Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job -- By: Elmer B. Smick

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:2 (Spring 1978)
Article: Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job
Author: Elmer B. Smick


Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job

Elmer Smick

The book of Job, like a microcosm of the Old Testament bears witness to the will and purpose of the God who created and rules over nature and all creatures, especially his crowning creature man. In Genesis 3 as a result of the work of the Tempter God must put in effect the death penalty of Genesis 2:17. But only the Tempter, the Serpent, is cursed. Man gets a somewhat suspended sentence as far as the death penalty goes but with immediate punitive effects. The book of Job brings us a step closer to the mystery of godliness by adding a new dimension to the concept of punitive suffering. The ancient Near Eastern documents from Babylonia and Egypt agree with the punitive aspect of suffering but are shallow in the way they deal with the problem.1 Man as a sinner must humble himself before the gods who are often perverse or not interested or they are incapacitated. But attention to both the continuities and discontinuities between the worship of Yahweh and the paganisms of the Old Testament world is an important feature of O.T. hermeneutics.

H. W. Wolff in his chapter entitled “The Hermeneutics of the Old Testament” in the series of essays on that subject edited by Claus Westermann says:

The more distinctly the old Oriental religions are reconstructed before our eyes, the more clearly we see that the O.T. actively resists the attempt to understand it in analogy to the cults of its environment. This is all the more surprising since the connection of Israel with its environment in matters of a general world view, of profane and sacral usage, of Cultic institutions, yes even of prophetic phenomena, is constantly becoming clearer” (p. 167).

To this may be added the observation that the mythological elements in Job conform remarkably well with the religious expressions from contemporary sources. But careful attention to certain features in context will show that any special problem these allusions may appear to pose for the monotheistic outlook of the author of this book is superficial. Our present purpose is to defend this last statement. Here we use the term myth in its traditional sense—not as another way of expressing the truth2 but as the way a polytheistic people understood deity. In this sense, to see wide mythological commitment, as some have been prone to do,3 results in as much misinterpretation as does the attempt to ignore mythological expression to protect the scriptures from s...

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