Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Luther: “Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable…”

Here's a quote that surfaces from time to time in regard to Luther's view of the book of Job:

 Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable...

This has been a favorite Luther quote for Rome's defenders. This version of the quote came from a person who was "moving beyond being a life-long Mormon into full communion with the Body of Christ, which is His Church." By "His Church," Rome is meant. Elsewhere in cyberspace,  this defender of Rome uses a version of the quote as an example of "Luther's Narcissism." This online Roman Catholic periodical uses it to imply Luther was "an enemy of the Bible." Examples could easily be multiplied. We'll see there's a case to be made that Luther wasn't a narcissist or an enemy of the Bible, but is rather being mis-cited from a less than reliable secondary source .

Documentation: Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther
When the quote is documented on-line, often the source given is either to Roman Catholic author Msgr. Patrick O'Hare or his book, The Facts About Luther. This old book had sunk into obscurity until it was revived by the Roman Catholic publisher Tan Books in 1987.  In their zeal, some of Rome's 1990's early e-pologists put O'Hare's content on the Internet without checking his facts about Luther. Here is how Father O'Hare presents the quote:
But even for the books he chose to retain, he showed little or no respect. Here are some examples of his judgments on them. Of the Pentateuch he says: "We have no wish either to see or hear Moses." "Judith is a good, serious, brave tragedy." "Tobias is an elegant, pleasing, godly comedy." "Ecclesiasticus is a profitable book for an ordinary man." "Of very little worth is the book of Baruch, whoever the worthy Baruch may be." "Esdras I would not translate, because there is nothing in it which you might not find better in Aesop." "Job spoke not as it stands written in his book; but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book." "The book entitled 'Ecclesiastes' ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it. It has neither boots nor spurs; but rides only in socks as I myself did when an inmate of the cloister. Solomon did not, therefore, write this book, which was made in the days of the Maccabees of Sirach. It is like a Talmud, compiled from many books, perhaps in Egypt at the desire of King Evergetes." (p.207, p.202 Tan)
O'Hare does not say where he took this material from (his documentation is often sketchy), and many of Rome's modern cyber-defenders do not care to do any research as to where the quote comes from.

Documentation: Sir William Hamilton
There were a number of English sources previous to O'Hare that present versions of this quote. One of the closest English translations I found previous to O'Hare is from an 1865 work:
Of the book of Job, he says: "Job spoke not as it stands written in his book; but had only such cogitations. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon made and wrote this "book." How can you make an act of divine faith on the contents of a book which is merely the argument of a fable? [link].
There are striking similarities with this source and some of O'Hare's other Luther quotes. The author cites "Edinburgh Review, No. 121" which refers to an article from 1834 entitled, On The Right Of Dissenters To Admission Into The English Universities. This appears to be the main source from which all the English translations of the quote stem from. This article was put together by Sir William Hamilton. Hamilton was not a Roman Catholic theologian but rather a Scottish philosopher and academic. The article has to do with the issue of whether or not those with dissenting religious views should be allowed into universities and compelled to follow the religious views of the English universities.

A number of Luther's statements are brought up to demonstrate that Luther's views would dissent against alleged contemporary Lutheran orthodoxy. Hamilton states, "We can easily show... there is hardly an obnoxious doctrine to be found among the modern Lutherans, which has not its warrant and example in the writings of Luther himself." Hamilton then provides a "hasty anthology of some of Luther's opinions." He provides a few pages of Luther citations broken down into categories. Under the heading of "Biblical Criticism" he quotes Luther saying,  
Job spake not, therefore, as it stands written in his book, but hath had such cogitations. It is a sheer argumentum fabulae. It is probable that Solomon made and wrote this book [link].
This appears to be the main English source for the quote. Hamilton does not admit to doing the English translations (but he did have the ability to do them) nor does he provide a reference as to where the quote comes from. He was challenged for his Luther citations and lack of documentation by Julius Charles Hare. Hare demonstrated that the entire section on "Biblical Criticism" was taken from Luther's Table Talk, an unreliable source. Seemingly provoked by Hare, some years later Hamilton republished his article and added lengthy clarifications and retractions of his Luther material, and also provided documentation: 
(1) "The books of the Kings are more worthy of credit than the books of the Chronicles" [Colloquia, c. lix. § 6.]—(2) "Job spake not, therefore, as it stands written in his book, but hath had such cogitations..... It is a sheer argumentum fabulae..... It is probable that Solomon made and wrote this book." [Ib.] [link].
In this later revision, Hamilton has revised the quote by adding a set of ellipses, indicating omissions in the text.  He's also provided documentation "Colloquia, c. lix. § 6."  "Colloquia" refers to Luther's Table Talk. The reference appears to be to this page.  The text reads:

