Job is the bee's knees. Really. He's blameless and upright, and he has kids, a wife, land, and a bunch of sheep. Doesn't get much better than that. Up in the heavens, God brags to the divine assembly about Job. Lo and behold, Satan comes out and challenges God on Job's goodness. This can't end well.
Note to Shmoopers: this is not the Satan of Paradise Lost or even the Satan of the New Testament. So which Satan is he? For the full scoop, head on over to our "Figures" section.
Back to the story. Satan tells God that, sure, Job loves God now, but take away his earthly possessions and his children, and he will dump God in a New York minute. God agrees to the challenge, and Satan unleashes a force that kills all of Job's family except his wife, kills his servants, and reduces his homes to dust. Ouch.
But guess what? Job remains loyal. He refuses to denounce God. Take that, Satan. God gets to back to bragging and Satan sets up another challenge. This time, God lets Satan give Job a nasty rash, boils, and blisters all over his body.
Now Job becomes a much less happy camper. After all, he was loyal to God, and look what happened. He doesn't renounce God, but he does insist that he deserves some kind of explanation—wouldn't you want one? His buddies Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have an answer: it's his fault. Hmmm.
Job isn't quite satisfied with that explanation. Just in the nick of time, Elihu pops in to tell Job that he may not have sinned, but he still has no right to question his fate. After all, God's universe is still endowed with immortal power. Bottom line: suck it up.
After much fretting and many speeches, God finally shows up. Why? For a scolding. Where was Job on the day the universe was created? Where was Job when God was designing the architecture of the seas and the continents? Where was Job when God invented Arrested Development?
Needless to say, Job feels a little humbled and acknowledges that, as a mere mortal, he can't possibly understand everything in an immortally ruled universe. Taking Elihu's advice, Job goes back to his day job, and eventually God gives him double what he had at the outset. Job lives to a ripe old age, and both God and Satan fade into the shadows.
The Book of Job (; Hebrew: אִיוֹב Iyov) is a book in the Ketuvim ("Writings") section of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and the first poetic book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Addressing the problem of theodicy – the vindication of the justice of God in the light of humanity's suffering – it is a rich theological work setting out a variety of perspectives. It has been widely and often extravagantly praised for its literary qualities, with Alfred, Lord Tennyson calling it "the greatest poem of ancient and modern times".
The Book of Job consists of a prose prologue and epilogue narrative framing poetic dialogues and monologues. It is common to view the narrative frame as the original core of the book, enlarged later by the poetic dialogues and discourses, and sections of the book such as the Elihu speeches and the wisdom poem of chapter 28 as late insertions, but recent trends have tended to concentrate on the book's underlying editorial unity.
1. Prologue in two scenes, the first on earth, the second in heaven (Job 1–2)
2. Job's opening monologue (Job 3 – seen by some scholars as a bridge between the prologue and the dialogues and by others as the beginning of the dialogues), and three cycles of dialogues between Job and his three friends (Job chapters – the third cycle is not complete, the expected speech of Zophar being replaced by the wisdom poem of chapter 28)
- Eliphaz (Job 4–5) and Job's response (Job 6–7)
- Bildad (8) and Job (Job 9–10)
- Zophar (11) and Job (Job 12–14)
- Eliphaz (15) and Job (Job 16–17)
- Bildad (18) and Job (Job 19)
- Zophar (20) and Job (Job 21)
- Eliphaz (22) and Job (Job 23–24)
- Bildad (25) and Job (Job 26–27)
3. Three monologues:
- A Poem to Wisdom (chapter 28, previously read as part of the speech of Job, now regarded by most scholars as a separate interlude in the narrator's voice)
- Job's closing monologue (chapters 29–31)
- and Elihu's speeches (chapters 32–37)
4. Two speeches by God (chapters 38:1–40:2 and 40:6–41:34, 42:7–8), with Job's responses
5. Epilogue – Job's restoration (chapters 42:9–17).
Prologue on earth and in heaven
The prologue on earth shows the righteous Job blessed with wealth and sons and daughters. The scene shifts to heaven, where God asks Satan (ha-satan, literally "the accuser") for his opinion of Job's piety. Satan answers that Job is pious only because God has blessed him; if God were to take away everything that Job had, then he would surely curse God. God gives Satan permission to take Job's wealth and kill all of his children and servants, but Job nonetheless praises God: "Naked I came out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." God allows Satan to afflict his body with boils. Job sits in ashes, and his wife prompts him to "curse God, and die," but Job answers: "Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?"
