The Trial of Job
The Book of Job translated and annotated by Roger Eaton
kindle version now available

Translation and notes © 1996 Roger Eaton. All Rights Reserved.

Permission to reproduce for non-commercial use is granted.


Was Job originally a play? It is an old idea, going back at least to Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in 428 AD. He was sure the Book of Job was a scandalous drama on the pattern of Greek tragedy, but the Church Council of 553 at Constantinople condemned his thinking.

Dr. Horace Kallen has fared only a little better in modern times for his The Book of Job as Greek Tragedy, which added stage directions and a chorus to the American Revised Version. The play was put on by college groups and once by professional actors in 1926. But poor Dr. Kallen has been relegated to footnote status. The current academic view runs something like this: Job is a poetic dialogue, even a dramatic dialogue in form, but of course Kallen was wrong to think it a play.

Kallen was right at least to this degree: that if the Book of Job was a play, then a Greek connection is hard to resist. Theater may have arisen among the Greeks and the Jews independently, but Athens and Jerusalem are too close and the timing too coincidental to believe so.

Thespis of Attica is generally accepted as the first tragic actor in the Greek tradition. He may have toured the countryside with a chorus putting on his plays as early as 550 B.C. In 536 the Tyrant Pisistratus of Athens established an annual prize for the best tragedy. The author of Job is thought to have traveled and so may have been to Athens and seen one of Thespis' productions. On this scenario and on the assumption that Job was drama, the earliest possible date for the book would be 550. The early tragedies had only a single actor, though, and were not nearly so sophisticated as Job, so a later date is indicated, probably several decades into the fifth century B.C.

Still on the assumption that Job was actually played, the latest likely date for it would be circa 445, when Nehemiah took over Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the city. Internal evidence from Job suggests that the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruins - see the note for 17:6. More cogently, Job is written in Hebrew, and Hebrew was losing its hold from 500. Finally, the Temple priesthood, once they became a force in the city, would have banned as idolatrous a play where God appears on stage. The Temple was rebuilt by 515, but just when the priesthood took charge of cultural life is unclear. It might have been as late as Nehemiah. A good guess for Job's first production? Say 470 B.C.

Was Job a play? Well, yes. The internal evidence is quite clear. There are so many scenes that only work by a reference to the surroundings or with a gesture. Let's play it again, here in Los Angeles. Let's bring Jew, Christian and Muslim together for an interreligious production. Why not? Truly, Job has a timeless message for all humanity, a message Los Angeles needs to hear. Job is a healing play, exactly the right prescription for a fractured city.

* * *

The translation was accomplished by first comparing English versions and then going to the Hebrew. Priorities were 1) the meaning of the original Hebrew, 2) the meaningfulness of the English, 3) poetic force and 4) literal faithfulness to the received text.

The Book of Job is a difficult work in the original. Scholars dispute the meaning of many of its verses. The translator has the worst of it: 1) The author's vocabulary was the largest of all ancient Hebrew writers. 2) The verse form is more compact than prose. 3) Idiomatic expressions from the spoken language are many because the work is a dramatic dialogue in form. 4) If the peculiarities of the Hebrew are not sufficiently explained by points one through three, then perhaps Job was written in an otherwise unknown Hebrew dialect. 5) An accumulation of scribal errors is likely. And 6) thrgnlhdnvwlspncttnrspcsbtwnthwrds -- the original had no vowels, punctuation or spaces between the words.

But the interpreter also suffers. Perhaps some ten to fifty verses began as marginal notes and were copied into the text by the next scribe. In the present edition, verses thought to be unassimilable interpolations are parenthesized. Then there are deliberate distortions of the text in the name of piety, including the eighteen "Emendations of the Scribes." For instance, 1:5 in the received text says: Perhaps my sons have sinned and blessed God... Finally, the structural integrity of the work is in question. Chapters 24 to 30 are jumbled and the Elihu speeches may have been added by a second hand.

