The Book of Job
Delahoyde & Hughes
1) What is the real dilemma Job finds himself facing? (Not just boils — the real difficulty!)
2) Do you think God answers Job? Why or why not? [or: How is God’s response both an answer and not an answer?]
The Book of Job is considered a literary masterpiece. It belongs to the genre of “wisdom literature,” or “speculative wisdom” as it questions commonly held principles and assertions. Here, the universal question is tackled:
If there is a God, why do the innocent suffer? (Buddhism tackles this too.)
A “Theodicy” is set up, but . . .
Prologue: [Chapters 1-2]
Prose, 6th or 7th century bce: folktale or legend of patriarch, a native of Uz (so pre-Israel).
Job: stands for Israel? (No other mention of Israel, nor ofcovenant or of a saving history.)
stands for everyman? (Prophets explains suffering on a national scale; this is individual.)
‘Yahweh’ and Satan (‘Adversary’): folktale, anthropomorphic quick cosmic set-up. Job attracted interest of Satan; proud God backed into corner (like Greek gods sitting around making bets and backing mortals, meddling in their lives from on high). Job’s loyalty is simply for material reward? (Consider the story of Joseph.) Test this, then add pain too; still no complaint against God, we are told.
Historical situation reflected? Can question justice of God. Babylonian exile or post-exilic. Product of troubled time.
Symposium: [Chapters 3-31]Poetic style now. 3rd or 2nd century BCE? Set in a dungheap, Job debates (Socratic-style, in rounds) with friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
Eliphaz says the righteous do not suffer, only the wicked.
Bildad insists God does not pervert justice.
Zophar claims Job is not being punished as much as he deserves; God is merciful and so treats people better than they deserve.
Job defends himself: either point out evil deed or admit that he is created human and how can he be blamed for that?Job challenges Yahweh to appear before him and to see things from a human vantage point (9-10).
Dramatic speeches offer emotional reaction to theological problems. Almost blasphemous: surprising to find in scriptures an admission of how little reason there is to believe in God or trusting in his goodness. Questions the ethical nature of God, challenging the doctrine that virtue is rewarded and vice punished, thus a discrediting of the Deuteronomic thesis.Also a revolt against Wisdom Literature: not passive, patient, and resigned like wisdom books are in tone and as they advise.
The dilemma? Not the problem of evil entirely, but a problem offaith (how is it possible?). All seems arbitrary, and God doesn’tseem to interpose. Not mourning emotionally or physically, butexistentially. An anguish of faith.
Difficult reading: plunged in and find it difficult to keep track of the larger perspective or to see where the moment fits into a larger scheme — like Job’s difficulty!
Elihu’s Speeches: [Chapters 32-37; also 28]Wisdom literature inserted separately to align the book with orthodox party-line thinking, but in conflict with the spirit of Job which is a reaction against this kind of easy explanation.
Suffering is a warning against sinning, then repetition of the three friends.
Verbose and overconfident pretentiousness (32:2-4).
Nature Poems: [Chapters 38-41]God’s answer in two speeches: sarcastic, deriding, and no answer. The problem of evil is not solved. But at least God notices; we are assured of this.
Exquisite language tells of the wonders of creation. Beautiful poetry, a recitation in catalogue form of natural wonders but doesn’t answer question and doesn’t assure us of the inherent goodness of God. Finally no theodicy — no justifying God’s ways in face of evil.
Just a contrast of human perspective with the power and wisdom of the deity. But what about the innocent suffering? No concrete solution. In the absence of a comprehensible divine ethic, humans have to create their own meaning (40:8)?
Appears in a whirlwind — symbol of chaotic amoral forces?Magnificence and horror of the fashioned universe: God still tolerates the chaotic forces of Behemoth and Leviathan (formerly thought to be hippopotamus and crocodile; just ludicrous?). [See Leviathan for more on this mythical sea-creature.]
The irrelevance of God’s ethical nature? Vast indifference to human need (vs. Genesis anthropocentricity)?
Who is the author’s hero? Job? God? Neither?
Epilogue: [Chapter 42]Prose again for distanced wrap-up. Job acknowledged the justice of Yahweh and repented. As recompense, God doubled Job’sprosperity.
A tacked-on fairytale ending and anticlimactic in its orthodoxyafter difficult questions raised previously. Even supports thecharges Satan made initially!
Only sense of resolution: Yahweh prefers honest doubt and searching to convenient orthodoxy.
The Book of Job. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume I. 7th ed. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.
Harris, Stephen L. Understanding the Bible. 3rd ed. Toronto: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1992.
Wilkie, Brian, and James Hurt, eds. Literature of the Western World, Volume 1. 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.