More than any other previous critical work, Inscrutable Malice: Theodicy, Eschatology, and the Biblical Sources of “Moby-Dick” illuminates the pervasive role of the Bible in shaping Melville’s iconic novel as well as his abiding preoccupation with the problem of evil. While elucidating the varied and extensive biblical sources of Moby-Dick, Cook identifies two dominant paradigms for the novel in the overlapping concepts of theodicy (the attempt to reconcile the goodness of God with the existence of evil) and eschatology (the discourse of the Christian end times, involving the final destruction of evil). Cook demonstrates Melville’s pervasive use of the book of Job — the key Old Testament text devoted to the issue of theodicy — in Moby-Dick’s representation of the theistically aggrieved Captain Ahab and of the deified White Whale he pursues, a modern version of Job’s chaos monster Leviathan. Job’s influence on Moby-Dick is complemented by a range of apocalyptic motifs from both the Old and New Testament, primarily from the book of Daniel, the gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the book of Revelation. Cook also examines the ongoing intellectual explorations of Melville’s narrator Ishmael, whose ambitious quest for knowledge of both cosmos and creation involves a reliance on Old Testament wisdom literature and a repudiation of New Testament metaphysics. Drawing on recent scholarship revealing the varied literary and mythic formulations of the Bible, Cook shows the inescapable influence in Moby-Dick of this central text in Western literature and culture — an influence overlooked in many contemporary studies of the novel. As a work of profound erudition and insight, Inscrutable Malice: Theodicy, Eschatology, and the Biblical Sources of “Moby-Dick” will appeal to both academic and common readers of Melville’s whaling masterpiece by providing a richly detailed guide to its religious and mythic subtexts.
Cook has accomplished the most precise, searching, and in-depth investigation of a subject whose importance cannot be overestimated for this particular author. Melville’s ‘saturation’ by the Bible has never before been explored with the exhaustive approach it warrants. This study’s extensive documentation alone will serve readers as a valuable resource, and Cook’s analysis of scripturally influenced subject matter in Melville’s narrative is unprecedented in scope and detail.
Moby-Dick has long been recognized as a landmark in American literary and religious history, but the goal of showing how these aspects of Melville’s novel are related has proved elusive. Through an inspired combination of biblical scholarship, comparative religion, intellectual history, and aesthetics with Melville’s own patterns of reading and intellectual inquiry, Jonathan Cook’s study illuminates brilliantly Moby-Dick’s status as both an exceptionally important artifact in religious history and a superb piece of literary art. Cook’s wide-ranging review of the scholarship on Moby-Dick and his clear prose style contribute to making this essential reading for anyone seeking to understand America’s most important novel, the religious context from which it emerged, and the history of intellectual engagement it has inspired.
—Brian Yothers, Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of Melville’s Mirrors: Literary Criticism and America’s Most Elusive Author