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Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering [Paperback]

By David Burrell (Author)
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Item description for Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering by David Burrell...

Maimonides called Job a "strange and wonderful book." For many readers, "strange" might well suffice. Though Job has been characterized as a theodicy, to the sincere reader the book can fail to satisfy the soul's longing for answers to the problem of suffering. Perhaps that in fact is the point of Job--there are no satisfactory propositional arguments for why people suffer. In this compact yet rich volume, philosopher of religion David Burrell shows that Job actually deconstructs the theories of theodicy proposed by commentators over the centuries. This is seen in the fact that Job's three friends themselves offer theodicies, but are rebuked in the end, whereas Job, who seeks only to speak to God, is granted his audience. Rather than providing an exegetical commentary, Burrell engages in theological and philosophical reflection on the major movements of the book. Deconstructing Theodicy also contains an interfaith perspective with the inclusion of a chapter by Islamic scholar A. H. Johns on the reading of the Job figure in the Koran. Burrell then goes on to examine the treatment of Job in four classical commentaries and finally explores Job's contribution to faith and theology as an affirmation that God hears and heeds our cries of anguish.

Publishers Description
An ancient commentator called Job a "strange and wonderful book." For many readers, "strange" might do. Though Job has been characterized as an answer to the problem of suffering, for many the book fails to satisfy the longing for answers it supposedly contains. Perhaps that, in fact, is the point of Job--there are no satisfactory arguments for why people suffer. In this compact yet substantial volume, David B. Burrell argues that this is the message of Job. Burrell engages major movements of the book in theological and philosophical reflection. The book also contains an interfaith perspective with the inclusion of a chapter by Islamic scholar A. H. Johns on the reading of the Job figure in the Koran. Burrell finally concludes that Job's contribution to the problem of suffering is as an affirmation that God hears and heeds our cries of anguish.
While an initial reading of the story which frames the book of Job suggests a classical theodicy of divine testing and of reward and punishment, we shall later see (with the help of real friends) just how misguided a reading that is. For now, it will suffice to note how the drama's unfolding belies such a reading, notably in the counterpoint between each of Job's friends and Job himself. For while they each address arguments to Job, his riposte to their arguments is addressed not to them but to the overwhelming presence of the God of Israel, to inaugurate an implicit dialogue vindicated by that same God who ends by announcing his preference for Job above all of them. Indeed, they incur the wrath of that God for attempting vigorously to take God's side Yet since this is the very One who has taken such care to reveal his ways to a particular people (to whom Job does not belong), one cannot escape concluding that the entire dramatic exchange--between Job and his interlocutors and even more between Job and the God of Israel--must be directed against a recurrent misappropriation of that revelation on the part of the people entrusted with it. So it must be that the book's primary role in the Hebrew canon will be to correct that characteristic misapprehension of the revelation displayed by Job's friends, as their "explanation" of his plight turns on reading the covenant as a set of simple transactions.

From Publishers Weekly
For centuries those who suffer have been pointed toward the Book of Job. What they find there is a God who essentially asks: What do you know? Were you there when I made the world? That isnt much of an explanation of suffering, nor was it meant to be, according to Burrell, professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame. Rather, the Book of Job provides a corrective to the idea that if we are good God will bless, and when we sin God will punish. While Jobs story doesnt explain suffering, it does demonstrate the importance of the relationship between creature and Creator. Jobs unhelpful friends talk about God to Job, while Job courageously speaks directly to God instead. Remarkably, God listens to and answers Job; according to Burrell, the fact that God does so is more important than what God actually says. Burrells review of classical commentaries on Job, contemporary philosophies of suffering (theodicy), as well as a chapter on an Islamic perspective on the Job figure (Ayyub) in the Quran will speak mostly to academic audiences. Clergy and pastoral counselors, however, will find material helpful to those who seek guidance in the midst of pain. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering by David Burrell has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 12/10/2007 page 50
  • Christian Century - 12/02/2008 page 41
  • Books & Culture - 03/01/2010 page 30

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Brazos Press
Pages   144
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.52" Width: 5.53" Height: 0.37"
Weight:   0.46 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2008
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  1587432226  
ISBN13  9781587432224  

Availability  0 units.

More About David Burrell

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! David B. Burrell (PhD, Yale University) is the Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC Professor in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He is the author of several books, including "Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions," "Knowing the Unknowable God," and "Aquinas: God and Action."

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Reviews - What do customers think about Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering?

Makes some very good points. May not be what you need.  Oct 4, 2009
David B. Burrell, Deconstructing Theodicy, Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2008)

If I could give this book 3 1/2 stars, I would. I stop short of four to warn many who are considering this book that it may not fit their expectations. If you want some good, readable books on the varieties of Theodicy, try James L. Crenshaw' 'Defending God' or, with a pinch of salt, Bart Ehrman's 'God's Problem'.

