The book of Job (Heb. ʾiyyôb) takes its name from its main character, a pious and wealthy man whose sudden misfortunes lead him to question common ancient Near Eastern theological assumptions. The name “Job” likely derives from a Semitic name widely attested in the second millennium B.C.E., ʾayyābu, itself a contraction of ʾayy-ʾabu, meaning “Where is the father?” In biblical Hebrew the name “Job” evokes the verb ʾāyab, “to be an enemy” or “to persecute,” and ancient readers may have understood the form as a passive participle, meaning “the persecuted one.” Such interpretations may be found in Talmudic literature (b. B. Bat. 16a; Nid. 52a) and perhaps within the book of Job itself (cf. 13:24).

Various canonical locations have been assigned to the book of Job. In the Jewish canon, Job appears with the Ketuvim, or Writings. Though the order of books within the Ketuvim was in flux until the early modern era, in most modern Jewish Bibles Job comes last among the three poetic books, after Psalms and Proverbs, and before the five books of the Megilloth, which usually begin with the Song of Songs. The Septuagint and derivative Christian canons also varied widely well into late antiquity, when the book of Job (Gk: Iōb; Lat: Iob) finally solidified its position as the pivot between the historical books and the poetical-wisdom books. Thus, in most printed Christian Bibles, Job appears after Esther and before Psalms. In the Syriac Peshitta, however, the book of Job follows Deuteronomy, likely signaling a belief in Mosaic authorship or the attempt to place Job in the period of the ancestors (see further below).

Though the second-century B.C.E. Old Greek version of Job is one-sixth shorter than the Hebrew version, it likely preserves an abridged translation of the earlier Hebrew text. Origen, a third century C.E. Christian scholar, compensated for the abridgements by adding sections of kaige-Theodotion, a first century C.E. Greek translation of the Hebrew. Today, printed versions of the Septuagint include the kaige-Theodotion materials added by Origen, sometimes marking them with an asterisk.

Authorship, Date, and Context.

To ancients as well as moderns, the book of Job presents something of an enigma. Though the prose tale locates the story in Uz, outside the land of Israel (1:1), the characters seem to be vaguely Yahwistic (cf. 1:6; 12:9; 38:1; 42:7–9). References to nonpriestly sacrifice (1:5; 42:8), archaic currency (qĕśîṭâ, 42:11; cf. Gen 33:19) and Job's unusually long life span (42:17) give the story an ancient flavor. Some modern scholars date the book to the eleventh or tenth century B.C.E. in light of this setting and the book's unusual, seemingly archaic diction (Robertson 1972, p. 155). Yet possible historical referents and numerous inner-biblical resonances lead the majority of biblical scholars to date the book between the sixth and the fourth centuries B.C.E. The book's archaism is, in other words, a literary effect. Noting generic and theological differences between its prose and poetic sections, some interpreters argue that the book is a composite text spanning several contexts of production (see below).

Like modern scholarship, the Babylonian Talmud suggests abundant possible authors and historical contexts of production: some rabbis say Job lived during the period of the Judges, others say Job came up from exile, and still others claim that Job lived during the time of Esther (b. B. Bat. 14b–15b). As the book's opening words echo the openings of other parables (e.g., 2 Sam 12:1), the Talmud records an opinion that Job is an extended parable. One particularly influential Talmudic account, perhaps relying on the apparently ancient setting of the book, identifies Moses as the book's author. This idea may even predate the common era: at Qumran, Job is the only non-Pentateuchal text written in archaic paleo-Hebrew script (4QpaleoJobc), likely signifying its assumed Mosaic authorship. The Jewish work The Testament of Job (ca. first-century B.C.E.) conflates Job with the Edomite king Jobab of Genesis 36:33, as do additions to the Septuagint (LXX Job 42:17) and the vast majority of early Christian interpreters; this identification further suggests Mosaic authorship. Many modern scholars agree that the figure of Job, if not the book, may be traced back well before the exile. Finally, Ezekiel associates Job with Noah and Daniel, other heroes of the remote past (Ezek 14:14, 20), which many scholars consider evidence for a different story of Job that may predate the canonical version.

Some scholars use linguistic data to date the biblical text. Job's orthography is unusually conservative, leading Freedman to suggest a seventh-century B.C.E. date and a Northern Israelite provenance. Others regard this orthographic conservatism as “archaistic” not “archaic,” that is, intended to seem ancient and foreign (Seow 2011). With regard to diction, the book of Job is unique in the biblical canon. Some one hundred and forty five words within the book of Job are not found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and even more words derive from archaic Hebrew, Aramaic, Transjordanian dialects, and ancient Arabic. As a result some scholars follow medieval Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra's suggestion that the Hebrew book is a translation of an older, non-Hebraic source (Tur-Sinai 1967, pp. xxx–xl). In contrast, Greenstein (2003) argues convincingly that the language is not a true dialect; rather, its linguistic oddities deliberately create a variety of poetic effects, including a general sense of foreignness. Hurvitz (1974) argues that the prose framework of the book of Job (1–2; 42:7–17) reflects elements of late biblical Hebrew and should be dated to the late sixth or early fifth century B.C.E., though his argument has been challenged by Young (2009).

Perhaps the most helpful tools for dating the book are its textual witnesses and intertextual resonances. The earliest extant manuscript of Job, 4QpaleoJobc from Qumran, dates from circa 200 B.C.E. This evidence provides the latest possible date of composition. A more tenuous but still helpful set of evidence derives from parallels between Job and Second Isaiah (e.g. Job 9:8A // Isa 44:24C; Job 12:9B // Isa 41:20A), as well as Lamentations (e.g. Job 19:7–8 // Lam 3:7–9; Job 30:9 // Lam 3:14), Jeremiah (e.g. Job 3:3, 10–11 // Jer 20:14–18; Job 21:7–13 // Jer 12:1–2), and Psalms (e.g. Job 7:17–18 // Ps 8:4–6; Job 12:14B, 24A // Ps 107:40). While the direction of influence cannot be established with any certainty, the close relationship between Job and several exilic or early postexilic texts makes plausible a similar date. Despite the parallels between Job and Second Isaiah, the lack of resonances with Third Isaiah (Isa 56–66) may suggest that Job antedates Third Isaiah's mid-fifth century B.C.E. context. Other data support a late sixth- to early fifth-century B.C.E. date, including a possible allusion to the lead-inlaid Persian Bisitun inscription (19:24), and the presence of Chaldean soldiers and Sabean pillagers in southern Transjordan (1:15–17), which may have resulted from the extended presence of Nabonidus in Tema (Seow).

Literary History.