Job's opening monologue and dialogues between Job and his three friends
Job laments the day of his birth; he would like to die, but even that is denied to him. His three friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, console him. The friends do not waver in their belief that Job's suffering is a punishment for sin, for God causes no one to suffer innocently, and they advise him to repent and seek God's mercy. Job responds with scorn: a just God would not treat him so harshly, patience in suffering is impossible, and the Creator should not take his creatures so lightly, to come against them with such force.
Three monologues: Poem to Wisdom, Job's closing monologue, and Elihu's speeches
The dialogues of Job and his friends are followed by a poem (the "hymn to wisdom") on the inaccessibility of wisdom: "Where is wisdom to be found?" it asks, and concludes that it has been hidden from man (chapter 28). Job contrasts his previous fortune with his present plight, an outcast, mocked and in pain. He protests his innocence, lists the principles he has lived by, and demands that God answer him.Elihu (a character not previously mentioned) intervenes to state that wisdom comes from God, who reveals it through dreams and visions to those who will then declare their knowledge.
Two speeches by God
God speaks from a whirlwind. His speeches neither explain Job's suffering, nor defend divine justice, nor enter into the courtroom confrontation that Job has demanded, nor respond to his oath of innocence. Instead they contrast Job's weakness with divine wisdom and omnipotence: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Job makes a brief response, but God's monologue resumes, never addressing Job directly. In 42:1–6 Job makes his final response, confessing God's power and his own lack of knowledge "of things beyond me which I did not know". Previously he has only heard, but now his eyes have seen God, and "therefore I retract/ And repent in dust and ashes."
God tells Eliphaz that he and his three friends "have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has done". The three (Elihu, the fourth friend introduced in chapter 32 is not mentioned here) are told to make a burnt offering with Job as their intercessor, "for only to him will I show favour". Job is restored to health, riches and family, and lives to see his children to the fourth generation.
Authorship, language, texts
Rabbinic tradition ascribes the authorship of Job to Moses, but scholars generally agree that it was written between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE, with the 6th century BCE as the most likely period for various reasons. The anonymous author was almost certainly an Israelite, although he has set his story outside Israel, in southern Edom or northern Arabia, and makes allusion to places as far apart as Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to the 6th-century BCE prophet Ezekiel, Job was a man of antiquity renowned for his righteousness, and the book's author has chosen this legendary hero for his parable.
The language of Job stands out for its conservative spelling and for its exceptionally large number of words and forms not found elsewhere in the Bible. The 12th century Jewish scholar Ibn Ezra concluded that the book must have been written in some other language and translated into Hebrew, and many later scholars down to the 20th century looked for an Aramaic, Arabic or Edomite original, but a close analysis suggests that the foreign words and foreign-looking forms are literary affectations designed to lend authenticity to the book's distant setting.
Job exists in a number of forms: the Hebrew Masoretic Text, which underlies many modern Bible translations; the Greek Septuagint made in Egypt in the last centuries BCE; and Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Job and the wisdom tradition
Job, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Proverbs belong to the genre of wisdom literature, sharing a perspective that they themselves call the "way of wisdom". Wisdom means both a way of thinking and a body of knowledge gained through such thinking, as well as the ability to apply it to life. It is attainable in part through human effort and in part as a gift from God, but never in its entirety – except by God. The three books share attitudes and assumptions but differ in their conclusions: Proverbs makes confident statements about the world and its workings that are flatly contradicted by Job and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom literature from Sumeria and Babylonia can be dated to the second millennium BCE. Several texts from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt offer parallels to Job, and while it is impossible to tell whether the author of Job was influenced by any of them, their existence suggests that he was the recipient of a long tradition of reflection on the existence of inexplicable suffering.
Job is an investigation of the problem of divine justice. This problem, known in theology as theodicy, can be rephrased as a question: "Why do the righteous suffer?" The conventional answer in ancient Israel was that God rewards virtue and punishes sin (the principle known as "retributive justice"). This assumes a world in which human choices and actions are morally significant, but experience demonstrates that suffering is frequently unmerited.
The biblical concept of righteousness was rooted in the covenant-making God who had ordered creation for communal well-being, and the righteous were those who invested in the community, showing special concern for the poor and needy (see Job's description of his life in chapter 31). Their antithesis were the wicked, who were selfish and greedy. Satan raises the question of whether there is such a thing as disinterested righteousness: if God rewards righteousness with prosperity, will men not act righteously from selfish motives? He asks God to test this by removing the prosperity of Job, the most righteous of all God's servants.
