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The Core Curriculum


600 BCE – 500 BCE


Job by Leon Bonnat, 1860 (Artstor/Erich Lessing Culture & Fine Arts Archives)Job by Leon Bonnat, 1860 (Artstor/Erich Lessing Culture & Fine Arts Archives)

Scholarly convention argues that the author of the Book of Job lived during the Persian period, between the sixth and the fourth century BC. The key problem surrounding the authorship of Job is that the book treats an incredibly complicated theological problem.  It therefore defies crude historicist readings, which tie it to particular periods of unrest and uncertainty in post-exilic Judea. The text is also written in deliberately archaic poetic language, which makes it almost impossible to judge the book’s date based on linguistic evidence. The time frame of composition is highly ambiguous.

The earliest possible date comes from an incidental reference in Ezekiel 14.20. Job is mentioned in the company of Noah and Danel, a Ugaritic hero of the second millennium BC. This suggests that a version of the Job legend may have existed as early as the Canaanite period. The book of Job was probably completely composed by the time of the next external reference, found in the second century BC book Ecclesiasticus, written by the scribe and wisdom writer Jesus ben Sira (. The earliest external textual witness of Job is a 1st century BC Aramaic translation, which was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

Scholarship has divided the book into three major sources, which probably have different authors. The first part consists of a prose narrative, at the beginning and end of the book, Job 1-2 and Job 42:7-17 respectively. It seems likely that this was the original story, since a fourth century Christian bishop, Theodore of Mopsuestia, knew an oral version of Job that resembled this narrative. The second and most extensive part of the book is the dialogue between Job and his friends, and ultimately between Job and God, which constitutes the core of the book. The final part consists of the speeches of Elihu (Job 32-38), which are later accretions, because they are narratively and thematically jarring.


Nathan Schumer, Department of Religion, Columbia University


Works Consulted:

The Anchor Bible, Job. Introduction, translation and notes by Marvin H. Pope. Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City, New York 1965, 1973

The Anchor Bible, Genesis. Introduction, translation and notes by EA Speiser. Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City, New York 1964 

Collins, John Joseph. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, c2004

The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, Bruce Chilton, general editor.  Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008 

The New Interpreter's Bible, edited by Beverly R. Gaventa and David Peterson. Nashville: Abingdon Press, c2010