The book of Job belongs to a broader ancient Near Eastern literary tradition of exemplary sufferers. Numerous texts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Ugarit reflect at length upon the problems of evil, illness, and divine displeasure, although their degree of relevance has been a topic of much debate. It is, however, beyond doubt that Job's excessive afflictions and resulting complaints find parallels in other texts. For example, Job suffers many maladies also recounted in the late second millennium B.C.E. Akkadian text, “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer” (Hallo 1997, pp. 486–492; cf. Job 16:12–16). But cognate texts thought to parallel the book of Job are often more similar to pious lament psalms than the disputatious wisdom dialogues found in Job. The “Righteous Sufferer” may complain about afflictions he finds unwarranted, but his conclusion—namely, that the divine Marduk is simply inscrutable, and wounds as well as heals—sounds much more like Job's friends than Job. In form and content, the text that most closely resembles the Joban dialogues is “The Babylonian Theodicy” (Hallo, pp. 492–495). It, too, is a dialogue, though between a sufferer and only one friend. Like the book of Job, the sufferer questions the moral order of the cosmos and insists on his own righteousness, while the friend defends the gods, claiming that their transcendence renders moot any possible human critique. And, like the book of Job, the dispute remains unresolved at the end, though the sufferer does begrudgingly ask the gods for aid.

Despite these important resemblances, no comparable text has been found that approaches the Joban dialogue in complexity and length, or that includes an extended response from the deity. Those responsible for the final form of the book of Job seem to have combined and transformed preexisting genres and traditions including folkloric prose tales, disputatious poetic dialogues, catalogues, and pious prayers of lament that at times received divine responses, such as salvation oracles. The result is a work all its own that presents particular difficulties and requires especially agile readers.

The book of Job is not only notoriously difficult to date, it also evinces a complicated literary history. Even though the earliest textual witnesses from Qumran attest to the structure and contents manifest in the Masoretic Text, since the early modern period scholars have argued that the prose prologue and epilogue (1:1–2:13; 42:7–17) stand in stark relief to the poetic section (3:1—42:6) in both form and content. As a result, many scholars conclude that the prose and poetry sections emerge from different authors who wrote at different times. At present, the consensus among modern critical scholarship holds that the Joban poet took a preexisting, traditional tale about a pious individual named Job and made it the prose framework for a new poetic dialogue. The alternate claim, that the prose frame was added to the preexisting dialogue, has won few adherents. Attempts to divide the book according to prose and poetry are complicated in several ways. Most important, the poetic section as well as the prose framework seems to exhibit internal differences that may be evidence of redactional activity. These incongruities have led, on the one hand, to ever more baroque theories of composition and redaction and, on the other, to increasing frustrations with the confidences and limitations of historical (especially redaction) criticism. As a result, many recent interpreters, such as Habel (1985) and Newsom (1996; 2003), have read the book as a literary whole in ways that nevertheless take account of its internal differences in style and substance.

Since textual criticism of Job offers little evidence of textual development, scholars attempting to reconstruct the stages of the book's construction rely upon literary arguments. Often, these critics begin by isolating its distinct genres, especially the prose tale and the poetic dialogue, and odd patterns or particularities. For instance, the divine name Yahweh occurs often in the prologue and epilogue, but is eclipsed by the use of El, Eloah, and Shaddai in chapters 3–37, which may signal a different author. Also, Job's character seems to vacillate from the prose to the poetry; Job the quiet sufferer in chapters 1–2 suddenly transforms into a rebellious skeptic in chapters 3–31, only to return to his former state of resigned acceptance in chapter 42. Such a radical transformation, some critics argue, strains credulity and signals the existence of originally independent works. Moreover, some have wondered whether the LORD's declarations that Job has “spoken of me what is right” could actually refer to Job's quite unorthodox rhetoric (cf. 9:22–24), and have been more comfortable imagining that the statement only sanctions Job's pious statements in the prologue (1:21). Yet other scholars have questioned this simple bifurcation of prose and poetry: most important in this regard is that neither the prose nor the poetry sections stand easily on their own. The epilogue, for instance, requires a lengthy conversation between the friends that does not occur in the extant prose sections (cf. 42:7–9). The prose section itself seems incongruous since the epilogue (42:7–17) fails to mention the satan, the divine council, or the status of the wager, all of which drive the narrative of the prologue. Perhaps, then, the prologue and epilogue were not originally parts of a single prose tale composed independently of the poetry or, on the other hand, perhaps they have always been parts of the same story along with the poetry.

Similar problems plague attempts to isolate the poetic dialogue. Not only is the dialogue predicated on the events recounted in the prologue, it, like the prose tale, is not internally coherent. The sequence of speeches that is so strictly observed for two cycles (4–21) breaks down in the third (22–27), where Bildad's speech is oddly truncated, Zophar's is nonexistent, and Job's statements sound uncharacteristically like his friends. While some rearrange the final cycle (e.g., Clines 2006), attributing portions of chapters 24 and 27 (usually 24:18–25 and 27:12–23) to the friends, all textual witnesses attest to the present location of these supposedly dislocated texts. Furthermore, the poem in chapter 28 interrupts the dialogue with its meditation on the location and (in)accessibility of wisdom. While nothing in the text marks Job 28 as separate from the dialogue, it differs in style, tone, and perspective from the speeches, and neither engages with them nor elicits their response. In terms of genre, it shares much in common with other speculative wisdom poems such as Proverbs 8, Sirach 1 and 24, and Baruch 3:9—4:4. In light of the poem's distinctiveness from its surroundings, it is no surprise that many have deemed it secondary to the book. However, in light of the other parts of this book that are no less different than their surroundings, as well as the relevance of this chapter's content to the larger questions that the book explores, the burden of proof seems ultimately unborne by those who deem chapter 28 secondary.

The strongest case for textual interpolation can be made regarding Elihu's speeches in Job 32–37. Job's lengthy speech in chapters 29–31 concludes with the formula, “The words of Job are ended,” while Job 38 begins, “The LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind.” One may expect God's response to follow Job's climactic final speech, and yet between these two verses span six chapters consisting of a single, self-contained block of speeches. Moreover, this unexpected interlocutor is the only character with an Israelite name, Elihu, and is neither mentioned nor responded to anywhere outside of his speeches. God explicitly addresses Eliphaz and the other two friends in the epilogue, but either ignores or is ignorant of Elihu. A brief prose introduction in 32:1–5 justifies the addition of these speeches, but it seems more like an apology than a justification.

Unlike Job and the other friends, Elihu often quotes the others and engages the precise diction of their arguments (cf. 33:8; 33:11 // 13:27; 33:15 // 4:13). Although it would be difficult to prove or disprove, one may conjecture that this difference indexes a contextual or historical shift in more general practices of reading and writing. Reading, studying, and interpreting written texts became increasingly possible and popular over the course of the Second Temple period, and it may be that Elihu's concern with responding to the letter of the others’ speeches reflects this general trend. Elihu's reference to his youth vis-à-vis the friends in his justification for his silence may therefore reflect more than mere age difference (cf. Zuckerman 1991, pp. 148, 153).

Some scholars offer evidence for dating Elihu's discourse to the Hellenistic period (ca. 330 B.C.E. – 70 B.C.E.). Elihu's theology, while similar to the friends, can seem less tolerant and more sophisticated than theirs. Within the trajectory of sapiential thought from Proverbs 1–9 (ca. 450 B.C.E.) to Sirach (ca. 180 B.C.E.), Elihu's strongly theocentric, almost philosophical wisdom (cf. 32:8) resonates with the latter, whereas the friends seem closer to Proverbs. Several scholars argue for a third century B.C.E. date given various intellectual currents Elihu shares with other Jewish literature from the Hellenistic period (cf. Wahl 1993, pp. 182–187; Mende 1990, pp. 419–427).

