Wisdom: My review of Jill Firth’s Honoring the Wise

. Sometimes wise, sometimes provocative, and sometimes surprising, Honoring the Wise displays the depth of influence the Hebrew Bible has on Christian thought and behaviour.

Jill Firth & Paul Barker, editors, Honoring the Wise: Wisdom in Scripture, Ministry, and Life: Celebrating Lindsay Wilson’s Thirty Years at Ridley, Wipf and Stock 2022.

281 pages + 25 pages Introduction

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6667-3647-2
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-6667-9480-9
eBook         ISBN:  978-1-6667-9481-6

Paperback from $45, Hardcover $70. Kindle $11

Reviewed by Ted Witham
(first published in Anglican Messenger, July 2022)

Old Testament scholar The Rev’d Dr Jill Firth, a former West Australian, with her colleague Paul Barker at Ridley College in Melbourne, has produced this splendid collection of 18 essays to mark Lindsay Wilson’s thirty years as a teacher of Old Testament at Ridley.

Dr Wilson’s central area of scholarship is the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, and the title, Honoring the Wise, reflects a wide scope: some of the contributions are specifically on Wisdom texts, others honour Dr Wilson as a wise teacher and scholar.

Honoring the Wise is structured in five parts: Wisdom as Narrative, Wisdom in the Writings, Wisdom in Prophecy, Wisdom in Preaching and Teaching, and Wisdom in Life.

As with all collections like this, some chapters appeal more than others to the reader. I was intrigued by Andrew Judd’s exploration of Judges 19 – an obscure horror story for most of us – and his insistence that this fable-like story is an invitation to seek wisdom and to infer better ethics in a society where there is a king, and where Levites behave with wisdom.

According to Judd, “We are invited to sit with the wise and observe the messiness of reality, with all its ambivalence and discontinuity; to get on top of it, take counsel, and then, only then, to speak out.” (26)

Dr Firth’s own contribution on finding relational wisdom in the book of Jeremiah concludes that “In his prophecy and confessions, Jeremiah comes to know God through apprenticeship, questioning, dialogue, and lament.” (58) This fourfold pattern suggest a workable framework for helping Christians come to wisdom in a world where there is conflict and pain.

Ridley College’s biblical theology has a strong reputation both for its academic rigour and its evangelical flavour: here you will find, for example, a consistent belief not shared by all scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures, that the “whole Gospel” is contained in the Old Testament. This collection of essays will appeal to all who wish to be refreshed and challenged in their understanding of the place of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The book has a striking cover by Victorian artist and theology graduate Dr Anne G. Ellison.

The publisher’s insistence on American spelling in a book showcasing Australian scholarship irritated me.

Honoring the Wise deserves an audience wider than the Ridley community and broader than evangelical Christians. Sometimes wise, sometimes provocative, and sometimes surprising, it displays the depth of influence the Hebrew Bible has on Christian thought and behaviour.