Book of Job Ch. 01-03



Gordis, Robert.  The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job.  (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965).

——————-    The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation, and Special Studies.  (Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1978).

Habel, Norman C.  The Book of Job.  Part of the Old Testament Library series edited by Peter Ackroyd, James Barr, Bernhard Anderson, and James L. Mays.  (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1985).

Janzen, J. Gerald.  Job.  Part of the Interpretation bible commentary series edited by James L. Mays.  (John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1985).

Wilson, Gerald H.   Job.  Part of the Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, General Editors W. Ward Gasque, Robert Hubbard Jr., and Robert Johnston.   (Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI, 2007).


Overview of the Book of Job   (Janzen)

Composed sometime in the 600 to 400 B.C.E. timeframe.   Most likely timeframe may have been during the Babylonian exile itself (686 B.C.E to about 640 B.C.E.) to deal with the question of “Why does Israel suffer so?”

This book, also for most of the OT, Robert Alter says – prefers dialogue to narration

The NAB, in the introduction of the book says: “The lesson is that even the just may suffer here, and their sufferings are a test of their fidelity.  They shall be rewarded in the end.  Man’s finite mind cannot probe the depths of the divine omniscience that governs the world.  The problems we encounter can be solved by a broader and deeper awareness of God’s power, presence, and wisdom.”

Janzen (p. 3) sees multiple questions in the book.  “Why do the righteous suffer?” being the main one.  BUT an equally important one is this: “Why are the rich so often  pious and upright?  Is it primarily because they have it so good?”



Janzen (p. 4): “The book, then, moves from idyllic beginning through catastrophe and a vast dialectical terrain back to an end which a transformed version of the beginning.  The dialogues traverse the landscape of human experience in all its shifting lights and topographic variety, along with similar varieties of human opinion both orthodox and heterodox, conventional and novel, prudential and reckless.”

More than anything else, the Book of Job teaches that easy answers and simple stories are inadequate responses to our complex realities.  The Book of Job, coming when it did during or shortly after the exile, pushed Israel toward a much more nuanced theology than existed before – probably making possible  the rabbinic version of Judaism that came after the last destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.    In a very similar way modern science is creating a crisis for many American Christian believers.

Janzen (pps. 15-22) We will take note, in the reading of the book, of repeated key words, of the ABBA chiastic structure, of the abundant irony, the existential questions raised,

Gordis and others suggest that an original folktale (the narrative prose  story line) has been adopted and adapted and had all of the poetic  wisdom arguments added to it.  In his earlier book Gordis attempted to reconstruct “stages” in the development of the story line, by the later book he chooses to leave this out.

Notes for Chapter 1 (Gordis JTS)

Janzen p. 31: regarding prologue / ch.1 and 2: “Gradually, however, even the hedge and cradle of his inherited belief-structure shows signs of stress and strain, and by the end of the prologue he is entering silently into a strange realm of naked and solitary suffering.”

Gordis ( p. 2): four trials occur – first (Sabeans) and third (Chaldeans) are man made, second (lightning) and fourth (wind)  are natural catastrophes.  “Thus it is suggested that all events, whatever their immediate cause, have their origin in the will of god.  Thus the stage is set for the debate on God’s justice.”

Scene shifts occur in this chapter: earth, heaven, earth , heaven, earth (beginning of chapter 2)

UZ –  Biblically a son of Edom, hence possibly a town in Edom

JOB –  an ancient Semitic name with a folk etymology , perhaps from the verb “ayob” – in participle form meaning “hated one, persecuted one”.  Janzen p. 34 argues for a second meaning “where is the (divine) father?’ and sees both meanings as 2 sides of same coin.

Both names (UZ and JOB) introduce the story as a folk-tale, much as “long long ago, in a land far far away” would for us.  This distancing may make our consideration of the problem possible, too hard to do if we consider it in the immediate present with people we know etc.


Janzen thinks that the children of Job are throwing the birthday parties of each child, “each one in his turn” – his turn being “his day” which = anniversary day of his birth in ancient custom

The divine council comes together on New Years Day – and set the course for the coming year in Jewish tradition.  Janzen suggests that we think less of a divine council and more of an internal dialogue within God.  GOD wonders if Job is only good …

Janzen p. 39: “That Job is pious (fears God), the Satan has no doubt.  But the Satan attributes Job’s piety to his sense of dependence upon and gratitude toward  the diving creator who blesses, sustains, protects, and endows with good things.  Job’s piety arises as creaturely response to the divine goodness.”

Job is not perfect, but he IS a morally good man without deceit.  JOB IS NOT AN ISRAELITE.  He is a generic semi-nomadic clan chief.  Remember that Noah, living before Abraham and therefore not Jewish, was described as “righteous”.

Job’s daughters are not married, hence they are young, hence Job is in his prime – not an old partriarch.

