Job – Fact or Fiction? (1)

INTRODUCTION

This paper will present a general introduction to the book of Job, considering briefly issues relating to the authorship, dating and the text, and literary and historical contexts, and the purpose and themes of the book.

What is the book of Job all about? Is it, as Richter suggested, the record of a lawsuit with the various stages represented by the various sections of the book? Is it more like Westermann’s idea of it being a dramatized lament which uses legal language and dispute to great effect?

The original Hebrew text has proved very difficult for scholars. Also, as Hartley points out, an understanding of parallelism and meter, which have a significant impact on translation and interpretation, are needed to fully interpret the text, since Hebrew poetry does not use rhyme.

The authors of the original LXX (Septuagint) found the text so difficult that almost a quarter of the book was missing, and so many unique words were used in the text that some scholars believed that Job was originally written in Arabic or Edomite, and then translated into Hebrew. Other scholars such as Irwin hold that Job was written in a Hebrew dialect different from that usually found in the Old Testament.

Scholars’ opinions vary widely as to the integrity of the text of Job, and various theories have been proposed. For example, some scholars think that the Prologue, Epilogue or both are later additions to the book, while others believe that the Prologue and Epilogue are older than the Dialogue. Rowley discusses these issues in some depth. Many scholars such as Rowley hold that the book was compiled from various sources and at various times, and that chapter twenty-eight is a later addition.

THE DATE AND AUTHOR

Where did the book of Job originally come from? Was an older prose folktale broken up and used as a framework for the book of Job, and were some of the speeches and poems later additions? Some scholars believe that the tradition was maintained orally; others have favoured Duhm’s theory that the prologue and epilogue are fragments of a popular book (Volksbuch) where the story of Job appeared.

The book cannot be dated with any real conviction. The historical background provides no firm clues for the date of the composition. Though some have dared to date the book as early as the period of Solomon or the eighth century, others have placed it as late as the third century.

The unknown author avoids using the divine names YHWH and Elohim in the dialogue, but rather employs such names as El and Shaddai, a fact discussed by Rowley, among others. It is also significant that the book does not contain a single allusion to any event in Hebrew history.

Some have said that the whole tone of the book suggests that it is not specifically Hebrew, but rather that it fits in to the common literature patterns of all ancient civilised nations, and the Hebrew language of the book has been heavily influenced by Arabic. 

Nevertheless, the author reveals some familiarity with the prophetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament. For example, compare Job’s dirge in chapter 3 with Jeremiah 20:14-18, and Psalms 38, 88 and 102. Compare also Job 15:35 with Isaiah 59:4, Job 16:10 with Isaiah 50:6 and 53:3, Psalm 8:4 with Job 7:17. For a complete comparison of the text of Job with other Old Testament books, see Hartley, pages 11 and 12.

The author also has familiarity with the language and culture of Egypt. For example, Job chapter 31 is reminiscent of the ‘negative confession’ of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The author complements his expert knowledge of folklore with a remarkable understanding of the natural world.

The author was clearly intelligent, well educated, widely travelled and Godly. Hartley regards the author of Job as an ‘ancient wise man’ of Israel, while Driver & Gray call Job a ‘sheikh of ancient times’. Certainly a Jew according to some scholars such as Heavenor, but almost certainly not a Jew according to others; the author or authors are unknown.

An early Jewish tradition has the book written or rewritten by Moses. In the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra, 14b, 15a) on the origin the books of the Old Testament, it is stated that “Moses wrote his own book, and the passages about Balaam and Job”. This and other sources are referred to in greater detail by Driver and Gray.

LITERARY CONTEXT

The book of Job is not unique in its literary style, and it belongs to a family of literary works of the ancient Near East that were usually dialogues permeated with complaints about suffering. For example, the Babylonian psalm ‘I Will Praise The Lord of Wisdom’ is often referred to as the Babylonian Job. It tells a story remarkably similar to that of Job, in which the god Marduk rescues one who is wrongfully persecuted and falls into ill-health. There is also other similar literature that frequently addressed the problem of innocent suffering and how belief in God squares with the existence of evil. This is discussed by Anderson and Driver and Gray.

The book of Job was therefore in the tradition and outlook of other writings, though this does not necessarily mean that the writer was dependent upon them. Nevertheless there are theories that Job was an old epic reworked to fit the dialogue by an editor, and that the book does not have textual integrity. See Hartley, pages 20 and 21 for a discussion of this.

Job is similar to other ancient Near Eastern writings, for wisdom literature is known across international boundaries. Furthermore, the question of suffering is a common theme across religious writings, and even those who claim to have no religion grapple with this issue. Sumer, Egypt, Babylonia, Ugarit and India all provide us with similar writings.

Nonetheless Job is widely recognised as one of the noblest works of world literature. According to Hugh Anderson it should be classed with the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles, with Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Goethe’s Faust.

While other writings are similar to Job, there is nothing precisely like it. It is something of a ‘wisdom debate’ about suffering and God, but raises the question without providing the expected answer. It simply concludes that God’s wisdom is higher than man’s wisdom.