BCE as probable while Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi dates to c. 1700 BCE. The Babylonian poem was probably inspired by the earlier Sumerian work, Man and His God (composed c. 2000 BCE) which, according to Samuel Noah Kramer, was written « for the purpose of prescribing the proper attitude and conduct for a victim of cruel and seemingly undeserved misfortune » (589). In this, the poem follows a paradigm of Babylonian writers borrowing from earlier Sumerian pieces as exemplified in The Epic of Gilgamesh where the Babylonian scribe Shin-Leqi-Unninni (c. 1300-1000 BCE) drew on separate Sumerian tales of the King of Uruk and formed them into the now famous epic.

There is no question that a number of biblical narratives of the Old Testament have their origins in Sumerian works. The Fall of Man and Noah’s Flood in Genesis, for example, can be traced back to the Sumerian works Adapa and Atrahasis. Because of the similarity of the themes addressed in Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi and Job, so many have compared the two works that there exists today the claim that The Book of Job was derived from the earlier work in the same way as the Flood story. While there is, obviously, some merit to this claim and a comparison is profitable, it seems a disservice to both works to only read them for what they offer regarding literary borrowing. The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi could as easily be compared to other books in the Bible such as Ecclesiastes or the third chapter of The Lamentations of Jeremiah. The speaker in Ecclesiastes asks the same questions as Tabu-utul-Bel and Lamentations chapter three has very similar imagery to Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi. While it is certainly possible that the later work drew on the earlier (as the Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi most likely drew on the earlier Man and His God) it is just as probable that the two works simply treat of the same theme. People in the modern day are still wrestling with the question of why good people suffer. When modern readers insist that The Book of Job derives from Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi it seems they relegate the earlier poem to mere source material instead of appreciating the work for what it has to say about the human condition.

There are more significant differences between The Book of Job and the Babylonian work than there are similarities and, while it may be that the earlier work was drawn on as source material for the later, to read Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi as simply a `rough draft’ of biblical narrative (or to dismiss Job as `derivative’) is to demean the works as well as miss the point of the pieces. The question `why do bad things happen to good people’ is as old as human beings themselves. Tabu-utul-Bel, like Job, endures terrible suffering even though he has been very religious, observed all the rites and prayers. He says, « But I myself thought of prayers and supplications – Prayer was my wisdom, sacrifice my dignity » and yet still he suffers. Job says likewise, « My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food » (Job 22:11-12). Both works ask how a human being is supposed to understand the will of God and, in the end, both protagonists are healed of their afflictions through divine intervention.

The differences, however, are in the details of the two works and the culture from which they spring. The most obvious difference in the two is that the Babylonian work is a monologue while the Hebrew composition is a drama. That aside, however, and also granting the obvious difference of Job’s deliverance by God himself and Tabu-utul-Bel’s salvation through a necromancer, the most significant difference is in what the suffering consists of and the depiction of the deities.

Tabu-utul-Bel suffers in his person and extrapolates from this suffering to consider the sufferings of others and the futility of existence (« Where may human beings learn the ways of God? He who lives at evening is dead in the morning…At one moment he sings and plays; In the twinkiling of an eye he howls like a funeral-mourner »). Job suffers in his person but also must endure the deaths of his children and the loss of all he has worked for in his life. He, also, considers others’ suffering and wonders how one may learn the reason for it (« Oh, that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor »(Job 16:21). The deities themselves, however, reveal the greatest difference in the two works.

In ancient Mesopotamian religion there were between 300 – 1000 deities at work at any given time and, this being so, the good which a god such as Marduk might wish for an individual could be thwarted by another such as Erra. Tabu-utul-Bel’s complaint is that he should not suffer because he has done right by his god and, while no one would fault him for complaining about the many afflictions he lists, he would have had to know that it was not Marduk’s fault he was suffering so, nor his own fault; suffering could come from any one of many deities and for any reason. The Penitential Prayer to Every God tablet (dating from mid-seventh century Sumer) makes this clear in that the penitent in that prayer begs for mercy and forgiveness from whichever god he has offended unknowingly.

