Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 22 - Literature of the Middle Period
ABOUT thirty years are embraced in the period which we are labeling for convenience "The Middle Period" of the Exile and which extends roughly from about 585 to 555. During these years a considerable body of literature was produced by the exiles: new additions were made to the prophetic oracles, the Deuteronomic history was brought to a close, the initial stages of the editing of the P source were undertaken and, if our dating is correct, the magnificent Wisdom writing which wrestles with the problem of theodicy, the book of Job, was composed.
In its present form, the book of Job records the sad adventures of a good and righteous man, stricken by God, and comforted by friends whose comments set forth the attitudes toward sin, suffering, righteousness and divine justice which were current in the writer's day. The prose prologue introduces the reader to Job, presenting him as one whose every act was kind, good and just, as a man of faith whose blamelessness and righteousness were affirmed by God. Indeed, it was God's boast of Job's upright behavior that prompted "the Satan,"1 a member of the court of heaven,2 to raise the question of the reason for Job's piety. Was it not because Job was blessed with every good thing that he was righteous? Would not Job, once robbed of possessions and later of health, reveal his true nature and curse God? The stage is set. Job has lost sons, daughters and possessions and is suffering personal bodily affliction. The reader is invited to discover the answer to the question: will Job curse God? But the author is really dealing with more significant questions concerned with theodicy and how a righteous man can live in the face of adversity (cf. Habakkuk). In the poetic section following the prologue, each of Job's friends presents a position to which Job responds, and out of these statements the writer of Job skillfully develops his theme. As we shall see presently, this mode of presenting the problem of theodicy and struggling with the meaning of existence was popular among wisdom writers of Egypt and Mesopotamia prior to the development of the Hebrew nation.
Earlier it was suggested that Wisdom Schools may have been introduced into Hebrew society during Solomon's age,3 perhaps in imitation of court patterns of surrounding nations. Wisdom writings are characterized by an appeal to human experience and common sense, tending to rest the reasonableness of an argument upon the logic of that which may generally be observed to occur in life and avoiding appeals to theological or nationalistic beliefs.4 Such writings tend to be universal in appeal, for they touch upon problems of human experience that transcend political or theological boundaries, expressing provenance only by references to local deities or settings. The problem of the suffering of the innocent or righteous has preoccupied thinkers in every culture postulating righteous or moral gods in control of human destiny and where the assumption is made that there is some sort of relationship between sin and suffering and between righteousness and blessing. Many writings on this theme, some much older than Job and some bearing striking affinities to Job, have been found among Egyptian and Mesopotamian documents.
The Egyptian essay recording a "Dispute over Suicide" between a man and his soul was noted earlier in the discussion of the First Intermediary Period (2200-1900 B.C.).5 Shortly afterward, during the early second millennium, "The Protests of the Eloquent Peasant" was composed, employing a prose prologue and epilogue to frame nine "semipoetic" discourses through which a peasant, deprived of his rights, successfully argues his case before the chief steward.6 If the author of Job was acquainted with these or similar stories from Egypt, and it is quite possible that he was, there is no evidence of literary borrowing.
From Mesopotamia has come a poem dedicated to "the lord of wisdom" which treats of a righteous sufferer often called "the Babylonian Job."7 Forsaken by the whole pantheon of gods, unable to secure an omen, considered a social outcast by friends and family, deprived of property, responsibility and respect, unable to bring about change by exorcism and magic, and accepting the theological dictum that human fortunes are determined by the gods, the unfortunate individual pours out his sad tale. In this lament the sufferer refused to equate sin with suffering, and, as he rehearsed his past good deeds, reflected that man cannot really know the will of the gods, and he goes so far as to suggest that what seems pleasing to man might be judged an offense by the gods. The stubborn faith that the gods would prove themselves merciful which seems to sustain the sufferer appears only once. Ultimately, deliverance came through Marduk, the lord of wisdom, to whom the poem is dedicated. In another Babylonian poem, a satirical dialogue between master and servant, a somewhat pessimistic mood of religious skepticism prevails as the master seeks to discover some action that might have a beneficial end, only to learn from the servant that death alone is the answer.8 Still another poem, in acrostic form, deals with human misery in a polite dialogue between a sufferer and a friend.9 The advice of the friend, often poorly preserved in the existing texts, is not out of harmony with what Job's friends recommend, and the sufferer's retorts touch on issues and reveal attitudes not unlike those of Job. It is obvious that the presentation of the problem of theodicy in conversational form and the portrayal of attitudes and ideas similar to those in Job were popular in Mesopotamia, but at no point is it possible to demonstrate direct borrowing by the author of Job.10
