Thursday, May 10, 2012

Did Job really exist?

May 10th, Feast of St. Job
In the land of Hus, St. Job, Prophet, a man of wonderful patience. (from The Roman Martyrology)
While it is not uncommon to hear modern biblical “scholars” question the historicity of the book of Job and of Job himself, there can be no doubt that the Bible presents Job as a real historical person.
Not only is this the opinion of the Church Fathers and Doctors, but it is also affirmed by other passages of the Scriptures. Further, the Latin Church has traditionally kept the feast of St. Job today. The Greeks keep it on May 6.

Does it matter whether Job really existed?
To this point, the Angelic St. Thomas offers the following reflection:
“But there were some who held that Job was not someone who was in the nature of things, but that this was a parable made up to serve as a kind of theme to dispute providence, as men frequently invent cases to serve as a model for debate. Although it does not matter much for the intention of the book whether or not such is the case, still it makes a difference for the truth itself. This aforementioned opinion seems to contradict the authority of Scripture. […] Therefore one must believe that the man Job was a man in the nature of things.”
With his typical clarity, the Common Doctor points out that, though the argument of the book of Job (which is to show that God’s providence is over all things) does not depend on the historicity of the events narrated nor even on the reality of Job himself, yet the question is of great importance “for the truth itself”.
In other words, it is good to know whether or not Job is a saint or merely a parable. Further, as the Angel of the Schools aptly indicates, the Scriptures themselves seem to indicate that Job truly existed in history. And, since the Bible is inerrant, we must believe that Job really did exist.
Job as an historical person
There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, and that man was simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil. (Job 1:1)
There is nothing in the description of the figure of Job which would make us think that he was not an historical person. Indeed, though one may hold that the various dialogues and discussions in the book of Job are stylized and that the work is not a word-for-word transcript, we most certainly need not conclude from this that none of the characters (especially Job himself) even existed!
You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate. (James 5:11)
Here, the Apostle James calls to mind the example of Job, presenting him as an historical person whose virtue ought to be emulated. Again, he is presented as being a real historical person, not merely a literary invention.
Now this trial the Lord therefore permitted to happen to him, that an example might be given to posterity of his patience, as also of holy Job. […]For as the kings insulted over holy Job: so his relations and kinsmen mocked at his life. (Tobit 2:12,15)
This is a citation from the Latin text of Tobit (which was received at the Council of Trent), but the Greek manuscripts which have come down to our day lack these references to Job. In this book, Tobit is compared to Job – and since Tobit was an historical figure, we are led to conclude the same of Job.
And if these three men, Noe, Daniel, and Job, shall be in it: they shall deliver their own souls by their justice, saith the Lord of hosts. (Ezekiel 14:14)
Here, and again in Ezekiel 14:20, Job is mentioned together with Noah and Daniel. Since both of these men are historical, we are led to conclude the same of Job.
The book of Job itself, together with three other biblical books, presents Job as being an historical figure. There is no reason to suppose otherwise. Further, given that the Fathers are unanimous in considering Job to be a real and historical person, Catholic scholars ought not feel to free to teach the contrary.
Who was Job?
The Angelic Doctor declines from going into detail regarding the particulars of Job’s state and life:
“However, as to the epoch in which he lived, who his parents were or even who the author of the book was (that is, whether Job wrote about himself as if speaking about another person, or whether someone else reported these things about him), is not the present intention of this discussion.”
St. Gregory the Great, after insisting that questions regarding the identity of the human author of the book are really not that important, since it is most certainly the Holy Spirit who is the primary author of every book of the Bible, does suggest that it was more probably Job himself who authored the book (rather than Moses or one of the prophets).
Beyond his name – which could be related to the Hebrew word for “persecuted”, but this is dubious – we know very little about Job. Certainly, he began and ended a wealthy man; and it is probably on this account that he is sometimes honored as a king (together with his three friends, who are explicitly called “kings” in Tobit 2:15).
It is also important to recognize that he was a Gentile, and probably from a time prior even to Moses. Thus, the book of Job could be one of the oldest books of the Old Testament – perhaps even the very oldest (since Moses is honored as the author of the books of the Pentateuch).
Where was he from?
The opening verse tells us that Job was from the land of Hus or Uz, which may have been in or near the land Edom. We are told that Job was among the people of the east (Job 1:3).
From this, we can be certain that Job was neither a Jew nor a practitioner of the Jewish religion. Still, he believed in the one true God, through an interior illumination of grace.
[some sources, namely the LXX, identify Job with King Jobab of Edom (cf. Genesis 36:33), but this is highly unlikely]
Why is he called a prophet?
Finally, we recognize that the Church honors Job not only as a man of patience, but as a prophet. This may be surprising, since the book of Job is not generally considered a book of prophesy, but is joined to the so-called “sapiential writings” or “wisdom books”.
Job makes several prophetic utterances throughout the book, but the most significant of all is his explicit affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus and of our future resurrection. Here is the English translation of the Latin Vulgate (and there is much textual debate about which Hebrew manuscripts are most reliable):
Who will grant me that my words may be written? Who will grant me that they may be marked down in a book? With an iron pen and in a plate of lead, or else be graven with an instrument in flint stone. For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom. (Job 19:23-27)
In addition, Job affirms that he has received a vision of the Savior:
With the hearing of the ear, I have heard thee, but now my eye seeth thee. (Job 42:5)
Furthermore, the patient forbearance of Job is a tangible sign and foreshadowing of the sufferings which the innocent Jesus would bear for our salvation.

