Wicked Rich, Wicked Poor, The Economic Crisis in the Book of Job by Keith Ruckhaus is a profound, challenging, enlightening and extremely useful book. Ruckhaus seeks to uncover, in one of the most revered texts of the Old Testament the elements of a recurring crisis that has plagued mankind ever since the Agricultural Revolution of 8000 B.C.E. Ruckhaus discovers the perennial play between the “tributary” system and the “communitarian” system of economic organization. The “tributary” system is played out first by terrorizing a community of people to render them incapable of resistance or intelligent action. It is followed by an imposed peace, which exclusively favors the conquerors but stabilizes a chaotic situation.
Every now and then, we are told by the writer that a “communitarian” system arises, where the people involved recognize the earth as a gift from God and that her fruits must be shared. Debts are forgiven. Land is returned to the original owners, and slaves are freed. Jubilees were real and did not just remain a utopian dream.
The book is difficult for a non-biblical scholar, a mere economist, to follow throughout the labyrinthian turns and twists of Old Testament scholarship. Even so, I am mightily encouraged by the fact that the author is sympathetic to the idea of writing a version of the book directed to the lay public. The book enlights in the way Ruckhaus explains that the forces that lead to enslavement and those that lead to liberation and very old and keep recurring, albeit, in different garb. It left me with a twofold hope: One, that a communitarian economic system is possible, since it happened before; second, since these are old patterns we can attend to them with wisdom and compassion rather than in a reactive manner as in the past.
The main difference between ancient, medieval and modern economies, is that in our case today we cannot move to a non-devastated, non-murderous, non-enslaving other place, since the world is “full” and we can only create a “communitarian” system as a global system or have our grandchildren die. This is a very chilling conclusion but very vivifying as well as there is no escape hatch.
In the introduction to his book, Ruckhaus offers four possible responses to these recurring crises: 1) Choose the “prosperity gospel” answer which Job's “friends” recommend: be good, work hard and perhaps intelligently and you will be rewarded with wealth, power and renown. 2) Blame the wealthy for your condition, seek to destroy them and expropriate their wealth. 3) Retreat from the world into the privacy of one's home, family and friends and religion. 4) Attempt to convert the rich, so they can once again recognize that installing a “tributary” system will always bring suffering both to the victims and the perpetrators.
I too have chosen this last option, mostly for having read this wonderful book.
This book is very well researched, with voluminous notes for scholars and lay readers. The author provides us with many examples of parallels between the Old Testament and our world today, so that we don't stop at an exchange of views on Job amongst scholars, but are invited instead to attend to our world today, invigorated, hopeful and wiser on how to proceed.
Alec Tsoucatos, PhD
Adjunct Economics Faculty at Regis University
In Denver, Colorado
I just finished reading Keith Ruckhaus’ Wicked Rich Wicked Poor. The Economic Cris$i$ in the Book of Job, vol. 1 and highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding how the book of Job reflects the historical and social context out of which it emerged and what a contextualized understanding of Job might say to us today in our own historical and social context. The book is not for the religious faint-hearted. By this I mean that those who are looking for a pious, “spiritualized” take on the book of Job or who tend to read Sacred Scripture in a simplistic, a-historical, “fundamentalist” way will undoubtedly find it troubling. Keith places the text and its theological significance squarely and solidly within history.
This, of course, is often disturbing to people who want biblical texts to say something meaningful about God and “spiritual” life, but without having much to do with social, political and economic realities. Clothing a biblical text in these realities is precisely what can, however, make it come alive with the ability to say something meaningful to us today. The author has taken seriously the incarnational character of divine revelation within the framework of human history and has given us a very important pathway into one of the books found in the Jewish and Christian canon of Scripture.
Ruckhaus has accomplished the rather difficult task of combining both serious biblical scholarship with readability. Authors of biblical works tend either to write for the applause of other academics or to write for the “general public” in such a way that the genuine wealth and gifts of academic scholarship are ignored. Keith has managed to avoid both of these tendencies. The book is eminently readable, yet is simultaneously rooted in serious Old Testament scholarship. This is a rare gift that should not be ignored. All that is needed for one to access the wealth of this book is for the reader to have a modicum of biblical knowledge, an acceptance of the importance of history, and an openness to having one’s mind and opinions changed by a biblical text understood within the context of the economic, social and political realities of world in which it was produced.
The one criticism I have of Wicked Rich Wicked Poor. The Economic Cris$i$ in the Book of Job concerns the conclusion. I wish the author had provided us with a more thorough and synthesized summary of the rich theological, economic and political strands surrounding and embedded in the book of Job which Ruckhaus has painstakingly explored throughout his writing. This, I think, would be helpful to the reader. I also wish that he had articulated more carefully the revelatory character of the story of Job understood within its historical context. Yet, as I look at the book cover once again, I am reminded that this is, after all, only Volume 1, and there is more to come!
