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
Mary Katherine Yem Hing Hom University of Cambridge, Wolfson College UK

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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.

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