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Literary Features

of the Book of Job


Gregory W. Parsons


Literary Genre




The consensus that Job is a literary work of the highest

magnitude does not make the task of classifying it with regard to

its literary type any easier. Many literary critics have attempted to

place the Book of Job into one overarching literary genre or

category. However. this writer views all attempts to fit the book

into one category as failing to do justice to the complex nature of

its literary fabric.1

          Suggestions as to the basic (or comprehensive) literary genre

of Job normally have fallen into three major categories: the law-

suit (byri), which is a legal or judicial genre; the lament genre.

which is frequent in the Psalms; or the controversy dialogue or

dispute. which is similar to the wisdom genre of contest litera-

ture in the ancient Near East.



          Lawsuit. Because of the occurrence of legal terminology in

Job. many scholars have argued that the juridical sphere is the

backdrop of the book.2 Richter understands the Book of Job as a

secular lawsuit by Job against God whereby the friends serve as

witnesses (who apparently place a counter-suit against Job).

Chapters 4-14 are viewed as a preliminary attempt at reconcilia-

tion out of court. and chapters 15-31 are seen as formal court

proceedings between Job and the friends. The resumption of the



case against Job by Elihu and the judgment of God (38:1-42:6)

in the form of a secular counter-lawsuit between God and Job

result in the withdrawal of the accusation by Job.3

          Scholnick has presented a scholarly argument for viewing

Job as a "lawsuit drama” whereby the man (Job) takes his oppo-

nent (God) to court. The issue of the legal guilt or innocence of the

two parties involved is resolved through a lawsuit in which the

friends are judges and witnesses.4

          Lament. Although Westermann recognized the existence of a

controversy dialogue in Job 4-27, he argued that the most im-

portant element in the book is the lament (the personal lament

well known in the Psalms). The lament by Job, which begins

(chap. 3) and ends (chaps. 29-31) the dialogue proper, complete-

ly encloses the controversy speeches.5

          Gese suggested that the original "folk book" of Job, now

allegedly extant only in the prose sections--the prologue, the

epilogue, and in 3: 1 and 38:1--was a "paradigm of the answered

lament" pattemed after three Mesopotamian texts in which an

answer of God came to the sufferer.6 However, Gese argued that

the author of Job changed the original intent of the "paradigm of

the answered lament," whose form he ironically employs, by

substituting in the poetic sections a demand for a trial with God

I instead of the allegedly original plea for mercy.7

          Controversy dialogue. Some scholars have proposed that

Job is a variant of the philosophical dialogue, namely a con-

troversy dialogue similar to the disputation or contest literature

in the ancient Near East.8 Although Crenshaw acknowledges

that Job cannot be squeezed into one narrow genre, he considers

the controversy dialogue, which is influenced by its function

within prophetic literature as self-vindication, as the major liter-

ary type in the book.9



          Three views which have been proposed to describe the com-

prehensive literary genre of the Book of Job have been cited.

However. the realization that each of the three positions has at

least some validity underlies the fact that none of them succeeds

in adequately accounting for the diversified nature of this com-

plex literary work.10 As a matter of fact. the author of the Book of

Job skillfully interwove at least three major literary genres into

the fabric of his composition. Using the terminology of Leveque,

the author skillfully played from three different "keyboards"11 in

                              Literary Features of the Book of Job                       215

his polyphonic work--wisdom types, a genre from Psalms, and a

genre from the legal sphere. Consequently it can be concluded

that the Book of Job is a "mixed genre" in which its author

expertly blended a variety of literary types in order to serve the

function of the book.12


                                        Literary Devices

          Two key literary devices which are employed by the writer of

Job are the usage of irony and of mythopoeic language. The

present author will analyze the significant manner in which

these two major literary devices are utilized to assist the develop-

ment of the argument and purpose of the book. Also less impor-

tant literary devices will be briefly noted.



          The Book of Job is truly a study in irony. Irony is a significant

literary feature which saturates nearly every portion of the


          It is interesting that dramatic irony (similar to that used in

Greek tragedy)15 plays an important role in the basic format of

Job. The readers and the heavenly court share the knowledge

presented in the prologue, of which Job and his friends are not

aware--namely, that Job is innocent of wrongdoing and is being

tested as part of the cosmic purpose of God.

          It is precisely because of the reader's knowledge of Satan's

statement that God had put a protective hedge (TAk;Wa) about Job

(1:10), that the irony of Job's words in 3:23 becomes evident. Job

bemoans that God had placed a hedge around him (j`s,y.Ava)16 so that

he could not die. The very protective hedge which (although

removed to a greater distance by God) prevents Job's death (cf.

2:6) and which was intended for good is conceived of as a restric-

tive hedge intended for evil.17  Job consciously speaks ironically

about this "hedge" or security guard (rmAw;mi) in 7:12. His question

drips with irony as he asks God the himself was so dangerous as

the sea monster that he must be put under twenty-four-hour

surveillance (vv. 17-20). In 13:27 Job again alludes to God's

guard being restrictive. It is ironic that Job (in 29:2) longed for

the bygone days when Yahweh's guard was a blessing rather than

a restrictive hindrance.18 It is this background which enables the

reader to understand the full impact of the irony of the Lord's

words in 38:8 when He asks Job who hedged in the sea with


doors (cf. 7: 12). The Lord here uses the same verb—j`x,y.Ava --Job

employed in 3:23.

          The "comforting" friends make use of irony in a subtle

attempt to prove that Job is wicked. Their words are aimed at the

wicked man with whom they implicitly identify Job by means of

verbal irony, whereby they twist Job's words in an attempt to

incriminate him.19 For example, Eliphaz's statements in 4:7-11

are an attempt to equate Job with the wicked man whose lot is

trouble (lmAfA--cf. Job's usage of the same word in 3:10, 20 to

describe his own condition).20 In 4:10-11 Eliphaz obliquely re-

fers to Job's "roar" (or "moaning," cf. 3:24) as actually the roar

and groan of a lion (as a symbol of the wicked)21 whose cubs had

been scattered and killed because of God's anger.22 However, a

deeper irony (of which the reader is aware) overshadows this

passage. Eliphaz's question, "Were the upright ever destroyed?"

