Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY

“I loathe my life,” says Job (10:1), who has lost his children and his wealth, and is afflicted with painful skin boils. The suffering Job is depicted in this detail from an oakwood sculpture (c. 1469–1474), at the Ulm Cathedral in Germany, by Joerg Syrlin the Elder.

The Book of Job has been regarded variously as a portrait of pious suffering, an allegory of reason and dogma, and a study of human perseverance in a violent, irrational universe. What has been forgotten, author David Clines suggests, is that the Book of Job, like any book, is above all something produced in a specific setting to serve certain purposes. We can infer, Clines argues, that Job was written by an affluent author for a highly literate, leisured audience: The discussions of evil and of innocent suffering mask real problems—such as class conflicts and male domination over women—leaving author and public with the false impression that wealth is justified by God as a reward for piety.