Avraham and Iyyov

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R. Yehuda HaNasi in Tosefta Sotah 6:1Sotah 6:1About the Tosefta compares Avraham and Iyyov:

רבי אומר נאמר ירא א-להים באברהם ונאמר ירא א-להים באיוב מה ירא א-להים האמור באברהם מאהבה [עשה] אף ירא א-להים האמור באיוב מאהבה [עשה] ושאר כל התערומות [האמור בפרשה] לא נאמרה אלא מתוך המורא.

Noting that both characters are described as "יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים", he opines that just as Avraham acted out of a love of God (and not merely fear), so too did Iyyov.  Additional parallels between Avraham and Iyyov can be found in other Rabbinic sources.1 These comparisons may be motivated by the fact that Avraham and Iyyov were two of the most devout believers in God to appear in Tanakh, and that both managed to preserve their faith despite many trials and hardships.

Content Parallels

The stories of Avraham and Iyyov contain a number of similarities:

  • Heavenly test
    • Both Avraham and Iyyov are tested by Hashem (Bereshit 22 and Iyyov 1), and each of their tests involve mortal danger to children (Avraham is commanded to kill his son, and Satan kills Iyyov's children).
    • Both figures are shown to be truly God-fearing (Avraham is told he is "יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים", and Iyyov is tested in attempt to prove he is not).2
    • Both also feature an angelic figure (Avraham is stopped from killing his son by an angel who informs him that he passed his test, while Iyyov's test was instigated by the Satan).3
  • Prayer for others4 – Both Avraham and Iyyov pray that others should recover and be spared from the wrath of God (Bereshit 20:7,17 and Iyyov 42:8-10). In both cases, a negative interaction with Avraham or Iyyov (Avimelekh taking Avraham's wife, and Iyyov's friends' conversation with him) results in God contacting them directly and threatening them (Avimelekh is told in a dream he will die, whiel Iyyov's friends are told that Hashem is angry with them). God tells them that the only way to appease Him is to ask Avraham or Iyyov to pray for them. Avraham and Iyyov then indeed pray, and their prayers are followed by Hashem blessing them with children.
  • Riches – Both Avraham and Iyyov are described as being very wealthy, both before (Bereshit 13:2 and Iyyov 1:3) and after (Bereshit 24:1,35 and Iyyov 42:12) their major test.
  • Three associates – Avraham is described as having three allies (Bereshit 13:14), and Iyyov has three companions (Iyyov 2:11).
  • Single escapee – Each of Avraham and Iyyov are informed by a lone escapee of the disasters which have befallen their family members.  Avraham is notified by a refugee that his nephew was kidnapped (Bereshit 14:11-13) and Iyyov is told of the four disasters, each time by a single escapee Iyyov 1:14-19).

Literary Allusions

The Iyyov stories contain a number of literary allusions to the Avraham narratives:

  • תָמִים and יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים – Avraham is once commanded to be תָמִים (Bereshit 17:1), and is described as יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים (Bereshit 22:12). Iyyov is similarly described as תָּם וְיָשָׁר וִירֵא אֱ-לֹהִים (Iyyov 1:1,8, 2:3).
  • אַל תִּשְׁלַח יָדךָ – Avraham is commanded by the angel to avoid harming Yitzchak with the phrase "אַל תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל הַנַּעַר" (Bereshit 22:12), while the Satan is warned against harming Iyyov with the nearly identical phrase "רַק אֵלָיו אַל תִּשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ" (Iyyov 1:12).
  • עָפָר וָאֵפֶר – Both Avraham and Iyyov describe themselves using the phrase "עָפָר וָאֵפֶר" (Bereshit 18:27 and Iyyov 30:19, 42:6).
  • וַי"י בֵּרַךְ – Hashem blessed ("וַי"י בֵּרַךְ אֶת") Avraham and Iyyov at the end of their lives with riches including sheep, cattle, camels, and donkeys (Bereshit 24:1,35 and Iyyov 42:12).
  • וַיָּמׇת... זָקֵן וְשׂבעַ – After recounting Avraham's long life-span, the Torah describes him as dying "בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה זָקֵן וְשָׂבֵעַ" (Bereshit 25:7-8). Similarly, after the remainder of Iyyov's years are counted, he dies "זָקֵן וּשְׂבַע יָמִים" (Iyyov 42:16-17).
  • עוּץ – Avraham has a nephew named עוּץ (Bereshit 22:21), and Iyyov lives in the land of עוּץ (Iyyov 1:1).5


  • Degree of similarity – 
    • עוּץ – While the word used in both stories is identical, by Avraham it is referring to a person, and by Iyyov it is referring to a place.
  • Distinctive phrases – 
    • יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים – While not unique, the description "יְרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים" is found only rarely in Tanakh.6
    • אַל תִּשְׁלַח יָדךָ – These three words in this exact order are unique.7
    • עָפָר וָאֵפֶר – These are the only three occurrences of this combination.
    • וַי"י בֵּרַךְ – These are the only occurrences of this exact phrase.
    • זָקֵן וְשׂבעַ – This combination is found in only one other place.8

Points of Contrast

While Avraham was tested to see whether he could give the ultimate sacrifice, Iyyov was tested to see his reaction to the ultimate punishment. This caused a number of differences between the tests:

  • Divine instructions – While Avraham was explicitly told what was expected of him, Iyyov was left without guidance.
  • Actual death – Since Avraham had clearly shown he was willing to sacrifice his son, the angel could prevent Avraham from actually killing. However, since Iyyov's test only began after the death of his children, Satan had to actually kill them.
  • Cause of death – Avraham was commanded to kill his own son, against God's promises and his moral imperatives. Iyyov's children, however, were killed by bandits, without Iyyov being forced to betray his beliefs.
  • Complaints – Avraham does not complain about the command, neither before nor after the test. In contrast, Iyyov spends the rest of his book questioning God.