Book of Job
Book of Job Genre
Sound the sirens, Shmoopers: Job is a combination of poetry and prose, and the Bible never merges two styles lightly. What does this mean for you, the alert reader? Read on to find out.
Let's start at the very beginning. The frame story (chapters 1-2 and 42:7-17) is written in prose and tells us about God, Satan, the divine court, Job's initial misfortunes, and finally Job's restoration.
This whole section is very A happens, B happens, C happens. There are no flashy images, no metaphors, and nothing poetic—just events taking place. It reads like a screenplay rather than a piece of philosophy. For example, in the last few lines of the book, the narrator tells us, "After this Job lived one hundred forty years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days" (42:16-17).
Hmmm. This sounds like a big section to skip. Job has gone from being incredibly annoyed at God to being joyous and happy with all that he has. The philosophy, the feelings, and the debates aren't the issue anymore; the author just wants you to know the outline of the story and how it all goes down.
Other things to notice about the prose section?:
- The narrative voice is always in the third person.
- The prose section has a very different notion of God than the poetry section. Check out God's "Figure Analysis" for more on this.
- Satan appears only in the prose.
These tidbits have led scholars to assert that the prose frame was added later on in the text's history, and that the poetry section is from a much different cultural moment. What do you think?
The poetry section is different from the prose in about a zillion different ways. Since we don't have a zillion bullet points at our disposal, we'll narrow it down to a few, focusing on the style:
- The poetry section is longer. That one's easy.
- The poetic narrative is filled with dialogue, giving us insight into a bunch of different perspectives.
- Oh, and the poetry section is…poetry.
The poetry of Job contains some of the most famously epic lines in the Bible. Think "Your own lips testify against you" (15:6), and "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (38:4). Yeah, there's nothing like this in the prose. This author was a poet, make no mistake.
In our humble opinion, God's speech in Job is one of the most poetic in the Bible. Boy, can that guy write. After Job, Elihu, and the three mourners have been asking questions in—let's face it—kind of a blubbering way, God comes in and asks questions like this: "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" (38:12) Um, no, God, no we haven't.
God's questions bring the debate to a whole new level. It isn't just a matter of "just" or "unjust" divine law, as Job and his friends have been talking about, it's now about all the complexities of the universe that humans have no capacity to understand.
Now that we've established the possibility that Job might have been constructed out of two different stories, what does that mean for us? Really, we're asking. How does it change the way we think about God?
Philosophical Dialogue and Didactic Poetry
Job is definitely a dialogue of sorts. After all, it's a bunch of people sitting around musing on the workings of the world. It also takes on some aspects of didactic poetry, serving to instruct, educate, and entertain. Check, check, and check.