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The Core Curriculum

Unknown

600 BCE – 500 BCE

Job.jpg

Job. Painting. French. 1860 CE: By Leon Bonnat. Bonnat Museum. Bayonne, France. ArtStor: Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives.Job. Painting. French. 1860 CE: By Leon Bonnat. Bonnat Museum. Bayonne, France. ArtStor: Erich Lessing Culture and 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.

Historical Contexts

Job

Job

There are several potential Near Eastern precursors for the work. The earliest is the Sumerian text “A Man and His God”, dating from 1700-2000 BC 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 BC. 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

Sources:

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 ;
Introduction to the Hebrew Bible Collins, John Joseph, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, c2004;
The Cambridge Companion to the Bible Bruce Chilton, general editor ; Howard Clark Kee ... [et al.]. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2008.
The New Interpreter's Bible edited by Beverly R. Gaventa and David Peterson. Nashville : Abingdon Press, c2010.