Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Ever Happened to Job’s Wife?

You know the story, a man named Job suffered traumatic losses where fortune, family and health were wiped out almost simultaneously as a result of some divine event—but I’m not about to discuss as who is responsible for the "what's" that happened and the “why’s” behind the morality of this story.

Job virtually was left alone save for four friends who initially consoled with him and later struggled with the moral issues that I do not intend to deal with as earlier mentioned. Instead, I want to raise the question of Job’s wife. In the midst of the calamity, loss and death, she somehow survives and stays around to annoy her husband.

“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’” (Job 2:9-10a).

The only profile we have of her is Job’s reference to speaking as a “foolish” woman. His wife, at that point, was the antithesis of the “wise” woman of Proverbs 31:10-31. Scholarship likes to point out that both Job and Proverbs were written during the times of the Patriarchs (Abraham, et.al.) and indicates that during that time women held a position in society that gave them voice in society unlike the post-exilic world where they were reduced to virtual slaves.

The wise woman of Proverbs 31 was the wife of a man who held honor in the community (sat at the city gates) but instead of simply being mere a shadow to her husband, she is able to independently trade and stand on her own with a reputation to match. Given that Job himself must have been quite wealthy, his wife could have shared the social status of the wise woman of Proverbs 31 and must have had her own resources to tide her over when Job’s fortunes collapsed.

However, instead of supporting her husband in his downfall, she proceeds to judge him and emasculates him in his weakness. Her judgement reflects the prevailing logic of the religious that if one is suffering therefore must have done something wrong and is being punished by God thus her "get it over with" statement ("curse God and die"). It is not likely that they recited the modern formula of “for better or worse” but in essence that is inherent in any expression of marriage. And while ancient heavily hierarchical societies (whether patriarchal or matriarchal) forces to “weaker” partner to share in the in both the better and the worse (especially the worse), Job’s unnamed wife has the freedom to choose as given the egalitarianism in that part of the Jewish history.

So not only does Job’s wife have economic leverage, she also possesses an intrinsic autonomy. She was not one of Pharoah’s concubines forced to share the tomb with her master. She has the freedom and will to select her lot in life and her current experience with Job was perhaps not the life she has planned or expected. Whatever marital idealism that existed as expressed in whatever form of marital vows they had proclaimed to each other on their wedding day—"for better or worse" has gone out the window.

Perhaps she was already living out a life of her own even before those calamities overtook her husband. Consider that she was not with her family when those events took place, otherwise she could have been a victim as well.

This is the only time Job’s wife appears in the story, she is never mentioned again. The story ends with Job’s fortune and family being restored—he would have another set of children which would assume a wife (or at least a mother). Are we dealing with the same woman reconciled to her husband to live happily ever after? What is the likelihood that she would have abandoned Job along the way and in the process of restoration, Job takes on another wife (perhaps a concubine)? Scholars like to date the Book of Job as a contemporary of Proverbs early in the history of Israel, maybe even during the time of Abraham. Given the dynamics and culture of marriage of that time, simultaneous multiple marriages and concubinage (e.g., Sarah and Hagar) were relatively accepted or tolerated thus expanding the possible variables of possibilities in Job’s later restored life.

So then the question of what happened to Job's wife.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting question; as so often, without any definitive answer in the text. even in scripture, we're not always given what we want, only what we need :)

    I am also interested in the notion of 'restoration' of Job's fortune as so often put forward - yes, he was blessed with more children, etc. But as any of us with children (and I'm sure those without too) know, new children, while a blessing in their own right, can never replace the loss of those dear to us. So is Job's life ever truly restored? Rebuilt, perhaps, but not truly restored.

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