musings from my rich inner world…

King over All the Sons of Pride

Whoever confronts me, I will repay.  Under the heavens, he is mine!
– Leviathan, Job 42:10b-11 (Newsom, Book 623)

Leviathan…  On earth, we are told, he has no equal.  A creature without fear, who surveys all that is lofty.  At the climactic height of Yahweh’s response from the whirlwind, this mythic creature, the embodiment of primordial chaos, serves as the final word to a man’s [Instructor’s Comment:  no inclusive language?] complaint against God.  And then, like poetry in motion, Leviathan plunges into the depths and disappears, a shining wake marking his passing.

In our own time Job’s lament has been interpreted as an attempt to answer the age-old question of theodicy:  why do bad things happen to good people?  But what does a fire-breathing dragon from the depths of the sea have to do with the human misfortune?  And why would the author of Job choose this particular cast of characters to explain such questions?  Is it possible that we, like Job, are peering through the lens of our own experience and asking the wrong question?  What if this tale, far from dealing with the everyman, is instead a commentary on the "might makes right" mentality associated with patriarchal privilege?  Is it possible that this fantastic tale is a vehicle for exploring deeper questions of power?

Our story is set long ago.  The name Job is found in texts of the second millennium BCE (Seow 728) and draws the reader back to an ancient time in primeval history before the rise of the Patriarchs.  There is no mention of Abraham or his descendants and there is not yet an Israel or any of the covenants (with perhaps the exception of the Noahic) that are related in the Torah.  The land of Uz where the story is set is a primarily agricultural land in the east and Job himself appears to be an Edomite.  Within attacking distance are Saba in Southwestern Arabia (modern-day Yemen) and Chaldea, located in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern-day Iraq).  One of Job’s three friends was from Tuman (between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba), while the other two hail from areas that cannot be clearly identified with contemporary geographic markers.

Other cues would reinforce this ancient setting for readers familiar with Torah:  Job’s lifespan is comparable to that of Abraham and he performs his own sacrifices without any mention of a central shrine or priesthood (Pope XXXII).  The principal characters of the story refer to God by the names El, Shaddai, and Eloah, setting the action before Yahweh’s disclosure of his name to Moses in the book of Exodus (Habel 39-40).  The marks of familiarity have all been obscured and the drama plays out on an international scale.  This is perhaps the first clue for placing the book of Job among the Wisdom Tradition. [Instructor’s Comment:  good]

Based on the literary setting, early rabbinic tradition suggested that Moses was the author of Job (Habel 40).  However, there are no references to historical events or persons in the book that might aid in dating the material.  Modern scholars have not come to any particular consensus and their estimates have ranged from the tenth through the second centuries BCE with most settling on a shorter period between the seventh and fifth centuries (Newsom Book 325).  The estimates of a tenth century BCE composition are based on archaic Hebrew poetic forms found within the text that resemble other texts of that period; however, the similarities may have been deliberately affected by the author, drawing the reader back to an earlier time (Newsom Book 325).

Scholars have noted many words not found in other Hebrew Bible texts that appear to be Aramaisms (Habel 40), a language not used before the postexilic community.  Several literary elements appear to bolster the argument for a postexilic composition.  The presence of a satan (śāṭān) character is paralleled in other postexilic literature such as 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2 (Newsom Book 325).  In both the Job story and the Zechariah passage the śāṭān character is identified as "one of the ‘sons of Elohim,’ a full-fledged member of the heavenly court, upon whom lies the task of indicting and prosecuting sinners before the bar of divine justice" (Gibson 1169).  The word śāṭān is prefaced in Job by the definite article ha- which some scholars suggest belongs to a stage of linguistic development parallel to the language used in Zechariah (Crenshaw 863).  During the Persian period the Jews were subjected to imperial spies and prosecutors who used entrapment in order to gain convictions (Gibson 1170).  This, coupled with exposure to Persian Zoroastrianism which espouses a dualism in which a good and evil exist as separate and equal powers, appear to have given rise to the idea of an independent and accusing adversary to whom much of the suffering of the world could be attributed (Gibson 1170).

In addition to the appearance of the śāṭān character, 6:19 makes reference to caravans from Teman to Sheba, while 3:14-15 introduce the terms for kings, counselors and princes, all of which were titles used by the Persian hierarchy (Crenshaw 863).  Taken together, the linguistic evidence and the Persian-influenced references strengthen the argument for a postexilic date of composition.

