Excerpt from The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job, edited by Leo G. Perdue and W. Clark Gilpin, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992, pages 185-207.



René Girard

The book of Job poses considerable problems as to its unity. It begins and ends in a fashion very different from that of its middle section. It is common to speak of this beginning and ending as a folktale serving as a kind of frame that was gradually filled in with very different material. The folktale served as a point of departure or a pretext for a theological debate that was more sophisticated than the tale but still very uneven. Modern commentators have always been more or less in agreement in preferring the discourse of Job himself over the speeches of the three friends. But they interpreted this superiority in a very different manner. Concerning the faith involved in Job's repentance in extremis, the pious past accentuated the final acceptance of the hero. They saw an unfortunate subjectivity in the vehement complaints of Job, an interior expression of rebellion that could be admired without danger because it is mastered in the end.

In the end this thesis remains faithful to the basic position of what has been called the folktale: Job represents patience rewarded. But it has the major drawback of minimizing the central part of the work, the part that moves us the most, and for reasons that remain enigmatic.

The modern adversaries of this traditional thesis -- whether we are religious or not -- have little difficulty in showing its incoherence, which is somewhat the incoherence of the text itself. Carried along by the force of his own discourse, Job finishes by complaining to God with such violence that one may ask whether Satan has not won his bet, whether he has not made the afflicted Job curse God. This is just what the four friends think who try to persuade Job to have a more humble and submissive attitude. They reproach him for his rebellion, and they see in Job's insolence the fault that justifies his punishment, satanic pride and the will to independence.

Our centuries of revolt and unbelief see in the author of the central section of Job a precursor of their own vision. The suffering of the innocent leads us to put all religion and God himself on trial. Job would surely suspect what is absurd and even abject in a religious faith that is always led to justify God against human beings and particularly to counsel patience to the oppressed, the famous patience that appears so admirable to conventional readers. The book of Job would thus be a naive theodicy that would serve as a paradoxical pretext to its contrary, the questioning of this theodicy, and from there the shaking up of religion, which modern interpreters consider the necessary goal of all sincere reflection on the misfortune of human beings.

So concerning what is essential in the book of Job, there are two responses. The first is the patience of Job, his obedience to the will of God. The second, the modern response, is Job the rebel, Job the protester en route toward the virulent atheism of the contemporary Western world.

The second response has the advantage of placing emphasis on the central and better section of the work, the speeches of Job before his final submission. But does it correctly understand what Job says? It poses the problem in exactly the same fashion as the traditional reading, but it inverts the response. It sees in Job a man essentially maltreated by God, troubled by God, or, one should say, since those responding in this way do not believe in God, it sees in him a man who suffers for reasons totally independent both of what he is himself and of the others around him. He is a victim of evils totally exterior to the will of humans, to human action in the world.

Neither thesis succeeds in escaping the folktale. Satan cannot act except with the permission of God. When all is said and done, he is a divine agent, and the real debate of the book bears upon the suffering of the innocent. If God exists, then it is surely he who treats us as he treated Job when we lose our children and our wealth, when we are afflicted with some horrible bodily malady. The cause of Job's suffering is exterior not only to Job but also to those around him, his family and his friends. The fact that we are perpetually threatened by such ills demonstrates the nonexistence of a just and good God and the folly of religion.

The complaints of Job do not justify the second thesis any more than the first. It is true that Job suffers enormously, but he never complains of the ills that come to him from outside -- the loss of his children, his disease, all the uncontrollable misfortunes that struck him like lightning and from which no one is really protected. He complains first of all and above all about the persons surrounding him, about his relatives, about whoever remains of his family, about his entire village (19:13-20).

The principal suffering comes from these others who condemn Job without exception and say he is justly punished. Job himself says that what God gave he will take back; we left our mother's womb stark naked, and we shall be buried that way. All that is still tolerable; intolerable, however, is what is added to these ills: the universal disapproval that they bring about, the mockery, the insults, the universal ostracism. The most terrible thing is to be the last of the last. Job is treated like a scapegoat even by the traditional scapegoats of the society he was dominating. He has become the pariah even of those who are treated as pariahs. He is despised and rejected by a sort of minority group, a subproletariat. Even though we cannot exactly identify the latter, it resembles the persecuted minorities in all ancient and modern societies (see 30:1-6, 9-10).