At least two different things about this book's titles caught my eye. The first was `deconstructing', which is one of the latest intellectual buzzwords, the meaning of which I have yet to figure out, and I thought this book may help me in that regard. The second was the hypothesis of the subtitle, which agreed with the conclusion I recently picked up, contrary to many writers for whom Job is the poster boy for Theodicy issues. On the first point, I was disappointed. The author, a professor of philosophy and theology at Notre Dame, did practically nothing to illuminate my understanding of `deconstruction techniques'. On the second point, I was resoundingly affirmed in my beliefs about the `point' of Job, which has far, far more to do with creation theology than it does with theodicy. Shaddai's long, four chapter speech at the end of the book filled with what sound like philosophical dialogues (but aren't) does virtually nothing to explain the causes of pain. Part of that may be due to the fact that we already know what caused Job's suffering. It was the wager between Shaddai and `the satan' or, as I like to think of him,the `walking dude'.

In place of my disappointment on the first point, I was rewarded with some other illuminations. The first thing I can recommend is the three chapters summarizing the events in the book of Job. This should not replace your actually reading the book, but it is a useful reminder of the story, less expensive, easier to read, with less Hebrew words than a fancy Anchor Bible, Word, or NICOT volume. The book is also broadly ecumenical, in that it includes a chapter on Ayyub, a character in the Qur'an with a longish story very similar to that of Job (who also happens to appear, with the chance to punish his wife for suggesting he commit suicide when Job's suffering started).
When Professor Burrell gets down to philosophical analysis, I'm in for a big surprise, when I discover that there are people publishing scholarly works in the 21st century which are based on concepts invented by Aristotle and used heavily by St. Thomas Aquinas. It was surprising to see anyone doing anything which could be described as metaphysical analysis, but to see it done using scholastic categories was a real hoot. But there was a pretty good reason to do that, in that the opinions Burrell was analyzing were thoughts on Job by Aquinas (1225--1344) and the Medieval Jewish scholars Saadiah Gaon (882--942), Maimonides (1135--1204) and Levi ben Gershom (1288--1344). To this crew are added modern comments by Marilyn McCord Adams from Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God plus a modern commentary on Saadiah's work by Len Goodman. By the time we get to the last chapter in the book, the author throws in opinions from Terrence Tilley, author of the recent Evils of Theodicy. By this time, I'm starting to wonder if this book isn't simply playing the `post-modernism' card for all it's worth by throwing every opinion he can get his hands on at us. This sense is confirmed when we get pieces from an interview of Rupert Shortt by Rowan Williams. And before I can duck, here comes a short quote and section from St. Augustine's Confessions. I'm finally floored by a finishing quote from Pope Leo the Great (c. 400--461) from a sermon on the transfiguration of Christ, which does not even mention Job the character or the book.
All this scholastic hand waving did manage to confirm my belief that the book, Job answers no Theodicy issues. It also pointed out an important observation that one reason Shaddai honored Job in the end was the fact that he did NOT give in to the notion that his suffering was due to his having sinned, because that would have been a lie, thereby creating a sin.

This is a worthwhile book if you are interested in the real issues in the Book of Job. But, if you want to get a book which `sticks to the point', get one of the better technical commentaries which does not get too bogged down in the Hebrew, such as Norman C. Habel's The Book of Job (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1985).

not the one I am looking for  May 11, 2009
not the one I am looking for, quotes from Bible too much, lack of further interpretation
A Psychologist finds support in the language of philosophy/theology  Apr 9, 2009
Mrs. Job

It is really totally inappropriate for me to assign stars to this book, because the language of philosophy/theology is so different from the psychological language that's familiar to me. But I really want to do what I can to convey my excitement about Burrell's book. My interest, of course, stems from my amateur fascination with the book of Job, which led to my own fictional "Mrs. Job." I jumped at the chance to communicate with Professor Burrell when I thought about the implications of his title, and read a review of his work in "The Christian Century," because it sounded like I might have been fortunate enough to hit on the conclusion he conveys in his book.

Actually reading what he had to say makes it clear to me that I'm partially right and partially wrong on that. There is a danger as I go on with this that I might make the error that's so often perpetrated when people make their way through an important book. (Think of how we treat the Bible, for example.) That is, there are sentences that reach out and grab me, and I need to be cautious about latching on to them as telling the whole story while they support my own private point of view. But what I think is safe for me to do is to admit to the thoughts I have taken away from my reading. I hope Professor Burrell will read and correct me on this.

