Scott C. Jones’s introduction, edited text, and translation of Kurt Eggers’s Das Spiel von Job dem Deutschen. Ein Mysterium.
Kurt Eggers’s Das Spiel von Job dem Deutschen. Ein Mysterium.
Scott C. Jones’ translation, Job the German: A Mystery Play.
In 1933, Job became a Nazi. That year was a watershed for the National Socialist party in Germany, marking the beginning of the Third Reich. The president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, had named the Nazi Party leader, Adolf Hitler, as chancellor on January 30, thus beginning a new era of consolidation of Nazi power that would bring about the end of the Republic. The nationalization of the Nazi ideal was brought about through the forcible assimilation of disparate parties and states (Gleichshaltung). The Reichstag fire of February 27 symbolized the end of the old and the rise of a new, unquenchable power that would destroy that which did not serve its purposes. Jewish businesses were boycotted on April 1, and that same month the first concentration camps were established in order to incarcerate political opponents of the National Socialist party. May 10 saw the symbolic and foreboding book-burning of works considered to be un-German in spirit, while in a public address in Berlin, the newly appointed minister of public propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, proclaimed the end of “a Jewish intellectualism which had overreached its bounds.” From the ashes of the Weimar Republic, he said, a new German spirit would rise up.
That same year, Kurt Eggers (1905-1943) was appointed as director of broadcasting for Leipzig radio. His commitment to the German spirit and his voice of revolutionary passion had proved that he was useful to the cause. Eggers would soon join the Nazi party, where he would become one of their leading myth-makers. Eggers’s obsession with the warrior ideal and his proclamation of the eventual triumph of the German spirit over the shame and loss in the decades following the Great War are on display in one of his first published works. Das Spiel von Job dem Deutschen. Ein Mysterium (Job the German: A Mystery Play) premiered in Köln on November 16, 1933, before nearly five thousand spectators at the first national festival under the Third Reich. It portrayed Job as a symbol of the German nation, a warrior who conquers Satan himself. As a reward for his triumph, the Lord bestows upon Job the victor’s crown and declares him to be ruler of the world, which he is to inherit as his Reich: “German! I bless you for your faith. German, I praise you for your strength. Forever and ever may your works endure. German! May your land be the fount of the world which enlivens and sustains all nations.” How could the book of Job — a tale about the sufferings of a pious patriarch from the ancient Near East — be used to propagate Nazi imperialist ideals?
Jay Baird’s book, Hitler’s Warrior Poets, offers an excellent sketch of Eggers’s life and thought. Born in 1905, Eggers’s childhood was overshadowed by the sufferings brought on by the Great War. Perhaps worse for him were the shattered dreams. Though a naval cadet by 1917, he had missed out on an opportunity to join the German cause in battle. However, his role in the German volunteer Free Corps in defending Upper Silesia in 1921 would soon cement his militant radicalism. In a surprising turn, he would become a student of theology in Berlin and Rostock, where his studies included Hebrew and Aramaic. Still more surprising was his ordination as a Lutheran minister in 1930 at the age of 25. But Eggers had little interest in Christ. As he said in The Dance to a Different Tune, “I did not want to return to Christ, but instead to continue what Luther had started. I wanted to be a Protestant and, the way I saw it, the church should be the springboard for spiritual action, without which the struggle for freedom would be impossible. Only [Friedrich] Nietzsche and [Ulrich] von Hutten could lead me to freedom” (Der Tanz aus der Reihe, 1939). After being removed from his initial post in Mecklenburg, he resigned from the ministry after only 18 months. Now he could give his revolutionary ideas full voice. By 1933 he was a broadcaster for the Reich.
How could the book of Job — a tale about the sufferings of a pious patriarch from the ancient Near East — be used to propagate Nazi imperialist ideals?
Like so many in the Nazi regime, Eggers used Christian trappings in order to present another ideal that would in fact replace Christianity. His Job the German was cast as a specimen of the Thingspiel, a form common for passion plays in Germany in the 1930s, most famously represented at Oberammergau. And as its sub-title indicates, Eggers presented his Job drama in the form of a mystery play common in medieval Christendom that dramatized key biblical episodes. The new mythical ideal it presented, however, centered around the confluence of the National Socialist warrior and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch. In his book The Home of the Strong (Die Heimat der Starken, 1938), Eggers speaks of the “high Nordic vision” of the Superman as animating Nazi ideology: “When the gods die, the Supermen accede as their heirs.” Indeed, some of the lines from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra would have fit quite well in Eggers’s Job play. Nietzsche there exalts the power of the will, which creates a new reality beyond humanity, beyond good and evil, and beyond the dead gods. Freedom can only be attained through the exercise of this will according to a new ethical code. So Zarathustra says, “Hail to you, my will! And only where there are graves are there resurrections” (Zweiter Teil, “Das Grablied”). And: “This new table, O my brothers, I place over you: Become hard!” (Dritter Teil, “Von alten und neuen Tafeln, 29”). This requires a warrior’s ethic: “Humanity is something which must be overcome. So live your life of obedience and of war. What is there to long life? Which warrior wants to be spared?” (Erster Teil, “Vom Krieg und Kriegsvolke”). And later: “What is good? To be valiant is good. The good war is that which makes every matter sacred” (Vierter Teil, “Gespräch mit den Königen, 2”). Nietzsche was very popular in Europe in the 1930s, and it is easy to see his influence on Eggers. But where Nietzsche speaks of the “will” (der Wille), Eggers uses the “soul” (die Seele) to indicate that same eternal and unquenchable force.
