Job: Authorship, Date, and Composition

There are many uncertainties about the origin and composition of the book of Job. The author is anonymous. There are no clear indications of date.  Nevertheless, I here offer my own summation of what I think is the best understanding.  Following my summation, I provide a bullet point list of some of the significant data which is subject to a variety of interpretations.

I suggest that Job is a literary unity which arose either in the late pre-exilic or early post-exilic period of Israel’s history (anywhere from 700-400 BCE).  As part of the wisdom culture of Israel, it is at least post-Solomonic and, it seems to me, that the prominence of the Edomite setting suggests (slightly) a pre-exilic date. But a post-exilic date is also quite possible (maybe even likely if we think the theology of Job is intended to help Israel deal with the implications of the exile for their nation).

However, the setting of the book is more suited to the patriarchial period (Abraham to Jacob). Further, Job and his friends are most likely Edomites or at least Transjordanian. Also, the Hebrew wisdom author creatively situates the participants poetic sections in the past. The author creates the impression that while the narrative arises out Hebrew wisdom and language, the dialogue bears the marks of internationalization through the use of Aramaisms and ancient names for God.

Our author, in short, provides a wisdom lesson through the experience of Edomite wise men a millennium previous to his own time much like we might teach a contemporary lesson through the use of medieval characters. He seeks to teach his own culture (Israel) a wisdom lesson about God, suffering and faith that he thought they needed to hear. Perhaps if we gain a more precise understanding of the “lesson,” we might be able to situate the author more specifically in his own history.

Bottom line….we don’t know much. But we do have a piece of literature that is regarded as world-class literature and functions as Scripture for both Jews and Christians.

Date and Authorship

Who knows? Who can tell? How can anyone tell?

  • The book is anonymous—no author claims it.
  • The book is undated—it is not located in any particular history.
  • The fact that authorities propose dates and authors spanning a millennium indicates that the evidence is inconclusive (Pope, Job [Anchor Bible], xl).

What do we know?

  • It is part of the Hebrew canon with the Hebrew name of God.
  • Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI dates from around 100 BCE
  • Names, places and particulars are consistent with ANE.
  • Story is located outside of Israelite culture (internationalization). Situated in Transjordan (Arabia, Edom), the milieu is patriarchal (e.g., monetary unit in Job 42:11 is only found in Genesis 33:19 and Joshua 24:32).
  •  Sirach (Ecc 49:9) and Testament of Job mention Job dating it before 200 BCE.

What are the proclivities?

  • Evidence of inner-Biblical discourse: dialogue with the Hebrew canon (e.g., Psalm 8?).
  • The final edition assumes a Hebrew metanarrative as a hermeneutical lens.
  • Placement in the “Writings” may indicate later date (perhaps exilic or postexilic).
  • There is nothing in Israel’s history or literature that suggests that such a wisdom document could have appeared before the emergence of wisdom conventions in Israel during the Solomonic era at the earliest.
  • Job is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14, 20—but is it oral or written tradition?
  • The theme may fit exilic or postexilic Judah best, and there appear to be close connections between Job and Jeremiah’s laments as well as Second Isaiah (40-55).
  • Job has many Aramaisms which may indicate a late date (Persian period) but for others it reflects the author’s intentional internationalization of the work (Aramaisms appear in the poems but not in the narrative).[1]
  • The Hebrew of Job is elegant and intricate; indeed, it is “richer than that of any other biblical text” (Greenstein, 652). It is not a work of translation from another ancient language. This is a Hebrew original.
  • Persian characteristics may include nomenclature of officials, development of “satan” (like Zechariah 3), but choice of Edomite wisdom may not suit Israel after 587 BCE. (Edomite names dominate; cf. Genesis 36:4, 11 and Uz is identified with Edom in Lamentations 4:21; Edom was known for its wisdom, Jeremiah 49:7; Obadiah 8.)
  • The names of God define the narrator as Hebrew but the dialogue as deliberately set in a  non-Hebrew or more ancient setting.[2]

Eloah

Shaddai

El

Elohim

Yahweh

Narrator 0 0 0 3 31
Dialogues 41 31 57 13 1
Heb. Bible 57 48 236 2,6000 5,828

Genre

  • Options include:  Dramatic Lament (Westermann), Lawsuit (Sutherland), Controversy Dialogue (Crenshaw), Epic (Sarna), Greek Tragedy (Kallen), or Parable (Maimonides).
  • The Most Significant ANE Parallels:  “Babylonian Theodicy” (1000 BCE; a poetic dialogue of a questioning sufferer with a friend with traditional views and concluding that traditional views are inadequate) and the Akkadian “I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom” [Ludlul Bel Nemeqi] (600-1150 BCE; a monologue lamenting suffering which is perceived as punishment from the gods).[3]  There are other texts that parallel in different ways from Egypt and Mesopotamia (see Pope’s introduction to Job in the Anchor Bible series).
  • But Job is unique in length, variety of genre, theology, , etc. But it does share a common ANE wisdom concern with some similar strategies: the justice of God and human suffering.