In paying so much attention to the historical setting of the story and the possible dates of composition, we should not lose sight of the forms that are used by the author.  While Pope has noted that Job cannot be classified as a single literary form as it shares elements of didactic, dramatic and epic forms (XXXI).  A prose prologue and epilogue frame roughly 39 chapters of poetry.  From the beginning the prose takes on a form that could aptly be described as a fairy tale, in which the author paints an idyllic world in broad strokes.  Job is described in glowing terms and his livestock and immediate family are all detailed using numbers of significant character in the Ancient Near East:  seven sons (10 children total), livestock numbered as even thousands and hundreds.  The epilogue also deals in terms of sevens, thousands and a range of superlatives.

In the chapters that follow, we are presented with all of the hallmarks of Hebrew poetry.  Adele Berlin points out that unlike English verse, there is no discernible rhyming scheme or rhythmic meter to the lines (302).  Instead, the Hebrew text is terse, tending to omit the accusative marker, ‘ēt, and the definite article, ha (Berlin 303).  In the Leviathan pericope these words occur only one and three times respectively, compared with 17 and 59 times in the prose prologue.  In addition, Hebrew poetry may often omit the relative pronoun, ‘ăšer (Berlin 303).  While the resulting lines are more concise, they also tend to be more redundant, a characteristic known as parallelism (Berlin 303).  Unlike many other passages of the Hebrew scriptures where each word or phrase serves to further the ongoing plot, parallelism reinforces and embellishes the original thought by providing synonymous images, contrasts and stair-step progressions that use several lines, partially repeating some information while adding new detail with each line.  The overall effect of these poetic devices is to move the reader from the realm of dry facts into a more abstract avenue of thought where metaphors and images are used to draw word pictures that engage the reader’s affective capacities as well as their intellectual capabilities.

Characteristic of Hebrew poetry is the use of recurring themes or motifs in a work (Berlin 313).  This is the case with Leviathan, who is first mentioned at the beginning of Job’s lament in 3:8 and then becomes the focus of the entire forty-first chapter.  Though some have considered this creature to be a mere crocodile, the description that unfolds in the chapter is more apt to describe the ancient near eastern mythological creature that existed in the primordial chaos before the world was formed (McLaughlin 802).  This helps to reinforce the fairytale quality of the story.

In addition to Leviathan, this fanciful account provides the reader with glimpses of the heavenly realm where Yahweh and a council of lesser deities live.  These cues help the reader to transition from reading for factual accuracy to an understanding of deeper truths that will be conveyed in story form.

Though the narrator is not privy to the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters of the story, he is apparently omnipresent, traversing the realm of heaven and the earthly stage where the bulk of the drama plays out.  Thus we as readers know things that Job and his friends do not.  Much of the discourse from their human perspective is centered on whether Job sinned and what he must have done to deserve the calamity that has befallen him.  However, the reader is fully aware from the beginning that Job is completely innocent and that Yahweh and ha-śāṭān are the agents responsible for all that Job has suffered.  Through the use of these devices the author has successfully eliminated any appeal to the Deuteronomistic mindset that calls for favor as a reward for observance of Torah while infractions are met with punishment.  But is this the ultimate point?

In our own time we tend to think of Job as a representative of all of humanity, but if we examine the text closely we will find that he is anything but the norm.  The narrator reports that Job owned 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys, which most likely required a great deal of grazing land.  As the narrator puts it, Job is "the greatest of all the people of the east" (1:3).  Though the suffering that befalls Job is quite real – the loss of his family, his wealth and holdings, and finally his own health – what makes it all the more spectacular is how far Job has to fall.  In an Ancient Near Eastern context, the plight of a poor person would most likely not stir the same interest.  The fact that Job is a patriarch carries with it certain assumptions about power and privilege which may be key to understanding the author’s motivations for writing the tale. [Instructor’s Comment:  good]

In the Leviathan pericope God questions Job’s physical strength and prowess as a hunter with a chiastic set of rhetorical questions (41:1-2) that, at least in the NRSV, progressively utilize what appear to be greater instruments:

A.    Can Job draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
B.    Can Job press down Leviathan’s tongue with a cord?

B’.    Can Job put a rope through Leviathan’s nose?

A’.  Can Job pierce Leviathan’s jaw with a hook?

In a moment we will examine a couple of translational issues buried in this passage.  But before we can fully appreciate these lines, it is necessary to make a small detour to examine a part of the external structure that supports the passage.  Specifically, a look at Job’s own speech in chapter 29 is instructive.  Here the patriarch longs for the days of his privileged status as a pillar of the local community.  He describes himself as the beneficiary of divine protection (29:2-5), blessed with his many children (29:5), his steps "washed with milk" (29:6) and streams of oil that the rock poured out for him (29:6, perhaps an allusion to the rock in the desert wanderings that had supplied the Israelites with water).  He had enjoyed respect in the council of elders at the city gate of both the noble (29:7-10) and the marginalized to whom he played the role of benefactor (29:11-16).  Job is the model patriarch of his time, champion of widows and orphans, "eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame" (29:13-16).  He showed kindness to strangers and stood as champion of those who would have otherwise been overcome by the wicked.  As Carol Newsom points out, all of these virtues were considered normative for a patriarch of the time, whose wealth and holdings provided not only some welfare for the marginal, but also employment to the working class ("Job" 142).  Job ends his reminiscences of the days of old by saying that he smiled on those about him and the light of his countenance was not extinguished (29:24).  He set the course of action for those around him and "lived like a king among his troops" (29:25), a reference that may recall the exploits of Abram who led his crack team of commandos on a night raid to rout Chedorlaomer and free Lot in the Genesis narrative (Genesis 14).

