On Job: God is Evil


A while back on An und für sich, Adam Kotsko raised an interesting question about Job 42:10-17 and what exactly is going on with Job’s daughters in the epilogue. The exegetical, narrative, and moral question this moment raises are provocative and fascinating in themselves – as the discussion in the comment section demonstrates.

However, I wanted to lay out a thought that occurred to me based on something I read in the cited passage – something that I had completely missed in Job prior to coming across it on AUFS. As the title of this post suggests, this something is nothing less than reading that God is evil.

To quote the passage Kotsko cites:

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days. (Job 42:10-17)

This utterance is what I had been waiting for. “All the evil the Lord had brought upon him.” In the several commentaries and discussions of Job that I had used (Gutierrez, Brueggemann, Jantzen), none had, I felt, adequately dealt with the fact that in the prologue God allowed this shit to happen. Brueggemann evokes poignantly a divine crisis but seemingly vindicates God, Gutierrez skirts any proper discussion of it in favour of divine mystery; even more provocative and creative readings found in Catherine Keller and Christine Hayes – who raise the revelation of a new understanding of God in the tradition of natural religions – don’t seemingly reckon with the textual presence of the prologue and the epilogue – dismissing them as simple, parochial, idiosyncratic stories only goes so far.

It certainly only goes so far for me when there’s a roundedness that actually embraces the evilness of what God did to our protagonist. That God is tainted and Job vindicated; that divine crisis gives way to divine indebtedness (as the excessive gifting and the naming of Job’s new daughters suggests); that Job’s integrity is furthered by his refusing to be anything other than what he is and, in this way, more than God.

In many ways, I guess this places the Book of Job even more as an exilic or post-exilic text. Job is Israel, God is a bastard, and Israel despite all this shit will be what it is.

There’s still a lot to have at in Job: the seemingly new God in the final speech, Job’s moral materialism, the critique of ideology and so on. In my own mind, this narrative concession – that God has done evil – throws the interpretive plausibility of some of these (particularly the first) into question even more than I already felt they might be tenuous; but it does seem to offer a way for a more explicitly radical theological reading were transcendence has been emptied, divinity is in our debt, and we have now discovered that we can leave it aside.

God is evil. God is dead.

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