Sunday, March 8, 2009


I am in a slow learning period. I am reading in snatches and random intervals the commentary on Job by Tur Sinai. The work is fascinating but difficult. Here is a snippet:

... in the story Job retains his belief in God's justice in spite of his sufferings and his wife's remarks; in the debate he rebels, voicing criticism and bitter doubt.

The Problem of the Portion
The Elihu portion is an addition to the book... God, when revealing himself at the end of the poem pays no attention to this additional speaker... What is the purpose of God's speech if Job has already been given an answer which he is unable to refute? ... if this were intended as a speech to Job, Job would have to reply to it... The book, or most of it, has been reshaped in the course of translation from an Aramaic original; the order of its portions has been changed; certain parts have been omitted; and lastly the old poem has been provided with a new narrative frame. ... what version of the debate was before the author of the Elihu portion? ... Is he the translator?...
(extracted from pages 454-455)

I am not sure I could handle Job. When I first read it decades ago - I don't want to count them - I thought I could 'understand'. Such is the foolishness of youth. Now I fear entering an engagement with this work. I cannot possibly know enough to research it. But we all encounter this story in some fashion. And can one not respond to the text as we have it even if some of the speeches are dislocated?

TS maintains throughout the commentary that the dream sequences are from a part of Job's speech that was deleted, and then quoted by his friends in various ways. Even though I have been piece-reading every 50 pages or so, sometimes pausing for Hebrew practice and sometimes scanning his comments, I have repeatedly come across this thesis of the dislocation of the dream sequence which he attributes to Job but which is in the first speech of Eliphaz (Job 4:12-21). That alone is a curious thing! In a book this big, I would not expect to see a thesis repeated about several differing texts and that just by chance I would land on those texts as I selectively read.

He seems 'reliable' and 'knowledgeable' - of course his tradition is not mine - but that is all for good. And I already substantially disagree with many in my own tradition anyway. But what am I looking for? Another fearful encounter such as I experienced when I began translating the Psalms - floods when I translated floods, wrath when I translated wrath, fear when I translated fear. But love also... why do I complain? I do not know what I seek. It is too personal to speak of. Perhaps like David, I look for the dialogue in covenant with the Lord. This I have found in his words and also in the NT and in my tradition - though I know there are few who celebrate such experience. This too is very difficult. Our words of confession are insignificant and - what shall I say? - perhaps arrogant. Who will listen to such words?

Perhaps that is why Job must be faced - not for the terror of his experience, but for its strangeness and regardless of the need to reconstruct the poem. If something is dislocated, perhaps it should be translated in place with a differing format to set it off from the dialogue. But the words - reconstructed from Aramaic or the Masoretic punctuation? I have no idea without trying. Another curious thing is that in contrast to the psalms, Job does not seem to play much of a part in the mind of the NT writers. Why is this, I wonder? Is that too another reason to work through the poem? (There are not many allusions in the NT in the Song or Ecclesiastes either.)

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