Book Note: Edward L. Greenstein’s “Job: A New Translation”

Edward L. Greenstein, Job: A New Translation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019). (Amazon; Bookshop)

The Book of Job is my favorite book in the Bible, I think. Sometimes it’s the Book of Ecclesiastes. Sometimes, I’m captured by the narratives of the Book of Genesis. Sometimes the Gospels of Mark or Luke are were I’m at. But usually, it’s the Book of Job…unless it’s the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Edward L. Greenstein, a professor emeritus in Bible at Bar-Ilan University, completed a new translation of Job a couple years ago. Finally, I got around to reading it. It’s excellent.

Greenstein has spent a lifetime thinking about the Book of Job—a notoriously difficult book for even experts in ancient Hebrew to translate. His wealth of knowledge with regards to ancient Semitic languages allows him to see Job with new eyes: eyes that noticed loan words from other languages or concepts from Babylonian or Egyptian literature that may make more sense than the received Masoretic Text (or even the ancient versions like the Greek translation of Job). So, what you’re getting isn’t just a fresh translation, like we might receive from Robert Alter, but a fresh translation combined with a lot of textual criticism.

Greenstein’s translation is annotated with footnotes so that the scholar can follow along with his thinking. The rest of us who aren’t in that league can enjoy a fresh interpretation of the text.

The “key” reinterpretation of the Book of Job is found in how Greenstein renders two verses: 42:5-6. So you can get a sense of the difference, here’s the NRSV’s rendering next to Greenstein’s:

NRSV: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Greenstein: “As a hearing by the ear I have heard you, And now my eye has seen you. That is why I am fed up; I take pity on ‘dust and ashes’.”

As you may have deduced if you’re familiar with Job: this is Job’s response to the deity’s monologue in chapters 38-41. In the NRSV, Job is overcome and admits defeat, even repentance. But according to Greenstein, Job doesn’t accept divine bullying as a legitimate response to his lawsuit against the deity. Instead, he recognizes the deity to be the very tyrant he feared he’d be and dismisses god’s lecture. Obviously, this puts a completely different spin on how we read the book.

Greenstein gives an in-depth explanation for how he got to this translation on p. xix-xxi of the Introduction, so I won’t duplicate that here. If you’re interested, find a copy. But also, if you’re interested in this topic, you may just want to purchase a copy. It’s worth adding to your library!

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