Review of Thomas Krüger, Manfred Oeming, Konrad Schmid, Christoph Uehlinger (eds), Das Buch Hiob und seine Interpretationen

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Thomas Krüger, Manfred Oeming, Konrad Schmid, and Christoph Uehlinger (eds), Das Buch Hiob und seine Interpretationen. Beiträge zum Hiob-Symposium auf dem Monte Verità vom 14.-19- August 2005 (AthANT, 88; Zürich: TVZ, 2007). Pp. 522.  Cloth. ISBN 3-290-17407-7. ISBN-13 978-3-290-17407-1


This tome is a substantial collection of 25 essays presented in 2005 at a symposium at the international conference centre of ETH Zurich in Monte Verità (Switzerland), 520 pages from some of the foremost Job specialists. Nine contributions in English cover 170 pages. The remaining chapters are in German, some 50 pages or more, a reflection of the cycles of speeches of the book of Job where each friend tries to outdo the others.

Part I (Historische Kontexte des hebraïschen und des griechichen Hiobbuchs) has six articles placing Job in the context of ancient literature. Katherine Dell’s, ‘Job: Sceptics, Philosophers and Tragedians’ is a sequel to her The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature. She argues that the differences between Job and pre-Hellenistic philosophic schools do not support interdependence. At most, there is ‘a spirit of scepticism and a presentation of Job’s situation as tragic insofar as the Jewish religious framework of this sceptical author would allow’ (19). ‘The Book of Job as a Trial: a Perspective from a Comparison to Some Relevant Ancient Near Eastern Texts’ by Yair Hoffman compares Job with Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, the Babylonian Theodicy, the Eloquent Peasant, and the Negative Confession by way of the trial motif (21–31). By employing the trial as a structural device, the book of Job challenges traditional wisdom literature. Contrary to the opinion expressed by the wise man of the Biblical book of Proverbs, Job is targeted by God because (not despite) he is wise, industrious, God-fearing and righteous. Job’s righteousness and utter misery challenge the conventions of traditional wisdom literature (wise = industrious = righteous = God-fearing = rich) and of psalm literature (righteous = poor = God-fearing = sufferer). Hoffman adds a third level with a challenge of the covenantal paradigm. Markus Witte’s, ‘The Greek Book of Job’ is a very useful presentation of the Septuagint of Job. It is followed by ‘Hiob und Ipuwer’ by Annette Schellenberg (55–79), who focuses her comparison mainly on the Egyptian Admonitions. Then, Edward Greenstein, ‘Features of Language in the Poetry of Job,’ demonstrates that the language particularities of the book result from poetic virtuosity rather than from the use of a language different from Biblical Hebrew. Closing the first section, Christoph Uehlinger’s monumental ‘Das Hiob-Buch im Kontext der altorientalischen Literatur- und Religionsgeschichte’ (97–163) offers a comprehensive attempt to place Job at the end of a broad diachronic spectrum beginning with the Instructions of Ur-Ninurta through the Juste souffrant, Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, and the Babylonian Theodicy.

Part II, Das Hiobbuch in biblisch-literaturgeschichtlichem Kontext, focuses on inner-biblical relationships. Jürgen van Oorschot, ‘Die Entstehung des Hiobbuches’ (165–84) reviews the genesis of Job and discuses current trends in research, in particular a renewed interest in the prose frame, and offers a reconstruction of the development of the frame through several redactions. Detlef Jericke, ‘»Wüste« (midbār) im Hiobbuch’ (185–96) studies the desert theme in Job 38:16; 24:5 and 1:19 and considers Job as a figure of the Judean Diaspora. Leo Perdue, ‘Creation in the Dialogues between Job and his Opponents’ (197–216) reads Job as a response to the devastation of Judah, revealing the ideological base of its kingship and priesthood as false. In so doing, Perdue supplies provocative translations of Job’s two answers to the divine speeches:


Since I am despised (by you), how shall I answer you? I place my hand on my mouth. (Job 40:3)

