Monday, August 10, 2009

In dust and ashes I repent

While we are on Blake's illustrations for the Book of Job, here is the next in the series, where God speaks to Job of Behemoth and Leviathan.

At this point in the story, God is just being a smart-ass. He has already made his point in the speech I posted yesterday. Hey, he said, I made it all. Who are you to assert yourself or question my justice?

Now he delivers the knockout punch: the two scariest creatures Job might know about.

Behemoth. Those loins! Those stomach muscles! That tail, stiff as cedar. Vertebrae like bronze tubing, bones like hammered iron. He is the masterpiece of my creation, says God -- and I treat him like a puppy.

And Leviathan. His matchless strength, the double armor of his breastplate. Just look at those terrible rows of teeth! From his mouth come fiery torches. He has no equal on Earth, says God -- and he's my pussy cat.

So where does that leave you, Mr. Job?

Blake has made of Behemoth and Leviathan a yin and yang. Behemoth: white, stony, herbivorous. Leviathan: black, fiery, carnivorous. Matter and energy, curling endlessly upon themselves.

I would guess that the author of Job had in mind creatures he had heard about in vague reports -- the hippo of African swamps, and the crocodile of the Nile. Blake, of course, has his own vivid imagination. And God -- well, he's playing his trump card, the image most likely to cow poor Job into a proper spirit of respect and contrition.

Today, the hippo and the crocodile would be trite manifestations of divine power. Instead, God might point to, say, the Hubble photograph of the region around Eta Carinae, a star 100 times more massive than the Sun shuddering in its death throes, blasting off bubbles of its own substance (the star is the intensely bright oval at center left). The image is 50 light-years wide, 8000 light-years away. A place of prodigious star birth and star death, roiling with creation and destruction. Our planet with all its hosts of Behemoths and Leviathans would be lost in this cauldron of gas, dust and stars -- a grain of dust flicked into the eye of a hurricane.