Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament by R.B.Y. Scott

The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament by R.B.Y. Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Scott's work is 40+ years old and is still helpful. Writte
n from a theologically critical perspective, semi-technical in depth and interacting with canonical and non-canonical wisdom literature, this book was worth the read. By "semi-technical" I mean that all non-English words are presented as English transliterations, introductory arguments as to dating and authorship are present but minimized, and the reader is assumed to have a working acquaintance with the texts under consideration.

According to the publisher's notes, this book was intended to be a companion volume to the author's previous book dealing with the prophets (The Relevance of the Prophets). The similarities and differences of these two roles (prophet and sage) in Israel are discussed in this volume, and offers a valuable perspective on approaching wisdom literature. Scott defines the two roles as follows: "The prophets' theology was a kind of vertical theology, a theology of revelation, of salvation, and of judgment within time and history;" and "Wisdom theology was, at least originally, anthropocentric, as prophetic theology was theocentric"--"wisdom theology can be described as a horizontal theology" (pp. 115-16). Further, "The prophets bore their testimony to the word and will of Yahweh, calling on men to believe and to respond" (p. 117) while "The wisdom scholars and teachers...addressed themselves to individuals, offering counsel based on social experience and their own reflections about the nature of the world and of the good life for men" (p. 118).

I picked up this book to read about wisdom as it is found in the book of Proverbs. While I was helped in this area, I was surprisingly helped even more by Scott's dealings with Job and Qoheleth. His handling of the challenges of these two texts is well-ordered and insightful.

One shortcoming is that Scott does not offer any suggestions as to how the OT wisdom literature informs the reading of the NT. Granted, Scott's focus is clearly limited to the OT, but many readers will want to take the next step to consider NT wisdom and in particular, Jesus as the Wisdom of God. For a more recent and excellent handling of this, I recommend Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O'Dowd (IVP Academic, 2011).

Thought-provoking summary statements:

on The Wisdom of Job
"Man cannot live by doctrinaire formulations of theology or find rest to his spirit through speculation on matters that literally are beyond his ken. These are but the ideas and speculations of men as finite as himself. In circumstances of personal trial and tragedy they will prove to be quicksand beneath his feet. Each man is cast into the buffeting waves of life where he must swim or go down. God does not come to him like a life preserver tossed from a ship's deck. A man will drown unless he believes that God intends him to swim. (p. 163-4)

"At the margin of human knowledge and experience there is, and must be, mystery. But it is a divine mystery, luminous with goodness and wisdom, and strong with the power of everlasting mercy." (p. 164)

on The Wisdom of Qoheleth
"A religious belief that will not bear examination is not worth having; it is no faith at all. A religious man who has never battled with pessimism and doubt has a very shallow religion." (p. 189)

on The Role of Wisdom
"To all spokesmen of wisdom man is not merely the animal which in one aspect he is. He is other and more than a political entity, a warrior willing or unwilling, an economic integer. He is a person who feels and thinks and can believe. His life values are not to be measured in the marketplace. He is a being who can learn to live well and worthily, and find in living a more than ephemeral happiness. He may choose to live for something beyond himself which is greater and better and, as Job found, more true and wonderful and gracious than anything he had imagined." (p. 229)

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