I reject you and I feel sorry for dust and ashes (= human beings). (Job 42:6)


Neither arrogant nor blasphemous, the defiant Job continues his protest against the unjust God and is sorry for humanity that has to suffer under God’s callous oppression (215). The subsequent articles tackle the same problem. Thomas Krüger, ‘Did Job Repent?’ (217–29) also challenges the notion that Job repented, while Joachim Vette, ‘Hiobs Fluch als thematische Klammer’ (231–40) presents Job’s self-curse in chapter 3 and its revocation in 42.6 as an inner frame binding chapters 3 and 38—42.6 together. Analysing Job’s references to the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, Konrad Schmid, ‘Innerbiblische Schriftdiskussion im Hiobbuch’ (241–61), sees Job as a kind of dialectic theology criticizing “Biblical” notions while upholding their authority. Andreas Kunz-Lübcke, ‘Hiob prozessiert mit Gott – und obsiegt – vorerst,’ interprets Job 31 on the model of Egyptian negative confessions. Job’s 42 confessions correspond to the 42 confessions in Book of the Dead chapter 125. The article is illustrated with Egyptian scenes. In ‘Eliphaz: One among the Prophets or Ironist Spokesman?’, Willem Beuken rehabilitates Eliphaz’s first speech (Job 4–5) as a genuine, non-ironic, response to Job’s complaint in the previous chapter, taking seriously God’s sovereignty and the meaningfulness of an ethical life.

Gabrielle Oberhänsli-Widmer, ‘Hiobtraditionen im Judentum’ opens Part III, which is devoted to the reception of the book of Job. Following this first article, which discusses Jewish traditions up to Job’s come-back in modern secular Judaism, Jens Herzer covers the New Testament reception in ‘Jakobus, Paulus und Hiob: die Intertextualität der Weisheit’. Then, Choon-Leong Seow, ‘Job’s Wife with Due Respect,’ recovers a minority view which dissented from the Church Fathers’ antifeminist readings of Job’s wife. Illustrated with a black and white plate and five full page colour reproductions of paintings, this article reveals the existence of a lively chain of transmission in addition to the known Patristic tradition. Carol Newsom, ‘Dramaturgy and the Book of Job’ (375–93), follows the ups and downs of the notion that Job was influenced by Greek tragedy across the centuries. Johannes Anderegg, ‘Hiob und Goethes Faust’ (395–409) and A. Bodenheimer, ‘Heines Hiob,’ close the survey with the rendering of Job by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and by Heinrich Heine.

Under the heading Das Hiobthema als Sachproblem in Theologie, Religionswissenschaft, Philosophie und Psychologie, Part IV begins with a discussion of the relevance of Job in pastoral counselling by Manfried Oeming and Wolfgang Drechsel: ‘Das Buch Hiob – ein Lehrstück der Seelsorge?’ The next contribution by Daria Pelozzi-Olgiati, ‘Leben und Tod, Unterwelt und Welt’ (441–54) focuses on Job 3 and how Job copes with contingence. Rüdiger Bittner, ‘Hiob und Gerechtigkeit’ brings out clearly how the divine display of power evades the problem of divine guilt. The boss is always right: ‘Ich bin der Herr, und ob ich gerecht bin, ist deshalb egal’ (460). This conclusion should be brought to bear upon a question raised by Hoffman: ‘Should God’s response be considered a divine accusation against Job, or rather a defendant’s speech by the accused judge?’ (23) Does it support Hoffman’s qualification of God’s answer as ambivalent? Interaction with Schmid’s demonstration that Job 42:8 applies the Deuteronomistic arsenal to God (251) would produce some interesting results. If YHWH rather than Job’s friends (as it is too often claimed and translated) almost commits a grievous folly against Job’s friends (after the one committed again Job), the book of Job is far more daring than its interpreters in stating plainly and coherently Job’s innocence and God’s guilt.

