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Book of Job

The Book of Job is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, and is also one of the books of the Christian Old Testament.

Table of contents

Authorship

A great diversity of opinion exists as to the authorship of this book. An ancient Jewish tradition in the Talmud holds that Moses may have written this book. Others argue that it was written by Job himself, or by Elihu[?], or Isaiah. From internal evidence, such as the similarity of sentiment and language to those in the Psalms and Proverbs (see Psalms 88 and 89), the prevalence of the idea of "wisdom," and the style and character of the composition, it is supposed by some to have been written in the time of King David and King Solomon.

Many scholars hold that the introductory and concluding sections of the book were composed by a different author than the body of the book.

Style

The book is a historical poem, one of the greatest and sublimest poems in all literature -- a didactic narrative in a dramatic form.

Was Job a real person?

Most Jews hold that Job was not a real historical figure. For instance, Rabbi Simeon ben Laquish said that Job never existed (Midrash Genesis Rabbah LXVII; Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 15a.) In this view Job was a literary creation by a prophet who used this form of writing to convey a divine message. In this view, the book was written under divine inspiration in order to teach theological truths, but was never meant to be taken as literally true in a historical sense.

Most Christians believe that Job was a real historical figure. This belief accepts the statements in the book which speak of Job as an actual person; this belief is also based on the references to Job in the Book of Ezekiel and in the Epistle of James. Independent verification of Job's historicity is lacking, though that is perhaps unsurprising when one considers that almost no citizen of the ancient world has left any trace by which his existence might be proven today.

This book was apparently well known in the days of Ezekiel, B.C. 600 (Ezekiel 14:14). The book of Job is referred to in the Epistle to Hebrews 12:5; and in the First Epistle to the Corinthians 3:19.

The story and structure

The subject of the book is the trial of Job, its occasion, nature, endurance, and issue. It consists of

  1. An historical introduction in prose (ch. 1,2).
  2. The controversy and its solution, in poetry (ch. 3-42:6). Job's desponding lamentation (ch. 3) is the occasion of the controversy which is carried on in three courses of dialogues between Job and his three friends. The first course gives the commencement of the controversy (ch. 4-14); the second the growth of the controversy (15-21); and the third the height of the controversy (22-27). This is followed by the solution of the controversy in the speeches of Elihu and the address of Jehovah, followed by Job's humble confession (42:1-6) of his own fault and folly.
  3. The third division is the historical conclusion, in prose (42:7-15).

It is possible that the introductory and concluding sections of the book were composed by a different author than the body of the book.

The controversy at the heart of the body of the book concerns the question, "Is misfortune always a divine punishment for something?" Job's three friends argued in the affirmative, stating that Job's misfortunes were proof that he had committed some sins for which he was being punished. His friends also advanced the converse position that good fortune is always a divine reward, and that if Job would renounce his supposed sins, he would immediately experience the return of good fortune.

In response, Job asserted that he was a righteous man, and that his misfortune was therefore not a punishment for anything. This raised the possibility that God acts in caprecious ways, and Job's wife urged him to curse God, and die. Instead, Job responded with equanimity: "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord." The climax of the book occurs when God responds to Job, not with an explanation for Job's suffering but rather with a question: Where was Job when God created the world?

God's response itself may be read in a variety of ways. Some see it as an attempt to humble Job. Yet Job is comforted by God's appearance, and the fact that he 'saw God and lived', suggesting that the author of the book was more concerned with whether or not God is present in people's lives, than with the question of whether or not God is just.

The framing story complicates the book further -- in the introductory section God decides to inflict misery on Job and his family as a result of a bet with Satan (suggesting that God does indeed act in caprecious ways); the conclusion has God restoring Job to health and wealth (suggesting that the faith of the righteous is indeed rewarded).


Initial text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897 -- Please update as needed



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