Semeiological Interpretation of the Book of Job -- By: Elmer B. Smick

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 48:1 (Spring 1986)
Article: Semeiological Interpretation of the Book of Job
Author: Elmer B. Smick

Semeiological Interpretation of the Book of Job*

Elmer B. Smick

Modern redaction theory assumes that some parts of the book of Job are less genuine than others. The Job of the Prolog is not the Job of the Dialog. Bruce Vawter says in his Job and Jonah, “It is the poetic Job and the poetic Job alone who is of interest to the sensitive observer of religious experience.” Then after quoting John L. McKenzie to the effect that the Prolog is so unrealistic that it becomes revolting Vawter demurs somewhat. For though the story is untrue to life it is “not unfortunately untrue to what is perceived as life by the majority of our fellow beings.”1 In other words the author is using the prose story that he might parody that conventional wisdom in order to make a more profound theological statement. Unfortunately that conventional wisdom includes Psalm 1, which is not false though it has only one side of the truth when it affirms that everything a righteous man does prospers. Vawter at least considers Job a literary unit and not the work of a mindless redactor. Terrien’s commentary in Interpreter’s Bible is typical old-school historicism. On historico-critical grounds he determines what is genuine and then interprets the rest in terms of genre, setting, and intention. To Terrien the book is a “festal tragedy” for celebration during a hypothetical “New Year Festival.” For such historicism the date and source are usually tied closely to the interpretation. Some see the book as a product of the Exile, even viewing it as a parable of the suffering nation. But J. J. M. Roberts maintains one cannot use the date of the book “to provide a ready-made background for its inter-

* Studies in the Book of Job (Semeia 7; ed. Robert Polzin and David Robertson; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977. 154) The Book of Job and Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics (Semeia 19; ed. by John Dominic Crossan; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981. 123).

pretation, and lacking this an historical framework is hard to establish, since Job simply ignores Israel’s epic and prophetic traditions.”2 Many critics have lost interest in source criticism and other aspects of historical criticism. They find other types of literary criticism more rewarding. Although most accept a redaction view of the book’s origin then I prefer to deal with it in its final literary context in terms of rhetoric and structure, and various new hermeneutical approaches including sociological, psychological, and semeiological emphases. Comparative linguistic research continues but with a ch...

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