With this context in mind, God’s response to Job in chapter 41 begins to take on a new shape.  At Job’s very appearance at the city gate in 29:7-10, all speaking had ceased and the tongues of princes "stuck to the roof of their mouths" out of deference to his position.  But Yahweh presents a creature who will not be silenced.  Job cannot tie Leviathan’s tongue down even with a cord.  Instead the creature laughs with derision at weapons of human armies.

In his previous discourse Job boasts that he has never rejected the cause of his servants when they have brought petitions before him (31:13).  But the flipside of his argument indicates that in his position he is accustomed to kind words and requests from his social inferiors.  By way of contrast, God asks rhetorically if Leviathan will also make supplications to Job, speak soft words and pledge his loyalty as a servant (41:3-4).  Unlike the animals over whom humanity is given dominion (Genesis 1:26), Leviathan will not provide amusement to Job’s girls or become the object of merchants’ trade (41:5-6).

Job’s countenance had shown with light (29:24), but Leviathan sneezes light, his eyes shine with the dawning sun and bellows of flame and smoke shoot from his mouth and nose (41:18-21).  Job had counted himself as a mighty man, his bow[1] ever at the ready (29:20), but arrows cannot drive Leviathan away (41:28).  The beast is unscathed by any of the weapons at this commander’s disposal (41:26).  Though the nobility had stood in silence before Job, Leviathan laughs at the majesty of men (41:29).  Job, who had considered himself a king among his troops, is confronted by the image of a creature without fear, king over all that are proud (41:33-34). [Instructor’s Comment:  good use of contrasts]

Theological discussions of Job often point out that Job as a patriarch sees God as simply a larger version of himself (Newsom "Job" xx).  However, several instances in the Hebrew text appear to belittle the weaponry and prowess of Job rather than comparing him to the image of God as a Divine Warrior.  Returning to the translational issues of Yahweh’s rhetorical challenges that begin the chapter, in each case, regardless of the increasing measures used, the message appears to be that human tools are no match against Leviathan’s shear size and physical strength.  However, an interesting thing is going on in the Hebrew beneath this passage.  While the translators have chosen reasonable translations in 41:1 for the fishhook[2] and the cord,[3] their choices of "rope" and "hook" in the second verse are not consistent with the underlying Hebrew.  Instead, Yahweh’s questions to Job are whether he can put a "reed," ‘gmwn, through Leviathan’s nose or pierce his jaw with a "thorn," heh, which was commonly placed through the gills of a fish in order to carry it (Koehler 1: 11).  The word ‘gmwn is rendered as "rushes" only a few verses later at 41:7.  It is interesting to note that the NAS translation also uses "rope" and even places a footnote that explains the Hebrew as literally "a rope of reeds."  However, there is absolutely no extra wording in the Hebrew text to support this translation.  It appears that the translators have subconsciously internalized the power dynamics that would privilege the patriarch.  Rather than faithfully representing the original text, the English translation presents an escalation in the warrior’s power.

In the same way we find that the NRSV translators have rendered 41:26 as "The sword that reaches him cannot avail, Nor the spear, the dart or the javelin."  However, close examination of the Hebrew reveals that the "dart" is merely "an unhewn stone," ms’, (Koehler 2: 607) [Instructor’s Comment:  though BDB claims these are two different roots] while the "javelin," šryh, appears to be a small arrow or arrowhead. (Koehler 4: 1654-1655)  In contrast, the word "javelin" is used correctly to translate kydwn later in the passage at 41:29, as supported by seven of the eight other occurrences of the word within the canon.  In these two cases as well it appears that the translators have chosen words that convey a greater sense of power at the warrior’s disposal than the text would actually suggest. [Instructor’s Comment:  a good hypothesis; further language study would help you test it out further]  Though the answer to each question remains negative, there appears to be an attempt to save face for the patriarch.  What is going on?  Carol Newsom has pointed out that in our own culture we are still plagued with many of the same issues surrounding power and privilege.  Could it be that on some unconscious level the translators have skewed the passages, providing the human machines of war with more power than is actually represented in the text? [Instructor’s Comment:  explain more clearly how your translation would sound]  If the patriarch is a smaller version of the divine warrior, then stones and little arrowheads and thorns might seem less than effective weapons.  Instead, Yahweh appears to be pointing out the inferiority of human weapons when leveled against king of the proud (41:34), or as the masculine nouns in the Hebrew suggest, the sons of pride.  In the end, it appears that the translators as well, stirred to defend the honor of humanity, have smudged the scorecard and upped the effort, adding their voices among those proud sons.

