Water, Wisdom, and Life: Literary Insights on the Use of נַחַל in Job 28:4 with Reference to 28:1-28 and 38:22-30

in Vetus Testamentum
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נַחַל in Job 28:4, an unusual use of a word in a profoundly nuanced passage, is discussed—first with regard to the popular interpretation of ‘(mine) shaft’ (and, relatedly, ‘excavation’), then with regard to a proposed literary reading for נַחַל within the broader context of Job 28 and beyond. Key to interpretation is the pairing of waterways and forceful verbs, along with the absence or presence of water, which has associations with life. Thus, in Job 28:1-11, seemingly incompatible concepts concerning the presence of water are created across the prototypical and cognitive levels, creating tension and driving the narrative forward towards resolution in 28:23-28 and, ultimately, to YHWH’s appearance and rhetorical self-declarations in Job 38:22-30. The point is made that humanity and YHWH both conduct works that offer what is life-giving, but only YHWH truly delivers this, whether it be water, wisdom, or life itself.

Water, Wisdom, and Life: Literary Insights on the Use of נַחַל in Job 28:4 with Reference to 28:1-28 and 38:22-30

in Vetus Testamentum



See e.g. AndersenJob p. 225; Jones Rumors of Wisdom pp. 135-36; van Wolde “Wisdom Who Can Find It?” pp. 3-5 11-21; Edward L. Greenstein “The Poem on Wisdom in Job 28 in Its Conceptual and Literary Contexts” in van Wolde Job 28 pp. 253-80 (pp. 267-69 273-74).


E.g. see GrayBook of Job p. 344; Driver “Problems in Job” p. 162.


See ClinesJob 21-37 p. 896; and Jones Rumors of Wisdom pp. 136-37 for further discussion.


See Driver“Problems in Job” p. 162; and Jones Rumors of Wisdom p. 136. See also Stephen A. Geller “‘Where is Wisdom?’: A Literary Study of Job 28 in its Settings” in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel eds. Jacob Neusner Baruch A. Levine and Ernest S. Frerichs (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1987) pp. 155-88 (p. 178).


William Muss-ArnoltA Concise Dictionary of the Assyrian Language (Berlin: n. p.1905) p. 663; Gert Howardy Clavis Cuneorum sive Lexicon Signorum Assyriorum linguis Latina Britannica Germanica (London: Humphredum Milford Lipsiae: Otto Harrassowitz Hauniae: G. E. C. Gad 1904-1933) pp. 704-5 (394: 68). Muss-Arnolt defines niḫlu as ‘excavation deepening’; Howardy as ‘excavation’.


Greenstein“Poem on Wisdom” p. 267 keenly observes that other verbs more normally used of mining activities are lacking from Job 28:3-11. However in this case the conclusion to draw from the lack of metallurgical terminology is not that mining activities are not alluded to in Job 28 but rather that they are poetically depicted in the interests of the text.


See van Wolde“Wisdom Who Can Find It?” pp. 26-30.

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