Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Job 2 and 42:7–10 as Narrative Bridge and Theological Pivot

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Job 2 and 42:7–10 as Narrative Bridge and Theological Pivot

Article excerpt

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The sharp transitions between the prose frame (Job 1-2, 42:7-17) and the poetic core (3:1-42:6) of the book of Job continue to be an interpretive crux. On the one hand, the numerous and real tensions between the prose frame and the poetic core-for example, the contrastive personalities of Job and God,1 the apparent differences in genre and language,2 and the diametrically opposed nature of the theological questions that animate the two sections3-appear to be evidence of different authorship.4 On the other, the narrative connections between the two sections-for example, the friends who come to comfort Job in the prose prologue (2:11-13) engage in conversation with him in the poetic core (3:1-31:40) and are, in the prose epilogue, judged for their folly and for not having spoken what is right about God (42:7-8)-suggest compositional unity.5 In short, the prose and the poetry appear to stand apart and opposed; yet, as C. L. Seow recently put it, "neither the prose tale nor the poetic middle can stand alone."6

Over the centuries since Richard Simon in 1678 first opined that the prose prologue is a late addition to the poetry on account of their "diverse styles" critical scholars have proposed and defended a variety of compositional histories in efforts to explain how the two contrastive, yet strangely coherent, compositions came to be juxtaposed.7 The typical historical-critical strategy has been to dissect the book along its seams and to attribute the disjointedness to the history of composition: the prose frame and the poetic dialogue were originally independent compositions and were stitched together by a later redactor;8 the prose was written expressly as a frame for the poetry;9 or the Joban poet used the prose folktale as the starting point of his own poetic work.10 These historical-critical proposals, however, have not been without their critics, and some have argued that the prose and poetry were written by the same author.11 In short, there is a split within the interpretive tradition concerning the relationship between the prose and the poetic sections of Job.12 Despite these disagreements, however, the vast majority of scholars agree on one crucial point: the generic divide between the prose frame and the poetic core constitutes the major challenge to the unity of the book, whether one understands it as indicative of multiple authorship or as the result of stylistic variation on the part of a single author.

In a previous article, I challenged the validity precisely of this point of agreement, which has led to the conflation of the problem of compositional history and the issue of genre.13 I argued that the principal redactional seam in the book of Job lies not between the prose and the poetic sections along generic lines but rather between chapters 1 and 2 and between verses 10 and 11 in chapter 42, that is, between the outer prose frame (Job 1, 42:11-17) and the inner prose frame (Job 2, 42:7-10). I argued for the structural and, to a limited extent, theological integrity of the outer prose frame-what we might call, in its original form, the "Joban tale"-and, correspondingly, began to defend the affinity between chapters 2 and 3 on theological grounds. In this article, I turn my attention directly to the inner prose frame in order to argue that, if the interpretive tradition of the relationship between the prose frame and the poetic core is split, it is because the inner prose frame is Janus-faced. I will argue that the Joban poet expressly composed the inner frame as a narrative bridge between the Joban tale and his own poetic dialogue and as a theological pivot away from the pietism of the former toward the anthropocentric agon of the latter.

I. The Narrative and Theological Disjunction between the Joban Tale and the Poetic Core

I have argued elsewhere that the Joban tale (Job 1, 42:11-17) is an older and independent literary unity not authored by the Joban poet. …

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