Perspectives on Israelite Wisdom
Terje Stordalen, “The Canonical Taming of Job (Job 42.1-6)” in: Perspectives on Israelite Wisdom: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, edited by John Jarick (Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 618)
The afterlife of the biblical book of Job is little short of a literary creatio continua. Partly out of philological despair with the Hebrew text, partly out of literary creativity, or again out of existential involvement, ever-new translators continue to re-adapt the literary and symbolical universe commonly known as the book of Job. This started early on: the Septuagint to the book is a shorter re-adaption of the Hebrew, a version in its own right. The same goes for the Qumran Targum and later versions. The implied Hebrew text of the book is in fact still subtly changing in ever-new translations, as hapax legomena (words occurring only once in our texts) and textual problems of the book are continuously re-negotiated. The open-ended character of the work is, however, not simply generated by translators. The complex philology and literary anatomy of the Hebrew begs for creative reading.
The present study explores certain aspects of the dynamics unfolding when this complex text encounters invested readers. The textual specimen is Job 42.1-6. Readers throughout the centuries have recognized the importance of this passage, which holds the last entry in the dialogue. More often than not these six verses are seen as the one passage that defines the reading of the entire book. The text is, however, loaded with textual, philological, and rhetorical difficulties, and I deal with three of these: one textual, one discourse-linguistic, and one philological. My point is that ‘standard’ interpretation applies a reading profile across these difficulties, a profile that consistently renders Job to be on the ‘tame’ end of the interpretive spectre available in the Hebrew text. This, I shall argue, reflects a canonical dynamic that extends from the Septuagint through to exegetes of the twenty-first century. Biblical scholarship needs to recognize the effect of this canonical dynamic and to reflect more self-consciously upon professional and critical implications of its presence in scholarship.