A meaningful version of Job must therefore be in part a work of the imagination. The traditional versions of the difficult passages are themselves only defensible, not proved, and too often they don't really make sense in the larger context. Yet surely the original was seldom indefinite or obscure.

In this edition, cuts are suggested using bold versus standard typeface. The cut version will run about an hour and forty-five minutes. The full version about 2 and a half hours. Additions to make the work more understandable to the radio audience are indicated by [square brackets]. This simple typography only works if the reader makes allowances. Once again, brackets for the radio announcer, parentheses for original material that is being excluded, boldface to indicate a cut version. The Storyteller's "foreword" is entirely a modern addition, of course, as is the falconry interpolation at 16:18.

Dramatis Personae

The Crowd 
Trashman / The Satan 
Burial Detail / Two men with a Body 
Job's Wife 
Wise Woman / Storyteller / Scribe 
God of the Prologue / Eliphaz

    Three Angels 
    Four Messengers 
    God of the Poetry

The Scene

[Radio announcer. A lone palm tree grows by a city gate. A small crowd of men in Middle Eastern dress are seated on benches. Center stage are rocks and piles of ashes. Above is Heaven] with an inner curtain. [In the middle distance is a wadi, the deep gully of a desert stream, and on its far side are stately tombs for the rich. Below, in front, is the common burial pit for the poor.] This single scene, with Heaven, Earth, and Pit will suffice for the entire play. Music should be supplied as appropriate -- harp, tambourine, pipe and drums.

The angels and the messengers, when their part in the Prologue is done, join the audience. With their prompting, and with the help of cue sheets, the audience is encouraged to become part of the Crowd, the ancient jury before whom the Trial of Job will take place.

[Radio announcer. The Trashman with his basket of ashes enters from the city gate followed by two men carrying a man's body on a makeshift stretcher. A well dressed Job and his wife enter opposite. As they cross paths, the arm of the dead man flops out to smack Job squarely in the chest. Job stops to watch as the naked body is dumped unceremoniously into the Pit. Just at that moment the trashman, grinning, tips his ashes, spilling them over the feet of Job and his wife.]

Storyteller's Foreword

[Radio announcer. Now here's the Storyteller with her scroll and her raven's quill pen.]

Storyteller. Theodore of Mopsuestia was condemned as a heretic for thinking Job a play, but it was, I know! I've played this part before. We've trimmed a bit from the original. What's left though, are still the words of Job and his friends -- God, too -- as I first took them down with this pen, nearly three thousand years ago.

Now be advised, the only plots here are that cemetary plot over there, where this poor man was dragged and dumped, and those tombs back there, where the rich are buried along with their plots against the poor. The word's the thing in this play, so give ear, you that know, "for the ear can tell a word as the tongue tells a taste!"

The Prologue


Storyteller. 1:1In the land of Uz dwelt Job, a man of  integrity and righteousness who feared God and shunned evil. 2Seven sons and three daughters he had, 3and seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkey mares and many servants, so that altogether he was greatest of the chieftans of the East. 4In the feast days his sons, each in turn host at his own house, would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5Straightway the next morning Job would send for his sons to come and be purified; he would offer burnt offerings for each of them, saying, 

Job. Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.


The Storyteller opens the scroll to read in an expansive manner, as one might read a bed time tale to a child.

 Storyteller. This Job would always do.

6One day when the sons of the gods were attending the Lord, the Satan was present with them. 7The Lord asked the Satan,

God. Where have you been?

And the Satan replied, Roaming the earth,  strollinghere and there in it.

 8The Lord asked, Have you given thought to my servant Job? There is no one else like him on earth, a man blameless and upright who fears God and shuns evil.

The Satan. 9But does Job fear God for nothing? answered the Satan. 10Have you not hedged him round, and his family and everything that he has, blessing all his labors with a prosperity that spreads over the land? 11Just reach out against his possessions and he will curse you to your face.

God. 12Very well, said the Lord. Everything he has is in your hands, but Job himself you are not to touch.


