By J. Gerald Janzen
: John Knox
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 107-108
The focused objectives of this commentary series are noteworthy. The purpose of the Interpretation series is not only to present "the integrated result of historical and theological work with the biblical text" (p. v), but also to be "faithful to the text and useful to the church" (ibid). Unlike detailed exegetical commentaries, its format deals "with passages as a whole, rather than proceeding word by word, or verse by verse" (ibid). In the parlance of E. D. Hirsch, it produces "an interpretation which deals with both the meaning and significance [i.e., terms roughly equivalent to the traditional categories of interpretation and application] of biblical texts" (p. vi).
Janzen builds on other studies of Job. For example, he incorporates the works of Marvin Pope and Robert Gordis so heavily that "where no page number is given, it is to be assumed that reference is to their [i.e., Pope's or Gordis'] discussion of the passage in question" (p. viii).
In challenging some interpretations by proponents of the history-of-religions school, he frames one of the organizational features of his volume. In his introduction he summarizes and critiques Frank Cross and Thorkild Jacobsen in their works Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic and The Treasure of Darkness, respectively. He finds much that is commendable in both, but concludes, "Their assessment of the Joban resolution . . . is off the mark" (p. 9).
Specifically Janzen is referring to the overall message of the book. For him, Job addresses two universal questions, Job's and God's. Job's question is, "Why do the righteous suffer?" It follows chronologically and thematically God's question, "Why are the righteous pious?" (p. 2)-this is a question of the adversaries, too. Jacobsen, like many others, "focuses entirely on questions which Job addresses to God" and "ignores completely the question raised in heaven concerning Job, in the prologue" (p. 9).
F. Cross argues that Genesis-2 Kings provide an inadequate interpretation of Israel's religious experience and that "Job brought the ancient religion of Israel to an end" (cited by Janzen, italics added by Janzen). Janzen argues, "Where Cross reads disjunction from the `ancient religion' we read critique, deepening and even transformation, but in any case fundamental continuity" (p. 10). Janzen then lists seven points of continuity in defense of his interpretation. The significance of this discussion is great. Cross, in essence, argues that much of the OT is off the mark in its message about God and man and, in short, about reality itself.
Readers may disagree with Janzen, for example, in his view that Job was written in the exile in response to the tension between the historical upheaval of that period and Israel's religious traditions (p. 5). Yet the author's attempt to account for the questions asked by both God and Job as well as his desire to draw the line with Cross and Jacobsen (the Canaanite and Mesopotamian history-of-religions paradigms, respectively) are typical of unique contributions that make his commentary helpful to those wanting to get a grasp of this difficult yet cherished book.