Pelham - Contested Creations in the Book of Job

Contested Creations in the Book of Job

Contested Creations in the Book of Job - The-World-as-It-Ought-and-Ought-Not-to-Be - By Abigail Pelham

Biblical Interpretation Series


Академическая работа по книге Иова.

Writing and Un-Writing

I once wrote a book about the Book of Job, and then i un-wrote it. i made arguments, and  then,  raising objections,  i dismantled  them.  i ended up with a blank page, with nothing to show. This was true to my experience with the book, and yet, at the same time, so untrue. The blank page bristled with the residue of an encounter which its blankness did not reveal.

Something had happened between us, not nothing. To speak to this experience, it became necessary to inquire into the nature of the relationship between  texts  and  their  readers  and  to  think  anew  about  the  kind  of meaning a book about  the Book of  Job might construct and convey.  in this prologue, then, i think about the dominant modes of reading in biblical studies, and attempt to puzzle out where my experience of reading the Book of Job fits in this paradigm, looking for points of consonance and of dissonance. My aim is to explain how and why the book that follows both is and is not a blank page.

The Author in Biblical Studies

Much of  the work done  in biblical  studies has, as  its goal,  the  location of the authors of biblical texts, as if what we biblical scholars have been hired to do is to form search-parties that will scour the caves and hills of ancient israel to bring back the missing authors, dead or alive.1 or, if we cannot locate the exact author of a particular text, our task is to at least garner enough information about him2 to be able to construct an  ‘identikit drawing’ which can then guide our reading of the text, as if without such a guide we cannot read what we have in hand. explaining the dominant mode in which biblical studies is done, John J. Collins writes, what these [historical critical] methods have in common is a general agreement  that  texts should be  interpreted  in  their historical contexts,  in  light  of the literary and cultural conventions of their time. . . .

[This] sets limits to the conversation, by saying what a given text could or could not mean  in the ancient context. A text may have more than one possible meaning, but it cannot mean just anything at all.3 so it is that James Barr, using an ‘identikit drawing’ of the author of genesis 3, argues that Adam could not have been created immortal. he writes, The natural cultural assumption  is the  opposite: to grow old and die with dignity . . . was a good and proper  thing,  to which Adam no doubt  looked forward.4 similarly, Kathryn schifferdecker writes of the Book of Job, [T]he  ancient  israelite  reader must have understood  the divine  speeches to be the answer to Job’s situation. . . . The book does indeed have an ‘end,’ whether contemporary readers appreciate it or not.5
granted, in both these examples, it is the ancient reader and not the author who is reconstructed.

Yet, at the same time, the author is understood to be so similar to his readers that if his readers’ expectations can be recovered, the author’s intentions can be reconstituted from them. This is in marked contrast to our own,  ‘contemporary’ relationship with the text, as noted by  schifferdecker. whereas  the  expectations  of  ‘contemporary  readers’ can only skew the meaning of the text by misunderstanding the author’s intentions, ancient readers’ expectations accurately reflect these. Biblical scholars, therefore, by discovering ancient reading communities, in effect discover their texts’ authors—(this is what i mean by the construction of an ‘identikit drawing’)—and reveal to ‘contemporary readers’ the way in which the text must be read if it is to be understood correctly.



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