WISE, STRANGE AND HOLYWritten by Claudia V. Camp Reviewed By Tremper Longman III
In Wise, Strange, and Holy, Camp’s concerns appear to be more personal and ideological than exegetical. Indeed, I would say that those who are interested in exploring the meaning of Proverbs and the narrative texts that she studies in this book will find little of value. She is more interested in ‘pushing past the patriarchal blockade of biblical construction of gender’ (7) than understanding the biblical text itself.
To accomplish her agenda, she employs a form of ideological criticism as she studies certain narrative texts through ‘the lens of the Strange Woman where strangeness … whether of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or cult—predominate’ (13). Those who know Proverbs should get immediately suspicious since nowhere in Proverbs do we read about the personification of the Strange Woman. Of course, as is well known Folly is personified in chapter 9, but the strange woman (’issa zara) always refers to the human reflex of the personified Folly as the examination of passages she cites (2:16; 5:3, 20; 6:2; 7:5) immediately demonstrates. Apparently the category of strangeness fits in better with her thesis than that of folly, so she makes this substitution without explanation.
The next move that she makes is also without explanation; it comes more as an assertion. Any reader can see that Woman Wisdom is the exact opposite of Woman Folly as wisdom opposes folly throughout the book. Further, on the human level, the strange or foreign woman stands over against the wife (Prov. 5:15–20) and the noble woman (Prov. 31:10–31). However, according to Camp, this analysis is not correct, but rather these two figures are ‘in dialectical tension with each other; together they are a paradigm of paradox’ (38). She refuses to see Strange as bad or Wisdom as good, but instead these figures together ‘deconstruct a variety of presumed moral, social, and theological polarities’ (14). Again, it is hard to read Proverbs closely (or superficially for that matter) and come away with any other conclusion than that folly/strange is bad (always) and wisdom is good.
Needless to say, if one is unimpressed with her analysis of the wise and the strange in the book of Proverbs, one cannot help but be unpersuaded by her attempts to read the narratives of Solomon, Samson, and other portions of Scripture through the lens of this dichotomy.
To be sure, Camp’s book makes for an entertaining read, but not an instructive one. Perhaps it is only the reviewer, but these types of postmodern interpretations of biblical narrative, which at one point were fascinating, have become a tad routine and predictable. In a recent conversation with a pre-eminent philosopher in the analytic tradition, I asked him what he and his fellow philosophers thought about Derrida. He responded, ‘We don’t pay any attention to him. We think he is having a big joke, and we need to get on with the business of trying to solve the problems he just plays with.’ Though I still think postmodernism has properly chastised certain triumphalist forms of modernism, perhaps biblical scholars now need to get back to the task of trying to understand these often enigmatic texts on their own terms.
Tremper Longman III
Westmont College Santa Barbara, California