Finally, Job has the impression that the entire world turns against him. Even the objects most intimately belonging to him are dealt with in a scapegoating manner: "My very clothes recoil from me" (9:31 JB). Far from being the exception in this extraordinary concert of bad treatment, the interlocutors of Job, supposedly his friends, add to the oppression of the sufferer. They do not speak the words Job would need in order to assuage his misfortune; they are not helpful -- this is the least one can say. They are the friends of happy days, like those wadis that overflow when no one needs them and do not provide even a drop of water in time of drought in order to quench the thirst of the traveler in distress. Very quickly the tone rises from one friend to the other. The more Job attempts to justify himself against the friends, the more they attempt to justify themselves against him, that is, to prove that he is not an arbitrary victim of his ills; his children, they say, or Job himself must have committed concealed crimes that have provoked the punitive action of God. There is less and less difference between the coarsely persecutory behavior of the crowd and the behavior of the so-called friends; there is simply more method in the latters' argumentation. Those that seize upon Job, following the example of the people, formerly flattered him, always after the example of people. They saw in him the chosen one of the Almighty. That is why Job can say to them, "No doubt you are the people" (12:2 RSV). Vox populi vox Dei. Job sees himself, therefore, confronted with an infallible coalition. It is necessary to insist upon this unanimity; it constitutes the essential structural feature of the phenomenon that is described for us, that of the scapegoat.

And this phenomenon is especially clear; it occurs here as it occurs in Greek tragedy. Job himself describes his own happiness in the period that preceded his misfortune; like Oedipus, Job passes from an excess of good fortune to an excess of misfortune. The resemblance between what is produced here and what is produced in Sophocles is striking. The quasi-royal grandeur of Job prior to his misfortune gave him the status of arbiter and judge of the community, a sort of prophet, a sacred personage. The behavior toward him was exactly the reverse of what has come about since:

Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
in the days when God watched over me:
when I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent.

When I went out to the gate of the city,

when I took my seat in the square,
the young men saw me and withdrew,
and the aged rose up and stood;
the nobles refrained from talking,
and laid their hands on their mouths;
the voices of princes were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. (29:2-4, 7-10 NRSV)
Just as the individual rejected by God is none other than the individual rejected by fellow humans, the individual favored by God s is none other than the chosen one of the community. The God that Job becomes occasionally capable of repudiating is no longer completely an idol, but he maintains the fundamentally idolatrous character of the God of the crowd. The adage vox populi vox Dei must be understood in two senses, for if the voice of the people is the voice of God, so also the voice of God is the voice of the people. This is indeed the god of Greek tragedy, the god that is purely and simply one with the decisions of the crowd -- now exalting Job because he succeeds at everything, now putting him lower than the dirt because misfortunes have struck him. But the crowd never understands itself as taking these decisions. It does not know it takes them, for they are purely mimetic; they are taken automatically by reciprocal contagion, and their accumulative effect is so rapid, spectacular, and terrifying in its consequences that it appears simply to be an act of God.

The exegetes have generally observed that what Job emphasizes recalls the penitential psalms, and this is not astonishing since the one persecuted by the group speaks as he is surrounded by the menacing circle of his persecutors. There, indeed, is the formidable novelty of the prophetic spirit. These psalms present not simply any victim, nor a victim in the style of Oedipus who quickly agrees with his persecutors, but a victim who defends the justice of his cause, who dares stand against the collective will (Ps. 31:11-13).

Certain psalms mention not only declared enemies but also friends supposedly true, who end up by joining the enemies of the victim and are thus the crowning blow of his sufferings. This is indeed what characterizes the scapegoating process: Beginning at the moment that the persecution acquires a collective character, it exercises an irresistible attraction upon those who in principle should remain faithful to the victim and support him in his distress -- his relatives, his wife, his intimate friends, his domestic animals. This distress is as individualizing as possible since it separates the one who suffers from all the others, whereas there is something impersonal and mechanical about the persecutors. The proof of this is that the mechanism is described in the same fashion both in Job and in the psalms that greatly resemble Job, not necessarily because these psalms are influenced by Job, but because it is a universal and terribly banal mechanism that they describe. Therefore we have here texts that, for the first time, allow the victim to speak in the midst of his persecutors, in place of giving the usual mythological point of view of the persecutors concerning a victim who is perceived as guilty.

