When was the book of Job written?
There is little dispute among commentators that the book of Job is the oldest, complete literary work in history. Excepting the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis (written or dictated by the Creator Himself through 2:4a, written by Adam through 5:1a, Noah through 6:9a, Noah’s sons through 11:10a, and Terah, Abraham’s father, through 11:27a), there is no surviving record in history that predates Job.
So…what indicators help us to judge its antiquity?
First of all, while many of the book’s discourses center on questions of right and wrong, sin and judgment, reward and punishment, they are never placed in the context of the Ten Commandments or any of the Mosaic Laws.
If the commandments and laws referenced throughout the dialogue had no association with Moses, then where did they originate?
When Eliphaz admonished Job to “Receive…the law from His (the Almighty’s) mouth, and lay up His words in thine heart (22:22),” to what authority was he appealing?
Likewise, when Job responded, “My foot hath held His steps, His way have I kept…Neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than necessary food (23:11-12),” what was the sanction of his witness?
The difficulty that many find in reconciling Job with its proper historical context is because of a notion referred to as the Documentary Hypothesis of Genesis authorship. According to this idea, writing did not evolve until approximately 1,000BC therefore any writing that detailed events preceding that were from remnant legends and traditions passed down through various national cultures. Because its proponents felt the need to accommodate the millions of years advanced during the Heroic Age of Geology, they relegated the early chapters of Genesis to a framework of symbolic expression rather than the long-held appreciation as an historical narrative.
By incorporating the biblical template for Scriptural authorship (2 Peter 1:21), we can be certain that Moses was either the writer/author or the compiler/editor of the record preserved as Genesis. With further evidence from the field of archeology, we know that the structure of the book of Genesis is mirrored in ancient Mesopotamian tablets lending significant weight to a concept known as the Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship. This theory claims that eyewitnesses from ancient generations journaled family histories and significant events for posterity which through the preservation of assigned caretakers eventually came into the possession of Moses who compiled and edited them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
By contextualizing Genesis as an historical narrative, we can appreciate that divine laws were given to man long before Moses.
In the Garden of Eden, God communicated to Adam His expectation and pleasure by way of commandments.
- Dress and keep the Garden (2:5)
- Refrain from eating the fruit of one tree (2:17)
- Be fruitful and multiply (1:28)
- Subdue and dominate the earth for his benefit (1:28-29)
Following Adam’s disobedience and sentencing, God demonstrated to them the new requisite for accessing fellowship – the death of an innocent.
Adam’s children were taught the need of sacrifice (4:3-4). Noah was aware of the sacrificial worship precondition having cared for 3 pairs plus one of the “clean” kinds on the ark and then offering one of each upon disembarking (8:20). Abraham was rewarded for obedient in sacrifice (22:13). The cast of the book of Job were, likewise, keenly aware of the need to offer burnt offerings as an essential to gaining God’s favor (Job 1:5; 42:7-9).
Just as this obligation survived through generations, so were other divine laws preserved from patriarch to son. From Adam through Noah and Noah through Abraham, God’s pleasure was perpetuated in word and writ. Interestingly, and in support of oral maintenance of tradition, every post-diluvian patriarch in Abraham’s lineage (including Noah) was alive during some point of Abraham’s life. In fact Shem (Noah’s son), Salah, and Eber outlived Abraham.
These ancient, generationally perpetuated, divine laws were clarified and superseded by the Law given to Moses, and both have been overshadowed by the Law of Christ.
In addition to the absence of any reference to a guideline that could be connected to Mosaic Law, there is no mention of any characters such as Abraham or Moses or any of the judges, kings, or prophets of Israel. It is reasonable to assume, then, that the people, places, and events represented in the book of Job either pre-date or are contemporaneous with Israel’s establishment as God’s covenant nation.
Beyond that, the book of Job references early events recorded in Genesis.
- Creation (9:8,9; 10:3,8,9; 12:7-10; 20:4; 27:3; 33:4-6; 34:14)
- The Fall and The Curse (5:7; 10:9; 14:1-4; 15:14; 25:4; 31:33,40; 34:15)
- The Flood (4:7; 8:8-10; 9:5,6; 12:14,15; 14:10-12; 22:15-17; 26:10; 28:9)
- The Dispersion (12:17-25; 30:3-8)
Some of the nations mentioned tie into the Table of Nations recorded in Genesis 10, but there is nothing mentioned to suggest or characterize a later period.
These numerous evidences testify of the antiquity of the book of Job and seem to place it historically at or near a time contemporaneous with Abraham around 2,000 BC – approximately 300-400 years after the Great Flood of Noah.
If this is the case, it is quite possible that Job not only was alive during periods simultaneous with the post-Flood patriarchs (Noah lived 350 years after the Flood and Shem 500), but he could have actually known them.
Bildad may have actually been making reference to Noah and a few of the surviving 7 when he admonished Job to “…inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon the earth are a shadow): Shall they not teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart (8:8-10)?”
Likewise, Eliphaz rebuked Job for trusting his limited perspective saying, “With us are both the grayheaded and very aged men, much elder than thy father (15:10).” While he could have been speaking of the age of one or two of the three present, it seems more likely that he was referring to, even name dropping (to add weight to his counsel), the very aged Flood survivors and their wisdom.
Dr. Morris adds this by way of timeline perspective (The Remarkable Record of Job).
“In any case, Job and his contemporaries knew and worshipped the God of Noah and Shem, even though they were not in the direct line of promise from Noah to Abraham. In his discourses, Job shows much knowledge of the primeval ages described in Genesis 1-11, so apparently he had access to the same records (though perhaps not in the same form) as those that Moses later used to compile and edit the early chapters of Genesis. In fact, he believed and followed God so fully that God Himself testified: ‘There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil’(Job 1:8).”
Respected commentator Matthew Henry weighs in with these similar thoughts.
“We are sure that it is very ancient, though we cannot fix the precise time either when Job lived or when the book was written. So many, so evident, are its hoary hairs, the marks of its antiquity, that we have reason to think it of equal date with the book of Genesis itself, and that holy Job was contemporary with Isaac and Jacob; though not coheir with them of the promise of the earthly Canaan, yet a joint-expectant with them of the better country, that is, the heavenly.”