Job’s Reply to Bildad & Sumerian Scribal Education

ThinkingI think Job would do better without Eliphaz and Bildad, they talk like prosecutors and your average court appointed attorney.

1. The Samarra bowl
The Samarra bowl (ca. 4000 BC) at on exhibit at the Pergamonmuseum, Berlin.
The bowl was excavated as Samarra by Ernst Herzfeld in the 1911-1914 campaign, and described in a 1930 publication. The design consists of a rim, a circle of eight fish, and four fish swimming towards the center being caught by four birds.

As is typical of cultures from this region, the use of a base six numerical system can be seen in the lines surrounding the bowl, so that there are a total of 120 lines, or four quarters with 30 lines each.

At the center is a swastika symbol. The bowl was broken, part of the rim is missing, and one crack ran right across the central symbol, so that the swastika symbol should be considered a reconstruction.

“Then Job answered and said,

I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?

If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.

He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9:1-4).

Even though Job is now somewhat believing that he sinned, he does not believe that he is a sinner, and he wishes to have his day in court so that he can prove he’s innocent of the kind of sin that deserves the suffering he endures.

In his despair he voices awful complaints against God (vs 16-20, 2-24, 29-35; 10:1-7, 13-17).  Yet he doesn’t abandon God, nor does he curse Him  (10:2, 8-12), as Satan said he would.  Chapter 42 implies that Job persevered, but chapters 9-10 show that he did so with impatience (4:2; 6:11; 21:4).

 “Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger.

Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.

Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.

Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.

Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.

Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number” (Job 9:5-10).

Job’s hymn may be beautiful about God’s greatness, but he isn’t blessed by it because he doesn’t see that God’s power is controlled by His goodness and justice, rather than just His mighty power.

“Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.

Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?

2. Stele of the Vultures
The Stele of the Vultures is a monument from the Early Dynastic III period (2600–2350 BC) in Mesopotamia celebrating a victory of the city-state of Lagash over its neighbor Umma.
It shows various battle and religious scenes and is named after the vultures that can be seen in one of these scenes. The stele was originally carved out of a single slab of limestone, but only seven fragments are known today.

The fragments were found at Tello (ancient Girsu) in southern Iraq in the late 19th century and are now on display in the Louvre. Discovery

The stele is not complete; only seven fragments are known today. The first three fragments were found during excavations in the early 1880s by the French archaeologist Ernest de Sarzec at the archaeological site of Tello, ancient Girsu, in what is today southern Iraq.

Another three fragments came to light during the excavations of 1888–1889. A seventh fragment, which was later determined to be part of the Stele of the Vultures and thought to have come from Tello, was acquired on the antiquities market by the British Museum in 1898.

While two initial requests to hand this fragment over to the Louvre were denied by the British Museum, it was eventually given to them in 1932 so that it could be incorporated in the reconstructed stele together with the other fragments.

If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him.

How much less shall I answer him, and choose out my words to reason with him?

Whom, though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.

If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice” (Job 9:11-16).

Job argues that  God has an unchallengeable, sovereign freedom that works to accomplish everything He please [and He certainly does}.

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is 55:11).

“For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause” (Job 9:17).

Job believes that God’s fairness and justice is impeachable, but isn’t hopeful of having the chance to present his case to God.  Job still doesn’t know that God had allowed Satan to crush him for a higher power.

“He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.

If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong: and if of judgment, who shall set me a time to plead?

3. Beer
Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer, 3100-3000 B.C.
This clay tablet was discovered in in the rich Mesopotamian city of Uruk (modern day southern Iraq) and was created around 5,000 years a go (3100 – 3000 BC). It displays some of the earliest writing discovered in the world.

The form of writing displayed is cuneiform, which means wedge shaped. Cuneiform will be used throughout Mesopotamian history for record keeping. This specific tablet is describing the allocation of beer rations for workers.

Beer was one the most popular drinks in Mesopotamia and was also used as pay for the workers. This clay tablet is currently being kept in the collection at the British Museum in London.

If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.

Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.

This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.

If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent” (Job 9:18-23).

God has become Job’s great enigma.  He describes a phantom God, one who doesn’t exist except within his own mind. 

“The earth is given into the hand of the wicked: he covereth the faces of the judges thereof; if not, where, and who is he?

Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good.

They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.

If I say, I will forget my complaint, I will leave off my heaviness, and comfort myself:

I am afraid of all my sorrows, I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent” (Job 9:24-28).

Job knows that the world is evil and he knows that God is the supreme ruler of all things, so he assumes decides that God is ultimately responsible for the injustices in the world.

“If I be wicked, why then labour I in vain?

If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean;

4. An account of barley rations
An account of barley rations issued monthly to adults and children written in cuneiform on clay tablet, written in year 4 of King Urukagina, circa 2350 B.C.

Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.

For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.

Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:29-35).

Job still wants to stand before God and please his innocence.  Not that he believes he is without sin, but to prove that his punishment does not fit the assumed sin he had committed.

“My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.

I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me.

Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?” (Job 10:1-3). 

Again, Job imagines that God is angry with him, an innocent man, and that He takes delights in the wicked.  And of course, this is incorrect.  God wants everyone to be righteous and He has been waiting for a long time because He doesn’t enjoy evilness or the death that even deserve to die.

“Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11).

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

“Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest thou as man seeth?

Are thy days as the days of man? are thy years as man’s days,

5. Slave
Bill of sale of a male slave and a building in Shuruppak, Sumerian tablet, circa 2600 B.C.

That thou enquirest after mine iniquity, and searchest after my sin?

Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.

Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me.

Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?

Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?

Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews.

Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.

And these things hast thou hid in thine heart: I know that this is with thee.

If I sin, then thou markest me, and thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity.

If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction;

6. Tablet of the Urra hubullu
The Urra=hubullu is a major Babylonian glossary or “encyclopedia”. It consists of Sumerian and Akkadian lexical lists ordered by topic.
The canonical version extends to 24 tablets. The conventional title is the first gloss, ur5-ra and ḫubullu meaning “interest-bearing debt” in Sumerian and Akkadian, respectively. One bilingual version from Ugarit is Sumerian/Hurrian rather than Sumerian/Akkadian.

A partial table of contents:
• Tablet 4: naval vehicles
• Tablet 5: terrestrial vehicles
• Tablets 13 to 15: systematic enumeration of the names of domestic animals, terrestrial animals, and birds (including bats)
• Tablet 16: stones
• Tablet 17: plants.
• Tablet 22: star names

The bulk of the collection was compiled in the Old Babylonian period (early 2nd millennium BC), with pre-canonical forerunner documents extending into the later 3rd millennium.

Like other canonical glossaries, the Urra=hubullu was often used for scribal practice.

For it increaseth. Thou huntest me as a fierce lion: and again thou shewest thyself marvellous upon me.

Thou renewest thy witnesses against me, and increasest thine indignation upon me; changes and war are against me” (Job 10:4-17).

Job continues to question God as if He were his adversary in court.  He wants to know how God, who so wonderfully formed him in the womb, could all the while have planned to punish him – even though he may be innocent.

“Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!

I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.

Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little,

Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;

A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness” (Job 10:18-22).

Sumerian Scribal Education

In the ancient world scribes held a position of high prestige, and select young men attended scribal schools to learn the trade.Several pieces Babylonian literature tells us about Mesopotamian scribal schools. From at least two sources we learn that older, more advanced students called “big brothers,” supervised younger pupils and assisted them with their lessons.

Students were taught not only how to read and write cuneiform signs but also to speak Sumerian, the scholarly language of the day (the people’s first language was Akkadian).

Students repeatedly copied works of literature and “lexical lists” (bilingual dictionaries covering both Akkadian and Sumerian words, similar to today’s English-Spanish dictionaries) until they had mastered signs and their meanings.

Mathematics, weights and measures, budgeting and business management were all included in the curriculum. Such an education taught the aspiring scribe how to prepare contracts (for adoptions, sales, marriages, wage agreements, etc.).

No parallel literature outlining Is­rael’s educational system is known. We are aware that specific clans of Kenites were closely associated with the Israelites and trained in scribal art (1 Chr 2:55).

The Levites, as keepers of the Biblical texts, appear to have served a scribal function as well. Regardless of the lack of texts related specifically to scribal training, we know from Biblical references to scribes, as well as from abundant evidence of their work, that the scribes of ancient Israel were highly trained and took pride in their work, as was the tradition throughout the ancient Near East.


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