Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Job

Introduction to the Text:

The Testament of Job (henceforth TJob) is a tale about the life of Job. Unlike the book of Job in the LXX or MT, TJob recasts the story as Job telling his children about his life while he is on his deathbed. This stylistic choice influenced scholars to consider it to be a “testament” on four premises: a deathbed scene; celebration of virtues; moral exhortations; death, burial, and lamentation. TJob, though, modifies this testament genre by treating a character from wisdom literature rather than one from the Torah. According to R. P. Spittler, this indicates that TJob is more haggadic in nature than hortatory. Or, to put in simpler words, TJob is more interested presenting a narrative story than exhorting the audience. In this respect, TJob is more akin to 21st century novels than many other Pseudepigraphal testaments.

Having been written between the 1st century B.C.E. and C.E. in Egypt, it is “a valuable monument to the rich variety of hellenistic Jewish piety” (836). Of course, another large value of TJob is how it reflects cultural standards and societal expectations, and how it uses other biblical literature. Today I will primarily focus on an example of how TJob presents Satan, disguised as a bread seller, using biblical traditions and cultural traditions of mourning.

Reflections of Cultural Expectations in the Testament of Job

TJob reflects cultural expectation quite clearly, along with making implicit references to the Hebrew Bible. Take, for example, chapter 23. In chapter 23, Sitis, Job’s wife, sells her hair to Satan in order to buy bread for herself and her husband. Beyond the fact that Sitis is deceived, for she only receives three loaves of bread in exchange for her hair and the ability “to live for three more days” (23.7bβ), the text further mentions her shame. When recounting her experience, Sitis says that “[Satan disguised as a bread seller] arose and cut [her] hair disgracefully in the market, while the crowd stood by and marveled” (24.10, brackets added for context and italics added for emphasis). The cost for bread is shame; yet, this doesn’t take into account the full context of TJob. In 4.4, God tells Job that Satan will rise up with wrath for battle against Job in response to Job’s destruction of an idolatrous shrine. Because the actions of Satan must be read in context of battle, the cutting of Sitis’ hair becomes an implicit reference to Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, part of the stipulations for those who take captive foreign woman in war and desire to marry them must “have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when capture” (Deuteronomy 21:12b-13a). This was considered a sign of mourning. Likewise, in the 1st centuries woman cutting off their hair in mourning is accounted for. [1] In the case of TJob, there is one major difference: Satan cuts the hair of Sitis in battle, not Sitis herself as mourning calls for. This sort of act not only explicitly shames Sitis but seemingly mocks the situation of Sitis.

I am reminded of Richard of York who, in Shakespeare’s  history plays and in a recent production I saw, is crowned with a rag soaked in the blood of his son Edmund. In essence, the Queen and Clifford command Richard of York to mourn; however, just like in TJob, it is not true mourning, but a bastardized symbol of “mourning” appropriated as a tactic and rhetoric for shaming.

Sitis’ account is intriguing because it presents a unique view of “mourning”. It demonstrates how good practices like mourning are utilized by opposition, or the Other, as tools for shaming. This appropriation of mourning for darker purposes, if you will, is not restricted solely to TJob. In fact, it is an approach to battle used through time and space, whether in biblical literature or Shakespeare.

 

[1] In his analysis on the discourse of First Corinthians, Ralph Bruce Terry writes the following: “It is also worthy of note that Greek women seem to have cut off their hair in times of mourning. Plutarch, in the context of discussing mourning at funerals, says, “So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow . . .” (Moralia, The Roman Questions 14). This would be similar to the Jewish custom of shaving the head as a symbol of grief or mourning (cf. Deut. 21:12-13; Is. 7:20; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Mic. 1:16; and Josephus Antiquities iv.8.23 [§257]).” Available online: http://web.ovu.edu/terry/dissertation/2_4-aspects.htm.

 

Bibliography:

R. P. Spittler.”Testament of Job”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Ralph Bruce Terry. “An Analysis of Certain Features of Discourse in the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians”. Available online: http://web.ovu.edu/terry/dissertation/index.htm

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