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Since the Book of Job says that God allowed Satan to attack, or test Job, and also that God already knew the outcome, is it possible that this is just a story, an extended parable, etc.?

Or, does the evidence suggest that the author of Job intended it to be a historical account?

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  • Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. and read up on how we are a little different than most sites around the web and other SEs. This question does not appear to be a good fit for this site because it is not about hermeneutics, but theology. It is also a duplicate and duplicate questions are typically closed. – James Shewey Nov 1 '15 at 4:11
  • It’s not, strictly speaking, a duplicate of that one since it is on a different site, although it’s true that it’s not generally considered good form to post identical questions on two sites. Apparently it doesn’t work as-is on Christianity.SE, but I’m not so sure that there isn’t a legitimate BH question in here about genre. – Susan Nov 1 '15 at 5:17
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  • @Susan That question asks which position is more ancient, so not really a duplicate. ... I rewrote the question to be on-topic here (removing the implied Christian theology, etc.). – ThaddeusB Nov 1 '15 at 16:12
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    @Davïd Arguments for either option would be out of place on the other question which asks purely which option has the older (documented) adherents – ThaddeusB Nov 1 '15 at 22:06
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Presuppositions Reign

As with any Biblical studies, presuppositions tend to rule conclusions from the data. To illustrate this, let me quote significantly from Dick Harfield's answer, as I can agree with the much of it, but with my set of presuppositions filtering the data, rather than those used there, for some of the conclusions.

The Book of Job is conveyed by a third-party narrator with unlimited omniscience. This narrator knows what happens everywhere, even in heaven. He is not bound by time or space, and can even depict private conversations and events. He understands the inner feelings of characters and can explain why people do things. The knowledge of the omniscient narrator leads the reader to trust the narrator as a reliable guide to world of Job.

So far, I agree completely, but here presupposition enters...

But omniscient narrators are not real and neither are their stories, so this is evidence that Job was not written as a historical account.

Another way to view the same evidence is that there is only One omniscient Being, the true God (Who is presupposed in all the writings of the Bible), and so the human narrator may be writing history informed by that omniscient one. That is, only if one presupposes there is no omniscient God or that such a God is not involved in any direct way with the writing of Job, can one conclude that the perspective of an omniscient narrator rule it out as being history.

Timothy K. Beal says, in Religion and its Monsters, page 40, that parallels between Job and Deuteronomy imply that the author of Job knew the Book of Deuteronomy. For example, he compares Job 2:7 and Deuteronomy 28:35.

I'm fine with that observation, but then presuppositions take over for the conclusion:

This is further evidence that Job is story, not history.

Any parallels between the two books are only further evidence against history if one holds these presuppositions:

  1. God is again left out of the picture regarding the content of both books (as noted above).

    If God is involved, then parallels are explained by the fact that the same God is involved in both works. But...

  2. For the specific parallel noted, one is either presupposing (a) that an affliction of boils cannot be noted in two accounts without direct relationship, and (b) that the author of Job—if of later origin and the author was familiar with Deuteronomy, which many dispute—totally misunderstood the Deuteronomy curse, since that was against unrighteous behavior in relation to Israel's covenant (Deut 28:15 lays the context), whereas Job was experiencing it having been already declared righteous by God and under no covenant (Job 1:8).

    If one presupposes God's involvement, then Job makes it clear that God allowed Satan to do as he would against Job, and Satan chose boils to cover Job. Even if this is allusion to the Deuteronomy curse, it is done by the adversary as part of him trying to prove to God that Job is not as righteous as He said he was (i.e. Satan is cursing Job despite his righteousness).

The next quote is problematic as well...

The consensus of scholars is certainly that the Book of Job is story - an early novel - not history.

There is no "consensus of scholars" in total, there is only the consensus of scholars that presuppose non-involvement of God and a consensus that presuppose involvement. One can find arguments both ways, because there are at least (broadly speaking) the two presuppositions by which the text is approached—God was involved or not.

The last quote does not deal so much with whether Job is story or history, but authorship, so I will not directly interact there.

History or Story OR History and Story

Literary studies involving genre can often cause interpreters to begin to take an either/or mentality. The fact is, history can be relayed through story. Poetry can relay fact; newspapers can relay fiction. Genre is more about style of presentation than the fact or fiction of the content, or than the truth and falsehood of what is stated.

Expert Testimony?

The person of Job is conceived as an equal historical witness to righteousness as Noah and Daniel, the latter being contemporary in history to the Ezekiel (Ezek 14:14, 20). In other words, it would be odd for Ezekiel to link a person he knows exists in history (Daniel) with Job if Ezekiel pictured the latter as a fictional character (and really, Ezekiel is explicitly relaying God's words there, so God would be linking historical with fictional).

If one believes in the reliability of the Christian scriptures (I do), and that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (I do), then the New Testament testimony is relevant about the historicity of Job as well.