Critics of the play have been quick to draw attention to its flaws. Georg Langenhorst, for example, says that it represents a perversion of motifs from earlier Job plays, such as Ernst Wiechert’s Das Spiel vom deutschen Bettelmann, and that its connection to the biblical book of Job is coincidental and superficial. H.D. Mastag calls Eggers’s Job “a docile and colorless character” and “a puppet of a propagandistic mind.” Indeed, Job the German bears all the marks of a first work by a twenty-eight-year-old theologian-turned-propagandist. On the flyleaf of the book, one director praises the play for the strength of its basic moral idea. Aesthetically speaking, the idea is too strong. Job the German is a tour de force filled with Greek theological concepts, allusions to Nietzsche’s corpus and to Goethe’s Faust, and archaizing vocabulary and expressions. This should be unsurprising, however, for a young writer who is trying to make his mark on the new Reich, and especially for one whose ideal is Nietzsche’s Superman. It is shot through with the words “power,” “strength,” “battle,” “struggle,” and “war.” Yet Job the German is not devoid of aesthetic genius. Certain passages hold an eerily fascinating sort of power, and it is easy to imagine it casting a spell on German audiences in the 1930s.
In my opinion, it is Eggers’s perversions of the ancient mystery play, the German Thingspiel, and the biblical book of Job that make it worthy of study. For it is precisely these perversions that enable Eggers to turn Job into a Nazi warrior. As in Goethe’s Faust, the “bet” between God and Satan is central to the drama. In contrast to the biblical account, however, Job is informed of the intentions of “the evil enemy” by the archangel Michael. He is told in no uncertain terms that the fate of the entire world rests on his ability to overcome and emerge from the battle as victor. The book of Job thus becomes the retelling of a war of cosmic proportions. Because the struggle is between Job and Satan rather than Job and God, the “Lord of Glory,” as the play calls God, has a reduced role in the drama. He is present at the beginning of the play to make the bet with “the evil enemy” and at the end of the play to honor Job for his victory. But Satan, too, is present both at the beginning and the end. In the biblical depiction, the Adversary is present in the prologue but never shows up again. In Egger’s Job the German, however, Satan returns to the scene at the end of the play to be assigned to the eternal abyss. Job has wrestled and won. In the biblical book, Job’s wife also disappears after the first two chapters. In Job the German, however, she remains with Job throughout the play as a symbol of those who, in the face of ruin and ravage of land and nation, can only doubt, despair, and curse God. Job is her faithful counterpart, propping her up when she can’t go on and saving her in the end. Rather than cursing his conception and birth as in the biblical book, Job’s “outcry” in Job the German is a theodicy defending God’s purposes in the face of his wife’s unbelief.
Eggers’s intention to re-cast the biblical Job as a symbol of suffering and eventual triumph in the face of devastation and moral evil leads him to transform Job’s friends into three forms of “temptation” as well. So the play features not Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but Poverty, Pestilence, and Vice. Their role in the work is totally negative. The latecomer Elihu is also absent, though his perspective that suffering is pedagogical is echoed at times in the words of the archangel Michael. And finally, God’s speech to Job at the end of the play is not to humble him or to offer him a new perspective, as in the biblical book. Rather, God is more like a referee who declares the winner of a fight. He announces Job’s victory and crowns him king over his earthly Reich.
Even while Eggers’s transformation of Job is Nietzschean in flavor, it is worthwhile to note that he was hardly the first to present Job as a fighter who triumphs over Satan. As C.L. Seow has shown in his recent commentary on the book of Job, this tradition is prevalent in patristic literature from the turn of the Common Era up through the work of John Cassian (360-435 CE). Its earliest appearance is in the Greek Testament of Job, where an angel reveals to Job his impending struggle: “For you will be like a sparring athlete, both enduring pains and winning the crown” (4:10). This leads to a show-down between Job and Satan in chapter 27 of the Testament of Job, in which Job is able to wear Satan down through his patient persistence and finally pin him to the mat, despite being bruised and battered. Satan declares: “…you conquered my wrestling tactics which I brought on you” (27:5). Given Eggers’s training as a theologian, it is possible that his own presentation of the Job drama is a conscious adaptation of ancient Greek tradition into modern, Nietzschean terms.
