Lecture 02: Basic Introductory Matters
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Basic Introductory Matters
I. Date and Authorship
A. No evidence in the text of when Job was written
In this lecture we want to consider some background matters related to the book of Job, such as when it was written. Let’s consider that first of all, the date and authorship of the book of Job. The short answer is, nobody knows when Job was written. The book does not tell us. The book does not date itself by any occurrence or by any historical situation.
There is an old view that the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible, it is the first book ever written. There is no real evidence for this in the Bible itself. It is a tradition and traditions are fine and good, but in terms of trying to figure out when the book of Job was really written, that is not the best evidence we should use. To say the book is the oldest book in the Bible, in my opinion is not really persuasive.
On the other hand, some people have related the book of Job to the Babylonian exile. I’m sure you know that in 586 BC Jerusalem was destroyed by the
Babylonian Empire. The city was burned to the ground, the temple was destroyed, the people were taken captive to Babylon and that was the Babylonian captivity, a time of great suffering for the Jewish people. So people will say that probably the book of Job was written to answer that issue, the fact that so many Jews were suffering so terribly at the hands of the Babylonians. I would say, no, not likely. There is no allusion whatsoever to the Babylonian captivity in the book of Job. There is not a word in the book that gives us a hint that that is in the background. In fact, if there is one thing the Bible is clear about, it is that the Jews went into captivity because of their sin, because of their idolatry and their great evil and all of the terrible things they had done: child sacrifice, all of that kind of thing. Whereas in the book of Job, Job has repeatedly declared he is righteous and did not deserve anything that happened to him. So, the book of Job as a kind of response to the Babylonian captivity is not at all persuasive and I would not go that way.
B. Job alludes to passages from other books of the Bible
The book of Job does allude to certain passages in the Bible. It especially alludes to Genesis 1-3, the creation narrative. It will go into great detail about how God rules heaven and earth and how God made everything and how God made all the animals; and the pattern of how it discusses creation is fairly similar to what we see in Genesis 1, which kind of suggests the author of Job knew Genesis 1. More specifically, in Job 7:17-21 there is a passage that really strongly seems to echo Psalm 8. We are going to look at that later. Psalm 8 is the psalm: “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” Job has a passage that seems to really, really be aware of that psalm and to in some way be upending that psalm. So we will be looking at that text and trying to understand what is going on. However, if the book of Job alludes to Psalm 8, probably it was written after Psalm 8. That would seem to give us some indication of when the book was written.
All I can give you is my best surmise. It may have been written during the reign of Solomon because of course that was the flowering of wisdom in ancient Israel; or later in the reign of Hezekiah, which was kind of a second flowering of wisdom in the history of Israel; or maybe even a little bit later. I would suggest that the book of Job is pre-exilic; that is, before 586 BC, but written sometime during the monarchy period, either in the time of Solomon or sometime thereafter. So that gives us a very rough range of about 1,000 BC to 586 BC. Beyond that, there is not a whole lot we can say about when Job was written.
II. Basic Outline
What does the book of Job have by way of structure? If you are going to understand the book – and we are going to do a lot of this in this course – it is a
good idea to see just how the book is laid out. We have here the outline, the structure of the book of Job.
A. The prologue which describes Job’s affliction (Chapters 1-2)
First of all, it begins with Job’s affliction. This is chapters 1 and 2. This is often called the prologue. In the prologue we have the account of Satan going up and talking to God and God allowing Satan to afflict Job with first losing his property and his children and then his health, and Job refusing to curse God.
B. Job curses the day of his birth (Chapter 3)
The second major event of the book, part two, is Job curses the day of his birth. This is chapter 3. This is a very important speech because this gets the whole debate going. This is where Job says things that so alarm his friends, they feel like they have to answer him.
C. Three cycles of debate (Chapters 4-27)
Then we have three cycles of debate between Job and his friends. First cycle, 4-14. Second cycle, 15-21. Third cycle, 22-27. The reason we speak of three cycles is because it basically goes like this: Job will speak and then Eliphaz will answer him, one of the three. Job will speak and then Zophar will answer him. Job will speak and so forth. It will go through the whole process as a complete cycle and then it will happen again. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar will take turns answering Job and Job will respond to each of them; and once Job has responded to all three – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar – then that will be the end of one cycle. Of course, as you can see, there are three cycles, three of these sequences of debate between Job and his friends.
The only thing to take note of is, the third cycle is unusual because in the third cycle only two of the three friends speak and Job has a much longer speech, and we will talk about that later.
D. The inaccessibility of wisdom (Chapter 28)
Section 4 is a very important section. The inaccessibility of wisdom. This is a major poem that we are going to look at. As I will explain later, this is not voiced by anyone in the narrative. Job doesn’t say this, the three friends don’t say this. This is in effect inserted into the book by the author. It is a poem on how people search for wisdom, but they cannot find it, it is beyond them. No matter how much they search, it gets away from them. This passage is going to be revelatory in that it will begin to open the way to the answer to the book of Job. How that works, we will get to when we get to it.
