AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon. | Contents. | Structure and Date: | Structure. | Date. | The Solution of the Problem of the Book. | The Text of the Book.


Few Old Testament books have had so many different places assigned to them in the Canon as has the Book of Job. This is, possibly, due to different theories of authorship.

The Hebrew Canon, representing the opinion of Jewish scholars to whom the book was anonymous, placed it third in the Kethubim, or Writings, after Psalms and Proverbs. (See p.5.)

The Septuagint placed all the poetical books after the historical writings and before the Prophets. In the view of those responsible for the arrangement of the Greek versions, the book was anonymous, and they placed before it, not only Psalms and Proverbs, but the two shorter books also which were connected with Solomon, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

The Peshitta, on the supposition that the book was the work of Moses, put it immediately after Deuteronomy.

The arrangement of the books in the Vulgate suggests a combination of this view with the order of the Septuagint, and counts it as the first of the poetical books, though in other respects its arrangement of this group is the same as that of the Septuagint.

Most modern versions, including the English, follow the Vulgate.


The book of Job is professedly a story rather than a piece of history. [This is made obvious by the opening words in Hebrew where a formula of introduction is employed which is never used in books that claim to be history, even in an historical romance such as Ruth.]

It is the record of the intellectual struggle and the spiritual agony of a man who had plumbed the depths of human suffering and had tried to harmonize his experience with his belief in an all-powerful, all-wise all-loving God. [The same problem is handled in a few other places in the OT, e.g. in Hab.i.12 ff; Jer..1 f; Pss,xxxvii, xlix, lxi, and above all, in Isa.lii.13-liii.]

It opens with a picture of job in his innocence and moral perfection (i.1-5). The scene changes to the court of Yahweh in heaven, where His servants come to report on their work.

One of the officials is the Satan [Always occurring with the definite article.], whose business it is to discover whether good men are really good, and to bring the guilty before Yahweh for judgement and punishment. He is a kind of divine Attorney General. Yahweh calls his attention to Job's perfections, and the Satan, who, in virtue of his profession, is necessarily somewhat cynical, refuses to believe that Job's conduct is disinterested, and insists that he is righteous for the sake of the prosperity with which he is rewarded. Yahweh gives the Satan permission to test Job, and a sudden series of disasters falls upon him, which, though reducing him to childlessness and beggary, does not make him swerve from his loyal submission to Yahweh (i.6-22). Again Yahweh asks, the Satan about job, and the latter retorts that the suffering has not gone deep enough; Job himself must be attacked. As a result, grievous and loathsome sickness falls upon the victim, and he becomes an outcast. In spite of his wife's advice he still refuses to blame Yahweh. Three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to comfort him (ch.ii).

Up to this point the book has been written in prose, but it now becomes poetry, which extends down to xlii.6. The poem consists of a dialogue between Job and his friends, ending with the appearance of Yahweh and Job's final submission. The subject of debate is the age-long problem of the meaning of suffering, and it is worth noting that it could have arisen in this form nowhere in the ancient world except in Israel. The fact of suffering is universally admitted, and the attempt to avoid or escape it is one of the permanent springs of human action. But it becomes a problem only when it conflicts with the religious theory of a single ruler of the whole universe, who is at once omnipotent, wise, and good. This is a doctrine that does not appear in the ancient world outside Israel; the question is an inevitable corollary of that ethical monotheism in which Judaism stood alone.

The solution of the problem, maintained by the friends, is that easy misinterpretation of the prophetic doctrine of retribution that regarded all suffering as punitive. Job must have been wicked beyond all men to incur so great a penalty. From this position the friends never move. The only change they experience is emotional, not intellectual.

As the debate proceeds, they grow steadily more angry with Job, and more outspoken in their accusations. The discussion is arranged in set form. Job speaks first, and then each of the three friends speaks in turn, a speech of Job following each of the others. This cycle is repeated three times, though in our present text no third speech is assigned to Zophar, an omission generally held to be due to textual corruption. Finally, in chs.xxix-xxxi Job utters his concluding speech, ending with a great oath of purgation in ch.xxxi, and an appeal to Yahweh to appear and pronounce on the case.

This section, chs.iii-xxxi, forms the core of the book, and requires further discussion.