While Elihu's discourse might be secondary, it is, like chapter 28, neither redundant nor irrelevant to its larger literary context. Elihu brings a new voice to this dialogue that seems to many to have degenerated significantly by its final cycle. Elihu also shares certain commonalities with other parts of the book, especially God's speeches (cf. 35:16 and 38:2). In particular, Elihu's closing words concerning inanimate creation (cf. 36:22—37:24) echo both the wisdom poem (28) and the divine speeches (38:1–38).

In the end, determining the literary history of Job proves elusive, and all the more so for any supposed stages of its composition. Beyond doubt, however, is this: the individual(s) who wrote the book of Job was deeply steeped in the forms and traditions of ancient Israel, even while benefiting from a broadly cosmopolitan education. Moreover, the book's shadowy compositional past has done little to dissuade most readers from their search for the book's meaning and significance.


I. Job 1–2: The Prologue

II. Job 3–27: The Dialogue

a. Job 3: Job's Opening Lament

Job 4–5: Eliphaz's First Speech

b. Job 6–7: Job's Second Speech

Job 8: Bildad's First Speech

c. Job 9–10: Job's Third Speech

Job 11: Zophar's First Speech

d. Job 12–14: Job's Fourth Speech

Job 15: Eliphaz's Second Speech

e. Job 16–17: Job's Fifth Speech

Job 18: Bildad's Second Speech

f. Job 19: Job's Sixth Speech

Job 20: Zophar's Second Speech

g. Job 21: Job's Seventh Speech

Job 22: Eliphaz's Third Speech

h. Job 23–24: Job's Eighth Speech

Job 25: Bildad's Third Speech

i. Job 26–27: Job's Ninth Speech

III. Job 28: The Wisdom Poem

IV. Job 29:1–42:6: Three Extended Discourses

a. Job 29–31: Job's Closing Disquisition

b. Job 32–37: Elihu's Speeches

c. Job 38:1–40:2: God's Speech from the Whirlwind (I)

Job 40:3–5: Job's First Response to God

Job 40:6—41:34: God's Speech from the Whirlwind (II)

Job 42:1–6: Job's Second Response to God

V. Job 42:7–17: The Epilogue

Structure and Contents.

The book of Job begins and ends with a didactic prose prologue and epilogue (1:1—2:13; 42:7–17). Between them are five distinct poetic discourses. First, Job and his friends hold three rounds of arguments, or wisdom dialogues (3–27). Second, a hymn celebrates wisdom (28). Third, Job utters a lament followed by an oath of his innocence (29–31). Fourth, Elihu offers a lengthy rebuttal to both Job and the friends (32–37). Fifth, the LORD gives two speeches to which Job offers brief responses.

The Prologue.

The formal structure of the prologue resembles the cinematic technique of “cross-cutting,” in which a sequence alternates between two simultaneous events. While the events occur at two different locations, the cross-cutting establishes their intrinsic connection. In this way, the prologue alternates between scenes on earth (1:1–5, 13–22; 2:7–10) and in heaven (1:6–12; 2:1–6). The final verses (2:11–13) introduce the friends with whom Job will dispute over the course of the dialogue.

The book begins on earth by introducing the hero, Job, with a fourfold description of ethical and religious piety unmatched in the Hebrew Bible (1:1). Job is not only ethically perfect; he is the patriarch of a large family and steward of enormous wealth. According to the narrator, Job “was the greatest of all the people of the east,” an area renowned for its wisdom (1:3B). The prologue illustrates Job's legendary piety with only one act: he regularly sacrifices for the potential sins of his children (1:5). Though the narrator simply juxtaposes Job's piety and his wealth, the possible implication that the one may condition the other hangs in the air.

After introducing Job, the story shifts focus to the divine council, with the LORD as the chief God. The narrator introduces the divine council as the “heavenly beings,” and includes with them a character called “the satan” (Heb. ha–śāṭān). This śāṭān (lit. “the adversary” or “the accuser”) is a particular role held by a divine figure in the court of the chief God (cf. Zech 3:1) to whom he is subordinate and for whom he plays devil's advocate. This character does not yet represent Satan, the dualistic opponent of God who emerges in the Hellenistic period (cf. Mark 3:22–30; Rev 20:1–10). The LORD addresses the satan with a question that echoes the narrator's judgment of Job in 1:1, and may also be read as a provocation: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns from evil?” (1:8). The LORD's question is open-ended; it is the satan's response in 1:9–11 that propels the narrative forward. The satan asks, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He then accuses God of compulsively protecting Job's entire life from any harm; if God were to allow Job to incur misfortune, he claims, Job would cease to act piously. In fact, the satan conjectures that Job would curse God, and thereby prove that his piety is inauthentic. Here, then, the story hooks readers by challenging the characterization of Job it has offered twice over the first eight verses. Could God as well as the narrator possibly be so mistaken? What actually is Job's motivation for his piety?

From this point on, the narrative recounts two rounds of afflictions—which include the destruction of all his possessions, the murder of his children, and the loss of his health—along with Job's nonverbal (1:20; 2:8) and verbal (1:21; 2:10) responses. In both instances, Job persists in his integrity. Job's wife notes this persistence, but suggests that Job's sufferings are so great that he should seek death.


Frontispiece of Job.

Illustration from the Nuremberg Bible (Biblia Sacra Germanaica), fifteenth century. Left: Job being scolded by his wife (2:9–10). Right background: Job's house and family destroyed by a hurricane (1:18–19). Right foreground: Job's livestock is stolen (1:13–15).


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To this exhortation, Job responds derisively and dismissively (2:9–10). Three of Job's friends then arrive to comfort him, but are so shocked by his appearance that they sit silently with him for a week (2:11–13).

The Wisdom Dialogue.

At the beginning of chapter 3, the book takes a drastic turn: it shifts into poetry and, minus the prosaic introductions (cf. especially 32:1–6), it does not return to prose until its final chapter. The week-long silence (2:13) is broken by an artful lament from Job that begins with him “cursing” the day of his birth (3:1, 3) and ends in utter turmoil (3:25–26). His lament implies that peace belongs to the dead alone. While Job's lament is not articulated as an appeal for a response, what follows is a wisdom dialogue in which each of the three friends speaks in succession and are in turn answered by Job. This form persists until it begins to break down in the third cycle without achieving any resolution. This is not unusual: other examples of ancient Near Eastern dialogues also present opposing points of view that end without a clear victory of one position or resolution of the dispute. The dialogues do not aim to prove that one side is correct, but to present opposing views in their most convincing form. The dialogue format lends itself well to discussions of the problem of theodicy, or the tension that exists between God's supposed justice and the manifestly unjust world. While the “dialogue” seems at times more like a juxtaposition of monologues, the form demands that readers try to grasp how the different points of view might relate.

Eliphaz is the first of Job's three interlocutors to respond, presumably because he is somehow the most honorable, and his speeches are longer and more eloquent than those of Bildad and Zophar. Although differences between their speeches are recognized and important (cf. Clines 1982; Newsom 2003, pp. 96–129), most agree that Eliphaz is exemplary and that he articulates the gist of the friends’ message(s) to Job.

