God's Destructive Fury
This mini-essay will illustrate just how difficult it can be to translate and make sense of a verse in Job. The next will attempt to divine its meaning. We begin with two English translations of Job 10:8 and their notes. The New Revised Standard has, "Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me [with a note saying "made me together all around]." The New Jerusalem Bible has, "Your hands having shaped and created me, now you change your mind and mean to destroy me [with a note saying "'and now you change your mind,' Gk; 'together round' Heb].
The Easy Part
The verse, 13 and 17 words when rendered into English, is only six words in Hebrew. Usually when there are six words in a line of Hebrew poetry, the line consists of two clauses of three words each. Often the clauses express parallel thoughts. There is no problem here with the first three words: "Your hands" (one word), "shaped" or "carved" "me" (one word) and "made me" (one word)." There is a minor debate among scholars over the verb from which the second word is derived and which Arabic root might be closer to the Hebrew word. In any case, the noun form of the word is translated "idol" or "statue" and so the verb carries with it the idea of careful "fashioning."
The second clause gives us trouble. We expect two more verbs and possibly one other word parallel with "hands." The problem is that the next two words are not verbs and literally are translated "one all around" or "together all around." That is, though they appear in the second clause they seem to modify the two verbs in the first. They would emphasize the care and completeness of the divine fashioning: "Your hands have shaped and made me (perfectly) all around." A nice thought, to be sure. But that leaves only one word for the second thought: "and you destroy (or swallow; another debate here on the proper translation) me." No balance.
Scholars have noted that the Hebrew word "round" is very much like the verb "turn" ('sabib' v. 'shub') and have hypothesized that a textual corruption has crept in somewhere along the line. Thus, they render the second clause, "Now you turn and destroy me." Hence, the translations. So, the bottom line is that the translations cited above, the "most official" English versions, base their renderings on conjectures which maintain poetical rhythm, while the literal translation of the Masoretic text might destroy the rhythm of the poetry. One must make decisions on how to translate, thus, before one can speculate on big and little questions of meaning.
As for me, I will stay with the Masoretic text and emphasize the careful fashioning process of God. That idea fits in perfectly with the flow of 10:8-12 and does not require an emendation. The "standard" renderings of the NRSV and NJB, however, are very tempting. We could use them to help build a good theology of turning and returning, which resonates well with the tenor of the whole book. Scholars simply can't answer all the questions.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long