Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview

Job
1987

The prophet Ezekiel mentions Job alongside Noah and Daniel as a paragon of righteousness ( Ezek. 14:12-20); from this we know that Job was a byword among the sixth-century B.C.E. Judahite exiles whom the prophet addressed. But from Ezekiel and from the late passing reference to Job's patience (or perseverance) in James 5:10-11, one would never guess the complexity of the character set forth in the book that bears his name. Indeed the book's representation of Job seems to some modern scholars so disharmonious as to warrant the hypothesis that two characters have been fused in it: "Job the patient," the hero of the prose frame of the book; and "Job the impatient," the central figure of the poetic dialogue. In the prose story, Job the patient withstands all the calamities inflicted on him to test the sincerity of his piety and is finally rewarded by redoubled prosperity. The moral is: Piety for its own sake is true virtue and in the end is requited. It is this old story -- often called a folktale -- that is supposed to have been known to Ezekiel's audience. Later, the hypothesis continues, a far more profound thinker (perhaps a survivor of the Babylonian Exile and its crisis of faith) used the temporary misfortune of the hero as the setting for his poem, in which the conventional wisdom of the tale is radically challenged.

This theory is based on expectations of simplicity, consistency, and linearity that are confuted by the whole tenor of the book. Reversal and subversion prevail throughout -- in sudden shifts of mood and role and in a rhetoric of sarcasm and irony. The dialogue contains much response and reaction but no predictable or consiste course of argument. When to these disconcerting features are added the exotic

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