There is the testimony of (God through) Luke that Jesus' Himself testifies to the reality of Satan's personal work against people in his comment to Peter (Lk 22:31-32), which strongly alludes to the same type of work Satan is conveyed to do in Job 1:9-11, work that only the omniscient author of Job would have known. At the least, Jesus is testifying to the reality of Satan, a reality that the author of Job could not be privy to unless God was involved in the content of the text.

Paul held that one could be turned over to Satan for purposes of rebuke, specifically related to things that cause destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:5). Satan had such power of destruction, when turned over to him by God, in Job (Job 2:4-6)—the context differs, of course, in that Job is largely righteous in story, whereas that is not the case in the Corinthians passage. The point, however, is that (God through) Paul conveys the role of Satan still.

In the Book of Revelation, (God through) John testifies to the fact that Satan was still operating with access to heaven, as Job 1-2 portrays, until the event of Rev 12:7-9.

So, again, one's views of the New Testament Scripture (was it inspired by God or not; is it reliable or not to convey information about God and Jesus, etc.), and one's views of Jesus Christ (is He God or not), will affect how one ways this evidence. Jesus is conveyed by Scripture as considering Satan a reality, doing things that the book of Job conveyed as (possible) history.

Conclusions

Literary genre does not resolve whether Job is history or not. Literary composition does not resolve whether Job is intended to convey history or not. The main thing that is going to resolve that in any particular person's mind is determining for oneself:

  • Was God involved (i.e. via inspiration) with the content of the book?

The two general answers then become the basic presuppositional filter by which one approaches the facts regarding the text's composition and the text itself such that:

  • If God was not involved, then truly "omniscient narrators are not real and neither are their stories."
  • If God was involved, then truly an omniscient narrator is real, and if that One is also the God revealed in the rest of Scripture, then He would not relay as "reality" the activities of Satan if those were not "real," for to do so would convey as falsehood as a truth, which is also revealed to be outside the character of God (God conveys falsehoods as falsehoods, not as truth).

My answer is that Job is history through story, God being directly involved in it as part of the Scripture designed to reveal Who He is to mankind.

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  • God does not use the word for righteous in describing Job, instead He opts for upright. It is my view that this was intentional to highlight the theme of the book, namely that righteousness belongs to God and credit is due to God for righteous living. In fact I’ve not seen צדּיק used about Job by God. Other than that, I thought this was a great response. – Nihil Sine Deo Jul 6 '19 at 13:32
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    @Autodidact God uses righteousness (צְדָקָה) of Job (& Noah & Daniel) in the passage I noted, Ezek 14:14, 20. In the book of Job, the discussion is about "how" a person can be righteous before God (Job 9:2, 25:4), and the answer comes down to from God (Job 33:26), but I believe the Ezekiel passage shows Job found true righteousness (that which comes from God) through the experiences noted in Job, and in the context of Ezekiel, is indicating that such righteousness is only enough to deliver individuals who have it from God's judgment during the upcoming judgment on Judah (in Ezekiel's day). – ScottS Jul 9 '19 at 15:24
  • You say that "only if one presupposes there is no omniscient God or that such a God is not involved in any direct way with the writing of Job, can one conclude that the perspective of an omniscient narrator rule it out as being history." You, however, are making a presupposition here as well - namely that God's involvement with the writing of Job (or any book of the Bible) is such that the human authors (those who wrote the words down) were in some sense told by God what to write. They were in some way writing about historical events they themselves would have no way of knowing. To me, this is – Eric Phillips Nov 17 '20 at 14:22
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The Book of Job is conveyed by a third-party narrator with unlimited omniscience. This narrator knows what happens everywhere, even in heaven. He is not bound by time or space, and can even depict private conversations and events. He understands the inner feelings of characters and can explain why people do things. The knowledge of the omniscient narrator leads the reader to trust the narrator as a reliable guide to world of Job. But omniscient narrators are not real and neither are their stories, so this is evidence that Job was not written as a historical account.

Timothy K. Beal says, in Religion and its Monsters, page 40, that parallels between Job and Deuteronomy imply that the author of Job knew the Book of Deuteronomy. For example, he compares Job 2:7 and Deuteronomy 28:35. This is further evidence that Job is story, not history:

Job 2:7: So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

Deuteronomy 28:35: The LORD will strike you with malignant boils of which you cannot be cured, on your knees and legs, and from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head.

The consensus of scholars is certainly that the Book of Job is story - an early novel - not history. R. N. Whybray says, in 'The social world of the wisdom writers', published in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, page 239, the book could not have been written without a wide knowledge of the literary world of the ancient Near East outside Palestine. He says this fact, together with the unexplained peculiarities of the language of the poetical part of the book, has led some scholars to suppose that the author was either a Jew living outside Palestine, or even a non-Jew.

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    Most of the objective commentaries I read on the dating of Job indicated it was a written story from the exilic era, with a few additions somewhere in the3-2nd century BCE. The general conses was that the story it's self had floated around in other cultures and is more a parable, then actual history. 1 up from me, great answer. – seedy3 Nov 1 '15 at 21:52

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