Biblical Archaeology Review 38:3, May/June 2012

When Job Sued God

By Edward L. Greenstein

Job is a righteous man from Transjordana who is deliberately made to suffer by God. The deity, incited by the Satan (see Job 2:3; ha-satan is Hebrew for “the adversary”)—the angel who is charged with finding fault with human beings—wants to discover how deeply Job’s piety runs. If all his worldly goods, his servants and his children are taken from him, will he adhere to his faithfulness? If he is afflicted with a painful disease, will he accept his fate—or will he curse the deity that has dealt him such an undeserved blow?

The reader of the Book of Job knows why Job has been singled out for suffering: He is not being punished for any sin; he is being tested by God. But Job and his three companions do not know that. After listening to Job rant and rave—he curses his life and claims that God persecutes him—his friends come to believe that his afflictions must be a punishment for sin—even if they do not know what it might be. Job himself comes to believe that God must be holding him accountable for some transgression, even though he cannot, for the life of him, imagine what it is.

Like anyone else (well exemplified by the character Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial) Job wants to know what the charges against him are. Only God knows. This point is made by Job’s companion Zophar (Job 11:5–6):

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