Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is the book of Job historical?

Question: Is the book of Job a true story or an allegory?

The protagonist of the story is identified by name (Job) and gender (man), and located by place (land of Uz). The story of Job is presented to the reader as history. The story tells about a man, gives his name, mentions where he lived, and provides details about his life, his family, his friends and his calamity. Cf. e.g. Job 1:1-5; Job 2:9-13; Job 42:10-16.

Two biblical writers – one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament – refer to Job as an historical person. Ezekiel lists Job along with two known historical persons, Noah and Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14-20). James cites “the prophets” generally (the prophets were real historical people) as examples of suffering and patience – and then names Job as a credible historical figure of whom they had heard, whose example might comfort the suffering by demonstrating the mercy and compassion of God (James 5:10-11).

The concluding material about Job – especially about his daughters – has the earmarks of an historical record rather than a fictional account. The names of his three daughters, their extraordinary beauty and their receiving equal inheritance with their brothers does not seem particularly pertinent to concluding an allegory on suffering. On the other hand, it adds a fine touch to concluding the historical record of a man who suffered greatly (Job 42:14-15).


Will Fitzgerald said...

So, if it turned out that the Book of Job was not historical, what's your reaction? That's impossible? That's surprising?

Will Fitzgerald said...

I'm wondering how much hinges on its historicity for you.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Hi, Will. Always good to hear from you. I do not think it outside orthodoxy understand this as a story designed to teach certain profound spiritual truths. Obviously I don't take that position, but I don't think it is impossible. The reader can glean truths from the story without understanding it to be historical.

I nevertheless think something is lost mentally, emotionally or psychologically (not sure of the best terminology) if the reader is thinking of this as fiction. It seems much more edifying and encouraging to know that a real live human being went through this tragedy and came out better for it on the other side -- rather than it just being a story that somebody made up for teaching purposes.