Psychosomatic Approach to Job’s Body and Mind: Based on Somatic Symptom Disorder


This essay will indicate how Job’s body parts and sensibility denote his cognitive dissonance and mental turmoil and will show that irrelevant to the physical suffering of the Adversary (2:7); Job is experiencing a sort of “somatic symptom disorder” which means that persons focus on physical symptoms such as fatigue, fragility, and pain according to their particular cognitive schematic in terms of property loss, extreme anxiety, and the absence of God that lead them to chief anguish and agony in their daily lives. The interrelationship between body and mind of Job plays a central role in resisting the retribution principle of Job’s friends and in doubting the justice of God.

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  1. 1.

    H. Viviers, “Body and Nature in Job.,” OTE 14.3 (2001), pp. 510–24; A. Basson, “Just Skin and Bones: The Longing for Wholeness of the Body in the Book of Job,” VT 58.3 (2008), pp. 287–99; A. Erickson, “‘Without My Flesh I Will See God’: Job’s Rhetoric of the Body,” JBL 132.2 (2013), pp. 295–313; S.C. Jones, “Corporeal Discourse in the Book of Job,” JBL 132.4 (2013), pp. 845–63; J. De Joode, “The Body and Its Boundaries: The Coherence of Conceptual Metaphors for Job’s Distress and Lack of Control,” ZAW 126.4 (2014), pp. 554–69.

  2. 2.

    E.L. Greenstein, “‘On My Skin and in My Flesh’: Personal Experience as a Source of Knowledge in the Book of Job,” in K.F. Kravitz and S.A. Geller (eds.), Bringing the Hidden to Light: The Process of Interpretation: Studies in Honor of S.A. Geller (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007), pp. 63–77; “Some Metaphors in the Poetry of Job,” in M.L. Grossman (ed.), Built by Wisdom, Established by Understanding: Essays on Biblical and Near Eastern Literature in Honor of Adele Berlin (Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2013), pp. 179–95; “Metaphors of Illness and Wellness in Job,” in S.C. Jones and C.R. Yoder (eds.), “When the Morning Stars Sang”: Essays in Honor of Choon Leong Seow on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (BZAW, 500; Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2017), pp. 39–50.

  3. 3.

    J.N. Penney, “The Biopsychosocial Model of Pain and Contemporary Osteopathic Practice,” IJOM 13.2 (2010), pp. 42–47.

  4. 4.

    T. Sivik, “Since We Have Both Body and Mind We Are All Psychosomatic,” JABMM 14 (1998), pp. 223–33.

  5. 5.

    J.H. Daruna and Jane E. Morgan, “Psychosocial Effects on Immune Function,” Psychosomatics 31.1 (1990), pp. 4–12.

  6. 6.

    B.J. Sadock et al., Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry Behavioral Sciences, Clinical Psychiatry (Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2015).

  7. 7.

    P.J. Koblenzer, “A Brief History of Psychosomatic Dermatology,” Dermatologic Clinics 14.3 (1996), p. 395.

  8. 8.

    In general, cognitive dissonance means the mental and psychological conflict “that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information” (See the web of Encyclopedia Britannic). This notion was proposed by L. Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957). For the recent development of this theory, see J. Cooper, Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory (London: Sage, 2007).

  9. 9.

    J. Gray, The Book of Job, D.J.A. Clines (ed.) (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2010), 134; K.J. Dell, “What Was Job’s Malady?,” JSOT 41.1 (2016), pp. 62–64.

  10. 10.

    C.L. Seow, Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), p. 304.

  11. 11.

    R. Raphael, “Things Too Wonderful: A Disabled Reading of Job,” PRS 31.4 (2004), pp. 399–424.

  12. 12.

    R. Raphael, Biblical Corpora: Representations of Disability in Hebrew Biblical Literature, LHB/OTS 445 (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), p. 82.

  13. 13.

    Raphael, Biblical Corpora, p. 102.

  14. 14.

