Studies in the Book of Wisdom by Geza G. Xeravits and Jozsef Zsengeller (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism: Brill) The volume publishes papers delivered at the International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books (Papa, Hungary). This conference dealt with the Book of Wisdom. As such, this was one of the most extended discussions of the Book of Wisdom that has ever taken place at a scholarly meeting. The volume contains articles on the traditions and theology of the Book of Wisdom, and demonstrates its relationship with the contemporary literature of early Judaism and Middle Platonic thought.
Excerpt: The very title of the book in the Septuagint, the Wisdom of Solomon (or the Book of Wisdom), would suggest that it belongs to the sapiential tradition, especially through the attribution to Solomonic authorship as in Proverbs, Song of Songs and Qoheleth. However, it is an extremely late work in comparison to the main sapiential texts of the Bible, stemming from the Greco Roman period in Egypt. Numerous scholars have noted particular affinities in the work to traits of apocalyptic literature.1 There is a reference to the "mysteries of God" in Wis 2:22. We witness a brief, cosmic judgment of God in Wis 5:15-23 where all lawlessness is to be swept away through a cataclysmic storm. Solomon prays to God in order to receive the special wisdom which sits by the throne of God (Wis 9:10). The presentation of the exodus events throughout the entire final section of the book (Wis 11-19) is conveyed as a cosmic judgment that has already taken place in Israel's deliverance from Egypt and sustenance in the desert.
Apocalyptic works had become increasingly more prevalent primarily in Judea but also in the diaspora of Greece and Egypt from the first century BCE until the first century CE. With their stress on divine revelation through visions and divine judgment throughout the cosmos, apocalyptic texts were particularly suited to situations of crisis and political unrest in Jewish communities. It would be surprising for the author of the Wisdom of Solomon not to employ certain apocalyptic elements in an exhortation to the Jewish community in Alexandria during times of crisis and political upheaval.' The work sustains a continuous argument for justice and wisdom in the midst of tension and challenges. What is more surprising is the manner in which the author clings to the values of the sapiential tradition (the inherent beauty and order of creation, the openness of wisdom for all, the primacy of argument to exhort and to convince are among the most important) even as the argument for justice becomes more acute in the final section of the book.
LITERARY GENRES AND WORLDVIEWS
Scholars have not come to a consensus regarding the genre of wisdom literature and its relationship to apocalyptic writing. Both forms of literature owe a great deal of inspiration to prophetic writings. At times we tend to speak of these forms of writing as complete distinct entities in terms of their literary genres, worldview and values. Yet clearly there is considerable overlap between these forms of writing. George Nickelsburg has recently challenged the presumed distinctiveness between wisdom and apocalyptic texts:
...the entities usually defined as sapiential and apocalyptic often cannot be cleanly separated from one another because both are the products of wisdom circles that are becoming increasingly diverse in the Greco-Roman period. Thus, apocalyptic texts contain elements that are at home in wisdom literature, and wisdom texts reflect growing interest in eschatology.
However, the persistence of a particular worldview associated with these sapiential writings remains, no matter how difficult it may be to articulate their distinctiveness. Note how James Crenshaw describes the diversity yet complementarity of the main sapiential texts in the Bible: Proverbs, Qoheleth, Job, Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. "However much these literary productions differ from one another, they retain a mysterious ingredient that links them together in a special way." This so-called "mysterious ingredient" may very well be associated not with a particular, literary genre, but with the general worldview and cluster of values held to be important behind the text.
If we draw a distinction between literary genres and worldviews, both the distinctiveness and complementarity between diverse literary texts may come into sharper focus. A literary text which belongs to a particular worldview may employ diverse literary forms with various clusters of values. For instance, a prophetic text may include specific genres which normally pertain to the sapiential tradition, such as a proverb. But the mere mention of a proverb does not detract from the authoritative speech of the prophet who delivers an oracle with the authority of God, "thus says the Lord."