St. Job, Prophet of the Resurrection, Pray for us!


Steven R said...

Excellent article Father. The mentality of Job was something instilled in me from my youth, to always be grateful to God who can give and take away, but is still to be loved because all things are due to Him and He can never unjustly take something from us that He gave us only for a time.

St. Job pray for us, especially those who in our day and age cannot see God's goodness among the great many troubles they see in their lives.

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
it is always very important to reaffirm the historicity of the Biblical characters. But when I read this line of yours "Here, and again in Ezekiel 14:20, Job is mentioned together with Noah and Daniel. Since both of these men are historical, we are led to conclude the same of Job." I said to myself that the problem was exactly this. Most scholars deny the existence even of Noah and Daniel. To them, the Bible mentions only a few historical events scattered throughout the Bible, but the main plot itself is simply a fairy-tale. More or less, as if I said that "Once upon a time, there was a girl named Snowhite, who lived in the land of Austria during the reign of Ludwig II...". There's a country named Austria, and a king named Ludwig II, yet there's no Snowhite until I don't find a document proving her existence. It is absurd to think that a person never existed just because I can't prove her existence: that would mean that I have no ancestors before the invention of modern civil registers... And curiously, "scholars" even try to claim that the few documents supporting the Bible are either fake or misread. Typical examples is the attempt to deny the historicity of Sodom and Gomorrah by saying that the cuneiforms of Ebla were misread by Pettinato.
The enemies of the Catholic Faith never end and are even growing... may the Angelic Doctor protect us within his prayers from the errors of Minimalism.

Quid est Veritas? said...

Thank you so much for clearing this up! I've seen in several blogs written by catholics that Job was fictional, and I wondered how the Church viewed him.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for your masterful biblical research on St. Job! How fitting to pray for this long-suffering Saint on the day after the president supported the false and sinful oxymoron of "homosexual marriage". God bless you, Father.

Rick DeLano said...

It is encouraging to see Job's historicity defend in an age where the most widely distributed Catholic video series of all time (Fr. Barron's) denies the historicity of *Adam*!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm very sorry to hear that!

Here is a good quote as to the historicity of Adam, from Pope Pius XII:
"For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own."
(Humani Generis 37)

Clearly, Catholics are bound to believe that Adam did indeed exist as an historical person in a particular time and place. +

Bobby Bambino said...


