Convergence and Divergence: Differing Jobs
University of Cambridge
[F]or verily, we found him full of patience in adversity; how excellent a servant [of Ours], who, behold, would always turn unto Us!
And if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs you, seek refuge in God: behold, He is all-hearing, all-knowing.
Qur’an 7:200; 41:36 1
But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.
Job 13:3 2
In these three verses we encounter three potentially different ways of approaching God in times of adversity, and perhaps more broadly, three different ethical norms for the relationship between God and the human being. This points to a significant concern in the following collection of articles, 3 which have their focus in the biblical and Qur’anic texts on the figure of Job or Ayyub . Job is well-known for the extremity of his suffering, and this has often led, particularly in relation to the biblical book of Job, to a concentration on theodicy and the problem of evil. In this collection, interestingly, there is a marked shift away from these concerns to a grappling with the implications of Job’s being singled out by God for his praiseworthy behaviour, and thus with Job’s nature as an ethical model for the reader – and this not simply because of the Qur’an’s concentration on this aspect of the Joban tale.
This concern with Job as exemplar is complemented and extended by an emphasis on the pragmatics of Job – on the movement beyond intellectual argument to compassionate action and the shaping of lives; and further, by reflection on the hermeneutical and pedagogical questions that arise. Moreover, several of the articles are offered explicitly in response to, and indeed as prophetic interventions within, concrete settings inhabited by the authors which have become problematic. Such praxis-directed hermeneutics enact the pragmatics being discussed.
While these common concerns hold the articles together, the above juxtaposition of verses points to what is at the same time a potentially deep divergence between them. In order to orient the reader in what follows, I will outline some of the possible convergences and divergences between the articles through a brief comment on each –without attempting to summarise them or to do justice to their complexity. Isra Yazicioglu grapples with the juxtaposition in Sura 38:44 of Job’s patience and his constant “turning to God”, which she interprets in the light of Job’s actual words to God in 21:83 and 38:41 as complaint. This leads her to a redefinition of patience as that which “expresses itself in impatiently crying out to God…” What Yazicioglu experiences as initially jarring in Sura 38:44 is not so for Yamine Mermer, however, who interprets Job’s turning to God as a fulfilment of the injunction expressed in Sura 7:200 and 41:36 (cited above). The main purpose of Mermer’s article is to set out Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s scriptural approach to the problem of evil, examining this within the context of his wider system of thought and, in particular, his understanding of the Divine Unity ( tawhid ). It is within these parameters that the Qur’anic figure of Job is considered, as one who responds to affliction and overcomes evil in an exemplary manner. Mermer’s broader philosophical exposition provides a context within which to understand Yazicioglu’s interpretation of the Qur’anic account of Job, which also draws extensively on Nursi’s work. However, it is precisely against this background that the note of complaint in Yazicioglu’s interpretation, absent in Mermer’s, becomes all the more intriguing.
While Mermer portrays a Job who seeks refuge in God, and Yazicioglu a Job who complains to God, Nicholas Adams, this time considering the biblical Job, puzzles over a Job who argues with God. Faced with the juxtaposition of Job 13:3 (cited above) and God’s commendation of Job for speaking rightly in 42:7-8 (reminiscent of the juxtaposition in Sura 38:44), Adams seeks to explore the goodness of Job’s argumentativeness, with the hope that, from this, one might learn something about how to conduct better debate in the public sphere today. Through his reading of Job, Adams mounts a sharp critique of the emphasis in today’s public debate on a pursuit of information that is divorced from a concern for practical wisdom and the transformation of lives. A similar concern for repair of practice is also found in William Elkins’s article, whose reading of Job has as its goal the rehabilitation of philosophy on the one hand, and of the reading of scripture on the other, as activities which shape lives. Elkins starts out with the enormity of Job’s suffering, which he holds to “provide an experience for the reader that moves her beyond argument to corrective, healing action”.
It is in Edward Kessler’s article that the question of hermeneutics is explicitly raised, provoked by a fascinating ambiguity in a single verse from the book of Job (13:15). The discussion is rooted, in a way consonant with the pragmatism of Adams’s and Elkins’s articles, in a concern for the health and survival of the Jewish community, and the search for a model of community that will enable Judaism to flourish in the face of continuing violence. Kessler looks to rabbinic exegesis as a generative source for the repair of community, which leads him, partly in the face of the rabbinic vision, to an emphasis on the need for the development of “positive relations with like-minded faith communities”. It is noteworthy that, for him, the reading of sacred scriptures lies at the root of this work towards repair. Lastly, Willie Young and William Heckner treat the pedagogical problems involved in introducing the Qur’anic and biblical texts on Job to undergraduates of varying backgrounds. This brings out very starkly within a concrete setting what has been discussed in the other articles: the content of the Joban texts (particularly the biblical book) demands that one enter into a specific relation to the text. One can otherwise be left alienated from its strange message. In other words, one cannot read Job’s story without having one’s life shaped by it.
It is this shaping of life that this edition of the journal hopes to foster, and into which the reader is invited. To this end, instead of leaving the articles to be pondered independently of one another, I bring them at the end of the volume into a virtual debate with one another, virtual because although there was some dialogue between the contributors during the production stage, we are now left with the texts only, and thus with an intertextual ‘debate’. I hope to conduct this in such a way that the reader is led deeper into the Qu’ranic and biblical accounts of Job. The various articles thus become symbols of the various voices in these primary texts. This is not to reduce the contributors to textual voices, however. For the text would not exist without its authors and interpreters. Therefore, we cannot lose sight of the flesh and blood people to which the debate points.
1. Muhammad Asad’s translation, The Message of the Qur’an (Dar al Andalus: Gibraltar, 1984).
2. New Revised Standard Version.
3. In this introduction, and later in the epilogue, there is no discussion of the “Subsequent Contributions”, which were included in the edition at a later stage.
© 2004, Society for Scriptural Reasoning