Friday, May 22, 2009

Job 21:13 - an example of a primitive decision

Choosing the alternate reading - a first exercise in textual criticism. As the BLB records here יבלו in verse 13 has an alternative reading.

The Qere readings are corrections made to the Hebrew text around the tenth century AD by the Masoretes. Because of their reverence for the biblical texts, these corrections were originally noted in the margin of the text so as to leave the original content undisturbed.
The alternative reading is כ (kaph) for (bet) ב. One can see how easy it could be to copy one for the other. How would one choose a reading?

[Update: TS says the Qere reading is correct - there is no room for a form of בלה, whose sense in the Bible is always the negative one of destruction. Guess what - I would fail an exam with TS, 'cause I don't hear it this way. The question for me is - how diametrically opposed to his friends does Job have to be to gain their eventual concurrence with his view? - A little subtlety is appropriate, I think.]

I like the original since it does not leave Job 13:28 as the lone occurrence of this word בלה in the poem. It is suitable for Job to compare what he said about himself in chapter 13 with what he says of the wicked here. The sense could be just that he gets old rather than that he completes his days - and one could sidestep the issue by choosing a gloss that blends the two meanings. בלה (balah) is relatively rare in the Bible, כלה (kalah) relatively common. The first can have a non-confrontational meaning - grow old, or a more pointed meaning decay, consume, waste away. The second word 'means' to accomplish, cease, consume, determine, end, fail, finish, be complete, be accomplished, be ended, be at an end, be finished, be spent.

As you can see, you can make it 'mean' just about anything from destroy to accomplish!

Just what is 'meaning' that we take it so seriously?

My choice for you, dear reader, is to determine 'meaning' from usage and from the tone of the passage. But the 'meaning' is more in the overall feel of the poem rather than the individual word. At the same time, I try - and I could toil for ever in this trial, to make the English 'sound like' the Hebrew - so my English is often awkward and strained so that you can hear connections between parts of the text where there might have been heard connections in the original story as told.

Suppose that I chose 'Consumed' for both these words! It would obscure possible tones in the music. Or that I chose 'Spent' for one instance and 'Completed' for another. Again, there would be less music. In this case - what should I do with the more positive tone of Job 21:13 and the more negative tone of Job 13:28. Since I have chosen 'decay' in chapter 13, does 'decay' work here? It does - because in the surrounding text, we know that we all decay - but the wicked does not decay in the stocks or as a moth-eaten garment (chapter 13), i.e. in 'pain' but rather in 'good' (chapter 21). Or if I chose a less negative gloss - say - 'ages' for this verse . Would this work in the more negative context?

Here's 13:28
You put my feet in the stocks
and watch all my paths
you pierce the roots of my feet
and this as rot decays (or ages)
as a moth-eaten cloak

Here's 21:13
Their days decay (or they age or their days age) in good
and in a moment they are broken in (or go down to) Sheol

There is a second alternative in the next stich - is it 'broken' חתת (five occurrences in Job) or 'goes down' נחת (unique in Job). I don't know yet what I will choose, but stay tuned, I will eventually make a decision. I am sure you can see that such word studies are endless - and since I am myself decaying and not endless, I must limit my reading and analysis.

If I am also both good and wicked, Beloved, let my good be in that uncreated light, and my wickedness in the redemption treasured for all as wrath turns Job 14.

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