An Excerpt from René Girard's Job: The Victim of His People (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), pages 154-168.

21

The God of Victims

The God of the Gospels is clearly a candidate for the role of the God of victims. The Father sends his Son into the world to defend the victims, the poor, and the disinherited. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus calls both himself and the Holy Ghost a Paraclete. The word signifies advocate for the defense in a law-court. It should be compared with the word that the Jerusalem Bible translates as "avenger" in the last text of Job I quoted, the Hebrew word goel, a legal term with a similar significance.

Jesus is systematically presented as the Avenger of victims. He proclaims that we cannot come to the aid of the least among them without coming to his aid, too. We cannot refuse to give aid without also refusing it to him.

Is the God of the Gospels the God of victims? The title is not necessarily warranted simply because it is claimed. It is appropriate to consider whether the logic of this God that has so far escaped us is truly developed in the Gospels.

As we have seen, a God of victims cannot impose his will on men without ceasing to exist. He would have to resort to a violence more violent than that of the wicked. He would again become the God of persecutors, supposing he had ever ceased to be. Every persecutor believes he knows the true God of victims: for them he is their persecuting divinity.

If there is a God of victims, we cannot count on him to bring about a world that everyone would agree to call just. Otherwise, the agreement of men is based on poor reasons. Even their most pacific agreement is mixed with mimesis. However just, their injustice is mixed with vengeance, which again is another word for mimesis.

When Job proves that justice does not hold sway in the world, when he says that the sort of retribution Eliphaz implies does not exist for most men, he thinks he is attacking the very concept of God. But in the Gospels, Jesus very explicitly claims as his own all Job's criticisms of retribution. And clearly the conclusion is not atheism:

It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, "Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did." (Luke 13:1-5)
According to the Jerusalem Bible, "the meaning of both is clear; sin is not the immediate cause of this or that calamity" (Note 13a to Luke 13:1-5). The atheists who take up Job's arguments against retribution are closer to the Gospels than Christians who are tempted to use the arguments of Eliphaz in favor of that same retribution. There is no necessary connection between the evils that strike men and any specific judgement of God.

Persecutions are real persecutions and accidents are real accidents. As for hereditary weaknesses, that is all they are -- hereditary weaknesses. Because they attract the attention of persecutors, they are always seen as the sign of divine condemnation. Jesus rejects such a religion. To the disciples who ask him whether the blind man was born blind because either his parents or he had sinned, Jesus answers: "Neither he nor his parents sinned . . . he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9: 2-3).

All the parables have much the same meaning. God always plays the role of the absent master, the owner who has gone on a long journey. He leaves the field free for his servants, who prove themselves either faithful or unfaithful, efficient or timid. He does not allow the wheat to be separated from the tares, even to encourage the growth of good grain, whereas Aeschylus does the reverse. God makes his sun shine and his rain fall on the just as well as on the unjust. He does not arbitrate the quarrels of brothers. He knows what human justice is.

Does this mean that the God of victims is some kind of lazy god who refuses to intervene in the world, the deus otiosus, traces of whom are believed by certain ethnologists to be found in the pantheons of many primitive religions, the god to whom no sacrifice is made because he can do nothing for men?

Absolutely not. This God spares nothing in order to rescue victims. But if he cannot force men, what can he do? First he tries to persuade them. He shows them that they are dedicating themselves to scandal by their desires that are crisscrossed and thwarted by imitation.

Jesus enjoins men to imitate him and seek the glory that comes from God, instead of that which comes from men. He shows them that mimetic rivalries can lead only to murders and death. He reveals the role of the scapegoat mechanism in their own cultural system. He does not even conceal from them that they are dependent on all the collective murders committed "since the beginning of the world," the generative murders of that same world. He demands that they recognize the sons of Satan, devoted to the same lie as their father, the accuser, "murderer since the beginning."

Jesus scarcely convinces anyone. His revelation receives just enough acceptance to invite suppression by whose who hear it. By revealing the truth, Jesus threatens the domination of Satan, the accuser, who in turn exerts on him the greater force of the unanimous mimesis of the accusation, the scapegoat mechanism. He becomes, inevitably, the victim of that same satanic force that, as accuser and persecutor, controls the world and has already killed all the prophets from Abel to the last victim mentioned in the Bible.

