John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 4

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 4


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Author of the Book of Job

The considerations stated yesterday will naturally lead the reader to ask: “Who, then, wrote the book of Job?” This is a question much more easily asked than answered, as may be conjectured from the fact, that the range of conjectures on the subject runs over more than a thousand years—some ascribing the authorship of the book to one of the parties concerned in the discussion—Job himself, or perhaps Elihu—while others, as we have already hinted, suppose that it was written during or after the Babylonish captivity.

It will be seen that the question as to the time of Job himself, is very different from that of the time of the author of the book which bears his name. Yet if the book be, as we have urged, historically true, and not parabolic, we should naturally, from the nature of the book, expect the author to have either been one of the parties engaged in the discussion, or to have lived in or not considerably later than the time of the event; but, if it be a parabolic composition, this point is no longer of the same consequence, for the circumstances not being essentially true, it matters little whether it were written one year or one thousand years after the times they purport to represent. We say “purport to represent,” because it is now agreed very generally, even by those who believe the work to be a kind of poetical romance, that the author, in whatever age he lived, intended to represent the customs and ideas of the patriarchal age.

It is on this view that those who urge the historical truth of the Book of Job are also the advocates of its early authorship, while those who regard it as a parabolic, or place it as only “founded on facts,” like the historical plays of Shakespeare, or the historical romances of Scott, generally seek for the author in a late age, and on their view of the case, are quite at liberty to do so.

That the author lived in or about the time of the Babylonish captivity, is a notion which has found no recent advocates in this country, but has the support of many high authorities abroad. We have already alluded to it as founded chiefly on the erroneous opinion, that the idea of Satan which the book presents had no anterior existence. It is also urged that it was likewise in this time of trouble, during the Babylonish exile, that first originated the disheartening view of human life, and that then the great problem, to the solution of which the book is devoted, first engrossed the public mind. “But the sense of misery, and of the nothingness of human life, is found among all nations, cultivated and uncultivated. Noah, Jacob, Moses, complain; and as old as suffering must be the question of the seeming disparity in the distribution of good and evil, and how this disparity can be reconciled with God’s justice. It is frequently under consideration in the Psalms.” Note: Hengstenberg in art. Job: Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature.

Farther, this late authorship of the book is disproved by the evidences of its anterior existence which have been found in other books of Scripture. Ezekiel’s reference to “Noah, Daniel, and Job,” was given before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and notwithstanding the attempts which have been made to lessen its weight, remains conclusive against this view, especially with the support it derives from other testimony. Thus, Job’s cursing the day of his birth, in the third chapter, is manifestly imitated by Jeremiah, Note: Jer_20:14 who uses not only the same sentiments, but the same words. Ay, but what is to prevent us from supposing that Job copied Jeremiah, instead of that Jeremiah copied Job? Simply this, that the mind of Jeremiah being filled with the Scriptures already in existence, he does habitually—as religious writers would now—repeat Scriptural thoughts and forms of expression, whereas the Book of Job is in this respect quite original and independent of other books of Scripture; and this alone supplies a strong argument for the remote antiquity of the book—going far to prove that no other books of Scripture, except perhaps Genesis, existed when it was written. The conclusion that Jeremiah was acquainted with the Book of Job, will probably be held to receive some corroboration from a comparison of Lam_2:16, with Job_16:9-10; and Lam_3:7-9, with Job_19:8.

Still earlier, references to the Book of Job may be found even in Isaiah. Thus, there is a Hebrew word tzaba, which usually means “warfare;” but in the Book of Job this word occurs repeatedly in the sense of a period of hard service, of calamity, or of affliction. In this very peculiar sense Note: Job_7:1; Job_10:17; Job_14:14. it also occurs in Isa_40:2; and that this is not a casual coincidence, but has a designed reference to the Book of Job, is clear from the fact that the very same verse of Isaiah closes with, “for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins,” which is a manifest allusion to the double which Job is described as having received at the end of his history. The value of this piece of evidence is very considerable, and will be appreciated by supposing the case that Spenser has a peculiar word, or uses a word in a sense peculiar to himself—both of which are cases of frequent occurrence with him. Suppose also that in a poet of our own day—say Wordsworth—we not only find this word, which has not in the same sense been intermediately used by any author, but such an allusion in the context as brings to mind a prominent circumstance in the very book in which the word thus occurs, we shall make no question that Wordsworth not only had Spenser in view, but that he intended to indicate the fact.

