Books mentioned in this review:
C.L. Seow, Job 1-21. Illuminations Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013. 999 pp. $90.00 Hardcover
Michael Austin, Re-Reading Job: Understanding the Ancient Worlds Greatest Poem. Contemporary Studies in Scripture. Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2014. 173 pp. $20.95 (paperback) Hardcover TBA
Herman Wouk, The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2010. 183 pp. $23.99 Hardcover, $14.99 (paperbackBack Bay Books)
James Faulconer, The Old Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions. Maxwell Institute: Provo, UT, 2014. 658 pp. Paperback, $24.95;
When were facing true adversity, we often find ourselves wondering what message God is trying to tell us. Are we doing something wrong? Are we not righteous or humble enough? Is what were going through now a result of bad choices we made some time ago? Those questions become magnified when we look at people we know (believe) are far better than we are and who are facing even more daunting challenges.
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” (Job 1:1, Seow, p. 249)
Thus begins the story of a righteous man who lost everything due to a conversation between God and Satan. Satan argues that Job has no reason to doubt God. Everything in his life is golden: hes rich, hes righteous and he has many sons and daughters. In other words, obedience to God pays very well. So God permits Satan to do anything he wants to Job except harm him bodily. From that point on disaster strikesand not any ordinary disaster either.
“A Divine fire fell from the sky and burnt the sheep and the youngsters and it consumed them.” (Job 1:16, Seow, pp. 249-250) “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their brother, the firstborn. And then, a mighty wind came from across the desert, and one touched the four corners of the house and it fell upon the youngsters and they died.” (Job 1:18-19, Seow, p. 250). In addition to such otherworldly disasters, there are also raids on Jobs herds by the Sabaeans (Job 1:14) and the Chaldeans (Job 1:17). In other words, Jobs adversity is caused by the choices of others as well as from the heavens. Job still doesnt blame God. Instead he says, “Naked I came forth from the womb of my mother, and naked will I return there; YHWH has given and YHWH has taken away. May the name of YHWH be blessed. In all this Job did not sin and he did not give offense to God.” (Job 1:21-22, Seow, p. 250.)
In their next meeting, Satan points out that its still easy to not blame God since Job has his health, “his skin” as the scripture says. So Satan is permitted to attack Jobs body, his only restriction is that he may not kill him. That leaves Job sitting in a pile of ashes, covered in painful boils, being criticized by his wife and having his friends tell him he must have done something wrong.
As we all know, Job remains faithful throughout and eventually gets double of what he lost (including a whole new batch of sons and daughters). This is the story of Job as we read in Lesson 32 of the Old Testament Class Member Study Guide, which has us read Job chapters 1, 2 and 42, along with three middle chapters: 13, 19 and 27; selectively chosen because of their familiar phrases, particularly Chapter 19 for verses 25 and 26,”But I know my redeemer lives, and the last will rise over dust. Even after my skin has been flayed thus, even without my flesh, I will see God,” (Seow, p.792).
The chapters assigned by the Sunday School provide important statements by which we should guide our lives. What those chapters dont do, however, is address the questions like those I asked at the beginning of this review. Where does adversity really come from? Have I not been righteous enough? Am I worthy? Many struggle for answers, especially to the last, while they try to remain as faithful and persevering as Job. The answers to those questions, at least to the extent we can get answers, are found in the remaining 36 chapters of Job.
What do we make of Job, however? We have a fairly straight-forward story in the first two chapters and the forty-second; but the fourth century commentator Jerome noted that, “an indirectness and a slipperiness attaches to the whole book, . . . tricked out with figures of speech, and while it says one thing, it does another; just as if you lose your hand to hold an eel or a little murena, the more you squeeze it the sooner it escapes” (Seow, quoting Jerome, p. 2). Even a modern commentator in the Job volume of the Anchor Bible says that Jobs size, “would be greatly reduced if all the difficult passages were omitted.”
