Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Calduch-Benages, Nuria (ed.), Wisdom For Life: Essays Offered to Honor Prof. Maurice Gilbert, SJ on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (BZAW, 445; Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2014). Pp. 381. Hardcover. €119.95/US$168.00. ISBN: 978-3-11-030162-5.

This volume is an elegantly structured Festschrift given to Prof. Maurice Gilbert, a renowned scholar of wisdom literature and a professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute for many years until his retirement. Twenty-four essays from fellow scholars and former students deal with various topics that pertain to each of the five sapiential books, namely Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth, Ben Sira, and Wisdom of Solomon, as well as the book of Psalms. The methodologies employed range from the textual to the theological and the languages used include French (4), German (2), and English (18).

Michael V. Fox opens the section on Proverbs with “A Profile of the Septuagint Proverbs,” where he characterizes the Septuagint translation of Proverbs as flexible instead of free due to a number of techniques or practices that the translator employed, namely mimesis, heightening moral clarity, enhancing the dignity of certain actions or figures, improving or bringing out the logic implicit in a verse, resolving and explicating metaphors, disambiguation, elaborations, over-explanation, and enhancing parallelism. Jean Louis Ska, in “Abraham, maître de sagesse selon l'ideal des Proverbes,” notes that in Gen 18:19, in which God instructs Abraham to direct his descendants to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right as a precondition for fulfilling the divine promise, Abraham is portrayed as an ideal parent according to the model provided in Proverbs. Deuteronomy reinterprets and projects this ideal parental role upon Abraham in terms of the duty to teach the law and the commandments long before Moses received them. Hans-Winfried Jüngling, in “Von der ‘Anstrengung des Begriffs’ (Spr 1:3) und von ‘Not’ und ‘Not wendender Kraft’ (Spr 24:10,11–12),” traces the Wirkungsgeschichte of two passages from the book of Proverbs, namely Prov 1:3 in Hegel's work on phenomenology and Prov 24:10–12 in the reflections and action of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the final essay, “The Words of Augur (Prov 30:1–9) and the Book of Proverbs: Some Historico-Anthropological Considerations,” Angelo Passaro observes that the increasing postexilic role of the scribe results in the centrality of the word while recognizing at the same time a certain caution against the lofty claims of human wisdom to investigate God, as is indicated in the words of Agur.

The section devoted to the book of Job begins with “Job et la main de Dieu” where Francoise Mies examines the significant part that the “hand of God” plays in the drama in Job because the “hand of God,” which symbolizes both God's creative and destructive power, is the problem of Job. Job's relationship with God finds its axis in God's hand, experiencing it as a saving right hand and a cruel left hand. God appears and speaks to Job without any references to his hand but as creator whose power is not to destroy but to give life. Dariusz Iwanski, in “Courtroom Imagery: The Neglected Background of Job 5:1,” analyzes the echoes of the concepts of the divine council and courtroom proceedings in the address of Eliphaz to Job, claiming that the options of either filing a lawsuit against God or turning to the members of the divine council to mediate and arbitrate his grievance fall within the realm of impossibility. Renate Egger-Wenzel contextualizes Job 29:18–20 in her contribution “Ein Phönix in Iob 29:19” and argues that the question of whether there is a phoenix in Job cannot be answered from a philological level. However, the references in this gloss to metaphors and mythological images that connote life affirm its possibility from the level of meaning. The final essay to cover Job is Sebastiano Pinto's “The Optical Illusion: Job and the Reasons for a Protest (Job 29–31),” in which the author employs a sociological method in exploring Job's perception of his plight and his quotidian reality in terms of the unquestioned normative principles and evaluative categories that govern it.

James L. Crenshaw introduces the section on Qoheleth by posing a question with his essay “Qoheleth's Hatred of Life: A Passing Phase or an Enduring Sentiment?” He responds by denying the claim that Qoheleth's message is positive and by affirming that Qoheleth's hatred of life is not momentary but persistent. In “Power in Qoheleth and the Prophets,” Jesus Asurmendi compares the attitude of Qoheleth towards power with that of the prophets, claiming that although Qoheleth is neutral with regard to kingly power, he privileges wisdom and sees the success of kings as vanity. The prophets, on the other hand, tend to judge royal power in terms of righteousness and justice. Jeremy Corley also engages in a comparative study in “Qoheleth and Sirach: A Comparison,” identifying some interesting similarities and shared motifs such as the framework of both books, the portrait of Solomon, the numerical patterns and structural features between the two texts, their limited influence upon the New Testament, and the rabbinic questioning of their canonicity. Krzysztof Bardski traces the history of interpretation in the Jewish tradition of the “cord of the three strands” found in Qoh 4:12b in his essay “The Snowball and the Cord of Three Strands: Qoh 4:12b in the Rabbinic Tradition.” He notes that the phrase has been interpreted to refer to cooperation between three individuals, to the spiritual link between generations, to cooperation with God as source of power, and to the symbolism of the different elements of tradition.

