Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew & O’Dowd

Book OT lit

This book exceeded the expectations I had when I picked it up. Not that I imagined it wouldn’t be a good volume, but that it would just be another introduction to the poetic sections of the Old Testament. What I found instead was a look at only those poetic books that could legitimately be called wisdom literature – Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The unique contributions of those three books, as well as wisdom in the Old Testament as a whole, the ANE background, how Jesus both carried on and fulfilled Old Testament wisdom, plus all the theological implications of wisdom, are found in this well-written book.

The book begins with an introduction that explains why the subject of Old Testament wisdom is important. Chapter 1 introduces Old Testament wisdom itself including its historical background. Chapter 2 tackles the ancient world wisdom. I often think those discussions are overblown by scholars because they always mistakenly assume the Bible draws from other sources rather than the other way around, but the scholarly review is still well done here. Chapter 3 ties wisdom into the genre of poetry in the Bible and explains a lot of technical aspects of parallelism and other devices of poetry.

When the book reaches chapter 4, in my opinion, it really blossoms. The chapter on Proverbs that reviews structure and design, and how wisdom is essential to it, makes for revealing reading. I loved it. Chapter 5 is a continuation as it looks at what the authors call “Lady Wisdom” and “Dame Folly”. These two chapters together really added something to my understanding.

Chapter 6 on Job was just as provocative. They dug in with so many wonderful thoughts that would help someone who was diving into the book of Job. Chapter 7 probes the scholarly debate over Job 28. I personally don’t see the problem that many scholars do, but it’s well explained here. Though it is likely just a matter of personal taste, I didn’t get as much out of the discussion on Ecclesiastes as I did on Proverbs and Job. I disagreed with both some presuppositions as well as some conclusions. Still, there were nuggets to find.

Chapter 10 took us to Jesus as the Wisdom of God. Wisdom as a controlling focus in the New Testament is not one I can accept to the degree that some people do, yet it’s equally true that wisdom has not vanished from the discussion when we enter the New Testament. You can do your own weighing of the subject in this chapter. The final two chapters are about theology. There’s much to gain as you read these two chapters, plus they give some guidance on how our Western eyes often miss the point.

Bartholomew and O’Dowd really pulled off the production of a good book here. It’s my new favorite introduction to Old Testament wisdom literature.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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