167 - When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Suffering in Jewish Philosophy

The Book of Job provokes Saadia, Maimonides, Ibn Tibbon and Gersonides to reflect on why God allows suffering.

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Further Reading: 

• R. Eisen, The Book of Job in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Oxford: 2004).

• A.L. Lassen, The Commentary of Levi ben Gersom (Gersonides) on the Book of Job (New York: 1946).

• O. Leaman, Evil and Suffering in Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge: 1995).

• E.I.J. Rosenthal, “Saadya’s Exegesis of the Book of Job,” in E.I.J. Rosenthal (ed.), Saadya Studies (New York: 1980), 177-205.

• T. Rudavsky (ed.), Divine Omniscience and Omnipotence in Medieval Philosophy (Dordrecht: 1985).

Bear's picture


Hi Peter,

thanks for this episode - very interesting the interpretations. I have always loved the Book of Job and the perspective it brings, particularly about our knowledge of the universe.

What is interesting is that the various interpretations by the Jewish commentators survive to today, and were certainly debated in the Medieval period in Western Europe.

When I was a child I read an annotated version of the book, and the notes seemed to be at pains to indicate that the character of Sátan should be translated as "the accuser" rather than associating him the fallen angel. This is seen when God asks Sátan where he has been, and the reply was that he had been wandering around the Earth and walking here and there.

The text of the book has also inspired musicians and other artists and it used in the funeral rites of Western Christianity: Taedet anima mea coming the Vulgate translation of Job and being one of the readings of the Office of the Dead.

The podcast inspired me to re-read Job, and I thank you for that. I still find the advice from Job's wife, to put his curse upon God and die, a little chilling.

Peter Adamson's picture

Satan in Job

Yes, I read this also - that "Satan" is misleading because it conjures up the notion of the devil rather than this specific "accuser" character in the Book. But I am no Old Testament scholar so I don't know how true that is, and it seemed simpler just to call him Satan for the purposes of the podcast.

Glad you enjoyed the episode! I found it one of the most interesting ones to work on so far, actually.