The three friends are delicately distinguished from one another. Eliphaz, the eldest, is kindly, pious, even mystical, relying for his theology on direct revelation. Bildad is less sympathetic, but has the weight of ancient authority behind him. Zophar, the youngest, needs neither divine revelation nor tradition, for he himself knows all that needs to be known, and feels that he can state the truth with absolute and serene dogmatism. Yet they all represent exactly the same point of view, and contribute nothing to the elucidation of the problem.

Job, on the other hand, moves forward, and one of the features of the poet's skill lies in the fact that each step he takes is made possible by something that the friends say.

Thus his first speech, ch.iii, is simply a cry of pain, whose rhetorical questions in no way imply a real intellectual problem. Eliphaz, seeking to offer comfort, suggests that God is responsible for Job's calamities, and that if he will but repent and submit to God, all will be well. Never has the futility of orthodox consolation been more ruthlessly exposed. Job's children are dead, and twenty others would not make up for those that have gone.

He is suffering from leprosy in its most terrible form, and can expect nothing but lingering pain, with She'ol as his only release. Truly Eliphaz would "heal the breach lightly"! But he has given Job an idea - it is God who is responsible, and the sufferer must ask why it is that irresponsible Omnipotence thus tortures him. Bildad replies that God is "righteous". [While the description of Job's disease in ii.7 is too vague to allow of accurate diagnosis, the references to the symptoms in the poem (i.e. vii.5, 14-15, ix.18, xxx.30) leave no doubt as to the nature of the sickness.]

The term has a double meaning, originally indicating the successful party in a legal action, and thence acquiring an ethical content. Job at once seizes on the word, and from this point onward the metaphor of the law-court is always with him. He admits that God is "righteous" in the forensic sense, but that makes matters only the worse, since there is no hope either of a fair trial or of an appeal. God is against him, and God is bound to win, for He is at once accuser, judge and executioner.

Zophar urges him to submit, since he can never reach God (xi.7), and the very denial kindles in Job's mind the thought that there may some day be a chance of stating his case before God (e.g. i.3, xiv.15).

In the second cycle of the debate the irritation of the friends has grown through the stubbornness of Job, and they feel that his impiety must be accompanied by deep-seated sinfulness. Eliphaz calls attention to the absolute purity of God, in whose sight even perfection is imperfect.

Job replies that whatever wrong he has done, he has not deserved the unique punishment that has fallen upon him. A gleam of hope springs from this belief in divine faultlessness. And for a moment the thought comes over him, as the emotional tension of the poem heightens, that God must, after all, be on his side, and he appeals away from the God of orthodox theology to God as He must be (xvi.18-21). But instantly his newborn relief is turned to despair. He is doomed, and even God cannot help him, for the grave is his only goal.

Once more Bildad intervenes, and his contemptuous rebuke, which is almost an abusive threat, drives Job to the climax of his spiritual agony.

In frantic desperation he turns this way and that - God, his family, the friends - finding neither help nor hope, he makes the great leap of faith and reaches solid ground in the thought that, after all, death cannot be the end. There must be still, beyond the grave, the possibility that God will see true justice done, and Job himself will know it -

apart from my flesh, I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And mine eyes shall behold, And not as a stranger. (xix. 26b-27).

This is not yet a general doctrine of immortality, though it contains the germ of one; but it does restore Job's confidence in the ultimate rightness of the universe and its Governor. To the great problem there is a solution, and here or hereafter it is possible for Job to know it.

This does not end the debate.

The general question of the government of the universe still remains unsolved, and Job turns to that again. His own sorrows are not forgotten, but they have already lost the keenness of their edge, and are much rather an illustration, in an extreme form, of the problem to be solved. Even Zophar's violence fails to rouse Job to passion, and his next speech, in ch.xxi, is a new statement of the general problem. This Eliphaz does not attempt to handle, but charges Job with definite sins, so dramatically preparing the way for the great oath of purgation in ch.xxxi. Otherwise Job is untouched by these accusations, and he now addresses himself to the problem of reaching God to lay his case before Him; the forensic metaphor once more rises to the surface.

Chs.xxv-xxvii are apparently in some disorder. Bildad's speech in xxv is very short, and xxvi, now put into the mouth of Job, is almost a continuation of it. Most commentators feel that the first verse of xxvi has found its way into the text by accident, and that Bildad's third speech includes this chapter also. Of Job's answer only xxvii.1-6 survives, for it seems clear that the remainder of ch.xxvii belongs to Zophar. Probably a section containing the end of Job's speech and the beginning of Zophar's was lost at an early stage in the history of the text.

