No Certain Answer to Give
Disclaimer and Explanation of Citations and Notations: The evidence here is largely gleaned from Protestant source material (my tradition), and is presented in a way that argues toward Job being an ancient composition (my view); but the evidence also mentions there are numerous other views on this. A bibliography of all referenced works is given, and citations are in a parenthetical form with author reference to that bibliography. Footnotes are used for additional information on topics, sometimes giving additional citations or information on the source material that the cited source is using for support.
As one commentator puts it, "there are no irrefutable clues" with respect to dating the book, such that "proposals have ranged over many centuries from before the time of Moses to the period between the testaments" (Alden, 25).1
Assuming Job was a real person (which I believe to be so, as well as most of the authors of works referenced here), it is generally believed from internal evidence that he lived roughly during the time of the patriarchs (Alden, 26).2 So the oldest it might possibly be is circa early 3rd millennium BC to late 2nd millennium BC. James Smith notes that J. Sidlow Baxter "thinks that Job might be 'the oldest book in the world,'"3 but also states, "Few modern scholars, however, would date the book as early as Moses" (Smith, ch. 2). Nevertheless, some do—Roy Zuck notes the character of the book "give[s] the impression that it was written by an eyewitness," which in his dating is patriarchal period, and "numerous features point to a single author" (Zuck, 716). And Mal Couch states the opposite of Smith regarding "majority" view (I suspect Couch is probably limiting his majority to conservative scholars),
Though some place Job as having been written during the period of
Solomon (971–931 BC), the majority opinion would probably place it
just before the patriarchal age.
Yet D. A. Carson et al. give the bounding range as a much narrower, more recent dating period:
We cannot put a date on the composition of the book of Job, except for
the outer limits, perhaps the seventh and the second centuries BC. A
folk tale of a righteous sufferer probably existed long before the
present poem came into being (Carson, 460).
That is their limit of the possibility, showing they have none of their group that considers the much older dating.
In short, scholarship is deeply (and one might say broadly) divided.
Aramaic words found in Job had been leading scholars to lean "toward the end of the Old Testament period" and thus a late writing, but that has recently been challenged as unfounded grounds for late dating, since
more Aramaic inscriptions from the second millennium B.C. have come to
light; the use of Aramaic may actually point to the great age of the
book rather than to its lateness (Alden, 26).4
Of the Aramaisms, Spence-Jones noted that Job is
full of Aramaisms which are not of the later type, but such as
characterize the antique and highly poetic style, and occur in parts
of the Pentateuch, in the Song of Deborah, and in the earliest Psalms. The style has a “grand archaic character,” which has been recognized by almost all critics (Spence-Jones, xiv).
However, true Aramaisms is also in doubt, as the text may have more Arabic connections.5 2nd millennium BC dating also corresponds to Alden's statement:
observations connecting the language of Job with Ugaritic, whose
mid-second millennium B.C. date argues in favor of an early Job (Alden, 27).6
Nevertheless, Alden notes some points of relation to later writings:
After Job, Psalms is the book most cross-referenced in this study [his commentary on Job].
Beyond that, one can find in Job rare words, analogous constructions,
and phrases that also occur in books from Genesis to Malachi. Simply
because of the nature of the material, many of these features reflect
the wisdom books; and because of the size and vocabulary of
Isaiah, many reflect that eighth-century prophet (Alden, 26-27).
However, Smith notes about language arguments that:
Arguments based on the alleged lateness of the language is precarious.
The book may have been editorially updated from time to time. Be that
as it may, the linguistic evidence is so ambiguous that some scholars
have reversed the argument. The language, they say, points to an early
period of Israel’s history (Smith, ch. 2.).
