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Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today's Scientific Questions.

HIDDEN TREASURES IN THE BOOK OF JOB: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today's Scientific Questions by Hugh Ross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.240pages. Hardcover; $17.99. ISBN: 9780801072109.

Hugh Ross is well known in Christian circles for his concordist views on the Bible and science. He rejects the idea that science and the Bible address different concerns, a position recently articulated by the eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga (Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism [Oxford University Press, 2011], see pp. 198-201 for a review of this book). Ross's position is that the Bible anticipates modern scientific developments. For instance, though the original audience would not have realized it, when Job proclaims that God "alone spread out the heavens" (Job 9:8), the biblical author is actually describing the expanding universe of the Big Bang theory.

Ross's most recent contribution integrates the book of Job fully into the discussion. The title, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, resonates with his concordist viewpoint. No one up to this point has understood that the book of Job articulates ideas that modern science has uncovered. Ross begins with the startling claim that "the book of Job apparently anticipated several stunning scientific discoveries of the past few decades" (p. 15). He asserts that the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible, predating Genesis and therefore the Genesis account of creation. Thus, he believes that some of the questions we have about the Genesis account are resolved if we realize that Job serves as a kind of preamble to Genesis.

What are some of these stunning scientific discoveries anticipated in the book of Job? Space will only allow one example out of many. One of his main points concerns the category of "soulish" (nephesh) animals mentioned in Genesis 1. He believes that Genesis 1 specifies the distinct origin of three different classes of animals, contra evolutionary theory that sees these differences as a matter of "degree only and not kind" (p. 19). These three classes are "purely physical life, such as plants and insects; life that is both physical and soulish, including birds, mammals, and a few species of reptiles; and life that is physical, soulish, and spiritual, namely--and only--human life" (pp. 19-20).

He believes that Job, the person, is aware of this distinction, and he devotes most discussion to the category of "soulish" creatures because he thinks that Job provides a "top ten list of animals that played essential roles both in the launch of civilization and in sustaining human well-being today" (p. 20). In other words, the book of Job, written before Genesis, helps us understand the nature of soulish animals and to see that, rather than sharing a common descent, humans and animals have a separate origin and exhibit a difference of kind. These animals are the lion (Job 38:39-40), the raven (38:41), the goat (39:1-4), the deer (39:1-4), the donkey (39:5-8), the wild ox (39:912), the ostrich (39:13-18), the horse (39:19-25), and the hawk and the eagle (39:26-30). He argues that these animals are nothing like humans, lacking humanity's spiritual capacity, but they were created to help humans develop civilization and cater to "humanity's physical and emotional well-being" (p. 165).

From the perspective of an Old Testament scholar, Ross's treatment of Job is deeply flawed. In the first place, no contemporary Job scholar of whom I am aware believes that the book of Job is the oldest biblical book (indeed, the view that it was the oldest book is only one of many ancient views of the book), so to use it as a prism through which to read Genesis is very problematic. His specific interpretation of the book is also problematic. Errors of interpretation abound in this book, but I will focus only on his understanding of Job 38-39 as presented above.

Job 38 and 39 contain God's first speech, in which he places Job in his proper place. Job's response to his suffering was to seek out God in order to demand that God justify what he has done to him. Job knows he is "innocent" and that his pain is undeserved, so he wants to call God to account. While getting the desired audience with God, the meeting does not go as he expected. Rather than challenging God's justice (Job 31:35-37; cf. 40:8-9), God upbraids Job by demonstrating his lack of wisdom. He does so by subjecting Job to a series of questions for which Job has no answers. The purpose of these questions is to expose Job's ignorance so that he eventually submits to God's greater wisdom in the face of his suffering (Job 42:1-6).

Indeed, some of God's questions concern his creation of the world. In particular, Job 38:4-11 asks Job if he was around to observe and know how the world was put together. Those with a knowledge of ancient Near Eastern creation accounts note that this highly literary, figurative and partial description of creation reflects other creation myths of the time. Ross, surprisingly, devotes little attention to this passage, preferring to devote more space to the insights provided by the list of animals in Job 38:39-39:40.

Here is his first mistake. Ross thinks that God is speaking about the creation all the way though these chapters, asserting that
   the last few verses zoom in on God's creative activity
   during creation days five and six. On these days
   God created some life-forms referred to in Hebrew
   as nephesh and which Bible scholars call "soulish"
   animals." (p. 101)

But God is not speaking about the days of creation; he is simply bombarding Job with questions that undermine his knowledge of both how the creation was put together and how it functions in the present. In order to accomplish the latter, he queries him about his knowledge of these ten animals. The revelation connected to the description of these ten animals is not that they are nephesh or soulish creatures (contrary to Ross, I know of no biblical scholar that would use this term in this way) unlike others in their ability to relate to and support humans and their civilization as Ross argues. Quite the opposite. God queries Job about them because they are wild animals, known or barely known by humans like him.

Part of the problem is that Ross partly misrepresents the animals listed. He is right about the lion, deer, wild ox, ostrich, hawk, and eagle, but these are all obviously undomesticated animals that do not have any special relationship to humans. God does mention the goat, but it is specifically the undomesticated mountain goat. The donkey is really the "wild onager" or "Arabian onager," again a wild creature. The horse is no normal horse, but the barely domesticated war horse. Again, the point is just the opposite of Ross's point that these are creatures that God created to relate to humans in some special way. All we have to do is to note the question God poses to Job to realize this: "Will the ox consent to being tamed? Will it spend the night in your stall? Can you hitch a wild ox to a plow? Will it plow a field for you?" (Job 39:9-10). The answer is no.

I am not a scientist and so it would be wrong for me to question Ross on the grounds of his specialty. I am a biblical scholar who just completed a commentary based on the Hebrew text of Job, and in the light of my research and knowledge of Job scholarship, I find Ross's treatment mystifying and misleading. His footnotes indicate that he consulted two scholarly books on Job. While this amount of research is hardly adequate for a layperson attempting to use Job in the manner that Ross does, I find absolutely no indication that even these works have influenced his understanding of the book. As a result, I have to warn others who are not students of the Bible that Ross's interpretation and use of Job is deeply and extensively flawed. Others will have to judge his interaction with science.

Reviewed by Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA 93108.
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Author:Longman, Tremper, III
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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