In my last couple of posts I dealt with the short story of Job and evaluated its view of suffering. For the next two or three posts I’ll talk about poetic section that takes up the bulk of the book, chs. 3-42. This is how I discuss these sections in my new Bible Intro (due out in the Fall).
Since the same characters appear in the poetic section of the book as in the prose narrative, either the author of the poetry was familiar with the story in a written form, or there were various accounts of Job and his friends floating around in oral circulation in ancient Israel. Along with Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, a fourth friend comes to be introduced as well into the poetic section, a man named Elihu.
I have a called this large middle section a “poetic dialogue.” That is because, obviously, it is set in poetry and because it involves a discussion between Job and his friends, whose friendly advice is actually filled with animosity and condemnation. The dialogue involves a series of complaints by Job (who never complained in the prose narrative; in fact, the point of the narrative is that he never complains), each one followed by a response by one of the friends. Job complains that he does not deserve what he is getting, the first friend responds by telling him that he in fact probably does deserve it; Job complains again, the second friend responds similarly; Job complains again, the third friend responds. Then that sequence is repeated two more times, so that the chapters present a series of three different rounds of complaints and responses. The third round, unfortunately, got muddled a bit as scribes copied this long book over the centuries. In the third round of complaints and responses, Bildad’s speech is only five verses long; Zophar’s speech is missing altogether; and most remarkably, Job himself starts arguing precisely for the position that in the rest of the book he has been arguing against. It appears that (by scribal error) Job has been given Zophar’s speech, and a few other things got messed up in the process.
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