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Hiobs Anspruch und Widerspruch: Die Herausforderungsreden Hiobs (Hi 29-31) im Kontext frühjüdischer Ethik, by Daniela Opel. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlagsgesellschaft, 2010.  366 pp.  €59.00


The study, a theological doctoral dissertation supervised by Markus Witte (Frankfurt, 2008), deals with an important section of the book of Job (ch. 29 to 31) as evidence for early Jewish ethics. Starting with an analysis of the Hebrew text of the three chapters (part I, pp. 21–166) the author also includes in her enquiry the Greek (Septuagint) and Syriac (Peshitta) versions (part II, pp. 167–228) as well as several other early Jewish texts like Sirach and 4QInstruction (part III, pp. 229–332). A bibliography and two short indexes (references, subjects) conclude the volume.

The author approaches the texts through a detailed philological analysis. She is aware of the rather complex pre-history of the transmitted Hebrew text of the Book of Job, but in her interpretation of the three chapters she concentrates on the portrait of Job’s ethos and its motivations. The figure of Job stands for basic norms like justice and faithfulness. The portrait of Job is rooted in an anthropology which carries attributes of an ideal king. Job’s ethos is based on God’s demand to reign over creation and focuses on care for the miserable. But, and this is a theological problem for Job, in spite of his ethical integrity, God stripped him from such a kinglike position. Whereas Job would have expected an enduring well-being, in fact he experienced material losses, personal sufferings, and social isolation. This results in Job’s protest against God, his purificatory oath (“Reinigungseid”) and his challenging speech (“Herausforderungsrede”).

By analyzing Job 31, the author identifies several allusions to the Decalogue and an emphasis on issues of social care for the needy. This leads to her assumption that the author of the book of Job consciously combined wisdom traditions and precepts of the Torah and so framed chains of instructions out of traditional ethical commands. A brief look at other early Jewish hortatory texts (Pseudo-Phocylides, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Sapientia Salomonis) shows a Jewish Torah devoutness (“Torafrömmigkeit”) which was critically challenged by Job in the face of his sufferings as one who had led his life as a righteous man. From a tradition history point of view this points to a combination of wisdom traditions and Torah reception already in Job which usually has been assumed in biblical scholarship to appear only later, for instance in Sirach. For the author this mixture of theological traditions goes back already to the late Persian and early Hellenistic period: “Die ausgehende Perserzeit und die hellenistische Epoche sind . . . eine theologie- und mentalitätsgeschichtlich prägende Phase, die durch einen hohen literarischen Schaffensdrang gekennzeichnet ist” (p. 163).

In the second part of her enquiry the author studies the Greek and Syriac versions of Job. Again, she scrutinizes the different versions and textual variants, but ends up with a theologically pointed interpretation of the texts. The oldest version of the Septuagint of Job, which the author dates to the second century BCE (like Sirach!), shows a more anthropocentric and individual ethos. Job’s righteousness is underlined and his criticism of traditional theological and ethical values is reduced. He becomes a model for the Jewish-Hellenistic ideal of piety. The Peshitta, which can be dated only in the second century CE points to a similar development. Again, Job shows up as faithful to God and as the friend of the miserable. His complaints against God are attenuated and his expectation of an eschatological compensation is underlined. In the background of the Syriac version of Job the author conjectures a Jewish sect outside of rabbinic groups which cultivated a piety oriented to humility, social care, afterlife, and prayer.

In the last part the author compares the ethical concept derived from the “Herausforderungsreden” in Job 29–31 with two other early Jewish texts. Ben Sira tries to interpret Israel’s Torah in the context of universal wisdom. He uses Stoic philosophical traditions to create a synthesis between wisdom and Torah, but the Jewish belief remains fundamental for his thinking. The commandments of the Torah are removed from their original context in the Sinai legislation and are converted to ethical principles universally valid, but they remain an expression of the exclusive revelation of the will of God for Israel. As in Job 31, there are several references to the commandments of the Decalogue as well as a special focus on support for the miserable which again shows a common tradition of wisdom and Torah in Early Judaism. However, unlike Job, Ben Sira does not complain to God because of the sufferings of the righteous, but he seeks to secure and to justify the traditional wisdom traditions and the Torah.

In the last chapter the author turns to a very interesting document from Qumran, the so called “Sapiential Work A” or 1Q/4QInstruction (a reconstruction from hundreds of textual fragments discovered in Qumran which originally belonged to several copies of a Jewish wisdom text completely unknown so far, but dating from the second or first century). Following the reconstruction of the document by E. Tigchelaar, the author interprets the text as evidence for a Jewish wisdom conception which included apocalyptic components. References to the Torah are faint, but some allusions to commandments from the Pentateuch can be identified. More important is the concept of a “mystery of existence” which is best understood as a medium of knowledge or the process of perception based on faith in the creator God (“schöpfungstheologisches Erkenntnismedium,” p. 294). This “mystery of existence” includes apocalyptic thoughts as well as nomistic components. It leads to an understanding of truth and iniquity, of wisdom and folly. And it helps a human being to find his or her way of life by distinguishing between good and evil.

This monograph is an excellent example of how thoroughgoing philological analysis of ancient texts can lead to deeper insights into ethical issues and topics which are of influence on human beings of every time and region. For the interrelationship, and sometimes the tension, between universally valid ethical values on the one hand and exclusively ethnic or religious traditions on the other is a well-known issue even in recent ethical discourses. The author by her masterly command of exegetical methods and by her expertise in religious historical backgrounds shows convincingly that biblical traditions, time and again and at different times and places, affect the reflection of people on the right or the wrong, on their attempts to find their own way of life, on their self-conception as human beings vis-à-vis to their creator.

Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena, Germany