Tabu-utul-Bel is cured at the end of the piece by a necromancer (conjurer) whom Marduk sends to him and the title of the poem praises Marduk for the healing. In the Babylonian piece, then, the problem of suffering is dealt with through one god (of many) working through an intermediary to deliver justice. An ancient audience to the poem’s recitation would have understood that, however undeserved they felt their own suffering to be, the gods would deal justly with them in the same way. As human beings were created to be co-laborers with the gods, the god who wished them well would, in time, redress their wrongs and cure their afflictions.

In The Book of Job, however, the one supreme deity handles the situation differently. God appears himself toward the conclusion, speaking out of a whirlwind, and asks, « Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? » (Job 38:4-5) asking, in other words, `Who are you to question my ways?’ Even though there is a `happy ending’ to The Book of Job in which this righteous sufferer is rewarded with new children and a new life, the question of why bad things happen to good people is never answered. A reader of The Book of Job understands that Job’s suffering is the direct result of a wager God has made with Satan regarding Job’s faithfulness. No reasonable reader or listener would draw much comfort from the idea that they had lost those whom they loved, as well as their health and wealth, just so their god could gratify his ego in winning a bet.

Instead of giving Job a direct answer to the question of his suffering, God extols his own greatness and silences Job’s complaints. This is quite a significant difference from the Sumerian gods’ response to Tabu-utul-Bel. Yet, in God’s response, is one of the greatest strengths of the work: there is no satisfactory answer to the question of why good people suffer and the writer of Job was wise enough to recognize that fact. The deity’s response in The Book of Job is in keeping with the culture which produced it in that one did not question the ways of God but, rather, trusted that this all mighty, all loving and all benevolent deity had one’s best interests at heart – even if those interests were expressed through something as seemingly whimsical as making a wager.

While these two compositions are certainly thematically linked, to read Mesopotamian literature only for what it contributes to biblical narrative diminishes the very real importance of the earlier works. Rather than read these two stories in an attempt to find correlations between them, it would perhaps be more profitable to read them for what they have to say about the human condition. As George A. Barton wrote, « The chasm which often yawns between experience and moral deserts was as keenly felt by the Babylonian as by the Hebrew » and is just as keenly felt by anyone living in the world today. The greatest comfort both these ancient works offers to a modern reader is the understanding that what one is presently suffering has been suffered by others and that, like them, one may prevail.

The Book of Job may be found in any translation of the Bible, usually located between the Book of Esther and the Book of Psalms. The following translation of the Ludlul Bel Nimeqi  comes from Sir Henry Rawlinson’s A Commentary on the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Babylon and Assyria, Volume IV, 60 (1850) as printed in George A. Barton’s Archaeology and The Bible.

The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi

1. I advanced in life, I attained to the allotted span
Wherever I turned there was evil, evil—
Oppression is increased, uprightness I see not.
I cried unto god, but he showed not his face.

5. I prayed to my goddess, but she raised not her head.
The seer by his oracle did not discern the future
Nor did the enchanter with a libation illuminate my case
I consulted the necromancer, but he opened not my understanding.
The conjurer with his charms did not remove my ban.

10. How deeds are reversed in the world!
I look behind, oppression encloses me
Like one who the sacrifice to god did not bring
And at meal-time did not invoke the goddess
Did not bow down his face, his offering was not seen;

15. (Like one) in whose mouth prayers and supplications were locked
(For whom) god’s day had ceased, a feast day become rare,
(One who) has thrown down his fire-pan, gone away from their images
God’s fear and veneration has not taught his people
Who invoked not his god when he ate god’s food;

20. (Who) abandoned his goddess, and brought not what is prescribed
(Who) oppresses the weak, forgets his god
Who takes in vain the mighty name of his god, he says, I am like him.
But I myself thought of prayers and supplications—
Prayer was my wisdom, sacrifice, my dignity;

25. The day of honoring the gods was the joy of my heart
The day of following the goddess was my acquisition of wealth
The prayer of the king, that was my delight,
And his music, for my pleasure was its sound.
I gave directions to my land to revere the names of god,

30. To honor the name of the goddess I taught my people.
Reverence for the king I greatly exalted
And respect for the palace I taught the people—
For I knew that with god these things are in favor.
What is innocent of itself, to god is evil!

