The Book of Job is one of the greatest masterpieces of world's literature. The 'gallery of images' and the 'language' of the book have made scholars refer to it as a product of the highest genius. This fascinating literary work gives insights on many topics.
There is a great diversity of opinion about the authorship of Job. The Jewish tradition (Talmud) attributes the book to Moses. Other authors have suggested Job himself, Elihu, Solomon, Isaiah, Hezekiah and Baruch (Jeremiah's scribe). Many contemporary commentators describe the author of Job as a master of wisdom who taught young intellectuals in the nascent Judaism of early Persian times (fifth century BC).
Since the author of Job is unknown, its date remains a point of debate among scholars. Some think the book was written before Moses (pre 1500 BC). Others put it at the time of King David or King Solomon (ca. 900 BC), and some even as late as the Babylonian exile or later (post 600 BC). Apart from the date of the book, we do not know the date of the story of Job itself. The Talmud cites eight different rabbinic opinions, ranging from the time of Jacob (1700 BC) to post-exile (after 580 BC). There is even a Talmudic opinion that the story is a parable. All that we can say with certainty is that the book in its final canonical form is a product of the post-exilic period.
The structure of the book of Job also remains problematic despite the attempt to divide it into prose, poetry and prose. The most common scholarly opinion is that the basic story (prose) is from Ancient Near East. The evidence can be seen in numerous writings much older than Job especially from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt that bear striking affinities with the book of Job. According to a body of knowledge, the poet used the old prose story as the frame for his poetry, wrestling with the philosophic questions of suffering. Weiss particularly argues that the story of Job is an adaptation of older material.
The author's genius is evident in the way in which he links his adapted story with his original work, i.e. in the use of the story as a prologue to the book before his debate, as well as the epilogue. As O'Connor rightly suggests, 'the enigmas created by the structural gaps among the pieces are not haphazard but deliberate.'
The book of Job can be interpreted from different perspectives. Some scholars have read Job as a 'biblical lament' or 'lawsuit.' Others have interpreted the book as a tragedy, comedy and irony, a drama, as well as an allegory of the people of Israel in the postexilic period experiencing suffering and alienation from God. As Gottwald observes, 'A work of such superb artistry will always convey manifold meanings.'
The book of Job poses a direct challenge to the optimistic worldview presented in the wisdom tradition (Job 21:7-9). To Job, the picture of human destiny described in Proverbs contradicts the world that he experiences. The first two chapters establish the book's premise: what if the most upright man in the world were to undergo excruciating sufferingthe loss of his possessions, the death of his children, unrelenting skin disease? The whole edifice of wisdom teaching would crumble. Wisdom then would not lead a person to life, success, happiness, wealth, nor would wickedness surely cause a man's ruin. The hypothetical nature of the frame is important for understanding the message of the book as a whole.
What circumstance would have led an author trained in the wisdom school to write Job? Job was likely to have been written to express Israel's struggles with God in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
- Crenshaw, J.L., Urgent Advice and Probing Questions, Macon: Mercer University Press, 1995.
- Dick, M.B., 'The Legal Metaphor in Job 31', CBQ 41 (1979) 37-50.
- Gottwald, N.K., A Light to the Nations (New York: Harper & Row, 1959).
- Habel, H., Job, Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.
- ___________, The Book of Job, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.
- Hoffman, Y., The Blemished Perfection, Sheffield: SAP, 1996.
- MacKenzie, R., 'The Cultural and Religious Background of the Book of Job', Concilium 169 (1983) 3-7.
- O'Connor, K.M., 'Job and the Collapse of Relationship', in K.M. O'Connor (ed.),
- The Wisdom Literature, Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1988.
- Perdue, L.G., Wisdom in Revolt, Decatur: Almond Press, 1991.
- Pleins, J.D., The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
- Polzin, R., 'The Framework of the Book of Job', Interpretation 28 (1974).
- Schkel, A., 'Toward a Dramatic Reading of the book of Job', Semeia 7 (1977).
- Terrien, S., 'Introduction to Job' in Interpreters' Bible III, New York: Abingdon, 1954).
- __________, 'The Yahweh Speeches and Job's Responses', Review and Expositor 68 (1971) 497-509.
- Weiss, M., The Story of Job's Beginning (Jerusalem: The Magnes, 1983.
- Westermann, C., The Structure of the Book of Job, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981).
- Whedbee, W., 'The Comedy of Job', Semeia 7 (1977) 1-39.
- H. Habel, Job (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 14-26.
- On the difficult language of the book of Job, see Y. Hoffman, The Blemished Perfection (Shelffield: SAP, 1996), 176-221.
- The Talmud (Tractate Bava Basra 15a-b).
- R. MacKenzie, 'The Cultural and Religious Background of the Book of Job', Concilium 169 (1983), 3-7.
- J.L. Crenshaw, Urgent Advice and Probing Questions (Macon: Mercer University Press, (1995), 426-448 and N. Habel, The Book of Job Philadelphia: Westminster,1985),21-69.
- Terrien, 'Introduction to Job' in Interpreters' Bible III (New York: Abingdon, 1954), 884- 888.
- The Talmud (Tractate Bava Basra 15a-b).
- L.G. Perdue, Wisdom in Revolt (Decatur: Almond Press, 1991), 75-85 and L.G. Perdue And W.C. Gilpin (eds.), The Voice of the whirlewind: Interpreting the Book of Job Nashville: Abingdon, 1992), 11-18.
- C. Westermann, The Structure of the Book of Job (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) and R. Plozin,'The framework of the Book of Job', Interpretation 28 (1974), 182-200.
- J.D.Pleins, The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 485-486.
- M. Weiss, The Story of Job's Beginning (Jerusalem: The Magnes, 1983).
- Weiss, The Story of Job's Beginning, 80.
- K.M. O'Connor, 'Job and the Collapse of Relationship', in K.M. O'Connor (ed.), The Wisdom Literature (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1988), 88.
- Westermann, Structure of the Book of Job.
- M.B. Dick, 'The Legal Metaphor in Job 31', CBQ 41 (1979) 37-50.
- S. Terrien, 'The Yahweh Speeches and Job's Responses', Review and Expositor 68 (1971), 497-509.
- W. Whedbee, 'The Comedy of Job', Semeia 7 (1977) 1-39.
- A. Schkel, 'Toward a Dramatic Reading of the book of Job', Semeia 7 (1977) 45-61 a And Job (Madrid: Christiandad, 1971).
- Habel, The Book of Job.
- N.K. Gottwald, A Light to the Nations (New York: Harper & Row, 1959) 485.
- Footnotes should use 10 pt Arial with single line spacing.