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Textual Integrity in the Book of Job

June 21, 2012

Or, “Have we Lost Zophar’s Final Speech?”

It’s been eye opening for me to see how some within Biblical scholarship don’t look for harmony within the text as much as they look for apparent problems.

One of the issues that has arisen in my study of the book of Job is the question, “Do we have the complete and original text?” Another question that relates closely is, “Has Job undergone several revisions throughout history?” Both questions propose that various individuals may have added certain sections to the book over time.

Particularly, the Introduction (1:1-2:13) and Conclusion (42:7-17), the Poem on Wisdom (28), the speeches of Elihu (32-37), and the Interviews of Yahweh and Job (38-42:6) have all been suggested as additions to the original Job, with some even claiming that they contain substantially different theology to each other.

Textual integrity is a common and important issue in the scholarly process interpreting biblical books. However, I believe that in many cases supposed ‘problems’ arise from pure speculation. Often the ‘proof’ against a portion of text being original is nothing more than a simple recognition a different kind of prose being present or a clear shift of style. Such is the case in the transition from the Introduction (1:1-2:13) to the dialogues (3-27). Far from proving different authors, this could be nothing more than an intentional shift of style. The wisdom speech (28) could either be a moment of clarity for Job, or even the author breaking into the story with his summary of the flawed wisdom found in Job and his comforters, preparing the way for Job’s closing speech and Elihu’s entry.

Bildad and Zophar
From what I can see, two of the more substantial textual issues found within the book of Job itself are:

  • Bildad’s significantly truncated final speech (25)
  • The lack of any final speech from Zohar where one would expect him to appear (27).

Some suggest that Bildad and Zophar’s original speeches were either lost or accidently mislabelled as Job’s, with commentators therefore proposing various adjustments of the text to recover Zophar or Bildad’s missing speeches. John E. Hartley does this by taking from Job’s speech in 27:13-23 and adding it to the end of Bildad’s at 25:1-6, believing it to be his.

To me it seems unnecessary to assume textual issues when practical observations can often present a less drastic solution. The content of the speeches themselves reveal that with the exception of Zophar’s second (and final) speech all of the friend’s speeches become progressively shorter over each cycle. Also, considering that Bildad and Zophar were more harsh than Eliphaz, it seems more than possible in light of Job’s persisting his innocence that Bildad had not much to say to Job by third round and Zophar nothing at all.

We should side with Hywel Jones, who in his Job commentary states, “I regard the book of Job as we know it as being an original unity and its parts as being inseparably bound together”.

For more, see also Involuted Speculations’ helpful post about Job.

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