The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible is found among the books designated Ketuvim ("writings"), along with Ecclesiastes and the Book of Proverbs. All three belong to a genre known as wisdom literature. The books share a common ancient cultural reflection; similar texts are known from Sumer and Babylonia (from the 3rd millennium BCE), Mesopotamia, and the Middle Kingdom of Egypt.
The Book of Job is one of the earliest forms of a modern philosophical discipline known as theodicy. Theodicy seeks to understand why a good God permits evil to exist. If God is omnipotent (all-powerful), why does he not eliminate evil? First coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (Theodicee, 1710), sociologists Max Weber (1864-1920) and Peter L. Berger (1929-2017) focused on the effects of evil and why the innocent suffer along with the wicked. Both claimed that there is an inherent need in humans to create order out of chaos and assign rationality in place of randomness in nature, most often through theological justifications.
Ancient pluralistic religions attempted to solve the problem of evil by assigning evil to the domains of specific gods and goddesses, but ancient Judaism proclaimed that the God of Israel was responsible for all of creation, including the other gods. Speaking through the Prophet Isaiah: "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things" (45:7). Through the literary devices of discourse, dialogue, and poetry, the Book of Job challenges this dual personality of the God of Israel. Historians place the composition of the Book of Job between the 7th and the 4th centuries BCE.
Job & Satan
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. (Job 1:1-3)
Job sacrificed every morning to God on behalf of his children, in case they had inadvertently sinned.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan b also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the Lord, "From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it." Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." (Job 1:6-12).
The Book of Job offers our earliest text of what will develop as the details of the Devil (diabolos in Greek) and the origin of Satan. In Job, Ha-Satan is not yet an evil being, but functions somewhat as God's prosecuting attorney. Ha-Satan in Hebrew meant "accuser" and later "adversary," and his role was to travel around and place obstacles before humans so that they make a choice between good and evil.
The Suffering of Job
Raiders came and stole all of Job's herds and killed his servants. A mighty wind collapsed the house where all his children were feasting, and they all died.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)
Job's body was then afflicted with boils, and as he sat in the ashes of his former life, his wife nagged him:
"Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!" He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9-10)
Instead, Job lamented the day he was born:
May the day of my birth perish ... For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. ... I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. (Job 3)
Art: Job by the French artists Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922).
Job’s Three Friends
Job's three friends came to sympathize with him: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.
Eliphaz begins by asking Job, "Who, being innocent, has ever perished?" (4:7). God punishes angels, so how could there ever be a sinless human? He accuses Job of whining and not admitting that he must have sinned. The proof is in the level of his suffering. He points out the incredible suffering of those who are in Gehenna (an early Jewish form of Hell). God was just in punishing these sinners. Bildad asks: "Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin" (Job 8:3-4). Zophar argues that God is just and would never arbitrarily punish Job without a reason.
Job answers each one with scorn, as they are "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2). He insists that he had never sinned and always remained loyal to God. In almost an about-face from the Prologue, Job now berates God for being unjust, unforgiving, hostile, and destructive. He claims that the wicked consistently take advantage of the helpless, but God does not intervene to stop it. Job's frustration leads to his demand that God appear and give him an answer.
God does not appear but answers Job with a voice out of the whirlwind (or storm):
Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels a shouted for joy? (Job 38:2-7)
Three lengthy chapters outline the details of God's creation, down to feeding the young of the ravens when they are hungry.
Then Job replied to the Lord: "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ... Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. ... Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
It is notable that God's response did not defend or explain the existence of evil. Rather, no human should question God's purpose because no human can comprehend the mind of God, and accepting this fact is true wisdom. For many interpreters, the question of whether God is just remains unresolved.
In the final chapter, "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part" (Job 42:12) Job lived for 140 years, all his herds were restored, and he had seven sons and three daughters. The Epilogue remains subject to debate; it may have been added later, to provide a happy ending to the story.
When early Christians began utilizing the Hebrew Scriptures for prophecies concerning Jesus, they emphasized Job 19:25-26: "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God." This was used to validate the belief in resurrection. The line was incorporated into George Frideric Händel's oratorio, Messiah, in 1741.
In Western literature, the story of Job inspired the works of Milton, Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Sholem Aleichem's short stories of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. The 'suffering of Job' as well as the 'patience of Job' have become metaphors for innocent victims of disaster. In post-Holocaust studies, Job is symbolic of the Jews collectively. The story of Job remains relevant because the problem of the existence of evil remains relevant throughout the world.