At a time when the chasm between academic scholarship and theological reflection seems to be widening, both the academic guild and the church share in common an uncertainty over how to study and appropriate the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. On the one hand, mainline denominations have for the most part avoided the books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes in their preaching and educational curriculum. Biblical scholars, on the other hand, have labored hard to identify the theological significance and thematic center of the wisdom literature, but without much consensus.
In Character in Crisis, William P. Brown helps to break the impasse by demonstrating that the aim of the Bible’s wisdom literature is the formation of the moral character
both for individuals and for the community. Brown traces the theme of moral identity and conduct throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, with a concluding reflection on the Epistle of James in the New Testament, and explores a range of issues that includes literary characterization, moral discourse, worldview, and the theology of the ancient sages. He examines the ways in which central characters such as God, wisdom, and human beings are profiled in the wisdom books and shows how their characterizations impart ethical meaning to the reading community, both ancient and modern.
William P Brown is Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.