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Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach To The Wisdom Literature Of the Old Testament
William P. Brown

080284135X Retail Price: $19.00
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Format: Paperback, 190pp.
ISBN: 9780802841353
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Pub. Date: February 1996

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About the Author
Table of Contents
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From The Publisher:

At a time when the chasm between academic scholarship and theological reflection seems to be widening, both the academic guild and the church share in common an uncertainty over how to study and appropriate the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. On the one hand, mainline denominations have for the most part avoided the books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes in their preaching and educational curriculum. Biblical scholars, on the other hand, have labored hard to identify the theological significance and thematic center of the wisdom literature, but without much consensus.

In Character in Crisis, William P. Brown helps to break the impasse by demonstrating that the aim of the Bible’s wisdom literature is the formation of the moral character—both for individuals and for the community. Brown traces the theme of moral identity and conduct throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, with a concluding reflection on the Epistle of James in the New Testament, and explores a range of issues that includes literary characterization, moral discourse, worldview, and the theology of the ancient sages. He examines the ways in which central characters such as God, wisdom, and human beings are profiled in the wisdom books and shows how their characterizations impart ethical meaning to the reading community, both ancient and modern.


Brown takes a much-needed look at the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and explains what they teach about character…. Offers intriguing insights as to the intended purpose of each of the wisdom books. A fresh approach indeed, also original and perceptive… This is a truly exciting and illuminating study of OT wisdom, and it is well written…. It is a relief and a joy to read so balanced a work which reaches into the heart of wisdom.
Catholic Biblical Quarterly

Brown's analysis teems with insights into character development in wisdom literature.

A thoughtful study of the wisdom literature that distances itself from the individualism that has eviscerated our moral discourse…. Because Brown illuminates biblical wisdom in "fresh" ways, his book would make a provocative introductory work for college and seminary students and for pastors.
—Princeton Seminary Bulletin

Valuable as a teaching text with seminarians. The clear, lively style gains a willing audience, and the focus on moral character open to many a large section of the Bible that previously seemed unapproachable. Moreover, the frequent use of exegetical observations engages students in a dialogue that draws them back to the biblical text, in both agreement and disagreement with their partner.
Pro Ecclesia

An interesting and readable book….Recommend highly to anyone who would like to know more about Old Testament wisdom and how it might speak to our world today.
Southwestern Journal of Theology

A welcome contribution both to the growing body of work on wisdom literature and to the contemporary debate on ethics. Pastors, students, and interested lay people will all find this book a delightful and informative read.
Word & World


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About the Author

William P. Brown is the Aubrey Lee Brooks Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Ethics and Ethos of Biblical Wisdom
Descriptive Character
Prescriptive or Moral Character
Literary and Moral Character
Narrative and Character
Character and Wisdom Literature

2. The Formation of Character in Proverbs; or, Virtue and the Art of Community Maintenance
Proverbs 1:1-7
The Ethos of Instruction
The Profile of Virtue in Parental Discourse
Wisdom's Discourse: From Character to Creation
Virtues for the Wise: Proverbs 9:7-12
Conclusion: Prolegomena Revisited
Beyond Proverbs 1-9: Virtues for a Dissolute Age

3. The Deformation of Character: Job 1-31
The Prologue: The Profile of Integrity (1:1-2:13)
The Discourse: Integrity Re-profiled 4. The Reformation of Character: Job 32-42
Elihu: The Untamed, Wise Youth
Yahweh's Discourse
The Epilogue: Job Restored
Conclusion: The Ecology of Character

5. Character Reconstructed: Ecclesiastes
Qoheleth's Self-Characterization
The Shaking of the Foundation
Wisdom Recharacterized
Qoheleth's Relation to the World: The Absurd
Character Reconstructed

6. Conclusion: The Journey of Character
The Self Moving Outward
The Self Returning
Formation of Character: What Is Gained in the Journey?
A Synthesis of Character?
The Letter of James: Wisdom for the Church

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