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The BOOK OF JOB Paperback – January 1, 1900
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From the Back Cover
Now, "The Book of Job" has been rendered into English by the eminent translator and scholar Stephen Mitchell, whose versions of Rilke, Israeli poetry, and the "Tao Te Ching" have been widely praised. This is the first time ever that the Hebrew verse of Job has been translated into verse in any language, ancient or modern, and the result is a triumph.
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Top Customer Reviews
As with so much of Stephen Mitchell's work, it's easy to pick on him for what he's decided to leave out. Here, his translation of Job omits the hymn in praise of Wisdom and the speech (in fact the entire presence) of the young man Elihu. I tend to disagree with his reasons for skipping them (yes, yes, I know some scholars regard them as later additions). But having read his translation for nearly a decade now, I have to admit we don't miss them much.
His work has been described as "muscular," and that's a very apt term. Not only in Job's own language (from his "God damn the day I was born" to his closing near-silence after his experience of God) but in the voices of all the characters -- and most especially in the speech of the Voice from the Whirlwind -- Mitchell's meaty, pounding, pulse-quickening poetry just cries out to be read aloud.
And as always, I have nothing but praise for Mitchell's gift of "listening" his way into a text and saying what it "wants" to say. In particular, his translation of the final lines has a wee surprise in store for anyone who hasn't already read it. (He disagrees with the usual repent-in-dust-and-ashes version and offers a denouement more fitting to the cosmic scope of Job's subject matter.)
Moreover, all this and much else is discussed in a fine introduction that -- in my opinion as a longtime reader of Mitchell -- may well be his finest published commentary to date.
Essentially, he deals with the so-called "problem of evil" by simply dissolving it. The God of Mitchell and of Mitchell's Job is not a feckless little half-deity who shares his cosmic powers with a demonic arch-enemy and sometimes loses; this God, like the God of the Torah itself (and incidentally of Catholic and Calvinist Christianity, at both of which which Mitchell takes a couple of not-altogether-responsible swipes), is the only Power there is. Ultimately God just _does_ everything that happens, because what's the alternative? "Don't you know that there _is_ nobody else in here?"
As I suggested, there are a handful of half-hearted jabs at traditional (usually Christian) religion, but for the most part it should be possible for a theologically conservative reader simply to read around them. (This is a nice contrast with Mitchell's Jesus book, which -- to the mind of this non-Christian reviewer -- seems to be brimming with anti-Christian "spiritual oneupmanship.")
So it's not only a fine translation that properly recognizes Job's central theme of spiritual transformation, but a universally valuable commentary into the bargain. If you haven't read any of Mitchell's other work, this is a great place to start. And if you _have_ read some of Mitchell's other work, do get around to this one. It's probably his best.
I'm sure if I had read this version, it would have had the same effect.
Job essentially worships an idol. He worships an orderly God who runs an orderly, boring universe where the good get rewarded and the evil get punished. The real God shows him that things are a bit different. The universe is not simple, it is a grand, messy explosion of beauty where frail, innocent humans often get trampled. Is it just in a way that would conform to human standards of justice? God basically says, "Who cares, look at it."
Thus, a translator/poet has a tough job. In a few pages, he or she has to show the reader God's glorious universe. No easy task (except for G.M. Hopkins).
Mitchell gets it done with short "muscular" phrasing, reminscient of the way Lombardo treats the Iliad. I.e., Job ch 3 reads something like "Damn the day I was born/Blot out the sun of that day . . ." Along the way Mitchell eliminates some of the "interpolations" and "corruptions" that scholars have found were not part of the original text. And I don't think this detracts from either the beauty or the meaning of the poem.
I would have added a more detailed introduction however. If I may recommend a book, please also take a look at The Bitterness of Job: A Philosophical Reading, by John T. Wilcox. If you read these two together along with an orthodox translation like the JPS (mentioned in another review) or the NRSV, I think you will have a good grasp of this text from a wide variety of viewpoints, secular and religious. You can't get too much Job. As Victor Hugo said, "If I had to save one piece of literature in the world, I'd save Job."
This simplification is built of numerous omissions,reversals, rewordings, rearrangements, insertions. Often the poetry is simply his, not the text's. As Mitchell will occasionally note in his comments, he "improvised radically." Indeed.
So, use the Mitchell to lend color and tempo to your reading of a more accurate translation. (The new Jewish Publishing Society translation is excellent) Use Moshe Greenberg's essays, perhaps, to provide a sense of the complexity and depth of the book. If read alongside a more accurate translation, the Mitchell will prevent it from being dry -- no small thing. Let Mitchell help your hear the book, let another translation help you see it.