In his History of Religions published eighty years ago, G. F. Moore acutely remarked: 'It is a common observation that it is not the people whose life seems to us most intolerable that are most discontented with life; despair is a child of the imagination and pessimism has always been a disease of the well-to-do, or at least the comfortably off.' 1 Job and Ecclesiastes (or their creators) give some support to this bold generalization. Both were comfortably off and both were well endowed with imagination. They were the products of a school tradition which nurtured confidence, based on the understanding that the universe was well managed and that life could be well managed too. All you had to do was to learn the ropes.
The presuppositions of this comfortable outlook—'God's in his heaven—All's right with the world'—had been questioned from time to time over the centuries, 2 but Job and Ecclesiastes are the only major works in the Old Testament deliberately undertaken to articulate the doubt and debate then current in the schools. They are generally thought to come from the fifth or fourth and third centuries bc respectively, but we have no evidence to support the speculation that it was at this period that the age-old conflict between the theories of the theologians and the facts of life became more than usually acute.