The Book of Job: A Commentary

By Norman C. Habel
Philadelphia : Westminster (1985). 586 Pages.

Reviewed by
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 105-106

The author has written another work entitled The Book of Job (Cambridge University Press, 1975). His approach is professedly selective: he pays careful attention to the legal metaphor in Job and the book's literary dimension within the larger exegetical task. This leads him to conclude, "The meaning of the book of Job is found in the interplay of literary design and theological idea" (p. 9). Without denying the possibility of editing, the author examines the book as a "literary totality" (p. 9). He has previously discussed literary applications to Job in "The Narrative Art of Job: Applying the Principles of Robert Alter" (JSOT 27 [1983] 101-11). Without limiting himself to the discovery and reconstruction of literary forms in the book, he focuses on "the unique way in which forms, poetic patterns, structures, and language are transformed and made subservient to the governing design or focus of a particular unit" (pp. 23-24).

An example of his sensitivity to literary creativity is seen in his treatment of Elihu, the fourth and somewhat unexpected among Job's comforters. For Habel, the seemingly intrusive and redundant Elihu is the foreshadowed arbiter whom Job summoned to conduct his hearing (31:35). Actually, however, Elihu is neither intrusive nor redundant if he responds to Job's request for an arbiter. Allegations of redundancy may well come from emphasizing the similarities of his message to those of the others and not its uniqueness enhanced by the literary craft. The author explains, "This objection fades once we recognize that the 'answer' of Elihu is not, first and foremost, thematic and theological but forensic and dramatic, . . . the answer of orthodoxy given in a trial situation" (p. 36).

The present work is a splendid contribution to the previous literature on Job. In viewing the pericopes of the book as parts of a literary whole, he highlights the book's overarching theological message rather than numerous smaller and seemingly irresolvable issues that often control related discussions. For preachers and teachers of Job frustrated by the latter, the shift is a boon.