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The Two Books of Job: A Blast from the Past

I have been arguiong that there are different views of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  The dominant view is that all people go to Sheol when they die — either they stay in the grave or there is some place that they all gather, a completely uninteresting, dark, dreary place where nothing really happens.  Some authors, though, suggest there is no afterlife at all.  Ecclesiastes, in one or two places, seems to suggest this, as does the book of Job.

Before looking at the relevant passage in Job, I need to say something about the book as a whole, since it is one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible, in part because most readers don’t realize that the book comes from the hands of two different authors, living at different times and places, with very different points of view.  Here is how I explain it all in a post I made over four years ago, in the context of a thread dealing with how biblical authors deal with the problem of suffering.

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In my previous post I mentioned that the book of Job is almost certainly the work of two different authors, with two different views – of Job, of Job’s relation with God, of the reason for Job’s sufferings, of Job’s reaction to suffering, and just about everything else. I’ve been asked to give reasons that scholars have (long) thought that this is the case – that there are two different works that have been spliced together. Here I’ll lift my introduction to Job from my yet-to-be-published textbook on the Bible, due to come out in the Fall. In my next post or so I’ll say a few words at greater length about the views of suffering in the two different parts of Job.

 

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One of the difficulties that most readers have with Job – possibly without realizing that they are having the problem – is that they do not realize that this book is not simply the work of one author with one consistent view of how to explain the problem of suffering, specifically the suffering of the righteous. The book in fact has two separate parts to it, and scholars have long recognized that these two parts almost certainly come from two different authors, writing at two different times. And most important, these two authors had two different views of how to deal with the problem of suffering. When someone later combined their two writings into one larger piece, it created all sorts of havoc for interpreters, since the beginning and ending of Job (both of these are from one author) support a different view of suffering from the middle (which is from the other author).

 

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Understanding the Story of Job
My Meditation Practice and Women at the Empty Tomb: Readers Mailbag April 9, 2017

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Comments

  1. andersg89  April 10, 2017

    Thank you for this post, Job is indeed a fascinating and misunderstood book. I was already aware that there was (at least) two different authors but I didn’t know the poetic part was considered a completely independent work. It was my understanding the second author and the editor was the same person or possibly group. Could you explain a little bit why scholars hold the view and if the editor represent a third point of view?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 10, 2017

      Mainly the reason for thinking that the second author (the poet) and the redactor were different people is that by adding the narrative at the beginning and end, the entire *point* of the poetry is altered (so that people still remember Job as the patient sufferer -=- not at all as he is portrayed in chs. 3-41!)




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      • andersg89  April 10, 2017

        Doesn’t the entire point of the poetry hinge on the narrative? It’s only the narrative that proves that Job is righteous, without it you could claim that Job had it coming. After all, he dares to question God




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 11, 2017

          Yes, it’s the whole point *IF* you have the narrative. The author of the poems did not, and he meant something very different from what the author of the narrative did.




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      • dragonfly  April 11, 2017

        I’m not convinced. I think the original story was well known and the poet used it as a framework to subvert the original message that righteousness is rewarded and sin is punished. Job doesn’t get everything back because of his righteousness, he gets it back because God just decided to. Suffering comes inexplicably and so does restoration. In ch27 job answers the question the satan asked in ch1: yes he will maintain his righteousness and integrity even though he has lost everything. For me at least, it is far more meaningful this way.




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 11, 2017

          Yes, it was more meaningful that way for the later editor as well!




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  2. godspell  April 10, 2017

    It sounds to me like the middle part is somebody reacting to the original story, putting his own spin on it, using it to make his own points, and assuming that his readers will know the original story.

    The Greek playwrights did this all the time. Take an existing story known to basically your entire target audience, one with a relatively simple moral, and deepen it, use it to ask more far-reaching questions, that may not admit of any easy answer.

    I think we have to recognize that the people writing these stories did not take them literally. Job is not treated as a genuine historical figure, any more than Jonah is. It’s a teaching story, in both versions. But the lesson being taught is different. And that, again, is part and parcel of this type of storytelling, in any tradition.




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  3. talmoore
    talmoore  April 10, 2017

    The middle part of Job, where Job is arguing theodicy with this friends, that is probably one the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to read in Hebrew. It’s full of so many anarchronisms, so many obscure words and idioms, that I literally had to read it with a Hebrew dictionary open next to me. Meanwhile, the first couple chapters that open the book read as easily as an Israeli newspaper. So I can see what you mean by two different authors.




