For some scholars and critics, the book of Job is one of the most intriguing books of the Old Testament, presenting questions about its historicity, authorship and date of origin, and its major theme or purpose.
The book of Job has received much literary acclaim. Some scholars say that its author “ranks with the greatest writers of mankind.” Tennyson has been quoted as stating that the book of Job is “the greatest poem of ancient or modern times.” Carlisle referred to it as “one of the greatest things ever written with the pen.” 1
A magnificent dramatic poem, it belongs to the philosophic or wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The first two chapters, which present Job’s travails, are referred to as the prologue. The main portion of the book is divided into three parts: part one, false comfort by Job’s three friends (chapters Job 3–31); part two, Elihu’s speeches (Job 32–37); and part three, speeches from the Lord (Job 38–42:6). The epilogue consists of a divine rebuke of Job’s three friends, and Job’s restoration and final reward (Job 42:7–17).
The greatness of the book of Job as literature, however, is a stumbling block for some biblical scholars, who believe it is fiction 2 and that Job was not an actual individual. 3 However, substantial evidence exists to the contrary. A conservative scholar, M. J. Unger, states, “There is no concrete reason for denying that Job was a real character or for maintaining that the events recorded are not historical.” 4
Scriptures confirm the fact that Job was an actual man by listing him among the prophets. For example, the three great men the Lord mentions to Ezekiel are Noah, Daniel, and Job. (See Ezek. 14:14, 20.) James also refers to Job. (See James 5:11.) Latter-day scriptural confirmation of Job’s existence is Doctrine and Covenants 121:10 [D&C 121:10], where the Lord refers to Job in answer to a plea of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Major Theme or Purpose
Although we accept the idea that Job was an actual ancient prophet, that does not answer the authorship question. Did Job write the book himself in third person point of view, as John did in the New Testament, or did a later prophet or scribe abridge his works?
The book’s date of origin could give clues about its authorship, but scholars don’t agree on the dating either. Some scholars believe that the events come from the patriarchal age. Others date the book as late as the fourth and third century B.C. Others date Job in Solomon’s era. 5
If the Elihu referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 84:9 [D&C 84:9] is the same Elihu in Job 32, the date for the book of Job would be approximately the second century prior to Moses (about 1600 B.C.). If this assumption and date are accurate, it is possible that the book was a record Moses brought from Midian, the homeland of his father-in-law Jethro.
Ancient Jewish tradition claims that the book of Job was written by Moses. The Talmud Sota V. 8 and Baba Bathra 14b and 15a say he wrote it before writing the Pentateuch (five books of Moses). 6 When the Talmud states that a given man “wrote” a certain book, however, it could just as likely mean that he merely copied or abridged it. For example, Baba Bathra 15a states, “Hezekiah and his company wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.” Wrote is used in the sense of edited or compiled. Thus, the Talmud postulates, Moses may have copied or abridged the writings of Job.
Some writers have suggested that Job was a contemporary of Amram and Jochebed, parents of Moses. Eusebius, one of the most learned fathers of the early church, about A.D. 300, believed that Job lived about 1800 B.C. If these dates for Job and Elihu are correct (and we can’t be certain they are), they would suggest that the book of Job originated one or more centuries prior to the time of Moses, or in other words some time during the four generations between the days of Abraham and the days of Moses.
Authorship and Date of Origin
The controversy surrounding the theme is not about what question the book of Job poses, but what the answer to that question is. Nearly all biblical scholars agree that the book was written to address a problem that has perplexed mankind from the beginning: “Why do the righteous suffer, and how can their suffering be reconciled with an all-powerful and infinitely holy God?” 7
Although they agree on the question, biblical scholars have a heyday postulating what the answer could be. Some claim that it is portrayed in the explicit faith that one should have in God as expressed in Job 13:15—“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Others state that the book presents the patience one should possess in suffering when the reason is not always evident. One biblical scholar has stated that the main aim of the book of Job is to “controvert the dominant theory that all suffering proceeds from sin.” 8 All of these are important principles to be gained from the book of Job.
However, the key to the major concept to be gleaned from Job is the Lord’s oft-quoted words to Joseph Smith: “Thou art not yet as Job.” (D&C 121:10.) What was the purpose for the suffering of Job and of the Prophet Joseph Smith? It is evident from verse 10 that Joseph Smith had not yet suffered all he would suffer; but if he endured his suffering well, verse 8 [D&C 121:8] promises him that God would exalt him and that he would triumph over all his foes. The implication is that enduring afflictions well is one of the steps that leads to exaltation.
Enduring tribulations and afflictions in the proper spirit and attitude can be thought of as a purging or purifying process. The Savior stated:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:1–2.)
The need to be purged and purified while in this life is reemphasized in modern revelation: “But the day soon cometh that ye shall see me, and know that I am; for the veil of darkness shall soon be rent, and he that is not purified shall not abide the day.” (D&C 38:8.)
The message appears to be twofold: suffering provides the purging and purifying which are necessary for exaltation, and one’s exaltation is at least partially contingent upon enduring the suffering well.
Elder John Taylor confirmed that this is a basic message of the book of Job: “Why was it that he had to be thus tried? That he might, as stated elsewhere, be made perfect through suffering.” (In Journal of Discourses, 18:310.)
Alma explained the purpose of afflictions and the eternal results from enduring them well: “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 36:3.)
This was also one of the major themes of the Apostle Paul:
“The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:16–17.)
All people suffer, the wicked for wickedness, and the righteous for eternal glory. Therefore, Paul emphasized that it is better to “suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (1 Pet. 3:17.)
If we expect to become exalted, we must be willing to endure the purging that purifies.
Thus, the book of Job is not merely a book of consolation to those who suffered in times of their affliction, but a guide that can help us prepare to endure tribulations well. In this light, Job’s message becomes a vitalizing, rejuvenating, and powerful theme for our individual lives.
Purkiser, et al., Exploring the Old Testament, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965, p. 241, 240.
Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, New York: Harper & Row, 1948, pp. 684, 673.
See for example, Oesterley and Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament, New York: Macmillan Co., 1934, pp. 68, 173–174.
Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1951, p. 378.
Unger, p. 378; Otto Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr Tubingen, 1964, pp. 635–636; Carl Cornell, Introduction to the Canocial Books of the Old Testament, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907, pp. 431–434; Franz Delitzsch, The Book of Job, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1872, p. 18.
Delitzch, p. 18; see also Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 15a; and Cornell, p. 431.
Unger, p. 375.
S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909, p. 410.