James L. Crenshaw

James L. Crenshaw is the Robert L. Flowers Professor of the Old Testament at Duke University Divinity School. He is one of the world’s leading scholars in Old Testament Wisdom literature. He proposes that much of Proverbs was brought together at a time well after Solomon. He has been described as "a highly respected scholar" and an "excellent teacher".[1]

Academic career

James L. Crenshaw was born in Sunset, South Carolina, on December 19, 1934, and educated at Furman University (B.A., 1956), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (B.D., 1960), and Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., 1964), where he concentrated in Hebrew Bible under J. Phillip Hyatt and Walter Harrelson. In addition, he studied at the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School, Jerusalem (1963), and did postdoctoral studies at the University of Heidelberg (1972–73), Oxford University (1978–79), and Cambridge University (1984–85). He began his academic teaching career at Atlantic Christian College (1964–65), and then at Mercer University (1965–69), Vanderbilt University (1970–87), and finally Duke University (1987-2008), where he became the Robert L. Flowers Distinguished Professor. He was also a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in the summer of 1967, and the Joseph McCarthy Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 2006-2007. Widely regarded as a superb classroom teacher, he often lectured without notes on the most complex topics. Currently, Crenshaw resides in Nashville, Tennessee (2008–present).

Crenshaw has received numerous academic honors. A review article in the Religious Studies Review (1994) profiled his scholarly achievements,[2] and a Festschrift was dedicated to him in 2000.[3] Furman University, his alma mater, awarded him an honorary doctorate (1993), and he served as editor of the prestigious Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series (1978–84). A member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Guggenheim Fellow, he has also received fellowships from the Society for Religion in Higher Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Evangelical Scholarship Program, and grants from the American Association for Theological Schools and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2015 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University. Always active in community affairs, while at Duke he served on the Institute for Care at the End of Life, a joint endeavor of the Duke Medical and Divinity Schools. During his tenure at Vanderbilt, he participated in Jewish-Christian dialogue with the Anti-Defamation League and, in retirement, serves as a teacher in OLLI, Vanderbilt's Learning in Retirement program, as well as a teacher at various churches and synagogues.

Crenshaw first drew the attention of the academic world with his influential article, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence upon 'Historical' Literature" (1969),[4] in which he argued for stricter controls in identifying wisdom in non-wisdom biblical texts. Wisdom consists, Crenshaw argued, in a tradition, a particular approach to reality, and a body of literature at home in a "specifically defined movement," a complex definition he worked out more precisely in his later Old Testament Wisdom.[5] His first monograph, Prophetic Conflict (1971),[6] growing out of his article, "Popular Questioning of the Justice of God in Ancient Israel,"[7] signaled a lifelong interest in dissent and protest literature in wisdom and the Hebrew Bible. This led to a special focus on the problem of theodicy in wisdom, resulting in a series of books and articles on this theme.[8] Throughout all these publications Crenshaw sought a deeper appreciation of biblical protest literature—particularly dissent in Job and Ecclesiastes—and to integrate it into the mainstream of modern religious discourse. His important Defending God broadened the search,[9] while his commentaries on Ecclesiastes in the prestigious Westminster Old Testament Library series and Joel in the Anchor Bible narrowed it within specific literature.[10] Through all Crenshaw's published work to a greater or lesser degree runs the theme of theodicy.[11] He has, as colleagues indicate, spent a "lifetime of storming the gates of heaven in search of an answer to the problem of evil." Crenshaw's comprehensive interest in Hebrew wisdom has led him to contribute articles on wisdom in a number of leading religious encyclopedias,[12] journals, and special monographs.[13]

While Crenshaw's work has concentrated on Hebrew wisdom, he has also produced a major introduction to the Hebrew Bible,[14] commentaries on Joel and Sirach,[15] a critical study of Samson,[16] and an introduction to the life and work of Gerhard von Rad.[17] He launched the series Personalities of the Old Testament at the University of South Carolina Press to emphasize the beauty and profundity of the biblical literature. To date in this series seventeen volumes have been published.[18] His literary output in Hebrew Bible scholarship has included nearly 200 articles in major journals, encyclopedias, and monographs, including a book of poems, Dust and Ashes (2010),[19] and major plenary addresses at the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (Vienna, 1980; Cambridge, 1995), the Biblical Colloquium (Louven, 1978, 1998), the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 1993), and the Symposium on the Language of Qoheleth (Louven, 2004). He is a much sought-after contributor to various Festschriften.[20] His Story and Faith (1986), Old Testament Wisdom (2010), Education in Ancient Israel (1998), and Psalms: An Introduction (2001),[21] Reading Job: A Literary and Theological Commentary (2011), and Sipping at the Cup of Wisdom (2017), a two-volume history of wisdom research and selected essays on wisdom, have become standard texts in many universities and seminaries.

"How can one talk meaningfully about God?" Crenshaw reflects, is the question that has guided his life's work. To this end, he has mined the biblical text--"with stammering tongue"—to illuminate the spiritual quest of the biblical writers, editors, and characters, and thereby shed light upon the eternal spiritual quest of all humanity.