My enemies wonder in malice
when I will die, and my name perish.
And when they come to see me, they utter empty words,
while their hearts gather mischief;
when they go out, they tell it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.
They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me,
that I will not rise again from where I lie.
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me. (Ps. 41:5-9 NRSV)
In his second discourse Eliphaz the Temanite reproaches Job for responding with reasons floating in the air, for filling himself with the east wind, for speaking vainly and ruining piety. Eliphaz thinks that the very arrogance of his discourse condemns Job and reveals his culpability. The very fact that he defends himself is culpable; his defense itself demonstrates the contrary of the innocence he asserts. In order to lessen the gravity of his case, Job would do better to accommodate himself and come to agreement with his accusers. Job responds:
I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?
Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?
I also could talk as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you,
and shake my head at you.
I could encourage you with my mouth,
and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.
If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?
Surely now God has worn me out;
he has made desolate all my company.
And he has shriveled me up,
which is a witness against me;
my leanness has risen up against me,
and it testifies to my face.
He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.
They have gaped at me with their mouths;
they have struck me insolently on the cheek;
they mass themselves together against me.
God gives me up to the ungodly,and casts me into the hands of the wicked. (16:2-11 NRSV)
If I am right, Job is a scapegoat in the current sense, that is, in the sense that neither the four friends of Job nor those who persecute or ridicule him understand him, since they take him to be justly punished and responsible for his own misfortune. Job sometimes declares himself not responsible, and he protests his innocence. But the theology of the four friends is nothing but an expression, a little more refined and evolved, of the theology of violence and the sacred. Any sufferer could not suffer except for a good reason in a universe governed by divine justice. He is therefore punished by God, and pious conduct for those surrounding him consists in their conformity with the divine judgment, treating him as guilty and so multiplying further his sufferings. This is indeed the theology of the hidden scapegoat. Every sufferer must finally be guilty because every guilty person ends up by falling into misfortune, and if God delays a little too long in executing his justice, human beings will take it upon themselves to speed up the process. Everything is thus for the best in the best of worlds.

I must dwell here on archaic religious survivals that continue in the discourse of the four friends, and in particular in the three first ones. By archaic I do not mean that they are necessarily extremely ancient or that this theology has not continued intact until a recent era in numerous societies, but that they are archaic in relation to the end toward which the entire Bible directs itself. These survivals are accents that recall the great maledictions of all the primitive religions and that one finds also in Greek tragedy. We find these maledictions also in the prophets, but it is not upon the individual victim that they fall but upon the persecuting community that is unfaithful to the Law.

The evil one is cursed by God, and the worst disasters will certainly befall him. And when the friends of Job speak to him, they evoke plague, the sword, fire, flood, famine, and poison (see 20:22-29).

Here it is God alone who directs all this, but the evils that bear down on Job are all in the plural, and they range about him in a circle like a hostile mob that harasses him as the three friends are doing. God alone in principle directs this attack, but one senses the hostile crowd behind the attack.

In order to convince Job that he is wrong, the three experienced twaddlers are not able to muster up anything except to celebrate anew their litany of ritual maledictions. For example, the last discourse of Zophar the Naamathite, an extraordinary text, contains once more all the elements of the primitive game, with disasters of all sorts, terrifying visions, whirlwinds and tornadoes, hordes of nomads, and finally:

The womb that shaped him forgets him
and his name is recalled no longer.
Thus wickedness is blasted as a tree is struck. (24:20 JB)
This recalls the striking down of mythological figures, Semele or the Titans destroyed by Zeus.

In his second speech Bildad the Shuhite describes the destruction of the wicked in terms that are consistently religious and that so closely resemble the misfortunes striking Job that one is obliged to ask whether these misfortunes are not a reprise of the fate traditionally ascribed to the one accursed of God; perhaps the entire text is a deconstruction of a very old myth that made of Job one truly guilty of offending against the mythical order. So, as Bildad finally says, to purify the places polluted by his presence, "People scatter brimstone on his holding" (18:15 JB).

What makes the interpretation of Job so difficult is that the theology of the three friends, in a form scarcely less primitive than the preceding citations, remains very potent in our own time. It is still very powerful in all the traditional churches; it is also strong in the modern anti-religion, which is avidly attached to this theology in order to make a weapon of it against the very existence of God. But it remains powerful also in the language of Job. In a segment of his complaints Job attributes to God himself the blows that strike him, without any longer distinguishing those that come from without and those that come from the friends. Therefore, he ends by describing himself as a scapegoat not only of the community but also of God; that is to say, he utilizes, in order to defend himself, a language that too closely resembles the language used against him by his adversaries. The effect of his use of his opponents' language is to confuse the commentators.

In the first passage cited, where Job presents himself as the victim ~of all his neighbors, of his friends and his relatives, he continues in r~peaking to his friends:

Pity me, pity me, you, my friends,
for the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you hound me down like God,
will you never have enough of my flesh? (19:21-22 JB)
This passage is quite revealing, as it places precisely on the same plane the punishment from God and the punishment from humans, and in order to put them on the same level Job must distinguish them. But in other passages Job no longer distinguishes them and speaks exactly like his friends. There is, then, in Job's discourses too much confusion with a purely social notion of God, that of a divinity who necessarily participates in the misfortune of the sufferer, in punishing those who suffer, in rendering the helpless helpless; this is a divinity who is the same as "fate," the Nemesis of the Greeks, and who in Job is called "the first-born of death" (18:13 RSV). Sometimes Job places God at the side of the false friends, those who cause him distress. This is particularly clear in the following passage:
How long will you torment me,
and break me in pieces with words?

