The presuppositions of the comfortable outlook – ‘God’s in his heaven: All’s right with the world’ – had been questioned from time to time over the centuries, but Job and Ecclesiastes are the only major works in the Old Testament deliberately undertaken to articulate the doubt and debate then current in the Israeli schools. They are generally thought to come from the fifth or fourth and third centuries BC respectively, but there is no evidence to support the speculation that it was at this period that the age-old conflict between the theories of the theologians and the facts of life became more than usually acute. The two parts of the chapter look first at doubt, disaster, despair and pessimism in Job and then at the same attitudes in Ecclesiastes, and in doing so make comparisons between the two books. The Egyptian and Babylonian precedents to passages in Job suggest that its author is writing within a convention well established in the circles of schoolmen of the Ancient Near East, rather than presenting actual experiences, and the sustained protest of Job’s speeches challenges the two principal (and contradictory) dogmas that had become fossilized in the Israeli school tradition: ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’, and ‘God’s way in the world is not in the least mysterious and may be traced in the prosperity of the righteous and the suffering of the wicked’. Any interpretation of Ecclesiastes, who like Job was a literary stylist, must give due weight to the fact that he was a teacher, but the application of doleful description in the body of the work is discriminating, and probably represents his thought.
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