J.B., published in 1958, is a play in verse based on the biblical story of Job. It represents Archibald MacLeish's responses to the horrors he saw during two world wars, including the Holocaust and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author explains in the foreword to the acting edition of his play that turning to the Bible for a framework seems sensible ''when you are dealing with questions too large for you which, nevertheless, will not leave you alone." J.B. tells the story of a twentieth-century American banker-millionaire whom God commands be stripped of his family and his wealth but who refuses to turn his back on God. MacLeish wondered how modern people could retain hope and keep on living with all the suffering in the world and offered this play as an answer. J. B. learns that there is no justice in the world, that happiness and suffering are not deserved, and that people can still choose to love each other and live.
MacLeish had been earning his living as a poet for fifty years before this, his third verse play, was published. Shortly after the publication of the book, the play was produced on Broadway and underwent substantial revisions. There are, therefore, two versions of the play available for readers: the original book published by Houghton Mifflin and the acting script available from Samuel French. Both were published in 1958, and neither has ever gone out of print. J.B. won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1959 (MacLeish's third Pulitzer), as well as the Tony Award for best play. More important, the play sparked a national conversation about the nature of God, the nature of hope, and the role of the artist in society.