A Question about Job's Name

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Job, Men in the Bible, Old Testament


Could you please clarify this subject (Job) in a footnote from a Bible; 
“Hebrew ‘iyyób , traditionally related to ‘óyéb , ‘enemy’ [perhaps with passive meaning, ‘object of ill-will, persecuted’], but more probably the same name as Akkadian Ay-yabum , ‘where is [my] father?’). Is this a reference to his father or to his Heavenly Father (LORD)?


To be fair, most Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias that discuss the etiology of Job’s name include some sort of disclaimer. Truth be told, no one is really sure of the meaning or origin of Job’s name. It might not even be a Hebrew name. However, that doesn’t prevent scholars from giving an opinion or a potential history for the name.

Likewise, the English form of Job’s name is pretty inaccurate. It is based on a Latin or Greek rendering of the Hebrew word, ‘iyyobh. In German it would be Hiob, which might be somewhat nearer to the Hebrew, but it is still an imprecise rendering. Most scholars agree that the root of the word is ‘yb. This does seem to have the sense of “enmity” or “hostility.” The word for “enemy” is the simple active participle of ‘oyebh. In general, a name oftentimes refers to a profession or a particular characteristic activity. In this case, that could refer to someone who is a thief or a powerful man. So perhaps its meaning is something like a powerful or persistent foe.

If one agrees that this might apply in this case, then, perhaps the meaning refers to God who is an adversary, the cause of all Job’s suffering. So it would be a reflection of how Job was thinking about God. Other scholars, however, take the opposite approach. They argue for a passive meaning. In that sense, then, the name reflects Job’s condition. He is the object of God’s persecution. He is destined to suffer. Considering the format of the prologue, where God wagers with Satan about Job’s health and response, this is an easier interpretation to accept. Likewise, throughout the story, Job is the object of his friends' scorn and criticism.

For that reason, many scholars choose to accept the passive reading, but in truth, that reading is derived more from context than from any actual evidence.

There is also an Arabic form of the name related to the root ‘wb. That word generally means, “return or repent.” It would, therefore, have the meaning of one who is penitent.

For a long time, some scholars simply thought the name was made up by the author. It simply became the designated name for anyone who was suffering righteously.

However, even though the name doesn’t exist in Hebrew annals, scholars have found forms of the name in sources outside the Bible. It was a Semitic name. The Egyptian Execration Texts (19th century BCE) mention a Palestinian chieftain whose name is Ay(y)abum. Longer forms of the name have been found for Egyptian slaves. Documents from Alalakh (Akkadian) (18th century BCE) and Mari (Sumerian) (16th century BCE) include the name Ayyabum. The Armana Letters (Akkadian) (14th century BCE) refer to a Prince Ayyab. Ugaritic documents (13th century BCE) include Ayab in a personnel list.1

Given these various forms, scholars think that the name originally meant, “Where is my father?” They do not think this refers to a human father, but to a divine entity or deity. And it probably was a cry for help or to not be forgotten. Once vowels were added to the Hebrew consonants, such a meaning was no longer an option for the Hebrew word.

Perhaps the etiology of “Job” will never be known for certain, yet he will always be the protagonist of a story that has captivated, inspired, and provoked scholars and readers for eons.

1 Clines, David J.A. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing. 1969. Vol. 17, Job 1-20. pp. 10-11.

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