Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Oeming, Manfred and Konrad Schmid, Job's Journey: Stations of Suffering (CrStHB, 7; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015). Pp. xiv+110. Hardback. US$26.95. ISBN: 978-1-57506-399-7.

This volume from Eerdmans offers a lightly revised and slightly expanded English translation of the authors' German book Hiobs Weg: Stationen von Menschen im Lied.[1] In a “foreword” (which turns out to be more akin to an “introduction”—though no less helpful for it), the authors orient the reader to current scholarly discussion of the book of Job and this volume's place within it. Swimming somewhat against the tide of source-critically oriented German-speaking scholarship on Job, which sees the “tensions” in the book of Job as reflecting a complex model of textual growth, the authors are persuaded that the fissures in Job reflect an effort to engage readers in an unsettling and shifting discourse on the nature of humanity and God. According to the authors, Job is certainly no older than the exile and was probably produced after it, but cannot easily be assigned a genre, despite boasting numerous parallels in ANE literature. While the authors remain agnostic on Job's geographical provenance, they are more confident in identifying its interests in theodicy, creation theology and—as has been more recently argued—in social anthropology and pastoral/therapeutic reflections on suffering. The latter is most visible in the authors' view of Job as offering a variety of “strategies of comfort” when dealing with suffering—an approach that, it might be noted, resonates with David Clines's suggestion that Job is less interested in the “why” of innocent suffering than in “what to do” when in the midst of it.[2]

In the first chapter, while Schmid admits that Job 28 and 32–37 are subsequent literary additions to the book, he rightly critiques the lack of scholarly evidence for separating the prose prologue/epilogue from the dialogues which they bookend, though the reader might wish for more evidence for Schmid's own argument for the narrative frame's dependence on the dialogues, whether that dependence is original to the composition or a secondary interpretation. More interestingly, Schmid argues that the prologue—with its fairy-tale qualities, its absurdly pious Job and especially its insistence on locating the cause of Job's suffering in a capricious divine test—invites the reader to reject the prologue's own and all other explanations offered by the book for the real cause of Job's suffering. While Schmid recognizes that this requires the book of Job to be read as a critique of pseudo-theology, it would seem to largely reduce theology of any sort to what may be said to God rather than what may be said about him. While this is an understandable resignation, not everyone would agree that it is a necessary one and there are hints here that even Schmid himself may not be willing to fully embrace this concession.

A rather different approach (though one anticipated in the foreword) is adopted in the following chapter where Oeming takes the stage and finds in Job's dialogues with his friends and his wife (despite the latter being typically treated as part of the prologue) ancient strategies of pastoral care, which he proceeds to compare with modern ones. For Oeming, Job's affirmation of his own innocence and his lamenting (to God) point to a strategy of self-comfort which facilitates hope, though one wonders whether the Job of the dialogues is not rather more hopeless than Oeming seems to acknowledge. The difficulties of redeeming Job's wife for the purposes of pastoral care encourage Oeming to rather half-heartedly challenge the seemingly negative reading of her in the Hebrew (about which more might have been said), before ultimately turning to the more sympathetic portrayal of Job's wife found in the Septuagint. Oeming also finds pastoral value in the friends' initial silence, their listening, and perhaps most interestingly, their challenging (where appropriate) of Job's misperceptions and faulty recollection. Here is a welcome corrective to the widespread scholarly tendency to read the contributions of the “friends” as cold comfort and a betrayal of Job and even of God. Finally, in Job 38–41, Oeming identifies God's contribution as a corrective to Job's assumption of his importance in the cosmos, a conclusion which is not especially novel, but one he does seem to affirm rather more than Schmid suggests in the previous chapter. In concluding the chapter Oeming observes on one hand that Job's own insistence on affirming his innocence and expressing his pain resonates with contemporary approaches to counselling. On the other hand, he finds it disappointing (though not unsurprising) that neither the excavation of Job's responsibility offered by the friends, nor the radical relativizing of Job's perspective offered by God seem to have found a similar resonance.

A second chapter from Oeming takes up Job's own declaration of his innocence in Job 31, which follows very much in the footsteps of Fohrer's seminal treatment of the chapter in its conclusion.[3] That is, that the Sermon on the Mount shares much with Job 31 in its application, intensification, focus on motivation and its radicalization of the demands of the moral law at the expense of the cultic—a conclusion that is easier to sustain than Oeming's suggestion that Job 31 should be characterized as belonging to the reception history of the Decalogue. While Oeming's analysis takes Job to task for neglecting his own sins of omission and failing to critique the market, it is doubtful that any ancient reader would have found fault with this, given the stubborn insistence of the narrator of the prologue and Job himself in the dialogues that he is in fact “innocent.”

A third chapter from Oeming proceeds to Elihu's contribution (Job 32–37) and focuses on the appearance of the “angel of intercession” in Job 33:23, which for Oeming cannot be an intercessor in the traditional sense given the absence of an intercession or plea to God and the insistence that he has “found a ransom” (33:24). Oeming suggests that the ransom found is a “treasure chest of grace” (a surplus of righteous acts) which the angelus intercessor offers and by means of which he wrests forgiveness from God. Intriguing as such a suggestion may be, one might wish (as Oeming himself notes) for a clearer indication in Job 33 (or indeed elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible) that this is the sort of ransom envisioned here.

In assessing the significance of God's response (chs. 38–41), Oeming canvasses a variety of scholarly suggestions before focusing on Keel's argument that the divine speeches exemplify the notion of God as “Lord of the Animals” and, as such, master of the forces of chaos.[4] Noting that the God of the divine speeches is more a keeper of animals than a vanquisher of them, Oeming suggests (as previously advertised in chapter 2) that the divine purpose is a relativizing of Job's human concerns in light of the wider natural order and that the only grace to be found lies in the very fact that God speaks and thus dignifies Job with a response—a position which leaves God saying rather less than some commentators have suggested, but rather more than Schmid suggested in chapter 1.

Finally Oeming takes up the question of why God praises Job and declares him innocent (42:7) when all others within the book (including Job himself in 42:6) have found fault with him? Following a helpful cataloguing of previous scholarly solutions which he finds wanting, Oeming offers his own interpretation of Job 42:7, arrived at independently, though shared with others: God does not affirm what Job has said about him, but rather that (unlike his friends) Job has spoken “to” God—a solution which does indeed have much to recommend it and might sit slightly more comfortably with Schmid's initial assessment of the book of Job as a whole than some of Oeming's other contributions in this volume.

Indeed, given that the first chapter is Schmid's sole single-authored contribution, this volume would appear to be less of a co-authored monograph and more a collection of Oeming's essays on Job with an introduction by Schmid. Having said that, the generally careful scholarship offered throughout, the volume's useful introduction to German scholarship on Job, and the elegance of English expression on the whole, does, in my view, justify the translation of the German original for a wider readership.

David Shepherd, Trinity College Dublin

[1] Manfried Oeming and Konrad Schmid, Hiobs Weg: Stationen von Menschen im Lied (BTSt, 45; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2001). reference

[2] D. J. Clines, “Job,” in B. W. Anderson (ed.), The Books of the Bible (New York: Scribner's, 1989), 181–201. reference

[3] G. Fohrer, “The Righteous Man in Job 31,” in J. L. Crenshaw (ed.), Essays in Old Testament Ethics (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1974), 3–22. reference

[4] O. Keel, Jahwes Entgegnung an Hiob: Eine Deutung von Hiob 38–41 vor dem Hintergrund der zeitgenössischen Bildkunst (FRLANT, 121; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 86. reference