Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Provenance of Job

Scholars scratch their heads over the provenance of Job because the book has so few internal clues. It's hard to say when and where it was written. It's not even explicitly Jewish. And it's written in an obscure Hebrew dialect or cognate language. My Hebrew college prof., who later took a professorship at the university of Haifa, didn't even think it was written in Hebrew. 

My best guess is that it was written during the Solomonic era, with international trade as well as a brilliant royal court that attracted luminaries from neighboring countries. It may have been written by a God-fearer in a border state who came to know the God of Israel through contact with the Chosen People. 

However, that oversimplifies the issue. There's a further distinction to be had between the historical Job and the literary Job. Put another way, there's the provenance of the historical Job and then there's the provenance of the narrator.

Since, however, the book itself is so indefinite, let's consider a more speculative possibility. An unquestioned assumption is that OT books originate in the ancient Near East. And that's justified in nearly all cases. But Job is hard to pin down in time and place.

Strictly speaking, the only religious requirement is for the person of Job to worship the one true God. And that could be a rudimentary understanding of God, like Noah and the Patriarchs. He can't be a pagan polytheist and idolater. Likewise, the narrator must be at least as orthodox as the person of Job. And the narrator's theology might be more advanced or enlightened than the historical Job. All that depends on the scope of divine revelation–both in reference to the historical Job and the narrator. 

In principle, the historical Job might have resided in Australia, Tasmania, Borneo, Komodo Island, &c. He might have lived during the last Ice Age, perhaps in one of the warmer pockets of the globe. He might have been familiar with imposing, terrifying animals that are now extinct. On this hypothesis, the candidates needn't be confined to Middle Eastern fauna. Keep in mind that even on a more conventional provenance, there's a not inconsiderable element of literary license in the narration. 

The only issue would be how the narrator found about Job's life and ordeal. However, distances in time and space are no barrier to divine revelation. 

Now, that's not the first explanation I reach for. It would be exceptional for an OT book to have that provenance. Then again, the book of Job is something of an anomaly. 


  1. Do you think that 6:19 would provide some sort of clue? Job himself refers to Tema, which seems to be where Eliphaz is from and is also mentioned elsewhere (Is 21:14). Tema was also the son of Ishmael, perhaps it was named after him? Sheba was also the granddaughter of Abraham, is it possible that the home of the Queen who visited Solomon could be named after her?

    I have no commentaries on Job and admit that I am flat out speculating.

    1. One question is whether the book preserves the original setting. That's quite possible. On the other hand, given the fact that it's already a poetic adaptation, that may not be a secure assumption. Perhaps the narrator changed the setting to make it more familiar to a Jewish audience. For instance, if the references to fauna, flora, and geography are historically realistic, then in consistency, does that mean Leviathan and Behemoth figured in the local fauna as well?

  2. Job 42:13-15 can be used to argue that he was pre-Moses or non-Israelite, since Mosaic Law has specific rules for inheritance that Job doesn't seem to follow.