I would be hesitant to say that Fr Barron outright denies that Adam ever existed. If you and I have the same thing in mind, it is from something he said in one of his short video series "Adam. Now, don't read it literally. We're not talking about a literal figure. We're talking in theological poetry." True, I do believe this is very confusing and possibly scandalous, but I do think we should give Father Barron the benefit of the doubt and withhold judgment until he might further clarify. He may have possibly meant that every detail about Adam isn't literal in the sense that we don't have exact quotes from Adam, just like Father Ryan said about Job.

So I think we should make sure we are certain about what Fr Barron believes because as Fr Ryan pointed out, the belief that Adam existed is binding on Catholics, so it is a very big deal to claim that someone denies a tenant of the faith. But again, at the very best, I do think what he said is confusing and possibly scandalous. God love you.

dominic1955 said...

That's unfortunate (denial of Adam), but hardly surprising in this time of neoconservative ascendency.

Anonymous said...


First thank you for this great article. There is a lot to learn from St.Job.It has been always an interest of mine.
On the other hand, off the topic, I just want to comment what I see something odd on your website. In all honest, the site really good, but if you look the pictures above,I am sure you have a great devotion to St.Thomas, but the Word which St.Thomas uses to explain is in the right hand side. Don't you think Christ and his Mother should be in the center and all of us, even St.Thomas, would receive the Word from Him. In short, should not be every thing Christocentric.
It just a comment, other than that, I always read your exegesis on the scriptures and learn a lot as a result. Thank you for enlarging my mind.
God Bless in all you do !!

daniel said...

What about St. Jobs (Steven Jobs)? Did he exist??
My exegesis of the hagiographic sacred texts of this cult indicate that Steve Jobs probably did really exist but was terminated by the high priests of Apple for corporate sacrilege.

The earlier Jobsian community then felt his presence so strongly that they believe he resurrected and came back to head the company again. My exegesis of their sacred texts however indicates that this St. Jobs was probably a computer generated hologram, or at best an android.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (4:55pm),
1 - please use a pseudonym, as requested.

2 - Yes, we all do have so much to learn from St. Job! May he intercede for us!

3 - We rotate the pictures in the heading of the blog every few months ... just a couple weeks ago, we had one with Christ and Mary at the center ... a month or two before that, Christ the Judge was at the center.
So, yes, most certainly -- Christ must be at the center of all our theology! :-)

Clinton R. said...

Father, I went to a OF Mass a couple of months ago which featured a reading from the Book of Job. The priest in his homily said Job did not actually exist and the Book of Job is a parable. Your explanation of Job and quotation from St. Thomas cleared up the confusion for me. Thank you.

Tom said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

All the examples that you pull from scripture do nothing to illustrate your point. If Job was just a literary figure, he could still be referenced in the same way. How many times in a homily do we hear references to "The Prodigal Son" or if the priest is referencing a modern work some character from it. If the story is common enough, as Job obviously was since it is a part of the Hebrew Scriptures, everyone would know who was being referred, regardless of whether he was an actual person or not. The passage from Ezekiel is where you find the most support for your argument, but even here it is not clear.

As St. Thomas points out, the actual historical existence of Job is not important for the book itself, but rather as a matter of Truth. Your claim, however, that denying it is a denial of the inerrancy of scripture shows ignorance of literary technique at best, and is uncharitable at worst.

Unknown said...

On the comments on whether or not Adam and Eve were historical realities, there is the saying: the individual is in the race and the race is in the individual, with respect to the paradigmatic rise of consciousness, (or awareness of sin) with respect to Adam and Eve, and the appreciation of the individuality of them as 'persons'. This relation was applied may I hesitate to add, also to Jesus, but I'm sure this will prove controversial, as it suggests a substitute interpretation of Christ's divinity. Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

But don't you think it would be odd for a priest, in a homily (for example), to say: "Think of the example of The Prodigal Son, and of The Poor Man Lazarus, and of St. Francis of Assisi" or, conversely, "These men are truly great: John Paul II, and Gandalf, and Mother Teresa."