THE PROPHETIC WORLDVIEW
The prophetic corpus in the Bible follows a distinctive pattern of oracles. We encounter oracles of judgment against Israel, oracles of judgment against various nations as well as oracles of hope for Israel, and in rare cases even for the nations (Isa 19). Distinctive genres may appear within the narration of oracles such as the prophetic lawsuit which includes oracles of judgment (Isa 5). When we read in Jeremiah, "what has straw in common with wheat?" (Jer 22:28) we may immediately recognize the use of a proverb which normally signifies a link with wisdom literature. But this quotation of a proverb takes places in the context of a prophetic oracle of judgment against false prophets and in the context of presenting the authoritative power of the word of God, "Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer 23:29). A distinctively prophetic work may make use of genres which normally find their home in wisdom literature because the proverb is distinctive but not exclusive to a wisdom worldview. A proverb which contains a crystallized piece of human wisdom based on a reflection on human experiences maybe incorporated into a prophetic worldview. Even a late work such as Baruch, which appeals to prophetic motifs of oracles and parables of sin, incorporates a voice of personified wisdom (Bar 3:15-4:3) to explain why the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon took place.
The prophetic worldview presumes the in-breaking of God into human history and into the life of the prophet (Isa 6, Jer 2, Ezek 1-3) who speaks in the name of the Lord. In prophecy, as a worldview, and not simply as a literary genre, God is the one who establishes a relationship with Israel and with the world. The Lord is the one with full authority. The theological construct which provides the backdrop for this relationship between God and Israel is the covenant. God is the one who has broken into the history of Israel and established a covenantal relationship with her. From the prophetic viewpoint, God is the one who continuously breaks into the history of the prophet in order to communicate an oracle of judgment against lawlessness and an oracle of hope toward life. Just as God breaks into the history of Israel to liberate slaves from Egypt in order to bring them into a covenantal relationship, so too does God break into the life of the prophet to communicate a word which is to be delivered to Israel and the people. An essential feature of prophetic literature is the primacy of God breaking into human history to deliver a word of judgment against injustice and a word of hope for renewal. The manner in which prophetic speech teaches the will of God is through authoritative oracles. The prophets claim to speak the very words of God, which are often introduced with the phrase, "thus says the Lord."
THE SAPIENTIAL WORLDVIEW
The sapiential corpus of the bible displays a worldview in which wisdom becomes the important interpretative key to human experience and to history. Wisdom texts display an interest in searching for wisdom and in giving guidance for the search of knowledge to others.' The proverb is the quintessential example of a sapiential approach. Collections of proverbs are not unique to Israel and in fact all cultures display the tendency to collect pithy proverbial sayings in order to pass on directions in life from one generation to the next. A proverb is the crystallization of human reflection on a typical experience in order to provide guidance for the next generation. It is essentially didactic often with an aesthetic sense of purpose. Proverbs are directed to teach what is essential for human life through entertainment, beauty and the power of thought.
This particular approach to life which gives precedence to searching for wisdom and teaching knowledge finds expression in various literary genres: the proverb, the story of the two ways: the way to life and the way to death, the teaching of a father to a son, the dispute, the didactic story. When sages turn to formulate a backdrop for sapiential thought in Israel, the personification of wisdom offers an explanation for wisdom's relationship to God, to the cosmos and to human beings. All of these specific literary genres presume values related to the power of human thought even as they recognize the limits of human knowledge. John Collins has provided a wide spectrum of sapiential types that range from the proverb to higher wisdom given by God (1. wisdom sayings, 2. theological wisdom, 3. nature wisdom, 4. mantic wisdom, 5. higher wisdom through revelation).
If the prophetic worldview looks to extraordinary events for the inbreaking of God into human history, the sapiential worldview looks to the ordinary experience of everyday life as the locus for discovering the word of God. Whereas the prophetic worldview looks to the covenant as the backdrop for understanding the relationship between Israel and God, the sapiential worldview looks to creation as the backdrop for discovering the will of God for life.' The reason for which the wisdom worldview postulates human experience and the cosmos as the locus for discovering the will of God, is the belief that creation itself and human beings in particular have been created and are sustained by the wisdom of God. The theological construct which gave voice to this interdependence of God and the cosmos is the personification of wisdom (Proverbs 8, Sirach 24, Wisdom of Solomon 9; Baruch 3:15-4:4). Wisdom is the manner in which God relates to the cosmos, to history and to human beings, for it is through wisdom that all has been created by God. For this reason, the sapiential worldview takes human experience seriously as the locus for discovering the word of God. It prefers to pass on the wisdom acquired through human reflection or received effortlessly as gift and insight not through authoritative pronouncements but through didactic reflection and arguments.
