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The Reception of Job

Reception history does not ask question really of the original meaning of the text.  It’s more interested in the conversation that  ensued over the centuries about a text.  Very frequently, we will get in these conversations insight into the text that we might miss today. 

One example of this is the reception of Job’s wife; most of us now read Job’s wife negatively.  She is this nagging wife who comes and tells Job to curse God and die.  So it’s a very negative image, and that is the dominant view throughout history. 

On the other hand, there is a minority report, as it were, of Job’s wife very positively that sees her as a supportive wife, as somebody who loves Job, who doesn’t want him to suffer anymore.  So when we look as these accounts that we find in visual art, in the commentaries, in theologies, we find a new dimension of Job’s wife that then brings us back to reread the text, and the text is not as clear as it seems.  We could read Job’s wife positively or negatively. So another example of this reception history of the Book of Job is in Job 7:1. In Job 7:1 the old Greek translation asks, says, “Life on earth is a trial or temptation.”  Along comes Jerome, later in his Vulgate translation, where he translates it, “Life is a warfare,” and Jerome elsewhere in the book develops the idea of life as a warfare. 

Following Jerome, many commentators interpreted this in a spiritual sense, “Life is a spiritual warfare and a spiritual warfare involves penitence.”  Well, Gregory the Great developed this and after him, other commentators began to develop this, “Life is a warfare and penitence,” and by the time of the Crusades, this becomes very critical because if life is a warfare and penitence, why the Crusades just does exactly that, allows us to go at this warfare and as an act of penance.  So here we have a nefarious consequence of the Biblical interpretation where it’s not simply, what did the text mean; the text has come to mean something very different.  So you find that in iconography, in Christian miniscule illustration, Job is a soldier.  So for the Crusaders, Job was a patron saint.

  • Choon-Leong Seow

    Choon-Leong Seow is Princeton Seminary’s Henry Snyder Gehman Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature. An ordained Presbyterian elder, he specializes in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the history of ancient Israelite religion, Northwest Semitic philology, and the history of biblical interpretation and reception. He teaches courses on the interpretation of Job, Hebraica, Daniel, Aramaic, and Northwest Semitic epigraphy.