35. What in one’s heart is contemptible, to one’s god is good!
Who can understand the thoughts of the gods in heaven?
The counsel of god is full of destruction; who can understand?
Where may human beings learn the ways of God?
He who lives at evening is dead in the morning;

40. Quickly he is troubled; all at once he is oppressed;
At one moment he sings and plays;
In the twinkling of an eye he howls like a funeral-mourner.
Like sunshine and clouds their thoughts change;
They are hungry and like a corpse;

45. They are filled and rival their god!
In prosperity they speak of climbing to Heaven
Trouble overtakes them and they speak of going down to Sheol.

[At this point the tablet is broken. The narrative is resumed on the reverse of the tablet.]

46 Into my prison my house is turned.
Into the bonds of my flesh are my hands thrown;
Into the fetters of myself my feet have stumbled.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

47. With a whip he has beaten me; there is no protection;
With a staff he has transfixed me; the stench was terrible!
All day long the pursuer pursues me,
In the night watches he lets me breathe not a moment
Through torture my joints are torn asunder;

48. My limbs are destroyed, loathing covers me;
On my couch I welter like an ox
I am covered, like a sheep, with my excrement.
My sickness baffled the conjurers
And the seer left dark my omens.

49. The diviner has not improved the condition of my sickness-
The duration of my illness the seer could not state;
The god helped me not, my hand he took not;
The goddess pitied me not, she came not to my side
The coffin yawned; they [the heirs] took my possessions;

50. While I was not yet dead, the death wail was ready.
My whole land cried out: « How is he destroyed! »
My enemy heard; his face gladdened
They brought as good news the glad tidings, his heart rejoiced.
But I knew the time of all my family

51. When among the protecting spirits their divinity is exalted.
………………………………….
………………………………….
Let thy hand grasp the javelin
Tabu-utul-Bel, who lives at Nippur,
52. Has sent me to consult thee
Has laid his…………upon me.
In life……..has cast, he has found. [He says]:
« [I lay down] and a dream I beheld;
This is the dream which I saw by night:

53 . [He who made woman] and created man
Marduk, has ordained (?) that he be encompassed with sickness (?). »
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

54. And………..in whatever………….
He said: « How long will he be in such great affliction and distress?
What is it that he saw in his vision of the night? »
« In the dream Ur-Bau appeared
A mighty hero wearing his crown

55. A conjurer, too, clad in strength,
Marduk indeed sent me;
Unto Shubshi-meshri-Nergal he brought abundance;
In his pure hands he brought abundance.
By my guardian-spirit (?) he stopped (?) , »

56. By the seer he sent a message:
« A favorable omen I show to my people. »
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
…he quickly finished; the………was broken
……..of my lord, his heart was satisfied;
57. ……………..his spirit was appeased
……my lamentation………………..
…………….good ……….
58. ………………………………….
………………………………..

…………….like………… ……
He approached (?) and the spell which he had pronounced (?),
59. He sent a storm wind to the horizon;
To the breast of the earth it bore a blast
Into the depth of his ocean the disembodied spirit vanished (?);
Unnumbered spirits he sent back to the under-world.
The………..of the hag-demons he sent straight to the mountain.
60. The sea-flood he spread with ice;
The roots of the disease he tore out like a plant.
The horrible slumber that settled on my rest
Like smoke filled the sky……….
With the woe he had brought, unrepulsed and bitter, he filled the earth like a storm.
61. The unrelieved headache which had overwhelmed the heavens
He took away and sent down on me the evening dew.
My eyelids, which he had veiled with the veil of night
He blew upon with a rushing wind and made clear their sight.
My ears, which were stopped, were deaf as a deaf man’s
62. He removed their deafness and restored their hearing.
My nose, whose nostril had been stopped from my mother’s womb—
He eased its defonnity so that I could breathe.
My lips, which were closed he had taken their strength—
He removed their trembling and loosed their bond.
63. My mouth which was closed so that I could not be understood—
He cleansed it like a dish, he healed its disease.
My eyes, which had been attacked so that they rolled together—
He loosed their bond and their balls were set right.
The tongue, which had stiffened so that it could not be raised
64. He relieved its thickness, so its words could be understood.
The gullet which was compressed, stopped as with a plug—
He healed its contraction, it worked like a flute.
My spittle which was stopped so that it was not secreted—
He removed its fetter, he opened its lock.
………………………………….