Eliphaz's first speech offers Job a message of hope (cf. especially 5:17–26). First, he encourages Job to have confidence in his fear of God and his integrity, which previously gave his life meaning (4:6). He tells Job that no one is righteous before God (4:17) and that misery is the fate of all humanity (5:7). Job, he counsels, should not let his vexation regarding his situation consume him but should instead turn to and trust in God, whose ways cannot be anticipated or understood (5:8–16). He encourages Job to treat this situation, which exceeds understanding, as an opportunity for instruction (5:17).

In the second cycle the friends’ speeches have much in common (chs. 15, 18, 20). After brief comments aimed directly at Job (15:2–19; 18:2–4; 20:2–3), they devote the main portions of their speeches to developing the motif of the fate of the wicked, according to which the ultimate downfall of the wicked is assured regardless of their circumstances at any particular time. Any argument that God cannot be trusted because some particular case exists in which a wicked person has been found thriving or a righteous person suffering misses the point. Not only can God be trusted, God must be trusted insofar as God's ways exceed human capacities for understanding.

Eliphaz's third speech is much like his first, only now it evinces a bit of frustration and fatigue with Job's resistance throughout the dialogue. Most conspicuously, Eliphaz directly attacks Job with harsh and unanticipated accusations (22:6–9). Yet Eliphaz is finally concerned less with some particular offense(s) Job has committed and more with Job's stubborn refusal to acquiesce to the axiom that all humans are unrighteous before God (4:17; 15:14; 22:2). Even in his third speech Eliphaz's message remains essentially the same: Job should turn to God, confess his fallibility before his maker, and trust that good will come to him, that he will receive instruction, and that he will be restored (22:21–23).

Among the friends, Bildad speaks second. In his first speech he assures Job that it is only the wicked whose hope perishes (8:13). Furthermore, Bildad promises that Job can have hope since he can make supplication to God (8:5), who does not pervert justice (8:3). Bildad encourages Job to understand his plight through traditional theological teachings (8:8–15). He concludes with the assurance that “God will not reject a blameless person” but “will yet fill your mouth with laughter” (8:20–21). After his second speech's discourse on the fate of the wicked, Bildad's short third speech revolves around the fact that no one can be righteous before God (25:4), a virtual citation of Eliphaz in 4:17. Since this axiom does not appear until his third speech, Bildad seems slightly more reluctant to admit the universality of culpability that is so important to Eliphaz. Zophar, the third friend to speak, is the only one without a third speech. His first speech strongly emphasizes the transcendence of God and human limitations with respect to God. Again, the target is Job's supreme confidence in his righteousness (11:4), to which Zophar replies by wishing that God “would tell you the secrets of wisdom; for two sides belong to insight.… Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” (11:6A [lit.], 7). Job's claims to innocence (in, for example, chs. 9–10) are epistemologically impossible. Job should instead direct his heart to God and renounce any hidden iniquity he may harbor but be ignorant of (11:13–14). Zophar's speeches crisply articulate the fundamental tenet of the friends’ wisdom: although true wisdom is finally inaccessible for human beings, one can trust that God will dispense blessing and punishment along the lines of righteous versus wicked.

Although Job's speeches in the dialogue often have no clear addressee, they are often directed at God and the friends. Job sporadically criticizes the friends (cf. 6:14–30; 16:2–5; 17:10), at one point even predicting “wisdom will die with you” (12:2). On the whole, however, he is more concerned with articulating the nature and implications of his experiences. Job's initial lament (3:3–26) lacks an addressee altogether, but subsequently, especially in the first cycle, he asks God to look away from him (7:19; 14:6) and leave him alone (7:16, 19; 10:20). Job describes God's suffocating and obsessive presence in terms of incessant surveillance and inescapable stalking (7:12, 14, 17–19, 21B; 10:4–7, 14–17; 14:13). Beginning in the first cycle and continuing into the second, Job develops his desire for a law to which he and God could both be submitted. He tries to shift their relationship away from the tormenting face-to-face encounter, and toward some sort of common ground in reason or justice. Job beckons God to inform him of the charges against him (cf. 10:2), seeking some basis on which he and God could relate. Job even personifies this figure who would mediate between him and God as an arbiter, umpire, witness, or mediator in passages throughout the first two cycles (9:32–35; 13:18–23; 16:18–22; 19:23–27).

Job's speeches in the third cycle (chs. 23–24; 26; 27) pose particular problems for interpreters since Job sounds at times like the friends and the friends fall silent. In chapter 23, Job again concludes that his desire for a fair meeting with God (vv. 3–4) cannot be satisfied given God's nature (vv. 13–14). But then Job uses the fate of the wicked motif in chapter 24 to lament various injustices and in chapter 27 to express his desire that the wicked be apportioned a fate by God that sounds much like his own. Some interpreters rearrange the speeches so as to save Job from their apparent implication that he is wicked (Clines 2006). Others read the words as Job's, concluding that he must have either changed his mind and adopted the friends’ perspective, or begun speaking in a sarcastic tone. However, Job both speaks the words as if they are his own and presents them as though they refute the friends (cf. 24:25; 27:12). Newsom has tried to account for both these senses by attending to the dissonance they create (2003, pp. 161–168).

The Wisdom Poem.

After the dialogues, Job 28 offers a meditation on the location and (in)accessibility of wisdom. The poem divides into three distinct stanzas thanks to the parallel strophes in 28:12–14 and 28:20–22, in which the nearly repeated refrain in verses 12 and 20 is followed by the answers to the refrain's questions with respect to living beings (vv. 13 and 21) and mythic, cosmic beings (vv. 14 and 22). The first stanza (vv. 1–11) describes the hidden places of precious metals and the human quest to search them out. The second stanza (vv. 12–19) is marked by the first occurrence of the refrain, “But where shall wisdom be found?” which it answers, “Mortals do not know the way to it.” The third stanza (vv. 20–27) begins like the second, with the near repetition of the refrain. The parallel structures of stanzas two and three serve to highlight the difference, even opposition, between their contents. Whereas verses 15–19 in the second stanza follow the refrain with repeated insistences on the inability of even the most valuable human riches to measure up to wisdom, verses 23–27 assert, “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (v. 23). Crucial to the poem's interpretation is its concluding verse: “And [God] said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding’ ” (28:28).

Job's Final Defense.

