Book of Job, Plate 11, Job's Evil Dreams by William Blake

William Blake

Book of Job, Plate 11, Job's Evil Dreams, 1825, Line engraving on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper, 378 x 279 mm, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1978.43.1513, Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

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Visions in the Night

Commentary by

William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job were published two years before his death in 1827 and are in many ways a testimony to his life’s work.

In the first engraving of the series (Plate 1), Blake had chosen to show Job and his wife with books (very possibly sacred texts) open on their laps. The portrayal of Job’s subsequent experience of agony and loss then culminates here in Plate 11, with Blake imagining what Job saw in one of his dreams and visions of the night (Job 7:14).

Job sees a terrifying figure, having characteristics of the transcendent divinity depicted in earlier engravings, but entwined with a serpent who points threateningly to the law engraved on tablets of stone. Job is appalled and terrified by the threatening sight. Below are figures who would chain Job and drag him down into the fiery flames.

What seems to terrify Job is that entry to heaven consists of obedience to what is engraved on the tablets of stone (it is worth noting that in the watercolour version of this image Blake makes explicit that that it is the Decalogue which is inscribed on the stones, quoting from the Hebrew of Exodus 20:13–15), and incipient entry to hell is the consequence of disobedience. In his vision Job sees the terrifying, diabolical, character of his theology.

But by means of his night vision, Job would come to a realization of the illusory character of the theology he had received. This vision paves the way for Job to see that God is not some transcendent monster but is in Christ a divinity who is with and in him. Job declares (in words incorporated in Plate 17), ‘I have heard thee with the hearing of the Ear but now my Eye seeth thee’ (Job 42:5). It is through what Job sees, whether here in the night vision or in his vision of God (Job 38–41), that he realizes how his received theological wisdom must be turned upside down.

 

References

https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3643610 [accessed 22 October 2018]