Jung’s Answer to Job: A Commentary

In this article, Susan Rowland pronounces Paul Bishop’s Jung’s Answer to Job: A Commentary as a remarkable and scholarly book that illuminates Jung’s entire opus through comprehensive attention to one of the most striking and distinctive of the Collected Works. Rowland deems Bishop’s commentary on Jung’s Answer to Job as a text no serious reader of Jung should be without and hails it as a successful text for non-Jungian readers interested in such a tragically timely work.


Jung’s Answer to Job: A Commentary
By Paul Bishop
Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge
Publication date: 2002
227 pages
ISBN 1583912401

One of the achievements of this remarkable and scholarly book is to illuminate Jung’s entire opus though its comprehensive attention to one of the most striking and distinctive of the Collected Works. Paul Bishop’s commentary is a beautifully argued elucidation of the cultural history, biographical dimension, analytical psychology framework, and not least the lively text of Jung’s Answer to Job. It succeeds in giving the reader, this one certainly, a new understanding of Jung’s career-long endeavor to investigate the interdependence of art, science and religion (p. 163). And if this commentary works inwards in making multiple connections between Answer to Job and the The Collected Works, so too does it turn outwards in re-presenting Jung to the world, for as Bishop argues, [i]t is easy for supporters and detractors alike to make huge claims for or against Jung, if the historical and cultural context of analytical psychology is not taken fully into account’ (p. 50). 

In describing Jung in his context of European and Romantic philosophy in volumes such as Synchronicity and Intellectual Intuition in Kant, Swedenborg and Jung (Edwin Mellen Press, 2000), Bishop has restored Jung to the history of ideas. Now Jung’s Answer to Job , one of Jung’ s relatively neglected yet most readable works, is made more accessible and more contemporary by this pertinent commentary. The book is divided into an Introduction preceding Part 1, which consists of two chapters – on the genesis of the text in Jung’s life and writings, and exploring the conceptual and thematic underpinning. Part 2 provides the detailed commentary on the text, building up a sense of its drama of increasingly urgent psychological, theological and biographical concerns. It is enormously helpful that the Introduction offers a history of intellectual and artistic responses to the book of Job, with an emphasis on those traditions germane to Jung. In particular Jung’s opposition to the modern demythologising of Christianity is carefully explored.  

The chapter, ‘Genesis of the Text’, looks at the roots of Jung’s unorthodoxy as recorded in Memories, Dreams, Reflections , especially in the dreams, where Bishop gives valuable new readings of some previously neglected material. Answer to Job is then read against previous treatments of the Self, such as Aion, and its progress is mapped in Jung’s published correspondence. After analyzing the controversies of the work’s reception, the commentary draws on literary notions such as ‘defamiliarisation’, showing its intrinsic connection to Jung’s Romanticism. In a creative and illuminating cross-reference between analytical psychology and literary theory, Bishop explains the unique narrative form. Answer to Job is a kind of synchronic historical-biography in which time and history occur as both linear and simultaneous. Jung’s text can start up a dialogue with the whole of the bible at any one point.  

‘Sermons and Symbols’ is a chapter that considers the heat generated by Martin Buber’s accusations of Gnosticism. Despite making extensive use of Gnostic language, Jung always denied such an adherence. His defense, Bishop cogently argues, lies in that crucial distinction for Answer to Job , between the God concept or image and the transcendent actuality. What critics like Buber often overlook (and Jung himself is not helpful in this) is the extent that Jung is writing out of what he called his ‘personal myth’. The God of Answer to Job is Jung’s protestant Swiss image of God, not a theology offered to all mankind.  

It is in the exploration of Jungian concepts in Answer to Job that the shape of Jung’s thinking emerges. The form of the work is predicated on the notion that human consciousness develops in a dialectical relation to the evolution of the god archetype in the collective unconscious.

One of the ways in which Bishop’s work is particularly user-friendly is the way that the detailed commentary in part 2 draws on the intellectual framework established in the earlier chapters. So for example we learn how much Jung borrowed from the rhetoric of Gnosticism in the distinction between the pleroma, or formless void of interconnecting cosmic forces, versus the creatura, the realm of time, history and incarnation. Jung’s history is of the working out in space and time (the creatura) of the energies of the timeless, spaceless pleroma. The narrative form of such an elemental drama is the individuation of God as one pole of the evolution of human consciousness. God, or the divine archetype, is afflicted by overwhelming unconsciousness, hence the torture of Job. The answer to Job’s pain comes in repeated crises of divine-human relations. Christ’s incarnation and agony on the cross is a notable example, but one that does not end the dialectic of heaven and earth. For in writing about the biblical portrayal of God and humanity, Jung is also looking at what he regards as a long cultural record of ego-self dynamics. As the commentary puts it, Jung’s project is to examine the history of symbolic entities and to give ‘a deconstruction of the divine-human relation’ (p. 60). Such a task is conceived as peculiarly urgent in an age of what we now call weapons of mass destruction. Jung in the 1950s was writing out of anxiety about chemical and nuclear bombs. The only ‘answer’ to this evidence of imbalance between psychic powers is another incarnation in the creatura; this time in modern man. Today we must take on through individuation the demonic possibilities materially realized in such weapons. It is our only hope.  

The commentary does not devote much space to the narratively bizarre function of the feminine in Answer to Job . However, I really appreciated the delicate tracing of the ambiguities of that text’s treatment of the other gender in the godhead for ‘there remains the uncomfortable impression that, for Jung, there was something inferior, unconscious, or even diabolical about the feminine, at the same time as he elevated this element into a key position in his schemas’ (p. 156).  

Paul Bishop’s commentary on Jung’s Answer to Job is a book that no serious reader of Jung should be without. I also hope that it will succeed in bringing a non-Jungian readership to such a tragically timely work.


© Susan Rowland 2002

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