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 …

The Rest of this Post is for Members Only.  If you don’t belong yet, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!  The program doesn’t cost much and all proceeds go to help the needy.  You get a big bang for your buck, so no one loses!