The role of Elihu (1)

My apologies for the long pause since my last post. I was distracted (best excuse I could come up with). However, I took the opportunity to do some rethinking about Job, particularly Elihu’s role, so I now have even more questions about the book than I did before. I really want to get on and explore some other subjects on this blog, but I somehow feel like I need to resolve some things about Job before I do and not leave too many threads hanging loose. The ‘loose threads’ actually tie in with other subjects I’ve been thinking about, so I will attempt to connect them in  coming posts.

Elihu’s role in the Book of Job has been debated over the centuries and opinions vary widely. Some scholars see Elihu’s role as an advocate for the position taken by The Adversary in the prologue, while others see him as a spokesman for the LORD, and his speech as a kind of prelude to the LORD’s own speech.

There are several interesting things about him.

  1. Of all the characters in the book it seems that he is the only one with a Hebrew name.
  2. He doesn’t get a mention in the prologue and then appears suddenly. Once he has finished speaking he disappears without any further mention of him.
  3. Job’s three friends are condemned by the LORD, but Elihu is neither condemned nor commended.
  4. Job intercedes for his three friends so that they obtain forgiveness, but not for Elihu. Did he not need it, or did he miss out on it because he disappeared? Or was Elihu added to the book by a hand later than that of the prologue and epilogue?
  5. Elihu’s speech takes a prominent position in the book, between Job’s ‘oath of innocence’ and the appearance of the LORD. Why was it given such prominence?

Moses ben-Maimon (aka Maimonides 1135-1204), in The Guide for the Perplexed, understood the speeches of Job’s three friends to represent the major philosophical views of the time while Elihu presented a new paradigm. Elihu represents an ‘Israelite’ perspective, against the traditional wisdom of the ancient Near East of which the three friends are archetypes. The fact that many of Elihu’s arguments, and actual words, mirror those of the three friends is probably suggesting that while Elihu’s ‘new paradigm’ is more recent, contemporary, and therefore ‘younger’, from the writer’s perspective it was still influenced by, and therefore a reflection of, the traditional thinking. Elihu’s arrogance was in arguing that he was presenting something new while he was actually mirroring old thinking.

What I find really remarkable is that scholars and commentators often see Elihu as a spokesman for either the Adversary, or the LORD. Is it that hard to see the difference between the two? Perhaps it is.

5 comments on “The role of Elihu (1)

  1. Pierre says:

    Elihu is Satan in the Book of Job. Rambam got is all wrong.


  2. Regina says:

    Yes, the intimacy that exists between Job and his wife (including how much they share in terms of contentment, loss and grief) should be taken intoaccount. Her name is not given, which makes her identity very much tied up with Job’s identity/name or very being. It may be said that she utters what Job must be silent about, the feelings he wrestles with perhaps and what he considers foolish with reference to what he judges to be the righteous way to live and relate to God. Maybe the Hebrew word used by Job’s wife for bless/curse is meant to convey Job’s confusion and struggle (along with a hint of sarcasm or bitterness).

    The speeches delivered by Job’s friends might also be considered in terms of the dialectical treatment of Job’s situation – reflecting a conflicted state not inconsistent with human nature and Maimonides’ view of the speeches as diverse philosophical perspectives considered by Job. The idea of friendship suggests a degree of intimacy although Job’s “friends” have names to suggest a degree of objectivity also. But then is Elihu a friend? I note your five distinctions concerning Elihu and find this character’s concern to distinguish his perspective/himself from Job’s friends intriguing.

  3. Stephen Cook says:

    Regina, great comments, and tantalising. Job’s wife is indeed interesting. Job’s loss of possessions, children, etc, was also her loss but we hear nothing about how she reacted or dealt with it. And she is ignored in the epilogue as well. Then there is the question of what she meant by בָּרֵךְ barak: “curse” or “bless”?

    I am keen to hear more of your thoughts.

  4. Regina says:

    The ambiguity of Elihu’s speech (i.e. the question of having spoken justly or “well of God” and in relation to the Satan) is of great interest and provocative. It makes me think that another speech (also ambiguous but without enough attention perhaps) is to be found in the words of Job’s wife (2:9). It is largely ignored for being so brief compared to the speeches constituting the text and it may be argued that it isn’t a speech at all and not comparable to those made by his friends and Elihu (more like nagging or an angry outburst) but then she is the first to speak to Job about how he should react or deal with his situation, telling him: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die”. Job seems to reject her position when he responds with “You speak as any foolish woman would speak” (2:10).

    What sense can be/has been made of her speech? Do we simply assume that she speaks for the Satan; i.e. how the Satan wants Job to respond or to react so that he is proven justified in what he says about Job to God? This is the natural conclusion but there seems to be more to her “foolish” remark or putative taunt.

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