Vol 5, No 3 (2009) ‘Would You Condemn Me that You May Be Justified?’ Job as Differend


Deane Galbraith


Reading the book of Job can be an uncomfortable, dissatisfying and ambiguous experience. Despite the authoritative rhetoric of the divine speeches, Job’s most pressing questions about the operation of God’s justice remain forever unanswered. In this essay, Galbraith examines Jean-Francois Lyotard’s concept of the differend and its potential to provide new insights into the curiously unsatisfying nature of the book of Job. For Lyotard, a differend occurs in a situation where a victim, seeking justice for a wrong, is ‘divested of the means to argue’ with their accuser due to a lack of a single idiom which both parties can agree upon as a standard of justice. When we read the story of Job in the light of the differend, we uncover, in addition to the more visible injustice of God’s physically excessive and arbitrary mistreatment of Job, a radical or absolute injustice operating at the heart of the narrative. Galbraith uses Lyotard’s differend to examine the manner by which God shuts down Job’s questions, forcing his acquiescence without even considering his complaints, which are inadmissible by the standards of divine justice. The injustice of the story of Job also reveals itself repeatedly in God’s totalitarian, universalising strategies, which deny the uniqueness of Job’s case, where he is made to suffer arbitrarily because of the wager between God and the Adversary. This universalising tendency repeats itself in the book’s final chapters, in which God provides replacements for the children and livestock he had earlier taken violently away from Job, treating animals and even human beings as exchangeable commodities. Again, Job is denied his singularity. Nevertheless, interpreting Job’s plight in light of the differend reveals that the occluded injustice manifests itself in the silences of the text, in the tension inherent in Job’s illogical pursuit of justice from a God he accuses of injustice, and, finally in Job’s eventual, ambiguous/inexplicable silence. The heuristic advantage of the concept of the differend for understanding the book of Job lies in that it allows us to bring out the radical injustice of the Bible’s most anti-Christian text.


Job; theology


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