Skip to content

Twenty translations of Job part 3: naming the heavenly players in 1:6

January 11, 2012

The story of Job starts with simultaneous views in heaven and Uz.  Let us begin our comparison in the heavenly setting (verse 1:6), and later, we will come back and examine the setting in Uz for verse 1:1.  (In this post and future posts, I will use a number of abbreviations – see the second post in my series for a list of abbreviations.)

Verse 1:6 is mysterious – it introduces God, his divine assembly, and ha-Satan.  But how do the translations we are reading describe these?


Different translations render God’s name (the Tetragrammaton) in different ways.  Some as Driver, NJB, Pope, and Scheindlin spell it out with a possible (but not certain) romanization.  IBFET uses the consonants only, akin the Hebrew spelling.  (I do not write out God’s name, so I’ve denoted in the table below as Y-H.)  Others use “the Lord” or “the LORD.”  Eisemann follows Orthodox Jewish custom in rendering it as HASHEM, which in Hebrew means “the name.” 


An interesting question is the rendering of b’nei ha-elokim, which can be literally translated as “sons of the gods.”  Elokim, though it is plural, is a common rendering for the singular “God” in the Hebrew Bible, so a better rendering may be “sons of God.”  Ziegler in Greek (and NETS in English) has “the angels of God.” 

Besides being of interest in own right, the translation of this phrase stands in counterpart to the question of the phrase often translated as “son of man.”  If “son of man” is the translation of ben adam, consistency would seem to require that b’nei ha-elokim be translated “sons of God.”

Eisemann justifies “angels” on the basis of a reference to Nachmanides and extends the court metaphor, where ha-Satan is a prosecuting attorney and:

Metzudos thinks that the B’nei HaElokim are those angels charged with presenting the merits of the accused.

Alter claims in his commentary:

The celestial entourage is a literary vestige of the pre-monotheistic notion of a council of the gods and is reflected in several of the canonical psalms (perhaps, most notably, in Psalm 82).

The NET has a footnote stating:

The “sons of God” in the OT is generally taken to refer to angels….In the pagan literature, especially of Ugarit, “the sons of God” refers to the lesser gods or deities of the pantheon.

Pope elaborates with:

Literally “sons of the gods.” These are lesser members of the ancient pagan pantheon who are retained in later monotheistic theology as angels; cf. Job 38:7; Genesis 6:2, 4; Psalms 29:1, 89:7. In Psalm 82:1 they are called simply “gods.” The Ugaritic mythological texts give us vivid glimpses of the meetings of the gods; cf. EUT, pp. 47–49. Y-H as king of the gods holds court as in the vision of Micaiah ben Imlah, 1 Kings 22:19–23, surrounded by his divine entourage of counselors and servants.

Scheidlin (who as we will see in later posts, believes that Job is a non-Jewish book about a gentile Job) shocks with his direct rendering “the lesser gods,” his note saying

Ancient Mediterranean literatures, both Semitic and Greek, abound in descriptions of the councils of the gods; a similar picture is found in 1 Kings 22:19-22.  In the narrative of Job, in line with the monotheistic principle, Y-H is the absolute master of the other gods, who report to Him.  But by calling them lesser gods (literally, “sons of gods”) rather than angels, the author strengthens the impression that the story is told by and about pagans, outside the sphere of Israelite religion.


The largest diversity in the translations, though, is over the role and terminology of ha-Satan.  KJV, NEB, NET, and NJB seem to directly relate this to the Satan of the New Testament.  NET (“the slanderer”) has the most direct comparison with the New Testament,  defending its rendering as follows, with a note :

The word means “adversary” or with the article “the adversary” – here the superhuman adversary or Satan. The word with the article means that the meaning of the word should receive prominence. A denominative verb meaning “to act as adversary” occurs. Satan is the great accuser of the saints (see Zechariah 3 where “Satan was standing there to ‘satanize’ Joshua the priest”; and see Rev 12 which identifies him with the Serpent in Genesis). He came among the angels at this time because he is one of them and has access among them. Even though fallen, Satan has yet to be cast down completely (see Revelation 12).

