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Reviewed by:
  • Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job
  • Ellen F. Davis, Professor of Bible and Practical Theology
Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job, by Kathryn Schifferdecker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Harvard Theological Studies 61), 2008. 217 pp. $25.00.

It is a regrettably rare thing for a work of careful biblical exegesis to offer a good read, suitable for a reasonably broad audience, on a topic of some contemporary relevance. It is highly unusual for a dissertation in biblical studies to offer all that, as this one does. Schifferdecker's book makes a fresh contribution to the perennially interesting study of Job by focusing specifically, though not narrowly, on the different views of creation and humanity's place in creation that are articulated by Job and his various interlocutors, including God.

Schifferdecker begins with a brief, deft review of the history of interpretation, with particular attention to the divine speeches (Job 38–41). She touches on an interesting sampling of theological classics (Gregory the Great, Saadiah Gaon, and Calvin), and literary readings (Elie Wiesel and Archibald MacLeish), as well as recent works of academic scholarship. Two lengthy chapters treat the different forms of creation theology that appear in the two main sections of the book of Job. The first of these chapters covers the prose prologue and the lengthy poetic dialogue section (Job 1–37); the second, the divine speeches. A third chapter relates the divine speeches to the concluding response of Job and the prose epilogue; finally a brief postscript considers the ecological implications of the creation theology set forth in the divine speeches. A lucid translation and commentary of the divine speeches and the prose epilogue appear in an appendix; the commentary treats the literary structure and theological message of Job 38–42, and to a lesser extent, philological and text-critical matters.

The core of the argument is that God's speeches "out of the whirlwind" constitute a genuine answer to Job's outcry to and against God, precisely because they are a statement about the human place in creation. The surprise, to both Job and the reader (in light of the rest of the Hebrew Bible), is that God answers Job in terms of creation rather than covenant. The radically non-anthropocentric theology of the divine speeches is at odds with creation theology as it is articulated by the various speakers in the first thirty-seven chapters. The Satan, in the opening prose tale, represents the world as a neatly ordered place, with Job at the center of it. It is ordered for Job's protection, as long as he is submissive to God. Job's friends largely subscribe to this view, but Job rejects it entirely. Beginning in chapter 3, when he curses the day of his birth, and thereafter, he consistently asserts that God's interest in human beings is a source of oppression. Nonetheless, what all the speakers in these chapters [End Page 152] share is the conviction that humanity, whether favored or oppressed, is "the chief object of God's attention and the most important of God's creatures" (p. 61). That is the misapprehension that the divine speeches are designed to correct.

The genius of the divine speeches is to show that the world is "neither what the friends believed it was, nor what Job in his despair feared it was" (p. 125). It is not a safe place, but neither is it governed by chaos or cruelty. Job is ultimately moved to acknowledge God's sovereignty on new terms, recognizing that it includes forces that are indifferent and even dangerous to humanity. Nonetheless there is an order and a beauty in the wild dangerousness of the world, which Job at the last comes to see and appreciate. God does not demand Job's submission but rather offers him the "terrible freedom" of choosing to serve God even in the midst of his suffering (p. 127). Job's final answer to God, as Schifferdecker translates it, is, "I recant and change my mind about dust and ashes" (42:6). As she interprets that much-debated statement, it expresses not abject...


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pp. 152-153
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