The book begins with the frame narrative, giving the reader an omniscient "God's eye perspective" which introduces Job as a man of exemplary faith and piety, "blameless and upright", who "fears God" and "shuns evil". God is seen initiating the discussion with Satan and approving Job's suffering, a device which serves three purposes: the usual explanations for suffering, that the sufferer has committed some sin of which he is unaware or that God's actions are inscrutable, are eliminated; it makes clear that it is not Job who is on trial, but God's policy of retribution; and the reader sees that God himself bears responsibility for Job's suffering. The contrast between the frame and the poetic dialogues and monologues, in which Job never learns of the opening scenes in heaven or of the reason for his suffering, creates a sense of contradictory juxtaposition between the divine and human views of Job's suffering.
In the poetic dialogues Job's friends see his suffering and assume he must be guilty, since God is just. Job, knowing he is innocent, concludes that God must be unjust. He retains his piety throughout the story (belying Satan's suspicion that his righteousness is due to the expectation of reward), but makes clear from his first speech that he agrees with his friends that God should and does reward righteousness. Elihu rejects the arguments of both parties: Job is wrong to accuse God of injustice, as God is greater than human beings, and nor are the friends correct; for suffering, far from being a punishment, may "rescue the afflicted from their affliction" and make them more amenable to revelation – literally, "open their ears" (36:15).
Chapter 28, the Hymn to Wisdom, introduces another theme, divine wisdom. The hymn does not place any emphasis on retributive justice, stressing instead the inaccessibility of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be invented or purchased, it says; God alone knows the meaning of the world, and he grants it only to those who live in reverence before him. God possesses wisdom because he grasps the complexities of the world (Job 28:24–26) – a theme which looks forward to God's speech in chapters 38–41 with its repeated refrain "Where were you when...?"
When God finally speaks he neither explains the reason for Job's suffering (revealed to the reader in the prologue in heaven) nor defends his justice. The first speech focuses on his role in maintaining order in the universe: the list of things that God does and Job cannot do demonstrates divine wisdom because order is the heart of wisdom. Job then confesses his lack of wisdom, meaning his lack of understanding of the workings of the cosmos and of the ability to maintain it. The second speech concerns God's role in controlling behemoth and leviathan, sometimes translated as the hippopotamus and crocodile, but more probably representing primeval cosmic creatures, in either case demonstrating God's wisdom and power. Job's reply to God's final speech is longer than his first and more complicated. The usual view is that he admits to being wrong to challenge God and now repents "in dust and ashes" (42:6), but the Hebrew is difficult, and an alternative understanding is that Job says he was wrong to repent and mourn and does not retract any of his arguments. In the concluding part of the frame narrative God restores and increases his prosperity, indicating that the divine policy on retributive justice remains unchanged.
Later interpretation and influence
History of interpretation
In the Second Temple period (500 BCE – 70 CE) Job began being transformed into something more patient and steadfast, with his suffering a test of virtue and a vindication of righteousness for the glory of God. The process of "sanctifying" Job began with the Greek Septuagint translation (c. 200 BCE) and was furthered in the Testament of Job (1st century BCE – 1st century CE), which makes him the hero of patience. This reading pays little attention to the Job of the dialogue sections of the book, but it was the tradition taken up by the Epistle of James in the New Testament, which presents Job as one whose patience and endurance should be emulated by believers (James 5:7–11).
Jewish interpretation of Job was initially positive. He was seen as a righteous Gentile who acknowledged God. Very early, however, Christianity began interpreting Job 19:23–29 (verses concerning a "redeemer" whom Job hopes can save him from God) as a prophecy of Christ, although the major view among scholars is that Job's "redeemer" is either an angelic being or God himself. With Job viewed by Christians as a witness to the coming Christ, the predominant Jewish view became "Job the blasphemer", with some rabbis even saying that he was rightly punished by God because he had stood by while Pharaoh massacred the innocent Jewish infants.
Saint Augustine recorded that Job had prophesied the coming of Christ, and Gregory the Great offered him as a model of right living worthy of respect. The medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides declared his story a parable, and the medieval Christian Thomas Aquinas wrote a detailed commentary declaring it true history. In the Reformation Martin Luther explained how Job's confession of sinfulness and worthlessness underlay his saintliness, and John Calvin's Job demonstrated the doctrine of the resurrection and the ultimate certainty of divine justice.
The contemporary movement known as creation theology, an ecological theology valuing the needs of all creation, interprets God's speeches in Job 38–41 to imply that his interests and actions are not exclusively focused on humankind.