The theme that stands out to me in reading this is that Job speaks TO [caps replace italics] the Creator, while his "friends" talk ABOUT God. On page 124 I find the quote that makes it easiest for me to support that view: "Job is commended in the end because he dared to address the creator-God; his interlocutors are castigated for purporting to speak knowingly about that One. Speaking ABOUT something veers toward explaining, while speaking TO someone can engage both in a relationship of exchange open to yet other forms of understanding. Indeed, what is most telling, structurally, in the book of Job is that the creator-God does answer Job's extended complaints. Yet those looking for an explanation will find themselves scrutinizing WHAT the voice from the whirlwind says, while the dynamic of the unfolding relationship should lead us to what is most startling of all: THAT God responded to him."

I (Mona) think this means that the interlocutors imposed their own explanations on the Creator while Job trusted in the relationship. In a couple of places (pp. 117,131) Professor Burrell makes reference to "grace." I think that's the piece that Job "got."

If I did, indeed, "get" Professor Burrell's point, I'll go back to the book's page 38 and support it with the following: "The framing legal irony of the book escapes the dogmatist, whose deliberate recasting of Job's own story mimics those self-justifying strategies endemic to ideologues in every time and place."

In other words, I think maybe I got it sort of right in my "Mrs. Job," that God punished those who would claim to know God's plan, even dictating what God's justice would, or should, be, while Job refused to play the game of confessing what he knew was not true in order to fool God into letting him off the hook. There you have it - proof of the philosophical immaturity of my language. Don't let that lead you away from this truly fascinating book.

There is so much more of examination of historical philosophies, even inclusion of Ayyub in the Qur'an. My training grants me understanding of only a small portion. There is a wealth of wisdom for the knowledgeable, differently educated reader, to relish.

at least the first half was good. . .  Jan 2, 2009
One nugget that I spotted at SBL Boston is this small examination of Job by Notre Dame philosophy professor, David Burrell. What especially stood out to me is captured in the subtitle: "Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering". Although I would hesitate to use nothing here (it is a vast overstatement, especially from a professional philosopher), this gave me the indication that the perspective here would certainly be on the right path (N.B., Job is about wisdom, for those wanting to play the home version). It would certainly follow that if Job's suffering was the vehicle for the discussion of wisdom, there most likely is something to be said to the puzzle of suffering . . . let's not count it out just yet. The book is light by weight (only 125 pages of text), but does contain some heavy thoughts.

The first four chapters provide an overview and brief reading of Job. I must say that Burrell gets it completely right on this (perhaps some more seasoned scholars will find a few minor divergences), seeing Job appropriately as a narrative meant to carry a discussion of true wisdom in the world. Burrell is careful to respect the genre here, and allows the storytelling to emerge along with the discussion. For example, "The prologue has completed its task once Job's palpable affliction has brought this archetypal figure down to earth" (26).

Further, Burrell sees the speeches given by Job's friends for what they are meant to represent - poorly constructed theology packaged in pithy statements designed to give comfort to themselves rather than discuss the pain of Job: "Eliphaz purports to know all about the ways of the Lord, yet axioms distilled from traditional narratives carefully avoid addressing Job's plight" (28). Going from bad to worse, he captures the words of Eliphaz in ch. 22 with, "Prefacing with, 'Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your guilt' (22:5), he goes on to rewrite the life story that God had recounted to Satan to laud Job" (38). These are all necessary points to understanding the narrative which most readers simply do not understand. Overall Burrell gets the narrative reading right, though it would have been good to see a bit more emphasis on Job's repentance in ch. 34 than is given here.

As for the rest of the book, you are either interested in the subject matter or you are not. There is not a whole lot to endear those who do not already have a desire to follow the issues which are presented. Chapter 5 is an essay presented by A. H. Johns, "A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an". Though some will find value here, from my perspective as a biblical theologian I did not find much fruit for understanding Job. Chapter 6 then goes to examine classical commentaries on the book (Saadiah, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Gersonides). I confess that I do not quite understand why these four alone without other regard for church history.

The final two chapters discuss Job's contribution to theodicy. Burrell suggests that Job has little to offer in terms of theodicy, speaking now from a biblical-philosophical perspective. And he means this to be understood in the classical and common way of understanding theodicy. What he does note, however, is the role of the narrative in exposing such pat answers to suffering as a lack of wisdom and understanding: "For the only ones who attempt to explain Job's plight are his friends-turned-tormentors" (123, emphasis in original). But what then is the proper theodicy in which to place Job? Though Burrell does mention, ". . . there is literally no distance at all between creature and creator if the very being of every creature is a 'being-to' its source" (133), he does not present a solid theodicy on its own. And this is not the main point of the book, I understand, but to simply place Job in proper context. This decision, though, leaves the reader a bit lacking in the final pages.

For a fuller treatment of the nature of theodicy, see William Hasker's most recent: The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology).

This would be a good addition for those looking to teach/preach/explain Job's message, but otherwise holds to a quite limited field of interest for the latter half.

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