The Book of Job
Annotated and Explained
By Donald Kraus
SkyLight Illuminations, 2012, 216 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 30, 2012
This is a very good translation and commentary that clarifies the rather difficult biblical book Job. Dr. Marc Brettler, who wrote its introduction, tells us that Job's Hebrew name Iyov, "may be aptly translated as (ayei av) 'Where is the (heavenly) father,'" for the book addresses the oft-asked question "Why do good people suffer?" In his detailed introduction, Donald Kraus reveals many interesting facts such as, what the various parts of Job are about; that it was probably written around 330 BCE; it is part of the wisdom writings of the Bible, along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; and Job's friends insist that he is obviously suffering because he did wrong, because God inflicts evil people with pain and rewards good people.
Kraus also highlights the book's difficulties. For example: chapter 28 doesn't seem to belong to the book because, unlike Job's friends who have been criticizing his behavior as being the cause of his afflictions, this chapter is an interruption of the story and asks "How can you possibly put yourself on the same footing as God." Chapters 32-37, the Elihu explosion, seems to be a late scribal insertion, it doesn't seem to fit into the story, and Elihu is not mentioned in the rest of the book. One of Job's friends Zophar's speech is missing from the friends' third dialogue with Job. The prose frame story, at the start and end of the volume, doesn't seem to fit with the poetic section and the portrayal of God in the frame sections is radically different from the depiction of God in the poetic part. And satan, mentioned as a prominent figure in the opening frame, disappears and is not in the end of the book. Kraus's discussions of these and other issues are informative and interesting. His clarifying comments, placed on the left-hand pages of the text are illuminating and thought provoking. They help readers navigate with ease through this otherwise rather difficult book.
Kraus is bothered by God's answer to Job's question about the presence of evil because he interprets it as most other scholars do. In essence, he sees God telling Job, stop trying to discover why bad things happen to good people; there is a good reason, but you lack sufficient intelligence to understand it. Here I differ with Kraus and the others. I think that the book has God gives a deeper reply.
The message of this biblical book is not comforting, but it is realistic. God is transcendental; he is not involved daily in the affairs of the world he created or formed. He established the world to function according to the laws of nature, which is good for the world as a whole, but not for everyone. The philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) understood this. In his Guide of the Perplexed, he points out that evil is the result of the functioning of natural law, one of three things: people harm themselves, others harm them, or they suffer from natural events, such as hurricanes and storms, which are good for the world as a whole, for they clean the world, but may not be good for particular people. This is what God tells Job.
See my review of The Book of Job, translated with an introduction by Stephen Mitchell, for a fuller discussion of this important biblical book.