Job as Scapegoat: Renée Girard’s Deconstruction of Job

It is interesting to compare Rashi’s interpretive approach (see my earlier posting) with that of French literary critic Renée Girard, who also looks at Job’s suffering from within the context of his community. In both of their expositions of the Jobian narrative, it is the community around him that exacerbates Job’s suffering.

However, Girard goes far beyond Rashi and suggests that Job’s friends intend to transform Job into a community scapegoat. According to Girard, ancient and primitive societies learned to redirect their penchant for violence by choosing a surrogate victim, who will bear the brunt of the gods’ violence through the community acting as the gods’ agent of retribution.

This mechanism would serve to explain why sacrifice is practically universal in all societies and times because it serves to create order out of chaos, civility out of social unrest; thus, religion itself seems to be largely based on certain violent origins that its members attempted to sublimate.  Once the scapegoat is removed, the social order is restored as it was in the beginning; the people become content once more until the cycle begins again.

In the case of Job, Girard argues that his friends insisted that he accept his role as the community scapegoat. From this perspective, Job’s suffering invites comparison to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus, like Job, goes from being the most blessed of gods and mortals to being the most accursed by them as well. But unlike Oedipus who accepts the criticism and judgment of his peers, Job refuses  to be the victim; he defends his personal integrity and stands up against the vox populi that claims to also be the vox Dei (Psa. 31:11-13).

According to the Greek myth, Oedipus was truly guilty for killing his father and marrying his mother; ergo, he was really worthy of being banished and shunned. In Job’s case, his friends make many accusations about him, but it is the voice of Job that has the last word. Ultimately, Oedipus is a “successful scapegoat,” while Job is an example of a “failed scapegoat,” because he stands up for his integrity whenever he confronts the mob mentality of his community.

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  1. Yochanan Lavie  January 8, 2010

    See Immanuel Velikhovsky’s book “From Oedipus to Ahkenaton.”


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