Item description for Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament by William Brown...
Overview In Character in Crisis, William P. Brown helps to demonstrate that the aim of the Bible's wisdom literature is the formation of 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 the characterizations impart ethical meaning to the reading community, both ancient and modern.
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Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.08" Width: 6.02" Height: 0.52" Weight: 0.6 lbs.
Release Date Feb 29, 1996
Publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN 080284135X ISBN13 9780802841353
Availability 0 units.
More About William Brown
William Brown lived in Edinburgh in the late 1800s. He was a respected contemporary of Charles H. Spurgeon and William Smith, author of "Smith's Bible Dictionary."
Reviews - What do customers think about Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament?
Good book Apr 3, 2008
I read this book for a school class and I really enjoyed it. A little technical, but great insight. Strongly recommend text.
Character in Crisis by William P. Brown Book Review May 30, 2007
William P. Brown wrote Character in Crisis in order "to demonstrate that the idea of character constitutes the unifying theme or center of the wisdom literature, whose raison d'etre is to profile ethical character" (p. 21). He begins his book with an overview of ethical thought and wisdom, from Aristotle to Hauerwas. He profiles the views of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes and how each one views wisdom.
In Proverbs, Brown attempts to show a journey of character growth from the implied "silent son" of chapters 1-9, who is receiving the father's instructions (the implied reader), to an elder by chapter 31, who is now married to Lady Wisdom. Along the way, the movement is from hearth and home to facing individual temptations (conflicting values and worldviews) from Lady Folly and finally away from individuality to community, the end goal of wisdom. Questionable is the certainty Brown displays regarding the redaction of the book as one intended to show a central character always just "off camera," who grows and learns and culminates in the adult male married to the ideal woman (interpreted as Lady Wisdom incarnate). This is as good a thread as any other discerned to tie together the Book of Proverbs, but remains, at best, an educated guess; there still remains a seemingly disjointed order to the moral teachings therein.
Both Job and Ecclesiastes are seen to challenge traditional wisdom. Examination is made of the character Job's journey as a growth in character: from victim to audacious self-defender to courageous confronter of God, always holding onto integrity. Job hardly acts like the silent son and communal elder praised in Proverbs in the midst of his suffering. Rather, he argues against the wise in his community who seek his penance (because suffering doesn't happen if you haven't deserved it). Job is not silent, however, but defiant; he does not accept the wisdom of his "elders" (neither does Elihu). Job himself becomes the "stranger" who is dangerous to his friends' worldview but who then is vindicated. Job's faith could rightly be called a "defiant trust." God shows that his rule is wild but good (out of our control), allowing good to happen where humanity is not central (in nature) and where humanity is central (in society; God allows good and ill to happen to both good and bad people - God is never under our control). This is a credible interpretation of the Book of Job.
In Ecclesiastes, the character is Qoheleth. He is the wisdom sage who does not believe in wisdom. His message - rejoice in your youth; eat, drink, and be merry - is decidedly untraditional. Qoheleth labels all striving after material goods as "absurd." He failed to find peace in the community and found himself a stranger in an absurd world. He deconstructs the traditional connection between conduct and destiny, and he journeys toward a resigned acceptance of whatever gives simple joy in this life - eating, drinking, working without thought of reward, etc. Brown admits that Qoheleth accepts life on God's terms and finds Qoheleth's stance ultimately life-affirming. This is probably too optimistic, however, for emptiness and futility have placed question marks over everything Qoheleth observes about life, including the little pleasures one is able to seize while young enough to do so.
Brown concludes with a brief but insightful comment on the Epistle of James in order to show the church, even of today, that more attention needs to be given to biblical wisdom which goes beyond mere human understanding but on into acceptance beyond understanding of God's ways. In other words, although Brown did not use this analogy, God is a river in which we need to let the current take us where it will.
Excellent Approach to the Wisdom Literature Feb 8, 2006
I took a class in college on the wisdom and poetic literature. We studied the Hebrew text and got into a lot of issues with the ancient text as well as with the modern translations. I had not previously known about this book, but I have found that it deals effectively with many of the issues that were addressed in my class. It is definately an academic book that will take some reading to understand, but if you read it with the wisdom literature in your other hand you will gain some incredible insight into that portion of scripture. This is probably the most honest book dealing with the wisdom literature that I am aware of.
