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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Structure.

1.

The structure of the book depends on the perspective from which it is viewed, whether on the basis of diction, or dramatic movement, or individual components in sequence. By eliminating brief prosaic introductions and observations, the first approach yields two distinct sections, a narrative and a poetic debate. Stressing the prose introductions, and in some instances conclusions, leads to three divisions within the book ( 1:1–2:10; 2:11–31:40; 32:1–42:17 ). Attention to content alone suggests a quite different arrangement (1–2; 3–31; 32–7; 38:1–42:6 ; and 42:7–17 ).

2.

A striking feature of the book is the use of a framing story to enclose the poetic debate. Widely employed in the ancient Near East, this practice enabled authors to provide essential data for understanding philosophical reflections and for appreciating proverbial sayings. Just as a simple frame enhances a work of art, these brief narratives focus attention away from themselves and offer a perspective from which to view the poetic debate. Twice the narrator passes independent judgement on the hero ( 1:22; 2:10 ), one confirmed by YHWH and Job's wife, then withdraws to allow other voices to be heard in the poetry. A story begins, only to be interrupted by poetry that fashions a story within a story, and then resumes so as to bring closure. The prologue evokes dialogue, and the epilogue terminates it, at the same time suppressing the voice within the poetry that rejects the kind of optimism represented by Job's friends and by Proverbs. A story that opens in heaven concludes on earth, where the principle of do ut des (‘I give in order to receive’) is still alive and well. Viewpoints collide everywhere, and the one source of a definitive answer dodges the issue entirely, as YHWH drones on about meteorological phenomena and wild creatures, especially the two favourites, Behemoth and Leviathan.

3.

The dramatic development suggested by the three prose introductions in 1:1–5, 2:11–13 , and 32:1–5 points to distinct episodes of conflict: YHWH afflicts Job, Job challenges God, YHWH rebukes Job. Alternatively, one may speak of hidden conflict, conflict explored, and conflict resolved (Habel 1985 ). In this view, the fundamental category of the book is prose, with poetry serving to retard the movement of the plot and heightening the emotions. This understanding of the book encounters considerable difficulty: the narrator's comments mark two closures in the prologue ( 1:22 and 2:10 ); the third section has two ‘endings’; Elihu's speeches do not resolve the conflict between Job and God; and that resolution occurs in the poetic section.

1.

The obvious structure of the book consists of (1) a story about Job's affliction, (2) a debate between him and three friends, (3) the speeches of Elihu, (4) divine speeches leading to Job's submissions, and (5) a story about Job's restoration. Rather than viewing the poetry as a retardation of the plot, one may see it as a way of introducing multiple responses to the problem of evil. Progress does occur, however, with Job gradually moving away from welcoming death and closer towards imagining a judicial resolution, one made possible by a third power, variously understood as umpire, arbitrator, or redeemer.

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