Composition

Some suggest this process (critics have different orders but these are the components):

Stage 1:  The Dialogues As Original (chapters 3-31, excluding chapter 28)

Stage 2:  The Prologue/Epilogue Added (chapters 1-2, 42:7-17)

Stage 3:  The Yahweh Speeches Added (chapters 38-42:6)

Stage 4:  The Elihu Speeches Added (chapters 32-37)

Stage 5:  The Wisdom Poem Added (chapter 28).

   Rationale

  • International vs. Hebrew (e.g., Yahwehist) sections (intentional or two works?)
  • Prologue/Epilogue may have been adapted from an oral, ancient folktale.
  • Strong contrast between Narrative and Dialogues (intentional or clumsy?)
  • ANE literature has Dialogues without Prose (but some with both, eg., Egypt).
  • Elihu is not mentioned in the Prologue/Epilogue or Dialogue (potential rationale?)
  • Wisdom Poem as Final Compiler’s resolution (or as part of Job’s speech?)

Where Are We?

  • Uncertainty about literary development (no textual history to suggest it).
  • The possibility of reading the text as a whole (a final editor at least read it that way).
  • The possibility that the text is from a single person, lacks literary growth and is the work of a skilled poet who plays with dissonance within the text.
  • Developmental theories are primarily rooted in hermeneutical moves (e.g., “this does not make sense unless we suppose that “X” was added later, as in “Satan” is not mention in the Dialogues or Elihu is not mentioned in the Epilogue).  Hermeneutics will then judge.
  • The final editor (however that happened) thought the work was coherent, and the community of faith embraced it as a way of serving faith.

Canonical Theology

As part of the canon—both Hebrew and Christian—we embrace the conviction that Job is “word of God” to us. This is a theological commitment linked to community, tradition, and the existential power of the text.

Consequently, we read in hope that God will use this ancient book to transform us and shape us into a people who serve as a light to the nations.


[1] Edward L. Greenstein, “The Language of Job and Its Poetic Function,” JBL 122 (2003) 651-666.

[3] “Babylonian Theodicy” is available at http://www.etana.org/node/582 and “I will Praise” is available at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/1700ludlul.asp.



7 Responses to “Job: Authorship, Date, and Composition”

  1.   Rich constant Says:

    John mark:
    ANE? ?
    please.
    RIcH.

  2.   Daniel Oden Says:

    hi there,
    First of all, thanks for sharing!
    Not sure if you have read this, but Gary Rendsburg, perhaps predictably, considers the Aramaisms in Job as indicative of a Transjordan setting, but suggests that Y-W-‘s speech is Judean.

    See “Monophthongization of aw/ay>a in Eblaite and in Northwest Semitic -” Gary A. Rendsburg (esp. p104ff)

    Eblaitica: Essays on the Ebla Archives and Eblaite Language, Volume 2
    Edited by Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg
    Eblaitica: Essays on the Ebla Archives and the Eblaite Language – EEEAEL 2
    Eisenbrauns, 1990

    Daniel Oden

  3.   Randall Says:

    JMH,
    Thanks for sharing this. I am enjoying it and look forward to the rest of the series. I missed your posts while you were away over the summer and am happy you’re back.

    Additionally, I appreciate your humble spirit in your posts and especially in your dealing with all those that comment here. I spent most of a 37 year career conducting interrogations. I had a natural talent to be confrontational and aggressive when the situation called for it and then that attribute of my personality was “developed” to a significant degree at work. Thus, I have had a propensity to be aggressive and confrontational even when it is inappropriate. Your humble spirit provides a model for me. I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
    Hesed,
    Randall

  4.   Rich constant Says:

    Randall.
    I fore one after all these years of reading your interactions,find that difficult to belive… 🙂
    Blessings to you

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