Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Trebolle Barrera, Julio and Susana Pottecher, Job (Madrid: Trotta, 2011). Pp. 256. Paperback. € 19.23. ISBN: 978-84-9879-197-6

Even the most cursory look at the book shows that Julio Trebolle's and Susana Pottecher's approach to Job is quite different from the standard biblical commentary or monograph. The book begins with a translation, and lacks any kind of introduction or foreword. Following the translation, one finds a series of essays grouped according to different topics: “The Character”; “The Book and its Genres;” “Job Before God; God Before Leviathan;” “The Reception of Job in the Religious Tradition;” “Job in Literature, Philosophy, and Art;” and “The Poetic and the Sacred.” The last chapter of this section reveals the authors' translational method.  The book concludes with a bibliographical list which is a helpful guide for expanding on the topics touched upon in this work; it is remarkably up to date and comprehensive, citing publications from 2009 next to classic works of scholarship on the book of Job.

The translation is ‘impressive.’ Trebolle and Pottecher manage to combine the strictness of a literal translation of the Hebrew text with high poetic standards in the Spanish language. Although comparing the Spanish translation with the Hebrew (BHS) text reveals their translational method, the authors' essay, “Translating Job” presents us with a detailed account of the choices they have made in tackling such a hard text. They have resisted engagement with textual criticism in any systematic way, and focused on the Masoretic Text—an option which is understandable given the particular difficulty of reading and interpreting the book (as reflected in the many corruptions and clear misunderstandings or ad hoc interpretations in the ancient versions), and stems from the desire to present the book as a complete work in its transmission and reading up to the present day. From a literal approach to the original Hebrew, the authors have managed to progress into a highly poetic Spanish free verse by taking into account both modern theories on translation (saliently the Nida School and the establishing “dynamic equivalences”) and a deep awareness of the poetics of the original language, which attests to Julio Trebolle's long experience as a biblical scholar: the Spanish verse is crafted by mirroring the semantic parallelism structure of the Hebrew, which in turn is connected to the semantically-relevant number of words per colon and hence stress patterns. Thus, although the final product qualifies as free verse, it is clearly rhythmic and highly reflective of the original. This special care put on the sound and, in the end, musical feel of the text, cannot be separated from the authors' skill in lexical choices, which results in faithfulness concerning both semantics and pragmatics, as it pays attention to the connotation and contextual background of terms, keeps concrete words over abstract ones, respects the original's prevalence of parataxis, and shows awareness of an element of archaism which takes Job back to its fundamental ancient Near Eastern mythological referents. All these are key to the production of a series of terse and intense pages which manage to transfer not only the meaning but also the feeling and deep roots of the Hebrew composition. Besides technical acumen, the results reflect the authors' incredible poetic sensitivity and empathy.

Turning now to the essays, just a cursory reading shows that the structural originality in this section of the book matches the translation's quality: Instead of presenting the continuous structure of a commentary or monograph, what we have is a mosaic of short (or rather highly concentrated) articles on different aspects of Job. The authors have adopted a middle ground between the specialized academic paper and a more divulgation-oriented genre, which makes the book stand out as a wide-range work for those interested in Job, from the biblical scholar or literary critic to the student or the reader from outside academia. Each short essay in the six chapters listed above manages to insinuate a large amount of brilliant ideas and intuitions with a smaller number of footnotes (though references to key works of secondary literature are always included) and denseness than the average commentary. This is not to say that the writing lacks in depth of ideas or new and brilliant approaches to the text of Job. On the contrary, the authors reveal themselves as masters of suggestion: each piece synthetizes a large amount of research and scholarship on different topics, which progress in a sort of expansive circular, or rather spiral, movement. The essays manage to move from intra-biblical analysis of the book and character of Job as a dialogue with Genesis and other writings, including ancient Near Eastern parallels, to the multiple ramifications they find in progressively wider contexts, covering, saliently, theological developments in Judaism and Christianity, but also the Golden Age of Spanish literature (15th-16th Centuries) and contemporary art and philosophy, which leads to the readings and understanding of Job in a post-Holocaust world. The diversity of the book is probably its greatest virtue, as the topics it includes are not usually found in a single volume and by the same authors, creating an organic vision which surpasses the standard monograph approach. Also, the collection of papers manages to balance and interconnect the analysis of Job as book with the projection of Job as character-symbol, thus creating a unique dynamic between text and reception, between book, legend, and influence.

For the acuteness and accessibility of the essays, their larger-than-the-parts total effect, and the exquisite translation, Trebolle's and Pottecher's volume on Job is certainly a commendable reading for anybody interested in the biblical text, from all academic levels and life interests.

Andrés Piquer Otero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain (