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Job’s So-called Friends (With Friends Like These….)

Now that I have started talking about the book of Job in the context of the afterlife, I feel like I need to keep going, on a bit of a subthread to this thread, and talk about the bulk of the book, the poetic dialogues that take place in chapters 3-41.  These are glorious, powerful, and gripping chapters.   To make sense of them will take several posts.  I have lifted the discussion from my book God’s Problem.


The Poetic Dialogues of Job: There is No Answer

As I indicated at the beginning of this discussion, the view of suffering in the poetic dialogues of Job differs radically from that found in the narrative framing story of the prologue and epilogue.  The issue they dealt with, however, is the same.  If God is ultimately in charge of all of life, why is it that the innocent suffer?   For the folktale it is because God tests people to see if they can retain their piety despite undeserved pain and misery.  For the poetic dialogues, there are different answers for different ones of the figures involved: for Job’s so-called friends, suffering comes as a punishment for sin (this view appears to be rejected by the narrator).  Job himself, in the poetic speeches, cannot figure out a reason for innocent suffering.  And God, who appears at the end of the poetic exchanges, refuses to give a reason.  It appears that for this author the answer to innocent suffering is that there is no answer.


The Overall Structure of the Poetic Dialogues

The poetic dialogues are set up as a kind of back and forth between Job and his three “friends.”  Job makes a statement and one of his friends replies; Job responds and the second friend replies; Job responds again and then the third friend replies.  This sequence happens three times, so that there are three cycles of speeches. The third cycle has somehow become muddled, however, possibly in the copying of the book over the ages: one of the friend’s (Bildad’s) comments are inordinately short in the third go-around (only five verses); another friend’s (Zophar’s) comments are missing this time; and Job’s response at one point appears to take the position that his friends had been advocating and that he had been opposing throughout the rest of the book (ch. 27).  Scholars typically think something has gone awry in the transmission of the dialogues at this point.

But the rest of the structure is clear.  After the friends …

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Did David Exist? And When Did I Know I Lost My Faith? Mailbag April 15, 2017
Why I Find the Story of Job is Disturbing



  1. Avatar
    FadyRiad  April 13, 2017

    Off topic:
    Regarding Paul’s teaching on women:
    I understand you argue that Paul didn’t consider women to be subordinate to men because the things mentioned in the pastoral epistles are irrelevant (because they are pseudographia) and that 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is irrelevant because it is most likely an interpolation. But what about 1 Corinthians 11?

    ” For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,because of the angels.”

    Is this also an interpolation? Doesn’t this demonstrate that Paul considered women to be subordinate to men?
    Also, do you think the last verse is referring to the Grigori/Nephilim story from Genesis 6?
    The Gospel of Lie: will be FREE on kindle14/4 – 17/4

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      No, it’s not an interpolation, and yes, it does show that Paul thought women were subordinate to men in some ways (at least wives to their husbands). But there is alternative evidence as well, including Galatians 3:28 and the fact that women had positions of authorities in Paul’s churches. That’s why there are debates on the matter!

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 13, 2017

    Talk about “disturbing” how about Judges19:16-30 where an old man allows his concubine to be repeatedly raped and abused and then cuts up her body into 12 pieces and distributes these pieces? Egads! That is “disturbing.” Little children shouldn’t be reading this stuff.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  April 13, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, do fundamentalist Christians believe that when God speaks at the end of the Book of Job, that they were actually words spoken by God? I mean, it couldn’t be more obvious that they are the author’s words that he has put into the mouth of God, but do Biblical literalists really think they were words really spoken by God? When you were a fundamentalist, did you believe that?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      Yes, indeed that’s what fundamentalists tend to think (as did I)

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 13, 2017

    OT, suggested by today’s being “Holy Thursday”: This may be a dumb question. But…if we assume Jesus and his disciples really had that Passover meal, it would have been after sundown. And it occurred to me that in an era without electricity, preparing and eating meals after sundown would have been way more of a “chore” than it is now! So, would a meal after sundown have been unusual, undertaken only when it was related to a feast like Passover?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      No, I think people often / usually ate after sundown. Most people were working until then.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  April 16, 2017

      “In an era without electricity”? That’s almost our entire history. The electric light bulb wasn’t invented until the 19th century, and wasn’t really used until the 20th. People have always had meals after sundown.

  5. Avatar
    doug  April 13, 2017

    To love such an abusive God reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome.

  6. Avatar
    godspell  April 13, 2017

    These are arguments that learned Jews of this time would have had–and that even the unlearned might engage in. And they’ve never stopped, really. You don’t have to be religious to have this conversation. You don’t need to believe in God. Every time you hear some well-off person saying “These people are having a hard time because they’re lazy and no good” you’re hearing another variation of it. Social Darwinism remains a going concern, even though Darwin himself wouldn’t have approved. Honestly, I prefer any of the answers of Job’s ‘friends’ to what I hear touted by some unreligious libertarians now.

    The answer is, self-evidently, that Life is unfair. But if the God in Job is evil for behaving in this way–and there is no God in reality–then doesn’t that mean Life itself is evil and cruel and should be rejected? That’s the logic–if you accept it. If you start with the assumption that the only purpose in life is to be comfortable and well-off.

    There clearly is a pattern to Life, to existence, wherever it comes from. No matter what we do, some will suffer, some will be lucky. Some will be born into riches–but also, perhaps, into dysfunctional loveless families. Others may be born poor, but have great internal riches. It’s all out of balance, and we simply have to make what we can of our lives. But because we’re human, because we question things, we can’t ever leave it at that. We want answers.

    Job, to me, is the earliest well-developed expression of this dilemma (you could make a case for Gilgamesh, but that’s only about the angst of a God-King–Job somehow seems closer to the rest of us and he loses more than just a treasured friend.

    One thing about Job that I understand better and better as I age–he can bear the loss of his property and family with equanimity. It’s only when God gives the Adversary leave to afflict him physically that his composure breaks down. This is a very deep truth. As long as you have your health, you can take anything. When the body starts to go, the spirit tends to follow.

    Isn’t evolution a test? So there’s no escaping it, really.

    We are tested in this life. That’s not a story. That’s the truth. Maybe we get nothing more for passing the test than to know we passed it–assuming we do. But that’s what it is. Not a metaphor. The truth.

  7. Avatar
    wostraub  April 13, 2017

    I guess that portion of Job where a fifth friend drops by and suggests that suffering of the innocent exists because there is no God was deleted by an ancient editor.

    Another great informative post, Dr. Ehrman. Blessings!

  8. Avatar
    Lance  April 13, 2017

    Professor Ehrman: Do you see as a possible interpretation or even an exegesis of Job, that God is just another nature god (like those of the Ancient Near East), meaning God’s response (38-41) with attention to creation and nature show that he is not known and made manifest through his interactions with humans; thus an assault on a fundamental tenant of Israelite religion? Job vehemently insists upon his innocence and raises some very serious questions to God: why am I suffering? Is there divine retributive justice? God seems to circumvent all of Jobs important questions with his response. Job’s friends error was that they all believed in a system of divine retributive justice (like in Proverbs or the Deuteronomistic HIstorian), friends condemned in (42:7). Job’s error is that even though he does not believe in retributive justice, he really thinks there should be one. Thus Job repents for misunderstanding this, and clings to his righteousness despite the fact that it will gain him nothing (neither rewarded or punished).. Any thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      Yes, he certainly is a nature God. But he is a personal God as well — who appears as a prosecutor in court in the poems)

  9. Avatar
    TBeard  April 13, 2017

    It surprises me a couple of people who made comments yesterday thought you took the story of Job literally. Anyone who knows anything about you and especially a member of your blog would know you’re agnostic. Even though you as well as several members of this blog, including myself believe there was a historical Jesus, most consider characters like Job , Moses and probably Abraham to be myth.

  10. Avatar
    dragonfly  April 14, 2017

    The adversary points out that God has been protecting Job and blessing all he does. Isn’t that why Job is so faithful? The question is answered in the poetic section, righteousness is a virtue in itself, and Job will hold it no matter what. It’s a good question for Christians today. If there were no heaven and hell, no afterlife, no reward or punishment, would you still lead a right and moral life?

  11. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  April 14, 2017

    hello Bart

    i asked few days ago about the post under the title : Christians Who Thought Jesus Was Adopted by God:
    my question was some how not clear so you replied by saying : I”m not sure what you’re asking. What statements are you wondering about?

    so let me repeat my question

    my understanding is you are suggesting in that article that adoptionism is possibility it is not a confirmation. you are giving a perspective of adoptionism. Suggestive view , you are not endorsing it but merely citing that it is a possibility in other word this is just Suggestive view and you are not endorsing it but merely citing that it is a possibility . is this your stand on adoptionism which were discussing in the article ?


    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      You’re asking my personal opinion? I don’t think Jesus was the Son of God in any sense different from anyone else.

  12. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  April 14, 2017

    Bart, something I want to share on a completely different subject: I just read an interview with Oliver Sacks on hallucinations at http://www.csicop.org/si/show/oliver_sacks_on_hallucinations. You may have already read some of his work in your study of hallucinations.

    Some of the phenomena he describes are connected, in my view, with the experience people had (allegedly) of Jesus after he had been buried. One point he brought up is that a portion of people in an old age home who had lost certain capabilities would “….develop hallucinations in the mode in which they are defective. So the blind and partially blind get purely visual hallucinations. Deaf people get auditory hallucinations, most commonly musical rather than verbal. People who’ve lost their sense of smell can get smell hallucinations.” I thought, “Well, maybe people who have been deprived of something political/spiritual–like someone they thought was the messiah–could have a comparable experience”….of having him once they’d lost him.

    Many people did not fear their hallucinations but found them comforting. One man who had been blind a while, after he’d been having visual hallucinations, “imagined his eyes saying, ‘We know blindness is no fun so we have concocted this small syndrome as a sort of coda to your sighted life. It’s not much, but it’s the best we can do’.”

    There was a woman who had hallucinated long before drugs but, when she was started on L-Dopa, they became more social and erotic. She loved them and got to the point at which she could control them and not have them until 8pm. Then she would hallucinate the man who would visit and they’d have sex. It’s been reported and admitted by some women that their closeness to Christ was almost erotic. And certainly there’s Pentecostals who have ecstatic experiences once a week.

    Anyway, there’s more but I thought I’d give you a flavor of what he covers.

    I found it very interesting and suggestive….

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      Yes, his fuller book on the matter, called Hallucinations, is well worth reading.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  April 16, 2017

      Oddly enough, I know someone who told me her relationship with Christ was sometimes erotic, especially during worship. She went into geat detail about it at which point I thought–she should probably keep this information to herself! That was one awkward conversation.

      I used to be Pentecostal, so I’m well acquainted with their emotionally charged services. That type of environment can make a person an adrenaline junkie for sure. Toward the end of my Pentecostal journey, I found those experiences were becoming increasingly unsatisfying. I don’t know how church members can maintain such a lifestyle for so many years without feeling like they’re going in circles.

  13. Avatar
    Gary  April 14, 2017

    Off topic question for the next mailbag: Dr. Ehrman what do you think of this theory?

    “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

    Mark 16:6-7

    Why does the author of the Gospel of Luke omit this command of Jesus, spoken by the young man (angel?) to the women at the Empty Tomb? It is not as if the author of Luke was unfamiliar with this story. After all, scholars say that he borrowed (plagiarized?) 60% of the Gospel of Mark in his book. So why would he never mention this command? Why would he never mention any appearances in Galilee?

    Answer: He knew that “Mark” had made it up! Luke knew that Mark had created a fictional account of a young man in the tomb telling the women to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Therefore, Luke felt completely free to ignore this detail…and create his own fictional account…but this time with two angels, not one young man, and with appearances in Jerusalem, not Galilee!

    And then there’s this: The author of Luke says that “many” authors had already written about Jesus. Was he referring to Matthew in this “many”? We don’t know. But we do know that scholars believe that in addition to Mark’s Gospel, Luke and Matthew borrowed from another source, Q. Did Q include this command of Jesus for the disciples to meet him in Galilee? We don’t know, but it seems odd that if Q had the same appearance claims in Jerusalem that Luke has, that Matthew would completely omit these Jerusalem appearances.

    So here is an even bigger question: Did Luke know that the Resurrection accounts in Mark, Q, and Matthew were ALL fictional and that is why he felt free to write a completely new fictional account of appearances in Jerusalem, ignoring Jesus’ command for the disciples to meet him in Galilee?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      It’s a long story, but the short of it is that Luke omitted the saying because he was determined to show that Jesus did NOT meet the disciples in Galilee but in *Jerusalem* — specifically in Jerusalem. Why? He sees the history of salvation moving toward Jerusalem, capital of the Jews, and away from Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth. The move *to* Jerusalem is in Luke and the move *away* is in Acts. So the disciples never flee Jerusalem (to Galilee) after Jesus’ death but see him raised nad ascended from there and begin the Xn mission there. So the angel cannot tell them to go to Galilee to see Jesus.

      • Avatar
        Gary  April 15, 2017

        So you believe the author made up the appearance stories for literary/theological purposes; he wasn’t simply recording oral legends?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 16, 2017

          I think he was incorporating a different set of oral traditions from the ones he found in Mark and was shaping them in light of his own theological views.

  14. Avatar
    tskorick  April 14, 2017

    “Job repents of his desire to understand” – very well summarized, and in a way that got me slapped a lot by older church people when I was in my early teens 🙂 In that vein, it’s not just a little vexing to me how worthless an education seems to be for believers in antiquity. In the Judeo-Christian mythology the first sin ever committed was in the pursuit of knowledge, Solomon was supposedly wise but not because of effort on his part, but rather he was given this gift directly from God, and even in the gospels the groups that bear the brunt of the leading figures’ tongue-lashings are among the most educated Jews in Palestine.

  15. Avatar
    Colin P  April 15, 2017

    Hi Bart. Off topic completely, but there was a very interesting documentary shown on TV here in the UK last night entitled “The last days of Jesus”. The contributors included Helen Bond, Tom Holland, James Tabor (all of whom I have read a book by) and Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici. The premise of the documentary was that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and subsequent arrest and crucification was all an attempted power play involving Jesus, Herod Antipas and Sejanus, emperor Tiberius’ number 2. It was suggested that there was an understanding between them that Heriod would be made King, while Jesus, leader of a popular religious movement, would take over the spiritual leadership previously held by the despised Saducees. Consequently when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, the Saducees, whom the action was aimed against, were powerless to do anything. Unfortunately it all went wrong for them when Tiberius denounced Sejanus for treason and had him killed giving the Saducees the chance to have Jesus arrested and killed. Some of the argument rested on fairly flimsy evidence e.g. Jesus’ entry into Jesrusalem was months earlier than previously thought at the festival of tabernacles when palm leaves were at hand to pave his way. However, although highly speculative, I thought the connection of events with the political machinations of the day was entirely possible. Have you come across this theory before?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2017

      It strikes me as highly speculative and, well, lacking in evidence….

  16. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  April 15, 2017

    Bart ! I just want to say, thank you for all that you do! I am in a good mood and have feelings of being blessed. No matter what happens to us, when we fall, we always get back up, here or after.. No more pain, and no more suffering is a promise.

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