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The Prose Story of Job

I’ve decided to devote a few posts to the book of Job.   I’ll separate out the two authors and their accounts, and in this post talk about the prose narrative that begins and ends the book – that originally was just one story, without all the intervening materials (chs. 3-39) present in them.

The book begins by describing Job, who is not, as it turns out, an Israelite.  He comes from the land of Uz , which appears to be a fictional place.  Job nonetheless worships Yahweh, and is unusually righteous and upright.  As a result God has rewarded him handsomely.  He has a large family – seven sons and three daughters – and an unbelievable number of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants.   He is so righteous that he not only makes sure that he himself never sins, but he regularly offers burnt sacrifices to God on behalf of his children in case any of them has sinned.

One day the “sons of God” come up to God in heaven, including one called Satan.  The term “Satan,” means “the accuser” or “the adversary.”  Here he is not portrayed as in modern popular imagination as the devil who is the head of demons and is destined for (or is now ruling in) hell; here he is one of the members of God’s divine council.  But he is the one who stands in an accusatory or adversarial relationship with humans.  And especially Job.

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Evaluation of Job’s Short Story
The Two Books of Job



  1. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  July 17, 2013

    I always wondered why God would feel defensive to such an extent that he would accept a bet offered by the Satan if the Satan was just one low-level minion.

    In reality it’s, of course, just an attempt by humans at the time to explain suffering. It’s a fascinating one though.

  2. Avatar
    toejam  July 17, 2013

    Truly one of the most disgusting stories within the entire Bible IMO.

  3. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  July 17, 2013

    I guess this “all knowing god” doesn’t really know the heart of Job or anyone else….This is only ONE reason I don’t believe. Suffering seems to be a normal way of life and WE humans should take care of each other if we are able. I could be wrong (I have been wrong in the past). Just remember, no good deed goes unpunished. LOL

    • bonesdoll
      bonesdoll  July 19, 2013

      “I guess this “all knowing god” doesn’t really know the heart of Job or anyone else….”

      The story does not indicate that God doesn’t know Job’s heart; it’s the Satan that asks the question.
      If God had just said Job will never curse me. We would say “the answer dosen’t prove anything”
      Just like the Satan, he needed to see for him-self to believe it.

      I also dislike this story and find it to be unjust of God, as Job was an innocent bystander.
      but there are also many scripture references to God knowing the heart of man, so a guess it depend on which one you chose to hang onto.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 17, 2013

    I agree. I can’t see why anyone would find this idea anything *but* offensive.

    In fact, I can’t believe any Being who *deserved* to be “worshipped” would *demand* to be worshipped.

  5. Avatar
    dewdds  July 17, 2013

    Cool stuff! Dr. Ehrman, are you aware of any similar, antecedent stories from the Near East from a non-Yahweh tradition?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2013

      There are some — but I’m away from my books on the road just now, and can’t look them up. They should be on the tip of my brain, but alas, they aren’t!

      • Avatar
        EricBrown  July 19, 2013

        Gilgamesh, less about suffering but about mortality, the knowledge of which is, to humans, ongoing suffering

  6. Avatar
    TomTerrific  July 17, 2013

    This is exactly the way the story of Job was explained to me almost sixty years ago in prep school.

    A bit strange to hear it again in almost the same terms many decades later.

    Thanks, Bart.

  7. Avatar
    GeorgeWerkema  July 18, 2013

    Is there any reason to think that the Book of Job is anything other than a moralistic fairy tale?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2013

      I don’t think it’s factual history, as opposed to fiction, if that’s what you mean!

      • Avatar
        els-m3275  June 3, 2014

        To me, it reads very much like a parable – especially the first two chapters and the closing. If that’s what it basically is, maybe we could be accused rightfully of trying to make too much of each little detail instead of determining the major point – such as your summary in the next to last paragraph – and moving on. Also, the Land of Uz is mentioned one other place in the Bible – in Lamentations, I believe – and on various websites there are attempts at locating it. I know this is one of those minor points I am recommending we avoid, but any chance the author did place the story in a real place?