Subject Matter and Genre
The subject matter by some is believed to be too developed for an early writing, but as Alden warns:
The idea should be resisted that ancient peoples were primitive and
therefore incapable of thinking of or discussing the subtle issues
that fill the pages of Job (Alden, 27).7
Regarding subject matter, Spence-Jones states in favor of early composition that Job has
no mention—not the faintest hint—of any of the great events of
Israelite history, not even of the Exodus, the passage of the Red Sea,
or the giving of the Law on Sinai, much less of the conquest of
Canaan, or of the stirring times of the judges and the first great
kings of Israel. It is inconceivable, as has been often said, that a
writer of a late date, say of the time of Captivity, or of Josiah, or
even of Solomon, should, in a long work like the Book of Job,
intentionally and successfully avoid all reference to historical
occurrences, and to changes in religious forms or doctrines of a date
posterior to that of the events which form the subject of his
narrative (Spence-Jones, xv).
Harris ultimately pursues an early dating as well, and offers this interesting bit of information:
As to the historical background of Job, it seems to fit well with
ideas and literature of the second millennium B.C. Pope remarks that
“the ideas championed by Job’s friends were normative in Mesopotamian
theology from the early second millennium B.C.” (p. XXXV) and he
compares several works on suffering: From Egypt, the Dispute over
Suicide and the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, and from Mesopotamia, a
lament called by S. N. Kramer The First Job. The Akkadian work I will
Praise the Lord of Wisdom, also called The Babylonian Job, describes a
sufferer who recovers, and the Dialogue About Human Misery, sometimes
called the Babylonian Ecclesiastes is on a similar topic. Pope offers extracts from these works. They can be read conveniently in ANET. It should be noted that these works consider the problem of suffering, as does the book of Job, but their answer is quite different.
While Harris supports an older date, he lists a number of men who have held to later dating of exilic or post-exilic, including Pope, but also Pfeiffer, Driver, A. Bentzen, and Eissfeldt (who Harris notes had his late theory invalidated by the Dead Sea Scrolls find; Harris, 7-8). He also mentions "More scholars have now veered toward a pre-exilic date" (Harris, 8). It was already noted that a number do hold to a very early dating.
In the 19th century (and largely late into the 20th as well), Job was considered Wisdom Literature and that largely fostered the argument for Solomonic era dating (e.g. Lange et. al. states it "belongs to the group of Solomonic poems of Wisdom," 249). However, that association has recently been challenged, as Kaiser notes:
Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, Job was predominantly
classified as Wisdom literature. But then a strong voice of opposition
arose claiming that Job was either utterly unique or it was in a
lament genre, a form that was not firmly established until recently (Kaiser, 131)8
Authorship is No Help in Dating
Spence-Jones notes that the only traditional view is that the author was Moses.
Aben Ezra (about A.D. 1150) declares this to be the general opinion of
“the sages of blessed memory.” In the Talmud it is laid down as
undoubted, “Moses wrote his own book” (i.e. the Pentateuch), “the
section about Balaam, and Job” (Spence-Jones, xv)9
He does note as well theories (conjectures) of contemporary (to the events) authors (which would have authorship mainly in the Patriarchal period):
The most ingenious of the conjectures put forward is that of Dr. Mill
and Professor Lee, who think that Job himself put the discourses into
a written form, and that Moses, having become acquainted with this
work while he was in Midian, determined to communicate it to his
countrymen, as analogous to the trial of their faith in Egypt; and, in
order to render it intelligible to them, added the opening and
concluding sections, which, it is remarked, are altogether in the
style of the Pentateuch. A far less probable theory assigns the
authorship of the bulk of the book to Elihu (Spence-Jones, xvi).10
Since the author is ultimately unknown, that does not help much with dating, and one's decisions about dating or authorship influence the conclusions one draws for the other.
Some Other Internal Scripture Evidences
Harris believes dating of Ezekiel is fairly certain at roughly 600 BC, and the mention of Job in that book (14:14, 20) affirms the work being at least prior to that (Harris, 4). Indeed, the reference in Ezekiel assumes a familiarity with the person and his character, and thus assumes a general knowledge of the work.