As to your accusation of my "ignorance" and "uncharitability" ... you are not merely condemning me, but all the Church Fathers and all the Scholastic Doctors, and every great Catholic Biblical Scholar until the 1900's ... since every one of them held that to deny the existence of Job was to deny the inerrancy of Scripture.
... but I will let that pass ...

Gregory said...

Father Erlenbush,

Thank you for your insightful statements.

I do not understand something, though. Dei Verbum 12 states:

"Cum autem Deus in Sacra Scriptura per homines more hominum locutus sit, interpres Sacrae Scripturae, ut perspiciat, quid Ipse nobiscum communicare voluerit, attente investigare debet, quid hagiographi reapse significare intenderint et eorum verbis manifestare Deo placuerit."

Now it seems to me to be manifest that in the scriptural quotations you cited, the sacred writers assumed Job to have existed indeed, but it is not manifest that they intended to signify such. Rather, it seems to me that their intention was to make a separate point (moral, etc). If they did not intend to signify such but merely assumed that Job existed, then denial of Job's existence does not deny scriptural inerrancy in the least. Rather, the historicity of the person of Job would fall into the realm of things that the sacred writer did not intend to signify and, thus, what God did not will to communicate.

In that case, I suppose it may fall under the other half, namely, the historical existence of Job may be something that it pleased God to manifest by the sacred writer's words, but that seems a bit difficult to prove or disprove either way.

What do you say? I am interested both in what you think of the point about Job and in your thoughts on the distinctions I made as hermeneutical keys as well. Thank you.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It seems to me that the sacred writers did indeed intend to give Job as an historical example (not merely as a literary figure) ... and this is why they referred to him together with Noah and Daniel.

To me, it seems quite decisive that all the Church Fathers and Doctors, together with all the Catholic Scripture Scholars (up till the 1900s) held that Scripture taught that Job was a real person.
Further, there is no good reason to doubt his existence.
And, finally, the Church, in her Liturgy, considers Job to be a real person (since she has a feast day for him).

So, all taken together, it does seem to me that the sacred authors did indeed intend to tell us that Job really existed -- and the Church Fathers thought that it would be a heresy to think otherwise.

As far as the distinction you make (i.e. the hermeneutical key in itself) ... I think it is a good and helpful distinction.
Though, as a Thomist, I tend to emphasize more the phrase: "eorum verbis manifestare Deo placuit" ... since the literal sense must be the meaning of the words in themselves, and is determined more by the divine intention than by the human.

Peace! +

Alessandro said...

IMHO it is stupid to believe that Job is fictional in its entirety. Many people would judge this book as a single wisdom book with poetry constituting the greatest component of the text. But I don't think this is the right way to read Job. More likely, Job is a composite work with three distinct literary genres: historical narrative (the narration of Job's life and character); theater (the God-Satan dialogues) and poetry (the dialogues between Job and his friends, or God's voice heard by Job).

That means we should read the three literary genres according to their style. Job's life in itself (his origins, his misfortunes, his faith and his final award) can be safely judged as an historical event. There's nothing odd with it: some 10 years ago I heard of a very similar situation happening to an Italian family who lost everything (including their children) but was finally happy again later thanks to their faith. The scenes in heaven have more of a prophetic vision (a similar dialogue was heard by Leo XIII and gave origin to the Prayer to St. Michael Archangel). Here, the author represent the dynamics of good and evil by the figures of their respective leaders, God and Satan, so that the theological message on the origin of evil be conveyed. Finally, the dialogues are poetry and portray the contents of a historical dialogue not verbatim but in a poetical form - more or less as the Our Father or the Magnificat aren't necessarily the word-by-word transcription of what Jesus and Mary said, but the representation of the content of their words.