And that is what happens. All hate with one soul. Like Job, Jesus is condemned without being guilty and, this time, it is he who becomes the "bloodshed for bloodshed . . . given our state to prey upon." Thus yet again there is reproduced, in the Passion, "the ancient trail" that we have been discussing from the beginning.

If the God of victims intervenes on their behalf in the human world, then he cannot "succeed." All that can happen to him is what happens to Jesus and has already happened to Job and all the prophets. Jesus must find himself in Job's place, and not by chance. He is as innocent as Job and even more so, but by revealing how the world functions, he threatens its foundations more seriously than Job. That he finds himself in the position of a single victim results from a rigorous logic.

For an understanding of that logic, we must consider the implications of violent unanimity when it occurs. In that fundamental moment for human culture, there are only persecutors and a victim confronting them. There is no third position, no way out. Where would the God of victims be, if he were to find himself among men at that point in time? Obviously he would not be on the side of the persecutors, so he would have to be the victim. Rather than inflict violence, the Paraclete would prefer to suffer.

Christ is the God of victims primarily because he shares their lot until the end. It takes little thought to realize that nothing else is possible. If the logic of this God shares nothing in common with that of the God of persecution and its mystifying mimesis, the only possible means of intervention in the world is that illustrated by the Gospels.

According to the logic of the world, which is also that of the God of persecution and his cohorts, the failure is total. It would be better not to intervene at all than to choose this method of intervention. This God is worse than otiosus. He is the most miserable, ridiculous, least powerful of all the gods. It is not surprising that his "impact" on the world decreases the less he is confused with the God of Eliphaz.

This God cannot act with a strong hand in a way that men would consider divine. When men worship him they are almost always, unwittingly, honoring the God of persecutors. This God does not reign over the world. Neither he nor his real name is sanctified. His will is not obeyed.

Do I exaggerate this God's impotence? I am only repeating, verbatim, the words of Jesus to his Father:

Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This prayer would make no sense if the divine will -- while remaining divine in the sense of the God of victims, while remaining itself -- could break the obstacle created by men's will.

These words are prayers. God does not reign, but he will reign. He reigns already for those who have accepted him. Through the intermediary of those who imitate him and imitate the Father, the Kingdom is already among us. It is a seed that comes from Jesus and that the world cannot expel, even if it does all it can.

Another proof that God does not claim to rule over the world is that he reveals its king to us, and it is not himself but his adversary who is always eagerly in pursuit -- Satan, the accuser and the persecutor. A little thought reveals that the defender of victims, the Paraclete, must have as adversary the prince of this world, but does not oppose him with violence.
 

The teaching of Jesus and the Passion in the Gospels constitute the strict development of a paradoxical logic. Jesus wants nothing to do with all that makes someone divine in the eyes of men: the power to seduce or constrain, the ability to make oneself indispensable.

He would seem to want the very opposite. In reality, it is not that he desires failure but that he will not avoid it if that is the only way he may remain true to the Logos of the God of victims. He is not secretly motivated by a taste for failure, but rather by the logic of the God of victims that unerringly leads him to death.

This logic permeates the Gospels through and through. The way it works is presented as a manifestation of the divine that is still hidden and radically different from the sacred of the persecutors. We are, then, confronted with yet another paradoxical aspect of the Logos of victims.

In a world of violence, divinity purified of every act of violence must be revealed by means of the event that already provides the sacrificial religion with its generative mechanism. The epiphany of the God of victims follows the same "ancient trail" and goes through the exact same phases as all the epiphanies of the sacred of persecutors. As a result, from the perspective of violence, there is absolutely no distinction between the God of victims and the God of persecutors. Our pseudoscience of religions is based entirely on the conviction that there is no essential difference between the different religions.

This confusion has affected historical Christianity and, to a certain degree, determined it. Those who are opposed to Christianity today endeavor to perpetuate it by clinging desperately to the most sacrificial theology in order not to lose that which nourishes it and to be able always to say: Christianity is only one among many religions of violence, and possibly the worst of them.

The Logos of the God of victims is almost invisible in the eyes of the world. When men reflect on the way in which Jesus conducts his enterprise, they see little other than his failure, and this they see ever more clearly so that, inevitably, it is perceived as definitive and final.

Instead of denying that failure, Christian theology affirms it in order to convert it into a startling victory. Death becomes resurrection. The Logos that has been expelled "makes it possible to become children of God" for all those who did not expel it, all who "receive" him or -- what amounts to the same -- any victim rejected by men. The expulsion of the Logos is the beginning of the end of the "reign of Satan." Defeat in the world is really victory over the world.

