Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 14 (2014) - Review

Seow, C. L., Job 1–21: Interpretation and Commentary (Illuminations; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). Pp. xxviii + 971. US$95.00. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-8028-4895-6. ISBN 978-3-11-020528-2.

This sizeable volume is the first in a new commentary series from Eerdmans, one of whose stated goals is to “employ…the full range of biblical scholarship to illumine the text from a wide variety of perspectives” (p. xii). Significantly, this includes “the engagement and impact of the text through the centuries” (p. xii). The book is divided into two sections: roughly a quarter of the book, 248 pages, is devoted to an introduction to the book of Job as a whole, while the latter part of the book is devoted to a commentary on the first 21 chapters.

The introduction is divided into ten sections and functions mainly as a survey of various topics related to the book of Job. The first section, entitled “Texts and Versions,” surveys the various Hebrew, Greek, Vulgate, Aramaic, and Syriac texts of the book of Job while the following section deals with issues of orthography and language. While Seow does not deny a compositional history, the third section advocates reading the book as a whole in its present structure and argues for the coherence of each of the major sections of the book. From this section, Seow proceeds by briefly looking at the provenance and literary setting of the book of Job before surveying various proposed genres for the book. Here, he concludes that there is no “precise parallel” for the “overall genre of the book” but rather that the book “employs a rich variety of genres” (p. 61). The following three sections look at the book's structure, literary artistry, and theology expressed by each of the main characters, including the narrator.

At the beginning of the introduction, Seow comments that Job is “more than a biblical book” but also a “tradition” that precedes the book, which itself has been “interpreted, retold, and debated from antiquity to the present” (p. 1). Thus, it is no surprise that Seow devotes the last section of the introduction, representing well over half of the introductory section, to what he calls the “history of consequences.” Seow prefers the rubric “history of consequences” to the traditional rubrics of “history of interpretation” and “reception-history,” as he considers the latter rubrics to create a distinction that is “artificial” (p. 110). This section on the history of consequences is divided between: 1) Jewish consequences, which is separated between Second Temple, Early Rabbinic, Mediaeval, and Modern Periods; 2) Christian consequences, which is split between the early period (including the NT and early interpreters), the Mediaeval period, the Reformation period and Romanticism, the Enlightenment, and the Modern period which spans from the twentieth century to the present time; and 3) a smaller section on Muslim consequences, which is sub-divided between the Qur'an, Stories of the Prophets, Ibn al-‘Arabī and modern Islam. Each section and subsection provides a survey of the various receptions, interpretations, and re-interpretations of the book of Job.

The majority of the book is devoted to commentary on the first 21 chapters of Job and the commentary on each chapter follows the same basic structure: a translation of the chapter, an interpretation section, and a commentary section. The interpretation sections essentially provide a theological overview of the chapter in question. These sections begin with an introductory survey of the text followed by theological interpretation of the individual chapter, which is divided according to the structure of that chapter, and finish with a retrospect section that functions as a general summary. Importantly, included within the interpretation section for each chapter, near the introductory overviews, are sidebars that specifically deal with the history of consequences for the chapter in question.

Following the section on interpretation is a commentary section. Here, Seow moves verse-by-verse, giving a detailed study of key words and phrases in the text. Largely based upon orthographic, etymological, and comparative arguments, these studies seem to function mainly as a defense of Seow's translation of the text, but also provide a survey of different interpretations as Seow often engages with and mentions other views, as he does, for example, in his discussion of the phrase “the enchanters of the day” in Job 3:8 (pp. 349–50).

Given the apparent importance of the history of consequences for the commentary series, it is no surprise that the history of interpretation and reception history factor strongly both in the interpretation and commentary sections of the second half of the book. For example, in the interpretation section on chapter two, Seow gives a discussion on Job's wife that ranges from Islamic tradition and the naming of Job's wife (p. 294) to her portrayal in Christian iconography (pp. 294–5). Similarly, Seow is not averse to incorporate sources which would be included under the history of consequences rubric in his commentary section. Thus, he readily references mediaeval rabbis, such as Ibn-Ezra and Ramban, in his discussion of the “land of Uz” in Job 1:1 (p. 264), or Rashi in his discussion of the adverb “there” in Job 3:17 (p. 362). To be accurate, however, the history of consequences references do not seem to appear with the same frequency in the commentary sections as they do in the interpretation sections.

There are number of aspects that can be commended in this new commentary on the book of Job, and two in particular. In the first instance, C. L. Seow brings his expertise in the Hebrew language to bear on the text in the commentary section. Readers who know and appreciate Seow's work in this area will undoubtedly appreciate his notes on these chapters. Second, though not all readers will appreciate Seow's move to include the “history of consequences” in the commentary or indeed appreciate how he defines the rubric this commentary does provide, for those who are interested, substantial information on how the book of Job has been received and interpreted by faith communities throughout the centuries. While perhaps not exhaustive, it is a comprehensive treatment of the subject and as such provides a valuable addition to books and commentaries on Job that have tended to be more historical-critical in their emphasis.

There is a minor question about the formatting of the commentary, particularly the history of consequences sidebars. Since the history of consequences rubric seems to be a category that features throughout the commentary, it is unclear why the separate sections are necessary. Such is the case in the discussion of historical interpretations of Job's wife, which is mentioned in the history of consequences sidebar (p. 292), but discussed in more detail in the interpretation section (pp. 294–7). In short, those readers looking for the history of consequences of a particular passage would be advised to read all relevant sections—interpretation, history of consequences sidebars, and commentary—for the passage they are interested in and not just the sidebars. That being said, Seow's translation with extensive notes and his comprehensive survey of the history of consequences for the book of Job make this commentary a helpful contribution to Joban studies.

Alexander W. Breitkopf, McMaster Divinity College