E. The three major speeches (Chapters 29-41)
We then have three more major speeches kind of corresponding to the previous three cycles of speeches. First, we have a really long speech by Job, chapters 29-31 in which he bewails his situation, he protests his innocence and he challenges the justice of what has happened to him and wonders why God has allowed this to happen.
We then have the speech that I referred to in the previous lecture, the Elihu speech, chapters 32-37. As I said, this is a very long speech by this one individual in which he will first of all make clear that he thinks he has all the answers and then he will lay out his answers in great detail and we look at his speeches later.
Then we have finally God’s big speech from chapters 38:1-42:6. In this speech God speaks at length, as we have talked about in the last lecture. He will primarily focus on creation and how he manages creation; but then he will move to talking about some mysterious things, Behemoth and Leviathan, which we will look at in detail. And after God has spoken of these things, Job will be fully persuaded. Job will declare before God that God is right and Job now understands and for him, the whole problem has been resolved.
F. Job intercedes for the three friends (42:7-9)
At that point we come to what is called the epilogue of the book, the ending of the book. This is where first of all, God confronts the three friends and tells them how they have wrongly accused Job and spoken wrongly about God; and that if they want to come out of this alive, they had better get Job to intercede for them, and he does and they are released.
G. Restoration of Job’s prosperity
Then finally a restoration of Job’s prosperity. He once again has children. He once again has great wealth. His wife is good and things are once again as they were before the whole story began.
III. Chiastic Structure
This of itself tells us essentially how the story goes, how the book is structured in broad parameters, but I want to show you something else about the outline. This is its chiastic structure. First of all, what is a chiastic structure? A chiastic structure is a structure in which the second half parallels the first half in reverse. So if I say “A, B, C, B, A,” then obviously I began “A,B,” then I have “C” in the middle and then “B” and then “A.” So the second half of the order “B,A,” reverses the order of the first half, “A,B.” You can make it as short or long as you want and just say, “A,B, B,A.” Again, the second half, “B,A,” reverses the order of the first half.
So here is what we have in the book of Job, which is chiastic structure.
A. Job’s affliction (1-2)
We begin, as we just saw, Job’s affliction, chapters 1 and 2, that is A.
B. Job curses the day of his birth (3)
Then we come to Job cursing the day of his birth, that is B.
C. The three cycles of debate (4-27)
Then we have the three cycles of debate between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, that is C.
D. The inaccessibility of wisdom (28)
Then we have D, the big poem on the inaccessibility of wisdom, chapter 28. Then we have what we call C prime. C prime is the reverse of C, the three major
speeches. So, before we had the three cycles of speeches between Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Now we have the three major speeches: first Job, then Elihu, then God. (29:1-42:6) We then have B prime. Job intercedes for the three friends (42:7-9) whereas before Job had cursed the day of his birth; so there is kind of a reversal. Job is calling down a curse at the beginning in chapter 3; now in chapter 42:7-9 he is praying for his friends, that they might have life. Then finally, Job’s prosperity (42:10-17) at the end of the book, which is a restoration of the prosperity at the beginning of the book.
If you look at this, you can see something that is very distinctive. That is, in the middle of this structure is “D.” “D” does not have a parallel. “D” is kind of like the pivot point. Everything turns at this point. When we read this passage on the inaccessibility of wisdom, this is what I am calling level 3 wisdom. This is the wisdom of God. This is the wisdom that is beyond any human understanding and we are confronted with the fact that we humans cannot attain it. Then we work through the rest of the book and we get the answer. So that is how I think the book of Job works as a structure.
IV. Unity and Integrity of the book of Job
Now I am going to discuss something that I just kind of need to do as a matter of giving you a little understanding of academic issues regarding the book of Job. That is, the unity and integrity of the book.
In other words, is the book really originally one single book as we have it now, or was it originally a much smaller book, to which later authors added new material? To put it in real simple terms, what we are asking is, did one person write the whole book of Job, to be read as we have it now, or was the book originally smaller and perhaps arranged a little differently, and then later people came along and they added material or they changed material?
A. Some scholars assert that portions of the book are later additions
There are two principle areas to which people think additions have been made. The first is the prologue and epilogue. The prologue again, chapters 1 and 2 where God confronts Satan in heaven and then all of the afflictions come down on Job. Then the epilogue where Job is restored to all his fortunes and everything turns out well.