So, there is no valid reason to judge Job as a single work just to put his figure in the realm of fiction. We should judge every section of book in its own genre to grasp what the author(s) really meant.

Leo said...


I held to the historicity of Job for a long time but now tend to view this as a post exilic reflection of Israel. And having spent some time studying this topic that seems to fit quite well.
What would your thoughts be on the whale in Jonah? Do you hold that to be a literal (real) whale as well? (Which again I held to for a long time but don't see it so now) . Just to say quickly, I'm by no means a "liberal" of sorts when it comes to scripture and the faith; I believe totally that all of the Word is divinely inspired and without error. But we do have to account for literary styles.

Alessandro said...

There are only two literary genres in "Jonah": history and poetry. Jesus takes the example of Jonah converting Nineveh just as literally as Jonah spending three days and three nights in a "big fish". But since sea monsters are often used to portray the Sheol (=abode of the dead), including in Jonah's prayer to God, I would simply state that (A) A fish (shark? whale?) really attacked the ship; (B) Jonah was killed by the beast; (C) Jonah was resurrected on the third day to resume his mission. Nevertheless, there are lots of more complicated miracles in the Bible: why just refuse to accept Jonah and the whale, when Jesus could walk on the water or resurrect people? Why should we believe that the same God who was born of a Virgin, was nevertheless unable to open the Red Sea to let Israel pass, or to put Sodom and Gomorrah on fire? This is still the true mystery with those who claim a limited inerrancy or want the Bible to become a fairy tale.

dominic1962 said...

The greatest argument for the existence of Job is that the Church commemorates him in the Martyrology. There is no one in the Martyrology listed as, "St. So-and-So, pseudo-mythical literary construction."

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

It is also well worth noting that only a few days ago the real Catholic Calendar celebrated the feast of Saint Gregory Nazianzen who was good friends with the great Saint Basil and in the Liturgy there is a wonderful example of what we foolishly abandon in chasing after novelty.

In the lessons of the Holy Liturgy for Saint Gregory's Feast, we read ...He went through a complete course of studies at Athens, together with Saint Basil, after which he applied himself to the study of sacred Scriptures.

The two friends retired to a monastery, where they spent several years over the Scripture, interpreting it not according to their own views, but by the mind and authority of the earlier Fathers.

THAT is Traditional praxis and such praxis is what our Catholic Capitol must have restored to it so the Holy City of Rome can once again become the source of a Glorious Triumphalism we Catholics can be proud of and that progression away from progressive praxis and towards Tradition will begin with the regularisation of the SSPX.

Enough of the protestant progressiveness that results in an ever-diminishing Biblical historicity and an ever-increasing amount of doubt.

Catholic exegesis went off the tracks a LONG time ago and it is time to set the Soul Train back on the track

Unknown said...

Yes. It was confirmed for me this weekend when I visited a Protestant church because a friend was standing in for a vacationing minister, that although individual interpretation of scripture can have minimal benefit for individual psychological attempts to understand one's self, that these interpretation can easily be over-secular. Surely the point of interpretation of scripture is to raise awareness not for purposes of 'self defense', but to arise to new understanding of what is a spiritual exegesis. This surely demands concurrence of many points of view, and the prerequisites not only of theological norms but of personal qualifications. Analysis of scripture needs to be 'tested', with the purpose of advancing the growth of morals and spirituality. We need not always, like post-modern interpretation seek to ground thought like the level of Platonic ideals, in the earth, but rather we should also see to ascend from the earth to a 'heavenly' understanding of what is possible for us to fulfill in our daily lives.
The interpretation of Mary that I witness showed her remarks to Jesus when he was twelve and at the marriage of Cannae on a very 'colloquial' level without respecting the spiritual significance of what was said, and especially what was not said, but what can be inferred by the manner and actions of Jesus and Mary in the communication. I did not like the interpretation of Mary being put on 'my' level when I seek to aspire to be more pure in my intentions, as I believe she was. Just a thought.

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