There was a notion among the old Jewish writers that the Book of Job was not a real history, nor the man Job a real person, but that the book contained an imaginary narrative framed to teach a great moral truth. The Talmud distinctively declares the book to be a parable, and that Job never had any real existence. But it admits that all “the wise” were not of this opinion. There is no objection of principle to this notion, if it could be sustained. There are parables in Scripture, and the teaching they impart is not the least valuable the sacred books contain. If a book come to us by inspiration from God, its teachings equally demand our respect, in whatever shape they come—whether of history, of prophecy, of song, of discourse, of epistle, or of parable. It is not therefore from any essential repugnance to this hypothesis, or from any notion that the book would be discredited by it, but from internal evidence and from collateral circumstances, that we feel constrained to pronounce this position to be untenable, and to declare our belief that Job was a real person, and that the book of Job is a real history.
As, however, ancient and modern names of eminence may be cited in favor of the opinion that the book is of the nature of a parable, it may be worth our while to look into this question.
There are certain rules which may at all times enable a person experienced in literary criticism, to distinguish between a real narrative and a parable. Since these rules were indicated by Chrysostom in reference to another book, they have often been produced by writers as bearing upon the argument involved in the present question. By no modern writer have they been more fully and ably stated than by Dr. Samuel Lee, Note: Book of the Patriarch Job, 1837—Introduction. whose remarks, although in larger extent, are to the following effect—
Parables are necessarily short: when lengthened out, they are termed allegories: and as the characters introduced in each case are brought forward for some specific purpose, no more is usually said of them than is absolutely necessary to this end. We never have, for example, in this sort of writing, the genealogy, the circumstances of family, the particular recital of children, friends, wealth, age, etc., of the parties concerned, dwelt upon. The events immediately connected with the discourse are solely mentioned; and, as the narrative must be short in the case of parable, the conclusion is soon drawn; and the narrative itself is never after referred to, although the doctrine which it was intended to illustrate and enforce may be and often is. The reason of such omissions is obvious. If a teacher were to dwell upon circumstances and events unconnected with his main object, the force of his doctrine would evaporate under them. If, for example, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, we had the pedigree, the places of abode, the age, etc., of either or both these characters, minutely detailed, we should have a mass of information which would be perfectly useless; and, what is more, the point intended by the parable would be greatly obscured. We may, however, have lengthened parables or allegories, and in these the descriptions may be more lengthy and more minute. In these cases, therefore, should such exist, all the particulars adverted to might possibly occur, yet it does not appear probable that they would. This may be illustrated by a reference to that most perfect as well as most protracted allegory, the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the author of which, notwithstanding the ample scale on which his plan was cast, was led, by the native impulses of his almost inspired genius, to abstain from introducing any minute particulars respecting the hero or his connections. We know nothing of him or them but what grows out of the allegory, or is closely connected with his progress.
It is the fact, however, that the Scripture does not contain any such things as allegories, unless we allow this Book of Job, which contains such details, to be one; and this would be to take for granted something unknown generally to the sacred writers, and consequently would be to beg the question in this particular instance. Thus, then, the Book of Job cannot be a parable, and we have no reason to conclude that it is an allegory. Let us then see what characters of real history it exhibits. In the first place, then, it is particular and very full on circumstances which have nothing whatever to do with the doctrines inculcated in the discussion. We are told, for instance, at the very outset, that Job dwelt in “the land of Uz;” which at the same time intimates that he must have been descended from an ancestor of that name. But why, it may be asked, are we told this, if the book, with all its declarations, was intended to teach the doctrine we yesterday described? And again, why are we told that Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, were his friends, if nothing more than these doctrines were intended to be illustrated and enforced? Surely these designations, Temanite, Shuhite, Naamathite, might have been spared, unless they were intended to indicate that these persons really had “a local habitation and a name.”
Again, mention is made of the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and the Wilderness. Now, the two former surely need not have been mentioned, as the term “robbers” would much better have suited the context, had the subject been merely parabolic; but the introduction of the latter in conjunction with the names of those people, gives the whole not more the air of historical narration than it does of geographical accuracy.
Then the feasting of the sons of Job, each in his day—that is probably, during the period of a week, these sons being seven in number; Job’s sending for and admonishing them; his offering up a sacrifice at the same time for each of them, seems overdone and unnecessary, if all that was wanting was merely to illustrate the doctrine that patient faith in God was a virtue acceptable to Him. For here we are led into particulars, which were not only not Jewish, and which never could have been countenanced by that nation, much less have recommended any doctrine; but which had nothing whatever to do with the lesson principally taught in the book; and, what is most remarkable, which appear to have been strictly historical truths as regards the customs of the time at which the book appears to have been written.
These and many other points of the like nature, are circumstances which we expect to find in a historical narrative, but not in a parable or allegory, where they would be superfluous and obstructive.
And then, more conclusively still, we have the testimony of the sacred writers themselves to the reality of Job’s person and history. We are more than once told in the fourteenth chapter of Ezekiel, that, though “Noah, Daniel, and Job” were in such a place, “they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness.” As far as we can judge, from the manner and context in which this is introduced, all the characters here named seem to be taken as real. For first, Job is joined with Noah and Daniel, who were without doubt real characters; and then they are all spoken of as real and living men, for it is said they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness.
There is another direct allusion to the character of Job, found in the Epistle of James (Jas_5:11), “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful.” No doubt can surely be entertained that Job is here cited as a real person. Had the character or book of Job been parabolic, no such reference could reasonably have been made. It would have been contrary to all probability and Scriptural usage, that the Holy Spirit should make reference to a feigned history for an example of faith, and of its ultimate reward, if the person proposed as a model, his patience, and its recompense, were alike unreal. Such a procedure would be unworthy of God, and useless to man. Our constant experience teaches, that the minds of men are but faintly impressed by examples of ideal virtue, and we should not be very cogently urged to endurance by a view of the patience of a man who never existed.