Job is considered one of the worlds great ancient poems. In the first lines of the Preface of his Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient Worlds Greatest Poem, Michael Austin quotes none other than Victor Hugo, Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Tennyson praising Job to the skies. Hugo is quoted as saying that if all other literature were to be destroyed, he would save Job and Tennyson describes it as, “the greatest poem of ancient or modern times.” (Austin, p. ix). C.L. Seow, in the first of his two-volume commentary on Job admits the same thing. “There is perhaps no other biblical book that has been as universally and extravagantly praised as an exquisite specimen of literary art as Job.” (Seow, p. 74). In addition to the three named by Austin, he adds Daniel Webster, Stephen Mitchell and Alphonse de Lamartine.
Job is far more than simply a great work of literature, however. It is scripture! Its included in the Old Testament by the Christians and the Hebrew Bible among the Kethuvim (the Writings) of the Jews. The subject matter, whether addressed in a literary fashion or not, is vitally important. Job faces the questions as outlined by Austin, “Does God make us suffer? Is the universe ultimately just? Is righteousness just a form of self-interest? Can we conceive of ultimate goodness as something separate from ultimate power? Can human beings ever see the world from Gods perspective?” (Austin, p. x). And, as Austin goes on to point out, Job usually fails to answer them. (Austin, p.x), but not without providing a framework for discussion.
For me, this is the heart of scripture, and not just in Job either. Im particularly fond of 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi talks about the necessity of opposition and its role in the plan of salvation. That vital chapter from the Book of Mormon provides a framework to discuss the plan of salvation, the Garden of Eden, the Fall and agency, along with many other realities.Lehi even echoes Job in verse 2, when he says that God will, “consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.
Re-reading Job is the second book in what publisher Greg Kofford Books refers to as Contemporary Studies in Scripture. It is the “short” book referred to in the title of this essay. The “long” is C.L. Seows inaugural volume in Eerdmans new Illuminations Commentary Series. Long is an apt description for Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary, since its almost 1000 pages and only covers the first half of the book of Job. Seow is quite qualified to write this commentary since hes already contributed to the Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Ecclestiastes.
I knew within a few paragraphs of reading the first chapter of Re-reading Job in a preview that I would appreciate this book. I was anxious to read it for many reasons. Michael Austin is entertaining. He makes relevant comments and examples from our lives that help explain the points hes trying to make about Job. He explains what the majority of commentators and scholars think about points, but he is careful to try not to “shake” peoples faith when theyre hearing ideas set out in a certain way for the first time and, most importantly, he is emotionally engaged with the material.
That first chapter, “Six Things I Used To Know About Job” was all I needed to know that this was a book about Job written for a believing Latter Day Saint such as myself. As Austin says, “Mormon theology and LDS scripture have the potential to open avenues for interpreting Job that previous religious traditions have ignored. Unique Mormon beliefs about things like free-agency, personal revelation, the nature of God, and the role of the pre-existent Satan speak to elements of Job that have been invisible to generations of interpreters.” (Austin, pp. x-xi) And whats best, is that Austin backs this up in the ensuing chapters.
Chapter Eight, “Anticipating Christianity: Why Jobs Redeemer Does Not Liveand How He Does” is a good example of the journey the reader travels with this book, and it is especially helpful considering that Job 19 is one of the chapters emphasized in the Sunday School lesson. Austin spends three pages discussing the Hebrew word translated in the King James Bible as “Redeemer” (Job 19:25) and how it could just as easily be translated as “avenger”, “defender” or “vindicator”. Seow, in his more traditional commentary format, uses “redeemer” (Job 19:25, Seow, p.792) but in his “Interpretation” section, Seow spends six pages on various possibilities for the word, and his Commentary provides three different functions for the g??l (Austin uses gaal, p. 104) as well as eleven possibilities for the identity of the “redeemer” (Seow, p. 823). Following this section, Re-reading Job then takes ten pages (107-117) to comment on finding Christ in the Old Testament in general, and five ways Christ may be found in the book of Job in particular.
