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Review: Interpreting the Wisdom Books

The wisdom books of the Old Testament—Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—are often met with confusion on how to interpret and even preach through them. This is the problem that Edward M. Curtis seeks to fix in Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An Exegetical Handbook (Kregel Academic, 2017), the newest addition to Kregel's Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis (Daniel M. Howard, Jr., ed.). The wisdom books are very timely and practical, so, in this book, Curtis outlines an approach to reading wisdom literature, from observation to interpretation to application.

Curtis guides the exegete through the major themes and concepts of each book, pointing out important literary devices and words. This book reveals the message beneath each book and how it can be appropriated to the modern world. What I found most useful were the short series of "hooks" for each book (i.e. "Ecclesiastes emphasizes perplexing realities about life"). Curtis' text is brief yet full and incredibly accessible to those who desire to study or teach through these often forgotten books. There is also an appendix containing a short guide to using Bible software, updated to its most recent information. The only issue that I encountered was that each chapter was arranged methodologically rather than thematically. It would have been easier to read a separate chapter on observing, interpreting, and applying each individual book rather than a chapter on observing all four books. This, admittedly, is a minor issue, and Curtis' structure does lend itself to effective exegesis.

Curtis does not force interpretations but rather suggests them, presenting the information that the reader can use for themselves. With such controversial books, this is a respectable endeavor. Overall, I highly recommend this text for those who are interested in learning more about these Old Testament books or who would like a different book through which to teach or preach. Curtis' text would fit well in a Sunday school or university course, appealing to a large range of audiences.

(My thanks is given to Kregel for providing a complimentary review copy.)


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