A wisdom text which shares in this worldview where the cosmos is understood as being imbued with the wisdom and order of God may very well employ motifs or even literary genres from the prophetic corpus. In the book of Job, where the genres of the didactic story and the dispute play prominent roles, suddenly the prophetic motif of theophany takes center stage. The Lord speaks from the wirlwind and breaks into the life of Job in the manner of God appearing to a prophet and especially in the manner of the Lord appearing to Moses and the people at Mount Sinai. But in both cases of prophetic call and theophanic speech, God speaks to give direction (the pronouncement of laws) or judgment (oracles against Israel and the nations, oracles of hope). In the case of theophanic speech in the book of Job, the content of God's words subverts the expected oracles of judgment or laws of direction. Instead, the words of God lead Job and the reader to contemplate one's situation in relation to the ineffable qualities of the cosmos, the mysterious working of wild animals, and the frightful threat of chaos. Through the literary genre of theophanic speech, the wisdom author employs the didactic background of creation theology in order to lay down a path to insight.
The book of Jonah, positioned as it is among the twelve minor prophets, tells the story of a prophet given the task to preach an oracle of destruction to the city of Nineveh. Motifs of prophetic speech and narrative are used in the story to bring about a changed perspective in the reader regarding the universal mercy of God. In effect, the book of Jonah is more a didactic story focusing on the mercy and justice of God than it is a prophetic text concerned with oracles of judgment against Nineveh. Through a playful didactic story about a prophet, the sage both entertains and challenges the reader to view the relationship of God to other nations (the sailors and the captain, the King of Nineveh and all its inhabitants). With inverted irony, it is the prophet Jonah who stands in need of conversion to accept the mercy of God toward others. These examples illustrate the manner in which a sapiential worldview may employ genres or motifs from a different worldview and employ them in a manner consistent with it own cluster of perspectives and values.
THE APOCALYPTIC WORLDVIEW
Gerhard von Rad had postulated an historical context for
development of apocalyptic writings from wisdom literature. "Here too,
apocalyptic reveals that its roots are in wisdom. It cannot do enough in the expounding of the divine mysteries." Though the line of influence is indeed more difficult to determine especially when apocalyptic texts are contemporaneous with sapiential books, there is a point of intelligibility in noticing the historical process. There is an historical progression from prophetic texts to sapiential texts and to apocalyptic texts. Both the sapiential and apocalyptic worldviews share points of contact in motifs and values and are indebted to prophetic works.
Essential to the apocalyptic worldview is the moment of "revelation" which is transmitted to the reader through the elaboration of visions and interpretation of the movements in the cosmos. Nickelsburg distinguishes three terms that are helpful for appreciating the range of interest in the apocalyptic worldview: the literary genre "apocalypse;" the "apocalyptic eschatology" which refers to the parts of texts which attempt to explain the end times; and "apocalypticism," where events in the cosmos and in history are presented in codified fashion for the interpretation of a present reality.
Although apocalyptic texts often share motifs and particular values with wisdom literature, there remains a fundamentally different approach to seeking knowledge and imparting revelation. The apocalyptic worldview leapfrogs backward to prophecy in order to impart knowledge received through revelation. Where wisdom seeks knowledge in the everyday experience of human life and in the events of the cosmos which may include extraordinary divine interventions, apocalyptic seeks knowledge in the extraordinary medium of divine revelation. Where wisdom seeks to impart knowledge through a variety of didactic genres and stories, apocalyptic imparts knowledge through authoritative images of divine revelation and cosmic transformation. Apocalyptic is highly conducive to galvanizing collective positions in times of political tension and upheaval. This explains in part why apocalyptic texts became more dominant in the Greco-Roman period among the Jewish communities living in times of social upheaval.
