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Cover of Job by Edward L Greenstein

Job: A New Translation by Edward L. Greenstein


I will admit I bit off more than I could chew with Job: A New Translation by Edward L. Greenstein.

The book of Job has often been called the greatest poem ever written. The book, in Edward Greenstein’s characterization, is “a Wunderkind, a genius emerging out of the confluence of two literary streams” which “dazzles like Shakespeare with unrivaled vocabulary and a penchant for linguistic innovation.” Despite the text’s literary prestige and cultural prominence, no English translation has come close to conveying the proper sense of the original. The book has consequently been misunderstood in innumerable details and in its main themes.
 
Edward Greenstein’s new translation of Job is the culmination of decades of intensive research and painstaking philological and literary analysis, offering a major reinterpretation of this canonical text. Through his beautifully rendered translation and insightful introduction and commentary, Greenstein presents a new perspective: Job, he shows, was defiant of God until the end. The book is more about speaking truth to power than the problem of unjust suffering.

Hard Cover Front Piece

I lack the knowledge to truly judge the translation and while the issues raised were in some ways fascinating, I really only finished it because I had invested time and energy in reading half of it. It is a provocative book by an eminent scholar but I think the line between scholar and educated lay person is a tricky one.

However, the meanings of many words and expressions in Job are based on guesswork. One if often hard pressed to reconcile the language and translations with the traditional Hebrew text. There is no delicate way to put it: much of what has passed as translation of Job is facile and fudged. Translators have for the most part recycled interpretations that had been adopted earlier, dispensing with the painstaking work of original philological investigation that might lead to new and proper understandings. Modern commentators have made use of the ancient translations, but these were themselves all too often in a quandary. Accordingly, traditional interpretations have often held sway, and translators have usually followed suit, imposing their notions of what the book is presumed to be saying on their largely unsuspecting audiences.

Introduction, xviii

I found the translation readable and the introduction thought provoking but I was constantly distracted by the footnotes and a sense that Greenstein was flipping the understanding of Job on its head and I was in no position to judge the result in any definitive way absent significant study and reading.

Consequently, Job is parodying God, not showing him respect. If God is all about power and not morality and justice, Job will not condone it through acceptance. This response may not accord with the image of pious, Bontshe the Silent-type Job that most interpreters have wanted to find in this biblical book. However, Job’s defiance, a product of absolute integrity, is not the only radical or surprising feature of the book in the read presented and defended here.

Introduction, xxxi

If you are a person of faith or have an interest in the theological ramifications of the book of Job, to read it is to wrestle not with the challenges of translation but with the nature of faith and of scripture.

Gloria Dei est vivens homo, wrote Saint Irenaeus: The glory of God is a living man. Might not the Author of Life look with favor upon this brilliantly resistant creature, this unappeasable critical thinker, this supremely lonely and dissenting figure, this Bartleby with boils—unswayed by the sublime, scratching his scabs in the land of Uz? That might be the rankest heresy: Let me know, bishops. But consider what Greenstein’s nonpenitent, polarity-reversed Job has done to the ending of the book. As before, with the experiment over, Job is blandly restored to a state of health and wealth; as before, God upbraids the sententious friends, the Bildads and the Eliphazes and the Zophars, and sends them off to make some burnt offerings, “for you did not speak about me in honesty as did my servant Job.” The quality or valence of this honesty, however, has turned upside down. It has become a kind of white-knuckle existential tenacity, a refusal to disown oneself even in the teeth of the windstorm. Maybe that’s what this God, faced with this Job, is telling us: Bring it all before him, the full grievance of your humanity. Bring him your condition, loudly. Let him have it.

James Parker’s review in The Atlantic

This review by Patrick T. Reardon is a good place to start to get a sense of the challenge and the consequences.

Greenstein’s Job is a bold, highly original challenge to centuries, if not millenniums, of scholarship and theology.  It is a no-holds-barred assertion of a new way of looking at Job, the honest, upright gentile who, in the biblical book, is afflicted with waves of misery from God and asks the Deity: Why me?

As with so much when it comes to reading, your mileage may vary but if you like challenging approaches to scripture this is that. the very least you understand the immense challenges involved in translating a work such as Job.

Christian Origins and the Question of God Reading Challenge

I have been a fan of N.T. Wright for quite a while now. I have read a number of his books but they have been the popular versions (and his New Testament for Everyone volumes) rather than the scholarly tomes that inspired them.

