Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions

Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions January 10, 2021

John L. McLaughlin 
An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions 
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2018.
Available at Eerdmans.

Review by Jill Firth

Dr. John L. McLaughlin is a professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the Faculty of Theology, University of St Michael’s College, Toronto. He is a past President of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, and currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and as an Associate Editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He is the author of What Are They Saying About Ancient Israelite Religion? (2016) and The Ancient Near East: An Essential Guide (2012).

An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions is an introductory level textbook based on twenty-five years of teaching experience. The book begins with general chapters on the nature of wisdom, the international context for Israel’s wisdom, and the expression of wisdom, before moving on to five texts, Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Ben Sira (Sirach, Ecclesiasticus), and Wisdom of Solomon, and concluding with chapters on wisdom influence in the First Testament, wisdom theology, and the continuation of wisdom. Each chapter has sidebars and a bibliography, and the volume has indices of Authors, Subjects, and Ancient Texts.

McLaughlin gives clear and helpful explanations of the wisdom writings of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Canaan, and of Hebrew poetry and wisdom forms. Proverbs, Job, and Qoheleth are Hebrew texts accepted in the First Testament canon by all Christians, as well as having a Greek translation in the Septuagint, while Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon are found in Catholic and many Eastern Orthodox canons. Proverbs may include preexilic and postexilic sections, the Hebrew of Job is “overall” consistent with a sixth-century BCE date, and Qoheleth is dated to the early to mid-third century BCE. Ben Sira is dated early in the second century BCE, and “probably” written in Jerusalem. The Wisdom of Solomon is dated to the first century CE, and was written in Greek, using Greek rhetorical features such as quoting an opponent’s views so as to dispute them (diatribe), a series of consecutive propositions (sorites), a recitation of virtues (aretology), and an extended series of contrasts (synkresis). The author is “unknown,” and Greek ideas such as the immortality of the soul, and the four cardinal virtues (self-control, prudence, justice, and courage) suggest that King Solomon was not the author. “Wisdom influence” in other books of the First Testament canon is distinguished from wisdom literature per se, with a helpful introduction to scholarship in this area.

The structure of this Introduction, the brevity of each chapter, and the provision of suggestions for further reading make this a useful textbook for a semester course. The inclusion (for Protestant readers) of Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon expands its value, as well as the brief introductions to apocalyptic, Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic writings in the final chapter. The bibliographies show a balance of men and women authors, and some African, Asian, and Australian authors are included along with Canadian, North American, British, and European authors.

Rev. Dr. Jill Firth, Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament, Ridley College, Melbourne

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