F. Rachel Magdalene Universität Leipzig Leipzig, Germany

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1 RBL 08/2012 Verbin, N. Divinely Abused: A Philosophical Perspective on Job and His Kin New York: Continuum, Pp. xvi Hardcover. $ ISBN F. Rachel Magdalene Universität Leipzig Leipzig, Germany A solution to the problem of theodicy, that is, the reconciliation of the existence and effect of evil with the righteousness of the traditionally defined Jewish or Christian God is, to my mind, simply philosophically impossible. The problem arises due to a certain cluster of defined characteristics of God. God is one, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficent, omnipresent, immovable, impassible, the purposeful creator of all, and involved in history. One simply has to give up one or more of these characteristics to explain how evil came into the world, or one has to argue that evil is not truly evil but only appears to be evil from our limited human perspective. Nehama Verbin s volume explores, through a philosophical lens, protest theology s resolution of the problem of evil. Protest thought argues that God is not omnibeneficent, immovable, or impassible, based in both historical experience and the book of Job. Most importantly, God is an uncontainable abuse perpetrator. 1 Humanity must, therefore, 1. Although Verbin does not personally follow this line of thinking, she is nonetheless interested in this solution philosophically (xiii). Verbin discusses esp. David R. Blumental, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville: John Knox, 1993); John K. Roth, A Theodicy of Protest, in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (ed. Stephen T. Davis; Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), Elie Wiesel is through to be the originator of this theology in his books

2 protest against God, do better at correcting injustice than does God, and, even possibly, teach God a better way of dealing with humanity. 2 In some aspects, Verbin s reading of Job is consistent with many other readings of Job, especially protest readings of the book. In regard to readings of Job and protest thought, she deals primarily with the work of David R. Blumental and John K. Roth. It is only at the end, where she addresses whether or not Job forgives God, that Verbin deviates from common readings and offers us something exegetically new. The greatest innovation in this reading, making it quite valuable, is that she engages a substantial number of philosophers to explain why Job feels, believes, and acts as he does. She brings to bear, most significantly, the philosophy and/or Joban readings of Socrates, the talmudic rabbis (particularly Berachot 5a), Moses Maimonides, Ludwig Wittgenstein (the early writing), and Simone Weil, although the works of other philosophers abound. 3 The reading is one in front of the text and therefore does not engage with what the book might have meant in its ancient environment; Verbin is most concerned with how modern readers read the book. The author, acknowledging that she is not a biblical scholar, used the NJPS translation of the book of Job. Her Joban discussions are not fully supported by the most recent scholarship. Carol Newsom s The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) is the only biblical volume in use from the twenty-first century. The book would have benefited from further interaction with more Joban scholarship, especially the more recent Joban secondary literature that is burgeoning again after a long hiatus. These decisions will be problematic to some biblical commentators. The book is highly philosophical, generally alternating between discussions of the philosophical background to the issues at hand and reading the book of Job to reveal how the speeches of the character Job are in line with the philosophy set forth. Verbin Night (New York: Collins, 1960) and The Trial of God (trans. Marion Wiesel; New York: Random Books, 1965). 2. Elie Wiesel best advances this notion when he comments: Job personified man s eternal quest for justice and truth he did not choose resignation. Thus he did not suffer in vain; thanks to him, we know that it is given to man to transform divine injustice into human justice and compassion ( Job: Our Contemporary, in Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (trans Marion Wiesel; New York: Summit Books, 1976), The key works include Plato, Gorgias, in Plato in Twelve Volumes (trans. Harold North Fowler; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (trans. Shlomo Pines; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963); Ludwig J. J. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (trans. C. K. Ogden; New York: Macmillan, 1968); Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1987); and idem, The Love of God and Affliction, in Waiting on God (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951).