In chapters 29–31, Job gives a final speech summing up his complaint. First, he recalls his idyllic life prior to the disastrous events of the prologue: God used to protect and guide Job (29:1–5), and consequently Job had a large family and fabulous wealth (29:4–6). In these halcyon days, Job enjoyed universal respect (29:7–11, 21–23) for his great acts of justice on behalf of the marginalized (29:12–17, 24–25). As a result, Job expected to live out his days in peace and prosperity (29:18–20). Job's speech then takes a dramatic turn as he contrasts his glorious past with his present situation of undeserved suffering. After detailing his extreme social dislocation (30:1–15) and his personal torment at the hands of God (30:16–20), Job addresses God directly, mourning God's silence (30:20) and cruelty (30:21–22). Job concludes that, in the end, God is out to kill him (30:23), and then laments the discrepancy between his past belief in a just, ordered world and his present experience of moral chaos (30:24–31). In chapter 31, Job underscores the tension between his past life and present circumstances by setting forth an extensive account of his righteousness. In the process, Job blends his lament with the language of the courtroom by repeating the ancient Near Eastern “oath of innocence” formula, “If I have done X, then let Y happen!” (Dick 1979, p. 42). Thus, Job's lament does not end with the typical appeal to the deity's mercy; instead, he calls once again upon forensic language to frame his dispute with God (cf. 9:2–24). Job gathers his oaths of innocence into five groups that cover the general field of ethics (Newsom 1996, p. 552), swearing to his sexual purity (31:1–12), attention to social justice (31:13–23), unswerving allegiance to the deity (31:24–28), upstanding social relations (31:29–34), and scrupulous land ethics (31:38–40). Verses 35–37 present Job's desire for a proper legal hearing. Having lived a righteous, ethical life, Job is angry at being treated like a sinner. Job offers to sign his name to his oath of innocence, and wishes that his legal adversary (ʾîš rîbî)—God—would offer the appropriate written indictment (31:35). In that event, Job would accept the divine document and proudly begin his defense (31:36–37). Job then rests his case, and the prose narrator informs readers that the friends also ceased their dialogue with Job (32:1).

Elihu's Speeches.

At this point, the narrator introduces a younger, heretofore unmentioned interlocutor named Elihu (32:1–2). Elihu launches into a lengthy poetic critique of Job and the friends out of his burning anger at Job's self-justification as well as the friends’ failure to offer convincing arguments on God's behalf (32:2–5). At first, Elihu justifies his intervention by claiming that his wisdom is of divine origin (32:8–12, 16–22); compare Joseph (Gen 41:16) and Daniel (Dan 2:27–30). In chapter 33, Elihu summarizes Job's complaints (33:8–11), isolating two arguments in particular: Job's innocence (33:9–11) and God's distance and silence (33:12–13; cf. 23:8–9). Elihu counters that God does communicate with humans who, being mere mortals, cannot easily understand divine speech (33:14). As Elihu argues, dreams (33:15–18) and illness (33:19–22) are modes of divine communication that at times turn people away from moral turpitude (33:17). Thus, suffering may be seen as a service rendered over and again (33:29) for the edification of those stricken (33:30). Furthermore, Elihu argues that angelic mediators are available to advocate on behalf of those who understand God's messages (33:23–28). Turning to the broader audience, Elihu exhorts the wise to judge Job's words carefully (34:2–9) in light of God's absolutely sovereignty (34:10–15), righteousness (34:16–20) and control of the moral order (34:21–30). Admitting that some pleas for divine aid go unanswered, Elihu assures readers that God has good reasons to ignore them (35:9–15). After revisiting his distinction between pedagogical suffering and the punishment of the wicked (36:1–21), Elihu offers a lengthy doxology (36:22—37:24) that anticipates the divine speeches. Citing the awesome display of nature, Elihu encourages Job to search for the divine message hidden within all things, including suffering (37:13, 23–24).

The Divine Speeches.

In Job 38 the LORD appears triumphantly in a whirlwind. God speaks about the cosmos and its wild inhabitants, all of which initially appear worlds apart from the book's previous concerns. God's speeches can be divided in half, though there are two ways of drawing the boundary line. On the one hand, there are two speeches. The first ends with Job's brief response at the beginning of chapter 40, and the second concludes with Job's second response at the beginning of chapter 42. Each speech is introduced with the same formula (38:1 // 40:6)—and each starts out with the same demands of Job (38:3 // 40:7). God begins both by speaking directly to Job, but then turns to aspects of creation that may at first appear to be mere vehicles for the message but subsequently, as they extend in elaborate detail, assume a more central role. The initial moment of direct address to Job is longer in the second speech than the first (38:2–3; 40:6–14), but the weight of both speeches shifts to those aspects of creation that are subsequently described. The sections following the initial direct addresses have two main subsections. The first speech divides thematically, focusing initially on inanimate creation in 38:4–38, and then on animate creation in 38:39—39:30. The second divides according to the two particular inhabitants of creation it describes: Behemoth in 40:15–24 and Leviathan in 41:1–34 (Heb. 40:25—41:26). The second way of dividing the speeches draws the line within the first speech, at the moment God shifts focus from inanimate creation to pairs of animate creatures. In 38:4–38 God speaks first about the basic elements of creation and their various manifestations; then, in 38:39—41:34, God describes six pairs of wild animals: the lion and the raven (38:39–41); the mountain goat and deer (39:1–4); the onager and ox (39:5–12); the ostrich and horse (39:13–25), the hawk and vulture (39:26–30), and, finally, the Behemoth and Leviathan (40:15—41:34 [Heb. 41:26]). Throughout God's rhetorical questions emphasize Job's alienation from the world he inhabits.

Job responds to God's speeches in 40:3–5 and 42:1–6. His first response offers a deferential “I prefer not to.” But Job does respond again, this time unprovoked by God. Here his initial statement acknowledges God's significance: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). He then nearly quotes one of God's statements about him (42:3A // 38:2), which he will do again in verse 4 (// 38:3B; 40:7B). Verses 3B and 5 can thus be read as responses to each cited statement. Job's final verse is his well-known and oft-disputed conclusion. To God's suggestion that Job has spoken without knowledge, Job concedes, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3B). To God's command that Job hear, Job reports, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). While this is elusive and enigmatic, Job's final statement is even more ambiguous. Newsom offers no less than five legitimate translations of 42:6 (Newsom 1996, p. 629), and points out how the translation one chooses will have much to do with previous interpretive decisions one has made up to this point in the book.

The Epilogue.

Suddenly, the text reverts to prose, leaving behind the complicated world of the poetic discourses. Surprisingly, the epilogue begins with an address by God to Eliphaz: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7B). God commands them to offer sacrifices and to ask Job to pray for them, which he does, all of which seems to abate God's anger (42:8–9). God then gives Job twice as much as he previously owned and Job is reintegrated with his community (42:10–11). Rich once again, Job lives a long life with new livestock and ten new children, seven sons and three daughters (42:12–17).


As a work of wisdom literature, the book of Job presents a sustained reflection upon many enduring themes. Among them are the relationship between humanity and divinity, the purpose of life, the moral order of the cosmos, the existence and meaning of evil, and, most important, the nature and expression of wisdom itself. Defining “wisdom” is difficult, but in broad terms, ancient Israelite sages imagined wisdom as a harmonious order, equal parts moral, aesthetic, and intellectual, that undergirds the cosmos. Careful observation and sustained reflection on the created order, along with close attention to the teachings of those already wise, allow a motivated individual to discern a sense of true wisdom. In the book of Job, one meets an individual who has scrupulously cultivated his piety and who is numbered among the sages. Nevertheless, events in Job's life stage a crisis not only for him, but for wisdom itself. The book of Job poses challenges to moral, aesthetic, and theological frameworks alike.

The Prologue: A Critique of Fear.