Rev'd Chrystostom Frank
Professor of Religious Studies at Regis University and Pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Russian Catholic Community in Denver, CO.
Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………. 1
Is Money Everything? …………………………………………………………………………… 7
THE JOB SCROLL IN ITS HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
Ancient Israel’s Suspicion of Wealth …………………………………………………….. 15
The Economic Crisis of Post-Exilic Yehud ……………………………………………… 45
The Production and Presentation of the Job Scroll ………………………………. 65
THE ECONOMIC COLLAPSE OF JOB
The Blessed Job (Job 1:1-5) ............................................................................ 81
Job's Bill Comes Due (Job 1:6-12 .................................................................. 91
Job's Reach Out and Touch Day (Job 1:13-19) ............................................ 111
Job's Initial Response (Job:20-22) ................................................................. 123
Job's Bill Past Due (Job: 2:1-4) ....................................................................... 133
Skin in the Game (Job 2:4) ............................................................................. 145
Punitive Action Round Two (Job 2:4-8) ......................................................... 159
The Curse is Uttered (Job 2:9) ....................................................................... 165
Job's Initial Apologetic (Job 2:10) .................................................................. 177
Comfort or Coffin (Job 2:10-13 .................................................................... 189
The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End .......................... 209
A few years back a well-known politician set out to address the problem of poverty in America. The attempt was largely fueled by a sentiment embraced in his political party that too many people were too reliant on government assistance. Worse even, the poor felt entitled to that assistance. Paul Ryan’s evaluation of poverty was commendable, especially coming from a political party that often appears insensitive to the poor. Ryan accepted the criticism of his first attempt and set out a second time to look seriously into poverty and to suggest viable government policy to reduce it. In his second attempt, Ryan claims he did so more as a concerned citizen than as a politician. This time, even his critics welcomed his efforts as more balanced and reasonable. Nonetheless, Ryan did not abandon the presumption that a distinction must be made between the worthy and the unworthy poor. The assumption that those in poverty deserve it still persists.
Paul Ryan reflects an aspect common to nearly all of us who grew up in white, middle-class neighborhoods in the baby-boomer era. We knew to avoid poor neighborhoods all the while wagging our heads in remorseful disgust at such deplorable conditions. While thanking God that we did not live that way, we would ponder how we might help those poor people. In a small way, this sentiment is a good place to start. At least there is a sense that poverty amidst wealth and prosperity is not good or right.
Since the economic collapse of 2008, awareness of economic disparity is now heightened and contentious. I find myself much closer to “those poor people” than I previously thought possible and my perspective being substantially altered. My frustration that something is not right is compounded by bewilderment as to how I can personally take action. After all, the Bible sternly warns us of patronizing God with prayers for the poor all the while not doing anything about it.
Two things disturb me and provide incentive for this book.
From the biblical perspective, Ryan framed the question of poverty all wrong. Check it out for yourself. The Bible rarely addresses the poor as if they are a problem. On the contrary, the Bible addresses the problem of wealth nearly everywhere and often in the harshest of terms. The words of James will suffice for now: “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you” (James 5:1). The biblical perspective is simple and clear: wealth is a huge problem, not poverty. It disturbs me how the very people claiming the highest regard for the Bible are astoundingly ignorant of this fact. What Bible are they reading?
A friend of mine related a conversation he had with his Jamaican coworker about American Christians who are totally absorbed in issues of sexual conduct all the while advocating contra-biblical ideas about wealth and poverty.
“What did Jesus say about sex?” the Jamaican asked.
“No’ting! NO’TING!” was his own rhetorical reply.
“What did Jesus say about economic inequality?
Nearly half of the human population will live out their entire life in poverty. All the while, the world’s wealth continues to migrate into the coffers of a few. God finds this completely unacceptable. Christians should also. A standard Orthodox prayer over the evening meal succinctly proclaims God’s desire: The poor shall eat and be satisfied. Often times in the Roman Mass, the words are sung; the Lord hears the cries of the poor. Blessed be the Lord. Many faith traditions provide liturgical weight to God’s concern for the poor.
It will be part of my ongoing project to enunciate just how clearly the God of the Bible finds wealth problematic and poverty unacceptable. In the antiphons of the Divine Liturgy (Ps 103 and 146), Orthodox Christians are reminded every Sunday that:
· the world humans inhabit belongs to God and is a gift from God
· the goods of the earth should be enjoyed by all humans
· God executes justice for the oppressed
· worldly wisdom and wealth are deceptive and not to be trusted
· God desires that the hungry be fed, prisoners be released (referring mainly to debtor imprisonment), the humiliated be restored
· God is especially concerned about those on the margins of society: the immigrant, the homeless, the widow, the parentless.
· God works against the wicked (who are always associated with wealth in Bible).
The second disturbing aspect of this issue for me is the sense that I cannot do much about it. I am not a power player in today’s world. I struggle like the majority of Americans to financially keep my head barely above water. I have little time or resources to be an instrument of change.
Several religious responses to economic disparity played out in Israel’s ancient history, and as I see it, they are still opted for today, albeit with ever decreasing viability.
One response is to simply distort God’s concern for the poor into God’s concern for the rich. This view is essentially mythological and that espoused by Job’s “friends.” In essence, it is a pretty simple formula: if you do right, God will make you prosper, if you don’t, God will ruin you. The “doing well” has less to do with acting in right and just ways and more to do with a kind of piety that plays the “invisible hand” of the often idiosyncratic and bi-polar whims of the gods (and goddesses). The “prosperity gospel” has had a tremendous appeal in today’s world especially among those hovering at poverty levels. If you have enough faith, you too can prosper. The fundamental appeal is to emulate the rich with the elusive goal of bettering one’s situation.
A second kind of response is to villainize wealthy individuals or institutions and seek to destroy or capture their wealth. Revolutions, unfortunately, have proven that they are just that—a revolving door, replacing one set of villains with another set with the same fundamental flaw and the same disparity. Not all revolutions, however, end in disaster as most Americans like to point out about their revolution.
A third option, which I have personally acted out for many years is to retreat from the world into a life of quiet piety. I can immerse myself in a cloistered religious community where economic language is spiritualized. Forgiveness of debt merely refers to not holding a grudge. Depravity relates only to the soul. Economic arrangements are essentially neutral, and only people are corrupt. “Money is not evil,” we quote from the Bible, “but the love of money is the root of all evil.” I have not yet met a Christian who willingly professed to loving money. It makes me wonder why Paul ever bothered to say such a thing. Even worse, the “all evil” part is completely ignored. This kind of pious arrangement works out well for the rich. It is as Napoleon once said: religion keeps the poor from killing the rich.
There is a fourth option that I believe is the Biblical option. The wealthy need conversion. The Bible expends great effort in appealing to the rich and powerful to yield their will and wealth to the God of love. It is not only wealthy individuals that need transformation, but our view of wealth also. Thus, a healthy dose of the revolutionary option must still be interjected. It is also a matter of a collective conversion, a revolutionary and evolutionary leap of consciousness and one which I must engage in as well.
This is precisely what the book of Job and really all of biblical wisdom is attempting to do—persuade the ones controlling the resources to subordinate their energies and desires to God’s kingdom and will.
The little that I can do I am setting out to do: persuade the rich to yield to God and to clarify, for myself and others, the biblical perspectives on wealth, prosperity, and economy. It feels insurmountable, but at least I have the biblical prophets as my guide and consolation. I also have the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The more I read the Bible the more I understand the idealism present there. This idealism is, in fact, one of the most amazing things about it. It relentlessly appeals to and believes in the ability and inherent goodness of humans to fill out the goodness of creation. God believes we can do it. But it will take conversion.
This book lines up behind a myriad of commentaries on the book of Job. Always ringing in my ear are the words of one of my Old Testament professors from seminary: “Listen to the text.” Give the text a chance to speak for itself. This commentary, then, sticks to the text as it is presented. I offer “blow-by-blow” comments as we go, paying particular attention to words, peculiar phrases, the structure of text, and the suspicious absence of all of these. This approach is admittedly tedious and diminishes its appeal for a lot of readers. In today’s world, we read for speed, but honestly, sometimes it takes work to understand. The Job scroll demonstrates this more than other biblical books. The “wisdom” comes by participation in the process.
Although I have yet to fully articulate my approach, I call it traditional because it aligns with the nature of the Bible as a codification of streams of tradition. The Hebrew Bible as we have it now took shape over a thousand-year process where various traditions—oral, ritualized, and written—combined, competed, collaborated and adapted, always guided however, by what I call in this book the profound sense. The traditional approach is a synthetic weaving of textual analysis, forensic evidence gleaned from archeology and the social sciences with the faith communities that created, preserved and interpreted these texts. Most importantly, it is with the communities that lived these traditions in an on-going drama of humans engaged with a living God.
I write biblical commentary because I believe it has critical relevance for the times that I live in so I insist on bridging the gap. I also believe it impacts me. My own experiences shape how I understand the text. I don’t resist this, but rather, I integrate that into the traditional approach. Faith communities and individuals today are a part of the living stream of tradition. Admittedly, there is a bit of hubris offered here. I work through the book of Job convinced that the interaction between economics and theology has been missed.