3 maintains that the book of Job is a proper test case of her philosophical hypothesis. Thus, it is through this lens that Verbin reads the book. The philosophical discussions outweigh the reading of Job. This should not, however, intimidate the biblicist: the philosophical discussions are clear, comprehensible, and often captivating. This volume concerns primarily the characterizations, speeches, and actions of God and Job alone. Although the book s subtitle includes mention of Job s kin, Verbin does not address Job s wife, his three friends, or Elihu to any substantial degree. In reading the characterization of the two main protagonists, Verbin argues quite simply that the best way to characterize God is as an abuse perpetrator. God uses divine omnipotence in a manner that is not only arbitrary and capricious; such use is sociopathic and sadistic, which fundamentally disrespects the value of humanity. God is also entirely unrepentant in his speeches and the epilogue. In her reading, Job sees himself as not merely suffering but as also afflicted by God: in physical and psychological pain, deeply unhappy, publicly humiliated, and socially isolated. Job resents his treatment at the hands of a moral agent who has diminished him in multiple ways and feels moral hatred for God. He is defiant. 4 This gives rise to Job s quite understandable resentment and protest. Verbin relies primarily on Maimonides and Weil for the distinction between the notion of suffering and affliction. Verbin s thesis is, however, that protest is only part of the process of dealing with such a god. One must ultimately move beyond protesting against God to forgiving God. She maintains that such forgiveness does not necessarily require either the reformation of the abuse perpetrator or reconciliation with him or her. Rather, it arises out of a new vision of the self, which allows one to live without any self-diminishment by the abuse. Through the divine speeches, Job comes to a new self-understanding that allows him to forgive God although Job and God are not reconciled. Job does not, however, become a nonbeliever. He sits in the tension of having such a god. The book is set forth in an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The notes are in the back of each chapter. The book includes a short bibliography and subject index, both of about three and a half pages in length. The index is frustratingly incomplete; I often had difficulty relocating several of Verbin s points. The book of Job sustains multiple readings, and the reading that Verbin offers is entirely defensible and, as indicated above, would now be considered to be, in most respects, conventional. What is new in this volume is the philosophical information and insights 4. Albeit, according to Verbin, Job is defiant in a positive way, relying on Christopher Bennett, Personal and Redemptive Forgiveness, European Journal of Philosophy 11 (2003):

4 that flesh out for us precisely how this process works for Job. This material was extremely helpful and has much to contribute to Joban studies. I found Verbin s chapters 1 and 2 particularly strong. I also believe that her philosophical analysis on forgiveness has much to offer over those philosophers whom she cites. She has advanced the philosophy of forgiveness in this volume. Nevertheless, I also found the reading troublesome and even disturbing in parts. As to the nature of God, one must admit that, to a number of theologians and abuse survivors, this protest reading would be quite compelling. On the other hand, many other theologians and survivors cannot abide the notion, even in the postmodern, post-holocaust situation, that God is a sociopathic abuse perpetrator, and I am among this latter school of thought. I believe that both exegetical and moral value judgments can and should be made among the many possible readings of the book of Job. Moreover, while there is much about Simone Weil that one can admire deeply, Verbin s reliance on her in this particular argument will be highly vexing to some. I would have liked to have seen a fair stronger reliance on Maimonides and a backgrounding of Weil. My own reasons regarding this matter are extended and complicated and, hence, not appropriate to set forth here. Still, I would note this issue for the reader. Finally, even though Verbin s philosophy of forgiveness is much advanced over the philosophies of forgiveness that she discusses, more work should have been done on this question. Verbin strikes me as quite naïve when it comes to the philosophical and psychological-emotional perspectives of actual survivors of abuse, whether such abuse was perpetrated by the state, rogue institutional agents, criminally minded strangers, one s family members or so-called loved ones, or other persons in authority, such as scout leaders and coaches. This naïveté is reflected, to my mind, in Verbin s understanding of survivor reception to her ideas regarding both selfhood and forgiveness. Again, my thinking is too protracted to advance here, but this issue is worthy of consideration by all readers. Even while concerns exists with the book, Verbin is not lightly dismissed. It should be remembered that Verbin s goal is to support the idea of forgiveness beyond resentment and protest as a necessary aspect of the healing process, which most would agree, I think, is helpful for abuse survivors. Verbin, therefore, has to read Job to some degree in accord with protest thinkers in whom she is most interested. Hence, I believe that Verbin s work is well intended, targets a specific audience, and will be well received by such readers. The book is intellectually rigorous in much of its philosophical work and both informative and interesting on a number of levels. I also admire Verbin s book for its courage. I do not think that theodicy, the book of Job, surviving abuse, theological protest, and

5 forgiveness are easy topics with which to deal, and Verbin undertakes them all at once. No such work is likely to survive careful scrutiny fully intact. In sum, the book will have great merit for a number of readers but not all readers. Some will be, instead, deeply disturbed, and not all of those necessarily to a positive end. I would not, therefore, recommend the book for the undergraduate classroom, but advanced students of philosophy of religion, theology/a-theology, and biblical studies will be challenged and might benefit appreciably. I think protest theologians and philosophers will be particularly interested in this work. To them, I strongly recommend the book.

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