A Fresh Perspective on an Ancient Book

A Fresh Perspective on an Ancient Book

Based on Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job

If asked “What is the oldest book in the Bible?” would you answer Genesis? How about Job? In the arrangement of the Old Testament canon, Job follows 17 other books—but its position does not reflect the antiquity of the story it tells.

The Bible’s books are not ordered according to a single chronological sequence. In the Old Testament, they are arranged in three sections, and within each section the books are organized chronologically. The first section includes all the books designated as “history;” the second, as “poetry;” and the third, as “prophecy.”

Job comes first in the poetry section. This placement tells us it’s the oldest of the poetic books, but a reader must look to its content to determine whether Job predates or postdates the earliest of the historical books (Genesis) or of the prophetic books (Isaiah). Several clues suggest the story of Job predates the writing of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, or Torah (the Bible’s first five books). For example, in Job, patriarchs, not priests, perform burnt offerings. Scholars tend to agree Job more closely coincides with the era of Abraham, the patriarch who left Ur an estimated 660 years before Moses’ time and, thus, before establishment of the Ten Commandments and the Hebrews’ civil and ceremonial laws.

The fact that the Hebrew language did not yet exist in written form at the time of Abraham and the patriarchs may explain the poetic form in which the book of Job was recorded. Such a style characterizes many ancient stories because it facilitated memorization, a way to preserve the account’s accuracy until Hebrew developed in written form. (No record exists to identify who put the account of Job into writing.)

A patriarchal date for the book of Job would make Job far and away the earliest piece of inspired Scripture. The probability that Job was available either in written or oral form before Genesis profoundly impacts our interpretive perspective and approach to the Genesis creation narrative.

In many respects, Job serves as an introduction or preface to Genesis. The gaps in the Genesis creation account that skeptics love to ridicule are not really gaps at all if the content of Job was familiar to the recipients of Genesis. Why would Moses need or want to repeat what was already widely familiar from Job’s epic poem?

For later readers and students of Scripture, the key to understanding the Genesis creation and flood accounts lies in recognizing these accounts as reviews or overviews of the broader, more expansive (though non-chronological) creation content in Job. In one sense, Job provides the introductory context that informs not just the Genesis creation passage but all of the Bible’s creation content. Job, rather than Genesis, is the biblical text where discussion of creation rightly begins.