The book of Job is, in a sense, ahistorical. Unlike Esther, which is placed alongside particular kings, Job is more of an absolute moral fable, a tale centred around a tradition of wisdom, a pattern of education. Thus in Job we have more to speak about what people think about it, than it’s actual contents, at least in historical terms.
Briefly, because it is so well known; Job is the tale of a man endowed with all the goods things in life. God and Satan(in the original Satan is literally ‘the accuser’ and his moral philosophical position not nearly as tied to ‘evil’ as it would later be) are having a chat where God says “Job is Awesome, and so pious!” and Stan replies “Well of course, look at everything he’s got! Take it all away and see how fast he curses you.” So the bet is on and in turn God destroyed Job’s Wealth, takes away his servants, kills his family, his flocks and eventually his health, covering him with boils and so forth.
This than gets to what is actually the ‘meat’ of Job. Job is confronted by several of his friends and what proceeds is a set of moral arguments in regards to Jobs position versus God and fate and so forth. This is the part that usually gets skipped in the general telling of the tale, which is interesting in that it’s sort of the ‘point’ of it, though it’s interpretation, as we shall touch on, has altered over time.
Job eventually gets to talk to God, and for his piety God returns to him his health, his riches, and he gets new wives and children etc. etc. The moral issues of being say one of Jobs daughters who had to die to prove a point always kind of gets me, but that, as I shall discuss, is beside the point, I don’t think
Job is intended to be thought of as ‘something that actually happened.’ Instead it’s a way to discuss certain moral problems; Why do Bad things happen to good people, for example. What do we owe God. and so forth.
The traditions assosciated with this chapter have changed over time. Job can be seen as a moral parable in which the good Job undergoes suffering but retains faith and thus gets rewarded in the end. It can be seen as a moral parable about wealth and the disconnect between what we believe we have control over and what we don’t. A sort of ‘There but for the grace of god go I.’ Situation. It also stands within a certain ‘Wisdom tradition’. This ‘style’ of thinking, in which a moral parable frames discussion of particular aspects of wisdom, would have been very familiar in the period Job was penned, sometime probably in the 4th Century BCE. We see this in other comparable traditions in Babylonian and Egyptian texts. It’s certainly equatable with many other examples we have of ‘Man getting cursed by God(s) and than having to accept a moral lesson’. Job can than be seen as a sort of fable.
Job is another of the major stories of the bible that has permeated popular culture and certainly was well known in the period of the King James translation and afterward. In this the latter interpretation I mentioned seemed more popular; as an invective to the poor to accept their lot, because their piety would lead to greater reward, while reminding the rich that all they had was but for the grace of God. In this it could thus serve both as a way of reaffirming the class structure and delegitimizing popular uprisings, while also enabling a critique of the upper classes. A perhaps unfortunate side-effect of this reading can be to interpret negative things that happen in general to people as the deserved will of God. This of course is somewhat at odds with it’s original interpretation, but gets to I think a moral element many people want to believe; that the Good are rewarded and the Bad punished. Even the end of Job some-what feeds into this, with Job receiving a very material and corporeal reward for his piety.
Next time we’ll have something a little different as we sing a few Psalms and contemplate what I think after half a year of Bible reading.