This doctoral dissertation by Bovati provides a detailed examination of every aspect of the legal controversy or rîb in the Hebrew Bible. Bovati does an excellent job of covering all of the terms and phrases that are used in connection with this important dimension of the Hebrew culture in biblical times. I wish I had come across this book before completing my dissertation on “the righteousness of God,” since one of the main things I argue in my dissertation is that when God’s righteousness is used in a positive, saving or delivering sense in the OT, especially in the Psalms and Isaiah, it is in the context of a legal controversy. The psalmist or the nation of Israel is embroiled in a legal controversy, usually being accused and oppressed by an enemy. For example, David cries out to God, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!” (Ps 31:1). The reason he appeals to God’s righteousness is because he wants God to give a judgment (mishpat) in the legal controversy by executing judgment upon his enemies and thus deciding in his favor as the party who is in the right. If I had encountered Bovati’s book while writing my dissertation, I could have strengthened this part of my dissertation. Bovati’s work reinforces my own conclusions.
Anything by Kidner is good, and this book is no exception. I read this book in order to prepare for a series of Bible studies on the OT Wisdom books (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes) at our church. Kidner has two chapters on each book: one chapter providing a basic interpretation of that book, the second chapter summarizing and evaluating modern (up to 1985) scholarship on that book. Appendix A gives the student a taste of the wisdom literature of the nations surrounding Israel, especially from Egypt and Mesopotamia.
I like this quote by Kidner on the nature of Wisdom literature in general:
“In the Wisdom books the tone of voice and even the speakers have changed. The blunt ‘Thou shalt’ or ‘shalt not’ of the Law, and the urgent ‘Thus saith the LORD’ of the Prophets, are joined now by the cooler comments of the teacher and the often anguished questions of the learner. Where the bulk of the Old Testament calls us simply to obey and to believe, this part of it ... summons us to think hard as well as humbly; to keep our eyes open, to use our conscience and our common sense, and not to shirk the most disturbing questions” (p. 11).
One topic that Kidner helpfully addresses is the inter-relationships among the three Wisdom books. For example, is Job a critique of Proverbs? Proverbs 13:9 confidently promises that “the light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out,” whereas Job 21:17 cynically asks, “How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?” But Kidner thinks it is not quite accurate to say that Job is a critique of Proverbs. Rather the book of Job “attacks the arrogance of pontificating about the application of these truths, and of thereby misrepresenting God and misjudging one’s fellow men ... The book shows (by its context, the opening scene in heaven) how small a part of any situation is the fragment that we see” (p. 61). Job’s friends misapplied the truth and ended up misrepresenting God (see Job 13:1-12).