Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On Job

Now that the reading schedule has us most of the way through Job, I thought I'd put forth some information on the book. There are innumerable commentaries and study books on Job, most of them problematic for a variety of reasons. The critical commentaries all assume that the Book of Job was written very late. In addition, they mostly assume that some parts of the book are out of order (the reader can consult such study Bibles as the New Oxford Annotated Bible, or the Harper-Collins Study Bible to verify that much of modern scholarship holds these positions). The problem is that most of these textual relocations occur more in the mind of the commentator than they do in the text.

So the difficulty is first of all to deal with the text as it stands. The second problem, particularly for the layman, is not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The classic case of the latter (at the risk of offending a number of my colleagues) is Joseph Caryl's Practical Observations on the Book of Job, which is twelve large volumes. Very few readers have the patience to labor through that kind of treatment. I would venture to add that very few of those who do would be able, after having completed the task, to give a synopsis of the development of the Book of Job, or to show how any particular passage relates to the book as a whole. No doubt the work of Caryl is very fine, and the man who reads it will learn much solid theology. He will, however, learn precious little about the Book of Job per se.

So to start, I think the beginning reader of Job needs a guide that will help him make sense out of the book as a whole. In attaining this end, he can do no better than William Henry Green's little book, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded. In 177 pages (in the reprint by Banner of Truth Trust) Green takes the reader through the entire Book of Job and helps him make sense of the whole thing.

Once the reader has an overall grasp of the book and its purposes, he can then profitably move on to more in-depth commentaries. To begin here, I would suggest David Atkinson, The Message of Job in the Bible Speaks Today series from InterVarsity Press. Another good work at this point is Francis Andersen's commentary in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series.

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