Damien F. Mackey
Knowing who Job’s wife actually was – and all will be revealed here – enables for a far deeper insight into the thought processes of this hitherto poorly known woman, her attitude to God, and what she may have intended by her dramatic words to her husband, Job.
Who was Job?
The Book of Tobit is included as a canonical book in my Catholic Bible.
Now, the fact that the prophet Job, and Tobias son of Tobit, had seven sons – surprisingly uncommon in the Bible – led me some years ago to pursue an identification of Job with the C8th-C7th’s BC character, Tobias, of the neo-Assyrian era. This, of course, would situate Job many centuries later than tradition has him, as an approximate contemporary of Abraham. My search in this direction was rewarded with likenesses found in important areas, apart from progeny, such as wealth and possessions; a reputation for righteousness before God; profound charity – leading to being greatly loved; moral maxims (Job draws on maxims from old Tobit); a very high standing in society; a compatible geography; living to a goodly old age in great honour; seeing three to four generations of children.
This is all covered in my:
Job’s Life and Times
Though the Book of Job is utterly lacking in helpful biographical and genealogical details, at least for the person of Job and his wife – (young Elihu fares much better in this regard) – the Book of Tobit, I believe, supplies the precious data that was needed.
And, by its informing us as to who was the wife of Tobias, the Book of Tobit informs us at the same time who (according to my thesis) was the wife of Job, or, at least, who was a wife of Job – whether or not she was the same wife as the one referred to in the title of this article.
Who was the Wife of Job?
In Tobit 6:10-12 the angel Raphael, accompanying young Tobias on the journey to “Media”, informs Tobias about his future wife:
They entered Media and had nearly reached Ecbatana when Raphael said to the boy, ‘Brother Tobias.’ ‘Yes?’ he replied. The angel went on, ‘Tonight we are to stay with Raguel, who is a kinsman of yours. He has a daughter called Sarah, but apart from Sarah he has no other son or daughter. Now you are her next of kin; she belongs to you before anyone else and you may claim her father’s inheritance’.
Tobias’s wife, hence Job’s wife, was Sarah, daughter of Raguel and (7:2) “his wife Edna”. They lived in “Ecbatana” of “Media”, which I have identified in “Job’s Life and Times” as, respectively, “Bathania” (or Bashan) and “Midian”. Sarah was apparently a quality girl (6:12): ‘She is a thoughtful, courageous and very lovely girl, and her father loves her dearly’. So, could she have been one to have said to her beloved husband (Job 2:9): [His wife said to him], ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’
To which “[Job] replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’” (v. 10).
Questions to be answered
- Was Sarah the same woman as the wife of Job’s trials? – so, can we now replace the usual “Mrs Job” with “Sarah”?
- And was it the wife of Job’s trials who lived on to provide Job with more offspring?
- Or did the wife of Job’s trials simply fade from the scene before the prophet’s deliverance, since the Book of Job – which mentions her in passing in 19:17 and 31:10 – does not refer to her at the end of the book.
Some Background on Sarah
Before ever young Tobias (= Job) had heard of, or met, his bride, Sarah, the poor girl was experiencing an extraordinary trial of demonic obsession and loss of spouses – seven in a row. This remarkable saga was later re-worked by the Greeks with Sarah as Penelope and suitors. See my:
Similarities to The Odyssey of the Books of Job and Tobit
Chronologically, Sarah’s near despair occurred “on the same day” as old Tobit, now blind, was begging God to let him die. Here is the gripping account of Sarah’s parallel (with Tobit) misfortune and promise of her ultimate deliverance (Tobit 3:7-17):
It chanced on the same day that Sarah the daughter of Raguel, who lived in Media at Ecbatana, also heard insults from one of her father’s maids.
For she had been given in marriage seven times, and Asmodeus, the worst of demons, had killed her bridegrooms one after another before ever they had slept with her as man with wife. The servant-girl said, ‘Yes, you kill your bridegrooms yourself. That makes seven already to whom you have been given, and you have not once been in luck yet.
