Where Is Wisdom To Be Found?

Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, by James L. Crenshaw (John Knox, 1981, 285 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Robert K. Johnston, associate professor of religion, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

There has been wide scholarly interest shown in Israel’s wisdom literature in the last 20 years. A number of significant studies have been produced (von Rad, Brueggemann, Murphy, Scott, for example), but no generally accepted introduction has surfaced. James Crenshaw, a professor of Old Testament at Vanderbilt and one of America’s leading wisdom scholars, has attempted to fill the gap with this volume. But despite its usefulness, the book has sufficient problems to make unlikely its widescale adoption as a textbook, particularly among evangelicals.

Crenshaw begins by tackling the difficult problems of definition. How is wisdom’s multifaceted nature to be characterized? For Crenshaw, wisdom distinguishes itself in its “conviction that men and woman possess the means of securing their well-being—that they do not need and cannot expect divine assistance” (p. 24). Instead, “the Creator [has] left human survival to its own devices” (p. 19).

This secular characterization of wisdom leads Crenshaw to adopt several questionable conclusions. First, rather than creation theology being understood as basic to wisdom’s posture, the perceived focus on the Creator within wisdom literature is viewed as an intrusion upon wisdom’s self-sufficiency. That intrusion increases until Yahwism and wisdom are finally joined.

Second, having understood wisdom as the search for order that would assure well-being, Crenshaw sees skepticism as an inevitable result wherever reality is faced honestly and the limits of ...

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