She utters only one line in the entire book.
She remains unnamed and is simply referred to as “his wife”.[i]
Yet, despite the fact Job’s wife is marginalized in the Book of Job there have been extremely diverse interpretations of her character and of her single statement, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”[ii]
Traditional interpretations of Job’s wife have largely been unfavourable. Overall, scholarship has minimized, criticized, and dismissed her. There is a sense that she is perceived as being “rather irrelevant to the book as a whole.”[iii]
She has been called a harpy, a shrew, a nag, and a handmaid or messenger of satan.[iv]
Traditionally her one statement has been negatively interpreted, where scholars have suggested that she shows no empathy to Job’s plight, but rather is encouraging him to curse God and ultimately invite his own death.[v]
But when we take a closer look Job’s wife and carefully examine what Scripture does reveal about her, there is the potential to derive a different interpretation of her, her story, her contributions to her Job’s theological transformation, and to the narrative as a whole.
For although her presence is only inferred in the prologue we can safely assume she suffered every loss that Job had suffered – the sudden loss of their 10 children, their estate, livelihood, and reputation in the community.[vi]
And in addition, she had to watch her husband suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually. She witnessed his sudden, dramatic fall from being an esteemed elder sitting at the gates to the city, ruling and ensuring justice, to where he was broken on the dung heap, now rejected, minimized and isolated by their community.
Yet, her narrative remains untold in the Book of Job.
But many scholars have begun to challenge this traditional marginalization of Job’s wife suggesting that it incorrectly stemmed from a perception that because she was minimally referenced in the book it equates to the level of her contribution to the story.[vii]
Others have suggested that because males historically had a greater public influence, were the early translators, and generally perceived females as being inferior, the result was an interpretation that stemmed from a male orientated culture. A culture which tended to believe, “that weighty matters of intellect and theological inquire [were] the preserves of males, and that women [had] no place in that discussion.”[viii]
Yet, a contemporary, feminist reading revisits and re-visions Job’s wife. Considering her story through a feminist lens has resulted in an interpretation where she is perceived as being a powerful catalyst who inspired Job’s moral development and theological transformation.[ix]
“She had immediately, or (shall we say?) instinctively, seen what Job will take some time to realize, that he cannot both hold fast his integrity and bless God; either Job or God must be guilty. Though Job never does ‘curse’ God, strictly speaking, his railing, ranting, protesting, and summoning of his divine assailant is nothing like ‘blessing’ God either. Though he does not follow his wife’s advice to the letter, he is from this point onward infused by its spirit.”[x]
Other scholars note that Job utters one quick rebuttal after her comment and then falls silent for seven days. They suggest that as he sat quietly for those seven days, he reflected not only on his grief, theology of suffering, but also on his wife’s comment, so “when he finally speaks in Chapter 3, his words sound distinctly like those of his wife.”[xi]
This interpretation suggests that it is through Job’s reflection of her comment, that his “wife’s troubling question becomes his own.”[xii]
Therefore, her single statement became a catalyst. A catalyst that stirred Job to think by, “awakening doubt in him. Job is no longer sure of anything and begins to ask himself questions.”[xiii] As he struggles to understand why a good God has allowed him to suffer, her comment stirs him to question his theology.
So regardless of which interpretation of Job’s wife you prefer or ascribe to – the key should be at least giving her a voice and carefully considering her narrative.
We must never be too quick to dismiss someone simply because they have been awarded a reduced role and a minimal voice in the larger narrative.
“Isaac Stern, the famous violinist, once said that there is no casual note within a song. In other words, every note is important within a song. Likewise, every character is important within a story.”[xiv]
It is our responsibility to listen carefully for, and to each note.
Allowing the necessary space and opportunity for each note to play out, so it can be fully appreciated.
And though someone’s story at first glance may appear to be just an insignificant or contrary single note – as has happened with Job’s wife – each and every note and narrative has inherent value.
With the power to individually and collectively contribute to God’s grand narrative and beautiful aria.
[i] Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005, Job 2:9, 522. All further Scripture references are from the NIV translation.
[ii] Job 2:9
[iii] Roger Scholtz. “‘I Had Heard of You . . . but Now My Eye Sees You’: Re-Visioning Job’s Wife.” Old Testament Essays, Authors of the Articles, 2013, www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1010-99192013000300016. Accessed 13 June 2018, 1.
[iv] F. Rachel Magdalene. “Jobs Wife as Hero: A Feminist-Forensic Reading of the Book of Job.” Biblical Interpretation, vol. 14, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 209–258. The ATLA Serials (ATLAS®), ezproxy.student.twu.ca:2152/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=3be52df5-4ed0-4d4c-880f-3e6d0ebf4f6c@sessionmgr4009. Accessed 7 June 2018, 214-215. And Daniel Darling. “The Most Misunderstood Woman in the Bible | Kyria.” Today’s Christian Woman, 18 May 2011, www.todayschristianwoman.com/site/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=92438. Accessed 15 June 2018.
[v] Tremper Longman III. Job. Baker Book House, 2012, 90.
[vi] Karl G. Wilcox. “Job, His Daughters and His Wife.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, June 2018, www.bing.com/cr?IG=8D8A43A79C9544F495767F1B9E9CA06F&CID=01214B554BB06AF23EF447524A4D6BCD&rd=1&h=y3rrSgipIVocVcDrZRHay3RA4zeDoOoTmp_tZLU-8-A&v=1&r=https://www.researchgate.net/journal/0309-0892_Journal_for_the_Study_of_the_Old_Testament&p=DevEx.LB.1,5069.1. Accessed 6 June 2018, 313.
[vii] Roger Scholtz,. “‘I Had Heard of You . . . but Now My Eye Sees You’: Re-Visioning Job’s Wife.” Old Testament Essays, Authors of the Articles, 2013, www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1010-99192013000300016. Accessed 13 June 2018, 1.
[viii] David J. A. Clines. Job 1-20. Zondervan, 1989, xlvii.
[ix] Ellen van Wolde,. The Development of Job: Mrs Job as Catalyst in Feminist Companion to the Bible: 2nd Series 9. Edited by Athalya Brenner, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000, 201.
[x] Cline, 52.
[xi] Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. The Womens Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition with Apocrypha. Westminster John Knox, 1998, 140.
[xii] Van Wolde, 140.
[xiii] Ibid, 2015.
[xiv] Yiu Sang Lau. “Job’s Wife: Listen to Her through the LXX with Feminist Lens.” Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2012, pp. 1–75, p. 59.