Friends of the Prophet Job. Part Three: Zophar the Naamathite. (vii) as Aesop

lion

by

 Damien F. Mackey

 

Finally, our now combined Zophar the Naamathite of the Book of Job, and Luqman (or Lokman) in Sura 31 of the Koran, as discussed in (vi), can be further equated with one to whom Luqman has been likened: namely Aesop, famous for his Fables.

 

 

Life of Aesop

 

Chronologically, Aesop (c. 600 BC) fits perfectly into our era for the Book of Job during the reign of king Josiah of Judah (c. 640-610 BC), and before the fall of Nineveh (c. 612 BC, conventional dating).

There is also the negroid aspect to him that we have found to have been a characteristic of Ebed-melech, in (iii), and also of Luqman, in (vi).

Aesop’s actual historicity, however, is much disputed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesop): “Although his existence remains uncertain and (if he ever existed) no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day”.

Even the Greek name for him, Aisopos (Αισωπος), is of uncertain meaning (see quote below). Whilst I would like to think that it may derive from the, similarly obscure, Zophar (Ar-sop?), I think that this is highly unlikely.

The following outline gives us some idea of Aesop and the traditions associated with him (http://www.ancient-literature.com/greece_aesop.html):

ANCIENT GREECE – AESOP

 

(Fabulist, Greek, c. 620 – c. 560 BCE)

Introduction

Aesop was by tradition a Greek slave, and he is known today exclusively for the genre of fables ascribed to him. “Aesop’s Fables” (most of which have anthropomorphic animals as the main characters) have remained popular throughout history, and are still taught as moral lessons and used as subjects for various entertainments, especially children’s plays and cartoons.

Biography

Very little is known about Aesop’s origins. Amorium, Phrygia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, Sardis, Thrace and many other places have been suggested by different authors as his place of birth. Some claim that his name may be derived from “Aethiopian”, a word often used by the ancient Greeks to refer to any dark-skinned people from the African interior. His date of birth is likewise uncertain, but the best estimate may be around 620 BCE. According to some medieval traditions, he was extremely ugly and deformed, although there is no contemporary evidence to that effect.

Like his birth, the rest of his life is also shrouded in obscurity. He is said to have lived for some time as a slave to a man called Xanthus in Samos. At some stage he must have been freed (possibly by his second master, Jadon, as a reward for his learning and wit) as he is later recorded as conducting the public defense of a demagogue on the Greek island of Samos. Other reports have him subsequently living at the court of Croesus, the king of Lydia, where he met (and apparently impressed with his wit) Solon and the Seven Sages of Greece, and he was also said to have visited Athens during the reign of Peisistratus.

According to the historian Herodotus, Aesop met with a violent death at the hands of the inhabitants of Delphi, although various different reasons for this have been put forward. The best estimate for his date of death is around 560 BCE.

Writings

It is probable that Aesop himself never committed his “Fables” to writing, but that the stories were transmitted orally. It is thought that even Aesop’s original fables were probably a compilation of tales from various sources, many of which originated with authors who lived long before Aesop. Certainly, there were prose and verse collections of “Aesop’s Fables” as early as the 4th Century BCE. They were in turn translated into Arabic and Hebrew, further enriched by additional fables from these cultures. The collection with which we are familar today is probably based on a 3rd Century CE Greek version by Babrius, itself a copy of a copy of a copy.

His fables are some of the most well known in the world, and are the source of many phrases and idioms in everyday use (such as “sour grapes”, “crying wolf”, “dog in a manger”, “lion’s share”, etc). Among the most famous are: The Ant and the Grasshopper, The Bear and the Travellers, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Boy Who Was Vain, The Cat and the Mice, The Cock and the Jewel, The Crow and the Pitcher, The Deer without a Heart, The Dog and the Bone, The Dog and the Wolf, The Dog in the Manger, The Farmer and the Stork, The Farmer and the Viper, The Frog and the Ox, The Frogs Who Desired a King, The Fox and the Crow, The Fox and the Goat, The Fox and the Grapes, The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, The Honest Woodcutter, The Lion and the Mouse, The Lion’s Share, The Mice in Council, The Mischievous Dog, The North Wind and the Sun, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.

[End of quote]

Legends of Aesop’s having been a slave and of his travelling to the court of a king could be simply Greek appropriations of the Babylonian Exile, corresponding also to Baruch’s own exile to Egypt.

Moreover, Zophar’s and Job’s exchanges involve mention of various animals. For example, Zophar will say to Job (11:12): ‘But the witless can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human’. Cf. Aesop’s Fable of the Wild Ass and the Lion. And indeed Job himself refers to God ‘like a lion’ (10:16): ‘If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion and again display your awesome power against me’. Cf. Zophar (28:8), ‘no lion’. Job will reply to Zophar here, with further plentiful mention of creatures (12:7-10):

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Which of all these does not know

that the hand of the Lord has done this?

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

Zophar, again, will also speak of the wicked man as becoming a poisoned victim of ‘serpents’ and ‘an adder’ (20:14-16):

… yet his food will turn sour in his stomach;     it will become the venom of serpents within him. He will spit out the riches he swallowed;     God will make his stomach vomit them up. He will suck the poison of serpents;     the fangs of an adder will kill him.

And, later again, Zophar, in his praise of Wisdom, will tell of the pathways to Wisdom being unknown to birds of prey, to beasts and lions (28:7-8):

No bird of prey knows that hidden path,

no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it,

and no lion prowls there.

(Cf. 28:21: ‘… concealed even from the birds in the sky’.)

Aesop’s ‘The Cock and the Jewel’, may resonate with Zophar’s magnificent description of ancient mining (Job 28), which includes (v. 17): ‘Neither gold nor crystal can compare with [Wisdom], nor can it be had for jewels of gold’, combined with God’s reference to the Cock (38:36): ‘… who gave the cock understanding?’

Aesop’s “sour grapes” can be found already in Jeremiah 31:29, and in Ezekiel 18:2.

But most ‘Aesopian’ of all, it seems to me, is Job 39, when God asks:

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?     Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear?     Do you know the time they give birth? They crouch down and bring forth their young;     their labor pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;     they leave and do not return.

“Who let the wild donkey go free?     Who untied its ropes? I gave it the wasteland as its home,     the salt flats as its habitat. It laughs at the commotion in the town;     it does not hear a driver’s shout. It ranges the hills for its pasture     and searches for any green thing.

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you?     Will it stay by your manger at night? 10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?     Will it till the valleys behind you? 11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?     Will you leave your heavy work to it? 12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain     and bring it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,     though they cannot compare     with the wings and feathers of the stork. 14 She lays her eggs on the ground     and lets them warm in the sand, 15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,     that some wild animal may trample them. 16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;     she cares not that her labor was in vain, 17 for God did not endow her with wisdom     or give her a share of good sense. 18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,     she laughs at horse and rider.

19 “Do you give the horse its strength     or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? 20 Do you make it leap like a locust,     striking terror with its proud snorting? 21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,     and charges into the fray. 22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;     it does not shy away from the sword. 23 The quiver rattles against its side,     along with the flashing spear and lance. 24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;     it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. 25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’     It catches the scent of battle from afar,     the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom     and spread its wings toward the south? 27 Does the eagle soar at your command     and build its nest on high? 28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;     a rocky crag is its stronghold. 29 From there it looks for food;     its eyes detect it from afar. 30 Its young ones feast on blood,     and where the slain are, there it is.”

The on to Behemoth (in Ch. 40) and Leviathan (Ch. 41), a combination of Hippopotamus and Crocodile known to the Egyptians.

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