Damien F. Mackey
“The language in Job is unlike any other found in the Bible, or outside it. True, the book is written in Hebrew, but it is very strange Hebrew indeed. It has more unique words than any other book of the Hebrew Bible. The language is archaic, which would indicate that it was very ancient: but it is also heavily influenced by Aramaic, which would make it relatively late”.
So devoid of (auto-)biographical details is the Book of Job that it is a complete nightmare for commentators to try to pin it to a particular era. Guesses about it range from before the time of Abram all the way down to the late C6th BC return from Babylonian captivity.
That is an incredible range of something like one and half millennia!
Elon Gilad, writing for Haaretz, tells of the puzzlement scholars face with the Book of Job: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/1.741973
The Book of Job is quite possibly the strangest book in the Hebrew Bible, and is notoriously difficult to date.
In essence, Job is an essay on the problem of evil. The book starts with God and Satan discussing Job, a “perfect and upright” man who “feared God and eschewed evil” (1:1). Satan tells God that Job is only virtuous because he is well off; were he to suffer, he would surely “curse thee to thy face” (1:11). God accepts the challenge and gives Satan permission to destroy Job’s life.
Satan kills his children, destroys his house, bankrupts him and gives him a terrible skin disease. Job’s unnamed wife says to him, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die” (2:9), but Job stands firm.
The story then stops being a narrative and takes a philosophical bent, with Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, each in turn, saying that all reward and punishment comes from God. God is just. Job was punished. Therefore Job must have sinned grievously.
A fourth character then enters the story – Elihu, who accuses Job as well (chapters 32-37). Biblical scholars suspect him to be a later addition to the book, mostly because while the first three friends are mentioned in the introduction, Elihu appears from nowhere.
Either way, Job denies sinning, and calls on the heavens to testify on his behalf. At this point (38:1) God appears from the whirlwind and answers Job’s explicit implication that he is unjust.
Since the story lacks any historical context and no historic individuals are mentioned, it is very hard to date.
The Talmud (redacted at about 500 CE) has several versions. The Talmud (Bava Barta 14b) says it was written by Moses, but then on the next page (15a), rabbis Jonathan and Eliezer say Job was among those who returned from the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE, which was about seven centuries after Moses’ supposed death.
The very same page of Talmud suggests that Job is not a real person and that the whole book is just an allegory; also, that Job was the contemporary of Jacob or Abraham.
Modern biblical scholars on the other hand think they do have a clue. There are no historic reference points but they can analyze the language and theology, and compare them with other Hebraic writings of known provenance.
There’s a snag, though. The language in Job is unlike any other found in the Bible, or outside it. True, the book is written in Hebrew, but it is very strange Hebrew indeed. It has more unique words than any other book of the Hebrew Bible. The language is archaic, which would indicate that it was very ancient: but it is also heavily influenced by Aramaic, which would make it relatively late.
Theories for the peculiar language range from it being written by Arabian Jews, to it being a poor translation from Aramaic, to the text being written in Idumean, the language of Biblical Edom, of which we have no record – but would have likely been very similar to Hebrew (note that Job is described not as Judean but Idumean).
The most popular theory now is that Job was written by someone whose first language was Aramaic but whose literary language was Hebrew, and that the use of archaic language was deliberate. This would indicate that we are talking about an author or more likely authors living in the early Second Temple period.
[End of quote]
Allow me to offer a few possible guidelines.
• Key to the dating of the Book of Job is mention of the “Chaldeans” in 1:17: “… another messenger came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’”
• Commentators are of course aware that Job, who lived “In the land of Uz”, and “among all the people of the East” (1:1, 3), was not geographically a part of mainstream Israel. And that would allow for some degree of foreigness in the language.
• Job is Tobias, son of Tobit. See my:
Job’s Life and Times
And this fixes the major part of his early life to the later neo-Assyrian empire, whose fall he lived to witness (Tobit 14:14-15): “Tobias died, having lived long enough to hear about the destruction of Nineveh …. As long as he lived he gave thanks for what God had done to Nineveh”.
• Job experinced the Fall of Nineveh as the biblical Nahum:
Prophet Nahum as Tobias-Job Comforted
– Nahum being, of course, the prophet who would exult over the Fall of Nineveh (conventionally dated to c. 612 BC).
With these points in mind, we can at least broadly date the irruption of the “Chaldeans” in Job 1:17 to the time when the Chaldean empire had begun to overtake the Assyrian one.
This revised view of Job now enables him to be firmly fixed to an historical period, and removes so much of the ‘strangeness’ that the Book of Job can present to biblical scholars. No longer can we entertain the Talmud’s view “that Job is not a real person and that the whole book is just an allegory; also, that Job was the contemporary of Jacob or Abraham”. Job (Tobias) and his relatives had served some of the greatest kings of antiquity (Shalmaneser; Sennacherib; Esarhaddon; Ashurbanipal).
The book itself may have been written, at least in part, by the brilliant Elihu, who was an eyewitness to the dialogues that occurred during Job’s major trial. Elihu may have been a Syrian, and hence a speaker of Aramaïc. Job 32:2: “Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram”. For, according to Francis N. Peloubet (Studies in the Book of Job, p. 66): “[Elihu] was an Aramean (Syrian) of the family or tribe of Ram = Aram = Syria”. That could explain why: “The language in Job is unlike any other found in the Bible, or outside it. True, the book is written in Hebrew, but it is very strange Hebrew indeed. It has more unique words than any other book of the Hebrew Bible. The language is archaic, which would indicate that it was very ancient: but it is also heavily influenced by Aramaic, which would make it relatively late”.
As far as goes that other view of “… the text being written in Idumean, the language of Biblical Edom, of which we have no record – but would have likely been very similar to Hebrew (note that Job is described not as Judean but Idumean)”, I would dismiss this because I consider that Job was, not an Idumean, but a Naphtalian Israelite who had grown up in Assyrian captivity.
Problematical, too, is Elon Gilad’s final assesment of the Book of Job:
Archaeological signs from deep antiquity
Even if the story of Job was written down during the early Second Temple era (late 6th century BCE to the early 4th century BCE), that doesn’t mean the story was a new one. In fact, we know that it was extremely ancient.
Ezekiel (about 622 to 570 BCE) mentions Job together with Noah and Daniel as men of ancient renown (Ezekiel 14:14). This means that for Ezekiel, Job was one of those mythological characters that people told stories about throughout the Near East, and not particularly Jewish, just as a story of a Noah-like character appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and a mythical Daniel is known from the ancient Semitic city of Ugarit. ….
[End of quote]
The story was by no means “extremely ancient” in Gilad’s context of “mythological”.
Its origin was comparatively late, approximately during the C7th-C6th BC rise of the Chaldean (or Neo-Babylonian) empire, meaning that Job was (quite unlike the ancient Noah) an older contemporary of the prophet Ezekiel who mentions him.
Likewise, Ezekiel refers to his wise contemporary, “Daniel”, who is not the same as the pagan Dan’el of Ugaritic literature. On this, see my:
Identity of the ‘Daniel’ in Ezekiel 14 and 28