A liberal approach to Scripture Nov 11, 2003
The key feature that stood out to me while reading Character in Crisis, was that his conclusions demonstrate the natural outcome of liberal presuppositions centered in higher critical thinking. His presuppositions make themselves apparent in every chapter. The first chapter, which purports in its title to describe "The Ethics and Ethos of Biblical Wisdom" focuses on defining character based on literary and ethical scholarship and then fitting biblical depictions of character into that model. Here we are first introduced to a theme that will continue throughout this book, community. Brown sees moral rules and principles, not as an eternal standard, but as a product of the community (pg. 14). This is in line with the post-modern philosophical idea that truth is created, not discovered. The theme of community continues into the second chapter, where Brown links wisdom with the promotion of communal values and then states, "In stark contrast, the way of the wicked is essentially one that threatens to collapse the established structures of the community, undermining its ethical foundations." (pg. 34) He goes on to summarize the book of Proverbs as, "essentially about the journey from home to community and back again, a rite de passage that requires letting go of the parental ties of security to seek one's own security and identity through service to the community." (pg. 49)
The concept that the community produces and defines wisdom and character continues to the end of the book where Brown concludes by stating, "The final test of wisdom and character is the quality of community it engenders" (pg. 164). I propose that he has it backwards. He is judging God's Word by its outcome. Rather, we need to judge the outcome by God's Word. Then we would conclude that the final test of a community is the wisdom and character of its individual members, looking to Scripture to define wisdom and character for us.
Brown's references to the authors of the wisdom books, such as, "the editors who produced the book of Proverbs" (pg. 47) reveal another of his presuppositions, that these are merely human works. Nowhere does he mention divine inspiration. Job is depicted as a product of the "joban poet," created to play a part in a work of fiction, instead of presenting him as an historical figure. This is shown by statements like, "The poet transforms or re-profiles Job's character" (pg. 82) or "Job is a character in transition.". (pg. 115) He is willing to let Qoheleth stand as the author of Ecclesiastes except for the last few verses, which he insists are the work of a final editor. (pg. 120) Brown's failure to bring out the divine nature of these books serves to undermine their impact. Instead of carrying the weight of a statement such as, "this is the inspired, inerrant Word of God," these books are reduced to merely being works of men which have stood the test of time, comparable to any other ancient Arabic, Egyptian, or Greek literature.
I was refreshed when the chapter on Ecclesiastes began fairly simply as a commentary on the text, outlining and summarizing Qoheleth's statements. This refreshment only lasted a few pages, though, before Brown sidetracked himself by moving into a comparison of Qoheleth with various ancient philosophers. His commentary on Ecclesiastes goes further astray near the end of the chapter where he weakens the numerous admonitions to fear God by defining fear in merely temporal terms. He rightly says that to fear God is to, "embrace one's creaturely status", "be quietly receptive", and "acknowledge the unsurpassable chasm between the transcendent God and the frail human being." (pg. 145) However, in Brown's presentation, this chasm is not caused by sin separating man from a personal God. It is depicted only as the gap between finite man and transcendent God. Perhaps because he has downplayed the personal nature of God, Brown focuses his conclusion of the chapter on what he calls, "Qoheleth's brand of carpe diem" (pg. 149). Instead of emphasizing the call in the closing verses of Ecclesiastes to "Fear God and keep His commandments" (Eccl. 12:13), He dismisses this as an addition by a final editor and concludes that the primary message of Ecclesiastes is to enjoy the little pleasures of life along the way, to "eat, drink, and find enjoyment in one's labors." (pg. 150)
By the middle of the book, I was so leery of anything Brown had to say, that even if anything worthwhile was buried in there, the effort to dig it out, clean it off, and then verify it with a trustworthy source would be a counterproductive waste of time and energy. Because of Brown's apparent attitude of anti-supernaturalism and a low view of Scripture that, I cannot value this book as a resource for commentary on the wisdom books. Instead, it shows me the natural outcome of the author's presuppositions. As a Conservative Christian who believes in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, I cannot recommend this book as anything other than a study in the natural outcome of the liberal, higher critical approach to Scripture.
A fresh theological reflection on biblical wisdom Feb 22, 2003
William Brown is talented as a biblical scholar, a theologian and a writer. Alarmed that the Church has virtually ignored the diverse and theologically-rich books of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Brown makes a strong argument that the function of biblical wisdom is character formation. He also shows an interest in ethics, speculating throughout about how individuals embodying sapiential virtues might interact with the larger community. Brown finally argues that the NT letter of James draws on the OT wisdom tradition's emphasis on consistency of conduct and conviction for the individual and the community. His conclusion, like the rest of the book, is provocative: "The final test of wisdom and character is the quality of community it engenders" (164).