The text also appears to be similar to that found in WA TR 1: 206-207 in a Table Talk recorded by Veit Dietrich from Spring, 1533:  

While the first text is primarily in German and the second text is primarily in Latin, they make similar points. The text that's primarily Latin is probably a more primary text. LW explains that those who took notes during this period used a form of taking down noted in Latin ("the language of the schools"), and using German phrases when it was quicker (See LW 54, introduction). 

The later text has been translated in the English edition of Luther's Works, LW 54:79-80. What's interesting about the LW translation is that it left out the crucial phrase, "Res tamen est facts, et est quasi argumentum fabulae." I have inserted, "It is almost like an Argumentum Fabulae" in brackets in the text below. 

Job didn’t speak the way it is written [in his book], but he thought those things. One doesn’t speak that way under temptation. [It is almost like an Argumentum Fabulae] Nevertheless, the things reported actually happened. They are like the plot of a story which a writer, like Terence,  adopts and to which he adds characters and circumstances. The author wished to paint a picture of patience. It’s possible that Solomon himself wrote this book, for the style is not very different from his.  At the time of Solomon the story which he undertook to write was old and well known. It was as if I today were to take up the stories of Joseph or Rebekah. The Hebrew poet, whoever he was, saw and wrote about those temptations, as Vergil described Aeneas, led him through all the seas and resting places, and made him a statesman and soldier. Whoever wrote Job, it appears that he was a great theologian. [LW 54:79-80]
The crucial polemic against Luther from Rome's defenders seems to be the word, “fable.” One secondary source quoting from Luther’s Works in German says, "Undoubtedly the book of Job was related by a pious scholar, much as Virgil made Aeneas act and speak, as one composes a drama.” The author then quotes Luther as saying,
It is almost like an Argumentum Fabulae…[Job] speaks and disputes with another as he feels and as he thinks…The Hebrew poet and master of this book, whoever he may be [it was not Job who wrote it], himself experiences such temptations and tribulation…. [Martin Luther as cited in Ida Walz Blayney, The Age Of Luther (New York: Vantage Press, 1957) 299. Blayney cites Luther from Dr. Martin Luther, Sammtliche Werke, Deutsche Schriften, Band 1-67; Frankfurt am Main u. Erlangen; Erste Auflage, 1826-1857. (Erl. I: 62, 133f).]
If Rome's defenders are using the quote because they think Luther thought Job was a fable, the word “like,” is the key word in understanding Luther’s thought.  Note particularly that Luther does not consider Job to be a “fable.” In all the instances I checked in which Luther spoke of Job, he referred to him as an historical figure and treated the events that transpired in his life as actually occurring.

One last point is that if Hamilton really was responsible for introducing this quote from the Table Talk into English, he selectively left out this preceding paragraph from the very page utilized:

This Table Talk text reads in English,
The book of Job (said Luther) is a very good book, not written only touching himself, but also for the comfort and consolation of every sorrowful, troubled, and perplexed heart. When the devil and human creatures sorely vexed and set themselves against him, he endured and suffered it patiently, and said, "The name of the Lord be blessed." But when he conceived that God began to be angry with him, then he became impatient, and was much offended. It vexed and grieved him to the heart that the ungodly prospered so well. Therefore this should be a comfort to poor Christians that are persecuted and forced to suffer; namely, that in the life to come, God will give unto them exceeding great and glorious benefits, and everlasting wealth and honour; and he also limiteth their sufferings, how far and long the persecutors shall touch and vex them, and not as they willingly would [link].

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2007. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

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