Just because your bridegrooms have died, that is no reason for punishing us. Go and join them, and may we be spared the sight of any child of yours!’
That day, she grieved, she sobbed, and she went up to her father’s room intending to hang herself. But then she thought, ‘Suppose they were to blame my father! They would say, “You had an only daughter whom you loved, and now she has hanged herself for grief.” I cannot cause my father a sorrow which would bring down his old age to the dwelling of the dead. I should do better not to hang myself, but to beg the Lord to let my die and not live to hear any more insults.’
And at this, by the window, with outstretched arms she said this prayer: You are blessed, O God of mercy! May your name be blessed for ever, and may all things you have made bless you everlastingly.
And now I turn my face and I raise my eyes to you.
Let your word deliver me from earth; I can hear myself insulted no longer.
O Lord, you know that I have remained pure; no man has touched me;
I have not dishonoured your name or my father’s name in this land of exile. I am my father’s only daughter, he has no other child as heir; he has no brother at his side, nor has he any kinsman left for whom I ought to keep myself. I have lost seven husbands already; why should I live any longer? If it does not please you to take my life, then look on me with pity; I can no longer bear to hear myself defamed.
and Raphael was sent to bring remedy to them both. He was to take the white spots from the eyes of Tobit, so that he might see God’s light with his own eyes; and he was to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel as bride to Tobias son of Tobit, and to rid her of Asmodeus, that worst of demons. for it was to Tobias before all other suitors that she belonged by right. Tobit was coming back from the courtyard into the house at the same moment as Sarah the daughter of Raguel was coming down from the upper room.
Sarah’s near tragedy certainly parallels the intense trial of Tobit, but – even more – resonates with the Book of Job, and this is a further indication to me (along with The Odyssey parallels with both Job and Tobit) that the books of Job and Tobit are all of a piece.
Let us compare points from the above lengthy passage from Tobit with elements of the saga of Job:
Just as Sarah was insulted by her lowly servants, so was Job insulted by young wastrels (30:1):
‘But now they mock me,
men younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to put with my sheep dogs’.
Sarah had seven husbands, Job had seven sons (1:2),
all of these seven died, as did Job’s seven sons (vv. 18-19),
by worst demon
due to “the worst of demons”, Asmodeus, or, in the case of Job, due to Satan (vv. 6-12).
Sarah was wrongfully accused, so was Job (the whole dialogue with his three friends).
Sarah was an only daughter, loved by her father. Job, as Tobias, was an only son (Tobit 1:9), loved by his mother (5:17): “Then his mother began to cry. ‘How could you send my son away like this?’ she complained. ‘He’s our only means of support. Who will take care of us now?’
(11:5): “But Anna sat beside the way daily, on the top of a hill, from whence she might see afar off”.
Now, here is the crux of it. If Sarah is indeed to be equated with Job’s wife, then we learn that her custom was, like Job’s, to bless God, when under even extreme duress: “And at this, by the window, with outstretched arms she said this prayer: ‘You are blessed, O God of mercy! May your name be blessed for ever, and may all things you have made bless you everlastingly’.”
Compare Job’s immortal words and deeds (1:20-22):
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord’.
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Blessing not cursing
The Book of Job follows on from the Book of Tobit, according to my argument, and a constant theme of the latter is the necessity of blessing God on all occasions, arising from the theology of old Tobit, whose last piece of advice to his son, Tobias (= Job), before Tobias’s departure to ‘Media”, had been: (4:19): ‘Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end’.
And Tobias was already applying this lesson whilst in “Media” (10:13):
Tobias left Raguel’s house with his mind at ease. In his gladness he blessed the Lord of heaven and earth, the King of all that is, for the happy issue of his travels. He gave this blessing to Raguel and his wife Edna, ‘May it be my happiness to honour you for the rest of my life!’
