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The Core Curriculum

Historical Context for Job by Unknown

Relates to: 

Hymn to Marduk in Babylonian Cuneiform, 1st Millennium BCE. (Wikimedia Commons)Hymn to Marduk in Babylonian Cuneiform, 1st Millennium BCE. (Wikimedia Commons) There are several potential Near Eastern precursors for the Book of Job. The earliest is the Sumerian text “A Man and His God,” dating from 1700-2000 BCE and describing the unjust sufferings of a righteous man.  An Akkadian text called Ludlul Bel Nemeqi (I will praise the Lord of Wisdom) dates from 1000 BC, and describes a nobleman praising the Babylonian god Marduk.  Marduk had healed the stricken nobleman on account of his religious, cultic piety. Another possible precursor is the "Babylonian Theodicy," which was composed between 1400 and 800 BCE.  It consists of a dialogue between a sufferer and a comforter, presenting a similar theme to Job.  These compositions which thematically resonate with the book of Job demonstrate that the themes of theodicy were important pieces of the theological discourse in the ancient Near East.

The Book of Job is the closest thing that the Hebrew Bible has to a work of theology. It takes on the problems of suffering and evil with astounding aporia.  Job may serve as a rebuke to the historical tradition of sin and repentance, represented by the Deuteronomic historian and the surrounding wisdom traditions in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.  Job speaks against these rational views of creation, arguing that humans cannot understand the will of God.  It is this uniqueness in approaching the problem of human suffering that has made Job inspirational, influencing thinkers and theologians such as Martin Luther and Elie Wiesel.  Job is one of the most compelling works in the Bible since the essential theological problem remains the same today.


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 E.A. 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