Ch.xxviii, even if original, is a parenthesis, and the debate concludes with Job's utterance in xxix-xxxi. The first of these chapters is devoted to a description of his former happiness. draws the contrast of his present misery. And in xxxi, Job gives a detailed statement of the moral standard he has always attained.

This is, many will feel, the highest point reached by the practical ethics of the Old Testament, in its justice, purity, and humanity, transcending anything that we find in the Law. The chapter ends (verses 38-40 are clearly out of place and should be read earlier in the chapter) with a proud appeal to God to appear and to hear the case job can present.

At this point another character intervenes in the person of Elihu. He is younger than the rest, and has not hitherto been mentioned. His views occupy chs.xx-xxxvii, in the course of which he states his doctrine that the function of suffering is purgative. No further notice is taken of him, either by Job or by anyone else, and in xxxviii-xli Yahweh replies to Job's challenge, giving a picture of His majesty and power, which reduces Job to humble submission (xl.3-5, xlii.1-6). He has seen God for himself, and in that vision all his doubts and questionings sink into the background.

In xlii.7 the prose narrative is resumed. Yahweh justifies Job, condemns the friends, accepts the prayer of Job for their forgiveness, and restores to him double of what he has lost.

The book closes with a picture that represents the ancient Israelite ideal of prosperity.


I Structure.

The unity of the book has been widely challenged in recent years. Discussion has centred, in the main, about three points:

  1. the relation of the prose opening and conclusion to the poem,
  2. the originality of the Elihu speeches,
  3. the originality of one or two shorter passages, e.g. ch.xxviii and xl.15-xli.34.

(a) It is held by many that the prose passages at the beginning and end of the book, are not the work of the poet to whom we owe the intervening chapters. A difference is to be found in the divine name. In the prose we have Yahweh, in the poem other names, e.g. Shaddai (a term confined to P in the Pentateuch), and especially El and Eloah, the latter being a late singular formed from the naturally plural word Elohim.

The fact that Job's sufferings are explained in the introduction by reference to the Satan, who does not appear at all in the poem, is easily understood on the ground that none of the earthly characters knows of the council in heaven, though it would not have been unnatural for a reference to have been introduced in Yahweh's speeches. But the whole conception of religion is different; that patient submission which the prologue ascribes to Job is what the friends want, not what the poet approves. The characters, both of Job and his friends, differ in the two parts. Even more impressive is the atmosphere that surrounds the two. With the opening verses of ch.iii we are conscious of the same kind of contrast with which we should meet if we read the story of Creation in Gen.ii.4ff, and then went straight back to the beginning of ch.i. It is the difference between a nursery story with a moral, and a philosophical discussion, inflamed by personal intimacy with the problem at issue. Not only is there this wide difference in the cultural ages of the two parts, but the relation of the author to his work strikes us at once. The narrator in chs.i, ii is telling a story about someone else; he makes us feel something of the tragedy of Job, but we see it sympathetically from the outside. The poet, on the other hand, was himself his hero; he was the leper who, through pain and torturing doubts of God, did win his way to a faith of some kind. It is, as so many commentators have remarked, with his own heart's blood that the poem is written; it is the agony of his own soul that he lays bare before us.

At the same time it is clear that the poem presupposes the introduction. It is true that the writer once or twice forgets himself (e.g. in xix.17 his children are still living), but such lapses are rare. We hear in Ezek.xiv.14 of a Job who, along with Noah and Daniel, is a symbol of righteousness, and we can hardly doubt that the poet as a framework for his own work used the old story. The only question at issue is as to whether there was a book in which the popular story was embodied, or whether it was simply handed down by oral tradition. One or two small points tend to turn the balance in favour of the former view. When God appears in xxxviii.i the name Yahweh is used, suggesting that this was taken from the old story where that term was used throughout. Further, we have mention of a whirlwind. This is a detail that would hardly have been retained by the poet unless it had been before him in a written source. We are thus led to the probability that there existed, in pre-exilic days, a tale which the poet found in written form, giving an account of the sufferings of Job, of his patient forbearance, of a dialogue with his three friends, and of the appearance of Yahweh at the end. What the friends had said we do not know - perhaps they had given Job the same kind of advice as his wife did (ii.10). In any case, the old dialogue was excised, and the poem inserted in its place. [McFayen, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp.311-315 (1932), and E & K Kautzch (cp. Sellin, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.213: 1923) stand almost alone in ascribing the framework to the poet himself; Driver & Gray are inclined to the same view, but do not positively adopt it (Job, ppxxxiv-xxxvii).]

