J. Boss, Human Consciousness of God in the Book of Job: A Theological and Psychological Commentary

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Boss, Jeffrey, Human Consciousness of God in the Book of Job: A Theological and Psychological Commentary (London: Continuum, 2010). Pp. 289. Hardcover. US$70.00. ISBN 978-0-56725-389-7.

It has long been observed that, in keeping with classical wisdom tradition, the book of Job is not specifically concerned with Israel but rather with general aspects of human life. Job lives outside of Israel, and outside of the prologue and epilogue the Hebrew name Yahweh is found only in an allusion to Isa 41:20c in Job's speech at 12:9b (cf. p. 25). Following this lead, Boss offers here a reading of Job in the literary form in which the book has been received (i.e., as a coherent whole) with relevance to human life in the twenty-first century. In his view, the book of Job is about the practice of “faith,” a subject that is both universal and timeless. According to Boss, the critical faith distinction is not found between religions but rather within them. It is “a distinction within any faith community between those who believe that they have ultimate truth, and those whose faith is the basis for seeking further truth” (p. 257). His assertion is that no faith community has a monopoly on truth or right living. To some extent, this observation applies to the scientific community as well, insofar as the scientific discourse is always susceptible of being distorted by political and commercial interests. Boss comments, in this regard, that, “Job's integrity accuses much of today's political and commercial distortion of science” (p. 258, n. 1). It is of interest to note, here, that Boss speaks as a scientist. He is retired from the post of Senior Lecturer in Physiology in Bristol University, and has published research in physiology, cell biology, and the history of medicine and science.

Boss is fully aware of the numerous literary questions about the book of Job, but these are not the focus of his analysis. His burden is not to examine again the poetic genius of the author and the many ways in which particular topoi are developed within the book. Instead, Boss approaches the book as a narrative in which the two central characters are God and Job. He follows the lead of John Milton, who classified the book as a short epic (p. 1). It tells of struggle on a grand scale, but in this instance the struggle is that of a single person. The battle is waged within Job and the battle is waged by Job; in the Hebrew Scriptures it is the human heart that is frequently the battlefield of great struggles.

The book is divided into eight parts that follow the divisions of the composition of Job in the way that Boss develops the narrative. Each part is a reflection on the ways in which mortals encounter God. The introduction (part A) reflects on God as nurturer in 1:1–5; the sequel (part B) considers God as destroyer (1:6–2:13). The lament of Job (ch. 3) treats God as the self-concealing one in Job's dark night. The dialogue is extended to include the words of Job which follow the abrupt ending of the last speech of Bildad in 25:1–6, and the speech of Elihu (32:1–37:24). This lengthy section (part D) examines God as the desired one. Each exchange within this section is reviewed as Job rediscovering himself, including the monologue in which Job ponders the limits of wisdom (28:1–28) and the dramatic reversals in the life of one who attests to having lived in harmony with the divine values of the covenant (29:1–31:40). The speeches of God, including the two responses of Job (38:1–42:6) look to God as destination; the goal of the quest is achieved (part E). The sequel (part F, 42:7–9) is that Job returns to God's service; this is not a happy ending, but a rich beginning (p. 227). Each of the units within these sections ends with a summary of the progression of the narrative, the psychological implications for Job, and the theological implications for the reader. Part G is a reconsideration of 42:10–17 as pointing to God as the eternal ultimate reality, the one beyond words, beyond any representation or personification. The final section (part H) consists of six conclusions that can be drawn on the composition of Job: it can be read as having a continuous coherent narrative; one evident narrative theme is Job's consciousness of God; wisdom can be treated as a divine attribute accessible to humans and as a pursuit that eludes human efforts; the book has a characteristic view of the non-human natural world; the genre of Job is that of hero stories; and finally, the book is relevant to existential questions of the present time.

Boss is conversant with scholarly literature—from a number of traditions and disciplines—relating to Job from the early twentieth century to the present. His bibliography is not extensive (pp. 259–265), but it includes classic commentaries on Job (E. Dhorme, G. Fohrer, M. Greenberg, R. Gordis), philosophical and literary studies (Martin Buber, Northrop Frye), and numerous specialized studies on Job. He is particularly familiar with Jewish thought and tradition, often derived from Hebrew writings. But he also refers regularly to Christian theology, both in direct relation to Job and suffering in Christian thought.

Boss provides an informed introduction to the composition of Job for the general reader, noting various possibilities and positions that may be defended for the composition of Job. This prepares the way for his analysis of the person of Job and the transformations of his faith and character in terms of his experience with God. Beginning with Job's lament in chapter 3, Boss approaches the book of Job as the process of the person, not as a theodicy. Thus the lament is not a restraint of emotion, but a restraint of ideology. His analysis of each speech in the discourse is concise and erudite, including helpful lexical and exegetical observations. In the dialogue, the friends only speak about God, but Job regularly speaks to God (p. 59), exemplifying a theology as the practise of the presence of God. The God speeches are the response to Job's initial lament (p. 214); God can come to Job because of the change in Job himself, though they are in no sense actuated by Job's will.

Boss writes in a non-technical style that makes it accessible to a wide variety of readers; his work is profound in that its basic argument can be readily understood, but the reader will recognize the significance of his thought and the thorough research with which he develops each section of the book, as is evident in extensive footnotes. He works from a sophisticated hermeneutic which is eruditely articulated in four principles (pp. 9–11): we do not need to know the author's intentions; we must accept the text as it is; the work must be understood as a whole; we need to understand the language of discourse.

The book has an occasional typo (e.g., Crowley [sic], p. 16, n. 4; an incorrect reference [2:12], p. 50), but the presentation is clear and very attractive. As is clear from this review, the book is primarily intended for readers interested in the relevance of Job for contemporary issues, especially in the field of religion, belief, and personal values. Readers more focused on interpreting Job from an historical perspective may, however, find some valuable insights in the proposed analysis of the book's structure, as well as in various exegetical comments.

August H. Konkel, McMaster Divinity College