Biblical Exegesis and Aristotelian Naturalism: Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and the animals of the Book of Job

Stefano Perfetti


This essay examines the biblical discourse on animals in Job 38-41, as interpreted by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas in their 13th-century biblical commentaries. In God’s first reply to Job (chapters 38 and 39) twelve species of animals are introduced and realistically described, including accurate details of their behavior. Subsequently, chapters 40 and 41 introduce two more complex animals, Behemoth and Leviathan, in which realistic and symbolic features intertwine. This peculiarity of the book of Job – long sequences dedicated to descriptions of animals – allows to investigate to what extent and how the availability of Aristotelian zoology, whose study was prescribed in the Dominican program promoted and practiced by Albert himself, became an instrument for a renewed biblical exegesis, different from the allegorical and theological moralizing hitherto prevailing in the Christian tradition of commentaries on Job.


Albert the Great; Thomas Aquinas; Book of Job; animals in the Bible; Aristotle; Avicenna; biblical exegesis

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