Job – Fact or Fiction? (2)

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The atmosphere of the prologue is patriarchal since the plot seems to be set in that period, and Dillard and Longman suggest that Job seems to be a gentle patriarch much like Abraham. Heavenor points out that wealth was reckoned in cattle in those days and that Job appears as his own priest because he offered sacrifices, an act unthinkable after the formal priesthood was established at Sinai. Furthermore, Job’s age exceeds those of the patriarchs. He lived 140 years after his restoration. According to Dillard and Longman, Job is probably best understood as having lived before the Abrahamic covenant, which narrows the covenant community to a particular family.

There is some evidence that Job may be based on historical facts. The first verse of Job is similar to the opening verses of both Judges 17 and 1 Samuel 1, two passages with an indubitable intention to communicate historical events. It is difficult to believe, however, that the book of Job is a strictly historical document, though Lee defended that view. Since people did not routinely speak to one another in poetry or in song, these poetic scripts may be seen to be dramatisations of conversations that took place, rather than word for word accounts.

COMPOSITION

The book of Job is a very well constructed and carefully thought out piece of work. The book is composed of prose, dialogue, monologue and epilogue in a highly structured form.

  • Job 1 and 2 are a prose prologue that introduce the characters and set the plot.
  • Job 3 to 31 record the dialogues between the three players.
  • Job 29 to 31 record Job’s monologue.
  • Job 32 to 37 record Elihu’s monologue.
  • Job 38 to 42:6 record YHWH’s response.
  • Job 42:7 17 are a prose epilogue that draw the book to its close.

The book has a prose ‘sandwich’ often called a prose ‘frame’. Some scholars believe that the prose frame is the oldest part of the book, and that it was later embellished with poetry and over time became the book that we have today. Job’s lament is contained in chapter one. Then come the exchanges of dialogue which are poetic and of a high literary nature as they take the form of three cycles:

CYCLE ONE                       CYCLE TWO                     CYCLE THREE

Eliphaz (4,5)                          Eliphaz (15)                           Eliphaz (22)

Job (6,7)                                 Job (16,17)                             Job (23,24)

Bildad (8)                               Bildad (18)                             Bildad (25)

Job (9,10)                               Job (19)                                  Job (26:1 to 27:12)

Zophar (11)                            Zophar (20)                           Zophar (27:13-23)

Job (12 to 14)                        Job (21)                                  Job (28 to 31)

Zophar’s part in cycle three lacks a speech here in the text, and Job appears to contradict himself. Some scholars believe that there is a textual transmission error here and that Zophar’s speech should appear as noted. This is discussed in detail by Zerafa in The Wisdom of God in the Book of Job, Rome, Herder, 1978 and referred to by Dillard and Longman.

THEME(S)

At first glance, the main theme of the book of Job is suffering. Yet, while the book of Job centres around the problem of suffering, and especially righteous suffering, it also gives great insight to the character of God; as well as revealing the personal nature of the enemy of YHWH and his people.

The suffering of the righteous is a perplexing issue and has the author who created Job done so to balance other Old Testament literature, which appears to suggest that the righteous should not suffer at all? In this regard, consider Ezekiel 18:20, Solomon in 1 Kings 8:32 and Proverbs 3:33, 4:18 and 10:3,6.

Retribution theology is represented by the three ‘comforters’ but Job argues against this and looks to a higher wisdom. There is also the theme of theodicy – that God will be justified through the temporary suffering of the righteous.

Elihu is the youthful and impetuous man who believes he has all the answers; but the issues at the heart of Job will certainly not be resolved in a hurry for him or for anyone else.

A study of the characters involved in the book increases the wisdom of the book, and reveals the skill of the author. Yet the issue of suffering is by no means a theme unique to the Old Testament. Suffering and a God of love, good and reward, evil and punishment, justice and honour, are issues that are found in many non-Biblical writings. What, then, sets the book of Job apart from the rest?