The Book of Job: Annotated & Explained

Overview

The poetical masterpiece that confronts the inexplicable mystery of good and evil can be a companion on your own spiritual journey.

The book of Job, celebrated as a classic of world literature and one of the glories of the Bible, can often be puzzling and frustrating: puzzling for its dialogue form and off-putting because of the many questions it leaves unanswered. The book was written in a world very different from our own, and yet the fundamental questions it raises are still ...

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Overview

The poetical masterpiece that confronts the inexplicable mystery of good and evil can be a companion on your own spiritual journey.

The book of Job, celebrated as a classic of world literature and one of the glories of the Bible, can often be puzzling and frustrating: puzzling for its dialogue form and off-putting because of the many questions it leaves unanswered. The book was written in a world very different from our own, and yet the fundamental questions it raises are still ones we grapple with today: Is it worthwhile to act for the best? Does life have a meaning beyond itself? Why do the righteous suffer and the guilty prosper?

In this accessible guide to a spiritual masterpiece, Donald Kraus, the editor of the Oxford University Press Study Bible program, clarifies what Job is, helps overcome difficulties in the text, and suggests what Job may mean for us today. Kraus's fresh translation captures some of the finest poetry in the Hebrew Bible and uncovers the original author’s intent in a way that is accessible for modern readers and spiritual seekers.

This inviting SkyLight Illuminations edition, with probing facing-page commentary, explores Job’s daring challenges to God’s goodness, asks questions about the basic fairness of existence, and offers compelling descriptions of the glories of the created world and the bitter sorrows of human life.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Donald Kraus's exposition is eloquent, theologically sensitive and, like the book of Job itself, unflinching in its honesty. A masterpiece!"
Michael Coogan, lecturer on Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Harvard Divinity School; director of publications, Harvard Semitic Museum

“A wise, insightful and clear guide to this fascinating book.... An excellent companion to reading Job, either on one’s own or in a group.”
Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University; author, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations

“Kraus invites us to wrestle, like Job, with the hardest questions in life, about suffering, justice, fairness and the place of God in the midst of all of it. This is an excellent resource for adult education, personal enrichment, someone who wants more insight into a literary gem (Kraus’s translation is a wonder of beauty), or the seeker after Wisdom.”
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church; author, Gathering at God’s Table: The Meaning of Mission in the Feast of Faith

“The book of Job is one of the most honest books in the Bible, but readers need a guide … familiar with its twists and turns who can help us … to discover its wisdom.… Kraus … brings the text to life and the meaning to light. By all means read it. By all means ponder it.”
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Ecclesiastes: Annotated and Explained

Spirituality & Practice - Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

"The book of Job, a theological and spiritual masterpiece as well as a classic of world literature, is a poetical expression of the human effort to understand why we suffer," writes Donald Kraus, executive editor for Bibles at Oxford University Press. He is the man behind the translation and annotation of this volume in the ongoing SkyLight Illuminations series on sacred texts.

For centuries scholars and ordinary people have struggled with the pain, the suffering, and the confusion of Job as he is besieged by one bad thing after another. As we ponder the ultimate questions in this Biblical story, we are swept into the narrative with our own queries about God's goodness, the meaning of unfairness, and the value we give to suffering.

It is also edifying to revisit the counsel given to Job by his advisors. Kraus has divided this paperback into sections:

Job's Curse
The Three Dialogue Cycles
Job's Final Speeches
The Elihu Explosion
The Answer of God from the Storm
Job's Final Reply

The Reporter Group - Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Book Review: Solving the puzzle of Job

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

One of my favorite interpretations of the Book of Job is a decidedly offbeat one: Robert Schlobin compares Job to a horror story ("Prototype Horror: The Genre of the Book of Job" in volume 6 of the journal Semeia). His analysis works in a quirky way, with the God-Job relationship mirroring that of the monster-victim relationship found in the genre. While thought-provoking, it doesn't deal with the theological questions the book raises, though. Fortunately, there are two new works that offer interesting insights into this atypical biblical book: "The Book of Job: Annotated and Explained" translated and annotated by Donald Kraus (Skylights Publishing) and "The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happen to a Good Person" by Harold S. Kushner (Schocken Books), the latest work in the Jewish Encounter Series. Unlike the first five books of the Bible, with their promise that God will reward good behavior and punish bad, Job raises the question of why terrible things might happen to a righteous person.

