Technicalities of the Book of Job

As we continue reading through Job for next class, we will encounter a few new interesting moments found within the text. The majority of the speeches offer great insight into the general questions posed about evil and human suffering we have already discussed in class. More specifically, however, exchanges specifically between Job and God may (or may not…) answer many of these troubling issues. Some of the commentary published by Marc Brettler becomes extremely helpful in deciphering not only the major thematic subjects, but also very specific details.

When first introducing the Book of Job, Marc Brettler introduces it with the following statement:

(Note: This is a beautiful but complicated book; it is difficult to read in one sitting.)

As I am sure many of us have found, this statement holds very true as we have pushed to use the Book in not only class discussion, but also interpret many of the stories and subjects for use in our Group Research Projects. The Book of Job is swiftly becoming my favorite book in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, as the pure density of the text offers a challenging read and much applicable information for everyday life. In summary, Brettler states that the reason for this great difficult that readers are faced with, stem from 1) grammatical technicalities and 2) compositional problems.

Most often, and throughout most of the readings we have encountered within the Hebrew Bible and Torah specifically, difficulties like these have been explained by the collection of separate stories by separate authors. Remember the two separate and very different Creation stories found within Genesis? One might think that this same logic can be applied to the story of Job. As Brettler discusses, though, this is mostly likely not the case. He provides that the Book of Job is split into two separate parts, prose and poetry. The prose sections serve as bookends to the interior section of poetry, almost as if an introduction and conclusion. Although these two distinct parts differ in both style and content, one can argue that because they are both closely related to each other, that neither portion is complete without the other.  Apart from the very specific example he supplies, it is very easy to understand this given the fact that the end often refers and concludes much of what had been investigated in the mid-section.

Most often grouped with the other “wisdom” writings due to many mentions of wisdom throughout the story, Job is still quite different. Because of this, critics and scholars alike have debated the actual time that Job was conceived. In regard to the later, one major detail lends itself in favor of such an assumption. In verse 16 of Chapter 42, within the last section of the text, the author states that Job lived to be 140 years of age before his death. This means, he is the oldest person to have ever lived outside of Genesis, even surpassing the lengthy 120 years of Moses’ existence. The structure of the entire story is also extremely similar to many of the stories found within the Torah. For example, the classic reprise at the end of a person’s life stating the age he died and relatively general information about the legacy of his life. Consider Joseph’s death, discussed in the very end of Genesis, among the many others throughout the book.

One possible explanation of these occurrences is the shear age of the text found in Job. It is often considered to be among the oldest of all of the texts found within the Bible. As investigated above, the structure and relatively autonomous details (no particular dealing with much of what has been mentioned before in previous books, for example) of the entire story suggest that this may be true. If it were not for the fact that it does contain many similar issues that books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes do, would it be placed somewhere else in the progression of stories as bible readers all know them?

As for the grammatical technicalities, Brettler pushes the term “hapax legomena”, Greek for “unique words”. That is “words without peer”, words that appear very rarely within the biblical text, which poses obvious translation problems. Because these words are only used one time, their meaning is very difficult to render and remains oblique. One example of this occurs in Isaiah 34:14, with the word “Lilith” (לילית), which is the only time the word is found. Likewise, an occurrence of this happens within the Book of Job on a greater magnitude. In the case of verse 6 of chapter 42, the Jewish Bible translates the verse as: “Therefore I recant and relent, /Being but dust and ashes.” However, the the New International Version translates it: “Therefore I despise myself, /and repent in dust and ashes.” Brettler states that while many of the very different translations make sense, this is still very problematic when trying to define the meaning of the words that Job states in this particular passage.

So my question for possible discussion, although minor, would be the positioning of the book of Job within the canon of books we have been studying all semester long. Is there enough evidence on either side for the book to be distinguished as one or the other? Would it make sense, given the major relevancies to modern culture (as we are slowly finding more and more about) and extremely important discussion to consider Job not just a member of the “writing and poetry” section, but of the other most important books in the Bible, such as Genesis and the stories within it?

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About Ben Ward

Ben Ward is sophomore at the University of Kentucky, majoring in Architecture and minoring in English.
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