Review of The Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings

Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, eds. Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008. Pp. 967. $35.00, US.

The Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings is the seventh offering in the IVP Academic Dictionaries series. Edited by Tremper Longman III (Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) and Peter Enns (currently unaffiliated [more of this below]), the dictionary is 967 pages long and consists of about 150 articles from over ninety different contributors from around the world. To make this lengthy work more easily accessible the dictionary contains three different indices: scripture, subject, and article.

The types of articles found within the dictionary range from the literary (for instance, articles on Acrostic, Chiasm, Frame Narrative, and Wordplay), to topics such as Afterlife, God, and Women.

Perhaps the most significant contribution this volume makes is its lengthy treatments of the various biblical books considered to be OT Wisdom, Poetry and Writing. The biblical books included within the work are the following: Ecclesiastes, Esther, Job, Lamentations, Proverbs, Psalms, Ruth, and Song of Songs. What is to me one of the most interesting and helpful aspects of this dictionary is that the treatment of each book is divided into three main sections – a discussion of the book itself, a discussion of the book in relation to its Ancient Near Eastern background, and a discussion of the history of interpretation of the book. This feature alone makes the work worth the money and reflects a growing realization amongst evangelical biblical scholars that the books making up the Bible did not and do not exist in a vacuum. In particular, articles situating the book within its Ancient Near Eastern background help the user determine what sorts of interpretations would have been possible for early readers of these biblical books. From an Anabaptist standpoint this feature should be most welcome, for it will hopefully aid in the difficult task of rendering more and more faithful understandings of Scripture. On the other hand, the articles on the history of interpretation of biblical books show a deep awareness that our reading of Scripture is not done without a connection to how others have read it. This attention to the effective history (or for those who care about German – Wirkungsgeschichte) of biblical books throughout the life of Israel and the church reminds the reader that interpretation is never a solitary experience but must always be done within community – both our local community and the church down through the ages.

So why should the fine readers of YAR be interested in this dictionary? Good question. First, a number of the biblical works discussed in the articles are amongst the most difficult books to appropriate for Christian use. Does Ecclesiastes lead to anything better than nihilism? What comfort can we glean from the book of Job? How can we take Proverbs seriously when it suggests that the poor be given strong drink to forget their troubles (Prov 31.7)? Even more troubling for Anabaptists, how are we to understand Psalms like Psalm 137 that delight in the slaughtering of infants? The numerous articles in this dictionary provide a great entryway into thinking through these issues and point the interested reader to literature that might be of further help.

One final note: while not pertinent to a review of this book, it might be of interest to some readers that one of the editors, Peter Enns, was himself an attendee of a college with Anabaptist roots – Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. His most recent book, Incarnation and Inspiration, has garnered considerable attention in the evangelical world and led to his dismissal (recently upgraded to a mutually agreed upon discontinuation of service) from Westminster Theological Seminary due to what was deemed an insufficient view of Scripture.

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One Response to “Review of The Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings”

  1. art Says:

    It was not because his view of Scripture was deemed insufficient.

    Rather, it was because some within the Seminary felt that his work fell outside of the purview of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which the Seminary’s faculty must uphold.

    It had more to do with hermeneutics as it relates to extra-biblical sources and Christology than simply with a certain view of Scripture.

    I realize that the “pop” level understanding of the issues involved is relatively low, but the truth of the actual issues involved in the mutual parting of ways should still be stated.

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