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Israel’s Wisdom Literature

Wisdom Literature: Introduction

  • Wisdom (Chokmah): not just intellectual but can refer to understanding, insight, shrewdness, skill (e.g. administration or battle), prudence, or upright living (see Proverbs 1:2-7).
  • Traditional Wisdom (Proverbs; Wisdom of Ben Sira or Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon) and Radical Wisdom (Job, Ecclesiastes).
  • Wisdom could be passed down in the settings of households, schools, or royal courts.
  • Parallels with ANE Wisdom literature. For example, see the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope (ca. 12th century BCE). Some differences include the Israelites’ focus on the source of wisdom (e.g. “Fear of Yahweh”) and this-worldly rewards.

Woman Wisdom (Hebrew: Chokmah, Greek: Sophia)

  • Personifying Woman Wisdom (Proverbs 8) in contrast to Woman Folly (5:1-14).
  • Origins: a remnant of a goddess cult, a metaphor due to the term’s grammatical feminine gender, or a divine hypostasis like God’s spirit or word (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26)?
  • Later identified with the Torah (Sirach 24:23) or with Jesus (Matthew 11:29-30; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:3).

Proverbs

  • The Hebrew Mishlei means “Proverbs.” The book is comprised of didactic sayings expressed in a pithy manner and drawn from general, practical observations.
  • Authorship:the bulk of the collection is ascribed to Solomon as the fount of wisdom (10:1-22:16; 25-29) along with other collections (22:17-24:22, 23-34) and an introduction (1-9) and appendices (30-31).
  • It expresses traditional retribution theology in general, but there are exceptions.
  • Read the following verses about wealth (3:22; 6:6-11; 10:3; 11:24; 14:31; 28:6)

Job

  • The author is anonymous and Job is the main character. The date is uncertain, though Job is a non-Israelite set in the time of the Patriarchs from the land of Uz.
  • In the prose prologue, a celestial prosecutor called “the adversary” (ha satan) makes the case that Job is only pious because he has been blessed and is permitted to take away Job’s livelihood, children, and health (1-3).
  • After Job’s friends visit, there is an extended poetic section (4-37) where Job protests his innocence and his friends accuse him of guilty.
  • In a storm theophany, Yahweh emphasizes divine control over creation and forces of chaos (38:1-42:6), leading Job to “repent” or change his mind.
  • The prose epilogue (42:7-17) vindicates Job and reprimands his friends for their simplistic retribution theology. Job receives new blessings.
  • The primary question is whether there can be disinterested piety, but it is also concerned with “theodicy” or how a good deity can permit suffering.

Ecclesiastes

  • The Hebrew title Qohelet is often translated “teacher” or “preacher”. Since the verbal root is “to assemble”, it could be translated as “assembler.”
  • The implied author (1:1, 12-13; 2:9) is a wise Davidic ruler in Jerusalem (=Solomon?), but the book may fit the ANE genre of “Royal Fictional Autobiography.”
  • Pleasure, work, wisdom, wealth, youth, law-courts, seasons, and everything else is hebel (vanity, meaningless, fleeting, absurd) and no more profitable than chasing the wind.
  • Did the epilogue (12:9-13) help Ecclesiastes get into the canon and do you agree that fearing God and keeping the commandments is a satisfactory ending to the book?
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