If indeed you magnify yourselves against me,

and make my humiliation an argument against me,
know then that God has put me in the wrong,
and closed his net around me.
Even when I cry out, "Violence!" I am not answered;
I call aloud, but there is no justice.
He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass,
and he has set darkness upon my paths.

His troops come on together;

they have thrown up siegeworks [Hebrew "their way"] against me,
and encamp around my tent. (19:2, 5-8, 12 NRSV)
The moment that Job declares God responsible, the circle of enemies -- that is, the circle of the social order -- closes in around him. Job recognizes that the divine condemnation of which he has been made the object is actually a collective hate for which he is the prey, a sort of total mobilization against him. The adversary is always collective, as in the tragedy of Sophocles. But unlike Oedipus, who finished by submitting, Job plunges into the debate frantically. Just like the personage at the center of the psalms, he returns the accusation to his enemies. He conducts himself after he has been unanimously condemned as Oedipus did before; he accomplishes the unheard, he resists the violent unanimity, even if he quite often resists in the language of that violent unanimity.

Now I come to the passages that are the most interesting, when Job, all of a sudden, comes to a point of seeing himself no longer as the friends see him, as condemned by God; when he sees the punishment no longer as divine punishment, but as the punishment inflicted by human beings alone. Job almost succeeds in describing the religious system of which he is the victim. He starts to take up the case openly against his accusers. Far from speaking their language, he makes a real critique of it, and this constitutes the most original part of the text of Job, a veritable revelation of traditional religion insofar as it is based on the scapegoating process.

In chapter 17 Job describes himself as a scapegoat:

He has made me a byword of the people
and I have become a public Tophet. (17:6 author's trans.) (1)
But immediately Job describes the beneficial effect produced by the example that his punishment constitutes for those making him a scapegoat. This is absolutely striking, for it is a matter of a religious and moral benefit that the persecutors derive from their persecution but that Job plainly refuses to take seriously.
The upright are appalled (2) at this,
and the innocent stir themselves up against the godless.
Yet the righteous hold to their way,
and they that have clean hands grow stronger and stronger. (17:8-9 NRSV)
The text is ironic. The suffering of innocent victims is a principle of moral and religious edification in the theology of the friends; it is a factor of good behavior for human beings, a miraculous tonic for the entire social body. It is the principle of religion in primitive societies as I was led to define it in Violence and the Sacred. It is this principle that is perpetuated in all sorts of institutions and phenomena that are no longer sacrificial in the strict sense, but that remain so in a broad sense, for example Greek tragedy, whose beneficial effect Aristotle defined as katharsis, sacrificial purification. This purification operates by the feelings of fear and pity that the victim inspires in the spectators, the victim who cannot not be justly struck by fate and who is abandoned by the spectators, even if they previously identify themselves with the victim. In the speeches of Job, to the contrary, there is no question that evils come from people and from the formidable aggravation of natural disasters combined with the effect of human wickedness. The members of the community need to make of Job a victim in order to feel good, in order to live more harmoniously with one another, in order to feel established in their faith. They are even ready to make of him, after his death, a semi-divine figure, and this is doubtless why we have the text of Job, whose initial form had to present a plague-ridden person who is shown to be guilty and finally divinized. But in Job's manner of speaking here, openly and ironically, there is something prodigious that relates to us the essence of a religion founded upon humanity and the social order, and that protests against it.

One may find a confirmation of this in a text of incredible audacity, where Job presents his friends as kinds of doctors, priests, manipulators of sacrifice. He treats them as grotesque shamans:

As for you, you are only charlatans,
physicians in your own estimation. (13:4 JB)
And in a passage of closely related meaning he says:
You would even cast lots over the fatherless,
and bargain over your friend. (6:27 RSV)
In other words, the orphan and the friend are literally chosen as sacrificial victims. The psalms do much the same thing, but with much less audacity. The penitential psalms show us the righteous one surrounded by a circle of enemies dedicated to his downfall. These enemies are presented as monsters satiated with blood, as veritable beasts of prey, as bulls, as dogs. The power and formidable audacity of Job are that this vision of enemies is above all that of the three friends, who are intellectuals, the wise, the scholars, the theologians. Now they are perfectly in accord, Job tells us, with the pack of lynchers; their theology is of one piece with the violent unanimity of the persecuting pack.

We have texts where Job presents himself as condemned by God, other texts where he speaks of being condemned by God and humans, and finally others where he sees himself as condemned by human beings only. Among the latter are some extremely precious texts where he says, "I don't know what is happening to me." There are therefore, beside passages completely original, some hesitations, some oscillations from one point of view to another, and even some strange combinations of the two. I think that this is one of the reasons why the text is occasionally so bad. The copyists and the modern scholars have not truly understood what they had told of. But everything becomes clear enough if one takes hold of the primary thread, which is the theology of the scapegoat and the immense biblical movement toward the refusal of victimary religion.

