The Patriarch Job lived in the Land of Uz (Job 1:1), which is synonymous with the territory of Edom (Lam. 4:21). The Land of Edom was situated on both sides of the Aravah, the strip of land between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba / Eilat (Crew 2002: 2-10).
Job and his three friends; Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, were completely unaware of the ultimate cause of Job’s afflictions. As they dialogued back and forth trying to discern why Job was suffering (Job 3-31), Job expressed his faith in God as his Redeemer and his confidence in the ultimate resurrection of the body. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my flesh is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Now my heart yearns within me!” (19:25-27).
In this essay, I would like to explore the possibility that there might be some overlooked archaeological evidence for the concept of the resurrection of the body during the period of the Patriarch Job.
Chalcolithic Ossuary Jars
In the standard archaeological chronology, the Chalcolithic period is dated from 6,400 to 3,600 BC (Stern 2008:5:2126). I believe that these chronological dates need to be revised downward in order to conform to the Biblical Chronology. Since there was a catastrophic, worldwide Flood in Noah’s Day, all the archaeological strata would be Post-Flood. The Patriarchs, including Job, should be set archaeologically in the Chalcolithic period and Early Bronze age.
In an intriguing study of Chalcolithic ossuary jars by Assaf Nativ of Tel Aviv University, he suggested the possibility that some of the ossuary jars function as models of cocoons and are symbols of metamorphosis (2008:209-214). He observed that ossuary jars are oval in shape with an aperture [opening] down the shoulder of the vessel. The top is domed and has a knob on top. He concluded that the “general form … of the ossuary jar bear some close similarities to a range of cocoons, particularly those of butterflies. The vessel itself resembles the encapsulating shell and the knob the cremaster – the part holding the body of the cocoon to the twig or branch from which it hangs. Further allusions to cocoons may be found in the patterns of decoration found on some of the ossuary jars. These may represent the ‘ribs’ discernable upon some cocoons surfaces, vegetal motifs alluding to the milieu in which they dwell, and possibly even patterns of butterfly wings” (2008:210).
The Metamorphosis of the Butterfly and Ossuary Jars
The butterfly is an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis. The larva (caterpillar) turns into a pupa (cocoon) and during this stage; the larva is liquefied and then rebuilt into a beautiful butterfly when it emerges from the cocoon.
The Hebrew word ‘ash is translated butterfly or moth. Job knew these insects (Job 4:19; 13:28; 27:18), as did the psalmist (Psalm 39:11), and the prophets (Isa. 50:9; 51:8; Hos. 5:12).
Nativ has observed that the “place of the cocoon within the life cycle of the butterflies affords a powerful metaphor for utter metamorphosis, whereby the tissues of one form are liquefied and rearranged to bring about an entirely new being.” He goes on to suggest that the “deposition of human skeletal remains in a model of a cocoon alludes to the physical transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly.” His suggested conclusion is that the “use made of ossuary jars in mortuary contexts during the Chalcolithic period symbolizes the cocoon and alluded to the physical and qualitative metamorphosis characteristic of the butterfly’s life-cycle. It is interesting to note in this regards that the reference to the cocoon, the inert and ‘lifeless’ phase, rather than the emerging butterfly, seems to emphasize the transformation proper rather than the actual emergence. Perhaps only the potential is certain, while the completion of the transformation and re-emergence are not guaranteed” (2008:212).
Of his analysis, Nativ states: “whether ossuary jars function as model cocoons and symbols of metamorphosis cannot be proven, nor can it be easily dismissed” (2008:213).
The Patriarch Job and the Resurrection
In the ancient world, death was not the cessation of life, but rather, a transfer from one state to another. The Patriarch Job, most likely set in the Chalcolithic period, expresses his confidence in the resurrection of the body: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my flesh is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Now my heart yearns within me!” (19:25-27).
In this passage he expresses his confidence that his Redeemer God is alive and well and shall one day in the future stand on the earth. Job also recognizes that his own body will die and there will be a time period before his eyes, in a new body, shall behold his God.
The Chalcolithic people expressed this concept of death and their hope in the resurrection by their act of secondary burial. The body died, the flesh decayed, the bones were gathered and placed in cocoon-like ossuaries awaiting the great transformation (metamorphosis) of the body at the resurrection.
The Conclusion of the Matter
The Apostle Paul describes what happens to the physical body after death in 1 Corinthians 15. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:42-57).
After Job died, his children gathered his bones and placed them in an ossuary, possibly an ossuary jar that looked like a cocoon, waiting the day when he, in his glorified body, shall see his Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face. Job, in his life, exemplified the admonition that the Apostle Paul gave to the Corinthian believers in light of the resurrection of the body from the dead: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58).
Crew, Bruce 2002 Did Edom’s Original Territories Extend West of ‘Wadi Arabah? Bible and Spade 15/1: 2-10.
Nativ, Assaf 2008 A Note on Chalcolithic Ossuary Jars: A Metaphor for Metamorphosis. Tel Aviv 35/2: 209-214.