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Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, & Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature

Author: William P Brown
Published By: Eerdmans (Grand Rapids)
Pages: 220
Price: £16.99
ISBN: 978 0 8028 6793 3

Reviewed by Richard Dormandy.

This is an excellent book on the Wisdom Literature, but it doesn’t entirely satisfy. If you are looking for a comprehensive, accessible, thorough survey of the main bodies of biblical wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes), then look no further. If you are looking for a sustained study of the theme of wonder within that literature then you may be disappointed.

The book is a substantial re-working of Brown’s earlier work on the same literature, Character in Crisis. Building on that, he states that, in search of coherence across these books, one might identify the twin themes of creation and character formation. However, what is the link between them? His answer is “wonder”.

“Without wonder, wisdom wonders, its journey is cut short. Without wisdom, wonder wanders, aimlessly so.” We can see this supremely in the book Job, who completes a journey “from wound to wonder.” Brown is particularly helpful in showing how Job is led to wonder at the wildness of creation - and therefore the wildness of God. Somehow this helps him (and us) perceive the coherence - though not the meaning - of his own ‘wild’ suffering.

Likewise, the theme of wonder is a useful key to Ecclesiastes, as the writer is in a situation of wondering at such loss and meaninglessness: “a primal, aporetic form of wonder.”  Wonder, according to Brown, is an emotion that calls forth an “attentive, reverently receptive orientation toward the Other by awakening both emotional and cognitive resources... for wisdom.”

If you were going to preach a series on any of these three books of the Bible, you would find plenty here to stimulate you. It is non-technical and easy to read, but is clearly the fruit of scholarly knowledge. It is not a book for immediate ideas to help with last-minute sermon preparation, but you need to read a minimum of the introduction + the one or two relevant chapters.

So why might you be disappointed? I think there was scope for more focus on the theme of wonder throughout the detail of the wisdom literature. It would have made the book more focused, and therefore in some ways, less useful, but I also think it would have been more ground-breaking and eye-opening. Marks out of ten? Seven or eight - depending on what I was looking for!

Richard Dormandy

Vicar, Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill, South London

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You are reading Issue 63 of Ministry Today, published in April 2015.

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