Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature edited by David G. Firth & Lindsay Wilson

This volume is written by eleven United Kingdom Bible scholars, including four women.   The authors consider only Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes as wisdom books proper, but find wisdom themes in Ruth, Song of Solomon, and Psalms as well as laced throughout the Old Testament.  Wisdom is defined as “basically skill in living, in how to order one’s life so as to achieve desirable goals” (p. XIV) and “how to navigate life successfully” (p. 6).  This is not a commentary and if one is looking for analysis of individual wisdom books, they should look elsewhere.  Having said that, there are short sections, scattered through the book, which offer some excellent overviews of the books and wisdom themes (e.g. Ecclesiastes, p. 184, and wisdom themes found in the Psalms, pp. 194-204).  The final chapter discusses the interesting topic of the relative absence of God in the wisdom literature and how this absence fuels the quest for wisdom (p. 214).  And I appreciate the study of contrasts between Proverbs, which presents an orderly life of the wise in which actions are followed by logical consequences, and Job and Ecclesiastes in which they do not.  Job handles the problem of pain and suffering even for one living wisely, while Ecclesiastes addresses the futility of life even for the wisest and more fortunate of people (pp. 23, 150-151, 183-186).

Primarily, however, this volume overviews modern scholarship concerning Old Testament wisdom literature.  It is valuable to have in one volume an anthology of the wide variety of views streaming from many theological camps.  For the most part the authors reject theologically liberal scholarship and detail alternatives.  Unfortunately, late dates for Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, as well as rejection of Solomonic authorship of these books, is prevalent (pp. 85, 98, 101, 102, 112).   And the Satan figure in Job is not the personal devil but rather an imaginary adversary created to challenge God for the story line of the book (pp. 148-149).

As can be discerned, the authors do not altogether escape the pull of liberal scholarship, but for an introduction of current opinions regarding biblical wisdom literature, Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature has its place.

Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature edited by David G. Firth & Lindsay Wilson (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017) 232 pp. + XV, paper $20.00

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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