The Prologue to Job: Framing the Poems

The Prologue (Job 1-2) and the Epilogue (Job 42:7-17) are the narrative frame for the poetic dialogues and monologues (Job 3-42:6) that are the heart of the book.  Though it is unfortunate that many only know the narrative frame (the story of Job) and ignore the central core of the book that is the real point of the work, the dialogues are relatively vacuous without the narrative frame. The narratives provide the setting, content and background knowledge necessary to understanding the dialogues. They provide the hermeneutical key for reading the poetic drama.

Generally, I regard Job as a poetic drama, a dramatic lament (much like Westermann). The poems (dialogues and monologues) are the Acts in the play.  The Prologue and Epilogue function as pre- and post-action narrations. The Prologue sets the stage, permits us to see what no one on earth could have seen, and provides some sure footings for interpreting the coming Acts.

The function of the Prologue is similar to the way narrations (in words or audibly narrated) precede the classic movies Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The narrations are not themselves part of the action/play of the movie, but they provide a hermeneutical lens for viewing the film.  In the same way, the Prologue gives the hearer (reader) a particular world in which to understand the coming Acts. We know how to hear the dialogue because the Prologue has given us some hermeneutical keys. Our reading of the poems is guided by the world the narrator has given us. The poems must be read within the narrative frame provided by the final author/editor* just as the The Lord of the Rings can only be understood in the framework of the introductory narration.

If this is the case, how we read the prologue is extremely important. And we will begin to do that tomorrow.

**I understand that contemporary scholarship generally believes that the literary work we call “Job” has undergone literary development. Some believe that the Dialogues were an independent work to which the narratives were added, and others believe the narrative was a story to which the Dialogues were added. I think it is impossible to decide which came first, and it is impossible to discern exactly how this work evolved. It is also quite possible—I think most likely—that the document is the work of a single author.  At the very least, the final editor has given us the work as a literary unit.  The final editor thought it worked as a whole, and the position of the framing narratives is how the final author gives it us. We really don’t have it in any other form. This is the form in which I will read it.**

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