Why the Book of Job Proves So Difficult to Translate

Sept. 6 2019

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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Ancient Near East Today

More about: Biblical Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, Job, Translation


The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media