    Raphael, Biblical Corpora, 81–107; cf. K. Patston, “Disability Discrimination in the Book of Job,” in A. Picard and M. Habets (eds.), Theology and the Experience of Disability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Voices Down Under (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 41–52.

  15. 15.

    J.H. Kahn and H. Solomon, Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation (Oxford: Pergamon, 1975); M.A. Kapusta and S. Frank, “The Book of Job and the Modern View of Depression,” AIM 86.5 (1977), pp. 667–72; W. Vogels, “The Inner Development of Job: One More Look at Psychology and the Book of Job,” SE 35.2 (1983), pp. 227–30; F.T. De Villiers, “Symptoms of Depression in Job—A Note on Psychological Exegesis,” OTE 17.1 (2004), pp. 275–14; D. Merkur, “Psychotherapeutic Change in the Book of Job,” in J.H. Ellens (ed.), Psychology and the Bible: A New Way to Read the Scriptures (Westport: Praeger, 2004), pp. 119–39.

  16. 16.

    W.B. Guy, “Psychosomatic Dermatology Circa 400 B. C.,” AMA Arch Derm 71.3 (1955), p. 356; Kahn and Solomon, Job’s Illness, pp. 8–11.

  17. 17.

    Kahn and Solomon, Job’s Illness, p. 10.

  18. 18.

    Y. Raz, “Reading Pain in the Book of Job,” in L. Batnitzky and I. Pardes (eds.), The Book of Job: Aesthetics, Ethics, Hermeneutics (PJTC, 1; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), p. 82.

  19. 19.

    Jones, “Corporeal Discourse in the Book of Job,” pp. 849–53.

  20. 20.

    This is also known as “functional neurological symptom disorder”.

  21. 21.

    American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (Arlington: 2013), p. 310.

  22. 22.

    K.D. Ackerman and A.F. DiMartini (eds.), Psychosomatic Medicine (Pittsburgh Pocket Psychiatry; New York: Oxford University, 2015), p. 79.

  23. 23.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 309.

  24. 24.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 314.

  25. 25.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 318.

  26. 26.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 311.

  27. 27.

    in the given context is rendered as “throat”, “neck”, “appetite”, “soul”, “breath”, or “life”. See DCH V, p. 724.

  28. 28.

    N. Tilford, Sensing World, Sensing Wisdom: The Cognitive Foundation of Biblical Metaphors, AIL 31 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017), pp. 91, 127 comments: "Although often translated as “soul”, the


    was intimately connected with the “throat” of the individual and was often referenced as the seat of an individual’s physical “appetite”.

  29. 29.

    Seow, Job, p. 508.

  30. 30.

    This term is most likely referring to “limb” or “organ” in the parallel with eye. R. Gordis, The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies (New York: JTSA, 1978), p. 183; D.J. A. Clines, Job 1–20, WBC 17 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), p. 373.

  31. 31.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 311.

  32. 32.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 311.

  33. 33.

    L.J. Hoenig, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” JAMA Dermatology 153.8 (2017), p. 788. Contra Clines, Job 1–20, pp. 450–51.

  34. 34.

    Kapusta and Frank, “The Modern View of Depression,” p. 28.

  35. 35.

    In their survey, “musculoskeletal pain and gastrointestinal symptoms” found in Job 30 are two somatic symptoms that appear from depression. See Kapusta and Frank, “The Modern View of Depression,” p. 28.

  36. 36.

    Kapusta and Frank, “The Modern View of Depression,” p. 28.

  37. 37.

    Translation has been taken from D.J.A. Clines, Job 21–37, WBC 18A (Nashville: Thomas Nelson,2006), p. 959.

  38. 38.

    J.E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 402 n.12; In 30:16, ʻAmōs Ḥak̲am, Sefer ʼIyyōv (Yěrūšalayim: Mōsad ha-Rav Qūq, 1970) supposes that it describes the bodily reaction such as “tears”, “outcries”, and “vomitting”.