Alexander A. Di Lella, O.F.M. opens the section on Ben Sira with an essay comparing various sayings and motifs in Ben Sira and Tobit in his essay “Parallels of Ben Sira's Wisdom in Tobit 4:3–19,” concluding that wisdom ideas are a major influence in the book of Tobit. In “Ben Sira 23:27—A Pivotal Verse,” Nuria Calduch Benages analyzes Sir 23:22–27, the passage that deals with the unfaithful wife, and argues that Sir 23:27 is a decisive and purposeful verse for Sir 1–23 in that the verse has several functions, primary of which is to prepare for the praise of Lady Wisdom in the second part of the book in Sir 24 and to endorse the avoidance of sin with the adulterous woman who figures in the first part. In “A Rereading of the Primeval Narratives: Ben Sira 40:1–17 and 16:26–17:4,” Pancratius C. Beentjes analyzes the two texts mentioned in the title and argues that their corresponding Hebrew text does not contain allusions to the primeval history in Gen 1–11. The Greek text of Sir 16:26–17:4, however, refers to humanity being created out of the earth in God's image and likeness. In “‘Perform your work promptly, and, in his time, he will give you your reward’ (SirG 51:30),” Maria Carmela Palmisano surveys the lexical distribution of the term “work” and argues that in the first and second parts of Ben Sira, the instructions focus on the action of the disciple with an increasing attention on the sage whose nature precedes his activity. The third and final parts of the book stress the correlation between the work of the sage and the work of God.

In the section that deals with the Wisdom of Solomon, Luca Mazzinghi discusses the significance of the terms “to punish” and “to reward” in the Book of Wisdom in “The Antithetical Pair ‘to punish’ and ‘to benefit’ in the Book of Wisdom.” Appearing in the seven Exodus-related antitheses begining in Wis 11:5, this Hellenistic word pair is used only to refer to God, highlighting God's antithetical actions of punishing the Egyptians and granting benefits to the Israelites with God's creation as his agents of aid. Marco Nobile, in “The Hereafter in the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom 1–3),” claims that Wisdom has no precise conception of the hereafter other than the notion that the life of the just does not end in death because the spirit of wisdom and justice, which is the Spirit of God, resides in the righteous. In “Building a Temple to Wisdom (Wis 9:8),” Michelangelo Priotto argues in light of the wisdom tradition that the mission entrusted to Solomon to build a temple in Wis 9:7–8 is in fact a mission of becoming the temple of wisdom, which happens when wisdom is accepted as a beloved spouse. Finally, in “L'επιείκεια divine ou la mesure du jugement selon Sg 11,15–12, 27,” Alexis Leproux argues that, in addition to understanding its biblical background and literary composition, the motif of divine clemency and justice should be viewed in terms of how the author interpreted the Exodus narrative through new perspectives inspired by Greco-Roman ideals of kingship.

The final section dedicated to the book of Psalms begins with Jacques Vermeylen's “Quand la structure révèle un sens: Les Psaumes ‘quasi-alphabétiques’ 33 et 103,” in which he examines the commonalities and parallelisms that surface from comparing the structures of the two psalms, making evident the opposition between those whose lives disappear and those who fear the Lord and enjoy God's faithfulness. Gianni Barbiero also offers a meticulous study of the structure of a psalm in “The Structure of Psalm 111,” using a global approach that focuses on content and form, arguing against the claims of Dennis Pardee that the psalm betrays no indications of division. The thematic and formal contents show a development of focus from the works of God in terms of creation, his historical works, and the work of the law to the works of humanity, culminating in the claim that humanity shares in the work of God when observing the law. In “Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4,” Ambrogio Spreafico argues that Gen 14:18–20 and Ps 110:4 were re-edited to provide legitimacy to the Hasmonean priesthood of Simon and John Hyrcanus in whose hands political and priestly powers resided. Finally, in “PsG 117:22–23 and the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers,” Renato de Zan investigates the use of the Greek translation of the psalm in Matt 21:33–45; Mark 12:9–12 and Luke 20:9–17, arguing that the psalm was linked to the parable due to the need to stress the role and character of the son in the allegorical reading of the parable.

It is not surprising to find a marked difference in quality among the essays in this volume. Some display focus while others meander; some show depth while others hint at breadth. Those that make some fascinating connections while exhibiting the virtue of precision are worth the reader's time and consideration: for this reviewer, at least, they include the contributions of Michael V. Fox, Jean Louis Ska, Francoise Mies, Renate Egger-Wenzel, James Crenshaw, Jeremy Corley, Nuria Calduch-Benages, Luca Mazzinghi, Ambrogio Spreafico and Gianni Barbiero, just to name a few. Nonetheless, this volume is a fitting and worthy tribute to one whose life has been devoted to the teaching of biblical wisdom. Qoheleth might disagree but these studies suggest at the very least that the scholarly labors of Prof. Gilbert have not been in vain.

Francis Macatangay, University of St. Thomas