While the verses in Job 19 get an entire chapter in Re-reading Job, Chapter 13 (one of the Sunday School reading excerpts) is not even mentioned. This is where the Seow commentary can be helpful. One can compare the translations between Seow (which is primarily self-translated from the various manuscripts) and the King James Version, which is what we use in class.
Often, other translations give us a better sense of the words being used. For example, in Job 13:16, we read, “He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.” (KJV) and “Yes, that will be my victory, For the miscreant will not come before him.” (Seow, p. 640). Seow points out that the ancient Greek versions of Job (those written around 200 B.C.) often had him, “qualifying that he would do so [argue with God] only if God wills. This reading prompted Christians to see Job as a humble servant of God who knows his place, speaking only when God wants him to but otherwise remaining silent . . …..” (Seow, p. 641). Most of the Hebrew manuscripts and commentators believed Jobs comments about God were more confrontational. As Seow points out, Rabbi Akiba (a commentator from the Middle Ages) felt that, “Job belonged with the wicked people of history.”
The use of the word “salvation” versus “victory” as translations of Job 13:16 provide more ways to look at the passage. The traditional explanation is that the word, “victory”, “typically refers to God as a deliverer (Exod. 15:2, Isa 12:2, Ps 118:14, 21).” (Seow, p. 647) An alternative reference, when taking earlier statements in the chapter in context, could mean Job considers a “victory” to be his ability to take his arguments directly to God, not that he would overcome God in a debate. In this instance, Jobs reference to a “hypocrite” or a “miscreant” would refer to an “unbeliever”. In other words, the believer, such as Job himself, would enter a dialogue with God, while the unbeliever will not come before God.
I loved both Austin and Seows books and I cant wait for Seow to provide the second volume (although it is likely years away). I especially appreciated his 245 page Introduction to Job, from a scholarly standpoint about where the manuscripts came from and its history through the Dark and Middle Ages and how Job is used by various groups, including Islam. Seow also points out where authors and playwrights as well as artists have used Job as a subject. His commentary contains art from all over the world and through many different periods. Frankly, if Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary is any indication of the rest of this series, the subsequent volumes will be pleasures to read and study.
Both of these books encourage the students of the scriptures to go beyond what they think they know to get far more out of them. This is an effort thats being renewed for LDS readers by authors such as James Faulconer, with his Scriptures Made Harder series. His Old Testament Made Harder provides 15 pages of questions on the Book of Job. (Faulconer, pp. 435-450). Faulconers questions are really just dipping their toes into the deep waters of what he calls, “close reading”. Although his Old Testament Made Harder is over 600 pages, Julie M. Smith asks more than 4,000 questions in her 2003 effort on the four gospels, and a new, hopefully expanded edition of that hard-to-find book is coming from Kofford Books in the Fall. Faulconers Job questions will lead in similar directions to Austins book, but I found Re-reading Job to be far more engaging and Austins comments made me anxious to do more close reading (including reading a 1000 page commentary that only covered half of the subject.) Of course, Michael Austins book is different than Faulconers. Faulconer is merely giving readers jumping off points to study the scriptures with.
Any of these books will make a great beginning for Latter Day Saints (or anyone else for that matter) who desire to have new insights and observations from their scripture reading. No one who studies Job should expect to get a full handle on it (as Jerome pointed out over 1600 years ago). As for something even shorter, two of my favorite novels (though I view both novels as one) are Herman Wouks Winds of War and War and Remembrance.
 Between them, they are over 2000 pages, but one of the emotional high points is when Aaron Jastrow, a secular, Jewish author caught in the Holocaust, gives a lecture to his fellow ghetto residents on Job shortly before he is shipped off to the death camps. When I first read Jastrows statement (in my early 20s) I was impressed at Wouks grasp of the poetry in Job. In 2010, Wouk wrote a short book called The Language God Talks: Science and Religion. Wouk is 99 (and was 95 when he published it). His memories of writing his version of War and Peace, were excellent, but the book ends with Jastrows comments about Job. (Wouk, pp. 169-180).
