Job's Darkness II (10:22)
Bill Long 4/26/05
We have, so far, been introduced to two of Job's words for darkness: hoshek, the standard term for the physical reality,and tselemavet, the powerful term for the shadow of death or a deepest gloom that one meets at or near death. Now, let's turn to 10:22.
Darkness Vocabulary in 10:22
Job 10:22 appears to be in apposition to 10:21. That is, it explains the "darkness and the shadow of death" at the end of v.21. My translation from the previous essay tries to give different English words for each Hebrew term for darkness: "a land of extreme darkness like deep gloom, the shadow of death and not ordered reality, and it shines as deep gloom." So, what is this "shadow of death" land like?
First, it is a land of "extreme darkness." The word eyphatah occurs only one other time in the Bible (Amos 4:13), and is simply translated "darkness" there, so we are in the dark, so to speak, about how to render it precisely. But just as Bildad can give us about 6 terms for "trap" or "net" in 18:8-10, almost all of which we really do not know how to translate but we somehow manage to put out a translation, so here. It must have something to do with the varied hues of darkness, so let's call it "extreme darkness."
Second, this "extreme darkness" is like another word, ophel, which appears nine times in the Bible (six of which are in Job), and which I translate "deep gloom." But, I have to admit, we really don't know the shades of darkness here behind every word. Just doing the best I can...It also appears in Job 3, Job's explosive hymn to darkness, as well as Job 30:26. So, this "shadow of death" is a land of "extreme darkness like deep gloom." It is as if we are wearing black in the Oregon Caves National Monument when the guide has turned off the lights.
As if this isn't enough, we have a third phrase, "the shadow of death and not ordered reality." The word I have translated as "ordered reality" is also a hapax; it appears only here in the Bible. I think there is a possible echo of Genesis 1 here, as in 3:4--instead of chaos (tohu va bohu) of Gen.1 we have the shadow of death; instead of the "let there be light" we have "ordered reality." But the world into which Job wants to descend is the world of tselemavet.
Fourth, there is the interesting last phrase of the verse, "it shines as deep gloom." What shines as deep gloom? I think that it must mean that the darkness is so prevalent, so inclusive of any other reality that Job knows, that it, in effect "shines" over his life. But its shining is like deep gloom, the ophel which was itself likened to the eyphatah earlier in the verse. Instead of people who walked in darkness and the shadow of death having light "shine" on them, Job will have people who live in these realities have more darkness "shine" on them. That is the place he wants to go. That is the place where he longs to travel and never return.
Job really has gotten himself into quite a linguistic pickle by the end of ch.10. This is his final speech of the first cycle. He began in darkness (ch.3) and he is returning to the same darkness at the end. Naked he came from the womb and naked he returns. Whereas in ch.1 he can finish this line ("Naked I came....") with "Blessed be the name of the Lord," he cannot do so here. There is no corresponding words to "I came from darkness; I return to darkness, blessed is darkness." Or, perhaps the last three words of 10:22 function as a paean to darkness, a kind of perverted macarism to the powers of deep gloom. "It shines as deep gloom." Maybe Job can see a glint of the alluring light of darkness, the antimony of illumination in the shadow of death.
The last phrase, therefore, sort of brings meaning into question. It is like the final two words of Ps.88, that most bleak Psalm. The Hebrew words are untranslatable: maydaai mahoshek, something about the darkness is his only friend or companion. I think that when we reach the psychological Marianas Trench of the last words of Job 10:22 or Ps. 88:19 meaning escapes us, we can barely breathe, and all we can do is mumble incoherently. Such is the life of darkness for Job.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long