Who Changes His Mind about Dust and Ashes? The Rhetorical Structure of Job 42:2-6

in Vetus Testamentum
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In the present article it is argued that the phrase ונחמתי על־עפר ואפר (Job 42:6) is to be rendered “and I have compassion with dust and ashes”. This means that v. 6, which is generally regarded as Job’s final dramatic—but ambiguous!—confession, can only be spoken by God: it is God who changes his mind! The strophic structure of the poem 42:2-6 confirms this interpretation.

Vetus Testamentum

A Quarterly Published by the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament




Similarly J. Ley, “Die metrische Beschaffenheit des Buches Hiob”, Theologische Studien und Kritiken 68 (1895), p. 692; J. Hontheim, Das Buch Job—als strophisches Kunstwerk nachgewiesen, übersetzt und erklärt (Biblische Studien IX.1-3; Freiburg i.Br., 1904), pp. 280-283, 364; and J.P. Fokkelman, Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible: at the Interface of Prosody and Structural Analysis. Volume IV: Job 15-42 (ssn 47; Assen, 2004), pp. 318-332 (cited below as Major Poems IV). For the division vv. 2-3.4-6, see also F.B. Köster, Das Buch Hiob und der Prediger Salomos nach ihrer strophischen Anordnung übersetzt. Nebst Abhandlungen über den strophischen Charakter dieser Bücher (Schleswig, 1831); F. Delitzsch, Das Buch Iob (Keil-Delitzsch IV.2; Leipzig, 2nd ed. 1876); G.H.B. Wright, The Book of Job. A new critically revised translation with essays on scansion, date etc. (London, 1883); and Habel, Job.


De Wilde, Hiob, p. 401. About twenty years before Patrick and de Boer, L.J. Kuyper, “The Repentance of Job”, vt 9 (1959), pp. 91-94, was already led by this correct judgement when he focussed on the meaning of the root מאס in Job 42:6a: “Throughout the poem there is no doubt that Job has the better of the argument with the friends. [. . .] Job’s repentance is not that which his friends have urged” (p. 92). At the beginning of the twentieth century, Fullerton eliminates 42,1-6 as a gloss because, if Job were really repenting, “He would humble himself before power and would therefore be untrue to himself”; K. Fullerton, “The Original Conclusion of the Book of Job”, zaw 42 (1924), p. 125.


Patrick, “Job XLII 6”, p. 370; similarly Patrick, “Job’s Address”, pp. 280-281. L.J. Kaplan, “Maimonides, Dale Patrick, and Job XLII 6”, vt 28 (1978), pp. 356-358, points out that Maimonides had the same understanding.


Fokkelman, Major Poems IV, pp. 330-331.


Krüger, “Did Job Repent?”, p. 224.


De Wilde, Hiob, p. 400.


Patrick, “Job XLII 6”, p. 370; H. Simian-Yofre, “נחם”, ThWAT 5, pp. 368-369: “Das einzige, allen Bedeutungen gemeinsame Element von נחם scheint die Einflussnahme auf eine Situation zu sein, indem man den Verlauf der Dinge ändert, sich von einer Verpflichtung löst oder von einer Handlung ablässt, wenn es um etwas Gegenwärtiges handelt”; Janzen, Job, pp. 254-255; Willi-Plein, “Hiobs Wiederruf?”, 2002, p. 142; Maher, “Answer”, pp. 59-60; and Balentine, Job, p. 695. Cf. also H.J. Stoebe, “נחם pi. trösten”, that 2, col. 65: “mit der im Stamme liegenden Grundbedeutung ist es gegeben, dass נחם ni. nicht resignierendes Bedauern ist, sondern konkrete Folgen hat”.


Fokkelman, Major Poems IV, p. 330; and cf. H. Van Dyke Parunak, “A Semantic Survey of נחם”, Biblica 56 (1975), p. 525.


Contra Van Dyke Parunak, “Survey”, pp. 528-529, who argues that in Ps 90:13 נחם niph‘al means “retract punishment” (with reference to Exod 32:12-13); cf. de Boer, “Does Job Retract?”, p. 191 n. 23, who suggests that in Ps 90:13 we are dealing with an abridged formulation: “Put an end to (the disaster with which you struck) your servants”. Simian-Yofre, “נחם”, p. 375, rightly notes that the root שׁוב (90:13a) suggests a positive meaning (“Mitleid haben”) for והנחם (90:13b).


Cf. Curtis, “Response”, pp. 501, 505, 510: “and I am sorry for frail man”.


Curtis, “Response”, p. 505.


Morrow, “Consolation”, p. 216 n. 17.


Fokkelman, Major Poems IV, p. 329.


Fokkelman, Major Poems IV, p. 322.


Fokkelman, Major Poems IV, p. 328.


Clines, Job 38-42, p. 1212.


Clines, Job 38-42, p. 1222.


Krüger, “Did Job Repent?”, pp. 225, 228.


Clines, Job 38-42, p. 1222.


Similarly Kuyper, “Repentance”, pp. 91-94; Kuyper suggests that Job rejects the traditional reward-retribution theology (p. 94). מאס is the opposite of בחר (“to choose”); see e.g. Isa 41:9 and Job 7:15-16 (cf. also Job 34:33 and Willi-Plein, “Hiobs Wiederruf?”, 2002, p. 143). “Das ziemlich reichhaltige Spektrum der Verwendungsmöglichkeiten lässt erkennen, dass man als Grundbedeutung etwa ‘nichts zu tun haben wollen mit’ annehmen kann”; H. Wildberger, “מאס verwerfen”, that 1, col. 881. That is to say, מאס does not stand for “to withdraw, to retract” (a lawsuit); this rendering unwarrantedly weakens its meaning to bring v. 6 (as words spoken by Job) into line with the general tenor of the book (contra, among others, Habel, Job, p. 582).


Van Wolde, “Job 42,1-6”, p. 238, points to the “odd” situation that v. 7 immediately follows 42:1-6. Noting a lack of attention for this peculiarity by exegetes, she rightly remarks: “still it is strange that it says that yhwh spoke, while Job has just been speaking”.


According to Habel, Job, p. 581, a “friendly barb” may be heard in the term מזמה instead of the expected עצה.


Gordis, “Virtual Quotations”, p. 413.


Habel, Job, p. 582, rightly notes: “The ‘hearing/seeing’ contrast described in Job’s case is parallel to that in the case of wisdom. Death and Abaddon had only ‘heard’ of her by rumor and hearsay (28:22) but God himself had ‘seen’ her and therefore knew her (28:27).”


Cf. Clines, Job 38-42, pp. 1216-1217.


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