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 18, 2013

    I agree that it is offensive. If God is all-knowing, then He knows the result of any test beforehand and does not need to test and tease humans.

    I did not realize that “Uz” is a fictional place. How interesting.

  9. Avatar
    tcc  July 18, 2013

    The most offensive part of Job is Yahweh’s megalomaniacal rant near the end of the story: “Do not question me! I am the great and powerful YHWH! Have you defeated mythological sea serpents in battle, Job? Well, HAVE YOU!? That’s right, you haven’t–therefore I’m completely justified in destroying your life and killing your kids. Here, now that you’ve cowered in fear of me, have some new kids to replace the old ones”.

    That story, along with Romans 9’s sadistic predestination garbage, was the one-two punch that killed my faith. If this Yahweh character really thinks that you can just REPLACE someone’s children like they’re a set of steak knives, then he’s not only not omniscient, he’s exactly the kind of being that thinks murdering his own son will solve all of the World’s problems.

    Then, when you factor in Ezekiel 20’s statement about Yahweh giving people unjust laws–that include child sacrifice–to show off how powerful he is, you’ve basically got the worst villain in all of literature.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 18, 2013

    BTW, what becomes of the wife who’d urged Job to “curse God and die”? Is she punished in any way? Of course, she would already have shared with Job the loss of their ten children; but that was before she “sinned.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2013

      She appears to have come through unscathed. She gave him seven more sons and three daughters afterward. That would be 20 children altogether, so I guess maybe she wasn’t completely unscathed….

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 19, 2013

    In addition to the all-knowing problem I described previously, if God is all powerful and made Job, then why couldn’t God make Job into any kind of person he wanted certainly into someone who would pass the test. If Job does not pass the test, then wouldn’t that be God’s fault for not making Job better?

  12. Avatar
    eppic  July 19, 2013

    Countless young and innocent children suffer and die without any sort of earthly reward, nor were they ever in any sort of blessed state beforehand. My Christian mother told me with regard to my daughter who was born mentally challenged and suffering with Cerebral Palsey that “Maybe God was trying to get my attention” ie: that God was afflicting my daughter because I had turned away from the Christian faith. Thanks Mom!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2013

      That’s a powerful story. I’m so sorry to hear about it. I do hope you and your daughter can enjoy life in each other’s presence.

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  July 24, 2013

    So far, so good from the astrological perspective. Some priests were astrologers in ancient times. Basically, you have the Sun or the Power Behind the Sun (Aten in Ancient Egypt) and the planet Saturn as a son of God. Saturn brings Wisdom. This is a story about what Satan/Saturn provides.

  14. Avatar
    Eric  August 21, 2013

    I always thought Satan’s fall took place before the creation.Here you say “”Satan should not be seen here as an evil being who is the cause of all misfortune. He is one of the sons of God, a member of God’s divine council, who afflicts Job only because God tells him to do so. He is doing God’s work,”” I guess my question is when Satan’s fall take place

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 22, 2013

      The fall of Satan in the sense you’re thinking of is not in the Bible. But it *is* in Milton!

      • Avatar
        shakespeare66  August 8, 2015

        Yes, the battle of the angels takes place in Paradise Lost. Such an incredible work!

  15. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 7, 2015

    This story along with many others in the Old Testament contribute to the perception of the OT God as an angry man who treats his own creation with total disdain. If man was created in the image of God ( imago dei ), the God has a poor view of himself if he treats his handy work like this. It is such a fiction anyway to portray both Satan and God like humans in a bar making a bet on the outcome of some poor guy’s potential reaction to having everything taken away from him. It reminds me of the games the Greek and Roman Gods played with the lives of humans for their “sport.” ( as Shakespeare reminds us in King Lear…”As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.”) It is a disgusting God and one who is poorly portrayed throughout the OT. It is as if He is the voice of some angry man who needs to vent his frustrations, and He does mercilessly and wantonly.

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