Then the obscure passages become the most revealing -- those passages where Job asks himself where he is, whether he is truly innocent or guilty. He vacillates in the certitude of his innocence; he is endangered by the acquiescence of the tragic hero -- for example, the acquiescence of Oedipus who in the end acknowledges himself guilty of parricide and incest. This is a type of acquiescence that is reminiscent of what one today calls the brainwashing practiced by totalitarian societies.

Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me;
though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
I am blameless; I do not know myself;
I loathe my life.

I say, "I will forget my complaint;

I will put off my sad countenance and be of good cheer,"
I become afraid of all my suffering,
for I know you will not hold me innocent.
I shall be condemned;
why then do I labor in vain? (9:20-21, 27-29 NRSV)
It is remarkable that the text of Job conveys to us a hesitation between theologies radically different. In contrast to Oedipus and modern victims of totalitarian processes, Job resists the all-powerful mimetic contagion that generally holds sway over the victims themselves, even if his language sometimes vacillates. The work of the text in the book of Job is somewhat comparable to that of the text of Oedipus, but it is much more explicit. In Oedipus the murder of Laos, of which Oedipus is accused, is presented initially and repeatedly as if it were a collective act, done by a number of people. And at the moment the shepherd arrives who is going to reveal the so-called guilt of Oedipus, Oedipus is still persuaded that there were many murderers and that he could not be guilty. "One man alone cannot take the place of all." In other words, he cannot be the scapegoat for all. He does not remember, the unfortunate man, that at the beginning of the play he said, "I suffer much more than you," because the king as representative of all the people suffers for all. Without a doubt Sophocles is ironic here, but he is ironic in a fashion almost esoteric. As a consequence, this question of multiple murderers is never posed again. Now this cannot be accidental. Sophocles tries to suggest, in a remote fashion, something analogous to that which the text of Job states explicitly, but he cannot really do it, for the Greek tradition does not permit him. The tragic victim finally resigns himself to the fate that befalls him; he or she never puts directly the question of the persecutors' system of representation.

But in the book of Job there is a fourth person who is less primitive, Elihu, who arrives to the rescue of traditional theology. Hebraists think the Elihu text is a later addition. They are probably right. The style is too different for it to be the product of the author of the dialogues. On the other hand, the youth of Elihu is even more significant inasmuch as the three friends present themselves as settled, even old, and above all persons who always appeal to the past, to the tradition of the ancestors, which is necessarily venerable and even indisputable because it is ancient and has always been followed. Bildad counsels Job to turn to the past (8:8-10). Eliphaz's counsel is similar (15:9-10, 17-19). It is evident that if the scapegoat system works well, one never sees a just person persecuted. Consequently, the friends are right; they have never seen the scandal of injustice, since wherever somebody is beset with misfortune, that person is guilty, and whenever somebody is guilty, that person is beset with misfortune.

So Elihu comes to the rescue and makes a claim on behalf of his youth. He rejects the past and the traditional theology, but he does not express anything else but traditional theology. In his discourse it is traditional theology that tries to renew itself. In reading a version of the book of Job that did not include a fourth friend, certain readers were scandalized by the arrogance of Job and added the personage of Elihu, a "new" theologian. He says exactly the same thing, but less well, as his three predecessors. He dwells on the function of testing that suffering can play, but his predecessors have already spoken of that.

This function of testing played by suffering is certainly not illusory, but only the individual who is subjected to suffering has the right to attribute this role to it. We do not have the right to make suffering a weapon against the neighbor. To make of this function of testing a justification of the suffering of others is to put oneself once again in the place of a savage God; it is to confound what is only a human judgment with a judgment of God. (3)

If I am right, if Elihu is a reinforcement for the traditional theology, there would thus be a mirror effect between the content of the text of Job and the elaboration of this same text. That is to say, the text must have been elaborated in the train of theological struggles that the content of the book of Job reflects.

Another battle is Job's struggle with himself. Now he says to himself, "If God treats me this way, how could I be innocent?" Then to the contrary, he dares follow the thread of his own thought to the end, that is, to deny completely the link between the fate of humans upon this earth and the fate the deity reserves for them. He will therefore denounce the principle of earthly retribution -- of misfortune as sign of malediction and success as sign of election:

Why do the wicked live on,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
Their children are established in their presence,
and their offspring before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.
Their bull breeds without fail;
their cow calves and never miscarries.
They send out their little ones like a flock,
and their children dance around.
They sing to the tambourine and the lyre,
and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol. (21:7-13 NRSV)
It is this genre of discourse that is perceived as scandalous by the old theological guard, and it is the same discourse that makes of Job a sympathetic person in the eyes of a modernity seeking in him the prefiguration of its own atheism, of its own revolt against the evil or supposed indifference of any deity. Modernity remains faithful to the old theological guard in that it scarcely does more than invert its arguments.

