A New Interpretation and Translation of Job 5:5

In: Vetus Testamentum
John Burnight Department of Philosophy & World Religions University of Northern Iowa

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One of the most notoriously difficult—and frequently emended—verses in the Book of Job is 5:5, which the New jps Version translates as “May the hungry devour his harvest, Carrying it off in baskets; May the thirsty swallow their wealth”. Marvin Pope, for example, writes of 5:5b-c that “as they stand, these two lines are impossible and the various emendations not much better”, and all three cola have been the subject of considerable debate. In this paper a new interpretation of this problematic verse is offered, one that requires minimal emendation to the text and is well-suited to its context. In brief, I propose that the term in 5:5a generally translated as “harvest” should instead be glossed as “branches” (a collective singular in the Hebrew), and the verse as a whole taken as a “tree” metaphor that tacitly compares Job to a “fool” who commits apostasy.

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