Some who are themselves averse to giving so late a date to the book, and have ably contended against it, are yet unwilling to acknowledge that it has claims to that degree of antiquity which we have assigned to it. Some ascribe it to the age of Samuel, David, or Solomon, but on grounds which are either inconclusive or capable of being disproved. Thus there is an arbitrary assumption, proved by modern researches to be erroneous, that the art of writing was not known before the age of Moses. It is urged that there are marks of civilization and refinement—of knowledge in science and art—which were true only in this later age; but this is disproved by our improved acquaintance with the state of civilization and of the arts in ancient Egypt and Assyria. The further allegation, that the refined poetical art, the regularity and the system that pervades the book, could not have existed in an earlier and ruder age, is purely gratuitous, and not in unison with our experience. The master-pieces of poetry, and especially of eastern poetry, have been composed in ages and under conditions of life not less rude than, nor materially different from, those which prevailed in and before the age of the Exodus; and it is now capable of proof that in those remote ages more real refinement existed than has generally been supposed. In fact, every argument which attempts to give a later date to the book than the Exodus, breaks down in some point or other, and only those which give to it an ante-Mosaic origin are throughout consistent. One great writer, Note: Hengstenberg. who ably argues against the latest date, yet stumbles in the attempt to prove that the book could not have been written before the age of Samuel and David. Of course, this or any other position which gives to the book a later date than that of the Exodus of the Israelites, assumes that the book is not a real history, seeing that its circumstances are laid in the patriarchal age. It farther assumes that the author, living under a different dispensation, and in a different system of ideas and usages, was enabled so thoroughly to throw himself back into a distant age and foreign land, as completely to disguise his own very peculiar country and time, and to represent characters as living and acting in the supposed country and time, without, by the slightest allusion, betraying his own. The intrinsic difficulty of this is immense, and the object would scarcely be deemed worthy the aid of Divine inspiration for its accomplishment. “It requires,” as Barnes remarks, “rare genius for an author so to throw himself into past ages as to leave nothing that shall betray his age and country. We are never so betrayed as to imagine that Shakespeare lived in the time of Coriolanus or of Caesar; that Johnson lived in the tune and country of Rasselas; or that Scott lived in the time of the Crusaders. Instances have been found, it is admitted, where the concealment has been effectual; but they have been exceedingly rare. Another objection to this view is, that such a work would have been particularly impracticable for a Hebrew, who, of all men, would have been most liable to betray his time and country. The cast of the poem is highly philosophical. The argument is in many places exceedingly abstruse. The appeal is to close and long observation; to the recorded experience of their ancestors; to the observed effects of the Divine judgment, in the world. A Hebrew in such circumstances would have appealed to the authority of God; he would have referred to the terrible sanctions of the law, rather than to cold and abstract reasoning; and he would hardly have refrained from some allusion to events in his own history that bore so remarkably on the case. It may be doubted whether any Hebrew ever had such versatility of genius and character as to divest himself wholly of the proper costume of his country, so as never, in a long argument, to express anything but such as became the assumed character of a foreigner.”

Then the peculiarly archaic character of the language of the book deserves a passing notice, though we cannot here enter into the consideration of it. It is materially different from that of the later period, and includes words and forms of speech which afterwards become obsolete. To write in this antique style, to suppress so much that was known to the Hebrews after the law was given, and to enter so completely into the habits and ideas of an ancient time and foreign country, constitute a species of impersonation altogether alien to the genius and temper, not only of the Hebrews, but generally of the Orientals. There is nothing of the kind to be found even in the parables of Scripture, nor yet in any author of tales among the Arabs, Persians, Syrians, Samaritans, Chaldeans, Ethiopians, or Jews. The more thoroughly any one has studied this matter in all its bearings, the more completely will he perceive that this is a supposition which cannot be entertained.

If we believe in the reality of the various speeches contained in the Book of Job, it becomes difficult to suppose other than that the book was written by one of the persons engaged in the discussion; and as Job and Elihu appear to most advantage in it, they would seem to have been the most likely persons to perform this. But it is then difficult to say when or wherefore a book relating wholly to the affairs of a stranger, and having no connection with the concerns of the Hebrews, was received by them into the number of their sacred books. It must have come to them on high authority. This gives great weight to the general opinion which assigns the authorship of the book to Moses. If Job or any of his friends lived so late as to have seen and conversed with Moses, or if the book be a fictitious composition, there would be little difficulty in this conclusion; but if otherwise, it seems to us adequately to account both for the tradition which makes Moses the author of the book, as well as for its introduction into the sacred canon, to suppose that during his long sojourn in Midian, Moses became acquainted with the report of this high controversy as transmitted from Job or his friends, either by writing or oral tradition; and, conceiving it to be well suited to justify the ways of God to man, and to comfort his afflicted brethren in Egypt, wrote it out in its present form, and communicated it to them on his return to Egypt, or during the sojourn in the wilderness. Whether written before the time of Moses, or by him, with or without previously existing documents, during his stay in Midian, it will necessarily follow that the Book of Job is the oldest in the Bible (perhaps excepting Genesis), and therefore the oldest in the world.

Having reached this result, it is time for us to look into the book itself.