(4:7b) which implies, according to the retribution dogma, that no

upright person was ever destroyed, is disproved by the very fact

that Job sits before him on the ash heap (cf. 1: 1, 8; 2:3 where Job

is designated rwAyA).23  Rather than proving Job to be a sinner,

Eliphaz displays his own naive acceptance of an invalid dogma.

This not only reinforces Job's innocence in the eyes of the

reader24 but also emphasizes the absurdity of the retribution

dogma. In similar fashion, Bildad's possible ironic twisting of

Job's words (7:21) in 8:525 rebounds against him by the deeper

irony of Bildad's own statements of 8:6 and 8:20.26

Job counters the ironic jibes of the friends with his own

ironic remarks. In 12:2 Job retorts sarcastically (or perhaps

satirically)27 that his friends had such a monopoly on wisdom

that wisdom would cease when they died. On the other hand he

ironically states that what they say is common knowledge to all

men (12:3c). Job says that he himself was not inferior to them in

knowledge (12:3b and 13:2b). Beneath the irony of this retort and

his statement "what you know, I also know" in 13:2a lies the

deeper irony that the equality of their knowledge (especially with

regard to the assumption of the retribution dogma) consisted of

virtual ignorance of the Lord's ways.28 Once again Sophoclean

irony reinforces the absurdity of the dogma of divine retribution.

Here it also illustrates the futility of a "dialogue" between Job and

the three friends and adumbrates the necessity for the divine

perspective which comes in the Lord's speeches.29

          The usage of irony in the dialogue of Job, although especially

frequent in the first cycle, occurs almost throughout the three

                              Literary Features of the Book of Job                       217


cycles. For example, from the second cycle, Bildad in 18:4 re-

verses the meaning of Job's words of 14:18 that the "rock is

moved from its place."30 Then Bildad seemingly presents the

.simple orthodox view of the wicked and his fate (18:5-21). How-

ever, it is more likely "a masterpiece of irony" in which Bildad fits

the words Job had already spoken about his own condition into

the description of the wicked man's fate.31 Job, who apparently

sensed the irony of Bildad's words, responded in 19:2 by mocking

Bildad's introductory words of his last two speeches (hnAxA-dfa

"how long?").32

          In the third cycle, for example, Eliphaz in 22:15-18 turns

around Job's quotation of the wicked man (21:14-16) to support

his contention that Job has ironically fallen into the same path

as wicked men of old (cf. Job's statement in 7:19).33 Consequent-

ly, Eliphaz counsels Job to put away his wickedness in order that

" his prosperity would be restored (22:22-30). He concludes by

stating (in 22:30) that if Job would repent his prayers would once .

again become efficacious, not only for those who are innocent,

but even for the guilty (those not innocent).34 This would later

find ironic fulfillment (in a way not envisioned by Eliphaz) when

Job's prayer for his three friends (including Eliphaz himself-

42:8-10) was heard so that they, who were not innocent, were

forgiven.35 Again the reader is enabled to see the incongruity of

the retribution dogma which Eliphaz champions.

Job's words in 27:5-6, where he insists that he would cling to

integrity and maintain his righteousness till death despite the

allegations of his friends, bears ironic resemblance to the Lord's

analysis of Job in 2:3. The irony that results from the use of the

word "integrity" (:'11;{:I) causes the reader to wonder if the Lord

would still describe Job in the same way after Job's long and

blasphemous attacks on God.36 The usage of this literary device

causes the reader to desire (and anticipate) the voice of God from

the "whirlwind."

          There is a noticeable lessening of irony in chapters 29-31.

Apart from the mild "self-irony" of 29:237 and 29:18-20, which

contrasts Job's former state with his present state (chap. 30),

there is almost no irony either about God (cf. perhaps 31 :3-4) or

toward the friends. There may be an "implied ironic slap" toward

the friends in 29:25c ("like one who comforts mourners.38 This

technique of "deironization" (which allegedly verifies the spur-

ious nature of 29-31)39 is fitting for Job's soliloquy in which he

ignores the friends and turns his hopes toward God (though

218                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981

indirectly) in an almost hopeless "last-ditch" appeal for vindica-

tion. The brunt of the irony, which is directed toward Job, con-

sists of a dual contrast--between his former expectations (chap.

29) and his present state, and between his earlier flagrant attacks

on God and his present somber appeal for vindication. These

contrasts are indicative of Job's desperate situation and prepare

the way for the Lord's speeches.

          The speeches of Elihu are particularly ironic (or even sarcas-

tic) toward the friends for their failure to deal properly with Job

(32:7, 9-11, 15-16). They also contain a few gently ironic utter-

ances directed toward Job (cf. 34:33 and 37: 17-20).40 This may

illustrate the somewhat neutral (or perhaps mediatorial) role of Elihu.

          The Lord's speeches (particularly the first) are permeated

with obviously ironic remarks which border on sarcasm (38:4-5,

18,21). However, they also contain more subtly ironic remarks.

For example, the Lord's usage of HaykiOm in 40:2 seems to be an

implicit reference to Job's hypothetically HaykiOm (9:33).41



          The observant reader of the Book of Job is struck by the

prevalence of mythopoeic language (the poetic usage of mytholog-

ical allusions) which is perhaps more prominent in Job than in

any other biblical book.42 Smick has divided the mythological

terminology into four categories: (1) the forces of nature (the fire,

the sea, etc.); (2) "creatures cosmic or otherwise"; (3) cosmog-

raphy; and (4) pagan cultic practices.43 How do these various

mythological allusions fit with an evangelical view of the origin

and purpose of the Book of Job?44

          The only reference to Smick's last category occurs in Job 3:8

where Job calls for enchanters to curse the day (of his birth) by

arousing Leviathan (presumably to swallow the sun).45 (Thus the

context supports the retention of  MOy in the Masoretic text instead

of its emendation to MyA [sea or the god Yamm!--a chaos force in

Ugaritic as the counterpart of Leviathan, the sea monster.)