The wisdom of the world sees in this reversal a deception that is easily demystified. Thus one says this is a compensatory figment of the imagination, an imaginary revenge on an uncompromising reality. Many modern Christians are more or less openly in agreement with this interpretation.

If Jesus' defeat were turned into a victory only in the afterworld, the question would be totally one of religious belief or disbelief. From our perspective, there would be nothing to add.

But according to the Gospels, the very world is threatened and the kingdom of Satan is about to disintegrate. If these words are in agreement with the Logos of the God of victims, then they must hold some significance within the context of our analyses.

It can be shown -- or rather, we have just shown -- that in fact these words have a meaning in the domain we are currently studying, the comparative analysis of religious texts. They are quite different from the imaginary revenge postulated by those who remain blind to the Logos of victims. The demystification they think they achieve is merely another scapegoat mystification.

Here and now, on the plane of ethnological and religious texts, the victorious reversal of the Passion provides us with something tangible that can be understood rationally. To understand this, one need only return to the exegetical advance in progress and extract from it the essential result.

We have discovered, at the heart of every religion, the same single central event that generates its mythical significance and its ritual acts: the action of a crowd as it turns on someone it adored yesterday, and may adore again tomorrow, and transforms him into a scapegoat in order to secure by his death a period of peace for the community.

This central event is decisive and yet so little known that there are no words to describe it. The human and social sciences have never discovered it. In order to describe it, we have borrowed the periphrases of the texts we were reading: "the ancient trail trodden by the wicked . . . the bloodshed for bloodshed given our state to prey on . . ."

This event is also present in the Gospels, but on this occasion it does not just appear in transit: it is not only clearly described, but named. It is called the Passion. Jesus is the perfect victim, because he has always spoken and behaved in accordance with the Logos of the God of victims. He provides the only perfect image of the event which is at the root of all our myths and religions.

The passages of the Dialogues I have quoted form an amazing sequence that is very similar to what is called the "public life" of Jesus, the "public life" to which the Crucifixion, of course, belonged.

Job and Jesus differ on many points, but they are alike in that both tell the truth about what is happening to them. The resemblance lies not so much in the individuals as in the relationship of these individuals to the people around them. For reasons that are different but similar in result, it is the same for Job face to face with his people as it is for Jesus face to face with the crowds in Jerusalem and the ,various authorities who finally crucify him.

Like Job, Jesus enjoys a period of great popularity. The crowd wants to make him a kind of king, until the day when, through the mimesis of persecution, it turns against its idol with the same unanimity as Job's community did against him. The hour of violent unanimity has struck, the hour of absolute solitude for the victim. Friends, relatives, neighbours, all those whom Jesus has most helped, those he has cured, those he has saved, the disciples most dear to him -- all of them leave him alone and, at least passively, join in society's outburst.

In the first texts I quoted, Job's neighbours, his servants, his slaves and even his wife criticize him, abandon him and ill-treat him. This is much the same as the agony of Jesus. It is the same effort on the part of the authorities, represented in the Dialogues by the friends, to make Job confess his guilt; and the same effort to consolidate the hostile opposition to the suspect.

In order to perceive the structural resemblances of the two relationships, we must see what they have in common and ignore the anecdotal and local differences. (My reference is to events, not to people.)

If the Christian text is allowed to intervene in the interpretation of the Dialogues, we immediately achieve decisive results. The futility of the boils and the lost cattle is apparent. The incredible originality of the Dialogues becomes more visible. The enigma of this text comes to light. And the Gospels provide what is needed to resolve that enigma, the knowledge of the Passion that is responsible for the essential articulation of the text, and reveals the true nature of the drama of Job's life.

Everything that Job's readers, with the help of the prologue and the epilogue, have managed not to see for two thousand years or more we will be forced to see through the accounts of the Passion, unless we yet again barricade ourselves against its message.

But this time, the meaning will penetrate. It is easy to fail to understand the experience encountered in reading only the Book of Job. But once we recognize the similarities between the experience of Jesus and those of the scapegoat Job, they cannot be forgotten.

The accounts of the Passion gather into one tight bundle all the threads of a structure scattered throughout Job. In the Gospels there are no cattle to distract us, no ostrich or hippopotamus to play hide-and-seek with the real problem.