The essential question is to know whether the deity confirms human judgments, whether God is only a machine registering the unanimous accord against victims. A God like that is literally satanic. In Jewish thought Satan is the adversary, the one who is an obstacle to us and accuses us. This term is borrowed, it seems, from juridical language. It does not seem originally to have designated a supernatural being. Psalm 109:6 designates as "satan" (Hebrew, Satan) the human antagonist, the implacable adversary of the one who speaks in the text and complains of being falsely accused. In this Psalm God is called as witness, but it is a matter of a purely human quarrel, perhaps a dialogue between two adversaries, perhaps a monologue -- it doesn't matter. From the text it comes out clearly that the satan is the persecuting accuser who makes a man appear to be evil in order to ruin him in the eyes of everyone, including God himself:

They say, "Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin." (Ps. 109:6-7 NRSV)
There is no persecution, no violence, without the process of accusation, and without the success of this process the scapegoating vision does not triumph.

In the prologue of the book of Job the Satan is sacralized, has become one of the sons of God, but he still plays strictly his role as accuser. He takes upon himself the role of Job's accuser before God, first in accusing Job of not fearing God and of not keeping himself from evil except for reasons of self-interest. He predicts that Job will turn against God and curse him, initially if he loses his possessions and subsequently if he becomes ill, if he is struck in his bones and flesh.

But the most satanic are the friends of Job. They do not understand their satanic role, their role as accusers; they do not understand that their religion is founded upon the hidden scapegoat, like all mythic religion, that is, all human religion. They see only guilty victims and punished criminals. Their system functions without missing a beat and is never belied by experience. Without any fear of deceiving himself Eliphaz cries out:

Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. (4:7-9 NRSV)
They see a perfect correlation between pain and guilt, and nothing can disabuse them of this. They cannot see someone distressed, struck down, without thinking he is like that in all justice. When they attack their victim, they never have the least doubt that this victim is guilty. They do nothing else than apply that universal magic causality so well defined by the ethnologists. They transpose on the level of human thought something still fairly close to animal life, where one cannot see a fellow creature injured, sick, or handicapped in some way or the other without attacking it, in order to rid the species of it. As in certain primitive tribes, when a death or a sickness strikes, a search begins for the one who is guilty, and of course the guilty party is discovered. One lives then in a world without sick persons, without infirm people, without sufferers, and above all without innocent people wrongly condemned -- which is still somewhat like the perfection of animal life.

The friends of Job believe that their God punishes only the wicked because they do not understand the victimary mechanism of which they are the tools. Job understands it because he is the victim of this mechanism, but in contrast to so many other victims, he does not accept the verdict that condemns him. Something in his mind surges up against this extraordinary alliance made up of the misfortune that strikes him from the external world, presumed to be the hand of God, and the universal tendency to consider this misfortune as merited.

Job is thus alone against all the others; he has need of an ally, a defender. Will he search for one among humans who do not hold against him the prejudices of his friends, of his wife, of everyone in his circle? Since he has God against him, so it seems, will he turn more than ever toward other humans? No. He understands that he can obtain nothing from men. Men are all on the side of the God who exacts vengeance. They are satanic because they play the role of advocates of God as the accuser of humans (13:7-8).

Unable to find a defender among human beings, Job has no choice but to address himself to God. It is there that the Judaic religious genius shows through so brilliantly: Job addresses God against every probability, so it seems, for everyone agrees in saying that God himself punishes him, that God himself puts him on trial. Very often he bends before it, and the appeal that he launches is so contrary to good sense (even he himself thinks) that it sounds almost ridiculous:

Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven,
and he that vouches for me is on high.
My friends scorn me;
my eye pours out tears to God,
that he would maintain the right of a mortal with God,
as one does for a neighbor. (16:19-21 NRSV)
In other words, God, another God, a defender God of victims, would assume the defense of humans against God. Alongside the God who hears only the satans, the human or supernatural accusers, there must be a God capable of understanding Job's defense. Since he does not respond to Job and since there is no one in human society who willingly takes up the defense of the innocent one unjustly overwhelmed, it is necessary that God himself take charge and play a role contrary to the one imposed on him by the friends. He must become the defender. If God could make himself human, in other words, he would defend Job rather than prosecuting him.

