Book of Job
Book of Job
- Brian DoakBrian DoakAssociate Provost for Academic Innovation, Libraries, and Research Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, George Fox University
The book of Job is the longest and most thematically and linguistically challenging of the “wisdom books” in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In the book’s prologue (Job 1–2) the narrator introduces readers to a man named Job (Hebrew ‘iyyōb; etymology unclear). Job’s prosperity extends into all areas of his life, and seems at least potentially linked to his moral status as completely righteous and blameless before God. The earthly scene then gives way to a heavenly setting, where a figure called “the accuser” (literally “the satan”; haśśātān) appears before God. God boasts about Job’s righteousness, but the accuser counters, suggesting that Job’s moral achievement has been merely the byproduct of God’s protection. The accuser and God enter into a bet: Job’s children will be killed, Job’s possessions stripped, and Job’s body afflicted with a painful disease—all to see whether Job will curse God.
Job initially responds to the distress with pious statements, affirming God’s authority over his life. In a state of intense suffering, Job is joined by three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and then eventually a fourth, Elihu—who offer rounds of speeches debating the reasons for Job’s situation (Job 3–37). Job responds to the friends in turn, alternately lamenting his situation and pleading for a chance to address God directly and argue his case as an innocent man. The friends accuse Job of committing some great sin to deserve his fate; they urge repentance, and defend God as a just ruler. God enters the dispute in a forceful whirlwind (Job 38), and proceeds for several chapters (Job 38–41) to overwhelm Job with resounding statements on creation (38:1–38), animal life (38:39–40:14), and visions of two powerful creatures, Behemoth (40:15–24) and Leviathan (41:1–11). The book ends with Job acknowledging to God the fact that he is overmatched in the face of divine power. God condemns the friends for not speaking “what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7), and then restores Job’s lost possessions and children (42:10–17).
Job has enjoyed a rich reception history in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and, perhaps more than any other book in the Bible except Genesis, as a world literary classic in its own right. Within the Bible, it is the most bracing statement on the problem of suffering, as it presents a situation wherein a clearly righteous person suffers immensely—putting it at odds with more straightforward descriptions of why people suffer in Proverbs, Deuteronomy, and other texts. Scholarly research on Job has focused on the book’s place among other ancient Near Eastern wisdom materials, on questions of language (given the large amount of difficult Hebrew terms in the book), on historical-critical concerns about authorship and the way the book may have come together in its present form, and on the history of the translation of the text into Greek and other ancient languages. In the 21st century, interpreters have increasingly taken up readings of Job that situate it among concerns related to economics, disability, gender, and the history of its reception in many different eras and communities.
- Ancient Religion
- Biblical Studies
- Judaism and Jewish Studies
- Theology and Philosophy of Religion