Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Good day, friend Job! thou art one of the most ancient originals of which books make mention; thou wast not a Jew; we know that the book which bears thy name is more ancient than the Pentateuch. If the Hebrews, who translated it from the Arabic, made use of the word “Jehovah” to signify God, they borrowed it from the Phœnicians and Egyptians, of which men of learning are assured. The word “Satan” was not Hebrew; it was Chaldæan, as is well known.

Thou dwelledst on the confines of Chaldæa. Commentators, worthy of their profession, pretend that thou didst believe in the resurrection, because, being prostrate on thy dunghill, thou hast said, in thy nineteenth chapter, that thou wouldst one day rise up from it. A patient who wishes his cure is not anxious for resurrection in lieu of it; but I would speak to thee of other things.

Confess that thou wast a great babbler; but thy friends were much greater. It is said that thou possessedst seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand cows, and five hundred sheasses. I will reckon up their value:

Seven thousand sheep, at three livres ten sous apiece   22,500
Three thousand camels at fifty crowns apiece 450,000
A thousand cows, one with the other, cannot be valued at less than   80,000
And five hundred she-asses, at twenty francs an ass   10,000
The whole amounts to 562,500

without reckoning thy furniture, rings and jewels.

I have been much richer than thou; and though I have lost a great part of my property and am ill, like thyself I have not murmured against God, as thy friends seem to reproach thee with sometimes doing.

I am not at all pleased with Satan, who, to induce thee to sin, and to make thee forget God, demanded permission to take away all thy property, and to give thee the itch. It is in this state that men always have recourse to divinity. They are prosperous people who forgot God. Satan knew not enough of the world at that time; he has improved himself since; and when he would be sure of any one, he makes him a farmer-general, or something better if possible, as our friend Pope has clearly shown in his history of the knight Sir Balaam.

Thy wife was an impertinent, but thy pretended friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuite, and Zophar, the Naamathite, were much more insupportable. They exhorted thee to patience in a manner that would have roused the mildest of men; they made thee long sermons more tiresome than those preached by the knave V— e at Amsterdam, and by so many other people.

It is true that thou didst not know what thou saidst, when exclaiming —“My God, am I a sea or a whale, to be shut up by Thee as in a prison?” But thy friends knew no more when they answered thee, “that the morn cannot become fresh without dew, and that the grass of the field cannot grow without water.” Nothing is less consolatory than this axiom.

Zophar of Naamath reproached thee with being a prater; but none of these good friends lent thee a crown. I would not have treated thee thus. Nothing is more common than people who advise; nothing more rare than those who assist. Friends are not worth much, from whom we cannot procure a drop of broth if we are in misery. I imagine that when God restored thy riches and health, these eloquent personages dared not present themselves before thee, hence the comforters of Job have become a proverb.

God was displeased with them, and told them sharply, in chap. xlii., that they were tiresome and imprudent, and he condemned them to a fine of seven bullocks and seven rams, for having talked nonsense. I would have condemned them for not having assisted their friend.

I pray thee, tell me if it is true, that thou livedst a hundred and forty years after this adventure. I like to learn that honest people live long; but men of the present day must be great rogues, since their lives are comparatively so short.

As to the rest, the book of Job is one of the most precious of antiquity. It is evident that this book is the work of an Arab who lived before the time in which we place Moses. It is said that Eliphaz, one of the interlocutors, is of Teman, which was an ancient city of Arabia. Bildad was of Shua, another town of Arabia. Zophar was of Naamath, a still more eastern country of Arabia.

But what is more remarkable, and which shows that this fable cannot be that of a Jew, is, that three constellations are spoken of, which we now call Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades. The Hebrews never had the least knowledge of astronomy; they had not even a word to express this science; all that regards the mental science was unknown to them, inclusive even of the term geometry.

The Arabs, on the contrary, living in tents, and being continually led to observe the stars, were perhaps the first who regulated their years by the inspection of the heavens.

The more important observation is, that one God alone is spoken of in this book. It is an absurd error to imagine that the Jews were the only people who recognized a sole God; it was the doctrine of almost all the East, and the Jews were only plagiarists in that as in everything else.

In chapter xxxviii. God Himself speaks to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, which has been since imitated in Genesis. We cannot too often repeat, that the Jewish books are very modern. Ignorance and fanaticism exclaim, that the Pentateuch is the most ancient book in the world. It is evident, that those of Sanchoniathon, and those of Thaut, eight hundred years anterior to those of Sanchoniathon; those of the first Zerdusht, the “Shasta,” the “Vedas” of the Indians, which we still possess; the “Five Kings of China”; and finally the Book of Job, are of a much remoter antiquity than any Jewish book. It is demonstrated that this little people could only have annals while they had a stable government; that they only had this government under their kings; that its jargon was only formed, in the course of time, of a mixture of Phœnician and Arabic. These are incontestable proofs that the Phœnicians cultivated letters a long time before them. Their profession was pillage and brokerage; they were writers only by chance. We have lost the books of the Egyptians and Phœnicians, the Chinese, Brahmins, and Guebers; the Jews have preserved theirs. All these monuments are curious, but they are monuments of human imagination alone, in which not a single truth, either physical or historical, is to be learned. There is not at present any little physical treatise that would not be more useful than all the books of antiquity.

The good Calmet, or Dom Calmet (for the Benedictines like us to give them their Dom), that simple compiler of so many reveries and imbecilities; that man whom simplicity has rendered so useful to whoever would laugh at antique nonsense, faithfully relates the opinion of those who would discover the malady with which Job was attacked, as if Job was a real personage. He does not hesitate in saying that Job had the smallpox, and heaps passage upon passage, as usual, to prove that which is not. He had not read the history of the smallpox by Astruc; for Astruc being neither a father of the Church nor a doctor of Salamanca, but a very learned physician, the good man Calmet knew not that he existed. Monkish compilers are poor creatures!

By an Invalid, At the Baths of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25