NJB (“Satan”) also associates ha-Satan with the New Testament Satan:

When preceded by the article, as in Zechariah 3:1-2, the term is still not a proper name. According to Hebrew etymology, it means “the adversary” or “the accuser.” The Satan is an equivocal figure, distinct from the sons of God, skeptical as regards human beings, anxious to find fault in them, capable of unleashing all sorts of disaster on them and even of impelling them into sin…. If he is not deliberately hostile to God, he is also nonetheless skeptical about God’s success in creating humanity. Besides the cynicism and cold, malicious sarcasm, lurks a pessimistic being, whose hostility to human being is based on envy. The text, however, does not elaborate on the reasons for his attitude. The foregoing characteristics relate the Satan to other sketches or portraits of the spirit of evil, particularly to that of the serpent … from which he will ultimately become indistinguishable. See Wisdom 2:24, Revelation 12:9, 20:2, as the incarnation of diabolic power, see Luke 10:18.

NABRE is a bit weaker (translating as “the satan”), but still draws a New Testament connection, although only in “later biblical traditions”:

Literally, “adversary” (as in 1 Kings 11:14). Here a member of the heavenly court, “the accuser” (Zechariah 3:1). In later biblical traditions this character will be developed as the devil (Gk. diabolos, “adversary”).

Eisemann, who uses “the Satan” compares the entity with the evil impulse (yetzer hara).

[Maimonides] in [Guide of the Perplexed] makes the the point that the our phrase seems to imply that Satan is not part of the [divine council].  He comes along with them, but does not really belong among them.  In [Maimonides]’s understanding of our passage, the Satan represents the physical force which drags man downward, as opposed to his spirituality (the [divine council]) which alone has the right to stand before [God].

Driver, Eisemann, and Pope translate as “the Satan” while other translations use “the Adversary,” “the Accuser,” “the Accusing Angel.”  Some translations try to have it both ways:  Message – “Satan, who was the Designated Accuser”; NRSV – “Satan,” but has “the Accuser” as an alternative translation; REB – “the Adversary, Satan.”  

Pope (“the Satan”) has a long explanation, relating ha-Satan to Persian secret police:

Note the definite article, as in Zechariah 3:1–2, which shows that the term is a title and not yet a proper name. The figure here is not the fully developed character of the later Jewish and Christian Satan or Devil. It is not expedient here to attempt a detailed discussion of the origin and development of his Satanic majesty, but some comment is in order since here in the Prologue of Job we have one of the principal passages in the OT in which the Satan appears in a clear-cut role. The Satan is one of the members of the divine court and comes with other attendants to present himself at the celestial court and report on the fulfillment of his duties. The picture of the celestial court with Yahweh enthroned as king is presented in 1 Kings 22:19; Isa 6; and Zechariah 3–4. In Zechariah 4 there is some rather bizarre symbolism. God is the lampstand and the seven lamps are his “eyes” which range through the whole earth, Zechariah 4:10b. Tur-Sinai has made the attractive suggestion that the figure and role of the Satan derives from the Persian secret service. Herodotus tells us that the royal secret police in Persia were called “the eyes and ears of the king.” Both in the present passage and in Zechariah 4:10 the verb used for the action of the Satan and of the roving eyes is šûṭ “roam, rove,” which is probably more than a mere wordplay. S. D. Luzatto has already suggested that the title Satan is derived from this root and that the Satan was a kind of spy roaming the earth and reporting to God on the evil he found therein. Since he must have appeared to men as their enemy and accuser, they renamed him śāṭān from a verb “to accuse”; cf. Tur-Sinai, p. 41, n. 1. (The shift from š to ś, or the reverse, presents no impediment since these are mere dialectal variants of a single consonant distinguished only by diacritical marks in the Masoretic system.) Tur-Sinai’s idea was arrived at independently and carries greater conviction because of the specific connection with a mundane royal court. As a roving secret agent, the Satan stood ready to accuse and indict his victim and serve as prosecutor, as in F3:1; cf. Psalm 109:6. If the roving investigator found nothing to report, it might occur to him to assume the role of agent provocateur, as in 1 Chronicles 21:1. Thus, the diabolical character of the figure finds rationale. The origin of the concept of the Satan from the analogy of the security system of the Persian Empire would quite naturally explain the later development of the concept of the Adversary and Tempter (cf. Tur-Sinai, pp. 38–45). The vast Persian Empire, as organized by the genius of Darius the Great, depended in great measure for its security on the well-developed system of highways and communications which linked the provincial capitals, and on an efficient intelligence agency which kept the powerful governors under surveillance to detect and prevent sedition and rebellion. Some of these inspectors or master spies were known as “The King’s Eye” and “The King’s Ear.” “The Eye of the King” appears to have been an officer in constant attendance on the king (cf. W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 1928, I, p. 108). The effectiveness of this spy system is reflected in Xenophon’s quotation of the proverbial saying, “The King has many ears and many eyes” (cf. A. J. Arberry, ed., The Legacy of Persia, 1953, p. 9). But certainly the Persians did not invent spying and secret police and informers which must have evolved very early in the prehistoric stage of politics. The Persian court may have contributed something to the idea of the Satan, but the background is much older, as reflected in the divine court scenes of more ancient Near Eastern mythological literature.

