A Diligent and Elegant Translation
A Brief Review of
Job: A New Translation
Hardback: Yale UP, 2019.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Since a young age, Job has been one of the most fascinating books of the Bible for me (Yes, I was a weird kid!) In Job, we have one of the longest conversations recorded in scripture, a conversation that challenges us to wrestle with the hardest questions of our faith in dialogue both with God and with our fellow human beings. Thus, I was excited to read and review Edward Greenstein’s new translation of Job, one that aims to set right certain passages that Greenstein believes were rendered by earlier translators as “facile and fudged” (xviii).
As a general reader, I cannot comment knowledgeably on the skill of Greenstein’s translation, but as such I did find his introductory essay that explains the challenges posed by the text of Job enlightening. Out of curiosity, I decided to read this new translation alongside three other translations: the common and widely-used text of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and two more recent scholarly translations – Robert Alter’s much-heralded work (2018), and John Goldingay’s translation also published last year. In reading these texts, I tried to pay special attention to passages that Greenstein highlighted as problematic in his introduction. Generally, I found that Greenstein and Alter were similarly committed to retaining the poetic tenor of the text, although sometimes in passages that Greenstein identified as problematic (e.g., 42:6) Alter was inclined toward traditional interpretations of the text. Goldingay seemed to be more aligned with Greenstein’s semantics, but his translation is decidedly less poetic than either Alter or Greenstein.
While the hermeneutic issues that Greenstein raises about the traditional translations of Job are important contributions to the ongoing conversation about Job, they didn’t seem to this general reader to radically subvert the meaning of the Job narrative on the whole. The traditional common translation found in the NRSV is still probably adequate for most readers of Job, but Greenstein’s diligent and elegant translation, and the crucial interpretative issues that he surfaces in the process, should be available to serious readers of scripture in both the church and the academy. This volume is one that deserves a place in church, university, and seminary libraries.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He has authored a number of books including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
I am a little confused how Greenstein’s translation of and commentary on Job’s response in 42:1-7 does not “radically subvert the meaning of the Job narrative as a whole?” It changes the tenor of the whole Whirlwind saga. Job remains defiant before a blustering God, rather than transformed or convicted after a sublime experience.