Theologie

Brent A. Strawn

What Might Job's Gesture Mean? Job 40:4 in Artistic Perspective

Jahrgang 13 () / Heft 1, S. 63-104 (42)
Publiziert 16.02.2024

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Job's first response to Yhwh includes a reference to a nonverbal gesture: »I lay my hand on my mouth« ( ידי שׂמתי למו־פי ; Job 40:4b). The parallel line, which speaks of Job's smallness and inability to answer Yhwh, coupled with v. 5, which mentions a cessation of Job's speech, has led most scholars to associate the gesture with simple silence – a refraining from speaking any further in God's presence, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of defiance, or perhaps in some ancient equivalent to »pleading the Fifth Amendment« of the United States Constitution, which offers protection against self-incrimination. Recourse is frequently made to Job 29:9, which depicts other people responding to Job in a similar way, and occasionally also to Job 31:27, which also mentions the hand and the mouth in close connection. The present essay considers Job's gesture in the light of ancient Near Eastern iconography in order to refute, support, and nuance previous studies. It refutes those analyses that think the only valence at work is God's definitive (and oppressive) silencing of Job, but it supports interpretations that understand the gesture as sign of deference, respect, even self-humiliation. The fact that Job's gesture is related to postures of prayer and supplication goes still further, nuancing prior studies insofar as it suggests that Job's posture may, in the end, be quite pious – a point that has direct bearing on what Job says in 42:2–6 and what Yhwh says in 42:7.
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