The problems in the eyes of many interpreters is that the Job of the prologue especially, seems so different from the Job of the rest of the book, because when you read of Job in the rest of the book, he is angry and he is complaining to God very directly. He is making all kinds of charges. He says in effect, “God, there is injustice everywhere in the world and as far as I can see, you aren’t doing anything about it.” So, many people read all of the speeches of Job and say that he is bitter, he is angry, he is near to blaspheming against God; whereas in chapters 1 and 2 it just says repeatedly, “He is righteous, he is perfect in all his ways. He is completely obedient to God; and when he suffers, he refuses to curse God.” So people see a big contradiction between the Job of the prologue and the Job of the rest of the book.
The other area where people see all kinds of problems in the unity of the book of Job is the Elihu speeches. Because, as I said in an earlier lesson, Elihu’s speeches are lengthy, they are kind of tedious, they are kind of repetitive and they struggle to make sense of the book of Job; but they don’t really come up with a new answer. So a lot of people think that here is what happened: The book of Job was written without the Elihu speeches and some scribe came along and said, “This doesn’t work, there is no real answer given to Job.” So this scribe kind of writes out what he thinks is the answer. He tries to compose what he thinks the three should have said to Job. So it is a later addition.
B. The book makes no sense without the prologue and epilogue
What do we say about this complaint, this position on the book of Job? I would say, first of all, the book makes no sense without the prologue and the epilogue. As you read the book of Job, if you start with chapter 3 where this guy is cursing the day of his birth; and then three other people suddenly start to argue with him, you don’t know who they are. You don’t know why all of this has happened to Job. You don’t have any of the background story. It would make no sense.
Furthermore, I think the idea that the prologue and epilogue are late represents a serious misunderstanding of the book of Job. The Job of the rest of the book is very much the same Job. The only thing is, in the rest of the book, he is protecting his innocence. He is very loudly and vociferously complaining, saying, “I didn’t do anything. It is not my fault that all of these terrible things happened to me. I have been righteous before God.” That is exactly what the prologue says about him. He was righteous before God. He was pure. He was good. So, it is the same person. The only thing is, this man of the book of Job in all the speeches and all the dialogues, is now wrestling with the meaning of it all. If God does this to me, a righteous person, what does that say about the goodness of God? What does that say about the fairness of God?
In fact, if you do not have the prologue, saying that Job was absolutely a good and righteous man, none of the speeches make any sense. He just appears to be a guy who is full of himself and angry and full of empty bravado.
In the epilogue God condemns the three friends, but in the prologue they only come to comfort Job. The words for which they are condemned all appear in the debates. Again, here is the issue: Are the prologue and epilogue secondary or were they there all along? I would say they were there all along. Why? Because if you just have the prologue and the epilogue, you have the three friends come to Job, they care about him, they are sorry for him. They weep with him. They sit and mourn with him. Then you jump to the end and they are all condemned by God. How did that happen? It happened because of what happened in between. It happened because of how they made these speeches to Job in which they condemned Job and they are wrong. Then the whole book needs to be kept together in order for us to understand it.
C. Elihu’s statement is critical to the argument of the book of Job
Then there is the Elihu speech. We are going to consider this in detail later, so I don’t want to give my whole spiel here about Elihu right now. But the Elihu
speech in my opinion is very important for the satisfaction of the reader because in fact, you do get through all of these speeches from Job and from the three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and you think, Something is not right. Things just aren’t fixed yet. There is no real solution here. Elihu will kind of speak for the reader and he will address the discomfort and the distress that the reader feels, having worked through all of these speeches and still being at a loss to explain it all. I think that is a very important function in the book of Job because then it opens the door for the speeches of God, where we do actually get the answer.
In my opinion, the speeches of the three friends are coherent with what we have in Elihu’s speech. Elihu’s speech belongs in the book and we will see how that works in more detail later.
To summarize, we don’t know when the book of Job was written. It clearly, in my opinion, was written sometime after Genesis and after Psalm 8. That puts it in the monarchy period. I don’t think there is any reason to treat it as later than the exile, so I would say the date for the book of Job is somewhere in the period from the monarchy of David and Solomon, up to the end of the kingdom when Jerusalem fell in 586.
The structure of the book of Job is very straightforward in my opinion. It is laid out very beautifully, very neatly. You will notice, it has a very logical pattern to it. It is not kind of a helter-skelter book where you are trying to figure out where you are at any given time. The structure of the book points to the wisdom speech as the turning point of the whole book, where we learn that wisdom is beyond human understanding and again, that enables us to bring the problem of Job into clear focus and move towards a resolution.
The book has been challenged as to whether it is a unity or not, whether one person wrote it all, whether it was intended to be read as we have it today. I
would argue, yes, we should read the whole book as we have it today. The prologue and the epilogue are part of the book and Elihu’s speech is part of the
book; and only by reading the entire thing, can we make sense of the book of Job. So we will begin moving towards that goal in our subsequent lectures.