(b) The Elihu speeches have all the appearance of a later insertion. They postpone the theophany that is logically required immediately after xxxi.37, and they add little to the debate, for, in spite of the suggestion that the purpose of suffering is for purifying, they take substantially the view adopted by the friends. Elihu is introduced in a fashion very different from that in which the other three friends are brought on the scene, and there is no other reference to him whatever.

There are also important philological differences between chs.xx-xxxvii and the rest of the poem. (For a detailed analysis see Driver & ray, A Critical & Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job, xli-xlviii (1921).]

Nevertheless, several leading scholars hold to the originality of these chapters. Budde, for instance, argues that they contain the only real solution of the problem that the poet had to offer. [See Das Buch Hiob (1913), pp.xlv-xlviii, where Kamphausen, Cornill & Wildeboer are also cited as holding the originality of the Elihu speeches.]

Sellin [Op. cit., pp.214-220.], following a hint thrown out by Kamphausen and Merx, believes that the poet himself wrote them, but represent a view much later than that of the rest of the book. After years of further meditation the poet felt it necessary to insert his new opinions. Sellin compares the differences in outlook exhibited by the two parts of Goethe's Faust. But in spite of the weight of opinion represented by these scholars, it, remains true that the majority still feel that Elihu represents a redactional stage that would have been repudiated by the original poet.

(c) Ch.xxviii is generally recognized as having little to do with the book or with its main purpose. It is a hymn in praise of Wisdom, which is in the end (if the last verse be original in the poem) identified with the fear of the Lord. It might be regarded as an attempt to solve the problem created by the doctrine of divine omnipotence in an imperfect world by calling attention to the inscrutability of God's ways. This would almost certainly imply its insertion in the poem by a later hand, since this view is already expressed to some extent by the friends, and receives fuller amplification in the speeches of God Himself.

One other section often attributed to a later writer is the description of the two monstrous creatures, the hippopotamus and the crocodile, in xl.15-xli- 26. The passage in which they occur does deal with the marvels of God in nature, and refers to several creatures. But the descriptions of these two are much longer, and, though they attain a high literary standard, they are not on the same level as that reached by the rest of the divine speeches.

ii. Date.

If the account of the structure of the book above suggested be the true one, we have to consider two dates - that of the popular story - and that of the poem.

The former is certainly pre-exilic, a conclusion, which is obvious, both from the reference in Ezekiel, already mentioned, and from the fact that the sacrificial system is clearly not developed as it was in post-exilic times.

It is less easy to be sure of the date of the poem. In vii.17 we have words, which read like a bitter parody on Ps.viii.4.

But what is the date of this Psalm?

The subject of the book, provided we do not place it too early, is one that might have exercised the mind of any thoughtful Israelite after the Exile. It is a universal poem, and that is one of the features that give it its value and its interest for us today.

The implicit monotheism makes a post-exilic date practically certain, and there are peculiarities of style and language, which suggest that it is not to be placed too soon after the Return. Occasionally, for instance, we meet with Aramaisms, not only in vocabulary but even in syntax. [Cp. Driver & Gray, op. cit., pp.xlvi-xlvii, with the literature there cited.]

In general, these considerations would seem to point to somewhere between and the middle of the fourth the middle of the fifth century, but there are few poems in all literature whose date and historical background are of less importance than they are in the book of Job.


We cannot leave the book without noting the difficulty that commentators have found in satisfying themselves in regard to the answer which the book gives to the problem stated therein - the inequality of suffering and its apparent injustice. We should, however, remark that there are two problems.

One is the purely personal one, and concerns God's attitude to Job himself. Is He the friend or the enemy of His faithful servant? This receives a certain answer in the great passage xix.25ff, where job is at least assured that God must and will vindicate him.

The other problem is more general, and the book as it stands contains no less than three different attempts to solve it.

(a). In the first place we have the explanation offered by the popular tale. Here the suffering of the hero is due, not to any fault of his own, but to the jealous cynicism of the Satan.

"Doth Job fear God for naught?"

is a valid question, not only for ancient Israel, but for every other age in human history - we think, inevitably, of Glaucon's description of the perfectly righteous man.

Like Plato, the storyteller could find no answer except in the humiliation and hopeless agony of the faultless man, and his suffering becomes a test, the only valid test, of disinterested righteousness. (See Plato, Repub., Bk. II, 361 f.]