  39. 39.

    As Fohrer said, “blackness of skin” is not “a symptom of leprosy”. Clines, Job 21–37, p. 1011.

  40. 40.

    E. Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job (trans. H. Knight; London: Nelson, 1967), p. 449.

  41. 41.

    This marked impairment seems to be a culturally bounded symptom. For instance, “Hwabyung (火病), whose literal meaning is ‘anger disease’ or ‘fire disease’, is known as a Korean culture-related syndrome related to anger”; S.K. Min, “Hwabyung in Korea: Culture and Dynamic Analysis,” WCPRR 4.1 (2012), p. 12.

  42. 42.

    American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, p. 310.

  43. 43.

    Jones, “Corporeal Discourse in the Book of Job,” 849 cites the thesis of A. Wagner, that “corporeal metaphors of the deity underscore God’s roles as human conversation partner and actor in the world”. And Jones points out that “the presentation of God’s body in the book of Job, however, challenges” Wagner’s general claim. A. Wagner, Gottes Körper: zur alttestamentlichen Vorstellung der Menschengestaltigkeit Gottes (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2010), p. 134.

  44. 44.

    Hartley, Job, p. 132.

  45. 45.

    This verse seems to be drawn from “the Baal myth of Ras Shamra”. Gray, Job, p. 180. Also refer to E.B. Smick, “Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job,” WTJ 40 (1978), pp. 213–28; D.A. Diewert, “Job 7:12 : Yam, Tannin and the Surveillance of Job,” JBL 106.2 (1987), pp. 203–15; J.G. Janzen, “Another Look at God’s Watch over Job (7:12),” JBL 108 (1989), pp. 109–14.

  46. 46.

    Seow, Job, p. 510.

  47. 47.

    Erickson, “Without My Flesh,” pp. 300–313.

  48. 48.

    Dell, “What Was Job’s Malady?,” pp. 65, 71–72 claims that “there are two factors that contribute to his disease which are as much a factor in his ‘malady’ as his physical condition”: the “mental torment” and the “social ostracization”.

  49. 49.

    Seow, Job, p. 422 suggests echoes with Deut 32:39 and Hos 6:1–2. However, this Deuteronomistic and prophetic theology is rejected by the nature of Job’s undeserved suffering.

  50. 50.

    For the translation, see M.H. Pope, Job, AB 15 (New York: Doubleday,1965), p. 49.

  51. 51.

    The word


    as divine love appears only in the book of Job (10:12), and in 6:14 it is referring to human loyalty.

  52. 52.

    The MT’s expression is unclear. I follow renderings of Pope and Seow. See Pope, Job, pp. 49, 52. Seow, Job, pp. 451, 476–77; Dhorme, Job, 84–85 renders: "His friend has scorned compassion and forsaken the fear of Shaddai.

  53. 53.

    T. Sivik and M. Bruscoli, “Pain, Depression, and Anxiety: A Common Language of Human Suffering,” in K.B. Koh (ed.), Somatization and Psychosomatic Symptoms (New York: Springer, 2013), p. 147.

  54. 54.

    It is hard to tell what the suggestion on the psychogenecity of Job’s somatic pain would contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between Job and God in the epilogue. Still, in my view, what one at least might presume from the psychosomatic approach is that Job’s somatic suffering, which was caused by relationships with God and his community, would in no ways be ended up until his death (Job 42:7–17); the author of the epilogue neither allow a description of dermatitis nor show any specification of what God restored (


    ; 42:10) concerning his health and illness.


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This paper is funded by Forschungskredit, the financial support of the Switzerland government and Universität Zürich.

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Kwon, J.J. Psychosomatic Approach to Job’s Body and Mind: Based on Somatic Symptom Disorder. J Relig Health 59, 2032–2044 (2020).

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  • Job’s illness
  • Psychosomatic approach
  • Somatization
  • Somatic symptom disorder (SSD)
  • Pain