Book Review: Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature

Several months ago, I wrote a small book review on Derek Kidner’s introduction to the Wisdom Literature, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature. Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1985. There were a few short comings with this text, but it was one of the few intro books that was written at the popular level.  I always had hoped Kidner would have updated this volume to include the recent trends within the ever expanding field of Wisdom Literature. Sadly an update would never come. Because of these short comings, I have been looking for another popular level introduction to the Wisdom Literature, and I think I may have found it: Lucas, Ernest C. Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature. Exploring the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 2004.

By no means is this book the most comprehensive introduction to the wisdom corpus, but it does a very nice job in distilling information in an accessible way. The discussions of genre are condensed, but filled with good insight and places to go for further reading (this may be this books biggest strength), which is something that I greatly appreciate. Such an approach will help to acclimate a new student to the more pertinent secondary literature of the genre.

The standard introductory information for the books covered are present. This means that a brief overview of each biblical book (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles) containing outlines, discussion on form, and the theology of the text are provided. There is also a decent excursus type chapter devoted to biblical poetry.

Lucas’ strength is in succinctly summarizing various scholarly positions on topics such as: how to understand Lady Wisdom, the social nexus of the sapiential enterprise within Israel, and the influence of other ANE wisdom texts on the biblical collection.

The book is visually appealing due to the double column layout of its pages. It also has several well placed text boxes that point the reader to either consider the implications of a particular perspective or where to go for further reading on a given subject. The charts and maps are also clean and helpful for the entry level student.

I would not recommend this text for someone at the graduate level, but I do think that this is an ideal book that could be used at an undergrad bible college, or an adult Sunday School class. Ernest Lucas has done his intended audience a great service by providing an introductory text that is easy to read and packed with quality information. This volume has replaced the previously mentioned text by Kidner as the preeminent introductory text written for a popular audience.

5 comments to Book Review: Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature

  • What I like about this series is that it takes your throught the OT chunk by chunk (mostly, Lucas doesn’t do that for the Psalms) though in bite size portions, so that getting through the whole thing is doable. General introductions are too thematic (i.e. don’t follow the contour of the text) and commentaries are too detailed. I’m working through the last one now: McConville on the Prophets.

  • parkersmood

    Hello Phil,

    I agree. It is a very refreshing introduction, and the layout is very easy on tired eyes.

    This is the only volume in the series that I have seen. Our campus bookstore was liquidating their inventory, so I picked this book up for $5.

    How is McConville’s treatment on the Prophets?

  • I’m only reading it on the side, which means extremely slowly. I’ve only read the intro so far. I like his approach, i.e. his attempt to balance historical critical, literary, canonical, and theological issues.

  • Adam, I have the Pentateuch volume in that series, and you’re welcome to look at it whenever you would like. Overall I think the series is a helpful introduction (for the most part) geared primarily at a non-specialist audience.

  • parkersmood

    I have scanned the Pentateuch volume, but at some point I may like to take a deeper look. Thanks for the offer.

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