An Introduction to Wisdom Literature adn teh Psalms: Festschrift for Marvin E. Tate

By H. Wayne Ballard, Jr., and W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., eds.
Macon, Ga. : Mercer University (2000). xii + 242 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 96-97

This festschrift celebrates Marvin T ate’s fifty-year professo rial career. Tate is best known for his commentary on Psalms 51–100 in Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1990). He is senior professor of Old Testament at Southern Seminary. This volume “is designed to be an entry-level textbook for university or divinity school students of the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms” (3). All essays are by leading Baptist scholars in the field. 

After a brief introduction and overview (1-9) and a brief biographical sketch of Marvin Tate (11-20), the core material commences with John D . W. Watts’ survey of the use and interpretation of the Book of Psalms throughout its history (21-35). James D. Nogalski then discusses the superscriptions and groupings of the Psalms (37-54). He describes how the canonical book was developed and what would happen “if one attempts to read Psalms as a book rather than a vessel containing 150 different psalms” (37). In his opinion, the Hebrew psalter was not standardized in its present form until the first century A.D. (49). The final canonical shape of the Book of Psalms may include psalms or parts of psalms written for the purpose of serving as introductions or conclusions to the five books within the collection (53). This same topic appears in Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s “The Canonical Shape of the Psalms” (93-110).

Daniel S. Mynatt contributed an essay on “The Poetry and Literature of the Psalms” (55-66) that deals with the characteristics of Hebrew poetry and the form critical contributions of Hermann Gunkel. “The Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Book of Psalms” (67-92) by Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., compares Psalms with Egyptian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic poetry. Greatest attention is given to a study of the concepts of God in the Book of Psalms and in ancient near eastern poetic literature (76-91). “Portraits of Faith: The Scope of Theology in the Psalms” (111-28) is by William H. Bellinger, Jr. He develops the areas of covenant theology, creation theology, and prophetic theology. For Bellinger the theology of the Psalms is “intertwined with life experience” (127), both in its composition and its application.

The last six essays in the volume examine Wisdom literature. “An Introduction to the History of Interpretation” (129-53) by M . Pierce Matheney, Jr., is limited to a study of Wisdom personified (especially Lady Wisdom) in Proverbs 1, 8, and 9, along with Job 28 and selected portions of Ecclesiastes (128). W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., then examines proverb, sayings, riddle, allegory, hymns, disputation, and autobiographical narrative in “Literary Forms in the Wisdom Literature” (155-66). He also looks at life settings for wisdom literature involving family, royal advisor, and school.

In “Biblical Wisdom in Its Ancient Middle Eastern Context” (167-80), Thomas Smothers describes the wisdom texts of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Ugarit. Two categories occupy Smothers: prudential wisdom (consisting of “proverbs, aphorism, admonitions, and riddles designed to show the way to success and to life,” (169) and speculative wisdom (involving the examination of human experience “with the vagaries of an inconsistent and often incomprehensible world,” 175). “The Canonical Shape of the Wisdom Literature” (181-93) is Gerald Keown’s contribution to the volume. H e seeks to identify the “ways in which hermeneutical goals were achieved through the canonical shape given to the wisdom books” (181). Proverb s, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom are the objects of Keown’s discussion.

The final essays are Carol S. Grizzard’s “The Scope of Theology in Wisdom Literature” (195-214) and James L. Crenshaw’s “Unresolved Issues in Wisdom Literature” (215-27). Grizzard focuses more on man and his life needs than on the nature and work of God due to biblical wisdom’s “practical, human-centered approach” (195). Crenshaw’s essay considers the validity of defining and classifying biblical wisdom literature as well as the issue of unity and disunity within the corpus. Helpful indexes conclude the volume (Scripture, 229-39; and Name and Subject, 240-42).