The Book of Job - Introduction
In the Book of Job, a gifted poet and theologian examines the problem of a just God allowing the innocent to suffer. While the literary form may be modeled after the Babylonian “discussion literature”—rather than after Greek tragedy, as is sometimes suggested—the story itself possibly derives from an ancient folktale about an Edomite. External similarities to the Mesopotamian literary works, “The Babylonian Theodicy,” “I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom,” and “Man and His God,” are worthy of notice, but Job surpasses them in theological depth, human insight, and literary skill.
The structure of the book is as follows: (1) Introduction: a mythological presentation of a meeting in the heavenly court between God and the angels, among whom is the Adversary (chs. 1–2 ). (2) Poetic dialogue: the central poem containing three cycles of speeches (chs. 3–31 ). Into this core has been inserted a hymn on the inaccessibility of Wisdom (ch. 28 ); and speeches by an extraneous character, Elihu, a spokesman for a later orthodoxy that found the arguments of Job blasphemous (chs. 32–37 ), supplement the dialogue. (3) Divine resolution (chs. 38–42.6 ) and an epilogue ( 42.7–17 ). An alternative reading posits a drama about a hidden conflict ( 1.1–2.10 ), a conflict explored ( 2.11–31.40 ), and a conflict resolved ( 32.1–42.17 ).
The poet boldly challenges the Deuteronomistic theology that goodness is rewarded with material prosperity and wickedness is punished with temporal suffering. While the merit of this position is acknowledged, the poet creates a dialogue in which Job maintains that integrity in the face of disaster must not be sacrificed to social convention, nor even to its established concepts of the deity as upheld by the friends. In the end, Job discovers that his own God as well as that of his friends is too small. Nevertheless, because of his integrity, Job is exonerated and stands before God as intercessor for his friends. And perhaps the key to the book is the view that the suffering righteous individual stands in the presence of God.
The date of the writing is most uncertain. The poet used an old folktale (without the figure of the Adversary or the three friends) as the basic material for the prologue and epilogue. The core dialogue (chs. 3.1–31.40; 38.1–42.6 ) was probably written in the sixth or fifth century B.C.E. The Elihu material ( 32.1–37.24 ) is often viewed as a later addition, along with ch. 28 .