In a parallel passage (19:25) the word go'el appears, usually rendered "redeemer." This is a technical term of Israelite law (cf. Num. 35:19). It is often applied to the Messiah in rabbinic Judaism. Initially, it designated the defender of the oppressed, a sort of advocate.

In a certain sense, this could not be God since it is precisely God who accuses Job, yet the defender could be none other than God. We see the text hesitate between two conceptions of God, one that comes from the immemorial sacrificial base and one that will vanish in the Gospels. And I think that the notion of the Paraclete (parakletos in Greek means "the advocate," "the defender"), the idea of the Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John that is always present with the disciples or with all victims unjustly accused, constitutes the development of what is found in seminal form in the book of Job. The Spirit is what basically prevents us from mythologizing victims and from believing the argument of the three friends who confront Job. It is the Spirit that continues the work of the text of Job.

The conclusion of the book of Job is not at the high level of these texts where Job affirms that he has a defender. The conclusion does not betray them, but it does not succeed in defining the God in question and speaking of him as the Gospels will speak. It takes refuge in the unfathomable and incomprehensible character of the deity. But there is all the same that extraordinary passage where God says that Job has spoken well and not his friends. But much more than that, for the believer the response of God to Job is a response that the end of the book does not succeed in giving. For God gives satisfaction to Job by dying on the cross, that is, by saying to him in effect, "I am really on the side of the victims; I suffer everything that you suffer, and I suffer it in such a manner and in such a public way that I will eventually deprive all the false friends of the theological arguments that have served them so well until now. I am breaking their marvelously circular mechanism of self-satisfaction, which permits them to feel perfectly justified in the midst of the worst horrors of which they themselves are accomplices, if not the perpetrators. This sign of the cross will reveal all the disorder and horror of the world and perhaps even temporarily contribute to it, where order was reigning in appearance only. The true human adventure is this: With the discovery of a God completely other, the defender of victims, the Paraclete, I am establishing humanity."

Job spoke well in announcing this "new" God, while his friends spoke badly in having defended the sinister old theological rubbish.

Finally, I return to the traditional interpretations of Job. The problem of Job has always been posed as if it was a matter of explicating the enigma of unjust suffering or of resolving the problem of evil. This approach to defining the subject of the book perpetuates the error of the three friends, and of all those who ostracize Job. As already noted, this is also partially the error of Job himself. This way of stating the problem of evil in general leads to not distinguishing two types of evil that the book of Job requires us to distinguish: evil that comes directly from human beings (the ostracism Job suffers) and evil that does not come directly from human beings and may thus come from God (the loss of children, the accidental loss of goods, the skin disease). The book of Job speaks almost exclusively of the evils that come from humans and that are the evils par excellence for the victim. To speak of evil in general is to render inseparable and insurmountable the two types of evil: God is not only seen as the human acceptance of misfortunes befalling one's neighbors, but also as the one who contributes to their miseries.

So the usual interpretation remains faithful to the theology of the three friends, and the indictment of it must be even more radical, for modern history abundantly confirms what the text already tells us: The evils due to human agency are the most terrible and must engage our attention more than the evils produced by nature.

This confirmation comes from modern science. Science would never have developed if humans had persevered in the belief of Job's friends, if they had continued to persecute victims each time someone suffered misfortune among them or each time they themselves suffered misfortune. They would never have caught a glimpse of the great modern projects, the modern will to improve the human lot by all sorts of developments -- scientific, technical, judicial, political, social, etcetera. These developments demand that magical causality be renounced. They would never have invented medicine, for example, if, faced with the sores of Job, they had persevered in the idea that he was justly punished and that it would thwart God to try to heal him.

The Gospels not only plainly reveal the religious fabrication of the victimary mechanism but also disconnect the two types of evil more radically than does the book of Job. In this way they permit the world to undertake the type of project which from that point on is truly its own. All the effort of human beings must bear upon their relations with their neighbors. The Gospels formally deny the idea that illnesses or infirmities are the divine punishment of a sin committed by the sick person or by his or her parents. The Gospels explicitly deny that accidents, the collapse of a tower, for instance, that produce numerous victims are divine punishments.

The Gospels do not establish humans in enterprises, economic, scientific, or whatever. They have other concerns. But they cannot do what they do for victims and against magical thought without removing the obstacles that until then impeded this type of development. And if these developments have not improved the life of all as much as they could have if they had been controlled by the gospel outlook, it still is not any less evident that we owe these developments, first of all, to what I call the "gospel way-clearing."

Today we are more than ever in a position to understand the extent to which the evils that come from humankind are the most terrible. It suffices, indeed, that the savage blindness of the scapegoat process is weakening thanks to the Bible and to the gospel, so that we may succeed in eliminating or attenuating evils that previously appeared to be without remedy in as much as we imagined them as the work of some cruel deity or, amounting to the same thing, of some implacable nature. We are learning more and more to master these evils. We are healing the sores of Job.

