Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job

Article excerpt

Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job, by Kathryn Schifferdecker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Harvard Theological Studies 61), 2008. 217 pp. $25.00.

It is a regrettably rare thing for a work of careful biblical exegesis to offer a good read, suitable for a reasonably broad audience, on a topic of some contemporary relevance. It is highly unusual for a dissertation in biblical studies to offer all that, as this one does. Schifferdecker's book makes a fresh contribution to the perennially interesting study of Job by focusing specifically, though not narrowly, on the different views of creation and humanity's place in creation that are articulated by Job and his various interlocutors, including God.

Schifferdecker begins with a brief, deft review of the history of interpretation, with particular attention to the divine speeches (Job 38-41). She touches on an interesting sampling of theological classics (Gregory the Great, Saadiah Gaon, and Calvin), and literary readings (Elie Wiesel and Archibald MacLeish), as well as recent works of academic scholarship. Two lengthy chapters treat the different forms of creation theology that appear in the two main sections of the book of Job. The first of these chapters covers the prose prologue and the lengthy poetic dialogue section (Job 1-37); the second, the divine speeches. A third chapter relates the divine speeches to the concluding response of Job and the prose epilogue; finally a brief postscript considers the ecological implications of the creation theology set forth in the divine speeches. A lucid translation and commentary of the divine speeches and the prose epilogue appear in an appendix; the commentary treats the literary stmcture and theological message of Job 38-42, and to a lesser extent, philological and text-critical matters.

The core of the argument is that God's speeches "out of the whirlwind" constitute a genuine answer to Job's outcry to and against God, precisely because they are a statement about the human place in creation. The surprise, to both Job and the reader (in light of the rest of the Hebrew Bible), is that God answers Job in terms of creation rather than covenant. The radically non-anthropocentric theology of the divine speeches is at odds with creation theology as it is articulated by the various speakers in the first thirty-seven chapters. The Satan, in the opening prose tale, represents the world as a neatly ordered place, with Job at the center of it. It is ordered for Job's protection, as long as he is submissive to God. Job's friends largely subscribe to this view, but Job rejects it entirely. Beginning in chapter 3, when he curses the day of his birth, and thereafter, he consistently asserts that God's interest in human beings is a source of oppression. …