While it cannot be proven conclusively, it is usually argued on the basis of the setting, that the story of Job is Edomitic in origin. The opening verse locates Job in Uz, which may have been anywhere between Damascus and Edom in the desert area east of Palestine.11 Job's friends may have come from southeastern Palestine.12 Attempts to date the book precisely by clues found within have not been successful and suggestions have ranged from the patriarchal to post-Exilic periods.13 It now appears that to a pre-Exilic prose story poetic dialogues were added so skillfully that the relationship between the two parts is much closer than appears on the surface.14 It is generally held that the prose prologue and epilogue, reflecting folktale style and the smoothness of a tale often repeated, circulated independently. Here the deity is known by the familiar titles Elohim and Yahweh. The dialogue portions are quite distinctive in style and content and use the terms El, Eloah, Elohim and Shaddai in reference to the deity. Some portions of the dialogue appear to be intrusive. A new figure, Elihu, is introduced without warning, accompanied by a literary style change (chs. 32-37). A hymn on wisdom interrupts a Joban soliloquy and presents ideas not in harmony with those of Job and his friends (ch. 28). It would appear that the book of Job, like so many other biblical writings, was subjected to continuing or progressive interpretation after the original writer had completed his work. Careful analysis of the text suggests that Job was probably composed during the sixth centuryl5 by a writer who utilized a well-known prose folktale, possibly of Edomitic origin, and added poetic dialogue, perhaps of his own composition.16
The following literary analysis readjusts the third cycle of speeches (chs. 22-26) in accordance with the convincing suggestion of S. Terrien.17
I. The Prologue Chs. 1:1-2:13.
a. Scene 1, on earth: 1: 1-5.
II. Dialogue Chs. 3-42.
d. The Elihu Interruption: chs. 32-37.
e. The Divine Encounter: chs. 38-42.
III. Epilogue: Ch. 42:7-17.
Read the Prologue
The prologue may have been drawn from an ancient story of a righteous sufferer (cf. Ezek. 14:14). Whether or not the author identified himself with Job and portrayed his own unfortunate situation or whether he had in mind someone like Jeremiah through whom he proposed to deal with the universal problem of the suffering of the righteous cannot be determined for sure. What is more likely is that Job was meant to be a symbol of the nation Israel and that the shattering of Job's health and holdings represented the eclipse of Judah. That Judah was not without sin could not be denied, but there had been a Deuteronomic reform, and a genuine effort had been made to fulfill the divine will. The parallel would be clear to the people of the Exile.
Read the First Cycle
Job's answer gets to the heart of the problem (9:15-24). He is not guilty, there is no reasonable answer, tradition notwithstanding, for his suffering; his punishment is without cause. It should be remembered that, according to the prologue, Job is right! God, he argues, makes no distinction between right and wrong and both the innocent and the guilty are destroyed. Here and elsewhere Job's presentation reflects the Exilic situation. When the destruction came, righteous and wicked suffered alike. Jeremiah's advice to make the best of the Exilic situation gives no answer to the problem of why God brought this suffering (cf. Jer. 29:4-9 and Job 9:27 ff.). A man accused cannot possibly justify himself to his accuser and Job called on God to meet in frank and fair discussion, preferably before an impartial umpire to explain why Job, the innocent one, suffered (10:1 ff.).
Zophar, the last speaker, responded with vehemence and blindly accused Job of evils deserving even greater punishment. He called for penitence. Once again echoes of the Exilic situation appear in Job's response (12:17-21), but these are so broadly stated that it is possible to interpret the words as a general rather than particularistic statement. Job continued to call for a confrontation with God.
Read the Second Cycle
Read the Third Cycle
Read Ch. 28
Read Chs. 29-31
Read Chs. 32-37
Read Chs. 38-42:6
Read the Epilogue
THE PURPOSE OF JOB
The obvious question raised in the prologue was "Will the righteous Job, once deprived of the good things of life, abandon and curse his God?" The equally obvious answer of the book is "He did not." Job's only outcry was for justice, for if rewards in this life rest on righteousness, then something was wrong in Job's case. His outcry raised a second question, "Why, if God is just and in control of life, and why, if righteousness is rewarded and wrongdoing punished, does the righteous Job suffer horrendous misfortunes?" It is clear that traditional answers were inadequate. The responses of Job's friends failed to answer the questions and ultimately God declared they were inaccurate (42:7-8). Thus neither Eliphaz' arguments that no man could achieve perfection and that the punishment was a chastening for Job's own good, nor Bildad's appeal to the tradition that suffering is rooted in human fallibility, nor Zophar's horrified response that Job's challenging the justice of his suffering was akin to blasphemy, nor Elihu's thesis that God leads man to the brink of death only to rescue him so that man might in grateful humility relate his experiences to others (33:19-33) have any foundation other than in human speculation. It seems probable, therefore, that, in addition to reflecting on the general theme of theodicy so common among ancient wisdom writers, this author was expressing his belief that theological arguments about the relationship between sin and suffering were of no avail, for it is impossible for those on earth to know (as only the reader of the prologue could know) what went on in heaven.20 Thus the book had a satirical thrust, akin to that of the Babylonian dialogue between master and servant. If the setting is the Exile, and if Job is not simply an individual but symbolizes the nation, then the writer has moved away from the explanations of suffering and the Exile of the book of Ezekiel to recommend an acceptance of that which even the inquiring Job with his quest for solutions was unable to understand.