However, there may indeed be a subtle play on the similar sound

of MOy ("day") and MyA ("sea") and the parallel between Leviathan

and Yamm in Ugaritic mythology.46 Job apparently employed "the

most vivid and forceful proverbial language" available to him to

emphasize the depths of his despair and the intensity of his

anguish.47 Because of Job's clear statement of his monotheism,

(in 31:26-28), this mythological allusion (as well as others in the

                    Literary Features of the Book of Job                       219

book)48 should not be considered as indicative of Job's belief in

the validity of pagan cultic practices or of the existence of other deities.49

          As a matter of fact, at least two passages where Job speaks

contain possible polemical overtones. The first passage (9:5-13),

which includes a host of mythological allusions,50 emphasizes

the sovereignty of the Lord over the sea51 and the uniqueness of

the Lord as the God who alone (ODbal;) made the heavens, which are

worshiped by pagans (9:8).52  Also 9:7 makes it-clear that it is the

Lord, not a monster, who is the cause of the eclipse of the sun.53

The sun (here denoted by sr,H,) is never referred to as wm,w,54 by the

man Job, which seems to be a conscious but subtle polemic :

against sun worship.55

          The second passage, 26:5-14, also contains several mytho-

logical allusions.56 However, the emphasis is clearly on the

sovereignty of God over all the forces of nature. Verse 7 seems to

contain a merism whereby the Lord's creation of the north (prob-

ably the "heavens" or "skies")57 and His establishment of the

earth upon nothing58 indicate His total control of the universe

(see vv. 8-14). Therefore verse 12 which refers to My.Aha (the sea-

with definite article indicating not a proper name) seems to

be at least an effort at "demythologizing,"59 if not antimythical


          In the speeches of the friends and of Elihu, besides the few

references to cosmography60 very little mythopoeic language is

used. Eliphaz (in 5:7) speaks of Jw,r,-yneb; "the sons of Resheph" to

describe the "flames" or "sparks" which fly upward. Resheph is

well-attested as the Northwest Semitic god of plague and

pestilence.61 Similarly Bildad in 18:13 refers to Death's firstborn

(tv,mA rOkB;).62 The mention of "holy ones.” (by Eliphaz in 5:1 and

15:15) is reminiscent of the "divine council" motif (cf. 15:7-8) of

the ancient Near East in which the lesser divine beings partici-

pated in an assembly of the gods who made the decisions (cf. "the

sons of God" in the prologue--1:6; 2:1).63

          Now that the basic data concerning mythopoeic language in

Job have been cited,64 how does one explain the usage of such

mythological language? The fact that the mythopoeic language is

much more frequent in the speeches of Job (where polemical

overtones appear to be present) than in the friends' speeches

strongly suggests that these allusions are merely borrowed imag-

ery from the ancient Near Eastem cultural milieu.65  Corrobora-

tion of this may be indicated by noting the presence of mytho-

220                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981


poeic language in the Lord's speeches.66  Mythopoeic allusions are

clearly present in the descriptions of the restraining of the sea

with bars and doors (38:8-10),67 of Leviathan breathing fire and

smoke (41:19-21 [11-13]),68 and probably of the underworld as

having gates (38:17).  It is also probable that mythopoeic language

Ioccurs in the personification of the stars (38:7--parallelism

with Myhilox< yneB;),69 of Dawn (rHawa) in 38: 12,70 and of the constella-

tion Orion (lysiK;) in 38:31.71

          Why did God use mythopoeic language in His speeches to

Job? The present writer has argued elsewhere72 that polemical

overtones exist in the usage of this language. These polemical

nuances stress the contrast between the uniquely sovereign Lord

who operates by grace and the ancient Near Eastern gods who

were bound by the dogma of retribution.

          A twofold purpose may be seen in this subtle polemic against

the gods: (a) to endorse Job's monotheistic stance73 in the process .

of exposing the inconsistency of Job's action (unconscious self-

deification) with his theological position: and (b) to emphasize

that the Lord cannot be manipulated according .to the dogma of

retribution which bound the gods of the ancient Near East.74

The scope of this article permits only one example of polemic

from the Lord's speeches, namely, the subtle reaffirmation of

Job's implicit polemic against sun worship.75 The Lord's control

over the sun is shown by His daily command for sunrise and

sunset, although the word "sun" (wm,w,) is never directly men-

tioned in His speeches.76 This polemic against the sun, however,

does much more than endorse Job's monotheistic stance. Since

the sun god was almost universally considered to be the guardian

of justice in the ancient Near East,77 the Lord's control of the sun

(and its limiting of the activities of the wicked--38:13-15)78

demonstrated that the Lord (and the Lord alone) was the guaran-

tor of justice.79 Explicit in this was the fact that the Lord, not Job,

was responsible for meting out justice (see 38:12-15 and 40:8-14).80

Furthermore the portrayal of the Lord's sovereignty over

Leviathan, not only a symbol of chaos and of the wicked and

proud (see 40:12). but also of Satan himself,81 may involve a

subtle double entendre for the reader which implies God's victory

over Satan who has been proved wrong.82



          The author of Job also employed several other literary

devices in the composition of his masterpiece. Only some of

                    Literary Features of the Book of Job                       221


these can be noted, and then very briefly, because they do not

contribute in an obvious way to the overall purpose of the book.

