This study is intended to be an introduction to the five books of the Bible grouped together in the Old Testament of English translations of the Bible after the Law and historical books (Genesis to Esther) and before the books ofthe Prophets (Isaiah to Malachi). The five books in the order in which they are placed are: • Job
• Song of Songs
The books deserve to be grouped together since they are clearly different in character from the other parts of the Old Testament (with the possible exception of Lamentations, which was placed together with them in the Hebrew Bible but is placed after Jeremiah in English translations because its authorship is traditionally attributed to the prophet), but they really comprise books of two different major genres: a) Poetry – the Psalms are a collection of poems or songs. b) Wisdom – Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes belong within this genre. Having identified these two genres, however, it must be said that the division is not as absolute as it may appear, for a number of reasons: • There is some debate as to which category Song of Songs should be placed in – is it a poetic song or an example of “lyric wisdom” (see the section on Song of Songs for further discussion). • A number of psalms can be classified as “wisdom psalms” (see the section on Psalms for more detail). • Proverbs and sections of Ecclesiastes and Job are written in poetry. In addition it is important to realise that the literary genres called wisdom and poetry are by no means restricted to these five books. As we shall see, these genres are found throughout the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament). Still, it is within these five books that poetry and wisdom are concentrated in the Old Testament, and this section serves a distinct purpose within the canon of Scripture. Major purposes:
• Commentary on the Old Testament narrative
Together with Lamentations and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve Minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi) they serve as a break from and a commentary upon the narrative backbone that runs through the Old Testament. The other Old Testament books (Genesis to Esther and the book of Daniel) are predominantly narrative, telling an unfolding story of God’s relationship with mankind and especially with Israel. These books sit alongside that narrative and give us insights into its significance and into the spiritual life of the people. • Insight into everyday life and experience
Whereas the narrative books focus on big events, nations and major characters, these poetic and wisdom books give us insights into the feelings and experience of individuals. In some cases (primarily David and possibly also Solomon) the insights are into the life of characters who figure significantly in the narrative, but in others the author is unknown or relative insignificant in historical terms. Where the narrative books focus on God’s actions in the history of Israel and the surrounding nations, these books focus on the response of God’s people to Him. They primarily record the words of people about God, including praise and despair, questions and struggles. They are an insight into the heart of the faithful people within Israel. If we did not have these books we would struggle to know what it was like to live a life of faith in God as one of His people. Before considering each book in turn we must first briefly consider the two major genres of wisdom and poetry that comprise these books.
POETRY IN THE HEBREW BIBLE
The place of poetry in the Old Testament
According to Grant Osborne: “Poetry is … a device that cuts across other genres, being a major rhetorical technique in wisdom and prophetic literature”. Poetry is found in three places within the Old Testament: • Poetic Books – three whole books are entirely comprised of poetry or songs: Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. • Narrative books – songs and poems are found within...
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