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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Book of Job - Anonymous, Stephen Mitchell This is a very readable translation of The Book of Job. However, the reader should be aware that Stephen Mitchell omits the hymn in praise of wisdom and the speech of the young man Elihu. Elihu is the fourth friend of Job's who speaks following the three cycles of speeches by the "Three Comforters." The author explains in a note to the reader that he's left them out because he (and many scholars) regard those parts as later additions to the book of Job. I agree that those parts may be later additions, but in this case we're talking about additions made about 2,500 years ago. I guess I'd prefer to keep all the parts together in the manner that it's been copied and saved over these past thousands of years. Based on these observations I have switched to the translation by Raymond P. Scheindlin.

The following is an analysis of the book of Job that I prepared for the Great Books KC group. It applies to the traditional content of book. Most of the comments below regarding discrepancies and structure are borrowed from Bart Ehrman's book, God's Problem. The final paragraph titled, "My Musings," are strictly my own conclusions.

Some of the basic discrepancies between the prose narrative with which the book begins and ends (just under three chapters) and the poetic dialogues (nearly forty chapters) can be summarized as follows:
1. The writing styles are different between the two genres, the prose folk tale and the poetic dialogues.
2. The names of the divine being are different in the prose (where the name Yahweh is used) and the poetry (where the divinity is name El, Eloah, and Shaddai).
3. The portrayal of Job differs in the two parts of the book: in the prose he is a patient sufferer; in the poetry he is thoroughly defiant and anything but patient.
4. Job is commended in the prose but rebuked in the poetry.
5. The prose folktale indicates that God deals with his people according to their merit, whereas the entire point of the poetry is that he does not do that --- and is not bound to do so.
6. The view of why the innocent suffer differs between the two parts of the book: in the prose narrative, suffering comes as a test of faith; in the poetry, suffering remains a mystery that cannot be fathomed or explained.
7. The style of Hebrew used in the dialogue with Elihu (see discussion of structure below) is different from the other dialogues. (This observation is from Elizabeth Vandiver, not Bart Ehrman.)

The poetic dialogues are set up as a kind of back-and-forth between Job and his three "friends." Job makes a statement and one of his friends replies; Job responds and the second friend replies; Job responds again and then the third friend replies. This sequence happens three times, so that there are three cycles of speeches. The third cycle, however, has become muddled, possibly in the copying of the book over the ages: one of the friend's (Bildad's) comments are inordinately short in the third go-around (only five verses); another friend's (Zophar's) comments are missing this time; and Job's response at one point appears to take the position that his friends had been advocating and that he had been opposing in the rest of the book (chapter 27). Scholars typically think that something has gone awry in the transmission of the dialogues at this point.

But the rest of the structure is clear. After the friends have had their say, a fourth figure appears; this is a young man named Elihu who is said to be dissatisfied with the strength of the case laid out by the other three. Elihu tries to state the case more forcefully: Job is suffering because of his sins. This restatement appears to be no more convincing than anything the others have said, but before Job can reply, God himself appears, wows Job into submission by his overpowering presence, and informs him that he, Job, has no right to challenge the workings of the one who created the universe and all that is in it. Job repents of his desire to understand and grovels in the dirt before the awe-inspiring challenge of the Almighty. And that's where the poetic dialogues end.

In addition to the preceding comments about discrepancies, it is my understanding that some scholars see indications that the writing style of the dialogue with the fourth figure, Elihu, is different from the rest of the poetic dialogue. This could be an indication that it is an insert by a later writer (perhaps by the same writer who got the third cycle of dialogues muddled up). Scholars have noted that the term Yahweh (Jehovah) is consistently used in the parts of the Hebrew scriptures that reflect the early southern traditions of the Kingdom of Judah. Likewise, the term Elohim (El and Eloah are the singular forms) is consistently used in texts that reflect the early northern traditions of the Kingdom of Israel. Based upon the differing terms used for the divine in the two parts of Job, it can be supposed that the folk tale portion of Job originated in Judah, and the writer of the poetry was from the northern kingdom.

Actually, it's my theory that the writer of Job was a Hebrew poet living in Babylon during the captivity period who spliced his poetry into a folk tale from Judah. He used the language style from the north for his poetry because his ancestral roots were from the north. Or perhaps the northern style of Hebrew was considered to be more appropriate for epic poetry (sort of like King James style of English is to us). I think the writer who later inserted the character of Elihu was a scribe back in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity who did it because he perceived that there were some missing lines of text in the third cycle.