The books of the Bible were written over a period of thousands of years. The Old Testament was written hundreds, if not thousands, of years before Christ was ever born. The New Testament was completed roughly a century after Christ’s death. Between these dates, the dozens of books of the Bible were written, edited and compiled. The order in which those books were placed in the Bible, however, was not always based on their age. Older books are sandwiched between works that were written centuries later, and younger pieces may come before older books. Clearly, the Bible is not arranged in chronological order, but what would the Bible look like if it was? What would be at the end of the Good Book? In that chronological Bible, what would come first? What is the oldest book in the Bible?
What is the Oldest Book in the Bible?The oldest book in the Bible is, unsurprisingly, found in the Old Testament. Most Christians would likely predict that Genesis was the oldest book in the Bible given that it details the creation of the world. If that was not accurate, then they would probably suggest Exodus or maybe theorize that Psalms or Proverbs were the first to go from an oral tradition to a written one. All of these predictions, however, would be incorrect. The oldest book in the Bible is smack in the middle of the Old Testament. It is the Book of Job.
The Book of JobThe Book of Job is one of the lesser read books of the Bible, despite the fact that it is referenced repeatedly throughout Scripture. Unlike the rest of the Bible, Job is written not as prose or poetry but as a drama. In the book, an angel in God’s court, in some translations it is Satan, challenges God that Job is pious because he has a good, comfortable life. God declares that Job will not give up his faith and curse God despite terrible things befalling him. God accepts the bet, and Job suffers every manner of tragedy but still clings to his faith. God wins the wager, restores what Job lost and further blesses him.
When Was the Book of Job Written?The Book of Job is estimated to have been written in the time of the Patriarchs, between 1900 and 1700 B.C. The book deals with similar themes as the Babylonian work “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” and is sometimes considered to have been based on the Babylonian work, but similar themes are not enough to state that one work is a derivative of the other. People have been questioning why suffering occurs for almost as long as humanity has existed. As it is, Job and “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” have very different endings to the stories of their protagonists and are written in different styles. Job is a drama while “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” is a monologue. Truthfully, the theme found in the two works is common enough that “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” could be compared almost as closely to Ecclesiastes or Lamentations as Job.
While the themes found in Job are common across the ancient world, the language is not. Job is written in a form of Hebrew that is even older than the ancient Hebrew that makes up most of the Old Testament. In fact, the language used in Job is not even usually referred to as ancient Hebrew. Instead, it is called “Paleo-Hebrew.” The book also contains Syriac and Arabic expressions which point to a period of time between 1900 and 1700 B.C. when the Shemitic tribes had not yet separated into speaking separate Syriac, Hebrew and Arabic dialects. Instead, they still shared a common language.
The language in which Job was written is not the only clue to its age. In addition to using a language that differs from the Hebrew used in other Old Testament manuscripts, Job also mentions several creatures and conditions that are unknown today. The phrases may refer to animals that have gone extinct or, more likely, were called by a different name in later books of the Bible. It is these currently unidentifiable and untranslatable names that have led some translators of Job to translate the animals as more traditionally mythical creatures such as unicorns.
The age of the book of Job can also be found in what is noticeably missing from the book. There are no mentions of the covenant, the Law of Moses or the priesthood. There are not even any mentions of the Israelite people or the Promised Land. Instead, Job offers sacrifices himself for his sons without the use of a priesthood, temple or consecrated altar. His wealth is measured by the size of his herds and the amount of “qesiytah,” unique silver coins, he possesses. Both herds and silver were used as ancient systems of money between 1900 and 1700 B.C. The names of Job’s sons were also uncommon in later time periods but were common before and during the time of the patriarchs.
Exactly when the book of Job was written remains something of a mystery, but there is no doubt it is the oldest book in the Bible. While the early chapters of Genesis cover events that happened before Job, the actual written accounts of those events were not recorded until after the book of Job had already been composed. In fact, Job is over 400 years older than Genesis. This means Job is not only the sole drama in the Bible but also the oldest book by far and all the more fascinating for it.