Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Job: the dialogic nature of the text.

I grew up hearing the Sunday School version of Job: a story of a man who remained faithful to God through trials and suffering. But last fall, I took a class on Wisdom Literature and encountered the deeper layers of Job: voices of God’s exiled people questioning and debating God’s justice—a debate between the radical and traditional schools of wisdom. The pre-exilic narrative portions of the text (Job 1-2, 42.7-17) depict the traditional theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice, while the exilic dialogues (Job 3-42.6) put these ideas on trial. In the dialogues, Job represents the radical school of wisdom, questioning traditional sapiential theology. Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Elihu, represent and defend the traditional school of wisdom.

In the end, the traditional school wins out, with redactors giving the traditional sapiential theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice the last word. While victory for the traditional school is important to note, one thing is even more significant: the dialogue and debate present in the book of Job. Of 42 chapters, 39 are comprised of dialogue and debate between competing schools of wisdom. The book of Job is proof of two things: first, there is room in Scripture for different (conflicting) perspectives; second, these different (conflicting) perspectives are in conversation with one another in the biblical text. These two lessons have changed how I engage the biblical text as a whole. Thanks to Job and the teachers and friends who have shaped my understanding of the Bible, I rejoice in the dialogue that is God’s Word(s)…

Scripture does not speak with one voice. Many voices speak within Scripture.

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