Origin of the Book of Job

Christopher Schwinger

The faith of Job has inspired believers for millennia. Despite horrible hardships and losses, Job showed a deep understanding of and trust in God — and eventually a humility that stands for us to follow. But who wrote Job? When did he live? These questions have puzzled scholars as much as God's actions challenged Job.

The land of Uz where Job lived is identified as Edom in Lamentations 4:21. According to Charles Ryrie in the Ryrie Study Bible, "This area was also identified with Uz by Ptolemy, a Greek general under Alexander the Great, in the third century B.C." The kingdom of Edom encompassed the area southeast of the Dead Sea. This was midway between Mesopotamia and Arabia in present-day Jordan. The great carved rock city of Petra may have been designed during the Edomite period. Sabean and Chaldean raiders enter the story in Job 1:15, 17, although "Sabean" and "Chaldean" describe geographical areas rather than dynasties or kingdoms. The Sabeans lived in present-day Yemen and Chaldeans in the area around Babylon. Sabeans and Chaldeans logically would have interacted more with Edom than Egypt would, on the basis of geography.

The Bible provides its own internal references to certain names found in the Book of Job besides Uz, though less conclusively. Genesis 36:11 names Teman as a grandson of Esau, while Genesis 25:15 lists Tema as a son of Ishmael. One of Job's friends, Eliphaz, is a Temanite. Eliphaz the Temanite is obviously not Eliphaz the father of Teman in Gen 36's Edomite genealogy, unless the father is living in the city of Teman which his son established. The city of Teman is given a definitive link with Edom in Jeremiah 49:7, but an Abrahamic connection to the origin of the city is tentative. The introduction to Job in Halley's Bible Handbook states that the Septuagint followed an ancient tradition of identifying Job with Jobab, the second king of Edom, mentioned in Genesis 36:33. One other name has a possible Abrahamic connection: Bildad the Shuhite. In Genesis 25:1-2, Abraham fathers "Shuah" by Keturah, his wife after Sarah. Geographically, the location is definitely Edom, based on Lamenations 4:21 and Jeremiah 49:7, while there are some possible connections to Abraham's family via Abraham's grandson Esau and 2nd wife Keturah.

Ryrie's introductory paragraphs to Job concisely summarize factors in dating the events of the book and writing of the book:
The date of the events in the book and the date of the writing of the book are two different matters. The events may have taken place in a patriarchal society in the second millennium B.C., around the time of Abraham. Several facts support this dating: (1) Job lived more than 140 years (42:16), a not uncommon life span during the patriarchal period; (2) the economy of Job's day, in which wealth was measured in terms of livestock (1:3), was the type that existed in this period; (3) like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Job was the priest of his family (1:5); (4) the absence of any reference to the nation Israel or the Mosaic Law suggests a pre-Mosaic date (before 1500 B.C.).

Three principal views exist concerning the date of writing: (1) in the patriarchal age, shortly after the events happened; (2) in the time of Solomon (950 B.C.); (3) at the time of the Exile or after, though the mention of Job by Ezekiel (Ezek. 14:14) negates such a late date. The detailed report of the speeches of Job and his friends seems to argue for the book's being written shortly after the events occurred. On the other hand, the book shares characteristics of other wisdom literature (e.g., Pss. 88, 89) written during the Solomonic age and should be regarded as a dramatic poem describing real events, rather than a verbatim report.
Jewish tradition attributed the authorship to Moses. The discourse on wisdom in Job 28 convinces me that the Book of Job had a long journey from its original format to its highly stylized current format. Extensive ruminations about wisdom characterized Solomon's era. The Book of Job is stamped with the literary parallelism so prevalent in psalms and proverbs of David and Solomon's era, such as Job 3:11: "Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?" (NIV) Perish=die, birth=womb; the same idea is rephrased or developed. Psalm 103:7 is a psalm example of parallelism: "He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel." (To be clear, though, not all parallelism rephrases the same idea.) I see Genesis 36:31's words "before any Israelite king reigned" as a textual clue that the Edomite genealogy was added to the Book of Genesis sometime after Israel started having kings: "These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned." My theory is that as David and Solomon expanded Israel, they came to possess Edomite lore, including genealogies and the story of Job. (Genesis 36:24 is an odd inclusion: "The sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who discovered the hot springs in the desert while he was grazing the donkeys of his father Zibeon.") At the very least, I think there's strong evidence that the Book of Job was literarily modified during the great period of literary output, when most of the psalms and proverbs were produced, the epoch of David and Solomon.

Image: Illuminated Byzantine illustration of Job


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Published 6-18-14