However Alter argues strongly with Pope, and has a more nuanced view, pointing out the rivalry between God and ha-Satan:

The Hebrew is hasatan, and invariably uses the definite article because the designation indicates a function, not a proper name. The word satan is a person, thing, or set of circumstances that constitutes an obstacle or frustrates one’s purposes. Only toward the very end of the biblical period would the term begin to drop the definite article and refer to a demonic figure. Marvin Pope imagines hasatan here as a kind of intelligence agent working for God, but the dialogue suggests rather an element of jealousy (when God lavishes praise on Job) and cynical mean-spiritness.

Gordis strongly rejects any notion of duality, and supports a strict monotheistic interpretation:

It cannot be stressed too strongly that in all periods of Jewish thought, biblical and rabbinic, “the Satan” or “Satan” is not co-equal with God, but is subservient to Him. There is no Hebrew equivalent for the phrase “the kingdom of Satan.”


Here are the renderings in each of the twenty translations.  (In some cases, I have reproduced notes from the translations):

Translation Name of God Divine Assembly ha-Satan
Alter the LORD the sons of God [see note above] the Adversary [see note above]
CEB the LORD the divine beings [note: Or children of God] the Adversary [note:  Heb hassatan]
Driver Y-H the sons of the gods the Satan
Eisemann HASHEM the angels [see note above] the Satan [see note above]
Gordis the Lord the sons of God Satan  [see note above]
IBFET Y-H (consonants only) the heavenly court Satan [note:  a common noun (literally, “the satan”) which means “the adversary” or, in a legal context, the “prosecuting attorney.”]
KJV the LORD the sons of God Satan
Message GOD the angels Satan, who was the Designated Accuser [later in Job:  Satan]
Mitchell the Lord the angels the Accusing Angel [later in Job:  the Accuser]
NABRE the LORD sons of God [note:  members of the divine council; see Genesis 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 32:8; Psalm 82:1] the satan
NEB the LORD members of the court of heaven Satan
NET the LORD sons of God [see note above.] Satan
NETS the Lord the angels of God the slanderer
NIV11 the LORD the angels [note:  Hebrew the sons of God] Satan [note:  Hebrew satan means adversary.]
NJB Y-H the sons of God [note:  These are superhuman creatures who make up God’s court and council.  They are identified with the angels. Septuagint translates “the angels of God.”] Satan [see note above]
NJPS the LORD the divine beings the adversary [note:  ha-Satan]
NRSV the LORD the heavenly beings [Heb sons of God] Satan [note:  Or the Accuser; Heb ha-satan]
Pope Y-H the gods the Satan [see note above]
REB the LORD members of the court of heaven the Adversary, Satan [later in Job:  the Adversary]
Scheindlin Y-H the lesser gods the Accuser
Advertisements
9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2012 11:44 am

    In some of these explanations, there seems to me to be a tendency toward literalness that conforms to a preconceived confessional stance and a preconceived inner-explanation of science (time, space etc). Is God so ‘distant’ that we, observing this parliament from the visitors’ gallery, must so to speak remain uninvolved in the proceedings? Personally, I find it very easy to be in the assembly and playing the role of accuser. Maimonides comes close to expressing this aspect of the beginning of the play. My accusations do not belong. I do not need to be concerned over another’s prosperity. Job is careful (31.25) to not rejoice over his wealth, obeying the directions in psalms (37, 49, 62 etc). Though my role as accuser is not welcome, my place as one of the children of God is. I am surprised that there is no rendition as ‘children of God’. (Good for CEB at least to note it!)

