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The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls for Today

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You’re probably missing out on some of the most interesting books of the Bible.

In the Jewish tradition, the five books known as the Five Scrolls perform a central liturgical function as the texts associated with each of the major holidays. The Song of Songs is read during Passover, Ruth during Shavuot, Lamentations on Tisha B’av, Ecclesiastes during Sukkot, and Esther during the celebration of Purim. Together with the five books of the Torah, these texts orient Jewish life and provide the language of the faith.

In the Christian tradition, by contrast, these books have largely been forgotten. Many churchgoers can’t even find them in their pew Bibles. They are rarely preached, come up only occasionally in the lectionary, and are not the subject of Bible studies. Thus, their influence on the lives and theology of many Christians is entirely negligible. But they deserve much more attention. With scholarly wisdom and a quick wit, Williamson insists that these books speak urgently to the pressing issues of the contemporary world. Addressing themes of human sexuality, grief, immigration, suffering and protest, ethnic nationalism, and existential dread, he skillfully guides readers as they rediscover the relevance of the Five Scrolls for today.

Resource Experts
  • Focuses on the often overlooked books of the Five Scrolls
  • Examines the theme of marginalized voices in Scripture and culture
  • Applies specific messages from each book to current culture
  • Introduction
  • The Song of Songs
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther
  • A Closing Word
This book is at the same time a summons, an invitation, and an aid to remembering what we have forgotten about the biblical text. Williamson's work teems with compelling contemporaneity!

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

Reading the five scrolls in the company of human suffering, doubt, and protest, Williamson shows why the ancient writings continue to console, to question, and to cry; their words, and his, deserve to be heard.

—Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt University

In Forgotten Books of the Bible, Robert Williamson Jr. calls out to those who have been displaced into the shadowy margins of our narratives and makes their voices come alive. While our commentaries often ignore, wash out, or flatten texts and characters, Williamson listens to their perspectives, recognizes their color, and introduces their three-dimensional personalities.

—Carol Howard Merritt, author of Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church

In the Logos edition, this digital volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Scripture citations link directly to English Bible translations, and important terms link to a wealth of other resources in your digital library, including tools for original languages, dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, and theology texts. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Robert Williamson Jr. is associate professor of religious studies at Hendrix College and founding pastor of Mercy Community Church of Little Rock. His work appears in The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Dead Sea Discoveries, and Teaching Theology and Religion and online at ON Scripture, HuffPost, Sojourners, and Political Theology Today. He edited Imagination, Ideology, and Inspiration: Echoes of Brueggemann in a New Generation.


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  1. Christopher B

    Christopher B


    I bought this book under the impression that it would be an informative guide to the Jewish cultural background which informs historic and present day Jewish approaches to the Five Scrolls (Esther, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations). In this respect I find myself somewhat disappointed. This book does indeed contain some useful linguistic insights into the books, but prospective buyers need to be aware of something which I think is conspicuously absent from the Product Description of this book at time of review (18th Jan 2020). Taking his cue from Walter Brueggeman, the writer views the Bible primarily as a collection of competing human testimonies about God rather than as God-breathed Scripture. Having thus established the human diversity of the Bible's contents at the expense of any substantive Divinely inspired contribution which might underpin and unite them, Dr. Williamson evaluates the Five Scrolls mainly in terms of how they might be used to interact with various talking points on the socio-political agenda of the modern American "woke" Left. Unless you either need or want to (re)interpret the Scriptures through the lens of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School, you will probably want to spend your money on something else, or to put it towards a monograph or commentary which seeks to guide the reader towards understanding God through the Bible. Sadly, what this book tries to do instead is to shoe horn the Bible into what a range of contemporary "voices of victimhood" think it really ought to have said in the first place; and inevitably, that carries with it connotations of sitting in moral judgement over the Bible, the biblical authors and characters, and the God of whom the Bible speaks. Is a God who is criticized as offending against our own moral tenets really being treated as God at all? I suggest not.