The portrayal of Job as a German warrior, however, was hardly the only interpretive option available in Germany in 1933. For example, Ernst Wiechert’s Das Spiel vom deutschen Bettelmann (The Play about the German Beggar) was an anti-Nazi work broadcast on December 31, 1932. Job is not a heroic symbol of new hope for the post-war generation, but an icon of those who, through arrogance and blood-lust brought destruction and suffering on their own people in World War I. Wiechert would openly criticize the Nazis in a public address at the University of Munich on July 6, 1933, and would eventually be imprisoned in Buchwenwald concentration camp for his anti-Nazi sentiment. Wilhelm Vischer also treated the book of Job in a lecture in Augsburg on October 27, 1932, entitled “Hiob, ein Zeuge Jesu Christi” (“Job, a Witness to Jesus Christ”) This would be published the next year in Karl Barth’s journal, Zwischen den Zeiten, and again in the Bekennende Kirche (“Confessing Church”) monograph series in 1934. As the title suggests, Vischer depicts the suffering and lamenting Job as a witness to the suffering Son of Man to come, one who remains true even unto death.
Why, then, focus on Eggers’s pro-Nazi perversions of the book of Job, when other, more uplifting interpretations are available to us? It is certainly not to celebrate Nazi ideology or to overlook its ethical consequences by making the subject “merely academic.” It is only by facing the horrors of the past that we can hope to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. We must come to terms with the impact of religious texts — both good and ill — as a way of acknowledging their power and interpretive potential. This project of charting the impact of biblical texts is on the rise in academic biblical scholarship, and it goes by many names. A new biblical commentary series entitled Illuminations calls it the “history of consequences” as a way of underscoring that these interpretations were actively received and celebrated by some, but passively and painfully endured by others. Both, however, are historical consequences of the biblical tradition. According to its editors, this project “involve[s] works in various genres and media inspired by or reacting to the biblical tradition, appropriations of it in liturgy, explicit and implicit justifications for actions, polemics, conduct arising from encounters with it, and unwitting results — including nefarious consequences — of its use.” Eggers’s work is undoubtedly a nefarious consequence.
For obvious reasons, many of Eggers’s works were banned after World War II, and private ownership was forbidden. Even today in Germany, Job the German may only be found in a handful of academic libraries, and it is virtually unknown elsewhere. The primary aim of the following translation is to give the work wider circulation as a part of Job’s “history of consequences.” Hopefully, this will provide occasion for reflection on Eggers’s transformations of the biblical Job and the ethical ramifications of those transformations. I have made no attempt to reproduce rhyme scheme, preserve phonological effect, or imitate archaizing vocabulary. The translation is almost purely for sense. Others may be able to improve it in the future, and for that I would be grateful. Suggestions can be made in the comments section.
Kurt Eggers’ Das Spiel von Job dem Deutschen. Ein Mysterium.
Scott C. Jones’ translation, Job the German: A Mystery Play.
Baird, Jay W. “The Testament of Zarathustra: Kurt Eggers and the SS Ideal.” In idem, Hitler’s War Poets: Literature and Politics in the Third Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 208-253.
Eggers, K. Das Spiel von Hiob dem Deutschen. Ein Mysterium. Berlin-Südende: Volkschaft Verlag für Buch-Bühne und Film, 1933. [Uraufführung 16 November 1933, Cologne]
______. Der Tanz aus der Reihe. Dortmund: Volkschaft, 1939.
______. Die Heimat der Starken. Dortmund: Volkschaft, 1938.
Fischer-Lichte, E. Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring Forms of Political Theatre. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
Hillesheim, Jürgen, and Elisabeth Michael. Lexikon nationalsozialistischer Dichter: Biographien, Analysen, Bibliographien. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1993.
Kirk, Tim. Cassell’s Dictionary of Modern German History. London: Cassell, 2010.
Kolinsky, E., and Wilfried van der Will, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Modern German Culture. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Langenhorst, Georg. Hiob unser Zeitgenosse. Die literarische Hiob-Rezeption im 20. Jahrhundert als theologische Herausforderung. Mainz: Grünewald, 1994.
MacLean, Hector “The Job Drama in Modern Germany.” Journal of the Australasian Universities Modern Language and Literature Association 2 (1954): 13-20
Mastag, Horst Dieter. “The Transformations of Job in Modern German Literature.” Ph.D. diss., University of British Columbia, 1990.
Newsom, Carol A. “Dramaturgy and the Book of Job.” In Das Buch Hiob und seine Interpretationen. Ed. T. Krüger et al. AThANT 88. Zurich: TVZ, 2007, 375-393.
Nietzsche, F. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen. Leipzig: Alfred Kröner, 1930 [originally published 1883-1885]
Ritchie, J. M. German Literature Under National Socialism. London: C. Helm; Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books, 1983.
Seow, C. L. Job 1-21. Illuminations. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2013.
Vischer, Wilhelm. Hiob: Ein Zeuge Jesu Christi, 2d ed. Bekennende Kirche 8. Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1934 [lecture 27 October 1932, Augsburg]
Wiechert, Ernst. Das Spiel vom deutschen Bettelmann. Die Kleine Bücherei. Munich: Langen Müller, 1933 [radio broadcast, 31 December 1932]