  2. January 12, 2012 12:40 pm

    Bob, clever observation. But personally, I am find the psychological interaction between God and ha-Satan to be very interesting (see Alter’s note).

  3. January 12, 2012 12:48 pm

    Alter’s claim is interesting but also finds itself up against what S. Peter Cowe (of the NETS) observes. Again, Alter’s statement as you quote it is, “The Hebrew is hasatan, and invariably uses the definite article because the designation indicates a function, not a proper name…. set of circumstances that constitutes an obstacle or frustrates one’s purposes…. an element of jealousy… and cynical mean-spiritness.”

    However, Cowe writes (with my emphases):

    Very rarely do matters of theological exegesis loom large in a work like 1 and 2 Supplements. One of the few instances occurs at 1 Suppl 21.1, which, not surprisingly is styled by Sara Japhet [in I & II Chronicles: A Commentary] as “one of the most discussed and interpreted verses in Chronicles.” The question at issue is the precise identification of the one who instigated David to conduct the census, Satan or some undefined slander. In the counterpart to this passage at 2 Rgns 24.1 the perpetrator is God himself in his wrath. This the Chronicler has mitigated according to his normal practice by refocusing the intervention. At the same time, there is no indication that the author believed in a self-existing principle of evil. Moreover, when the Hebrew term שטן denotes a proper noun, it is normally found with the article [as in Job], whereas here [in 1Ch 21.1 as well as in the LXX translation 1 Suppl 21.1] it is unarticulated. Consequently, in sum, it appears that a human instigator is intended [in in 1Ch 21.1 as well as in the LXX translation 1 Suppl 21.1, but not in passages where there is the article with the noun].

    MT [no article with שטן]:

    ויעמד שטן על־ישראל

    LXX [no article with διάβολος, as there is in LXX Iob]: καὶ ἔστη διάβολος ἐν τῷ Ισραηλ

    NETS: and a slanderer stood in Israel

    NRSV: Satan stood up against Israel

  4. January 12, 2012 1:24 pm

    Kurk, I take your point, but I am not studying the evolution of the concept of “Satan” here. Others have already done this. What I am doing is reading twenty different translations of Job.

    The point I was focusing on in Alter’s comment was his opposition to Pope (you will note that I put forward Pope’s reading first, and then stated Alter’s in opposition to it.) My point is to see how different translators view the text so differently (and ultimately, if I am successful, I will be able in later posts to show how that informs their translations — and helps explain why English translations of Job are so diverse.)

  5. January 12, 2012 2:22 pm

    My point is to see how different translators view the text so differently (and … to show how that informs their translations — and helps explain why English translations of Job are so diverse.)

    Wonderful! You already make clear some ways and some reasons why translations of Job in English are so varied. I’m looking forward to more of your series of posts.

  6. January 13, 2012 7:23 pm

    Re psychology: The issue of psychology is of interest of course since I am post-Freudian (I looked but I did not find redemption there). I am not sure I have to analyse the psyche or nephesh of the Other since in some respects I understand the one (me, the accuser). I guess it depends on whether I find the denouement satisfactory or complete, Spoiler alert: Job dies sated (for those of us who read the frame without cavil). Or reading the outer speeches, it seems to me that the presence of Leviathan gives me another creature to identify with (or if I prefer Behemoth, a Blake-figure, an English rugby fan.) Psychologically, Leviathan is my preference since Job appeals to ‘him’ in his de-creation scene. Although I might object to being a play-thing of the gods, it seems the story allows such an interpretation. I like that I was present in the play, the thing in which at some point my conscience was caught, and so I learned to pray as Job prays. Whether this Torah is sufficient is a question I still wrestle with. But I think my wrestling, though it includes payback, (Psalm 58:10-11), also has found another route to devotion.

  7. January 15, 2012 12:10 am

    Bob, I was planning a post (perhaps tomorrow or Monday) that touches on some of the points you raise — I hope you will forgive me delaying a response until I have a chance to post it.

  8. January 15, 2012 2:25 am

    …קַוֹּה קִוִּיתִי I will be patient

  9. Russ permalink
    January 15, 2012 10:31 am

    Good morning, Theophrastus:

    This is not about Job but something I just ran across and thought I would put it out there in case anyone is interested:

    http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/1115485

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: