The Labor of Job

The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor

The Labor of Job

New Slant: Religion, Politics, Ontology

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Book Pages: 168 Illustrations: Published: November 2009

Author: Antonio Negri

Translator: Matteo Mandarini

Contributor(s): Michael Hardt, Roland Boer

Politics > Political Theory, Religious Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

In The Labor of Job, the renowned Marxist political philosopher Antonio Negri develops an unorthodox interpretation of the Old Testament book of Job, a canonical text of Judeo-Christian thought. In the biblical narrative, the pious Job is made to suffer for no apparent reason. The story revolves around his quest to understand why he must bear, and why God would allow, such misery. Conventional readings explain the tale as an affirmation of divine transcendence. When God finally speaks to Job, it is to assert his sovereignty and establish that it is not Job’s place to question what God allows. In Negri’s materialist reading, Job does not recognize God’s transcendence. He denies it, and in so doing becomes a co-creator of himself and the world.

The Labor of Job was first published in Italy in 1990. Negri began writing it in the early 1980s, while he was a political prisoner in Italy, and it was the first book he completed during his exile in France (1983–97). As he writes in the preface, understanding suffering was for him in the early 1980s “an essential element of resistance. . . . It was the problem of liberation, in prison and in exile, from within the absoluteness of Power.” Negri presents a Marxist interpretation of Job’s story. He describes it as a parable of human labor, one that illustrates the impossibility of systems of measure, whether of divine justice (in Job’s case) or the value of labor (in the case of late-twentieth-century Marxism). In the foreword, Michael Hardt elaborates on this interpretation. In his commentary, Roland Boer considers Negri’s reading of the book of Job in relation to the Bible and biblical exegesis. The Labor of Job provides an intriguing and accessible entry into the thought of one of today’s most important political philosophers.


“[E]ven if a materialist and eschatological Christianity looks for liberation from a different incarnate Messiah, it just might be the case that Negri’s Job is right in defying the god of theodicy and transcendent retribution. In which case even biblical commentators (be they in the study or the pulpit) might have something to learn as well.” — Daniel M. Bell Jr, Reviews in Religion and Theology

“In this respect, Negri’s arguments on innovation as an ethical principle and on the political centrality of the body can only receive appreciation from students of Foucault. All in all, Negri’s The Labour of Job will leave the reader with more questions than answers, but maybe this is precisely why reading this short and difficult book is well worth one’s time.” — Salvatore Cucchiara, Foucault Studies

“Negri plots Job’s resistance as this culminates in Job’s response to God’s speech out of the whirlwind. It is here that Negri’s hermeneutical lens allows for a genuinely novel reading.” — Susannah Ticciati, Modern Theology

“The twist is fascinating! The book of Job as a parable of human labor and how it might be measured! Comparing the measurement of justice in a reward-retribution world with the measurement of labor in a capitalist world! . . . A brilliant materialist alternative to other revolutionary readings!” — Norman C. Habel, Review of Biblical Literature

“There is no doubt that Negri’s argument is bold, original, and worthy of careful consideration. It is often strikingly insightful and philosophically profound.” — Jeff Noonan, Labour/Le Travail

“Antonio Negri takes the ideas he developed in reading Spinoza, the Jewish heretic, and brings them to bear on one of the most crucial texts of orthodox Christianity to show how much unrealized potential for radical change persists even within those theoretical formations that seem the most monolithic and reactionary. Negri’s approach prefigures efforts by philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben to re-read the history of Christian thought against the grain. It also connects to and explicates the language of Christian asceticism that informs Empire.” — Timothy S. Murphy, coeditor of The Philosophy of Antonio Negri and editor and translator of Antonio Negri’s Subversive Spinoza

“Job regards God, according to Negri, not as judge or father or even as the source of discipline and mediation, but merely as antagonist, the locus of an empty, unjust command. There is no more question of measure—equating sins and punishment or virtues and rewards—that could support a conception of divine justice. But Job is not powerless. . . . According to Negri’s reading he stands before God angry, indignant, unrepentant, and rebellious.” — from the foreword by Michael Hardt, co-author, with Antonio Negri, of Empire and Multitude

“The book of Job is the first (and, in many ways, still unsurpassed) exemplary case of the critique of ideology, teaching us how to resist legitimizing our misfortunes with any kind of ‘deeper meaning’––and who is more suitable to actualize this book for our times as Antoni Negri? In his hands, The book of Job turns into a revolutionary text, into a true manual of resistance.” — Slavoj Žižek


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Antonio Negri was formerly professor of political science at the universities of Padua and Paris VIII. He is the author of many books. Those available in English include Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State and The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics. Matteo Mandarini is a lecturer in the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary University of London. He has translated books and essays by Negri including Time for Revolution. Michael Hardt is Professor of Literature and Italian at Duke University. He and Negri are the authors of Multitude and Empire. Roland Boer is Research Professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He is the author of Political Myth: On the Use and Abuse of Biblical Themes, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword: Creation beyond Measure / Michael Hardt vii

Preface to the 2002 Edition xv

Introduction 1

1. The Difference of Job 5

2. Of the Absoluteness of the Contingent 18

3. The Adversary and the Avenger 31

4. The Chaos of Being 48

5. The Dispositif of the Messiah 63

6. The Constitution of Power 79

7. Ethics as Creation 95

Commentary: Negri, Job, and the Bible / Roland Boer 109

Bibliographical Appendix 129

Index 133
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4634-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4622-7
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