Jewish Sightseeing HomePage  1998-03-20: Visit to Tomb of Job in Oman



Tomb of Job


A Job well done: City in Oman is 
linked to stories in three scriptures

San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, March 20, 1998:


By Donald H. Harrison 

Salalah, Oman (Special) -- Some interpreters of the Bible believe this Arab city is the place where two important journeys may have begun and where another one ended.

It is thought that the Queen of Sheba, who reportedly brought presents of spice to King Solomon in Israel (I Kings 10:2), may have come from these environs because this area (as well as Yemen and Somalia) is home to the rare frankincense tree. 

In fact, one archeological site not too far from this city is claimed to be one of the palaces of the Queen of Sheba.

The journey celebrated by Christians in their gospels recounting the birth of Jesus is also believed to have begun in this vicinity.

Christian Scriptures (Matthew 2:11) relate that three wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. So esteemed was the fragrance of frankincense, that some commentators believe the value of the gift was greater than that of the gold.

The biblical journey said to have ended in the mountains about 45 kilometers from this port city was that of Job, hero of the biblical Book of Job.
So renowned was Job as a good and reverential man that God permitted Satan to test his devotion. First Satan killed Job's children and destroyed his possessions, and later Satan afflicted Job with terrible sores and boils. Although Job grieved over his state, he neither expressed anger at God nor acquiesced to his friends' suggestions that he had done something to deserve such a fate. Eventually 
   Tomb of Job (left) and associated mosque

God rewarded Job for his steadfastness, giving to him more possessions than he had previously as well as more children. 

Oman is an Islamic country so the version of Job told here combines the biblical version and that contained in the Koran . Additionally the story is spiced with what might be described as "Muslim midrash."

From the berth of our cruise ship MV Island Princess in the Port of Salalah, our tour bus dodged foraging cattle and an occasional camel as we wound up the mountain known as Jabel Izzin to the small domed building that road signs identified as the tomb of "El Nabi Ayoob" -- the Prophet Job.

En route, our guide, Miryam, told us the wondrous story that she had known since childhood about the man who long ago had lived upon this mountain.

"Job was a very rich man with many camels and children," she related. "He moved from one place to another place. When he arrived at this mountain, suddenly he got sick. He had big bumps coming out of his body. Sometimes out of these bumps came small animals, and these he took and put back into his body, so they could have 'the fruits from my body.' 

"The people of the village asked him to move outside the village, so they would not have the same sickness," the guide's account continued. "He went up to the mountain, and always prayed, and thanked God. He never said 'why me, why not other people?' 

"His wife every day brought food from down in the village up to the mountain. One time God asked him to break some rock on that ground and water came out, then God asked him to take a shower from that place and he did, and after that he became a very clean person. 

"When the wife came with the food, she didn't know him; she asked if he had seen this old person. He said, 'yes, that is me,' and after that they lived together, and he died in this place."

Nearly none of this story is in Jewish scriptures, and the anecdote about water coming from a rock seemed to Jewish ears an echo of the story in Torah about Moses striking a rock to bring forth water -- disobeying God's instructions to call the water forth. But that's another story.

As found in an English translation of the Koran (Surah 38:42) , after Job prayed to God (Allah), he was commanded to "strike the ground with your foot" and from the spring that appeared to take "a cool bath and a refreshing drink." Doing so, his fortune and family were not only restored, they were doubled.
As for the tale of his kindness to the critters that emerged from his body, it is perhaps a folk tale or an extrapolation from the Koran devised by some Muslim clergymen. Ditto the charming story of Job's wife not recognizing him once his affliction had been miraculously cured. 

We were instructed to remove our shoes before entering the tomb. Prior to crossing the tomb's threshold, the women in our tour group were issued green scarves with which to cover their hair in accordance with Islamic custom. 

Inside the tomb was what appeared to be a long mound covered reverently with brightly colored  

           Gravesite of Job the Prophet
cloths. The mound, according to a guide book, measures three meters by one meter, prompting
one person in our party to ask Miryam "why is it so long?" She replied that perhaps there were two people buried there.

At the opposite end of the burial mound frankincense emitted its sweet aroma from a burner, and next to that was a small tray in which visitors could place monetary offerings. Otherwise the tomb was quite simple; the only other noticeable adornment being a chart listing the names of various prophets. Miryam pointed out in particular the names of Abraham, Moses, Job, Jesus and Mohammed.
Later, after returning to the cruise ship, I found that Muslims, like Jews, do not always agree on all the details of their traditions and customs. My wife, Nancy, had gone on a separate excursion from the ship, so that she could concentrate on shopping. But finding the selections limited, she and some other passengers decided to leave the marketplace and go by taxi to the tomb. 

Once there, she listened as a man from the nearby nation of Qatar, who had brought his wife and child to see the site, explained that Job was renowned throughout the world for his patience.  

The Qatari man instructed his family that in the times of Job, the people who walked the earth were much larger, and that the burial mound was Job's approximate size. Job was not only a big man spiritually, but physically as well, he said.

   Chart of the Prophets
On the threshold of the tomb was a cover that could be lifted from the walkway to reveal what were described as the footprint of Job and that of his horse. This was shown to Nancy but if it was shown to our tour group I must have wandered off to take photographs elsewhere..

An open air enclosure near the tomb had prayer rugs scattered on the ground for those pilgrims who might be there at any of the five times during the day when Muslims are supposed to pray. 

There were two niches in the wall to indicate in which direction to face while praying. In the olden days, our guide explained, people prayed at the older niche because it faces Jerusalem "in Palestine." But nowadays, Muslims face toward Mecca for their prayers.

From the tomb, our tour bus took us to a place favored by Omani guides to see living frankincense trees. Miryam explained that frankincense grows in three colors: in order of most desirable: white, yellow and black. 

"The frankincense in Yemen and Salalah is different than that which is grown in Somalia, which is always white," she said. "But the white of Salalah is better than the white of Somalia," she added patriotically. "Where we are going is a good quality of frankincense, but it is 
even better quality higher in the mountains."

At a gnarled frankincense tree, which Miryam said was 100 years old, we learned that "you can take the frankincense when the tree is ten years old. 

"One month before the monsoon, they collect the frankincense, which is actually the gum from the tree. They keep it outside Salalah to dry it and after one week they can use it," she said. 

        Frankincense trees in desert near Sallalah
"Collectors of frankincense must be very careful to not hurt the tree," lest the whole tree die, she added. Because agriculturalists have not been successful in propagating new frankincense trees, such wastage could be a calamity.