Voir aussi:

Putting God on Trial:
Review
On November 9, 2004 ⋅

Robert Sutherland

Alice M Sinnott, Auckland University

Review of Biblical Literature

October 30, 2004,

In this first volume of a promised trilogy [Putting God on Trial-The Biblical Book of Job], Sutherland proposes that the primary task for the reader of the book of Job is to interpret the existing text and integrate seemingly disparate elements rather than abandon the literary challenge and blame the difficulty on a clumsy redaction of preexisting texts. He is more concerned about what has been said than with how it came to be said and reads the received text as a unity, seeing it as a classic text in its present form. Sutherland bases his thesis on the notion that a lawsuit metaphor is central to the book and claims that Job offers a nontraditional answer to the question of why there is evil in the world. This answer is posited on four pivotal claims about God: God created a world of unremitting and undeserved suffering in order to make the highest form of love possible; God cannot reveal this explanation for evil; God expects human beings to challenge the creation of such a world; God will reveal the answer on the day of the final judgment.

Asserting that Job is ‘one of the greatest books ever written’, Sutherland reads it as a provocative theodicy, an attempt to justify the ways of God to human beings. It is, he claims, the story of the most righteous human being on earth putting God on trial for crimes against humanity and refusing to acquit God. Yet its startling resolution preserves the moral integrity of God and of Job and suggests an even fuller resolution beyond its pages. He concludes that traditional attempts to justify the ways of God have proven inadequate because of their inability to deal with the dilemma of gratuitous evil and the problem of God’s nonintervention.

Sutherland outlines what he sees as a lawsuit drama, a philosophical answer in poetry and prose put into words through the vehicle of a legal drama. He proposes that the moral issues of theodicy are easily translated into a legal framework of duties and rights. Thus, Job portrays a series of overlapping and interlocking trials: God puts Job on trial, Satan puts God on trial, God puts Job on trial a second time, Job’s friends put Job on trial, and Job puts the friends on trial. Finally, everything builds to the climactic moment when Job puts God on trial and refuses to acquit God.

In a series of five speeches, all of which Sutherland claims are delivered on the Day of Atonement, Job demands to know why there is evil in the world. Though an oath of innocence, Job embarks on formal legal proceedings against God in order to provoke an answer. To his friends the oath of innocence is blasphemy, but in the eyes of God this oath is the pinnacle of righteousness. Finally, to the surprise of all, God appears to Job but does not give him any direct answers. God places before Job and all humanity a single question: Will they condemn God so that they themselves may be justified? Job chooses not to condemn God but does not retract his lawsuit. Sutherland claims that Job is .the perfect embodiment of the selfless love and moral integrity for which the world was created.. He argues forcefully and coherently against those he calls liberal and conservative scholars who find the legal metaphor of an oath of innocence inappropriate. He opts for a new middle course in which he seeks to present a single comprehensive and coherent interpretation that preserves the moral integrity of both God and Job. Sutherland alleges that interpretations calling Job’s integrity into question, or those questioning the propriety of Job’s question, must be ruled out as illegitimate. Within his own parameters of interpretation, he elects to address four issues: Satan’s speech; Job’s oath of innocence; God’s two speeches to Job; Job’s two responses to God. A proper handling of these, he maintains, will unlock the treasures Job.

Chapter 2, ‘A New Look at Genesis’ is an argument from a canonical perspective that the author of Job reworks Genesis with Job as a new Adam. In a series of dramatic scenes, Sutherland outlines the drama that moves from earth to heaven, back to earth, and back to heaven, where God confesses to causal responsibility for the evil Satan inflicted on Job and then back to earth for Job’s response.

Chapter 3 introduces what Sutherland proposes is the second act of the drama, which addresses ‘The Truth about God that No One Wanted to Hear’, that is, that God is the author of evil in the world. Here we enter a wasteland to hear Job’s three friends and a discussion of the three cycles of speeches. Central to this chapter is the presentation of Job’s oath of innocence involving the statement, proof, and enforcement of his claim. Elihu, who is perceived as speaking for God, receives brief mention toward the end of the chapter.

