Job 42:6

One of the many similarities between quantum mechanics and theology is the necessity to work with the inevitable limits of certainty. Probability within ambiguity pervades theology, and we often need to let two seemingly opposing truths remain in our minds without one vanguishing the other. In the case of biblical studies, language can be a limit to certainty. In the case of the wisdom literature, there is the additional possibility that the author did not intend to communicate a single clear meaning, but a range of possibilities and ambiguities for the audience’s consideration. For a case study let’s look very closely at Job 42:6. The words individually are not especially ambiguous, but the range of tone varies for each and the number of combinations grows exponentially with each additional word. Try to find combinations that would make sense but have very different meanings.

  1. עַל־כֵּן (ˁal-kēn)
    1. Therefore (because of this)
    2. Concerning this
    3. Of this, this (object of verb)
  2. אֶמְאַס (ˀemˀas)
    1. I reject
    2. I disavow
    3. I throw away, spurn
  3. וְ (vǝ-)
    1. And
    2. Or
    3. But
  4. נִחַמְתִּי (niḥamti)
    1. I change my mind
    2. I relent (variation on previous)
      • Legal context: Stop accusing? Drop my case? Rest my case?
    3. I take comfort
    4. I am reconciled (variation on previous)
    5. I repent, regret
      • Hebrew has another word that means repent, turn back, change your ways.
      • When used in this sense, the subject is almost always God. It probably cannot be understood in the sense of “be sorry” or “admit I was wrong”
      • Thus in Joel 2:13 humans “turn back/repent” (the other word), and God “relents/repents” of the punishment.
  5. עַל־ (ˁal-)
    1. On
    2. Concerning, regarding
    3. Because of
    4. Of/with (object of verb)
  6. עָפָר וָאֵפֶר (ˁāfār vā-ˀēfer)
    1. Dust and ashes (literal)
    2. Repentance (the symbols of repentance, lamentation)
    3. Mortality
    4. Mortals (human beings)
    5. Insignificance
      • Job 30:19, He has cast me into the mire; I am leveled with the dust and ashes.

Here is what a variety of translators have done with it:

  1. NAB Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.
  2. NRSV Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
  3. JPS Therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.
  4. NJV I recant and relent being but dust and ashes.
  5. Murphy p. 43, Literally, Job says, “I abhor [with no direct object; the verb could be translated as ‘I disolve’] and I repent concerning dust and ashes.”
  6. LBA Por eso me retracto, y me arrepiento en polvo y ceniza.
  7. LXX διὸ ἐφαύλισα ἐμαυτὸν καὶ ἐτάκην ἥγημαι δὲ ἐμαυτὸν γῆν καὶ σποδόν
  8. VUL Idcirco ipse me reprehendo et ago paenitentiam in favilla et cinere