          Several somewhat related literary devices employed in Job

may be conveniently lumped together under the general term

"paronomasia.”83 Selected examples of various types of parono-

masia which occur in Job will be briefly noted. Some indication of

the existence of alliteration is found in 5:8 where every word

begins with the letter x except the last word.84 Another common

literary device is assonance. This is used, for example, in 12:2

where six of the seven Hebrew words contain the humming

sound ("m") which accentuates Job's mocking sarcasm.85 Rhyme

occurs occasionally as in 10:8-1886 and in 19:3-4, 17-21.

          The use of assonance in Job 3:8 borders that of a play on

words (or "sense"--paronomasia) where the use of MOy (which is

suggestive of MyA)87 is heightened by the pun between "yrer;xo ("those

who curse") and rrefo ("those who arouse"), two virtual

homonyms. Eliphaz's play on the words "ground" (hmAdAxE) and

"man" (C1~) in conjunction with the repetition of the word lmAfA

"trouble" (5:6-7) serves as an effective device to aid his clever

argument that trouble does not spring from the ground but from


          Job 13:24 may contain a pun by Job on his own name (bOyoxi

with the use of byeOx "enemy") to describe his relationship to

God.89 This pun is similar to the subtle device of double entendre

or what Gordis designates talhin, after the Arabic rhetoricians)

which sometimes occurs. The author wished to bring both

meanings of a word (especially when homonyms existed) to the

consciousness of the reader simultaneously. For example, in 7:6

the use of hvAq;Ti ("hope") also brings to mind its homonym which

f means "thread" because of the figure of the weaver employed in

the verse.90


          It has been argued that the Book of Job does not fit into a

single literary genre; rather, its author skillfully interwove liter-

ary forms from at least three major genres (the lawsuit, the

lament, and the controversy dialogue) into the fabric of the book

lin order to serve its function.

          In a previous article the present writer suggested that the

purpose of Job (stated in a negative fashion) was the refutation of

the retribution dogma and its corollary that man's relationship to

222                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981


God is a business contract binding in court.91 In the present

article this contention is supported by demonstrating how two

major literary devices (irony and mythopoeic language) were ex-

pertly employed in the development of this purpose. Furthermore

several other literary features (such as assonance, alliteration,

and double entendre, which may be collectively called paronoma-

sia) were noted. These less obvious strokes from the poetic

brush, which often do not contribute significantly to the overall

purpose, may be called the "finishing touches" to the literary

masterpiece known as the Book of Job.




1 Even scholars who attempt to fit Job into one literary genre normally acknowl-

edge the presence of other elements. However. they modify what they view as the

overall genre in an attempt to include these other literary elements.

2 However. as noted by Michael Brennan Dick. "'legal language. itself does not

constitute a distinct literary form. for the juridicial sphere encompasses a broad

area of human life and does not correspond to a specific situation (Sitz im Leben).'

('"The Legal Metaphor in Job 31; Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979): 37).

3 Heinz Richter, Studien zu Hiob: Der Aufbau des Hiobbuches. dargestellt an

den Gattungen des Rechtsleben (Berlin: Evangelisches Verlagsanstalt, (1958)).

Cf. James L. Crenshaw, "Wisdom," in Old Testament Form Criticism, ed. John H.

Hayes (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1974), p. 254.

4 Sylvia Huberman Scholnick, "Lawsuit Drama in the Book of Job" (Ph. D. diss.,

Brandeis University, 1975). Scholnick's view is the most persuasive of any writer

who tries to fit Job into one Gattung; however, she fails to recognize that the

Lord's speeches actually serve to discontinue this metaphor. See this writer's

previous article ("The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job;” Bibliotheca

Sacra 138 (April-June 1981): 139-57). Scholnick provides a convenient sum-

mary of some other scholars who have noted the idea that Job represents the

proceedings of a lawsuit ("Lawsuit Drama," pp. x-xi; cf. also Crenshaw,

"Wisdom," pp. 253-54).

5 Claus Westermann, Der Ausbau des Buches Hiob (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr,

1956), pp. 4-5; and his Handbook to the Old Testament, trans. and ed. Robert H.

Boyd (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1967), pp. 226-33.

6 See James B. Pritchard, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old

Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 589-91;

596-601. Note the actual contrasts between Job and these three texts as pointed

out by the present writer ("A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-42:6" (Th.D. diss.,

Dallas Theological Seminary, 1980), pp. 21-22, 24).

7 See Hartmut Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit in der alten Weisheit: Studien zu

Spruchen Salomos und dem Buche Hiob (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1958), pp.

63-64, 73. For a helpful summary of Gese's argument, see John Charles Holbert,

"The Function and significance of the Klage in the book of Job with Special

Reference to the incidence of Formal and Verbal Irony” (Ph.D. diss.. Southern }

Methodist University, 1975), pp. 41-43. Note, however, that Horst Dietrich Preuss

states that Gese no longer holds to this theory ("Jahwes Antwort an Hiob und die

sogenan.nte Hiobliteratur des alten Vorderen Orients,” Beltrage zur alttes-

tamentllchen Theologle: Festschrijtjur Walther Zlmmerli zum 70. Geburtstag

[Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977], pp. 333, n. 47).

                              Literary Features of the Book of Job                       223

8 Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 228, 254. See W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom

Literature (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. 150-212, for contest !

literature in Mesopotamia.

9 Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 253-54.

10 For instance, none of these adequately accounts for the prose framework of

the book. Note the interesting suggestion of Francis I. Andersen, that Job stands .

closest to the epic history of Israel in which a major point of interest is the

speeches, often in poetic form (cf. Genesis and Samuel) (Job: An Introduction

and Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976], pp. 36-37).

11 Jean Leveque, Job et son Dieu; Essai d 'Exegese et de Theologie Biblique, 2

vols. (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1970), 1 :235. On the combination of these three genres

see Georg Fohrer, Das Buch Hiob (Gutersloh: Gutersloher Verlagshaus Gerd

Mohn, 1963), pp. 50-51; and his Studien zum Buche Hiob (Gutersloh: Guters-

loherVerlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1963). p. 70.