If I have managed to recognize in Job a crowd that turns on its former idol and gathers in unanimity against a scapegoat -- a sinister trial intended to stifle Job's protests -- and if I attach importance to these aspects, if I emphasize them by drawing out their social and religious drama, it is because I have been guided from the beginning by the accounts of the Passion.

By this I do not mean that during these analyses, the Passion was explicitly present in my mind. That is not necessary. Whether we like it or not, the Passion is a part of our cultural horizon: it provides, as scholars would say, the "structural model" through which the Dialogues can become ever more legible.

When we examine the Book of Job in the light of the Passion, we are immediately able to isolate the essential text, the Dialogues. The excrescences are no longer apparent that cling like warts to the face of Job and prevent us from perceiving the beauty, from discarding what is parasitical in the message about the scapegoat -- all that conceals the guilt of all men, including our own, in seeking out scapegoats: the satanic principle on which not only this community, but all human communities are based.
 

There is an anthropological dimension to the text of the Gospels. I have never claimed that it constitutes the entirety of Christian revelation, but without it Christianity could scarcely be truly itself, and would be incoherent in areas where it need not be. Without this dimension, an essential aspect of the very humanity of Christ, his incarnation, would be missing; we would not perceive fully in Christ the victim of the men we all represent, and there would be the risk of relapsing into the religion of persecution.

For the Dialogues to be interpreted as they should, as I have already mentioned, we must choose the side of the victim against the persecutors, identify with him, and accept what he says as truth . . . As it has come down to us, the Book of Job does not insist enough on our hearing the complaint of Job: many things divert us from the crucial texts, deforming and neutralizing them with our secret complicity.

We need, therefore, another text, something else, or rather someone else to come to our aid: the text of the Passion, Christ, is the one to help us understand Job, because Christ completes what Job only half achieves, and that is paradoxically what in the context of the world is his own disaster, the Passion that will soon be inscribed in the text of the Gospels.

For the true significance of the Dialogues to become apparent we must follow the recommendation of the Gospels: pay attention to the victim, come to his aid, take note of what he says. Following the example of the Gospel text, Job's complaints must become the anchor for every interpretation and, very quickly, we will understand why Job speaks as he does, we will recognize his role as scapegoat, the double phenomenon of the crowd, the myth of the celestial armies, and the true nature of the social and religious mechanism that prepares to devour another victim. We can see how everything is linked and organized with extraordinary precision.

The only true reading is that in which Job's outcry becomes the indestructible rock of interpretation; but only through the Gospels can it be developed, only the Spirit of Christ permits the defense of the victim: he is therefore truly the Paraclete.

Most interpreters have always suspected that to do justice to the Book of Job, one must take the part of the unfortunate. Everyone therefore tries to defend Job, identify with him and praise him.

It would not be an exaggeration to identify this as the aim of the additions to the text, but they all fall short of that aim because of their lack of understanding of the community's role in Job's misfortune. Subsequent interpreters fall equally short, and will continue to do so as long as they do not turn to the one on whom even Job calls in the supreme moment of the Dialogues: the defender who is found at God's side, whom Christianity says is God himself, the Paraclete, the all-powerful advocate of all wrongfully condemned victims.

In saying this, it becomes clear that we are not dreaming, we are not falling into "compensatory illusions." The symbols we are using are actually in the text since they resolve the problems, rehabilitate the victims, free the prisoners and, above all, reveal that the God of this world is truly the accuser, Satan, the very first murderer. By coming to the help of Job and reinforcing the revelation of this unusual victim who is Christ, we are striking a death blow to a world system that can be traced in a straight line back to the most primitive forms of violence against scapegoats, the persecution of Job and the murder of "Abel, the righteous."

For centuries, now, the Passion has turned itself about as a triumph at the level of cultural understanding. It provides the interpretative grid by means of which we prevent texts of persecution from crystallizing into sacrificial mythology. In our own time all modernist culture, that bastion of anti-Christianity, begins to disintegrate on contact with the Gospel text. We owe all the real progress we have made in interpreting cultural phenomena to that one Revelation whose effect continues to deepen among us.

Far from being too ridiculous to be worthy of attention, the Christian idea that out of Christ's defeat comes victory has already been realized among us in the collapse of the culture of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche and in the heightened crisis of all the values that the post-Christian era believed were successful in their opposition to Christianity. "The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone."