Published works


  • Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil
  • Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, described by one critic as "a challenging yet valuable book".[22]
  • The Psalms: An Introduction, which was reviewed in Hebrew Studies.[1]
  • Reading Job: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Reading the Old Testament)
  • Story and Faith: A Guide to the Old Testament
  • Sipping from the Cup of Wisdom (2 vols.)

Anchor Bible project

  • Education in Ancient Israel: Across the Deadening Silence (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)
  • Joel (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries)


  • Education in Ancient Israel (1998)
  • Prophetic Conflict (1971)
  • A Whirlpool of Torment (1984)


  1. Marvin E. Tate, The Psalms: An Introduction (review), From: Hebrew Studies, Volume 42, 2001, pp. 349-352 | 10.1353/hbr.2001.0029
  2. Walter Brueggemann, "James L. Crenshaw: Faith Lingering on the Edges" 29 (1994): 103-110.
  3. Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What is Right? ed. David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt (Eisenbrauns, 2000).
  4. Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969): 129-42.
  5. 3rd ed. (Westminster John Knox, 2010.)
  6. de Gruyter, 1971.
  7. Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 (1970): 380-95.
  8. Theodicy in the Old Testament (Fortress, 1984); Hymnic Affirmation of Divine Justice (Scholars Press, 1975); A Whirlpool of Torment (Fortress, 1984); Trembling on the Threshold of a Biblical Text (Eerdmans, 1994); Urgent Advice and Probing Questions (Mercer University, 1995); Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink (University of South Carolina Press, 2013); "The Problem of Theodicy in Sirach," Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 47-64; "The Shadow of Death in Qoheleth," in Israelite Wisdom, ed. J. G. Gammie et al. (Scholars Press, 1978), 105-16; "Questions: dictons et epreuves impossibles," in La Sagesse de l'Ancient Israel, ed. M. Gilbert (J. Duculot, 1979), 96-111; "The Birth of Skepticism in Ancient Israel," in The Divine Helmsman: Studies in God's Control of Human Events, ed. J. L. Crenshaw and Samuel Sandmel (Ktav, 1980).
  9. Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 2005).
  10. Ecclesiastes (Westminster, 1987); Joel (Doubleday, 1995).
  11. Cf. Prophets, Sages, and Poets (Chalice, 2006); "Theodicy," in Theodicy in the World of the Bible, ed. Antii Laato and Johannes de Moor (Brill, 2003); "Theodicy," in Thematic Threads in the Book of the Twelve, ed. Paul L. Redditt and Aaron Schart (de Gruyter, 2003).
  12. Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume (1976); Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992); Evangelische Kirkenlexikon (1985-97; Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics (2014); Routledge Encyclopedia for Ancient Mediterranean Religions (2015); Oxford Handbook of the Writings (in press); Oxford Handbook of Biblical Law (in press); Blackwell's Companion to Wisdom Literature (in press).
  13. Studies in Ancient Israelite Wisdom, ed. J. Crenshaw (1976); The Hebrew Bible and its Modern Interpreters (Scholars Press, 1985); Education in Ancient Israel: Across the Deadening Silence (Doubleday, 1998); "Jesus and Ancient Jewish Wisdom Traditions," in Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, ed. P. K. Moser (Cambridge, 2009), 41-62.;.
  14. Story and Faith: A Guide to the Old Testament (Macmillan, 1986).
  15. "The Book of Sirach," in the New Interpreter's Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Abingdon, 1997), 5:601-867.
  16. Samson: A Secret Betrayed, a Vow Ignored (John Knox, 1978).
  17. Gerhard von Rad, Makers of the Modern Theological Mind (Word, 1978).
  18. E.g., Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink (University of South Carolina Press, 2013).
  19. Cascade Books, 2010.
  20. E.g., "The Journey from Voluntary to Obligatory Silence: Reflections on Psalm 39 and Qoheleth," in Focusing Biblical Studies: The Crucial Nature of the Persian and Hellenistic Periods: Essays in Honor of Douglas A. Knight, ed. Jon Berquist and Alice Hunt (T & T Clark, 2012), 177-91; "Qoheleth and Scriptural Authority," in Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism and Ancient Christianity, ed. Isaac Kalimi et al. (de Gruyteer, 2013), 17-41; "Qoheleth's Hatred of Life: A Passing Phase or an Enduring Sentiment?" in Wisdom for Life: Essays Offered in Honor Prof. Maurice Gilbert, S.J. on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, ed. Nuris Calduch-Benages (de Gruyter, 2014), 119-31; "Divine Vulnerability: Reflections on Genesis 22: The Offering of Isaac," in Bridging Between Sister Religions: Studies in Jewish and Christian Scriptures Offered in Honor of Prof. John T. Townsend, ed. Isaac Kalimi (Brill, 2016), 19-31; "A Rhetoric of Indecision: Reflections on God as Judge in Qoheleth," in 'When the Morning Stars Sang': Essays in Honor of Choon Leong Seow on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Scott Jones and Christian Roy Yoder (de Gruyter, 2018), 177-88.
  21. (Eerdmans, 2001).
  22. Bury, B. (2012), Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction – By James L. Crenshaw. Reviews in Religion & Theology, 19: 42–45. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9418.2011.00953.x
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