12 The Berlin Papyrus 3024 from Egypt, which bears a resemblance in form to

Job with its prose framework surrounding its poetic body, also employs several

different literary genres. The theme of the dispute between the man and his Ba is

developed by using three or four different literary forms including a legal dispute, a

direct dispute, and two prose allegories. See Hans Goedicke, The Report about the

Dispute of a Man with His Ba: Papyrus Berlin 3024 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

Press, 1970), pp. 14-17. Thus it should be recognized that literary types are not

frozen forms but are utilized in various situations which may deviate from the

supposed original Sitz im Leben.

13 A concise definition of irony is practically impossible because it involves

several nuances of meaning. There are at least three major types of irony: (1)

Socratic irony (or irony of character) which is closest to the meaning of the Greek

word ei]rwnei<a--"dissimulation" (i.e. ignorance purposely feigned to provoke or

confound an opponent); (2) verbal irony, which is a figure of speech in which the

intended meaning is the opposite (or a modification) of the literal sense of the

words used; and (3) irony of even ts (in drama being called drama tic or Sophoclean

irony and in real life called cosmic irony or irony of Fate), which involves an

audience (or onlooker) who "perceives that a character is acting in complete

ignorance of his true condition." The last type of irony was prominent in Greek

drama in which the audience knew in advance the outcome of the legend being

enacted in contrast to the actor's own limited understanding of his own actions.

See William Joseph Ambrose Power, "A Study of Irony in the Book of Job" (Ph.D.

diss.. University of Toronto, 1961), pp. 19-26. Holbert, a student of Power, has

suggested another classification of irony in Job, namely, "formal irony" to desig-

nate those instances in which it is assumed that Job borrowed Old Testament

literary formulas and then altered them in such a way as to heighten the ironic

intent of the verbal ironies (see Holbert, "Function and Significance of the Klage in

the Book of Job," p. 4, n. 6). However, Holbert's suggestion is too subjective and

involves too many assumptions which cannot be proved. His assumption that

elements in Job are parodies on the biblical Psalms depends on a date of Job after

the Psalms and ignores similar forms in the ancient Near East from a much earlier

date. Thus only verbal irony and irony of events are clearly present in the Book of


14 Since an exhaustive study of irony is impossible here, only selected examples

Will be noted. For other possible examples (some of which are questionable) see the

excellent studies by Power ("A Study of Irony in the Book of Job") and Holbert

("Function and Significance of the Klage in the Book of Job"). See also Edwin M.

Good, Irony in the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), pp. 196-240.

15 See supra, n. 13.

16 The root j`Us used in 3:23 is related to the root j`UW used in 1: 10. Between three

and ten Hebrew manuscripts have TAk;sa (from the root j`Us) in 1:10. For a concise


224                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981

summary of the relationship between j`UW and j`Us as well as j`kaWA and j`kasA, see E,

Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job, trans. Harold Knight (London:

Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1967). p. 7.

17 This is technically called Sophoclean irony since the use of the root j`Us in this

verse is a device which brings the reader's attention to his superior understand-

ing of Job's situation in contrast to Job's complete ignorance of it (see Power, "A

Study of Irony in the Book of Job:' pp. 39, 25). The irony is accentuated by the fact

(that, when the hedge is moved outward, Job interprets it as becoming unbearably

restrictive (cf. 13:27).

18 Power notes that the Sophoclean irony is "the the hedge and guard that once

were forsaken and despised but now are desired and esteemed have throughout

the long and tortuous struggle at all times been present" (ibid., p. 138). It is not

necessary to emend dOsB; to j`OsB; in verse 4 (as Power, p. 136, and others do) to

gather this from verse 2 and the overall context.

19 See Good, Irony in the Old Testament, pp. 201-12.

20 Whereas Job seems to blame God for his trouble (3:20), Eliphaz plainly

implies that the fault is Job's alone because of his wickedness (Holbert, "Function ,

and Significance of Klage in the Book of Job," pp. 120-21; cf. Power, "A Study of ,

Irony in the Book of Job:' pp. 42-43).

21 See Pritchard for the comparable usage of the lion as a symbol of the impious

in the "Babylonian Theodicy" (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 602, lines 48-55,

11 59-64).

22 Job's children had been killed as described in the prologue (1:18-19). See I

Power, "A Study of Irony in the Book of Job," pp. 42-43,and Holbert," Function and

Significance of Klage in the book of Job," p. 121,

23 Holbert calls this verbal irony ("Function and Significance of Klage in the

Book of Job," p. 122). However, this is more accurately dramatic or Sophoclean

irony since Eliphaz is unaware of the events of the prologue.

24 Ibid., p. 123, .

25 It is possible that Bildad intentionally reverses the way rHawA is employed by

implying that Job should be more concerned with seeking God than with Gods

hypothetically seeking him (ibid.,p. 157, and Power, "A Study of Irony in the Book

of Job, pp.57-58)."

26 Holbert, "Function and Significance of Klage in the Book of Job, p. 157.

27 Sarcasm, which is often used interchangeably with irony, often can only be

differentiated from it by the tone of voice used. Its tone is oridinarilyvery heavy and

seldom hides its feelings in contrast to ~ronywhich uses a lighter tone and has afar

more ambiguous effect (Good, Irony In the Old Testament, p. 26). The distinc- I

lion between irony and satire seems to be that the latter, which involves subtle 0:-

ridicule, is "militant irony." It has a bit of fantasy which the reader recognizes as

grotesque or absurd (i.e., inconsistent with reality). See Northrup Frye, Anatomy

of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton,.NJ: Princet,?n Uni~~rsity Press, 1957), pp.

223-24, and The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. Satire. Sarcasm, a biting and

cutting criticism, is simllar to satire in that its intention is to wound and even

destroy, which is not usually the case with irony .(Good, Irony in the Old

Testament, pp. 26-29, 214; and The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. Sarcasm ).

