Monday, February 2, 2009

Is meaning important?

Is meaning important? What a silly question! Of course it is. And so are adjectives and adverbs. But these things: words, qualifiers, and thoughts are not more important than the faithful action that gives them what we think we have grasped by them. We do not need to grasp at the form of our mind.

So when I read these paragraphs about Job in the middle of Ken Schenck's long online essay (whew!):

Job 19:25 ... case study: "I know that my Redeemer is living, and afterwards He will rise on the dust. After this my skin is thus destroyed, from my flesh I will see God." This verse has a distinctively Christian reading, although not one attested in the New Testament. ...
...this reading of Job as Christian very unlikely to be anything like the original sense of Job 19.
... it seems far more likely that what Job is saying is that he believes that God, his Redeemer, will eventually come--before he dies--and vindicate his innocence, restoring his flesh. ...
When I read this, I ask what is my reading of Job and does it qualify as Christian? It is hard to remember one's first impressions of Job. Very likely I tried to read it several times before succeeding. These rough-cut dozen may be second impressions:
  1. The accuser as an angel in the presence of God.
  2. The difference between the setting of the stage and the long poetic dialogue.
  3. The silence of his friends, then their arguments.
  4. The stark nature of Job's cursing of the day of his birth.
  5. The reaction of Job's wife.
  6. The song of wisdom beautifully set by William Boyce.
  7. A vague memory that this part of Handel's libretto seemed slightly off base.
  8. The magnificence of God's speeches and the buildup to them by Elihu.
  9. The tenderness of the O magnum mysterium. (The ox and the ass spending a night at God's crib.)
  10. The stars singing for joy.
  11. God's playing billiards with the world - shades of Velikovsky.
  12. Job's response in dust and ashes and my unresolved ambivalence towards the postscript.
I don't think I ever attributed ultimate validity to the comforters - but there is a considerable unresolved tension. Can I get to second naivety with this book?

I want to look only at Job19:25-26 as a brief test.
וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרֹון עַל־עָפָר יָקֽוּם
וְאַחַר עֹורִֽי נִקְּפוּ־זֹאת וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶֽחֱזֶה אֱלֹֽוהַּ

What about Ken's translation? Well this is not exactly a slam-dunk is it?

The traditional rendering assumes much. Could Job actually say what is rendered here in the state he was in as the prelude to the last sequence of speeches? It certainly would not be cheap grace so it had better not sound religious like the speeches of his comforters. In the poem, גֹּאֲלִי occurs only one other time - in Job 3:5 (rendered as pollute rather than redeem). And 'upon the earth' is a rare rendition of עַל־עָפָר - and 'stand' for יָקֽוּם while appropriate stays away from more common glosses - arise or rise up.

I am going to ponder the larger structure of chapter 19 but here is a quick first cut of how I would approach this:
as for me, I know how I would redeem life
and afterwards in the dust it would rise
and after, this skin of mine stripped
in my flesh I would see God

I am not sure how to parse the verb redeem or the noun life גֹּאֲלִי חָי - is this a construct 'my redeeming of life' or is it as participle a noun, the one who redeems me? The slightly uncommon word for seeing is paralleled in Psalm 11 which as I noted a few days ago has a lot of rare vocabulary in common with Job.

To be continued - and I would welcome corrections to my direction...
Update: note this online resource (page 28) for a reading of 19:25-26 differing of course from my conjecture above.

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