Having just finished rendering the book of Job into English, Edward Greenstein explains the great challenges it poses for translators, and the reasons for its obscure vocabulary and difficult syntax. Greenstein distinguishes the book’s framing prose narrative (the book’s first two chapters and its final eleven verses) from the poetic “core” in the middle, made up mostly of the conversations between Job and his friends:
[E]ven a cursory reading by a competent Hebraist will reveal that the book is composed overall in a peculiar Hebrew. The poet or poets responsible for the dialogical core of the work make frequent use of foreign language in order to lend verisimilitude to the conceit that the speakers are not Israelites but Transjordanians.
[Both] the prose writer of the frame tale [and] the poet (who may be one and the same) seek to set the story and dialogue in the period of the Hebrew patriarchs, and so they make use of terms and names associated with the biblical literature conveying that era and certain archaic or pseudo-archaic linguistic forms. The poet invents Hebrew words and features, sometimes to project an aura of Aramaic and sometimes because, like Shakespeare and other virtuosos, he likes to play with language.
Job is [also] a highly intertextual work, in which the interpretation of a word, phrase, or image may depend on the identification of a source—usually from the Hebrew scriptures we know and often from an earlier passage in the book of Job itself. The poet not only cross-references phraseology in the course of the back-and-forth among the interlocutors, but he twists the meaning of phrases through parody and deconstruction.