I have long wanted to read his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, however, and even picked up used versions of Volumes 1 & 3.  But I had to be honest with myself. I was unlikely to read that many pages in small print paperback.  I didn’t want to shell out the dollars it would cost to buy all the volumes in Kindle format.

Well, as luck would have it, the prices changed.  You can now get a whole lot of Wright for a lot less money. As of right now you can all four volumes for $7.99 each:

The New Testament and the People of God (V1)
Jesus and the Victory of God (V2)
The Resurrection and the Son of God (V3)
Paul and the Faithfulness of God (V4)

Plus, as a bonus you can get Paul and His Recent Interpreters for $5.99!  That is over 4k of Wright for less than $40.  Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

However, therein lies the rub.  If you read all five books that is 4,145 pages.  Just the 4 Christian Origin volumes is 3,739.  That is a lot of reading.  And this is not light reading by any stretch of the imagination.

So how does one commit to something like this?  Well, I think you have to do just that, make a commitment.  So what I’m going to do is read Paul and His Recent Interpreters this year.  And commit to reading the Christian Origins and the Question of God series in its entirety in 2016.

Broken down over the course of 12 months that is only about 300 words a month; certainly doable.  The trick will be reading it in larger enough chunks that I get something out of it and end up with an understanding of Wright’s massive work.

This will be no easy challenge but I think it will give me something to shoot for in 2016.  Anyone else up for the challenge?

Review: Rumours of Glory: A Memoir by Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is one of my favorite musicians/artists. His lyrics are poetry and often profound and deeply moving. I own almost all of his albums and have listened to his music for decades. We come from polar opposite perspectives when it comes to theology and politics but I am still a huge fan.

So when I realized, a little after the fact, that he had published a memoir, I had to read it. Rumors of Glory was fascinating and engaging because, despite my fandom, I know very little about Cockburn the person (perhaps because I didn’t want to get into his politics too much for fear it would ruin his music – not that he hides his politics, particular in later albums).

What really comes through is his honesty and free spirit. You also get to see how his life and music line up; where certain songs and lyrics came from and how they reflect his life and experiences; chronology and discology.

His lyrics remain beautiful poetry and I enjoyed reading them scattered throughout the book and following the chronology.

I will admit I did struggle a bit with the politics, however, and occasionally the theology. I appreciate his passion and his compassion but was a little frustrated just how one sided it was.

He castigates and lambasts conservatives, right-wingers, and corporations endlessly and with vitriol and occasionally with near rage. But he never really questions his basically socialist, and often seemingly utopian, perspective. He never questions the left, or their sources, never seems to give the American government the benefit of the doubt or admit the myriad of benefits the free market can bring. He never delves into the corruption and kleptocracy of socialist and communist countries around the world. The corruption, fundamental amorality, and basic incompetence of the UN never comes up either. American politicians and multinational corporations are always to blame.

That said, you can’t help but be depressed and frustrated with the devastation, despair, and destruction that Cockburn has witnessed around the globe and for which he offers a sort of tour.

Unless you are a blind ideologue, you can’t help but be frustrated and angry with the greed and violence that has produced nearly endless wars across the globe. America does have much to answer for and American corporations and their allies in government do to. When you count the cost in lives lost, money spent, and the environmental degradation it is hard not to feel sympathetic to the pacifist perspective.

Cockburn’s personal life also proves to be fascinating and a little depressing. He honestly discusses how he was closed and cut off from true intimacy and communication early in his life and how his relationships suffered as a result. But he also relates how part of his personal and spiritual journey was trying to resolve this flaw and how even his tragic experiences led to growth and understanding.

His spirituality and faith start out somewhat conventional (he was introduced to the faith and became a Christian as a result of his relationship with his first wife) but ends up almost a pantheistic (or universal search for the divine in life). But even so, he remains committed throughout to faith in God; he prayers and writes with depth and power about faith. His determined search for truth and beauty and his commitment to loving God and loving his neighbor are always there. This I can respect and appreciate no matter the heterodoxy.

Anyone with an interest in Cockburn and his music will want to read Rumors of Glory. Anyone interested in the interplay between life, art, music, and politics would also find this memoir engaging and insightful. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Review: Rumours of Glory: A Memoir by Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is one of my favorite musicians/artists. His lyrics are poetry and often profound and deeply moving. I own almost all of his albums and have listened to his music for decades. We come from polar opposite perspectives when it comes to theology and politics but I am still a huge fan.

So when I realized, a little after the fact, that he had published a memoir, I had to read it. Rumors of Glory was fascinating and engaging because, despite my fandom, I know very little about Cockburn the person (perhaps because I didn’t want to get into his politics too much for fear it would ruin his music – not that he hides his politics, particular in later albums).

