Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament

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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 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Bibliotheca Sacra
"Brown takes a much-needed look at the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and explains what they teach about character.... Offers intriguing insights as to the intended purpose of each of the wisdom books."
Catholic Biblical Quarterly
"A fresh approach indeed, also original and perceptive... This is a truly exciting and illuminating study of OT wisdom, and it is well written.... It is a relief and a joy to read so balanced a work which reaches into the heart of wisdom."
Brown's analysis teems with insights into character development in wisdom literature.
Princeton Seminary Bulletin
"A thoughtful study of the wisdom literature that distances itself from the individualism that has eviscerated our moral discourse.... Because Brown illuminates biblical wisdom in "fresh" ways, his book would make a provocative introductory work for college and seminary students and for pastors."
Pro Ecclesia
Valuable as a teaching text with seminarians. The clear, lively style gains a willing audience, and the focus on moral character open to many a large section of the Bible that previously seemed unapproachable. Moreover, the frequent use of exegetical observations engages students in a dialogue that draws them back to the biblical text, in both agreement and disagreement with their partner.
Southwestern Journal of Theology
An interesting and readable book....Recommend highly to anyone who would like to know more about Old Testament wisdom and how it might speak to our world today.
Word & World
A welcome contribution both to the growing body of work on wisdom literature and to the contemporary debate on ethics. Pastors, students, and interested lay people will all find this book a delightful and informative read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802841353
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 2/29/1996
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Ethics and Ethos of Biblical Wisdom 1
2 The Formation of Character in Proverbs; or, Virtue and the Art of Community Maintenance 22
3 The Deformation of Character: Job 1-31 50
4 The Reformation of Character: Job 32-42 83
5 Character Reconstructed: Ecclesiastes 120
6 Conclusion: The Journey of Character 151
Works Cited 165
Index of Authors 177
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