Bible, Christianity

Is the author of Job an unreliable narrator?

The literary device of an unreliable narrator may make an appearance in Job. The literary device is essentially when a narrator presents reality in a way that contradicts the logic of the narrative. Some unreliable narrators could be crazy people like the narrator of Fight Club, deceitful gods as in Aristophanes’ Frogs, in the Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Joker unreliably narrates his life story two or three times in the film. The narrator of Job present two versions of Job’s status before God. He presents a contradiction as though it was a straight presentation of things. But the stories logic perhaps only allows for one of the claims to be true. The author unreliably narrates, perhaps, to bring the reader further into the story. I’ll show you where below.

There’s a Christian song that repeats, “You give and take away.” We were singing it in church and I suddenly recalled that in the book of Job, right after Job says that the LORD gives and takes, the narrator says “Job did not…charge God with wrong.” Here is the passage:

Job 1:20-22 ESV Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (22) In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And yet, when the LORD confronts Job toward the end of the book, the LORD says that Job did not sin, but he does accuse Job of charging him with wrong:

Job 40:1-2 ESV And the LORD said to Job: (2) “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Later in the story, the LORD says that Job spoke rightly concerning him (Job 42:7). The question, of course, is where? Where did Job do so? Either Job was a faultfinder or not. The story says both.

But in Job 42:3, Job admits that he darkened counsel by speaking without knowledge.

If the Job is wisdom literature and its point is to use a story as a vehicle for a philosophical discussion and to obliquely make a particular philosophical argument then it makes sense for the book to be like a riddle. Jesus used riddles, Socrates asked questions, Pascal used apparent paradoxes.

Indeed, part of gaining wisdom is learning to understand the riddles of the wise (Proverbs 1:1-7). And the book of Job, by presenting multiple voices (in the characters and in the narrative), is a riddle.

I think that the author wants the reader to decide between voices.

At least one Biblical scholar has made a similar argument:
The Unreliable Narrator of Job” by James Watts. He takes things in a different direction entirely, by claiming that Job is making a literary statement by critiquing the concept on an omnicient narrator with his instantiaion of an omniscient character.

One Commnet on “Is the author of Job an unreliable narrator?

  1. You would like the recent podcasts on the book of Job (and all the wisdom literature) from the Bible Project guys over at jointhebibleproject.com. They talk a lot about voicing and the goal of the author.

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