28 Cf. Henry L. Rowold, "The Theology of Creation in the Yahweh Speeches of the

Book of Job as a Solution to the Problem Posed by the Book of Job" (Th.D. diss.,

Concordia Seminary in Exile, 1977), pp. 69-70, esp. n. 9.

29 Also it neutralizes Job's ironic exposition of God's wisdom and power (12: 13-

25). It seems clear from the contexts of verses 14-25 and from Job's earlier attacks)

on God that verse 13 was spoken "tongue in cheek" by Job. I

30 See Good, Irony in the Old Testament, p. 206, for the precise meaning of this


31 For an elaboration of how this was done, see Power, "A Study of Irony in the

Book of Job," pp. 100-102.

                    Literary Features of the Book of Job                       225


32 See 8:2 (NxA-dfa) and 18:2 (hnAxA-dfa). Job is tired of hearing Bildad's "how long?"

(ibid., pp. 102-3). ,

33 Ibid.. pp. 118-19; cf. Roy B. Zuck, Job. Everyman's Bible Commentary

(Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), p. 105.

34 Cf. Job 1 where Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his children. The retention

of the Masoretic text (both in its text and vocalization), as found in the NIV, is

preferred for two reasons: ( 1) it is theologically more difficult, that is, it appears to

contradict the argument of the friends that the innocent--not the guilty--are

saved; and (2) the verions (namely the Theodotionic addition to the Septuagint,

the Vulgate. and the Syriac) had to change the person of verse 30b to fit their

translation of "innocent one:' Cf. Lester L. Grabbe. Comparative Philology and

the Text of Job (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), p. 85. As Gordis has proved,

this understanding of verse 30 is in perfect harmony with the Jewish doctrine of

corporate responsibility (as in Abraham's appeal to God to save Sodom) (Robert

Gordis. "Corporate Personality in Job: A Note on 22:29-30," Journal of Near

Eastern Studies 4 [1945]:54-55. ;

35 Ibid.; cf. Grabbe, Comparative Philology and the Text of Job, p. 85.

36 Power, "A Study of Irony in the Book of Job," pp. 127-28.

37 Cf. supra, p. 215. !

38 See Good, Irony in the Old Testament, pp. 224-25, 234.

39 See Holbert's allegation, "Function and Significance of Klage in the Book of

Job," pp. 258 ff. ;

40 Good, Irony in the Old Testament, pp. 208-12.

41 Ibid., pp. 234-36. See the present writer's "A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-

42:6,"pp. 110-12, for the significance of these and other ironic remarks. See also

Elihu's use of HaykiOm in 32:12 where he says that there is no HaykiOm for Job. See

Power, "A Study of Irony in the Book of Job," pp. 139-40.

42 Matitiahu Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job," Hebrew Union College

Annual 37 (1966):86. Although obviously genuine mythological allusions are

lnumerous. one must be careful not to be victimized by the mythological approach

of Walter L. Michel. "The Ugaritic Texts and the Mythological Expressions in the

Book of Job" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin , 1970), which attempts to read

mythology (esp. Ugaritic) into almost every verse by textual emendation and

by speculation. Pope is also often guilty of a mythological approach to Job (Marvin

H. Pope, Job, 3d ed. [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1973]). However,

neither ought one to go to the extreme to deny that any mythological expressions

occur in Job "in a strained attempt to remove the writers of Scripture from such

contamination " (Elmer B. Smick, "Mythology and the Book of Job," Journal of the

Evangelical Theological Society 13 [1970]:101-2).

43 Smick, "Mythology," p. 101.

44 Ibid. The amazing thing is that the mythological allusions abound most in

Job's speeches and in the Lord's speeches (where one would least expect them). In

contrast, the friends employ little mythopoeic language.

45 It was a common belief among ancient peoples allover the world that a solar

eclipse was caused by a dragon or monster which swallowed the sun. For a

collection of several of these traditions see Theodor H. Gaster, Myth, Legend, and

Custom in the Old Testament, 1st ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 878-

88. and also his book, Thespis: Ritual. Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near

East, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1961: reprint ed.. New York: Harper Torch

Books, 1966), pp. 228-29. The daily opposition of the sun god Re by the serpen-

tine monster Apophis in Egyptian mythology probably also included the concept

that a total solar eclipse indicated the temporary triumph of Apophis who had

swallowed the sun (cf. Pritchard, AncientNeatEastern Texts, pp. 6-7, 12; and Luis

I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World: A Philological and

Literary Study [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute. 1970], pp. 21-22). Gaster has

suggested that the promise of the protection and friendship of the sun goddess

226                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981


by Koshar-wa-Khasas (in the Ugaritic text--UT 62 :35-52) belies a similar concept

(Thespis, pp. 228-30).

46 Elmer B. Smick, "Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of

Job," Westminster Theological Joumal40 (1978):215.

47 Ibid.

48 See, for instance, the use of  rHawA-yPefap;fa in 3:9, "the eyelids of Dawn," a

personification of dawn which is equivalent to the Ugaritic gooddess shrt ("Dawn").

See also Job 38: 12 and 41: 18( 10).

49 However, Job's error in chapter 3 was questioning the sovereign purpose of

God by condemning the day of his birth (Smick, "Another Look," p. 215).

50 Job 9:6 describes mountains as "the pillars"(of the earth) (cf. 26: 11). In verse

8 MyA | ytemEBA, literally, "the high places of Yamm" (no article), has been translated as

the "back ofYamm (or Sea)" by many scholars because of the Ugaritic cognate bmt

("back"). For example, see Pope, Job, pp. 68, 70, and Charles Lee Feinberg,

"Ugaritic Literature and the Book of Job" (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University,

1945), p. 55. Verse 9 speaks of the constellation Orion which was conceived of as a

giant hunter in ancient mythology (see 38:31). 'Terse 13 mentions bharA-yrez;fo the

helpers of Rahab, bharA ("boisterous, arrogant") being the peculiarly Israelite name

for Leviathan (see Ronald Barclay Allen, "The Leviathan-Rahab-Dragon Motif in

the Old Testament" [Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1968], pp. 2-5,

66-67, 76). See also Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew

and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p.