Harris also mentions the similarity of Prov 3:11 and Job 5:17 (typo in the article has it as Job 5:27) as probably literary dependence (Harris, 4). He states:
The wording of the two passages is identical in Hebrew, except that
Job has the divine name, Shaddai, which it very frequently uses, and
Proverbs uses the more common name, the Tetragram [YHWH]. It also adds a
characteristic proverbial touch, “my son.” The force of such a parallel is debatable, because it is hard to know which book quoted the other, granted that there was some verbal dependence.
Harris' final statement is odd, considering that it is commonly recognized that Shaddai is a far more ancient name (and in fact Harris himself notes that later; Harris, 6), and that Job's extensive use of it is one of the key earmarks of its antiquity. Thus, it is far more likely Proverbs is quoting Job if there is any literary dependence at all. In some further discussion of parallels to Psalms and Proverbs with Job, Harris does admit on the literary relations:
It does seem a little more probable that Proverbs and Psalms did the
borrowing (Harris, 5).
One particular parallel to Psalms he makes is:
Job 71:17 [sic; should be corrected to Job 7:17] and Psalm 8:5. Job says, “What is man that you magnify him?”
The Psalm says, “What is man that you remember him?” The word “man” in
each case is the less used word for man, ʾenô̄sh, making literary
interdependence more likely (Harris, 5).
Many other parallels to Scripture are discussed in Harris' work and should be consulted for more info on those. He does end that summary with this thought (emphasis added):
To sum up, there are a few interesting verbal parallels with Psalms,
Proverbs, Isaiah, and the Balaam oracles. These are not conclusive,
but incline somewhat toward a pre-monarchy date for the writing (Harris, 5).
And as noted earlier, Harris pushes the date to Mosaic or pre-Mosaic times.
Conclusions of Some of the Scholars Quoted
Alden makes no commitment to a dating:
the door must be left open until some ancient text surfaces or
some authentic reference to these people or this book comes to light (Alden, 27-28)
Smith makes a commitment, but hedges it:
The writing of the book is best assigned to the age of Solomon [ca. 950 B.C.], which
was a time of literary flowering and interest in wisdom. There is
nothing in the book, however, which conclusively refutes the ancient
association of this book with Moses (Smith, ch.2)
Unger leans toward "Solomonic era" also (Unger, 379), and Cabal et al. say as well it is "perhaps a likely time" (Cabal, 734), a rather non-committal statement to qualify. Lange et al. also end up here (Lange, 248).
Spence-Jones held (from a view assuming an ancient composing of the Pentateuch as well):
It is a legitimate conclusion ... that the Book of Job is probably
more ancient than any other composition in the Bible, excepting,
perhaps, the Pentateuch, or portions of it. It must almost certainly have been written before the promulgation of the Law. ... On the whole, therefore, it seems most reasonable to place the composition towards the close of the patriarchal period, not very long before the Exodus (Spence-Jones, xv).
In the absence of definite evidences for late dating and in view of
numerous indications of a patriarchal milieu, it seems possible to
hold to a Mosaic or slightly pre-Mosaic date in accord with much old
Jewish and Christian sentiment. However, the New Testament does not
speak on either Job’s authorship or date, and the date is not of
theological concern. We may therefore hold our
conclusion provisionally expecting further light, especially from
linguistic studies (Harris, 8-9)
My view of Scripture's formation easily holds to the possibility of a very early, patriarchal date. There appears to be little real evidence to refute that, and in fact much of the linguistic, style, genre, and other such literary evidences show relationships to 2nd millennium works, which simply reinforces the possibility of that.
But as I noted in the first heading, there is "no certain answer to give" on the date of its composition.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF REFERENCED WORKS
Alden, Robert L. Job. Vol. 11, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993. Logos Bible Software.
Archer, Gleason. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982.
Cabal, Ted, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen, Paul Copan, J.P. Moreland, and Doug Powell. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.
Carson, D. A., R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. Logos Bible Software.
Harris, R. Laird. "The Book of Job and Its Doctrine of God." Grace Journal 13 (1972):3-33.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. The Promise-Plan of God: a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Logos Bible Software.
Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, Tayler Lewis, Otto Zöckler, and L. J. Evans. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Job. 1865–80. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Logos Bible Software.