It has surely required long centuries to obtain this result. I know well that very great evils have simultaneously come upon the scene, but they witness by the same token to a new liberty among human beings. The Bible and the Gospels are not responsible for the human abuse of what they have given to the world. In other words, both the increase in evils afflicting us and their diminution vindicates God in revealing the purely human origin of these evils, for these evils are always susceptible to being eliminated by humans. Once they escape the theology of the three friends, human beings master the necessary means if they only have the will to do so.

To pose the question of evil as though evil were in every case a matter of one problem, that is, anything that affects my own precious self, making it suffer, or simply irritating me, is not to pose the question of Job. This self-concern is rather what I would call the metaphysics of the tourist, who conceives that his or her presence in this world is essentially like a deluxe voyage. He or she happily admires the lovely terrains and sunsets, is moved by the monuments left by past civilizations. He or she deplores modern ugliness and complains of the general insipidness, because now everything resembles everything else and there are no more differences. He or she becomes noisily indignant about the poverty encountered, is perpetually engaged in head-shaking, like Job's friends. But above all this tourist complains about the organization of the voyage and is going to transmit a complaint to the management. He or she is always ready to return his or her ticket, and the expression "return one's ticket" is typical of those who travel for their own pleasure or who go to a spectacle. This mentality of the frustrated tourist produces vehement curses concerning what is called the problem of evil. If God exists, how can he tolerate the evil present in the world? If God exists, he can be only the supercop, and in his mode of being as supercop he could at least protect us against the many disagreeable incidents of our passage through the world.

One might counter that this is an easy irony that forgets the principal evil. For even if this tourist mentality disappeared and if human beings cooperated, if they even renounced their quarrels in order to work together for the building of a better world -- still in all, they would be mortal. Death is the insurmountable wall over which human beings cannot pass; the ameliorations of which I have spoken, whether already achieved or yet to come, are still but little beside this terrible, this irremediable evil, this supreme evil that is death. Even the happiest of humans, those who do not scratch their sores on Job's ashheap, exist in fear of death. Science will never conquer death, and no humanism will protect us from it.

But what does Christianity say on this subject? It says that death is conquered by the Christ. It says that the Christ was resurrected three days after the Passion and that we too can rise again thanks to him. It says, in sum, that those who are capable of refusing sacrifices and their violence completely enough, perfectly enough, to die like the Christ, escape from all conceivable evils, even from the worst evil, which is death. Christianity tells us perhaps that humans die only because they kill. Satan is the inventor of death because he is the inventor of murder.

It is evident, of course, that this belief cannot be deduced in a rigorous scientific fashion from what we have just said about the refutation of the theology of the three friends. There is an absolute rupture here. But at the same time one sees how the understanding of the vicious cycle of violence, the immemorial prison of humanity, and the hope of leaving this cycle can and must open the way to the idea that the gospel of Christ involves a total rupture with all forms of violence, including the most terrible -- death itself. It seems to me, starting with Job, that the idea of eternal life in this Christian sense comes from this rupture with violence, and that it holds nothing in common with a hypothetical effort to elude the consequences of our present finitude. To the contrary, this belief holds that everything that is mortal in the human condition stems from the human propensity to commit murder.

This idea is not unrelated, I believe, to the marvels and terrors of modern science, to the world, unmasterable perhaps, yet admirable, that human beings have constructed in our time. And according to whether one regards this world with or without faith, the contradictory sayings of the Christ about the world to come, that is, about the world where the gospel is spread -- our world -- become all equally true, even if they contradict one another. Without the eyes of faith, our world is indeed one where there are multiplied signs and wonders so grand that they could lead even the elect astray. With eyes of faith this same world is one where the disciples, according to the Christ, will perform signs and miracles much more astonishing than his own. In the world where the vicious cycle that imprisoned Job is opened up, everything becomes allusion to the Resurrection!


1. This is the rendering of the translator in consultation with Professor Girard. The Hebrew text has topet lepanîm, "Tophet to the face." Topet recalls the victimization and sacrifice of children that occurred at the place called Tophet in the valley of Hinnom. See 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:32; 19:11-12; evidently the same place is intended in Jer. 32:35. On the practice of child sacrifice see Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Dent. 12:31; 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:6; Ezek. 16:20-21; 23:39. As for lepanîm, the sense of "to the face" or "before" is here construed as "before everyone."

2. A biblical expression designating the shock that the divine punishment of the guilty provokes in those who witness it.

3. With respect to suffering, Simone Weil very powerfully observed this difference between the other and me. The relation to the other, for Christianity, is at stake in this question.