Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Convocation on Job - Session II

A few days ago, I reported on the first session of the Convocation on Job. The second session, chaired by Marjorie Suchocki, Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, began with a talk by James A. Sanders. Sanders is Professor Emeritus, Biblical Studies, School of Theology at Claremont and founder of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center for Research and Preservation.

Sanders began his talk with these words,

I want to thank Prof Loren Fisher for his fine work on the Book of Job. It is done principally from the linguistic and philological perspectives of similar literature from the Ancient Neat East and is worthy of serious attention. I support his thesis--as far as it goes.

He agreed that the Book of Job "presents the reader with two distinctly different Jobs." One, he describes as "a patient Job," the other as "the impatient" Job. The first he loosely identifies with Loren's Job I and the second with Loren's Job II, the Rebel Job.

He noted that the two Jobs were combined into a single work "early." This is demonstrated by the Job Targum from Qumran Cave 11. But one person's early is another person's late. Sanders noted that the Book of Job was never attributed to an ancient author although it drew on an ancient tradition. He further notes that Job is not presented as an Israelite but rather as an Edomite. This gives the story an international, "universal," interest. I'll have more to say about this important point in a future post.

Sanders then proceed to argue that Job II, the Rebel Job, fits best within the context of the religious and cultural perspective of seventh century BCE. He argued this on two grounds. First, following a purely Hebrew Bible based history of the development of the Israelite religion and anthropology, my word not his, he sees the seventh century as providing the proper context for Job II. After a lengthy unfolding of his perspective on this historical context, he summarized,

But by the end of the seventh century BCE forms of individualism began to reach expression, not the full-blown individualism of the later Hellenistic period, but a sort of generational idea of responsibility, as in Ezekiel 18, elaborating on an assertion of Jeremiah’s (Jer 31:29), that had made it clear. Each generation would be responsible for its own sins and errors so that the present generation would no longer have to pay for the sins of its ancestors. As Hosea put it, the Valley of Achor had by now indeed been converted into a Door of Hope (Hos 2:14).

Second, citing the work (You Have Not Spoken What Is Right About Me: Intertextuality and the Book of Job) of his student Yohan Pyeon, who was part of the panel, he argued that critical use of "intertextuality" demonstrates that Job and his friends were aware of and sometimes paraphrased Deuteronomy and the prophets and

. . . the friends treated Scripture and tradition as static and unbending, not making the adjustment necessary to apply its principles to the new situation of the individual.

During the discuss Pyeon reinforced this point. So for Sanders, the Rebel Job wrote his poem as a reaction against a religious tradition that let God off the hook by focusing on individual responsibility. With regard to Job II, Sanders' position is somewhat weaker but more or less aligned with Loren's. The major exceptions are the date of composition and extent of Job II. The second exception is the more important.

Sanders thinks that Job 29-31 should be considered as part of the Rebel Job's work. It is not completely clear to me why Sanders wants to put these chapters with Job II except that he seemed to need them to make this point,

But after the dismantling [of Israel and Judah] was complete and if there was to be a remnant, any continuity with the past at all, the old needed to be adapted to the new situation of new beginnings, and the Joban dialogues provided an in-depth look at how irrelevant a static application of the past truly was, but how life-giving a dynamic resignification of tradition and re-application of it could be, and thus could render the Torah and the Prophets, this primitive canon of Judaism, adaptable to the new life in Early Judaism.

As was pointed out by one of the discussants, I'm not sure who, these chapters seem to "save god." During Loren's rebuttal comments he noted that there was both a thematic and a formal difference between Job 29-31 and his Job II. Thematically, "integrity" is an important theme in Job 1 and one sees this theme reflected in Job 31. Formally, Job 29, like Job 27, begins with a formal introduction, "Again Job took up his speech (mashal); he said:" No longer are we dealing with a dialogue but with a monologue.

Sanders finished his remarks with a general consideration of Canon and the extent to which it is not fixed but must be "resignified" by believing communities.

Somewhere in the discussion, someone, I think if was Marvin Sweeney but I might be wrong, suggested that the unsettling events during Hezekiah's reign may provide a context for Job II. To this suggestion, Loren replied and I paraphrase, "Well, maybe I should write a sequel to The Minority Report, placing it at that time." Such an answer would also work for Sanders' suggested context. Loren certainly thinks the context of a scribal school in David's court is best but, as I said in my previous post on this meeting, his most important contributions need not be seen in any particular historical situation. But, on the subject of date of composition, Loren pointed out that literary echoes could go either way. In his view, it is possible that passages from Jeremiah cited by Sanders as supporting the idea that the author of Job knew the book of Jeremiah may be taken in exactly the opposite way, Jeremiah knew Job.

For both my patient and my impatient readers, remember I will give my own take on all this at the end of this series.


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