Though at first glance the prose introduction to Job seems to present a clear exhortation to submit oneself to God's sovereignty (cf. 1:21; 2:9–10), it in fact poses subtle but troubling theological questions. The central concern of the prologue flows from the mouth of the satan: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9). With this question, the satan admits Job's exemplary piety, but suggests that it stems from Job's tremendous wealth and divine protection, not from a disinterested fear of God (1:10). Thus, many interpreters suggest that the book is more concerned with the question of disinterested piety than theodicy. Can one simply love God for God's own sake, or is piety always compromised by self-interest?

The connection within wisdom literature between wisdom and the fear of God pushes the issue further still. The satan's question aims not simply at Job's particular piety but also at sapiential piety more broadly. In the symbolic word of Proverbs, the sage's grasp of wisdom depends upon his or her proper orientation, a fearful posture, toward God, the radix of wisdom. The “fear of God” thus keeps the sage ever humble and skeptical, never “wise in his own eyes” (cf. Prov 12:15; 26:12; 28:11). Whereas true wisdom resides with God alone, the sages’ fear attunes them to possible glimpses. Fear is both the beginning of wisdom (1:7; 9:10), and its end (Prov 2:3–5), but never potentially foolish. Outside of the satan's challenge, no other biblical text voices concern for the motivation behind an individual's fear of God since the fear of God is everywhere considered the wise or righteous posture. To question the possibility and proper constitution of the “fear of God” is to challenge the possibility and proper constitution of the entire wisdom tradition. Thus, when the satan implies, with God's tacit agreement, that the fear of God is authentic only when it is carried out for no reason, he inaugurates a new and radical conception of the fear of God in Israel's wisdom tradition.

The theological implications of the prologue's departure from the tradition are significant. God's attacks on Job preclude any transcendent principle that could motivate or guide Job's shattered life. According to the prologue to Job, the fear of God does not direct the sage to wisdom; instead, it empowers the sage to lend wisdom his or her voice—albeit at great cost—when wisdom goes terribly silent.

The Wisdom Dialogue: The Clash of Incommensurable Perspectives.

Job's initial curse (3:1–26) calls for the disharmony of his condition to ripple through the very fabric of the cosmos. Echoing both the language of creation and the prophetic call for the “day of the LORD” (cf. Amos 5:18–20), Job calls for God to reverse the separation of light and darkness and allow both day and night to vanish (3:4–6; cf. Gen 1:3–5) and the stars of the sky to fade (3:9; cf. Gen 1:14–19). In this disordered “chaosmos,” Job suggests, he would finally rest in the peace of death (3:13, 17). Though Job comes perilously close to proving the satan right (1:11), his curse falls on the world, not on God. For Job, solutions no longer derive from the transcendent realm.

In the dialogue that follows (Job 4–27), Job underscores the dissonance between his personal experience of undeserved suffering and the friends’ presentations of traditional theology (cf. 6:28–30). In reply, the friends emphasize the finitude of human perceptions and cognition, and they aim to broaden Job's perspective so as to take into account the truths of received wisdom (cf. 8:8–10). Zophar reminds Job that he cannot possibly know “the deep things of God,” implying that his understanding of his personal experience is not necessarily accurate (11:4–12). The only proper reaction to this epistemological quandary, the friends argue, is to distance oneself from the awful particularity of suffering, reflect upon the situation, and attempt to discern God's teaching and guiding hand hidden in the world. In the friends’ eyes, Job should exchange the anxiety that paralyzes him for the fear of God, by which he could gain some perspective on his experience. Job can trust in the traditions that have sustained the community and so resume a life of piety. Ultimately, Job would then find himself blessed and secure once more (5:17–27; 8:3–7; 11:13–20).

In response, Job stresses repeatedly that he has found not even a moment's reprieve from God's constant and overbearing presence (23:15–17). Just when Job tries to reflect upon his sufferings, God terrifies him with oppressive visions (7:12–21). Job's attempts to return to chastened piety end in ever more violent divine assaults (9:27–31). At one point, Job declares that God is besieging him, trapping him on all sides (19:8–12). Central to Job's arguments is this insight: God is simply too close for Job to achieve any sense of perspective. Thus, in the wisdom dialogue, the seeds of theological crisis sown in the prologue slowly germinate. Job's experiences pose crises for traditional notions of retribution as much as for appeals to God's transcendence (cf. Prov 10:16; 13:6; Deut 28:15–68).

Even in the midst of crisis, Job insists on speaking aloud his experiences, cautiously hoping that his utterances will open a space in which something new may emerge (7:11; 10:1–3). Job explores the language of the courtroom, the setting in which those who have been wronged can be heard. Job casts his interaction with God as a legal dispute (rîb; 9:3). The judicial system does several things that Job desperately needs: it equalizes parties, mediates disputes, monitors boundaries, and restores justice. Crucial for the concerns of wisdom literature, the judicial system is a function of the community and a viable source of tradition. Crucial for the concerns of Job, the judicial system sets aside a priori knowledge and looks to the facts of each particular case to render a judgment. In the courtroom, Job's friends would have to look at Job and inspect his story, instead of looking to tradition for ready-made answers (6:28). However, Job's hope for legal rectification continually runs aground on the shores of reality: there cannot be a cosmic legal reckoning because God would play the part of judge, jury, and defendant (9:15–16). In order to ensure a balanced trial between humanity and divinity, Job imagines the emergence of a powerful arbiter (9:32–35). Even though he knows it is hopeless (14:18–22), Job continues to develop this motif (16:21; 19:25–27) while also imagining other resolutions he admits are impossible (14:13–17; 23:3–9).

In chapters 29–31, Job develops the legal motif into a lengthy speech that ends with an imagined indictment (31:35–37). In response, Elihu, the final interlocutor (32–37), seems to cast himself in the role of Job's desired mediator. Unlike Job's other friends, Elihu addresses Job's legal language, reframing the judicial terminology in the context of pious wisdom. Elihu claims that he was led to speak because no one “confuted” Job (32:12). “Confute” translates the Hebrew word môkîaḥ, or “arbiter.” This word also occurs in 9:33, where Job uses it to describe his desire for divine mediation. Thus, Elihu subtly claims that he is, in fact, the arbiter that Job has been anticipating. Narratively, Elihu does indeed serve as an intermediary between Job's final speech (29–31) and the divine speeches (38–41), but functionally, his defense of pious orthodoxy hardly gives Job the fair trial he desires (32:2).

While Job appropriates the language of curse, lament, and lawsuit, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar appropriate traditional forms of speech such as doxology (5:9–16), the fate of the wicked motif (18:5–21), parables (8:11–13), and observational wisdom (5:3–7). Though many interpreters rush to condemn the friends, likely following God's lead in the epilogue (42:7–9), it is important to note that the friends offer important insights found within much biblical (e.g., Proverbs and Deuteronomy) and nonbiblical literature. In response, Job often takes the traditional forms the friends use and subverts them to his own ends. For example, Job quotes from Psalm 8, but twists the image of God's loving presence into that of a vicious stalker (7:17–19). Doxologies are pious celebrations in Eliphaz's mouth, but when Job declares God's awesome power, a much more terrifying portrait emerges (9:4–12). In his verbal struggle with his friends, Job attempts to read the tradition through his marginal viewpoint, showing the friends—and subsequent readers—that biblical literature is indeed a “many-sided” affair that depends to some extent upon the location of the reader. Job's attempts to share his perspectives, however, find little traction amongst his friends. In the end, the wisdom dialogue itself breaks down; Job's words begin to sound strangely like the friends', the speeches decrease in size, and Zophar's third speech disappears into the theological void.

