The book of Job offers a sustained reflection on a single topic—God's governance of the world of human beings. It asks passionately: Is that governance just? Justice is understood actively as the ability of the gods (or God) to uphold the righteous and put down the wicked. The approach of the book is typically biblical: The question is personalized (“There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job”) and developed in a narrative. * The discursive essay, which reaches a conclusion through rational discussion and which modern theologians would use to explore the topic, did not exist in the literature of the time. Modern readers must therefore immerse themselves in the story and, like the friends ( 2.13 ), sit a while with Job.
Job shows the probing and critical side of ancient Near Eastern literature, works that pointed to the miseries and inequities of life and the seeming inability of the gods to manage the world justly and wisely. Of these works, the most relevant to Job is “The Babylonian Theodicy” (written about 1000 BCE), a dialogue between a sufferer and a sage to whom he goes for comfort and wisdom. The sage is scolding and didactic, but at the end he is won over by the sufferer's anguish and arguments, conceding finally that the gods have put evil into the world. The sufferer, having won the sage's sympathy, acknowledges his suppliant state and asks the gods for pity. “The Babylonian Theodicy” helps us to understand Job: The problem of suffering is intensely personal (the speaker is actually suffering); the sufferer seeks not only counsel but acceptance and solace from the sage; the sufferer never gives up his judgment that his lot is miserable and that society is corrupt (it is the sage who changes!). Though similar in genre, * Job makes its own vigorous statement. Prior to Job, there is nothing like his explicit and unyielding declaration of innocence. One reason is the biblical confession of one God, supremely wise, powerful, and just; the God of Israel is responsible for everything that happens in the world. The problem of evil in Job is thus more pressing and poignant than in other religions. A second distinctive mark of Job is that God is a powerful actor in the drama, initiating the action in chs. 1–2 , responding to Job's charges in chs. 39–42 , and bringing all to a close in 42.7–17 .
The author of Job is not known, but he may have been a palace scribe * with exceptional poetic and intellectual gifts and an acquaintance with other skeptical literature. The date of composition is also unknown, for the book contains no historical reference, and its language cannot be fitted into a typology of the Hebrew language. Most estimates of the date are between the seventh and the fifth centuries BCE. A possible hint regarding the date is that Job is an Edomite, which may suggest the book was written before the sixth-century Exile * when Edomites were hated for taking advantage of Israel.