It would be helpful to define a few words or phrases that I use throughout the book.
ANE—Often I will speak in terms of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world. I concede the presumption inherent in such sweeping descriptions given the variety of situations and details one could interject. Yet several scholars I encountered in this work confidently speak of general practices and beliefs that demonstrate commonality over a broad swath of territory and time. Dominique Charpin’s comment will suffice for the moment: “Despite indisputable regional differences, we should not forget the fundamental unity which existed throughout the Amorite Near East.” This is especially true of imperial ideology, which is a particular focus in this book.
Bless and blessing—Bless is a word thrown around today, and it nearly always means “life is good.” For many, to bless or receive blessing carries strong emotional and religious connotations that can stray from its biblical moorings. One might get quite uncomfortable with the economic and political implications I present in this book, stripping away some of the mystical or magical element of it. I define bless basically as the ability or empowerment to survive and thrive. It describes the universal goal of both ancient wisdom and modern economics—the pursuit of well-being. We all want to “live long and prosper.” There is an edgy tension to the saying: “I am blessed.” On the one hand, it gratuitously places one’s “all good” situation within the context of a perceived cosmic order. On the other hand, it can be ruthlessly comparative. Compare and despair. “I am blessed” as compared to what or who? Often times, it is compared to the vast majority of earthlings who are not blessed. Some do not survive at all. Most survive, but don’t ever thrive. Most of all, it implies some mystical hand of selection. Call it sovereign will, favor or luck, but it nearly always creates a tier system where the ones who aren’t blessed endure existential crisis all the while being lectured by those who are. Hence, we have the problem of Job and many post-exilic Jews.
Economy or Market—Following the lead of Jean-Pierre Dupuy from his book Economy and the Future, I will occasionally use Economy or Market as if it was a formal noun, a formidable actor or presence. Dupuy deliberately uses a capitalized plural singular in order to emphasize the mythological nature in which economics are spoken of on the world stage. He compares it to the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, which is the plural form of gods. “What could this plural form, the “markets,” really signify, if not the manifold and intertwining tentacles of a great monster, sluggish, craven, and dumb, which takes fright at the slightest noise—and in this way brings about the very thing that it shrinks from in terror: turbulence in the global markets?” In a similar way, economic conceptions in the ANE world were personified as “women wisdom” “the strange women” and the “strong wife” found in Proverbs. This use of “Economy” or “Market” is not to be confused with the more technical uses of economy, markets, and market systems employed in economics as an academic discipline. Economy and markets are needed and wanted, but they are often times spoken of with an overblown importance, as if there was a divine or mystical will driving it.
Managerial Elites—I use this term to broaden the focus of controlling agents in the ANE world away from simply ruling elites (aristocracy) and political and military alignments. Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley uses the term “indigenous elites.” Elites of antiquity are set apart and above the rest by their involvement in managing resources, mainly land and labor. They control territories primarily because they managed the production of its resources and the policing of violence. Fitzpatrick-McKinley points to another defining characteristic of an elite—their inclusion in a network of elites. The main goal of an elite network was to ensure the distribution of power and resources in a particular way. The network operates primarily to insure the social and economic status of an elite. Managerial elites include: kings, clan elders, merchants, traders, priests, military leaders, and labor organizers. It also includes a considerable amount of support staff usually with valued skills. Scribes, for instance, were elites by virtue of their craft; even though most of them were not necessarily well-off.
“The way things are”—It is perhaps not scholarly to reference an entertaining movie, but a peculiar image of a duck in the movie Babe is seared in my mind. The duck, who is slated to be butchered for Christmas dinner, is constantly badgered not to resist “the way things are” on the farm by the other farm animals. The duck, however, steadfastly and loudly protests: “But the way things are stinks!” In many ways, “the way things are” approximates Margaret Thatcher’s TINA adage: “there is no alternative.” All must step in line and accept systems as they are regardless of the disastrous consequences. The movie draws us into imagining (just like the Bible) the possibility of “the way things can be.”
 See Rossi. Jesus Goes to McDonald.
 According to Rossi this has had a devastating effect in Brazil. Rossi. Ibid 85.
 Charpin, Gods, Kings, and Merchants, 8.
 Waters, Ancient Persia, 21. Steinkeller, “Introduction; Labor in the Early States,” 31.
 Dupy, Economy and the Future, ix.
 Ruckhaus, “Tribing, Distribing, Contribing, and Retribing,”
 Fitzpatrick-Mckinley, Empire, Power and Indigenous Elites, 20.
 Noonan, Babe.