Archaeology, Wisdom Literature, and the Book of Job

jobIn regards to the Old Testament, the practice of archaeology has been both a blessing and a hindrance to the study of the Bible. Archaeologists oftentimes find shards of pottery, but seldom locate written records. It is these written records that shed light and give insight into Biblical studies. Archaeology can authenticate history, but it cannot authenticate theology, and from the biblical perspective, history devoid of theology is meaningless. Though multiple archives of written records, such as the archive of Elba, the Nuzi archive and the Amarna archives have been found, they seldom are able to cross-reference key biblical figures or biblical events. The most famous recent archaeological discovery is that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  These scrolls have pride of place among the most significant contributions of archaeology to biblical studies. These documents date the OT writings nearly one thousand years earlier than previously thought. Archaeology does, however, inform our knowledge of the people of the Old Testament by adding facts and perspectives not derived from scripture.

Hebrew wisdom is like a mountain full of precious gemstones that must be carefully mined out of sediment and rock formations one by one. Wisdom literature, such as the book of Job, is composed of different literary techniques. Hebrew poetry contains techniques such as semantic parallelism, progressive parallelism, and grammatical parallelism. Authors frequently employed other techniques such as alliteration, acrostics, meter, ellipsis, inclusion and parallelism. Robert Lowth, a 18th century Bishop, was the first to identify the theme of parallelism in the Old Testament. The authors employed said techniques in order to make their works memorable, like a catchy song. Wisdom literature, as a genre, stems from the need for people to cope with the reality of human existence for sheer survival. Wisdom was believed to be passed down from generation to generation. An example of which can be found in the book of Proverbs. These sayings attempted to model what right relationship with Yahweh looked like. Such is the case with the book of Job.

job 1The purpose of the book of Job is to test God’s policies concerning justice. The book examines justice, emphasizing the importance of the suffering of righteous people. God’s policies are being put on trial. Most readers of Job search for the answer to the question of ‘Why do bad things happen to good people.’ This, however, is not the correct question to ask. Instead, one should ask ‘Why do the righteous suffer’. Job is presented as a patriarchal type figure, like Abraham. Through Job’s experiences, the retribution principle is debunked. This principle states that those who are righteous will receive blessings and those who are wicked will reap suffering. This presented a problem to the monotheistic Hebrews. Since there was only one sovereign God, suffering could not come from another source. Because this one God was believed to be absolutely just, suffering must have a logical explanation. The book of Job models that righteousness does guarantee one blessings. One must also realize that they are unable to offer God’s vantage point for the person who is suffering. Satan, in the book of Job, calls God’s character into question. Man, however, should not. The reader learns that there is never an evil intent behind the Lord’s plan, even if that plan breeds suffering for the righteous.

Job is presented as a patriarchal type figure, putting him around the time of Genesis. This would have been the most relevant time for Job’s message because of the suffering incurred by the Hebrew people after the time of Joseph and before the Exodus from Egypt. Though many Hebrews were faithful to Yahweh, they were still slaves. Furthermore, there was a predominate idea of theodicy. The common belief held that those who were righteous were blessed and the wicked would suffer. Thus, someone living in the ANE during the time of Job would have thought that Job must have committed a wicked crime in order to have endured so much suffering. This, however, is untrue. The book of Job provides the early Hebrew people with an answer to why righteous people face suffering in their lives. This example would serve to help them later rationalize and trust in the Lord during the trying times to come.

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