Ethos, Logos, and Pathos in the Story of Job

It is the same old story which has been rehearsed time and again in various times and various places−bad things happen to good people. This seems to be the way the universe works, because there is an abundance of terrible things, terrible people, and unfortunate events which befall really good people. One of the most famous accounts of one man’s misery is the story of Job, a wholesome and straight-arrow fellow who lived in the land of Uz (The New Scofield Study Bible Job 1:1). Job was the butt end of a wager between YHWH and his henchman−Satan. Job’s suffering is full of misery and pathos and the narrative provides a great example of Aristotle’s rhetoricis triangulum: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos.

The story begins with the ethos−customary habit−of Job. He was a wholesome and straight-arrow man who went out of his way to avoid evil; he paid his dues, not only for himself, but also for his children, to the local deity: YHWH. The narrative indicates that Job also paid a little extra votive offerings for his children too−though they may have committed a crime, Job considered to himself, they may have blessed YHWH in their hearts−just for good measure (Job 1:5). It seems that this paid off, Job was one of the wealthiest persons in his neighborhood; he had seven sons, three daughters, thousands of sheep and oxen, a great household: He was the greatest of all men in the East (Job 1:3). Job had everything a man could want; he had foreign camels, the fastest horses, the hottest wife, children who lived off the fruit of his labor: not to mention the sycophantic kiss-asses who frequented his entourage. The author used Job’s credentials, his ethos, to set the scene for the coming logical discourse between YHWH and Satan, as well as the pathetic suffering which Job endured later in the narrative.

The stage was set and any reader would naturally like Job; after all, he was a great man who spread the love around with everyone he met−what’s not to like? The narrative now takes a diabolical turn; for some unexplained reason, YHWH prompted a dialogue with Satan, the ever vigilant and skillful logistes. “Have you considered my servant Job,” YHWH asked Satan; he’s a great guy, a do-gooder, avoids trouble at all costs, and very generous with his wealth (Job 1:8). Satan, the great logistes, reasoned with YHWH: Of course he’s a great guy and does all those great things; he doesn’t do this for nothing, no, no- he does this because you are protecting him from anything bad happening to him (Job 1:9-10). Logically, there had to be a test, a wager; Satan tasked YHWH to remove his hand from Job and see if he would continue to bless him to his face (Job 1:11). The author leads the reader to the reasoning behind the calamities that befall even the most righteous of men; for an Israelite, the fact that any calamity would befall the righteous violates the spirit of Israelite religion−blessing and reward are the result of being good and righteous, while the opposite is true for the wicked: The wicked receive curse and calamity. The logic of this discourse, this wager between good and evil is the subject of the dialogue between Job and his three friends who came to comfort him−all-the-while they coaxed Job to admit he had committed some crime to deserve the treatment from such a just deity as YHWH.

The passion of Job is offensive to the reader as a result of the ethos which opened the narrative. Job was a good man and did not deserve to be treated in such a cruel manner: especially for the amusement of a divine wager. Job’s children were killed, his livelihood destroyed, and his possessions looted all in the same day or perhaps the same hour. His suffering was so great that his loving and supportive wife pleaded with Job to “curse [bless] God and die” (Job 2:9). It is not enough that Job had lost so much, he also suffered physical affliction because he continued to bless YHWH−the source of the calamity. The pathos, the passion, or suffering of Job slaps the reader in the face and brings a sense of loathing to the forethought that a just and righteous deity could stoop so low as to torment this good and godly man. Yet this is exactly the reasoning, the logos, behind the structure of the narrative. Without first establishing the ethos of this good man and presenting the reader with such a cold and off-handed conversation in which Job became the butt of some cosmic joke, the passions of the reader would not have been easily stirred to sympathize with Job. “In all this, did not Job sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).

Logos is again interjected into the narrative with the arrival of Job’s dear friends who came to mourn with him and to comfort him in his misery. When they saw Job and the suffering with which he was afflicted, they quickly reasoned that Job was at fault, that YHWH was just and would not have afflicted a righteous man in such a manner as this. The narrative continues in this discourse without any sense of time; the dialogue could have been only a few hours long, or it could have progressed over days, weeks, or months. What is made evident throughout this discourse is the juxtaposition of logos contra pathos. Job continued to cling to his innocence−at frequent intervals Job accused YHWH of being cruel and evil in the torture Job received. Job never cursed YHWH, rather he cursed his own mortality and the day of his birth: Job longed for death.

Logos, pathos, and ethos are intertwined throughout the narrative of Job; the three amigos reasoned that a just deity would not afflict the righteous, Job continued as was his wont and clung to his innocence and pointed the finger at YHWH, and the reader is moved by sympathy at Job’s plight and the insensitivity of his friends−who are not able to see the big picture from the bird’s eye view of the readers who know Job is innocent and that YHWH tormented Job for no reason (2:3). The narrative builds upon this theme until the reader would nearly retire in disgust and then the climactic ending unfurls. YHWH finally interjected himself into the dialogue between Job and his three cohorts. At long last, YHWH interrupts Elihu, seemingly in mid speech, and granted an answer to the debate. Job indeed was tormented without any cause and he retained his integrity and spoke correctly concerning YHWH’s role in the calamities Job received. In the conclusion of the narrative logos, pathos and ethos are readily seen. The logical discourse YHWH held with Job as to why he suffered, and the ethos YHWH related to Job−YHWH was god great, mighty, and marvelous and he could damned-well do as he pleased with his creation. All this complimented the sympathy the reader held toward Job and also reassured the reader that although bad things may happen to good people, these people are innocent and will receive just compensation for their suffering.

The narrative of Job is famous and well read the world over and has been translated to nearly every spoken language in the world. The story, though thousands of years old, never gets dull in the reading and captivates the imagination of the reader. The author expertly wielded the tools of rhetoric and loquaciously enamors the audience to Job, while building contempt for Job’s comforters and support group. In the expert usage of rhetoric, the author succeeded in making the story of Job the pinnacle of righteous suffering to which everyone who is unjustly persecuted can relate. “The patience of Job” is all anyone need say to invoke the memory of the plight of Job. Logos, pathos, and ethos can be found in every page of the narrative which makes the story of Job an excellent tool and model for successful storytelling.



Work Cited

The New Scofield Study Bible: New International Version. Ed. C.I. Scofield. New York: The Zondervan Corporation, 1984. 506-539. Print.



Most English translations render the verse “Curse God and die!” The actual Hebrew has “Bless God and die!” This conforms to the ethos, or custom, of Job who always blessed God. This was the subject of the test Satan presented to God: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Satan suggested that YHWH remove his protective hand from Job and see “if he will bless you to your face” (Job 1:11). In both cases, the verb is “bless” and not “curse”.