Jewish liturgy does not use readings from the Book of Job in the manner of the Pentateuch, Prophets, or Five Megillot, although it is quoted at funerals and times of mourning. However, there are some Jews, particularly the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who do hold public readings of Job on the Tisha B'Av fast (a day of mourning over the destruction of the First and SecondTemples and other tragedies). The cantillation signs for the large poetic section in the middle of the Book of Job differ from those of most of the biblical books, using a system shared with it only by Psalms and Proverbs.
The Eastern Orthodox Church reads from Job and Exodus during Holy Week. Exodus prepares for the understanding of Christ's exodus to his Father, of his fulfillment of the whole history of salvation; Job, the sufferer, is the Old Testament icon of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church reads from Job during Matins in the first two weeks of September and in the Office of the Dead, and in the revised Liturgy of the Hours Job is read during the Eighth and Ninth Weeks in Ordinary Time.
In music, art, literature, and film
The Book of Job has been deeply influential in Western culture, to such an extent that no list could be more than representative. Musical settings from Job include Orlande de Lassus's 1565 cycle of motets, the Sacrae Lectiones Novem ex Propheta Job, and George Frideric Handel's use of Job 19:25 ("I know that my redeemer liveth") as an aria in his 1741 oratorio Messiah. Modern works based on the book include Ralph Vaughan Williams's Job: A Masque for Dancing, French composer Darius Milhaud's Cantata From Job, and Joseph Stein's Broadway interpretation The Fiddler on the Roof, based on an earlier Yiddish memoir by Sholem Alchem in 1894. Neil Simon wrote God's Favorite which is a modern retelling of the Book of Job. Breughel and Georges de la Tour depicted Job visited by his wife, and William Blake produced an entire cycle of illustrations for the book. Writers Job has inspired or influenced include[original research?]John Milton (Samson Agonistes), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov), Franz Kafka (The Trial), Carl Jung (Answer to Job), Joseph Roth (Job), and Bernard Malamud. Archibald MacLeish's drama, JB, one of the most prominent uses of the Book of Job in modern literature, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1959. Job's influence can also be seen in the Coen brothers' 2009 film, A Serious Man, which was nominated for two Academy Awards. Terrence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, which won the Palme d'Or, is heavily influenced by the themes of the Book of Job, as the film starts with a quote from the beginning of God's speech to Job. A 2014 Malayalam film called "Iyobinte Pusthakam" tells the story of a man who is losing everything in his life and also has parallels with Dostoevsky's (The Brothers Karamazov). The Russian film Leviathan also draws themes from the Book of Job. The 2015 critically acclaimed novel, The Suffering of Innocents, by Marc Zirogiannis is loosely based on the Book of Job and asks the question, "Why Do the Righteous Suffer?". In 2015 two Ukrainian composers Roman Grygoriv and Illia Razumeiko created opera-requiem IYOV. The premiere of the opera was held on 21 September 2015 on the main stage of the international multidisciplinary festival Gogolfest
In Islam and Middle Eastern folk tradition
Job (Arabic Ayyub ايوب) is one of the 25 prophets mentioned by name in the Quran, where he is lauded as a steadfast and upright worshiper (Q.38:44). His story has the same basic outline as in the Bible, although the three friends are replaced by his brothers, and his wife stays by his side. In Palestinian folklore Job's place of trial is Al-Joura, a village outside the town of Al Majdal (Ashkelon). It was there that God rewarded him with a Fountain of Youth that removed whatever illnesses he had and restored his youth. Al-Joura was a place of annual festivities (four days in all) when people of many faiths gathered and bathed in a natural spring. In Lebanon the Muwahideen (or Druze) community have a shrine built in the Shouf area that allegedly contains Job's tomb. In Turkey, Job is known as Eyüp, and he is supposed to have lived in Şanlıurfa. There is also a tomb of Job outside the city of Salalah in Oman.
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- Brueggemann, Walter (2002). Reverberations of faith: a theological handbook of Old Testament themes. Westminster John Knox. ISBN 9780664222314.
- Bullock, C. Hassell (2007). An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Moody Publishers. ISBN 9781575674506.
- Dell, Katharine J. (2003). "Job". In Dunn, James D. G.; Rogerson, John William. Eerdmans Bible Commentary. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802837110.
- Dell, Katherine J. (1991). The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9780899257051.
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- Fiddes, Paul (1996). "'
The pre-incarnate Christ speaks to Job