Childlessness is considered a sign of divine judgment in the Bible (cf. Gen 20:18). Thus, it is unsurprising that Job’s friends would point this out in the second round of speeches and insinuate through metaphors that he has lost his children because of his wrongdoing. Job’s lack of offspring is hinted at by Eliphaz at the beginning of the second round of speeches through his imagery of bare branches lacking the ability to reproduce (15:32b-33). Eliphaz does not remain subtle for long as his next statement explicitly states that the godless and all in their company are doomed to infertility (v. 34a). Bildad also depicts the wicked as a desolate plant to suggest their complete eradication, and perhaps even the annihilation of their offspring (18:16). The wicked’s lack of children becomes increasingly evident as Bildad proceeds to assert that the memory of the wicked perishes, and that no offspring survive them (vv. 17, 19).
Two Ugaritic texts, The Epic of Kirta and the The Epic of Aqhat, provide examples that lacking progeny was a deep concern in the ancient Near Eastern thought world because it was perceived as a threat to perpetuating one’s name and memory—just as in the world of the Bible (Westermann 1980). The fact that Job and the Ugaritic epics share this motif regarding a lack of progeny may result from the continuity between Ugaritic and Hebrew literature. Though Ras Shamra has not yielded any Ugaritic wisdom literature per se, it is plausible that the wisdom tradition flourished in the Canaanite scribal world, and that this Canaanite heritage might serve as a backdrop for understanding sections of biblical wisdom literature (Greenstein 2012). The Epic of Aqhat and the Epic of King Kirta are saturated with themes and motifs whose origins are seemingly wisdom literature.
The theme of childlessness that one finds in Job has an even deeper background if one considers the pre-Israelite Canaanite literary tradition. Understanding the second round of speeches of Job in light of Ugaritic literature provides a backdrop to discern the severity of Job’s companions’ metaphors relating to childlessness and infertility, while illuminating Job’s claims regarding the quantity, safety, and joy of the children of the wicked (21:8-9, 11-12). This presentation will provide further examples of how the Ugaritic epics assist in understanding the role of children in depicting the character of the pious and the wicked in Job and other biblical wisdom literature.