“The Vision in Job 4 and Its Role in the Book” by Ken Brown

Ken Brown. The Vision in Job 4 and Its Role in the Book: Reframing the Development of the Joban Dialogues. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 75. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015, xi + 350 pp., 84,00 €  (sewn paper).

Job*I’d like to express my gratitude to Mohr Siebeck for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Ken Brown’s monograph on Job expertly explores the centrality of Job 4:12-21 in Joban dialogue, considering it the touchstone for the whole dialogue. Unlike his predecessors, Brown approaches job through a methodology involving intertwined synchronic and diachronic analysis “to offer a more comprehensive view of the vision’s complex and contested role in the book” (51). Most notably, part of the analysis concludes that the oft considered “mistakes” were, in fact, intentional adjustments of the text to reframe the book. He also offers a unique vision as to the original for of Job.

The introduction begins by providing the history to Joban scholarship around the uncanny Job 4 vision and poses his thesis question:

“What role does the vision in 4:12-21 play in the book of Job as a whole?… however, this leads to several subordinate questions: What does the vision itself mean? What is its origin, and why is it located where it is? And how is it invoked and responded to in the rest of the book?” (63).

Chapter One follows up by exploring the uncanny vision and attempts to interpret it. The vision’s intertwined revelatory and judgment language, along with the pessimistic conclusion in Job 4:18-21, establish the vision as an ambivalent and ambiguous vision. To provide more insight, Brown continues in Chapter Two by discussing the literary context of the vision in its final form. Through careful analysis of the references to the vision by Job, vocabulary of the vision itself as compared to Job, and how his friend use the vision, Brown  establishes that the vision is in the style of Job and should therefore be attributed to him, for the literary context of the Joban dialogue demands it be so. Consequently another question is raised, “why does the vision itself appear in Eliphaz’s speech” (146)?

Chapter Three focuses on the development of the book, especially how Job was likely reframed by an editor shifting portions of the dialogue. Brown contends that these textual shift occurred intentionally, in contrast to arguments championed by Tur-Sinai that the textual shifts in job were accidental. His explanation for the intentional re-arrangement is that the editor wanted “to obscure Job’s own dependence on the vision and mollify his most extreme criticisms of God’s justice” (225). Having established the centrality and shocking climax of Job 4:12-21 to the book of Job and its attribution to Job rather than Eliphaz, Chapter Four explores Jobs original meaning in light of the original textual arrangement. He concludes that Job interprets the vision initially, and in later dialogue, as God’s judgement and divine deception against himself. According to Brown, this is how the original text ends and it demands answer.

Chapter Five, thus, explores how early reception of Job accounts for the Jobs accusations and speech against God’s justice. In biblical literature, the earliest reception of Job focuses on his piety and patience rather than the antagonistic relationship between God and Job. The redactor of Job, thus, retains the centrality of the vision whilst shifting portions of text to obscure Jobs positions. Overall, Brown’s argument for the re-arrangement of the text helps us to appreciate the complexity and deep tensions of the book through diachronic and synchronic analysis Job, which centers on a massively relevant 21st century issues: theodicy.

All-in-all, Ken Brown’s analysis and engagement with Job and Joban scholarship is truly ground breaking. It presents well-developed and detailed arguments that cover two essential aspects, namely synchronic and diachronic. Rather than abandoning one for the other, he embraces them both. This methodology allows him to explore the earliest form of Job and how subsequent editors edited the text within their own context. Additionally, from a more practical standpoint, his ability to draw out the complexities and deep tensions of Job illustrate that Job may not be read as a simple book about theodicy. Rather, it must be read within its own contexts and allowed to speak from multiple perspectives. In doing so, the reader is truly allowed to experience the truth and depth of the work.

The Vision of Job 4 and Its Role in the Book marks an essential development in Joban studies which all scholars working with Job must take into consideration. His ground-breaking reconstruction of Job and ability to illustrate the centrality of the Job 4 vision may potentially change field of Joban studies. Without a doubt his work is an essential read for Hebrew Bible researchers and even pastors attempting to preach on the complexities and intricacies of Job.

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5 thoughts on ““The Vision in Job 4 and Its Role in the Book” by Ken Brown

  1. I audited a class on Job by Ed Greenstein when I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, and he believed that the vision was originally Job’s: that the vision convinced Job that no one was clean in God’s eyes and that God was meticulously adding up his sins to punish him. Greenstein even thought that the ending of Job was rather dismal: that Job was essentially saying that, if that is how the world is, he is saddened by it! Greenstein, at least in the class, as I recall, never said that a later hand attributed the vision to Eliphaz for ideological purposes, but that would make sense.

  2. Thanks for the review, William!

    James: Yes, Greenstein has argued in a number of publications that the vision was originally attributed to Job, not Eliphaz, but he (like Tur-Sinai) sees its present location as accidental rather than intentional. His work was foundational for mine, despite our disagreement on that central point.

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