Job 28: Wisdom as the Missing Piece.

The speculative wisdom poem in Job 28 brings a new, seemingly disembodied voice to the poetry. After an exuberant, hymnic celebration of human achievement (28:1–11), the second stanza (vv. 12–19) requires readers to reconsider the first stanza as a lengthy allusion to the fundamental problem of human limitation. All the precious and valuable materials humans are capable of discovering (28:1–11) merely illustrate the supreme inaccessibility of the one thing they cannot find. Wisdom “is not found in the land of the living” or beyond (28:12–14). However, the poem's third stanza (28:20–27) claims that there is one who does know wisdom's way, namely, God (v. 23), since wisdom appeared to God during creation (28:25–27). Interestingly, wisdom here is neither a divine attribute, nor a principle guiding divine activity (as, for example, in Prov 3:19–20 or 8:22–31), nor even an aspect of creation. Job 28 claims that wisdom appears to God in God's creative activity but belongs neither to God nor to creation. But then, in its much-disputed final verse, the poem equates wisdom with the human activity of fearing the Lord. For some scholars, Job 28:28 baldly contradicts the poem's emphasis on the inaccessibility of wisdom to humans. For others for whom the fear of God inherently involves an acknowledgement that wisdom is located with God and not the fearer, verse 28 relegates to humans a partial and imperfect but nonetheless representative wisdom. However, for the one who has now been hearing Job's testimony over the course of three cycles of speeches, verse 28 may best be read as a literal presentation of the truth his experience uncovers, namely, that wisdom is the fear of God, no more no less, and that is what makes it so terrifying.

The Divine Speeches.

In Job 38–41, the heavens suddenly intrude into earth by means of a whirlwind, through which the LORD famously appears to Job. Storms are a common setting for biblical theophanies (cf. Exod 19:16; 2 Sam 22:8–18; 1 Kgs 19:11–18), and here the image of the storm also evokes Job's stormy life (O'Connor 2003, p. 173). God's rhetorical mode of address emphasizes Job's lack of power and knowledge with respect to God's sovereignty and creation's mysteries. Instead of asserting the existence of a clear moral order, God's series of questions paint a picture of the world and its inhabitants that teems with wildness and chaos.

Almost all interpreters agree that, at least initially, it is unclear what all this chaos is supposed to communicate to Job. While there may be much for God to answer to in Job's speeches, Job never questions the power or knowledge of God, before which he has repeatedly acknowledged his impotence (cf. 9:19–20; 14:19–20; 23:13–16). Many interpreters read God's speeches as primarily responses to Job's attempts to subject God to a trial. Job's protestations of innocence imply that God or the world owes Job something. God's attack, in this argument, aims to dethrone Job's pride, arrogance, or self-centeredness. Often interpreters treat Job's speeches in chapters 3 and 29-31 as the primary objects of God's critique, since chapter 3 expresses a desire for the destruction of the cosmos and chapters 29–31 culminate in Job's rhetorical indictment of God in 31:35–37. Others, though, are unsatisfied with reading the speeches as if God only listened to the first and last things that Job said. A spate of recent interpreters have taken an aesthetic turn in their approach to God's speeches (Beal 2002; Newsom 2003, pp. 234–258; O'Connor; Keller 2003; Linafelt 2006). Drawing on categories of the sublime, the beautiful, the tragic, and the comic, interpreters seem to be searching for ways to coordinate the political demands of Job with the aesthetic speeches of God that would not rely upon some deeper meaning proposed by the interpreter. Ultimately the speeches transport Job to the very places they imply he has not been, seen, or known. However one understands God's speeches, Job's responses give no indication of confusion. He says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). And however one understands Job's ambiguous response in 42:6, the LORD seems satisfied enough with it to cease the poetic discourse.

On the face of it, the epilogue may seem to tie together the loose ends of the story. However, many commentators acknowledge that this happy ending hardly erases what has happened to Job. He may get new livestock and children, but the old ones remain dead. In a curious aside, the narrative then reports the aesthetic and sensuous names Job gives his three daughters, along with their unsurpassed beauty and their inheritance with their brothers (42:13–15). These details stand out as, perhaps, flashes of color in what may otherwise be read in tragic shades of grey. One could take from them not only a whisper of beauty and of hope for the future, but also a hint of justice in the present. In the context of ancient inheritance laws that preserved property in lines of patrilineal descent, the inheritance the daughters receive alongside their unnamed brothers (42:15) may in fact betray Job's commitment to creating a more just and egalitarian world. But this is at best only a hint; the author leaves the actual events of Job's remaining one hundred and forty years to our imagination (42:16–17).


The book of Job's unusual diction and esoteric arguments are notoriously challenging to decipher. Yet its poetic beauty, bold questions, and the tantalizing possibility of insight into the problem of undeserved suffering have kept readers engaged for millennia. As noted above, Job itself is a reception of diverse wisdom traditions, ancient Near Eastern literature concerning sufferers, other biblical literature, and even earlier stories involving a character named Job. Moreover, it is likely that the final form of the book witnesses to its own internal history of reception through its various redactions. Even after the period of textual stabilization, readers of the book of Job continued to leave their mark. At Qumran, two first-century C.E. fragments of Aramaic translations, or Targums, of Job show that, in a world that was increasingly unfamiliar with Hebrew, Jews nevertheless wanted to read the difficult text. Though the Qumran Targums are most often literal, they do show examples of expansion and interpretation, especially where the Hebrew text presents difficulties. One manuscript of the Qumran Targum seems to end at 42:12, truncating the story of Job's full restoration. Later references to ancient Aramaic translations in the Old Greek additions and several rabbinic sources (e.g., b. Šabb. 16:1) show that the book of Job was broadly popular. Likewise, the Old Greek translation, dating from the second century B.C.E., seems to abridge the Hebrew text in order to broaden its potential audience. Poets, philosophers, theologians, and artists have followed suit ever since by interpreting, translating and transforming the book of Job in countless ways (cf. Terrien 1996; Vicchio 2006).

