Monday, June 18, 2007

So what's up with the end of Job?


I was thinking about the book of Job on Friday afternoon ... in particular, the end, where God shows up and scolds Job for trying to get a straight answer out of the being who created the earth:
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

...

Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? ... Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?

Having read the previous 40-odd chapters, this whole monologue just sounds wrong to me. This God isn't any more righteous than Job's four "friends", and everything God says just begs for a similar rebuke from Job. Maybe something like this:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand."

"Interesting question," Job replied. "Where where you when my flocks were stolen? And when my servants were murdered? And when my sons and daughters were crushed under a ton of rubble?"

"But," the LORD blustered, "can you put the leviathan on a leash for your girls?"

"Perhaps you've forgotten," said Job. "My girls are all dead."

"Oh," the LORD said. "Good point."

So the LORD blessed Job with more sons and daughters and money than he had before.

"But my sons and daughters are still dead," Job said.

"Would you shut up already?" the LORD snarled. "Who do you think I am, God?"

Exit The LORD

So I started backpedaling through Job. Back through God's speech. Back through Elihu's speech. All the way back to chapter 31, where we find Job's last rebuke to his so-called friends, and this curious sentence:
The words of Job are ended.

What gives? Because the words of Job are definitely not ended. After Elihu shows up, and God shows up, he gives that little kicker about how he had heard of God, but now he's seen God, so he repents in dust and ashes.

Maybe ... could it be possible that the last 11 chapters of Job were added onto an original narrative? Let's look at the first part of chapter 32, right after "the words of Job are ended..."
So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.

Blink.

Is it just me, or is that passage practically begging us to conclude that there's a second author who glued his stuff onto the end of Job?

I suspect that it is not just me, and that there's a whole bunch of scholarship that says that Job is the work of at least two authors. But I haven't gone looking for that textual stuff yet. I'm just busy being blown away because I didn't notice this before.

So, my textual-study-type friends ... do you know anything about the authorship of Job?

31 comments:

scoots said...

Full disclosure: I took a class on Job in seminary, but it was 5 years ago.

Yeah, it’s pretty standard to see Job as composite, and the speech of Elihu as an interpolation (=later addition). In particular, Elihu is never mentioned anywhere outside of the passage where he speaks, and his speech tries to offer a kind of clear explanation that the rest of the book avoids.

However, even if Elihu's speech is later, that doesn't mean that God's speech and the rest of the ending are later.

scoots said...

One way (that I rather like) to read the book is that it aims to raise precisely the kinds of frustrations that your post expresses. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar make fairly reasonable theological arguments, and Job rejects them all as completely inadequate. God’s response at the end confirms that theology can’t explain the relationship between God and human suffering.

The “moral,” though the story resists having a clear moral, would be that God doesn’t want us to try to explain God (thus Job’s friends haven’t spoken the truth), but rather that God wants us to seek––even demand––a relationship with God. Thus when Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5), he’s admitting that God responded adequately by showing up in the whirlwind, even if God never gave an adequate explanation for Job’s plight.

Job’s refusal to accept facile explanations, and indeed his anger toward God, may be what the story is saying God wants from people. A good example of this from elsewhere in the Bible is 1 Sam 15:11. After God rejects Saul as king, it says, “Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the LORD all night.” Oftentimes praise is a more appropriate response to God, but when the situation demands anger, God’s prefers honesty to platitudes.

Also, my BIMBW disclaimer: this is just a suggested interpretation, pieced together from some of the stuff I've read. I don't think there's anything like a definitive interpretation of the book, which is part of what makes it so great to read.

shane said...

The authorship of Job is a real mystery.

Reading Job canonically suggests Job might be the counterpoint to bad assumption in Deuternomistic theology where if obedience=blessing and disobedience=cursing then poor/unfortunate/screwed=disobedient.

While source criticism has its use, the received text is the inspired/approved/authoritative text. Are you inferring that since the original text ends at 32, we can disregard God's seemingly troublesome statements? Wouldn't that at best simply remove Elihu from the conversation? Harrison notes that many ancient near-Eastern works encapsulate one literary form within another. For example, the Code of Hammurabi is a legal document set within a poetic pro- and epilogue. Elihu’s comments do not disturb the basic integrity of the book significantly.

As Rowley notes, if Job is an answer to the problem of evil, and particularly to the question of unmerited suffering, it is a failure. Rather, he notes, the aim of the book is to challenge the view that suffering is self-inflicted and justice is universally consistent.

