Literary Features of the Book of Job -- By: Gregory W. Parsons

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:551 (Jul 1981)
Article: Literary Features of the Book of Job
Author: Gregory W. Parsons


Literary Features of the Book of Job

Gregory W. Parsons

[Gregory W. Parsons, Professor of Biblical Studies, Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, Texas]

Literary Genre

The consensus that Job is a literary work of the highest magnitude does not make the task of classifying it with regard to its literary type any easier. Many literary critics have attempted to place the Book of Job into one overarching literary genre or category. However, this writer views all attempts to fit the book into one category as failing to do justice to the complex nature of its literary fabric.1

Suggestions as to the basic (or comprehensive) literary genre of Job normally have fallen into three major categories: the lawsuit (רִיב) which is a legal or judicial genre; the lament genre, which is frequent in the Psalms; or the controversy dialogue or dispute, which is similar to the wisdom genre of contest literature in the ancient Near East.

Basic Views

Lawsuit. Because of the occurrence of legal terminology in Job, many scholars have argued that the juridical sphere is the backdrop of the book.2 Richter understands the Book of Job as a secular lawsuit by Job against God whereby the friends serve as witnesses (who apparently place a counter-suit against Job). Chapters 4–14 are viewed as a preliminary attempt at reconciliation out of court. and chapters 15–31 are seen as formal court proceedings between Job and the friends. The resumption of the

case against Job by Elihu and the judgment of God (38:1–42:6) in the form of a secular counter-lawsuit between God and Job result in the withdrawal of the accusation by Job.3

Scholnick has presented a scholarly argument for viewing Job as a “lawsuit drama” whereby the man (Job) takes his opponent (God) to court. The issue of the legal guilt or innocence of the two parties involved is resolved through a lawsuit in which the friends are judges and witnesses.4

Lament. Although Westermann recognized the existence of a controversy dialogue in Job 4–27, he argued that the most important element in the book is the lament (the personal lament well known in the Psalms). The lament by Job, which begins (chap. 3) and ends (...

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