In light of our examination, it becomes clear that what is at stake in the Leviathan passage is not a simple answer to the questions of theodicy and the common man.  Rather, the focus is on the power and privilege of a patriarch who comes face to face with forces that he cannot control:  the great man is overpowered by the beast of the depths.  Implied in the passage is one further notion:  the great beast is still overpowered by Yahweh who stood against it to create the world.  It is highly likely that the writer of Job would have known of First Isaiah and its reference to the day when Yahweh will rise up and slay the dragon in the sea (Isaiah 27:1).  Again, might makes right.

The ramifications are far-reaching.  We live in a world that continues to wrestle with the story of Job.  And like the original readers of the text, many of us still believe that it is the force with the greatest weaponry that will win in any conflict.  Within our own context how often we see bumper stickers reading "God Bless America," or hear political speeches in which we are assured that God is on our side.  After all, if God is the great patriarch in whose image we are created, we most definitely want to make sure that he stands behind us.  Wrapped in our flag and religion, we are the sons of pride, roaming the sandbox, bullying the weak and claiming, "My Daddy can beat up your daddy."    Perhaps this is a lesson to consider as we contemplate the meaning of Leviathan, the king over all the children of pride. [Instructor’s Comment:  But Yahweh remains the Ultimate Power.  Is that truly a break from the patriarchy/power?  I’m not convinced that making Job’s weapons bigger makes Job stronger in this case, since his weapons aren’t effective.  Would reading "reed," etc. be a humiliation of Job – a shaming?]


[1]   a symbol of masculine virility (Seow 758).
[2]   ‘kh appears three times in the Hebrew scriptures and in each place is consistent with a fishing hook or fishing line.
[3]   hbl appears 47 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, of which about 26 times deal specifically with various ropes or cords.

Works Cited

Berlin, Adele.  "Introduction to Hebrew Poetry."  New Interpreters Bible.  12 Vols.  Ed. Leander E. Keck.  Nashville:  Abingdon, 1996.  4: 301-315.

Crenshaw, James L.  "Job, Book of."  The Anchor Bible Dictionary.  6 Vols.  Ed. David Noel Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Gibson, Jeffrey B.  "Satan."  Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.  Ed. David Noel Freedman.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2000.

Habel, Noah C.  The Book of Job: A commentary.  The Old Testament Library Series.  Ed. Peter Ackroyd.  Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1986.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner.  The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.  6 Vols.  Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995.

McLaughlin, John L.  "Leviathan."  Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.  Ed. David Noel Freedman.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2000.

Newsom, Carol A.  "The Book of Job: Introduction, commentary, and reflections."  New Interpreters Bible.  12 Vols.  Ed. Leander E. Keck.  Nashville:  Abingdon, 1996.  4: 317-637.

Newsom, Carol A.  "Job."  Women’s Bible Commentary.  Eds. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe.  Expanded ed.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.  138-144.

Pope, Marvin H.  Job: Introduction, translation, and notes.  The Anchor Bible Series.  Garden City:  Doubleday, 1973.

Seow, Leong.  "Job." New Oxford Annotated Bible.  3rd Ed.  Ed. Michael D. Coogan.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2001.

Instructor’s Comments


This is very good work.  Your paper demonstrates that you can use the skills of biblical studies and interact with secondary literature in order to craft a reasoned argument.

Your claim that Job’s status as a patriarch is important to the book was persuasive and intriguing, but I was left wanting more demonstration of the pay-off for that interpretation.  How does your understanding of the book as a whole change?  What do we do, then, with the narrator’s claim that Job was innocent and that his suffering was underserved?

I need more to be convinced that your passage completely challenges the efficacy of human power.  While it may do so directly, it does so by trumping Job’s power with the power of the ultimate patriarch Yahweh.  Is this more a competition for greater honor between males than an ideological critique of power itself?

Though you stress the possibility that the book is from the Persian period, you haven’t explicitly connected its "message" with the Persian setting.  Who, ideologically, would have been the target for such a challenge to human (military?) power?

If you are going to continue in biblical studies, I encourage you to get into languages as soon as possible.  In this case, greater facility with Hebrew would have helped you make your case more strongly.

Again, congratulations on a fine paper.

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