Gordis ( p. 14): “It cannot be stressed too strongly that in all periods of Jewish thought, biblical and rabbinic, “the Satan” or “Satan” is not co-equal with god, but is subservient to Him.  There is no Hebrew equivalent for the phrase “the kingdom of Satan.””    He has no special domain or even duty – he wanders about.

p. 15 Note that Satan answers a question with a question

Job “tore his cloak and cut off his hair”.  Two ancient signs of mourning.  Cutting off the hair later prohibited in Jewish law, probably because it originated as a pagan ritual  (Lev. 21:5:   “The priests shall not make bare the crown of the head, nor shave the edges of the beard, nor lacerate the body.”)   Hence eventually the kippah, the hats of the orthodox and more such customs.

Note that from ancient times through to the present – grief needs a structure to prevent it from overwhelming.

Notes for Chapter 2 (Gordis JTS)

“skin for skin” may be an ancient idiom / slang with the meaning “someone will trade any other persons life for their own”  their skin for mine.

Janzen p. 46/47: “Job has been stripped of many of the layers of his embodied existence, and this brings home to him in a new way his own nakedness, his finitude, as an individual.  The hedge has been drastically thinned that stands between him and the chaos which lurks namelessly


alongside the undertone of worthwhileness.”  Ones family, property, stuff ARE extensions of us – that is all now gone, yet Job remains firm.

p. 21 “Most probably the author had no specific disease in mind – he seeks to give a picture of Job physically afflicted, loathsome in appearance, and isolated from the warmth of human fellowship.”

He is outside of the city because he has been cast out – as lepers would have been.

Janzen p. 50: “Parenthetically, we may remind ourselves that the Book of Job turns on two questions, one asked on earth and one in heaven: “Why do the righteous suffer?” and “Is there (disinterested) piety?”  By the way in which the wife’s question “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” voices both Job’s incipient question and the question arising in heaven, the narrative invites us to see these two questions as two sides of one question, a question whose two sides are two sides of a covenanting relation re-assessing its own foundations.”

Job first did not curse God in his heart, here now it says only by his lips.  Does this signify some internal doubts?  In Catholic theology and canon law we have the concept of an “internal forum” where doubt, questions etc. are permitted, though  in the “external forum” not so much.  A bishop is not allowed to ask “What do you think about ….?” , only “What did you SAY about ….?”

Job’s wife remains – some later Christian and other commentators insisted that the fact that she was NOT taken was one of Job’s trials !!!!!

Just as Satan / God dialogue may reveal the heavenly ambiguity and questions; so too the dialogue between husband and wife may reveal the human ambiguity and questions.   If written or finalized during the Exile – Israel slowly coming to grips with the existential question of how to reconceptualize and grow into a more adult covenant relationship.

The three friends, though also not Israelites, all have OT names.

Janzen p. 57: after analyzing the Hebrew words for comfort / etc.   “The friends hope to enter deeply with Job into his condition and then to help him come out of it in a manner which enables him to go on with his life in a spirit other than that of perpetual bereavement.”

p. 24 – the act of putting dust on one’s head is the act of a mourner, not of the comforters.  Could be a pagan ritual to keep the evil from finding them!  Janzen argues with Gordis – is an act of identifying with Job in his sorrow

They then keep “shiva” – a much later rabbinic ritual of 7 days of mourning probably had more ancient roots.   A key concept for mourners is to sit quietly with the mourners for the seven days (or parts of them) but to only speak if spoken to.


Janzen – as the wife articulated his own innermost doubt and questions, the friends function from this point on to articulate the settled views, the status quo – which are also internal to Job as well!

Notes for Chapter 3 (Gordis JTS)

A soliloquy

Janzen points out p. 66: Genesis 1 begins with light and ends with rest on the Sabbath, Job begins by calling for darkness and ends with “I have no rest”.

p. 27: “Were he dead he would be in Sheol, the land of shadows, where kings and princes fare no better than slaves, and where the oppressor and his victim are equally at rest.  Why is life given to men who suffer and would rejoice if death came?  So he, too, wishes to escape from his life which is an unending succession of terrors.”

p.35 on reference to Leviathan – great Sea-Dragon of pagan myths, used figuratively of Egypt and other world powers.  In Job is crocodile and the whale.  In much later Jewish literature – will be served as dinner at the heavenly banquet!!!

Gordis notes that in Sheol the author envisions that rank is preserved, even if all are now in the same situation.  This may be a foundation point in developing later doctrines in Judaism and Christianity of judgment and eventual reward/punishment

p. 40.  Quotes a Jewish text Exodus Rabbah – on Israel, the Job people: “I had no ease from Babylon, no peace from the Medes, no rest from Greeks, and only agony from Edom / Rome”



Gordis p. 501 ff

  1. Parallelism – restating the same idea in different words or images, or using the negative
  2. It is NOT rhyming, even in the Hebrew.
  3. It IS metrical – not by syllables but by emphasis on stressed syllables (one per word).  So the meter tends to be 3:3 or 4:4 with 3 words in each portion (stich), each word having 1 stressed syllable.  In this way there might be 3 words, some of which are of different lengths, but each has only one stressed syllable.
  4. Good poets, like the author of Job, will vary patterns and the parallelisms to avoid being monotonous.

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