923; and Mary K. Wakeman, Gods Battle with the Monster: A Study in Biblical

Imagery (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973), pp. 58 and 79.

51 Although the absence of the article permits 0: to be a proper noun, the article

is not mandatory in poetry. The presence of the plural"{:1~~ (lit., "backs") empha-

sizes that Yamm has many "backs" or waves because he is actually nothing more

than a natural force (the waves of the sea) and not a deity at all.

52 Smick, "Another Look," pp. 218-19.

53 Ibid., p. 218.

54 wm,w, is cognate to Akkadian samas and Ugaritic sps, both of which are

employed to designate the "sun" as well as the "sun deity."

55 sr,H, is a rare Hebrew word for "sun" used elsewhere only in Judges 14:18

(except for place names) (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew Lexicon, p. 357). In

Job's disavowal of sun worship (31:26), he employes the word rOx "light" (cf.

Elihu's usage in 37:21); in 30:28 he uses the word hm.AHa "heat"which is rarely used

in the Old Testament to describe the sun (see Song of Sol. 6:10; Isa. 24:23; 30:26)

(Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew Lexicon, pp. 328-29). The only occurrence

of wm,w, in the Boolc of Job is in 8: 16 where Bildad speaks.

56 " In 26:711;£1' :"the north") was the cosmic mountain in Ugaritic mythology

verses 10-11 may denote a primitive cosmography of the earth as a flat disk

floating in the subterranean waters (cf, v. 7) and of the mountains as pillars

I supporting the heavens. However, this is more likely phenomenological language

(language describing the way things appear -such as meteorologists use "sun-

rise" or "sunset"--without necessarily endorsing this scientifically). Verses 12-13

describe Rahab, the chaotic monster (see supra, n. 50) which the Lord smashed to

pieces. (See the similar description in UT 67:1: 1-3, 27-30, where Mot seems to

question the possibility of Baal's defeating the chaos monster,) In 26:13 the

monster is designated  HayriBA wHAnA "the fleeing serpent" whom the Lord pierced (cf.

Isa. 27:1 and also Anat's claim of destroying the serpent in 'nt 111:38-39),

57 See Smick, "Another Look," pp, 222-23, and the NIV translation.

58 This assertion of faith supports the probability that 26:10-11 (and other

verses where Job speaks) describe the cosmos in a phenomenological manner.

59 The present writer uses this term to describe a neutralization of the mythical :

concepts of the ancient Near East. This usage in 26:12 is in contrast to 7:12 where

                              Literary Features of the Book of Job                       227


Job asked if he were Yamm (MyA without the article) or the sea-monster (NyniTa) that

God placed a guard over him (cf. 'nt III:37 where Anat claims to have muzzled the

dragon, tnn). See Smick, "Another Look," p. 223. Nyni.Ta, unlike Leviathan and

Rahab which are personal names for the monster, is more properly a generic term

for the sea-monster (Wakeman, God's Battle with the Monster, p. 79).

60 See 22:14 and 37:18 where the sky seemed to be a solid dome (fayqirA) over the

earth. This is also probably phenomenological language.

61 Thus the term "sons of Resheph" describes the various types of pestilence

(here "flames") (see Smick, "Mythology," p. 105, and "Another Look," pp. 219-20;

also Pope, Job, pp. 42-43). For references to Resheph, see Gaster, Myth. Legend,

and Custom, pp. 670-71, 789.

62 Mot was the Ugaritic god of drought, death, and the underworld. See Smick,

"Mythology," p. 105, and "Another Look," p. 220.

63 See Smick, "Another Look," pp. 216-17.

64 The evidence from the Lord's speeches has been deliberately omitted so far.

Also some evidence was not included from the rest of the book such as several

instances of personification of the forces of nature (cf. NODbaxE –(28:22; 31:12)

and MOhT; [28:14)).

65 This is consistent with the strict monotheism of Job (31 :26-28) and his

friends as well as all the Old Testament writers. Allen's excellent analysis of the

Leviathan motif concludes that the mythopoeic language of the Old Testament

--was merely literary allusion, not "borrowed mythology" ("The Leviathan-Rahab-

Dragon Motif in the Old Testament," pp. 60, 63; cf. Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and

Chaos [Portland: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974), pp. 13-14).

66 If one assumes that these speeches are really the words of the Lord and not

merely words placed in His mouth by the poet (the typical neoorthodox view), the

presence of mythological language is a cogent indication that mere imagery is

being employed.

67 In the so-called Akkadian creation epic Enuma Elish, the goddess Ti'amat

(Old Akkadian word for "sea"), who apparently represented the powers in the

primeval salt water ocean, was slain and bound by Marduk in his storm chariot.

After her corpse was cut in half to make the sky out of one half, Marduk provided

for bars and posted guards so that her waters could not escape. (See tablet IV, lines

93ff., and esp. 139-40 in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 67.) Also see

Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2d ed. (Chica-

go: University of Chicago Press, 1951; reprint ed., Phoenix Books, 1963), pp. 40-

42. Heidel interprets the guard to refer only to the waters contained in the sky (see

p. 42, n. 94).

68 See Job's allusion in 3:8 to the mythical Leviathan as a force of chaos.

69 The stars were worshiped as mighty gods in pagan cults of the ancient Near

East (cf. Deut. 4:19). For instance, the Ugaritic poem sometimes called "The Birth

of the Gracious Gods" (UT 52) celebrates the birth of the astral deities Dawn (s1:lr)

and Dusk (slm)--lines 52 and 53 -probably the brilliant star Venus regarded by

1many as both the morning and evening star (cf. Pope, Job, p. 292). For a translit-

eration and translation of UT 52 (= SS), see G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and

Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), pp. 120-25. The mention of "the sons of

God" (cf. Job 1:6 and 2: 1) bears a resemblance to the assembly of lesser gods in the

ancient Near East.