The third question implied in the book is "What does the righteous one do in such a situation?" Obviously, it is useless to rail and demand answers. One can only submit and continue to trust, holding firm to the belief that justice will be done. At this point something of Ezekiel's dreams for the future enter, for the author implies that the suffering will end and Job (the nation?) will be restored. The presumptuousness of a demand for answers is clearly shown in Job's response to God's questions-submission and trust-and it is this attitude that the writer commends to both the individual sufferer and to the nation in exile. The predicament of the exiled people cries out for answer; Job advises trust, patience, submission and unrelenting faith that God would ultimately set matters right.
Finally, the poet has depicted Job as one whose righteousness did not rest upon material rewards, but in faith and love of God.21 Job knows, with the unshakable conviction of one who has been faithful regardless of what his friends said, that he is righteous. In this conviction he did not hesitate to challenge prevalent beliefs. His challenge is not to God but to popular theology. His faith rests upon the firm belief that somewhere there is an answer that has evaded man and can only come from God. The answer is not given but, in a sense, Job's faith is vindicated. The reasons for his condition lie beyond human comprehension so that the righteous man and the righteous nation must in moments of dark despair live in trust, or, in Habakkuk's words, "live by his faithfulness."
CONTINUING INTERPRETATION IN THE PROPHETS
Read the additions under discussion
Prophecies of hope and restoration were appended to the works of other eighth century writers. The last five verses of Amos (9:11-15) envision the restoration of the Davidic kingship (represented in Jehoiachin in exile), the rebuilding of ruined cities and a bounteous future marked by peace and security. To Isaiah's doom oracles were added restoration oracles. Some additions reveal deep and intimate appreciation of Isaiah's style and may represent contributions by the prophet's disciples or school, if such a group can be postulated for the Exilic period.22 Some of Isaiah's harsh predictions are reversed as in the oracles of restoration of 4:2-6 (4:2 cf. 2:13; 4:3 cf. 2:6-8; 4:4 cf. 3:16, 17, 24; 4:6 cf. 2:12 ff.).
If, as some scholars believe, Isaiah 9:2-7 and 11:1-9 are not by Isaiah of Jerusalem, they may be from the Exilic period. The author of the first poem proclaimed that light was breaking into the darkness of the Exile. He rejoiced in the birth of a child in the royal family, perhaps the prince Zerubbabel who was to play an important role in the post-Exilic period. The exalted names given to the child express the exalted hopes of the writer. Chapter 11:1-9 portrays the ideal king who, like David, would establish the united kingdom of Israel and Judah. He envisions a time of perfect peace under a charismatic ruler of the Davidic line. These poems fit well into the Exilic period when dreams were dreamed of an ideal future, an ideal Davidic kingship and future glory for the Jews.
Some additions to Isaiah recognized the threatening power of the Median empire on Babylon's eastern flank and anticipated the fall of the Babylonian kingdom (Isaiah 13-14; 21). Other oracles commented on the fall of Moab (15-16), overcome by some unnamed disaster which could have been anything from attacks by desert tribes23 to an invasion by Babylonians.24 Some passages employ vivid imagery in visualizing punishment for the enemy and rise to sublime heights in idealizing the future (chs. 34-35). Additions to Isaiah were not all made at one time. Chapters 34 and 35 are so close in parts to Deutero-Isaiah, in both style and content, that some scholars have proposed that they should be included in that work.
