Wisdom's Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible's Wisdom Literature

By Steinmann, Andrew E. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Wisdom's Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible's Wisdom Literature


Steinmann, Andrew E., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Wisdom's Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible's Wisdom Literature. By William P. Brown. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014, xv + 220 pp., $25.00.

Writing a revision of a popular book is no easy task. Inevitably one must revisit old words to breathe new life into them while hoping that changes and developments evident in the new volume do not disappoint those who have enjoyed, endorsed, and recommended the original. Moreover, since the author has moved on to other thoughts and theories, it is difficult simply to rework previous material. Wisdom's Wonder is William Brown's recasting of his Character in Crisis (Eerdmans, 1996). Instead of revision, this volume is a synthesis of the older book with Brown's more current thinking, blending his exploration of character ethics in Character with a new emphasis on wonder when confronting God and his creation in the wisdom books of the OT.

In the opening chapter, Brown explores what biblical wisdom is and how it unites three disparate wisdom books of the OT-Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. (He does not include Song of Songs.) His approach is laid out as follows: "If one can discover the sapiential link between world and will, the nexus between creation and character, then one has come upon a common heuristic framework, a hermeneutical lens, by which to understand both wisdom's subtle coherence and its striking diversity" (p. 5). After brief explorations of both creation and character, Brown investigates wonder as this link: "In wonder, fascination overcome fear, desire overcomes dread" (p. 21).

The body of Brown's study consists of five chapters, one covering Proverbs and two each treating Job and Ecclesiastes. (There is also a short concluding chapter.) Little time is devoted to isagogical matters. Instead, Brown most often assumes standard higher-critical conclusions: Proverbs in its final form is a Persian period book, and its sayings somewhat haphazardly arranged. Job, though having roots in the tenth century BC, was codified sometime after the sixth century BC. Qoheleth is not the author of Ecclesiastes. He is, instead, the "featured speaker" for a book that responds to the failure of traditional wisdom for Jews under Ptolemaic rule. However, for Brown these accepted commonplaces are almost beside the point, and the strength of his presentation lies in his analysis of the message and meaning of these wisdom works.

The chapter on Proverbs is probably the least compelling. Brown treats wisdom vocabulary and categories in Proverbs and concludes that "Proverbs charts a liminal journey from the household to the larger community, a pathway that requires letting go of parental ties, resisting dangerous temptations, avoiding conflict, discerning right desires, pursuing Wisdom, and finding the right partner" (p. …

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