Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Deconstruction of Job's Fundamentalism

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Deconstruction of Job's Fundamentalism

Article excerpt

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

The book of Job deals without compromise with the universal problem of human suffering. Remarkable is its ability to give to all of its characters their own voices with integrity. Such plurivocity in a work of fiction will be fully represented again only in very rare occurrences until Dostoevsky s mastership, more than two thousand years after Job's composition. The last chapters of the book, however, although without relaxation in the literary genius of the author, come as a surprise. YHWH, at long last, responds to Job's complaint-with what appears to be a crushing demonstration of power through a divine display of the creation's wonders. Job, already overburdened by bereavement, malady, deprivation, and despair, seems to be exposed to yet more aggravation. God appears more cruel even than the tormenting friends in the dialogical part. Job was able to refute their arguments, yet he is reduced to silence before God (40:4-5, "what shall I answer to you?").

My thesis is that this "firework" of the divine discourse in Job 38-41 does as much to reveal flaws in the created universe as to celebrate the wisdom of the Creator. Such wisdom is actually subversive to wisdom.1 That is why the sapiential framework of these chapters is broken-already by presenting the speech as a theophany-and allows for the untrue-to-form acknowledgment of an uncanny divine weakness. In this article, I argue that the grand divine demonstration is highly ambiguous. It reveals-to the extent that the creation does mirror the Creator's design-an originally all-powerful God who has chosen to struggle and suffer with the creation over against Job's expectations that God is fully in control and thus guilty of allowing evil to proliferate in the world. Job's rigid assessment of the divine is thereby challenged, and his ultimate response is appropriately one of repentance (42:6). From out of a faulty theological construct, Job is now invited to realize that God is not the omnipotent cosmocrator who manipulates at will the fate of creation as a whole, and the fate of Job in particular. A divine pathos permeates the "promenade in the garden." Creation is unfinished, in the sense that this creatio continua is striving toward perfection by elimination of all manifestations of evil-whose presence in the world, by the way, is the very condition for divine nonmanipulation and human freedom. Room for a divine-human synergism is secured to fight against the persistent evil. YHWH s response to Job and his suffering is most relevant and universal after all.

The reader of Job 38-41 is time and again struck by the apparent irrelevance of the divine discourse in response to Job's predicament. The taxonomic cortège of creatures, from the inanimate to the familiar animal world, and eventually to the more or less mythical monsters, seems to marginalize the suffering of the human, is the display of YHWHS creation merely ostentatious and vain? If it is just that, then it can be said that the poet suddenly has lost much of his poetic ingenuity after reaching a literary summit in the dialogical part of the book.2 Although such a stylistic or ideological failure remains within the range of possibilities, a closer reading of those enigmatic chapters may shed some light on God's retort that, I argue, has nothing to do with either divine ostentation or thematic irrelevance.

Although the dialogical part of the book is clearly sapiential, Job 38-41 constitutes a literary genre sui generis as it distances itself from the customary pattern of wisdom literature. True, God's address is also akin to wisdom but only partially so, if only because we are dealing with a theophany and, with Dermot Cox, we must stress that "theophanies have no real function in wisdom literature, where reason and experience, not revelation, are normative."3 In this respect, the divine discourse is framed with the same report that the dialogical deployment of sapience on the part of Job (and a fortiori the friends) has been "without knowledge," that is, without real wisdom. …

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