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image of Vetus Testamentum

Commentators have concluded that Job xxxi 13-15 represents an ethical high point in the Old Testament and have praised Job for it. Typically Job is seen as recognising the rights of his slaves on the basis that they are his equals as human beings. Given this understanding of Job's words, the high praise seems justified. However, there are reasons to doubt that this is what Job is saying. In the context of his protestation of innocence (Job xxxi) it is doubtful he would defend himself against an accusation so radical that no one would have thought to accuse him of the offence. It would also be out of character for the sages to advocate a revolutionary ethic. Furthermore, it is troubling that there is no consensus on how to derive the proposed meaning from the text, and when the various strategies are investigated they are unconvincing. An alternative interpretation is offered which looks to the language and ideology of personal religion in order to understand the significance of Job's reference to the fact that he and his servants were made in the womb by the same God.


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