Mythology And The Book Of Job -- By: Elmer B. Smick

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 13:2 (Spring 1970)
Article: Mythology And The Book Of Job
Author: Elmer B. Smick

Mythology And The Book Of Job

Elmer B. Smick, Ph.D.*

Mythological elements in the book of Job have long been recognized by critics who now use the newer literary materials from the Biblical world to confirm their opinion. Our purpose in this investigation is to examine certain key passages to determine where there are unmistakable mythological allusions and to explain how this fits with an evangelical view of the origin of the book and its interpretation.

There is a rather limited number of categories or subjects where mythological terminology is employed. The most frequent usage is when the speaker deals with the forces of nature, the storm, fire, the sea, etc. A second category has to do with creatures cosmic or otherwise. A third with cosmography and a fourth with heathen cultic practices. Only one passage has the latter, which may be dealt with summarily. Job 3:8:

“Let those who curse a day curse it
or even those skilled to stir Leviathan.”

Job calls for the enchanters to curse his day. Usually taken as the rousing of the sea monster who, according to primitive notions, was supposed to swallow the sun or moon and bring about an eclipse. This would fit the context for Job has wished the day of his birth were indeed blotted out or made dark. Verse 5b seems to be a reference to the eclipse. This presents no special problem since Job’s whole mood here is erroneous: he is using a common forceful expression as he yields to his anguish of soul even though he undoubtedly knew that use of enchanters was forbidden by the Lord. His real sin, for which he can scarcely be excused, was in damning the day of his birth, questioning the sovereign purpose of God.

A superficial acquaintance with the dialogues of the Book of Job will convince anyone that Job and his friends were theologically somewhat confused especially in the matter of theodicy. In some places, therefore, they could be mouthing contemporaneous notions. However, we would not expect this in the words of God as, for example, in the theophany of chapters 38–41, and may well ask, “Are there clear-cut mythological assumptions here?”

The tendency of the naturalistic critic to see mythology everywhere results in more misinterpretation than the well-meant but misdirected attempt to rule out all mythological expression. Reading primitive mean-

*Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

ing into a piece of monotheistic literature...

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