The relevance of the Christian text to the interpretation of Job has always been recognized, vaguely, by the doctrine that makes of the work a "prophetic" book in the Christian sense, a book that heralds and prefigures Christ. The depth of this doctrine is apparent only in its earliest applications, the Gospels and the epistles of Paul. As we move forward in time and as these applications are multiplied in the Middle Ages, they become increasingly superficial.

The "allegorical" readings are wrong in that they are satisfied with similarities between simple words, common names and even proper names, characters isolated from their context and thought to be prophetic of Christ because they are morally exemplary.

The more intellectually and materially comfortable Christianity became, the less it retained the memory of mimetic relationships between men and the processes that result. Hence the tendency of the early Christian exegetes to fabricate an imaginary Job who passes for a prefiguration of Christ for his moral goodness and his virtues, especially for his patience, even though Job in reality was the personification of impatience.

It is easy to ridicule the Christian concept of the prophetic. Yet, like all authentically Christian ideas, the figure Christi reveals a great truth, one that has been gradually discredited so that in our day it is completely rejected by Christians themselves, who alone are responsible for its relative sterility. They did not know how to take hold of the idea concretely and rhake it truly useful. On this point, as on so many others, the inability to maintain the Logos of the God of victims in all its purity paralyses the revelation. It contaminates with violence the nonviolence of the Logos and makes the latter a dead letter.

The truth of prophecy in the Christian sense appears from the moment mimetic processes are emphasized rather than characters treated as Christ figures.

Job foretells Christ in his participation in the struggle against the God of persecutors. He foretells Christ when he reveals the scapegoat phenomenon that envelopes him, when he attacks the system of retribution, and above all when he briefly eludes the logic of violence and the sacred in the two last texts quoted.

Job goes a long way along the path that leads from one logic to the other, from one divinity to the other. But he cannot really swing from one system into the other. Thus the solution that perceives in him a "prefiguration," of Christ seems to me the most profound -- providing, of course, the concept is supported by analyses that emphasize human relationships, as instructed by the Gospels.

The "prophetic" becomes significant at the heart of an approach that is in no way retrogressive to "traditional values," in the face of what would be the audacity of the modern subversive and critique du soupçon. For a new approach to the Christian text, that criticism must be radicalized: which is precisely the effect of the mimetic-scapegoat thesis. It cannot be said to make use of established values. There is nothing about it that is "pious" in the traditional sense of the word.

Nothing is both more disturbing and more exciting than the irresistible resurgence of the Christian text, at a time and place when it is least anticipated.

In the New Testament, particularly Luke, knowledge of Christ is frequently achieved in two phases. There is a first contact that results from a movement of cu:iosity and a purely superficial sympathy.

This is followed by disenchantment and disaffection. The disciple who is not completely converted feels he has been mistaken and distances himself. This movement of retreat will not be stopped, it is truly without return; yet it will put the person who despairs in contact with the truth, but a truth so profound that it is transfigured.

The eunuch of Queen Candace came to Jerusalem to have the Gospels explained to him. He returns discouraged, for he does not yet know who could be the Servant of Yahweh in the Book of Isaiah, that unjustly condemned scapegoat who saves the community. But Philip happens to come along and explains to him that Christ is the person in question. After being baptized, the eunuch "went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:26-40).

There is the same movement in the story of Emmaus. Two disciples are leaving Jerusalem after the Passion and are talking on the way about the collapse of their hope. Here again is the same attitude of skeptical and suspicious discouragement with regard to a revelation that has clearly failed. The discouragement even brings about its own reversal: at the destructive moment of suspicious criticism, suddenly Christ is walking with the disciples and explaining to them the Scriptures. But "their eyes were prevented from recognizing him."

We may one day understand that the entire history of Western thought conforms to the model of these two stories and to a third similar one, also found in Luke: that of the Prodigal Son.

Of these three texts, by far the most precious for those of us who spend so much time writing commentaries on them, interpreting them and comparing them, is the one about the road to Emmaus. It seems orientated towards the "work of the text"; it does not even forget to include the rewards of this work, which the interpreter receives when the light finally dawns, coldly and even, in one sense, implacably rational and at the same time just the contrary, unacceptable in the world's eyes, mad, truly demented, since it speaks of Christ, since Christ speaks through it, since it emphatically validates the most apparently absurd hopes, hopes that are considered culpable in our day. Does it not suggest that all our real desires are gratified simultaneously?

Then they said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)