What really comes through is his honesty and free spirit. You also get to see how his life and music line up; where certain songs and lyrics came from and how they reflect his life and experiences; chronology and discology.

His lyrics remain beautiful poetry and I enjoyed reading them scattered throughout the book and following the chronology.

I will admit I did struggle a bit with the politics, however, and occasionally the theology. I appreciate his passion and his compassion but was a little frustrated just how one sided it was.

He castigates and lambasts conservatives, right-wingers, and corporations endlessly and with vitriol and occasionally with near rage. But he never really questions his basically socialist, and often seemingly utopian, perspective. He never questions the left, or their sources, never seems to give the American government the benefit of the doubt or admit the myriad of benefits the free market can bring. He never delves into the corruption and kleptocracy of socialist and communist countries around the world. The corruption, fundamental amorality, and basic incompetence of the UN never comes up either. American politicians and multinational corporations are always to blame.

That said, you can’t help but be depressed and frustrated with the devastation, despair, and destruction that Cockburn has witnessed around the globe and for which he offers a sort of tour.

Unless you are a blind ideologue, you can’t help but be frustrated and angry with the greed and violence that has produced nearly endless wars across the globe. America does have much to answer for and American corporations and their allies in government do to. When you count the cost in lives lost, money spent, and the environmental degradation it is hard not to feel sympathetic to the pacifist perspective.

Cockburn’s personal life also proves to be fascinating and a little depressing. He honestly discusses how he was closed and cut off from true intimacy and communication early in his life and how his relationships suffered as a result. But he also relates how part of his personal and spiritual journey was trying to resolve this flaw and how even his tragic experiences led to growth and understanding.

His spirituality and faith start out somewhat conventional (he was introduced to the faith and became a Christian as a result of his relationship with his first wife) but ends up almost a pantheistic (or universal search for the divine in life). But even so, he remains committed throughout to faith in God; he prayers and writes with depth and power about faith. His determined search for truth and beauty and his commitment to loving God and loving his neighbor are always there. This I can respect and appreciate no matter the heterodoxy.

Anyone with an interest in Cockburn and his music will want to read Rumors of Glory. Anyone interested in the interplay between life, art, music, and politics would also find this memoir engaging and insightful. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by N.T. Wright

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright and have read a number of his books. So I was excited about getting my hands on Surprised by Scripture:

Surprised by ScriptureAn unusual combination of scholar, churchman, and leader, N. T. Wright—hailed by Newsweek as “the world’s leading New Testament scholar”—is not only incredibly insightful, but conveys his knowledge in terms that excite and inspire Christian leaders worldwide, allowing them to see the Bible from a fresh viewpoint. In this challenging and stimulating collection of popular essays, sermons, and talks, Wright provide a series of case studies which explore how the Bible can be applied to some of the most pressing contemporary issues facing us

[…]

Helpful, practical, and wise, Surprised by Scripture invites readers to examine their own hearts and minds and presents new models for understanding how to affirm the Bible in today’s world—as well as new ideas and renewed energy for deepening our faith and engaging with the world around us.

The problem is that, as I have stated ad nauseam at this point, I really struggle with posting non-fiction reviews; and theology perhaps most of all.  So sorry for the delay in posting my thoughts on this interesting book.

If you have read much of N.T. Wright nothing in this collection is likely to surprise you as it really involves the themes and perspectives he has been developing in his last few books (How God Became King, Simply Jesus, etc.). It is, however, interesting to see him use this lens to explore a variety of topics in smaller chapters.

Wright’s theme throughout is how Western Christians have allowed the modern mindset of rationalistic and epicurean approaches to culture and knowledge shrink their faith into an internal personal belief disconnected from public life and history. Conservatives/fundamentalists have attempted to lock everything down into totalistic doctrinal systems and then use that as a cudgel in the culture wars. Liberals have so disconnected the faith from historical context and events, and from the specific stories of scripture, that their spiritualized, personal approaches threatens to float away into vague moralism.

Wright, in contrast, wants to use what historical research might teach us, and read scripture as its authors intended rather than with the philosophical assumptions of the modern age. He seeks to navigate between the fundamentalism of the right and the vague spiritualism of the left. Sometimes this comes off as a nearly impossible threading of the needle, while at other times as if only Wright has tried to find this balance, but I think Wright is largely on track in that the future lies not in rejecting either history or meaning but a more historically informed, culturally engaged, and story driven faith.

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