Where apocalyptic texts display ties with wisdom literature, such as in 1 Enoch, the question must be asked, 'how is the wisdom motif employed in the work?' Is the overarching theme governed by wisdom perspectives or apocalyptic viewpoints? 1 Enoch begins with a sapiential reflection on the two ways, but with a distinct introduction of apocalyptic motifs of cosmic judgment. The series of exhortations which call to examine and observe ordinary events in the cosmos could very well read as a wisdom reflection (1 Enoch 1-5). But the exhortations to examine ordinary experiences only serve to introduce a final judgment which leads to an extensive and elaborate cosmic scene of the fall of the angels typical of apocalyptic literature. In this work, a wisdom motif of examining the two ways serves to introduce the main tenor of the work, an elaborate cosmic judgment scene. Just as Wisdom texts could employ prophetic genres and motifs with a distinct sapiential purpose, so too may apocalyptic texts employ sapiential motifs within the subsuming apocalyptic worldview. The overall tenor of a work is important to consider for evaluating the function and quality of individual components. In the case of the Wisdom of Solomon, it will be important to assess the function and quality of apocalyptic motifs within the overall frame and perspective of the work.
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON
Each major section section of the Wisdom of Solomon contains motifs which display affinities with apocalyptic literature. In the first section Wis 1-6 there is a reference to the wicked not knowing the mysteries of God, (Wis 2:22). Moreover, in order to provide an argument for the advantage of virtue, the author displays before the imagination of the reader a final judgment of God whereby the righteous are given a royal reward whereas the wicked are destroyed by God through a cosmic judgment, (Wis 5:17b).
The second section (Wis 6-10) displays the most wisdom like qualities in the entire book. The eulogy of personified wisdom spans her relationship to the cosmos to human beings and to God. The unnamed Solomon is described as receiving intricate knowledge of the functions of the universe. However, in Solomon's actual prayer for wisdom (Wis 9) the wisdom which he ardently seeks and prays for is described as belonging to God, sitting at the God's throne, "...for even one who is perfect among human beings will be regarded as nothing without the wisdom that comes from you" (Wis 9:6). Is it possible to understand this wisdom as a special, hidden wisdom which is revealed to a select few to be imparted to others as in apocalyptic? Or is a particularly sapiential perspective being elaborated in the work's presentation of Solomon's special knowledge?
Finally, the third section which is often described as a midrash on the exodus from Egypt returns to the motif of the two ways from the first section of the book. The plagues are recounted as examples of divine judgment against Egypt with particular emphasis on the forces of the cosmos. The manner in which the elements of the cosmos do battle against the injustice of Egypt illustrates from Israel's past the cosmic judgment of chapter 5 which looked to a future visitation of the Lord.
The use of apocalyptic motifs in the Wisdom of Solomon should not be very surprising given the lateness of the work and also given the apologetic nature of the author's main argument. What is rather surprising is the manner in which even apocalyptic motifs are employed within a dominant sapiential perspective. The author has chosen not to use the apocalyptic motifs from the perspective of revealing a hidden mystery to an elect few with an encoded presentation of history open to symbolic interpretation. Instead, the dominant feature throughout all three parts of the Wisdom of Solomon is the sapiential value of didactic teaching through arguments, images, comparisons, contrasts, and stories from the past.
Handbook on the Wisdom Books And Psalms: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiates, Song of Songs by Daniel J. Estes (Baker Academic) The Old Testament wisdom literature contains beautiful songs of worship and praise (Psalms), pithy and moralistic aphorisms (Proverbs), lyrical erotic poems (Song of Songs), world-weary philosophical reflections (Ecclesiastes) and probing poetry about the nature of evil (Job). In this engaging and helpful survey of the types and themes of wisdom literature, Estes, who teaches at Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio, provides a generous introduction for readers interested in the interpretation of these books. Each chapter examines the authorship and date of a particular book and proceeds to discuss its structure, style and major themes. Estes then provides an illuminating exposition of the writing and an invaluable bibliography that students of wisdom literature can use to enhance their understanding. Estes's survey represents all major positions on introductory matters in judicious fashion. Thus, while Solomon is traditionally thought to be the author of Proverbs, Estes concludes that Solomon cannot be the final compiler of the collection even though he might have played a role in the beginning of the process. Estes's book joins the other volumes in this series in providing significant introductions to the literature of the Old Testament.