That is to say, Job’s purpose is not to articulate a viable theodicy, but rather to simply say, “life isn’t fair, and life doesn’t fit any formula you might conceive, and God is aware of that. Nonetheless, he is still God.” Maybe Job is a nuance to Jewish theological understanding of sovereignty. I agree with Scoots that the text is vague, perhaps intentionally for the purpose of mucking up placid consensus.

BIMBW-Harrison and Rowley might be wrong, but I am pretty sure I am right, and I don’t know how to footnote in html.

Notes:
R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969)
H.H. Rowley, The Book of Job and It’s Meaning (1958)

crystal said...

Your version of the dialogue makes more sense to me. Wikipedia actually has some interesting stuff to say about the authorship.

Matthew said...

Hooray for text people! (Biblical and wikipedaic!) Everyone has good things to say.

@scoots:
"even if Elihu's speech is later, that doesn't mean that God's speech and the rest of the ending are later."

Good point.

@shane:
"While source criticism has its use, the received text is the inspired/approved/authoritative text. Are you inferring that since the original text ends at 32, we can disregard God's seemingly troublesome statements?"

Disregard, no. Interpret as being the brain-child of an Elihu, yes.

I think I could live with the either of the "morals" for Job that you guys are endorsing ... "relationship over facile explanation" and "bad things happen to good people".

But I would like to know how you think this interfaces with theodicy. It's fine to conclude something like, "God is aware of that. Nonetheless, he is still God", but this fails to answer the question, "Where were you when this house fell on my kids?"

ConcernedEngineer said...

God's purpose in the book of Job is not to answer that question. What your purpose or my purpose in reading the book of Job is irrelevant. God is trying to speak to us through the book of Job. We would do well to stay on God's topic, rather than insist that God get on our topic. That is a huge point of the book.

"This God isn't any more righteous than Job's four 'friends', and everything God says just begs for a similar rebuke from Job."

False. Inaccurate. You are out of line.

God doesn't owe us a thing. He has mercy on whom He has mercy. He's God. He's the lion of Judah.

"He's not a tame lion you know. But He's good."

ConcernedEngineer said...

Matthew,
Is it possible that you are opposing God by deleting my comments?

Matthew said...

"Is it possible that you are opposing God by deleting my comments?"

It is entirely possible, but I find it highly unlikely.

I only banned you from commenting on a single topic, but if you continue to spam comments, I will permanently ban you. Please stop.

ConcernedEngineer said...

It is entirely possible, but I find it highly unlikely.

Of course, you do. But God's word is clear on many matters.

It appears that you're cool with taking suggestions from God, but you're not really down with commands.

If you ban me, I'll just shake the dust off my feet as a testimony against you. There is no room for arrogant prideful insolence in the Kingdom of God.

May you never know the blessing of God until you declare, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD."

Go reread the book of Jude.

Blessings to you.

Matthew said...

"If you ban me, I'll just shake the dust off my feet as a testimony against you."

ANNOUNCER [sotto voce]: What ConcernedEngineer doesn't know is that Matthew already shook the dust off HIS feet as a testimony! The scripture clearly says that the first testimonial dust shaker wins! God loves Matthew best!

[raucous applause, whistles and catcalls from imaginary audience. cue video clip with arrogant CE soundbite]

CE: There is no room for arrogant prideful insolence in the Kingdom of God!

[seeing the irony in this, imaginary audience laughs hysterically]

MATTHEW: sigh.

Connor said...

I keep thinking that CE is really just some made up blog entity, possibly some crazy liberal putting out their best conservative stereotype, maybe Matthew himself! Oh, why didn't I think of this first.

ConcernedEngineer said...

This is Matthew.

I confess. There's no such person as ConcernedEngineer.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Matthew,
It's one thing to mock me (although - that is really a bad idea). It is another thing to steal my username in order to attempt to confuse people and in attempt to discredit me.
Lying is a sin.

It seems to me you are wasting your time thinking and writing so much about theology. Because you're still missing the fundamentals. Your brain is way ahead of your life and your heart.

ConcernedEngineer said...

The scripture clearly says that the first testimonial dust shaker wins! God loves Matthew best!

Yeah. Good going Matthew. I'm sure God loves it when you malign His word.

Have a great day.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Wait, how can Matthew steal my name if I don't exist?

ConcernedEngineer said...

This is confusing.

ConcernedEngineer said...

This isn't funny.

I'm not afraid of you and I will beat your ass(es).

ConcernedEngineer said...