Throughout history, readers have been most eager to discern Job's identity and the book's message concerning human suffering. Within the book of Job, the LORD's and the narrator's positive assessments of Job (1:1, 8; 2:3) and Job's speeches (42:7) led many precritical interpreters to reappropriate or otherwise dismiss Job's harsh criticisms of God. Some influential early translations, including the Old Greek and the Peshitta, seem to downplay Job's rebelliousness and avoid potential blasphemies. Several first-century B.C.E. Hellenistic Jewish sources, including Aristeas the Historian, additions to the Old Greek translation, and the Testament of Job, conflate Job and Jobab, an Edomite king descended from Esau mentioned in Genesis (LXX Job 42:17A–e; cf. Gen 36:33–34). Thus Job is connected to the Israelites, which explains his piety and knowledge of the LORD, but remains a gentile. The Testament of Job recasts Job as an extremely charitable convert seeking to destroy idols, engaged in a life-long struggle with Satan. In this telling, Job's suffering does not derive from a divine wager. Rather, an angel warns Job in advance that fighting with Satan will lead to tremendous suffering, but Job, convinced that his endurance will be rewarded with resurrection, continues in his zealous piety. Job's friends, rather than Job himself, lament his undeserved suffering; this inversion shapes Job as a model of patience and protects him from any charges of impiety. Jewish theological developments during the Hellenistic period allowed for a reinterpretation of Job's recovery from suffering as an indication of the future resurrection of the righteous (see T. Job 4:6–8); as an addition to the Old Greek claims, “it is written that [Job] will rise up again with the ones that the Lord will raise up” (LXX Job 42:17A). Early Christian interpretation echoes these same themes, positing a demonic origin of Job's suffering (Tertullian, Pat. 14), naming Job's virtuous patience as the proper response to such attacks (Jas 5:11; 1 Clem. 17:3), and arguing that Job's faith in resurrection offers a suitable solution to the problem of undeserved suffering (1 Clem. 26:3). Many Second Temple Jewish and early Christian interpreters imagined Job to be a prophet (Josephus, C. Ap. 1.8; b. B. Bat. 15a; Sir 49:9; 1 Clem. 17). In turn, Christians from the fourth century C.E. interpreted Job 14:7–14 and 19:25–27 as pre-Mosaic gentile prophecies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, suggesting the resurrection as a universal solution to the problem of suffering (Augustine, Civ. 18.47). These themes also find expression in Gregory the Great's massively influential sixth-century C.E. Moralia in Iob, which became the basis of the commentary for Job in the Glossa Ordinaria, and thus guided Christian interpretation of the book until the early modern period. Like Christian interpretations, Muslim presentations of Job also rely on Hellenistic Jewish versions of the Job story, such as the Testament of Job. Appearing in the Qur'an (4:163–164; 6:84; 21:83–84; 38:41–44) and the Stories of the Prophets, the prophet Job suffers undeservedly at the hand of Iblis (the devil) with considerable patience before he is miraculously healed by water.

Job's Christian identity as a prophet of the resurrection explains his appearance in the fourth-century C.E. Apocalypse of Paul, and many catacomb paintings and sarcophagi of late antiquity. Likewise, from the fourth century C.E. quotations from Job 19:25–27, thought to attest to resurrection, begin to adorn tombstones throughout the Mediterranean region. Over the next century, selections of Job began to be incorporated into funerary liturgies and memorial prayers, among other liturgical settings. In the medieval Office of the Dead liturgy, selections from Job's complaints constitute the Matins readings; because of the Office's inclusion in Books of Hours, the image of Job adorns thousands of illuminated manuscripts (cf. Terrien). Moreover, the selections from the Office were often set to music starting in the late medieval period. Sixteenth-century C.E. composer Orlando di Lasso's Sacrae lectiones ex Propheta Iob presents a significant example, and the famous “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25) from Handel's Messiah follows in this tradition. As Job increasingly identified with Christian funerary imagery, Christians suffering from diseases and other misfortunes looked to “Saint Job” for help. Several late medieval pilgrimage locations and churches in Italy and the Low Countries as well as hospitals throughout Europe took the name of “Saint Job,” thereby dedicating themselves to one who overcame illness. By the sixteenth century C.E., Job became a patron for those suffering from syphilis and other venereal diseases, and hospitals such as San Giobbe in Bologna specialized in treating these ailments. Several important works of art adorned these locations, including Giovanni Bellini's altarpiece for the church of San Giobbe in Venice. The book has also proven fruitful in the history of philosophical speculation on the problem of evil and the concept of theodicy; Kant, for example, based his influential essay “On the Failure of All Future Attempts at Theodicy” on an exegetical reading of the book of Job, as did Kierkegaard for his book Repetition.

In general, Jewish reception of the book of Job exhibits greater diversity (cf. Baskin). Few rabbinic interpreters accepted the conflation of Job and Jobab, since the names are much less similar in Hebrew than in Greek (ʾiyyôb/yôbāb; Iōb/Iōb ab) and the additions to the Old Greek do not appear in the Masoretic Text. Instead, the Talmud offers a plethora of alternatives for the setting and identity of Job, suggesting that he lived in the ancestral period, at the time of the Exodus, during the Judges, in the Exile, or in the Persian period (b. B. Bat. 15a–16b). Some rabbinic interpreters argued that Job was a righteous Israelite, born circumcised (ʾAbot R. Nat. 2), suffering because his faith was tested, and in that regard favorably comparing to Abraham (b. B. Bat. 15b). Where some rabbis argued that Job represents the sufferings of the Jewish people as a whole (Pesiq. Rab. 29–30), many rabbinic interpreters refuse to apologize for Job's incendiary rhetoric in chapters 3–27, arguing instead that the gentile Job's impious outbursts prove that he deserved his sufferings. As one Tannaitic interpreter said, “Dust should be put in Job's mouth” because of his blasphemies, and another claimed that Job denied the resurrection (b. B. Bat. 16a; cf. Job 7:9). Other interpreters agree that Job's complaints were impious, yet claim that Job was forgiven because of his excessive former piety (b. Qidd. 39b). The rabbis’ debates about whether Job served God out of love or fear index their awareness of the prologue's interrogation of disinterested piety (m. Soṭah 5:5; b. Soṭah 31a). Since Job's complaints came dangerously close to cursing God, some rabbis also argued about Job's place in the world to come (b. B. Bat. 15b; Gen. Rab. 57:4). One teacher argues that Job's complaining proved that he did not believe in the world to come, and thus God gave Job material blessings to compensate for his eternal loss. Still others see Job as a pawn in the struggle between God and Satan: several rabbinic sources claim that Job, a counselor to Pharaoh, was given over to Satan so that God could lead the Israelites out of Egypt unnoticed (y. Soṭah 20d; Gen. Rab. 57:4). Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, argued that Job is indeed pious, yet in need of an intensive education. Job's complaints are, according to Maimonides, evidence of his lack of wisdom, but through suffering Job comes to understand that the structures undergirding the created order are controlled by providence, but humans can know little about it. Medieval and early modern Jewish interpretations of Job exhibit many of these same themes. In the wake of the Shoah, many Jewish intellectuals and artists returned to the book of Job with a different perspective. For many, Job's bitter complaints gave biblical witness to powerful senses of abandonment, loss, and grief. Elie Wiesel's powerful anti-theodicy, The Trial of God, enacts Job's stated desire to sue God for abuse (9:2–24), finally revealing that God's defense attorney is none other than Satan. Marc Chagall's series of lithographs depicting Job unflinchingly portray his despair. More recent Jewish reception of Job, such as Joel and Ethan Cohen's movie A Serious Man, echoes Maimonides’ claim that the world is uncertain and inscrutable.



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Brennan W. Breed C. Davis Hankins