(b). Such a solution may help the sufferer, but it does not touch the heart of the problem. Is God justified in torturing a perfectly good and innocent person, merely to prove that he is good and innocent? It is a justification of God, a theodicy, that is needed, and the demand for a further explanation is the motive inspiring the poet to whom we owe the greater part of the book. In the poem, the friends insist that suffering can be explained only as punishment due to, and proportioned to, sin, but one of the obvious aims of the book is to challenge this theory. The striking fact in the poet's discussion is that the divine pronouncement at the end contains no hint at an answer. God simply presents Himself as He is, and Job is cowed, and abhors himself in dust and ashes.

This is no solution of the problem, and the poet cannot have intended it to be understood as one. In other words, it looks as though he had deliberately told his readers that there was no solution - at least none that the human mind could appreciate.

What, then, does Job's final attitude imply? We must remember that we are dealing with an Eastern, especially with a Jewish, mind, and we must not expect that our own feelings and instincts will meet with full satisfaction in what appeals to an ancient Jew, great poet and deep thinker though he be. With this in mind let us look once more at the denouement. Job, at the end of ch.xxxi, has appealed to God to appear, and is prepared "as a prince to enter His presence" bearing a convincing statement of his case with him. In answer to this challenge God does appear, and presents Himself in all His creative majesty. At once Job forgets his case, and ceases to be urged by his problems. In the presence of God these things vanish away, and only God is left. True, the experience is one that instils into him the deepest awe and self-contempt, but these are just the aspects of the matter that would be inevitable to the ancient Oriental. Translated into modern terms, however, we may surely say that the supreme lesson of the close of this book is - that when once a man has really stood face to face with God, he has no more doubts. The question may have no logical answer, the problem may find no formal solution, but that does not matter; the sufferer has seen God, and that is enough. In that vision, and in the knowledge that it brings, he can rest in patience and spiritual contentment.

In him is fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet,

"he shall look away out of the agony of his soul, and shall be satisfied by his knowledge." [Isa.liii.11.]

(c) The third attempt at a solution belongs to a point of view best represented by the Elihu speeches, though it may, possibly, be detected elsewhere.

Here we have the position of a reader of the popular story and of the poem, who felt that there was one very serious fault in job's character, which needed correction. Throughout the debate he has insisted on his substantial righteousness. He may have done what was wrong in the sight of God, but such sins were insignificant and unconscious. While many will feel that this determined self-justification was the natural, almost inevitable, reaction of the sufferer to the theology of the three friends, it can also be interpreted as evidence of a self-righteous Pharisaism, and in that light it was viewed by the author of the Elihu speeches. This gives him a clue: there is a double purpose in Job's calamities. In the first place they bring to light a deep-seated and subtle weakness.

Prosperity would never have shown that Job was so fatally "righteous in his own eyes". [xx.1.]

In the crucible of adversity this spiritual dross has risen to the surface, but, further, Job's sufferings have offered a remedy for the disease. The poem ended with the hero lying contrite and penitent at the feet of God. He "abhors himself in dust and ashes." His self-righteousness has gone and it was the purging fires of pain that had rid him of this subtle impurity of soul.

Our first perusal of the book may have left us with the feeling that the essential theme is handled in a confusing and uncertain fashion.

It is only when we recognize the fact that Job is the result of a growth in which three main stages can be distinguished; that each stage presents its own view of the problem. The various lines of thought are clear, and the book takes its proper place in the story of man's developing knowledge of God.


The textual criticism of the book of Job presents some interesting and unusual features.

The MT is usually straightforward, though there are passages that defy translation as they stand.

In some cases the Peshitta shows a certain independence, but the greatest variations are to be seen in the Septuagint. It is true that this version, as presented in our printed copies, does not differ greatly from the MT, but it is known that this is not the original Septuagint. When the translation was first made, it was much shorter than it is now, between 350 and 400 stichoi, which appear in the MT and the modern Septuagint texts, being omitted. That these omissions were early is clear from Origen's recension, and from the Sahidic Egyptian version, which was brought to light only in 1889. In the forms of the Septuagint generally familiar to us, this shorter text has been expanded from the later Greek versions, and so brought into closer agreement with the MT.

It is, however, agreed on all hands that the Septuagint text is, as a rule, a deliberate abbreviation of the MT. [Gray & Driver, op. cit., pp.lxxi-lxxvi.]