Review: An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts

51vlLShRwvLElaine A. Phillips is Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Phillips has a Ph.D. in rabbinic literature from The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her areas of expertise include biblical hermeneutics, historical geography, and Old Testament wisdom literature. Phillips is the author of a book-length commentary on Esther in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series edited by Tremper Longman III and Davide Garland (Zondervan, 2010), and the devotional With God, Nothing is Impossible: In Step with Women of the Bible (Deep River Books, 2014). In her latest book, An Introduction to Reading the Biblical Wisdom Texts, Phillps offers an accessible tour de force of the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible.

An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts is designed for undergraduate students and interested laypersons looking to broaden their understanding of this important literary genre. Phillips has divided the book into five major parts: (1) where and how do we start?, (2) practical wisdom: Proverbs, (3) coming to grips with morality: Ecclesiastes, (4) wisdom and suffering: Job, and (5) wisdom and love: Song of Songs. In part one, Phillips introduces the reader to the genre of wisdom and looks at basic and definitional aspect of biblical wisdom. She also helps the reader better understand the nature and structure of Hebrew poetry and the overall context of wisdom literature. In the remaining four parts, Phillips focuses on the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible and the various aspects found therein. The chapters are generally brief and intentionally seek to cultivate engaged interest not he part of the reader. This includes various excursuses throughout the volume and a curated, up-to-date bibliography for further study following each major part of the book.   

As a book targeted for undergraduate students and interested laypersons, I found Phillips’ to be both informative and engaging. It is informative in that Phillips knows her targeted audience and she does well to meet their needs without exploring areas that may prove potentially hazardous. It is engaging in that Phillips demonstrates a keen sensitivity to the many issues that arise within wisdom literature, and she approaches such with the wit of one who has been teaching the material for many years. Readers of this volume will likely find Phillip both humorous and insightful. I especially found her treatment of Hebrew poetry helpful, as someone who has read broadly on the topic. She has a unique ability to make complex matters simple, and I trust most readers will appreciate that ability. It would have been nice to find questions for further study at the conclusion of each chapter. Not only would Phillips’ style have been complemented, but the comprehension of the reader would have been aided.

An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts by Elaine A. Phillips is an insightful and engaging exploration through the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a tour de force of winsome nature. Phillips is a master teacher, and her seasoned demeanor explodes on nearly every page as she guides readers through the wonders of biblical wisdom. If you’ve been looking for an introduction to the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, then look no further. An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts by Elaine A. Phillips is one of the best introductory works that I’ve seen in some time, and I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.

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