70 See the reference to the Ugaritic god Sahar in n. 69. See also the reference to

the "eyelids of Dawn" (rHawA-yPefap;fa) in Job 41 :18 (10) and 3:9. The starVenus, likely

called Sattar in Ugaritic, was also venerated and associated with Inanna in

(Sumerian myths, with Ishtar in Akkadian, and with Attar (Astarte) in Ugaritic

myths. See Helmer Ringgren, Religions oj the Ancient Near East, trans. John

Sturdy (PhIladelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), pp. 9, 59-60, 141-42.

71 In ancient mythology Orion was a giant hunter. According to Dhorme (Com-

228                        Bibliotheca Sacra--July-September 1981

mentary on the Book of Job, p. 132) and Theodor H. Gaster (Thespis, p. 322),

Orion was the Babylonian god of the chase and war called Ninib (equivalent to

Sumerian Ninurta, the stalwart warrior god with his hunting gear of bows and

nets). In Egyptian literature the god Osiris (forebear and prototype of all dead

kings) was alive in Orion. The dead king could go to the "Field of Rushes" (the

Hereafter) with Orion; even the common (nonroyal) men rose and set with Orion as

night stars. See Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), pp. 102-3, 105-6, 109-11.

72 See the writer's "A Biblical Theology of Job 38: 1-42:6,"

73 This included not only a belief in the sovereignty of God (see the writer's

article, "The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job") but even polemical

statements against other gods (Job 9:5-13; 26:5-14).

74 Job's failure to part with this dogma (see 40:8) was not only inconsistent

with his theology, but also caused him to adopt a distorted view of God's

sovereignty, namely, that it was cruel caprice.

75 See supra, p. 219, ;

76 Indirect mentions occur in the use of rq,Bo ("morning") and rHawA ("dawn") in

38:12-15 and of rOx ("light") in 38: 19-20.

77 See chapter 1 of the writer's, "A Biblical Theology of Job 38: 1-42:6,"

78 In the ancient Near East, it was believed that the sun god drove the demons

and other chaotic forces (often embodied in animals) back into their hiding places

each morning. See the representation of the god of light (probably Shamash) in

opposition to demons in Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World:

Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J.

Hallett (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), p. 54, fig. 53. See also Shamash seated in

judgment of a lion-headed demon (ibid., p. 208, fig. 286). In Egypt the concept was

that of Re in his sun boat emerging victoriously over the underworld serpent of

darkness, Apophis (see Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, p. 18 and fig, 8).

79 Job 38: 12-15 is an answer to Job's objections of 24:13-17 that wickedness

was rampant at night.

80 Job assumed that the Lord was bound to the dogma of retribution like the

sun god and in doing so unconsciously placed himself as judge.

81 See Revelation 12:3-17 (esp, v. 9)and 20:2 where Satan is called a serpent and

a dragon, See also Allen, who argues that the Leviathan motif is consistently an

Iemblem of Satan in the Old Testament ("The Leviathan-Rahab-Dragon Motif in

the Old Testament").

82 See Smick, "Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job,"

p. 227. (While the present writer arrived at virtually the same conclusion indepen-

dently of Smick, it was a real encouragement to find another evangelical who

recognized the significance of the mythological overtones of Leviathan for under-

standing the Book of Job. Except for Allen ("The Leviathan-Rahab-Dragon Motif

in the Old Testament," pp, 82-84), other evangelicals have minimized the mytho-

logical aspect of Leviathan for the Lord's speeches and have ignored the possible

significance of it as a Satanic emblem.) It is only through the permission of the

Lord that Satan was allowed to use his forces of chaos and evil against Job.

Although Job is quite ignorant of Satan's role as described in the prologue, it may

be through the familiar anti-creation symbol of chaos (Leviathan) that the Lord

communicated the fact that chaos forces (within the sovereign restraint set by the

Creator) were responsible for the calamities which befell Job and the apparent

injustices which Job had observed and lamented.

83 Immanuel M. Casanowicz (Paronomasia in the Old Testament [Boston:

Norwood Press, 1894)) divides this term into "sound-paronomasia" and "sense-

paronomasia." The former includes alliteration ("the recurrence of the same initial

letter or its phonetic equivalent in two or more words in close or immediate suc-

cession"), rhyme (the agreement of sound at the end of words), and assonance

(the coincidence of sound in the middle of words). The latter, sense-paronomasia,

                                    Literary Features of the Book of Job                       229

is a "play on words" or pun in which the combination of words of similar sounds

produces a witticism or jest (see pp. 3-4, 8, 12). Casanowicz lists some fifty-two

examples of paronomasia in Job (pp. 91-93), but his list is far from exhaustive.

84 Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job (Chicago: Uni-

versity of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 166.

85 Ibid., pp. 166-67.

86 Charles Lee Feinberg, "The Poetic Structure of the Book of Job and the

Ugaritic Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 103 (1946):290.

87 See supra, p. 218.

88 Good, Irony in the Old Testament, p. 203.

89 This was suggested as long ago as the Talmud (Baba Bathra, 15a). See

Holbert, "Function and Significance of the Klage in the Book of Job," p. 182, and

Good, Irony in. the Old Testament, p. 230. The plene spelling of "enemy"

(rather than byexo) seems to confirm this.

90 Gordis, The Book of God and Man, pp. 167-68. He suggests that this device

also occurs in 3:6-7,22; 5:24; 9:17; 12:6; 21:13; and 22:25 (see p. 347, n. 51).

91 Parsons, "The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job," pp. 139-57.




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