The opinion that the Book of Job is altogether a fiction or a parable, is, upon the whole, less generally entertained than another which was much in vogue during the last century, and is still held by some men of high learning, though its existing advocates are found rather on the Continent than in this country, where it may be said to have originated. This idea is, that it is founded on true history—or rather, on the traditional experience of a patriarch named Job; and was recorded, embellished, and wrought into the shape it now bears by the invention of the author. This notion was brought out in great force early in the last century by a most erudite and ingenious, but unsafe and whimsical writer, Warburton, in his Divine Legation of Moses. He made it to be an allegory, and supposed it was founded on an old story, and was molded into its present shape during the captivity, in order to comfort the Jews in their affliction, and to assure them of final restoration. This idea found many eager advocates, both in this country and abroad; and it must be allowed that the view was produced and supported with a degree of ability and ingenuity, not in that age often witnessed in Biblical discussions. But it was met, perhaps not with equal brilliancy of talent, yet certainly with more solid reasoning, by various learned divines, whose writings on the subject would, even at this day, reward perusal. Some contested the view as to the foundation of the book, while others admitted this view, but disputed the object and purpose of the composition. With one Note: Dr. Garnett, in his Dissertation on the Book of Job. it was an allegorical representation of the fall, the adversity, and the restoration of the Jewish nation; according to which its date would have been even later than the captivity. This idea of the book being an allegory, we alluded to yesterday, and stated considerations which bore against that notion. This view was hinted at by Chrysostom in one of his Homilies; and it has lately been enforced by Dr. Worthington in his Dissertation on the Book of Job, who regards it as shadowing forth the frill and restoration of man. But the circumstances of the narrative require to be greatly tortured, to make them at all applicable to the history they are thus supposed to illustrate, and some very essential particulars, are quite opposed to its details. It may be enough to point out, that although both Adam and Job were indeed tempted by their wives to sin against God, there is this essential difference, that Job repelled the temptation which his wife presented, while Adam yielded to the solicitations of Eve. Again, Adam’s calamities came upon him as a punishment after he had fallen, whereas Job’s afflictions constituted in themselves the temptation and trial to which he was subjected. It is curious, and yet melancholy, to witness the gifts and labor of the human understanding wasted on such abortive speculations as these.
The idea of the allegorical signification of the Book of Job is now generally abandoned; but not so the Warburtonian notion as to the partially fictitious character of the book; or, in other words, that it is “a narrative founded on facts,” but molded so as to fit it to become the vehicle of the argument. This seems, indeed, to be the general opinion among the scholars of Protestant Germany; but we are not aware that any arguments have lately been advanced in favor of this idea, or any objections to the historical character of the work, which were not adduced in this country at the period to which we have referred, and which were then and since, as it seems to us, satisfactorily answered.
Some of the principal of these objections, and the answers to them, may be stated.
Perhaps the strongest of these objections is that founded on the introduction of Satan and his interview with the Lord in the first chapter. But this is a point of so much importance that we must reserve it for separate consideration, and pass on to the others.
Much stress has been laid upon the artificial character of the statements about the possessions of Job, both before and after his trials, as not likely to occur in a simple narrative of facts, and which, it is urged, seems as if intended to show that a ease is supposed that would not be likely to occur in reality, Thus we have only round numbers in the enumeration of Job’s possessions: as 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 1000 oxen, 500 she-asses just half of the oxen. So also there is something artificial in the manner in which the assumed sacred numbers three and seven are used. Job had 7000 sheep, seven sons both before and after his trials; his three friends came and sat down with him seven days and seven nights, without saying a word to condole with him; and both before and after his trials he had three daughters. The same artificial and non-historical appearance is said to be traced in the fact, that after his recovery, Job’s possessions are said to have been doubled; and he had again in his old age exactly the same number of seven sons and three daughters that he had before his affliction.
In answer to this, it may be observed that statements in round numbers constantly occur in historical accounts. Nothing is more common in the enumerations of armies, of tribes, of local populations, and of herds and flocks. And with regard to Job’s possessions being doubled after his recovery from his calamities, it is not necessary to suppose that this was exactly true to the letter. The statement is justified, if by the recapture of some of his possessions from the robbers, by the gifts of friends, and by remarkable prosperity in all his doings, his possessions were eventually brought to something nearly double what they were before his trials commenced. In the statement itself there is nothing improbable. Job lived 140 years after his trials. If he then had only the same measure of prosperity as before, with such assistances as we have indicated to enable him to begin life again, there is nothing improbable in his possessions being doubled.
As to the number seven, we may have occasion to inquire concerning it hereafter. The completed creation of the world in seven days, with the consequent institution of weeks, certainly made this number more familiar than any other, and caused it to be often used for something more than a few and something less than many; just in the sense in which we use the word “several;” it being common in the eastern languages to express indeterminate quantities by positive numbers, which, by being used for this purpose, came to be of more frequent occurrence; than any others. Hence the use of the number seven; but that it was a sacred number, or in any way superstitiously regarded, has not been shown. Still less does it appear that three is such in either the Old or the New Testament. It is perhaps, a number that occurs less frequently than any other nor anywhere so as to indicate that other than the natural or literal sense belongs to it.
It has farther been objected, in this connection, that the aged wife of Job is made the mother of a second family after his restoration; which is scarcely credible. But, in truth, there is no intimation that the second family was by the first wife; and, as nothing is said on this point, this family may quite as probably have been by a second wife. The first wife was of an evil temper, as we know, and a strong tie to her had been loosened by the death of their children. This alone would be sure in the East to make a man take another wife, if he had ceased to hope for further issue from the first. And if, as usually supposed, Job belongs to the patriarchal age, there was nothing to prevent him to take another wife while the first lived; but, for aught we know, she may have died as well as her children.
Strong objections to the historical character of the book have been founded on its poetical character; and the great improbability that a discussion of this kind should ever be carried on in the manner here represented. The successive addresses are of the highest order of poetry, and partake not of the character of extemporary effusions. They indicate profound and close thinking; and, it is urged, must have required time in their preparation. We apprehend that this objection has been allowed undue weight, even by those who undertake to answer it. Nothing is more remarkable among the Semitic nations of western Asia, even at this day, than the readiness of their resources, the prevalence of the poetical imagination and form of expression, and the facility with which the nature of this group of languages, allows all high and animated discourse to fail into rhythmical forms of expression, while the language even of common life and thought is replete with poetical sentiments and ideas. Take the Bible itself to witness; where there are not any speeches or addresses introduced, even in the midst of history, which do not appear to us as poetical both in ideas and expressions. Look also at the Arabian romance of Antar, which is intended to be, and is, a picture of old Arabian manners; and in which the hero, on all occasions, however unexpected, pours forth a high-wrought poetical address, almost in the style of this book; and, if you answer that Antar was a poet, the reply is, that he was only a greater poet than other Arabians of his time, for most of those whom he encounters and to whom his addresses are directed, answer him in the same style. The poetical form of expression being thus so natural; the reasoning and argument only remain to be accounted for. Surely the objection stated, arose from those who think only with their pens. But there are men who think, and think well, with their tongues. This is true even among ourselves. There are men in the senate, at the bar, and in the pulpit, who can pour forth eloquent and well-reasoned addresses almost or even quite extemporaneously, the ideas welling up from the deep fountains of the mind as fast as they can be poured forth. This faculty, among ourselves not infrequent, though cramped by the habitual use of the pen, is common in the East, being cherished and rendered habitual by the essentially oral habits of all intellectual culture. In conformity with this, most of the poetry of the Bible is described as being uttered. All the grand poetical prophecies were utterances.