Smith, James E. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. Old Testament Survey Series. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996. Logos Bible Software. NOTE: no page numbers are given in the electronic version of this book, so references are to the chapter.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. Job. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909). Logos Bible Software.
Unger, Merrill F. Introductory Guide to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1951.
Zuck, Roy B. "Job" in John F.Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 1:714-777. Logos Bible Software.
1 Similar notes about complexity of dating is found in Smith, ch. 2. Spence-Jones believes evidence "strongly favour the theory of its high antiquity" (xiv), but composition is at least after Job's death, based on Job 42:17 (xv). Unger says dating ranges from patriarchal times to as late as 3rd c. BC (378-379), while Cabal et. al. states, "All attempts to assign a date, whether on the basis of literary or linguistic data or with regard to its philosophical and theological viewpoint, have proved to be capable of variant interpretations and therefore inconclusive" (Cabal, 734). It should be noted that the work by Lange et. al. has an extensive listing of people who hold to various dating positions (Lange, §6, 243-249).
2 Similar to Alden, Smith states "events seem to have taken place ca. 2000 B.C. during the Patriarchal period," and gives five marks of antiquity (ch. 2). Zuck notes 9 marks (717). Spence-Jones states, "manners, customs, institutions, and general mode of life described in the book are such as belong especially to the times which are commonly called 'patriarchal'," and further dates Job (based on the approximate age he lived from Job 42:16) by his "term of life (two hundred to two hundred and fifty years) would seem to place him in the period between Eber and Abraham, or at any rate in that between Eber and Jacob, who lived only a hundred and forty-seven years, and after whom the term of human life seems to have rapidly shortened" (xv; similarly, see also Zuck, 717). Also affirming patriarchal: Unger, 378.
3 Smith, ch. 2., n.14 shows he is quoting "J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), 3:25."
4 One article online that briefly notes this discovery about Aramaic is here. The 2nd millennium BC corresponds in time frame to what is attested about Hebrew, which "developed during the latter half of the second millennium BCE between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an area known as Canaan" (all links accessed 7/30/2014).
5 Archer notes a study by "A. Guillaume ('The Unity of the Book of Job,' Annual of Leeds University, Oriental Sec. 14 [1962-63]: 26-27) has convincingly argued that there are no demonstrable Aramaism in the speeches of Elihu (Job 32-37), which reputedly have the highest incidence of them. He contends that nearly all of them are terms existing in Arabic," and Archer comments this would be expected given the location of Uz "somewhere in North Arabia" (236).
6 Related to Alden's statement, see info on Ugaritic dating (accessed 7/30/2014). Also, Archer notes the antiquity of the name of Job as being 2nd millennium BC from other ancient documents (236).
7 Alden notes such concepts as Satan, resurrection and afterlife, and such. I personally believe that these are truths the ancients knew much more about than we today might think they did, and that the truth of these ideas was lost among the rise of paganism after the tower of Babel spread the people abroad. They become truths regained by the Israelites through God's revelation later in history.
8 Kaiser makes his statement based on the work he notes in n.1 of chapter 6, which is "Claus Westermann, The Structure of the Book of Job, trans. Charles A. Muenchow (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), p. 1, n. 1 and pp. 13–14."
9 Spence-Jones' two footnotes for those quotes are: (1) "‘Commentarius in Jobum,’ ii. 11" (his n.30), and (2) "‘Baba Bathra,’ p. 14, b. Compare Ephrem Syrus, ‘Jobi Librum Moyses scripsit.’" (his n.31). As Harris warns, this tradition is even quite late in attestation—5th c. AD at the earliest (Harris, 3-4).
10 Spence-Jones gives footnote information about Mill and Lee is "‘The Book of Job,’ Introduction, pp. 36–48." (his n.32-34). I personally believe that Elihu is the most likely original author, as he is the only person not rebuked by God in the book (perhaps indicating he is the most in-tune with God of all of them, even Job). Of course, I cannot prove that.