I don't say "asses".

ConcernedEngineer said...

Crap, I just said "asses".

scoots said...

I think this is sort of funny, but only in the uneasy way that racist and sexist jokes are funny. I’m not a fan (but then, it’s not my blog...),

I’ve had long exchanges with CE too, and I think he’s completely sincere. Sometimes he’s very respectful about what he says, and sometimes he’s mean-spirited and patronizing.

It comes with being completely sure that he’s understanding the Bible correctly, and that makes it almost impossible for him to have a conversation with people who think the Bible doesn’t mean certain things as “obviously” as CE thinks.

Matthew said...

orly.

scoots said...

Yikes, I hadn’t read that discussion before, I don’t think. It looks like he started in long after you had moved on to another post? (Incidentally, there’s a setting where you can set the time stamp format so it includes the date.)

But what does orly mean?

scoots said...

CE said: False. Inaccurate. You are out of line.

I understand this reaction, but on the other hand, part of the point of the book of Job seems to be that Job was right to rail against God. It’s true he repented of it, but then God went on to praise him for what he had said.

So I’d say that the kinds of complaints Matthew is raising are completely within the spirit of the book of Job––and frankly no more sarcastic than Job was.

In fact, Job even mocks Scripture at least once. Ps 8:4 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

In Job 7:17, Job says, “What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention...Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?”

In other words, the Psalm sees God’s constant presence as comfort, but Job mocks that idea by blaming God’s (judging) presence for his suffering.

I think it’s fascinating that that’s in Scripture.

Matthew said...

orly = oh, really?

As in, "Enh ... I'm not so sure about that."

connor said...

"and I think he’s completely sincere"

In all honesty, I don't have much care whether or not someone is sincere. I understand flinching at the pseudo-humorous way this is handled. I personally just like the humor better than saying "hey, shutup!" I wonder why someone as himself doesn't just move on, otherwise he will be forever bogged down in arguing against people who don't see things his way and I don't think that is good for him or anybody else.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Scoots,

Job did get testy with God.

Firstly, while Job had a good argument, I believe he argued it poorly. Thus, God gave him a pretty stiff rebuke at the end of the book - basically saying, "You're not God, Job. I AM!"

Secondly, Job was blameless. Job, being a man of God, would never approve of abortion. Job wouldn't rejoice in Democrats winning elections. So, it is one thing for Job to challenge God. It is another thing completely for Matthew to challenge God. When Matthew asserts that God is no more righteous than Job's friends, he is WAY out of line.

As for the accusation of being mean-spirited, I would suggest that you guard against slander and pride. God is calling men who will preach the gospel fearlessly and confront secularism wherever it raises its ugly head. If you oppose those who are doing this, then you might find yourself opposing God.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Hey Matthew,
In Numbers 16, is it possible that Moses was wrong and Korah was right? For that matter, is it possible that God was wrong and Korah was right? Is it possible that Korah suffered the wrath of an unjust and unholy God?

Matthew said...

Yes. It's possible that Moses was wrong and Korah was right. The victors write the histories.

It's also possible that I'm wrong and you're right. But you have made no appeals to reason that hold water, and no appeals to authorities that I recognize. You have utterly failed at convincing me of anything because you are utterly unwilling to consider anyone else's point of view. This is a facet of both empathy and love, and you would do well to learn it.

ConcernedEngineer said...

You have utterly failed at convincing me of anything because you are utterly unwilling to consider anyone else's point of view.

Are you sure about that?

Are you sure that I should consider your point of view?

jennifer said...

"Where were you when this house fell on my kids?"

I think that's the whole deal with the Job narrative. It doesn't answer with any kind of platitude. It doesn't say "Y'know, the kids have gone on to a better place" or even "Hey, here's where I was." In the end, God reveals his presence, but doesn't answer the question of why. Then, God rules (as it were) in favor of angry, ranting, broken Job and against his self-righteous and self-assured friends. I love Job for that... and tend to find a lot of comfort in an example of the righteous response being to rail against God and the world rather than to search out meaningless platitudes.

And I rather like the interpretation that views Elihu (but not the remainder of the text) as a later insertion. I think there are several places in Scripture where it might be viable to imagine a later redactor adding to the narrative (such as David's deathbed speech).

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this website http://www.bookofjob.org. This online commentary is a legal and philosophical defence of God’s goodness in the face of his authorization of evil. It has been highly praised by Job scholars, whose reviews are accessible by a red button on the left hand column of the website.

Robert Sutherland