The Book of Job is one of the most well-known instances of a book attempting to explain the existence of evil in the world. In this story, Job, a man who is near perfect and is the paragon of human virtue loses everything he owns and suffers incredible pain at the hands of both human and natural enemies, such as disease. In the end, Job is Vindicated and is restored to great wealth because of his steadfastness in God.
The question arises therefore, “Why is this book even necessary in the Jewish Bible?” The reason is because of a problem caused by the vast majority of other biblical texts
The problem that arises due to most of the other narratives in the Bible is that most actions of moral value to God in the Bible follow a simple action, followed by the punishment if an action is evil and a reward if the action was commendable. This is a good policy and an effective way to teach religion, particularly in a culture that focused on the here and now and did not originally believe in an afterlife. The threat that evil is punished and good is rewarded in this life or at least within one’s family was an effective way of teaching. However, this form of teaching has weaknesses as well. Although biblical figures, whom most Jews were never likely to meet or to have a memory of, even in oral tradition on a massive or effectively accurate scale, are easy to subject to this kind of justice, the common man living his ordinary life is not. The average person in any society will see that in many cases, the wicked prosper and the honest man still suffers. Social Conflict theory notes that the powerful will mold society to help preserve their power. This is seen as a cultural universal and thus would still apply to the ancient middle and near east. In the case of societies both then and now, this could result in the perversion of justice at times that would leave the weaker individual or group with little recourse to adress grievences regardless whether their claims were just or not.
Job is meant to address this problem on a religious level. Although Job has many claims to make as we shall see, one of its major claims is that all good or bad things that happen are not necessarily relevant to the character of the victim or victims. As the common expression goes in our own society, “Stuff Happens.” Although The book of Job does not acknowledge the literal existence of random occurrences or coincidences, it does offer solice for those who feel that they do not deserve what is happening to them, essentially arguing that they very well might be right. In the specific case of Job, He is right in denying any guilt and his “friends” are condemned for their claims that he has done evil.
Also, one can see a subversive message in the book relating to anti-dogmatism. In the story, Job’s friends engage in an act I would like to call “Reverse Moralizing.” Reverse Moralizing consists of looking a a causal relationship in reverse where the situation is also moral in aspect. For example, throughout the arguments between Job and his friends, the friends argue that Job must be wicked because he has suffered misfortune. This is, looking at the issue in a skewed and distorted way. At one point, a friend lists a variety of reprehensible acts that Job must be guilty of that has caused his downfall. We, as readers, know that Job is not even remotely guilty of any of these acts from the introduction to the book. It could be interpeted that the friend in question is simply rattling off a list of things Job might have done, but the analysis would remain the same. Thus, the book argues that one cannot condemn the unfortunate as wicked simply because they are suffering.
Finally, there is a third message that is possibly more paramount than the other two mentione above. That message is one that most religions contend with both in antigquity and in the modern day, and that is the dilema of whter it is proper to question the actions of God. In this Story, Job does question why God would allow the va4rious disasters to befall him and he is answered by God. Although God spews forth a string of unanswerable rhetorical questions that suggest an angry tone, Job is not condemned for his inquiries and ultimately returns to wealth and happiness after his conversation with God. The reason why this occurs lies in Job himself. Job is characterized in the story as the ideal religious man and he does not lose his faith in God throughout the entirety of the story, though, at times, he loses faith in his future and in himself. Therefore this sets his inquiring into God’s justice not as a challenge to God’s goodness or his justice, though Job openly admits he does not understand God’s justice, but rather, Job is seeking understanding into God’s ways. This search to acquire understanding is the goal of the Wisdom Literature and is also something a religious person should do, thus putting Job in the right in this conflict.
Lastly, The Book of Job is very different from the other pieces of Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament. One need only look at the form of Proverbs, Ecclisiastes, and Job seperately to see this difference. Proverbs is a poetical series of Couplets. Ecclisiastes is still highly poetic but is also more akin to an extended monologue. Job, as Bretler notes, is not only a narrative but highly resembles a fairy tale. Such a destinction makes Job seem very unusual. However, if one looks at the primary structure of Job, particularly the central portion, one will see how it falls into the category of wisdom literature. Most of the book of Job, despite its narrative structure is taken up by a debate between Job and his friends. Each Friend and Job have their own viewpoint on the subject that they express clearly in their statements to one another. this resembles the dialogues in books like “The Republic” by Plato, or to place a more modern example, “What is Man” by Mark Twaine. Works like this express several viewpoints but also end with a definite conclussion of which one is most correct. Job does this and likely incorperated many popular oppinnions of guilt and consequence from the time it was written. It guides the reader through a delicate reasoning process that is meant to bring the reader into an accepting understanding of the author’s position