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Book of Job


General Information

The Book of Job, in the Old Testament of the Bible, is a complex wisdom writing that uses a blend of prose and poetry in dramatic form to explore the perennial problem of innocent suffering and God's justice. The principal figure of the book is Job, a pious Jew afflicted with disease and stripped of all his goods. The free and imaginative transformations of the Job figure are literarily and intellectually comparable to Shakespeare's treatment of Hamlet and Goethe's use of Faust. The identity of the author, usually dated 600 - 400 BC, is completely unknown.

Throughout the drama, Job asserts his innocence of wrong, thereby rejecting the traditional view that suffering is the result of sin. The humble and patient Job who bears his sufferings as proofs of piety, however, becomes the raging and insistent Job pressing relentlessly for divine vindication in the dialogue that forms the main part of the book (chaps. 3 - 31). The argument is pursued through three cycles of speeches in which Job's three friends - Eliphaz, Bilbad, and Zophar - chide the hero and he, in answering them, challenges God. Job's final self defense and call upon the deity is answered by God's speech from a whirlwind in which Job is invited to trust in the divine omniscience and power.

This direct experience of the mysteries of God leaves Job at peace with himself. Although no final solution to the problem is offered, the author clearly rejects traditional explanations of suffering. It is a moot point whether he offers a positive answer to questions about suffering and divine justice.

The unity of the book is debated. Many interpreters assign the prologue and epilogue to an earlier or later hand, and it is widely assumed that the poem on wisdom (chap. 28) and the speeches (chaps. 32 - 37) of a fourth friend (Elihu) inserted after the dialogues were added later, because they interrupt the flow of the argument.

Norman K Gottwald

R Gordis, The Book of God and Man (1965); L D Johnson, Out of the Whirlwind: The Major Message of Job (1971); H Morris, Remarkable Record of Job (1988).

Book of Job

Brief Outline

  1. Prologue (1-2)
  2. Job's complaint (3)
  3. Debates between Job and three friends (4-31)
  4. Speech of Elihu (32-37)
  5. Voice of God (38-41)
  6. Job's submission and restoration (42)


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