An inner curtain opens to reveal God and angels in Heaven. Throwing off his sackcloth cloak, the Trashman appears as the Satan, dressed in a tuxedo. He steps up onto the platform with God. 

Storyteller. Then the Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord and 13there came a day when Job's children were feasting and drinking wine at his eldest son's house. 14A messenger came to Job and said, 

[Radio Announcer. Here come four messengers, running, one after the other!] 

1st Messenger. The oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing beside them 15when the Sabeans attacked and took them. The ox boys they put to  the sword and I alone escaped to tell you.

16He was still speaking when another messenger came and said, Lightning fell from Heaven and went blazing among the sheep and shepherds, killing them and I alone escaped to tell you.

17And he was still speaking when yet another messenger came and said, The Chaldeans attacked the camels from three sides and took them; the camel boys they put to the sword and I alone escaped to tell you.

18And he, too, was still speaking when yet another messenger came and said, As your sons and daughterswere eating and drinking wine, 19a great wind came up across the desert, battering the four corners of the house, toppling the walls on the young folk so they alldied, and I alone escaped to tell you.


Music - Satan's theme. As the Storyteller speaks, the Satan dances around Job and his wife. They sit on the rocks, overcome. 

Enter four messengers one after the other. Each has a conch shell in his left hand which he blows as he enters. After telling Job the bad news they form a square facing true North, South, East and West.

Storyteller. 20Then Job rose. He tore his robe and shaved his head. He fell on the ground and worshipped, 21and he said: 

Job. Naked I came from my mother's womb
And naked shall I return.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Storyteller. 22In all this Job did not sin nor give offense to God.


Job rises and tears off his robe and tunic, leaving himself dressed only in a loin cloth. He falls on the ground and worships. 

2:1One day when the sons of the gods were attending the Lord, the Satan was present with them. 

[Radio announcer. Back in Heaven now, where the Satan has reappeared.] 

2The Lord asked the Satan, Where have you been?

And the Satan replied, Roaming the earth, strolling here and there in it.

3The Lord asked, Have you given thought to my servant Job? There is no one else like him on earth, a man blameless and upright who fears God and shuns evil and is still holding fast to his integrity.


The Satan laughs cynically and ascends again to Heaven. 

You have incited me against him to swallow him up without cause!


God is not a little displeased! 

4Skin for skin, answered the Satan. 

[Radio announcer. This is the wager, Satan's skin for Job's!] 

Satan. All that a man has he will give for his life. 5Just reach out against his bones and his flesh and he will curse you to your face.

6Very well, said the Lord. He is in your hands but watch over his life.


Satan's skin for Job's. The actor must make the Satan's meaning plain.

Storyteller. 7Then the Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and he struck Job down withevil sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. [Job took a potsherd to scrape himself with and sat in the ashpit.9His wife said to him,] 

Job's wife. Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die.

10You are talking like a foolish woman, was Job's reply. Shall we accept good from God and not accept evil?


Music - Satan's theme again. The 
Satan dances around Job and his wife and then returns to Heaven. Job puts on the Satan's discarded cloak. Now we see the sores on his face. He takes a potsherd from the trash to scrape himself with and sits in the ashes. 

Storyteller. Through all this Job said nothing for which he might be reproached.


The inner curtain closes on Heaven. 

11Three of Job's friends came when they heard of the calamaties that had befallen him, Eliphaz from the land of Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar of Na'ameh. They arranged to approach Job together to offer him their sympathies and comfort. 12When they first saw him at a distance, they did not recognize him. They raised their voices weeping; they tore their robes and tossed up dust over their heads. 13Seven days and seven nights they sat with him on the ground and none said a word for they saw that his suffering was very great.


Enter Job's three friends. Each one bows as he is introduced and takes his seat on a rock. Eliphaz is played by the same actor who played God. 

Job's friends were very good friends indeed to wait so long with him in silence. 


last changed November 17, 2014