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  4. Eskil  April 10, 2017

    > these two authors had two different views of how to deal with the problem of suffering
    > the book begins and ends in a prose […] the middle is in poetry

    How does historical criticism rule out that the writer was not your kind? You held different views in our youth and now. You use different writing styles in academic and popularised books.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      Yes, one has to consider the option! But there are clear literary indicators (e.g., writing style) that we are dealing with two different authors.




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  5. fishician  April 10, 2017

    You don’t have to be a scholar to recognize that the beginning and end of Job don’t match what’s In between in style or content. Fun to watch the contortions of some trying to make it all seem the same because they have to believe it was all from one inspired author.




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  6. caseyjunior  April 10, 2017

    This is way off topic, but, like several members last week, I’d love to know your response to last week’s PBS “documentary” on the last days of Jesus. I found it to be pretty ridiculous and sensationalistic. The presenters took a handful of facts and proceeded to make Jesus into a well educated, middle class conspirator against the Roman and priestly authorities. Personally, I was disappointed in PBS for showing it, since it seemed to me to be in the tradition of In Search Of Ancient Aliens, etc. After this diatribe you probably won’t need to watch it, but thank you for letting me vent.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      I’m afraid I didn’t see it. What I’ve heard about it so far has not been inspiring….




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    • Wilusa  April 11, 2017

      Thank you for letting me know I was right in not bothering to watch it!




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  7. mjt  April 10, 2017

    Is this pretty much the same argument for Isaiah being the result of two authors?

    Was it commonplace for a redactor to combine multiple sources together?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      Yes, similar kinds of arguments. ANd yes, we do have numerous examples, both Jewish and Christian. (Christian, e.g., 2 Corinthians; the Didache; the Apostolic Tradition; etc.)




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  8. Jason  April 10, 2017

    If the authors and the editor represent 3 POVs, do we know if the later author meant to tell a competing story for the same character, or is there a more interesting explanation?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      The usual sense is that hte two authors wrote independently of one another about a legendary figure Job, and a yet later editor combined the two books into one.




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  9. crucker  April 10, 2017

    So I’m guessing the redactor removed some parts of the prose story (e.g. God’s response to Job)? When I read those sections at the beginning and end together and skipping the middle, it seems like we’re missing that part of the story (and maybe more). I’m supposing the redactor thought the poetry story could fill its place? Do we have any ancient texts that have more verses or alternative arrangements of the text?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      Yes, some of the narrative must have been lost, since at the end God is ticked off at the friends, who didn’t do anything wrong in the tale itself (only in the poetry)




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  10. RonaldTaska  April 11, 2017

    You present, as you usually do, a persuasive argument, in this case that Job was written by two authors. It’s interesting to me how often Bible books seem to be written by multiple authors including the first five books of the Bible having at least four sources. It makes me wonder why this happened so often in ancient times?

    For readers new to this blog, I highly recommend Dr, Ehrman’s “Textbook on the Bible” as well as his “Textbook on the New Testament.” They are both very readable and helpful books.




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  11. Eric  April 12, 2017

    Fascinating, thank-you for resurrecting this article, I remember from four years ago.

    This “two separate stories” fact seems to suggest one of three possibilities.

    1). The editor found two stoies about suffering, combined them, and chose the name of one of the main characters (Job) and replaced the other story’s main character name (Siegfried?) with it throughout.

    2) The two stories were already both about a character named Job, and this in fact suggested the combining of them to the editor. (in addition to the subject matter). But this could have happened one of two ways

    a) Total random chance that both original authors chose the name Job.

    b) There was a tradition both original authors leveraged of a character swho suffered mightily, and that (probably oral) tradition used the name Job and spread widely.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 13, 2017

      Yes, I think it was 2b (and my sense is that this is the general scholarly view)




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  12. jcutler79  April 13, 2017

    Thank you Dr. Ehrman for putting together so many easily digestible explanations of interesting topics, including this one. I have two questions:

    1) Since you mention that there are other scholars who have written about the authorship of Job, could you maybe give a *brief* history of modern scholarship on Job with names of a few important scholars and titles of their most important works on the subject? I like opportunities for further reading.

    2) Do we have any estimates as to when the different components of Job were originally produced? I heard once that Job was, simply, “very old” as far as Old Testament books are concerned.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2017

      I’m actually not aware of debates about the authorship of Job, since it is anonymous and no names are attached to it in the tradition. And I think it is very hard to date the piece, it is so unlike other things we have in the Hebrew Bible tradition. possibly some other blog members have considered opinions?




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