Review of The Wisdom Literature by Richard J. Clifford

Richard J. Clifford has provided a good introductory work to the books in Scripture known as the Wisdom Literature; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and key Apocryphal texts such as Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach. Clifford reminds readers that the Biblical texts were written to do something in its readers. The Wisdom literature is a body of literature, that encompasses several genres or subtypes of literature that seeks to do something in its readers. Readers of Wisdom literature could encounter: instructions, sayings, critiques on politics, songs, poetry, syncritical compositions, theological reflections, and commentary and reimaging various Biblical texts to the time of the particular writing. The emotional response that the literature seeks to produce is to push its readers to discover the source of wisdom.  Ancient Israel is not unique in the writing and production of wisdom literature. Clifford introduces his readers to wisdom literature in general by a concise summary of the wisdom texts from Egypt, Babylon, and Mesopotamia and showing their unique relationship and influence on the Biblical texts. Israel, while not a renowned national power in the ancient world, adapted to their environment and produced texts that have no doubt influenced kings, and peasants alike for centuries.

Clifford examines each of the books in the category of Wisdom Literature through a variety of different lenses that helps the readers to gain an appreciation for each of these works. Clifford seeks to give his readers a leg to stand on, as they read the wisdom literature. Clifford takes his readers on a journey, looking at the background of each of these important works, as well as the social location, the literary features and their structure. These sections of Clifford’s introduction to each of these books aids the reader in his or her confidence in approaching the text, and gaining a deeper insight into the text.

Clifford ends his work by looking at the Wisdom within Judaism and Christianity and demonstrates the contributions of these earlier works to both faiths. As someone who has gained a greater appreciation for this type of literature, seeing the connection and borrowing of these important Biblical texts within the Christian tradition is important, and unfortunately overlooked. Clifford, helps his readers to see how wisdom literature influences the theology of Christianity, and how Jesus is portrayed as the embodiment of Woman Wisdom,(Pr 8) and the Logos (Jn 1) come to dwell, or tabernacle among us. To better understand Scripture, one certainly needs to engage the Biblical text. Clifford’s The Wisdom Literature, seeks to help readers to understand the background of the text, so that trips into the Wisdom literature will be fruitful.

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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