Chapter 4 presents the third act in the Joban drama, which involves ‘Putting God on Trial’. Arguing from a canonical perspective, Sutherland claims that this section of Job is a reworking of the Revelation story when the oath of innocence trumpets a final judgment on God just before God appears in the whirlwind. Proposing the Babylonian myth of creation as the mythological background for this scene, the whirlwind as the powerful mythological symbol for the divine control of evil, Sutherland claims that the author of Job is rewriting the Babylonian myth and Genesis on two points. God creates evil. Evil is in the world before the fall of humanity.

Chapter 5, ‘A Philosophical Analysis’, argues that Job is a myth in which the characters of God, Satan, and Job dramatize aspects of the final cause of evil in the world. Job, Sutherland suggests, exemplifies the potential for moral integrity that all human beings possess. He advances this analysis by proposing, developing, and examining ten ‘truth claims’ that describe the human condition particularly as represented in Job. Sutherland concludes his book with a reflection on Job as an attempt by the author to address the problem of evil and its role in the world. Moving into theological mode, he advocates being as patient as Job by enduring suffering that is not understood; being as honest as Job by refusing pat answers; being as devout as Job by exercising faith in the midst of pain. He concludes this advice with the assurance that God will answer all questions in eternity. This assurance appears to be at odds with the text of Job, which never speaks of an afterlife for human beings.

This volume contains two very helpful appendices: ‘Appendix A: The Babylonian Myth of Creation’, and ‘Appendix B: The Canaanite Myth of Re-creation’. The selected bibliography reveals what is evident throughout the book: that Sutherland is familiar and conversant with research on Job. The endnotes are detailed and unobtrusive. An index would have been very helpful in this volume.

Many scholars have examined issues of law and trial in Job, but few bring to it the perspective provided by Sutherland with his legal training and expertise. Regardless of whether one is in agreement with his argument as a whole or in part, his perspectives and analyses must be taken into consideration in any study of the book of Job. Sutherland’s work is unusual, self-assured, and a noteworthy treatment of a biblical text that continues to puzzle and intrigue. His work on Near Eastern sources is significant, and his attention to studies on Job by biblical scholars and others is admirable. This book is a thorough and rigorous presentation of the legal arguments of Job, to which the author has added a breadth of information set in the contexts of Canaanite and Egyptian legal frameworks, with Job’s oath of innocence as the pivot. Sutherland explains clearly the philosophical basis for his argument and articulates his case carefully. His commentary and conclusions make eminent sense if one accepts his starting points.

The proofreader failed to notice several printing or typographical errors, such as, page 99, ‘in’. for ‘its’; ‘whether’ for ‘where’; page 105, ‘shutter’ for ‘shudder’; page 106, ‘pseudi-epigraphical’ for ‘pseudepigrapha’. The consistent use of ‘he’ throughout for God and the use of ‘man’ throughout this text may be perceived as offensive and exclusive by many readers in a time when inclusive language is generally expected. A number of headings are separated from the text to which they relate, as in page 31, .Trial By Ordeal.; page 40, .A Whirlwind Of Righteous Indignation.; pp 44, .Job’s Road to an Oath of Innocence.; page 88, .God’s Second Speech.; page 90, .The Mythological Worlds.

Although some of his assertions and conclusions may need to be tempered, Sutherland’s main thesis is arresting and challenging. In this clearly written, thought-provoking text, Sutherland successfully defends his proposal that the court metaphor is central to the book of Job. His portrayal of God as the source of evil will shock some readers, but his persuasive concentration on and development of his theory of the oath of innocence is impressive. Through sustained legal reasoning, Sutherland effectively proves that at the end Job does not sin, confess sin, or repent of sin, and in the same way he persuades the reader that God never really answers the charge of unwarranted suffering. By following this line of reasoning, he demonstrates that Job is innocent and implies that God is the cause of Job’s suffering. Reading Putting God on Trial may demand reconsideration of beliefs and understandings of God and the text of Job.

2 Responses to Secret sunshine: Si ce n’est Lui, qui donc alors? (A mysterious Job-like story of faith from a Korean Kieslowski)

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