by Alicia Ostriker

Page 6

Touch me not, thou shalt not touch, hiss the texts. Thou shalt not uncover. But I shall. Thou shalt not eat it lest ye die. I shall not surely die.

The stories call me simultaneously from outside and from within myself. They are composed, it is said, by a male God dictating them to a male leader, Moses, so they are composed by Not-Me. The heroes of the stories are Not-Me. Likewise the many commentators, who until now have been Not-Me, are wise men who I am sure would feel it unseemly for a woman to have opinions regarding a sacred writing. What then compels me to comment? What made me feel (as with all stories of this degree of depth) when I first read them that I had known them always, as if they were dreams of my own that I had forgotten? The tales of the tribe. What do the stories mean to me and what do I mean to them? I cannot tell until I write. And then each story opens to me, as I climb into and into it. And then each story opens like a flower, and I climb down into its throat.


It is a strange invention of the children of God, God's "justice." That God should be "just," obliged to reward good men who obeyed his laws, cared for widows and the poor and so forth, and punish evil ones who did not, was not a notion that occurred to the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Canaanites. We appreciate, if we step back a bit from our post-Christian assumptions, what a unique expectation this is. That justice should be intrinsic to a god, and still more odd, that human beings need to remind the God about it, as Abraham does before the destruction of Sodom, and as Job does when he complains of his afflictions. They remind God that he is not supposed to harm the innocent.

Now when Job confronts God of course God is not put exactly in the wrong. Indeed Job's afflictions have been a sort of sport for God, the result of a sort of bet with Satan, in the folktale frame of our story. But there is a challenge and argument. Job's friends insist that he must have secretly sinned or he wouldn't be suffering, and that no mortal has the right to question God. Job maintains his own righteousness and integrity and begs the Almighty to answer him. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him; but I will maintain my own ways before him," (13:15) he cries. And again, "Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat! I would order my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments" (23:3-4).

When the Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind--"Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?"--his magnificent speech seems designed to smash Job and mankind into humility by an overwhelming display of gorgeous creative might. Were you there when I created the earth, the morning stars that sang together, the floods, behemoth, leviathan, the horse that has a neck clothed with thunder and saith among the trumpets, Ha ha? Is it you who guides Arcturus, is it you who gives the eagle the taste for blood? I am the Creator! I am the Destroyer! I am not just! --That is the essence of the Lord's reply, and it is very splendid to read, a verbal equivalent of a nuclear explosion.

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