Book of Job, Plate 18, Job's Sacrifice by William Blake

William Blake

Book of Job, Plate 18, Job's Sacrifice, 1825, Line engraving on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper, 381 x 279 mm, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1978.43.1520, Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

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Turning the Captivity of Job

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Job here stands erect for the first time in William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job.

With his back to the viewer and arms outstretched before a stone altar, he seems to be offering sacrifice (cf. Noah and the Rainbow, Houghton Library, Harvard, B437). Above him is part of the circle of light, which had been seen surrounding Christ in the previous plate in the series. Kneeling beside the upright Job is his wife, also bathed in light, and on his right the comforters, in shade, are bowing in obeisance. The flame from the altar moves heavenward, towards the circle of light.

The words below the image are ‘And my Servant Job shall pray for you’ (Job 42:8), and above the image ‘Also the Lord accepted Job’ (Job 42:9). Blake has picked up a contrast in the text of the book of Job. The comforters are still bound by the old ways of thinking and offer sacrifice, whereas the LORD ‘turned the captivity’ of Job, when he prayed for his friends (42:7–8, 10). The emphasis in Job 42:8 echoes Romans 12:1–2 (which is not quoted in the marginal texts): ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God’ (KJV). The open book, with its writing, glosses the major caption. Words from Matthew 5:44–5, 48 start with the exhortation to ‘love one’s enemies’ and to ‘pray for those that despitefully use you and persecute you’.

Thus, in the second of two climactic engravings, an ethical transformation complements an epistemological one, and together they confirm that Job is no longer the prisoner—and victim—of habit: ‘And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends’ (42:10).

Dreams and visions have been the pathway to this. As part of his interpretative programme Blake focuses on the verses which mention them (Job 4:12–13; 32:8; 33:15). Only the visionary can disrupt the habits of religion—and of life more generally. Blake the artist and Job the recipient of visionary insight have this high and disturbing calling in common.


References [accessed 22 October 2018]

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