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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 67, 2019

HANNEKE VAN LOON, Metaphors in the Discussion on Suffering in Job 3–31: Visions of Hope and Consolation (Biblical Interpretation Series 165; Leiden: Brill, 2018). Pp. x + 238. Hardback. AU$99.00/US$119.00.

The main objective of Hanneke van Loon’s study is to investigate the understanding of suffering according to the character Job in the Book of Job 3–31. There are, however, two other goals she intends to achieve. Exegetically, she aims to address the stages of development in Job’s conceptualisation of suffering and his coming to terms with his misfortune. From a theoretical perspective, she intends to illustrate how a cognitive approach to understanding metaphor as a phenomenon of thought can help us interpret literary texts.

Anyone who is interested in the cognitive approach to biblical metaphors would most appreciate Chapter One, where the author provides a succinct yet precise and well-rounded summary of the cognitive linguistic framework. She not only sums up the four common cognitive metaphor theories (Conceptual Metaphor; Conceptual Blending; Class Inclusion; Career of Metaphor) but also indicates their connections and complementarity. The traditional view of metaphor in its rhetoric and stylistic functions is effectively incorporated into the conceptual, communicative dimensions of metaphors. In other words, van Loon provides a sound theoretical framework in which she proceeds to carry out exegesis on the selected metaphors in Job 3–31.

Van Loon properly acknowledges the interpretative complexity in the Book of Job (54: “what exactly is its topic and message?”). Therefore, in Chapter two she carefully situates her own study within significant previous scholarships. Van Loon adopts a literary approach, treating the final form of the Book of Job as a coherent, communicative whole. She sees the sub units as strategies for a development of the plot as well as a modification in the viewpoint of both Job the character and the implied audience. Structurally, van Loon follows Wolfers (“The Speech-Cycles in the Book of Job,” VT 43 [1993] 385–402), dividing Job 3–31 into an opening speech (Job 3), two speech cycles (4:1–15:16 and 15:17–22:30) and a closing monologue (23–31) with a short interruption by Bildad (25).

This four-part division forms the units of Chapters Three to Six, where the author carries out a careful exegesis on the theme of suffering. This van Loon has achieved with clarity and cogency. For each selection of passage that contains deliberate use of metaphors on the theme of suffering, she first describes the context in which the metaphors occur, then she proceeds with a textual study and translation, which is then followed by detailed analysis of the metaphors within the cognitive linguistic framework. Her focus is always on how the metaphors help one understand the meaning of the text, i.e., Job’s conceptualisation of suffering. One may not always agree with her on the selection of key passages. For example, one may question why Job 31:13–32 alone in that chapter is selected for analysis, since it is only the middle part of a monologue on the same theme, and 31:1–12 also contains significant recurring metaphors. The identification of some of the multiple source domains may also seem arbitrary at times. For example, a total of thirty source domains are identified in the selected passages (59), including “AGITATION,” “SERVICE,” “SLEEP” and “REST.” However, one can argue that these belong to a common domain of “WORK and REST,” just as “HOUSE(HOLD)” and “FAMILY” should be counted as one domain. In Job 19:20–29, the author identifies three source domains, “REDEMPTION,” “DUST” and “VISION.” A close examination would show instead the metaphor of lawsuit (Job 19:23–29) at work as a larger pattern.

Nonetheless, the author does acknowledge that her interpretation of the metaphors “is not a matter of established facts” but “the result of a hermeneutical circle that explains the parts in relation to the whole and vice versa” (217). Overall, van Loon has achieved the aims she set for the project and presented insightful findings. She has successfully portrayed the development in stages of Job’s conceptualisation of suffering. In her conclusion, Job and his friends differ not in their understandings of God, but in their views of human nature and worldly reality (211). According to van Loon, the righteousness of Job lies in his rising above his personal suffering and calling for a new attitude towards the unfortunate in society. At the same time, she has convincingly demonstrated the usefulness of the cognitive approach to metaphor in revealing textual meaning.

Review by
Sydney College of Divinity and Macquarie University