“Who is it in history who will never admit that there is no God, never admit that the universe makes no sense? Who is it who suffers ordeal after ordeal, plundering after plundering, massacre after massacre, century after century, yet looks up at the sky, sometimes with dying eyes, and cries, The Lord is our god, the Lord is One?
Who is it who in the end of days will force from God the answer from the storm? Who will see the false comforters rebuked, the old glory restored, and generations of happy children and grandchildren to the fourth generation? Who until then will leave the missing piece to God, and praise His Name, crying, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the Name of the Lord? Not the noble Greek of the Iliad, he is extinct. No! Nobody but the sick, plundered skeleton on the ash heap. Nobody but the beloved of God, the worm that lives a few moments and dies, the handful of dirt that has justified Creation. Nobody but Job. He is the only answer, if there is one, to the adversary challenge to an Almighty God, if there is One. Job, the stinking Jew.” (Wouk, pp. 178-178)
The book of Job reaches across all faiths and experiences, from our little adversities to the Holocaust. Efforts to deepen our emotional attachments to the scriptures and to help us engage them more are to be applauded, not to mention being given serious consideration. Some of us may feel too burdened to have to spend more time in the scriptures, but we could be using the same amount of time more productively by engaging with the scriptures more deeply. Books such as these inspire me to do just that, and hopefully, they will inspire you, too.
* Terry L. Hutchinson is a practicing attorney with an interest in LDS history and doctrine, as well as Biblical Law, particularly the Law of Moses. He has offices in Eastern Nevada and Southern Utah. He is married to the former JeNe Gifford and they have five children and six grandchildren. Since 1994, he has produced a twice-daily book review show on KDXU Radio in St. George, Utah. He has held many callings in the church and is currently an ordinance worker in the St. George, Temple.
. Pope, Marvin, Job, Anchor Bible 15. (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday), 1973, 3rd ed., p. xliii.
. Pagels, Elaine, The Origin of Satan, (New York, NY: Random House), 1995, pp. 39, 41-42,
has a fascinating explanation of the role of Satan in the book of Job. Her thesis makes an
entirely different article for the future.
. James Faulconer poses a question about this in his Book of Mormon Made Harder, [full citation below], p. 43.
. The first book in the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series is Bokovoy, David, Authoring
the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy. Sale Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books,
2014). An excellent review of this volume is Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “Sorting Out The
Sources in Scripture”, Mormon Interpreter Vol. 9, 2014, pp. 215-272. Forthcoming
books in the series include, two more books by David Bokovoy on the Old Testament
and a expanded edition of Julie M. Smiths Search Ponder and Pray: A Guide To The
Gospels as well as some titles on the Book of Mormon.
. This is a new series of commentaries from top biblical scholars which is designed to be more
user-friendly to non-specialists. A complete list of specific contributions will be
available from the publisher Eerdmans.
. My Jewish Publication Society version of the TANAKH (Hebrew Bible), uses “Vindicator.”
. Other books in the series are: The Book of Mormon Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions
Provo, UT 2014. 398 pp. Paperback, $19.95; The Doctrine and Covenants Made
Harder: Scripture Study Questions. Salt Press, LLC: Salt Lake City, UT 2013. 314 pp.
Maxwell Institute Reprint. Paperback Price varies. The New Testament Made Harder is
. See endnote 3 above.
. Faulconers books follow the Adult Sunday School curriculum for the scriptures. Rumors are
increasing that this format will change in the near future to become more like the new
lessons for the youth.
. Wouk, Herman, Winds of War, (New York, NY:Little Brown) 1971, War and Remembrance,
(New York, NY: Little Brown) 1978.
. Re-reading Job has a powerful chapter on the Holocaust and Job, “Job After Auschwitz”,
(Austin, pp. 119-134).