Job suffered terribly at the hands of God. He lost his possessions, his health, and his children. By the end of his story as told in the Bible his health has been restored, his wealth has been restored, he fathers more children, and he lives a long life. But how long was his period of suffering before his restoration?
The book itself offers a few hints. For one, there is likely a delay between the onset of Job’s troubles and the arrival of his friends. David Clines suggests this is at least a matter of weeks, but perhaps a matter of months, and he points to a couple of passages which point to the passage of time. So in Job 7:3 we read,
so I have been allotted months of futility,Job 7:3 (NIV)
and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
He also notes that for the various events mentioned in Job 30 to have taken place, some considerable amount of time must have passed.¹
In this post, however, I want primarily to consider the somewhat later reflection on Job’s story recorded in the Testament of Job (TJob). This text, likely composed in the either the first century BCE or the following one, a very different version of the story of Job is recorded. This story continues down the trajectory begun in the earlier Greek version (often labelled the LXX version) where Job’s anger is diminished, his speech moderated, and his patience emphasised. In the TJob this all moves to the next level.
Of interest here, however, is its comment (attributed to an older Job speaking to his children about his previous sufferings) about the length of those sufferings. We have only a few manuscripts for the TJob from no earlier than about the sixth century. These include a few Greek manuscripts, Coptic, and Slavonic. While this last one seems to be the version found in modern English translations, it is also the latest and perhaps least useful in working out exactly what the original version recorded.
The matter is also complicated by the referencing system used to point to locations in TJob, as these are not always consistent. The passage we’re interested in is usually noted to be TJob 5:9, but in the versification found in the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha it is instead labelled TJob 21:1. That passage, in most English translations, reads:
In this way, I survived for seven years, sitting on a dung-hill outside of the city while being covered with a plague.TJob 5:9 [Pauly Hart and M. R. James, Testament of Job: In Modern English and Original Translation (Savannah, GA, 2021)]
Now we’re not looking at a matter of weeks or months, but seven years of suffering. But as we dig a little deeper into the manuscripts of TJob we find that the period therein attested is not quite so clearly determined. If we look at the various Greek manuscripts, we find the following (* indicates variations or omissions in manuscripts):
Καὶ [οὑτως] ἐποίησα ἔτη τεσσαράκοντα ὀκτὼ [καθεζόμενος]The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha
The central section (i.e. ἐποίησα ἔτη τεσσαράκοντα ὀκτὼ) differs in the various manuscripts. As recorded above it makes reference to 48 years — considerably more than the “mere” seven found in the Slavonic text! Clearly these versions had a very high regard for the extent of Job’s patience during his suffering!
One Greek manuscript does offer a different reading again. This manuscript (labelled “V”) reads:
Καὶ οὑτως διηρκεσα ἔτη ζ καθεζόμενος
Here the duration seems to be written by using the greek letter zeta to represent a numeric value (i.e. 7, the numbers counting as Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ϝ Ζ — note that the archaic letter digamma is used for the number 6). So there is one Greek manuscript which agrees with the Slavonic text.
So, in the end, we’re not really left any the wiser. Perhaps the most sensible version is the Hebrew of the MT and the Greek of the LXX where a precise duration is avoided.
- Clines, Job 1–20, pp. 55–56.