While each book works well on its own, reading them together reminded me of just how complex and stimulating a discussion of Job can be. The two authors approach the book from different perspectives. Kraus, who is not Jewish and serves as an executive editor for Oxford University Press, views Job from an academic point of view. In his introduction, he discusses the history of the work, placing in its appropriate time frame and outlining its different sections, before offering his translation and commentary. That makes his book an excellent starting place for those either unfamiliar with Job or looking to refresh their memory.

Kushner, on the other hand, is a retired pulpit rabbi who views Job from a Jewish theological standpoint. Although he’s written more than a dozen books, Kushner is best known for "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," a work inspired by his search for meaning after the loss of his 14-year-old son to a rare disease. In his new book, he mines insights from Job into the nature of good and evil in order to find a satisfying answer to the question of how God can allow good people to suffer. Although Kushner quotes extensively from Job, his assumption is that readers are already familiar with its storyline and characters.

Both authors comment on the basic set-up of the book, noting that the first and last prose sections come from a later period than the central poem. The plot is relatively simple: the first two chapters describe a bet made between God and a member of heaven Kraus calls a "Provoker," the result of which is that Job loses his possessions, family and health. In the final chapter, Job is given a new family, and his wealth and health are restored. The central poem has no direct plot; it is instead a series of poetic dialogues that discuss the nature of God and God’s relationship to the world.

Kraus examines the entire book, while Kushner focuses on the poem. Kushner dismisses the prose sections (which he calls a fable) since he believes few people still accept a theology of a direct reward-and-punishment manner. That makes the fable irrelevant to his search for meaning, particularly since he believes the poetic sections of Job also dismiss this theological approach. Kraus, on the other hand, writes that the fable sets the tone of Job, showing us that we are not meant to take it as fact. For Kraus, the book serves as a "what if?" tale: "What if there were a truly just man who suffered greatly?" The poetic dialogues then explore several potential answers to this question. They include discussions between Job and several friends who visit him after his many losses, in addition to a long speech by God about the nature of creation.

One fundamental point on which the authors disagree is Job’s reaction to his friends’ initial comments. Kraus claims that Job wants his friends to sympathize with him, to acknowledge the horrible things thathappened to him. Instead, they start lecturing him, trying to convince him that he’s done something wrong. The translation of the verse 19:21-22 helps make this clear: Job says, "For pity’s sake, my friends, pity me! Why do you, like God, chase me down? Haven’t you gotten enough of my flesh?" Job wants his friends just to listen, to acknowledge his tale of woe, rather than trying to find a reason behind his troubles. He’s mourning for his life and his family, and he hears his friends saying he brought this on himself.

Kushner, however, views this interaction in a different light. He believes Job’s friends are trying to comfort him. When they first speak to him, they use a theology they expect Job to share, one that says everyone makes mistakes and must pay the price. What Job does is jump down their throats for suggesting he has done anything to deserve this. As the conversation continues, Job’s friends lose patience with him and their dialogue deteriorates. Kushner notes that Job is angry with God, something his friends don’t see as acceptable, but which Kushner considers "heroic." Unlike a great deal of rabbinic commentary, which condemns Job’s reaction, Kushner believes that being angry with God "may be one of the hallmarks of a truly religious person. It puts honesty ahead of flattery." Job is open and honest with God when he demands that God explain the reason behind his afflictions.

The breakdown in the conversation between Job and his friends helps Kushner explain sections of the text that have been traditionally difficult to translate. Kraus, like many scholars, feels that these chapters contain corrupted text: scribes made mistakes in their handwritten documents, which were then passed down to the next generation. Kushner, though, prefers to treat these sections as accurate transcriptions. He believes that, for example, the words that don’t sound like Job are really his "mocking paraphrase of what the friends have been saying" – a biblical example of sarcasm. As Job and his friends continued to argue, seemingly disconnected verses could be an overlap in dialogue, which would make it difficult to know who was talking.

The central question for both authors is whether or not Job explains why righteous people suffer. For Kraus, the biblical book shows us that there is no single abstract answer; instead, "it is an existential question that can only be answered in the context of an individual, lived human life." Kushner uses the last 40 pages of his work to explore different Jewish suggestions, only to dismiss most of them. His life experiences have taught him to find God "not in the perfection of the world," but "in the miracle of human resilience in the face of the world’s imperfections, even the world’s cruelty." He believes Job has also learned this lesson: it’s enough for the two men to "know" that God is with them, even in their darkest moments.