At least one Exilic poem exalting the restored Zion was added to two prophetic collections and appears in Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3. Other additions to Micah prophesy the regrouping of the scattered people (2:12-13), the coming of a messianic leader like David (5:2-4, 7) and Yahweh's forgiveness of his people (7:8-20). More recent prophetic pronouncements were also studied. An addition predicting restoration was added to Jeremiah's oracles (Jer. 3:15-18) in which the fact that the ark of the covenant was forever lost is apparent. One composite appendage (Jer. 10:1-16), parts of which are similar in style and content to Deutero-Isaiah, warns against forsaking Yahweh for idols made by artisans. The myth of the return of David which later becomes a basis for messianism is found in an eschatological oracle (30:8-9). Other restoration sayings appear in 31:7-14. An oracle on the fall of Moab, not unlike that found in the additions to Isaiah, may be from the Exile (ch. 48), and other pronouncements of punishment on foreign nations appear to be from the same period (49-51:58).
The Deuteronomic history concludes with the release of Jehoiachin and his family from prison by Amel-Marduk, Nebuchadrezzar's successor, probably about 651 (II Kings 25:27-30). As they contemplated the future, the Deuteronomists echoed the hope previously expressed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel: that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple would not nullify the divine promise to David of an eternal kingship (II Sam. 7:8-16). The promise is reiterated in Yahweh's address to Solomon in terms that clearly reflect the Exilic setting (I Kings 9:3-9).
In evaluating the past, the Deuteronomists drew upon the Deuteronomic code. The holy war concept of Joshua rests on Deut. 6:19; 7:1 ff. The theological framework of Judges reflects the Deuteronomic conviction that disobedience to Yahweh resulted in disaster while obedience guaranteed blessing. Judgment was passed on the rulers of Israel and Judah in the light of Judaean theology and adherence to the Deuteronomic code. Northern kings were automatically condemned because the establishment of Yahweh shrines at Dan and Bethel violated the law of the central shrine. Southern monarchs were judged on their efforts to eradicate Ba'alism and their adherence to the Deuteronomic code, which most of them had never known.
From time to time some hint of the Deuteronomists' hopes for the future can be discerned: the Exodus from Egypt foreshadowed a new exodus from Babylon, and Yahweh's gracious response to the outcries of his disobedient people in the period of the Judges gave hope that the deity would once again respond to his people's prayers (Deut. 29-30). The emphasis on courage in the face of great odds (Deut. 7:17 ff.) could only have strengthened Jewish faith in the future. Finally, the fact that the Davidic line was still represented in Jehoiachin, who was receiving royal recognition in Babylon, may well have fed Jewish hopes, despite the condemnation of II Kings 24:9.
In addition to completing the history of the nations, Deuteronomic editors made additions to the work of Jeremiah. Some portions of Jeremiah are so expressive of the theology of D that they can be recognized as units added by Deuteronomists. For example, Jer. 5:18-19 reflects the Exilic setting and the D interpretation of history, and the same can be said for 16:10-13 and 22:8-9. It is clear from these additions and from the closing verses in II Kings 25 that the literary activity of the D writers was not terminated by the fall of Jerusalem, and many scholars have suggested that the Deuteronomic history underwent its final revision during the Exile and assumed a form approximating that which we have today.
THE HOLINESS CODE
Read Lev. 17-26
Parallels in language, style and content to Ezekiel (cf. Lev. 17:15 with Ezek. 44:31; Lev. 18:8 and 20:11 with Ezek. 22:10, etc.) and the presupposition in Lev. 17:1-9 of the central shrine called for in Deuteronomy, have led many scholars to place H in the Exile, close to the time when Ezekiel was written. Much of the material may have come from an earlier date, but the editing reflects the Exilic period. In its present form, the code parallels Deuteronomy in the hortatory tone that creeps in from time to time (cf. 19:33 f.), and like Deuteronomy, H is said to have been given by Yahweh to Moses at Sinai, and the closing has the familiar pattern of blessings and curses.
The code is concerned with ritual purity for laity and priests. If Israel was to be the people of Yahweh, care had to be taken not to violate Yahweh's holiness. Numerous apodictic laws and some casuistic rulings seem to be loosely strung together, and despite attempts to isolate small collections or units, no real pattern of sources has been found. The contents are as follows:
THE PRIESTLY SOURCE
Another collection of writings, largely cultic in emphasis, was also begun during the Exile. Drawing upon ancient priestly lore, possibly contained in written sources brought to Babylon by priests but more probably stored in the memories of those who had been responsible for rituals and tradition, and colored to some degree by the Babylonian setting, these materials were compiled over a long period of time and were ultimately added to the other materials represented by J, E, D and H, partially, no doubt, as a continuing interpretation of the history of the people and the meaning of that history. Because the final compilation was not completed until after the Exile, the discussion of this material will be reserved until later.
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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