Christian Frevel’s ‘Schöpfungsglaube und Menchenwürde im Hiobbuch’ (467–97) is a detailed ethical application. It addresses the oft raised question of the books purpose, which may emancipate readers from the much later claim that Job is about theodicy. Isn’t Job more concerned with the justification of lament and denunciation of God despite his height and supremacy? (471). This topic may make it one of the most siginificant contributions for future discussions. Frevel’s footnotes discussing Job’s “repentance” (471 n. 14; 496 n. 69) could have benefited from interaction with Krüger’s and with Uehlinger’s articles on theodicy. The volume contains a final contribution by Brigitte Boothe, ‘Die Narrative Organisation der Hiob-Erzählung des Alten Testaments und die verdeckte Loyalitätsprobe’ (499–513).

The volume closes with a cursory index of cited passages which does not account for the footnotes, although in some articles the footnotes cover half the page. Given the encyclopaedic nature of several articles and the sheer amount of material in the volume, readers will lament the cruel absence of their best friend, the subject index that retrieves the pearls of scholarship from Leviathan’s jaws.

Ideally, the authors would have integrated relevant points from the other contributions into the final drafts of their articles. As in many conference proceedings, they did not do so and the problem appears from the first contribution on. Dell writes that the rightness and wrongness of the different perspectives expressed in Job are left open and that Job’s repentance spoils his ‘having spoken “what is right” in that because he has already capitulated in the light of God’s presence’ (7). At this point (footnote 25), Dell thanks Ed Greenstein for challenging the supposition that Jonah ‘repents’ and Dell refers to alternative translations in Driver and Gray’s commentary (published 1921!) although 200 pages later Perdue and Krüger present (both in English!) a thorough refutation of this point. I regret Krüger’s mitigation of his crucial demonstration of the absence of repentance (‘Job 42:1–6 can still be read as a statement of repentance but not in the sense of what his friends expected’ p. 226), but his conclusion has major consequences on Dell’s argument. Instead of the fuzzy “academic” non-committal claim that the text is open-ended, the recognition that Job’s staunch refusal to admit guilt would make the book of Job less Pyrrhonian and more Promethean. If he does not repent, Job, like Prometheus, does not submit in any way and this becomes a key factor of tragedy which Job does not ‘fail to fulfill’ (13). Since the dark side of God revealed by his display of power provides no answer to Job’s profound questioning, Job comes close to identifying God as unpredictable like the dark forces of fate found in tragedy (15). Hence, the claim that the repentance spoils the tragedy (16, quote from G. Steiner, ‘Tragedy, Remorse and Justice’, The Listener 102 [1979], 508–11), does not hold if Job does not repent, or if, as Jung argued in Answer to Job, Job’s repentance is tongue in cheek. The link with tragedy is strengthened. Yet, the ultimate argument against labelling Job as a tragedy is, I suggest, that the book does offer a practical solution to its readers. Job’s intercession (Job 42:7–9) is presented as effectively protecting his friends from foolish divine wrath. By extension, readers are invited to place themselves under Job’s intercession (see Ezekiel 14) to avoid the collateral damages of God’s daily encounter of Leviathan. Hence Hoffman’s claim (30) that the sombre conclusion of Job offers no solution since God is unable to provide sufficient answers to Job’s accusations should be reconsidered. That Job does nor repent and needs not do so since he is granted a clear vindication of his innocence must have major pastoral consequences which one seeks in vain in the final part.

Inasmuch as this review bewails the fact that the proceedings reflect too closely the “dialogue” between Job and his friends and display too little engagement of the ideas of the other participants (did they spend a week together in silence?), these criticisms are miniscule in comparison with the value of a volume which makes the reader look forward to the integration of its very important insights into forthcoming works on Job. This is a landmark volume that opens a new era in Joban scholarship. Ploughing through these 500 pages is worth the effort. The editors and Theologischer Verlag Zürich are to be congratulated for producing such a volume a mere two years after the symposium.

Philippe Guillaume, British Academy Fellow, University of Sheffield, UK