Then much later, now in his old age, Tobias, as Job, was still applying his father’s teaching. His ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’ (שֵׁם יְהוָה, מְבֹרָךְ) contains the same Hebrew root, brch, as used by the wife of Job (בָּרֵךְ אֱלֹהִים, וָמֻת) in what many take to be a curse, or worse, an urging for her husband to blaspheme God.
Tobit’s pious example may have affected the entire extended family, as we shall now see. Kinswoman Sarah herself had blessed God in her extreme affliction. And she did the same again in her bedroom, at the urging of Tobias (Tobit 8:4-5):
She stood up, and they began praying for protection, and this was how he began: ‘You are blessed, O God of our fathers; blessed too is your name for ever and ever. Let the heavens bless you and all things you have made for evermore’.
And Sarah’s father too, Raguel, was spurred to utter Tobit-like praise of the Lord when he discovered that the demon had not slain Tobias (8:15-17):
You are blessed for having made me glad. What I feared has not happened, instead you have shown us your boundless mercy.
You are blessed for taking pity on this only son, this only daughter. Grant them, Master, your mercy and your protection; let them live out their lives in happiness and in mercy’.
And even Tobit’s cousin Gabael of “Rhages”, when he met young Tobias, exclaimed (9:6): ‘Excellent son of a father beyond reproach, just and generous in his dealings! The Lord give heaven’s blessing to you, to your wife, to your wife’s father and mother! Blessed be God for granting me the sight of this living image of my cousin Tobit!’
I think that I have probably established well enough that blessing God, and not cursing or blaspheming Him, was the established practice of the Tobiads and their close relatives.
Was the Wife of Job also Sarah?
In the past (e.g., article “Job’s Life and Times”) I was thinking along the lines that Sarah, the first wife of Tobias-Job, who had given him that ill-fated first batch of children, must have died around about the time of Job’s last great trial, and that Job had then – like Abraham – married in his old age and had another family. Like Abraham, Tobias had married (one who would be called) “Sarah”. Might he not too have, given his great age, later married another woman as Abraham had, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4)?
But I no longer think that.
Gabael, blessing the young couple, had said to them (Tobit 9:11): ‘And may you see your children, and your children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation: and may your seed be blessed by the God of Israel, who reigneth for ever and ever’. These words might tactfully have been omitted from the Book of Tobit had this blessing of “third and fourth generation” not been realised.
Moreover, the prayer of Tobias himself had been for the couple to live unto old age (8:7): ‘And so I take my sister not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me and bring us to old age together’.
The most reasonable explanation of the Jobian children is, I now think, that, although the couple had tragically lost ten of their abundant progeny, the number was later made up by those later “generations” already in the process of development when the tragedy occurred.
A Final Question
Given the closeness of the pair, Sarah and Tobias-Job, why then does the latter sternly chip his wife when she urges him to bless God before what looks like the inevitable: Job’s death? ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’
Perhaps that, too, was just a tendency that ran in this feisty family. Recall blind Tobit’s and Anna’s disagreement over the kid, prompting Anna to an angry outburst (2:19-22):
Now Anna [Tobit’s] wife went daily to weaving work, and she brought home what she could get for their living by the labour of her hands. Whereby it came to pass, that she received a young kid, and brought it home: And when her husband heard it bleating, he said: ‘Take heed, lest perhaps it be stolen: restore ye it to its owners, for it is not lawful for us either to eat or to touch any thing that cometh by theft’. At these words his wife being angry answered: ‘It is evident thy hope is come to nothing, and thy alms now appear’. And with these, and other such like words she upbraided him.
Even exemplary couples can carry on like this.
In a recent article:
Job and his sons in Josiah’s kingdom
I asked this question regarding Job’s sorely-tested wife:
Did the prophet Jeremiah even refer to Job’s tragic wife when he recalled (Jeremiah 15:9): “The mother of seven grew faint; she breathed her last breath. Her sun set while it was still day; she was ashamed and humiliated”? We hear nothing of her at the end of the Book of Job.