This review cannot do justice to the depth of the interpretations offered by Kraus and Kushner. Reading their works together offers a richer exploration of Job than either would have on its own. Neither completely satisfied me, though: Unlike Kushner, I prefer to view the Book of Job as a whole, rather than dividing it into fable versus poem, because that’s the text found in the Jewish canon. I also disagree with both authors about God’s speeches to Job, which seem more bluster and noise than any real attempt to either answer Job’s questions or explain the unknowable nature of the world. However, both works show the importance of studying Job in contemporary times; I was grateful for the opportunity to once again explore this fascinating and puzzling work.

Jewish Media Review - Dov Peretz Elkins

The book of Job, celebrated as a classic of world literature and one of the glories of the Bible, can often be puzzling and frustrating: puzzling for its dialogue form and off-putting because of the many questions it leaves unanswered. The book was written in a world very different from our own, and yet the fundamental questions it raises are still ones we grapple with today: Is it worthwhile to act for the best? Does life have a meaning beyond itself? Why do the righteous suffer and the guilty prosper?

In this accessible guide to a spiritual masterpiece, Donald Kraus, the editor of the Oxford University Press Study Bible program, clarifies what Job is, helps overcome difficulties in the text, and suggests what Job may mean for us today. Kraus's fresh translation captures some of the finest poetry in the Hebrew Bible and uncovers the original author’s intent in a way that is accessible for modern readers and spiritual seekers.

This inviting SkyLight Illuminations edition, with probing facing-page commentary, explores Job’s daring challenges to God’s goodness, asks questions about the basic fairness of existence, and offers compelling descriptions of the glories of the created world and the bitter sorrows of human life.

Once again, Jewish Lights Publishing, and its sister imprint, SkyLight Illuminations, have given us a superb study tool which deals with some of the most pressing eternal questions of human existence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594733895
  • Publisher: Skylight Paths Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/1/2012
  • Series: SkyLight Illuminations Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Kraus, executive editor for Bibles at Oxford University Press, has produced such high-profile projects as The Catholic Study Bible (first and second editions); The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha; The Jewish Study Bible; and The Jewish Annotated New Testament. He is author of Choosing a Bible and Sex, Sacrifice, Shame and Smiting.

Dr. Marc Zvi Brettler is the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University. He contributed to all volumes of the My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries series, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and to My People's Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries; Who by Fire, Who by Water—Un'taneh Tokef; All These Vows—Kol Nidre; May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism—Yizkor; and We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism—Ashamnu and Al Chet (all Jewish Lights). He is coeditor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament and The Jewish Study Bible, which won the National Jewish Book Award; co-author of The Bible and the Believer; and author of How to Read the Jewish Bible, among other books and articles. He has also been interviewed on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air by Terry Gross.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii
Introduction xi

The Prose Framework: Opening 1
Chapter 1 3
Chapter 2 9

Job's Curse 13
Chapter 3 15

The First Dialogue Cycle 19
Chapter 4 21
Chapter 5 25
Chapter 6 29
Chapter 7 35
Chapter 8 39
Chapter 9 43
Chapter 10 49
Chapter 11 53
Chapter 12 57
Chapter 13 61
Chapter 14 65

The Second Dialogue Cycle 69
Chapter 15 71
Chapter 16 77
Chapter 17 81
Chapter 18 85
Chapter 19 89
Chapter 20 95
Chapter 21 99

The Third Dialogue Cycle 105
Chapter 22 107
Chapter 23 111
Chapter 24 115
Chapter 25 119
Chapter 26 123
Chapter 27 125
Chapter 28 129

Job's Final Speeches 133
Chapter 29 135
Chapter 30 139
Chapter 31 145

The Elihu Explosion 151
Chapter 32 153
Chapter 33 157
Chapter 34 163
Chapter 35 169
Chapter 36 173
Chapter 37 179

The Answer of God from the Storm 183
Chapter 38 185
Chapter 39 191
Chapter 40 197
Chapter 41 201

Job's Final Reply 207
Chapter 42 (verses 1–6) 209

The Prose Framework: Closing 211
Chapter 42 (verses 7–17) 213

Acknowledgments 214
Suggestions for Further Reading 215

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