Excerpt: Although poetry is used throughout many of the Old Testament texts, the five books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are especially marked by their skillful combination of poetic language and form. By this means, the most profound issues that confront humans are explored with penetrating insight and memorable expression. Even though the ancient Hebrews produced few written texts apart from the Bible, these books of Old Testament poetry are widely regarded as among the finest literary masterpieces in all of world literature. Job and Ecclesiastes probe the perennial problems of evil and significance, Song of Songs develops a delightful theology of intimacy, Proverbs addresses the various ways in which wisdom is practiced in life, and in Psalms humans speak to God out of the full range of their experiences.
As the bibliographies in this volume attest, many scholars have examined the various facets of the Old Testament poetical books. Why, then, have I written this book? This work is intended for advanced undergraduates, seminary students, pastors, and lay teachers of the Bible. In my twenty years of teaching, I have become aware of the need for a bridge to span the distance between eager students who have been introduced to the poetical books and the rich resources in the scholarly literature that lie beyond their grasp. Because so many articles, essays, monographs, and commentaries have been written on these books, students can easily get confused and frustrated as they attempt to move to the next level of understanding. In this volume, I attempt to guide them in their next steps ahead as they explore the books of Old Testament poetry.
Each chapter considers one of the five poetical books, and is comprised of three parts. First, I summarize some of the key introductory issues for the biblical book, so that the student will have a basic familiarity with the prominent scholarly discussions. Second, the main portion of the chapter is devoted to an exposition of the book, using the New International Version as a textual base. For Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, the exposition covers the entire text of the book. For Psalms, I discuss ten major types of psalms and then provide expositions of examples of each type. In the chapter on Proverbs, I take a topical approach in synthesizing several key themes in the collection. For all of the five books, I have endeavored to present the interpretive positions to which I have come in my study at this time. Although limitations of space have prevented me from giving complete reasoning for many of my conclusions, I have sought to interact with the major commentaries on each book, as well as with significant recent scholarly studies. Rather than simply referencing secondary literature, I have integrated insightful citations into my text, so that the student can have immediate access to the words of the scholars themselves. Third, each chapter concludes with an extensive bibliography that directs the student into further investigation. I have included a list of commentaries, including standard works that have passed the test of time as well as more recent commentaries since 1992. For articles, essays, and monographs, I have included materials from 1992 to early 2004 that I have found useful in my research. Significant secondary literature prior to 1992 undoubtedly has found its way into key commentaries, and so it will be available already to the student. Materials from the recent past, however, may likely be out of reach to students who lack access to an excellent theological library. Because most of my intended audience are not professional theological scholars, I have limited the bibliographies to sources written in English, although, of course, many fine works in German, French, Hebrew, and other languages could be added to them.
The Wisdom Texts from Qumran and the Development of Sapiential Thought edited by C. Hempel, Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger English and German (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 159: Peeters) The sapiential texts from Qumran considerably enlarge the limited corpus of Israelite or Jewish wisdom texts known before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. While formerly only Proverbs, Job, Qohelet, Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Pseudo-Phocylides gave testimony of the Israelite-Jewish contribution to ancient near eastern wisdom, the library of Qumran adds at least another seven texts to this corpus: 4QWiles of the Wicked Women (4Q184), 4QSapiential Work (4Q185), 4QWords of the Maskil to All Sons of Dawn (4Q298), the Book of Mysteries (1Q27, 4Q299-301), Instruction (mscar lemebn; 1Q26, 4Q415-418.418a. 418c.423), 4Qlnstruction-like Composition B (4Q424), and 4QBeatitudes (4Q525). In addition, several manuscripts were found which might represent further sapiential texts but are too fragmentary today to allow for such a characterization with certainty. Thus, the finds from the Qumran caves have more than doubled the corpus of Israelite-Jewish sapiential literature. The sheer number of new texts, most of which were published only recently, documents beyond any doubt, that in Judaism the end of wisdom was not reached with books like Job, Qohelet, or Ben Sira, but that Jewish wisdom flourished especially in Hellenistic times.
The contributions of the present volume try to interpret the new texts in the context of the history of sapiential thought. In addition, some of the contributions are dedicated to introductory questions or particular interpretative issues. Thus, it is hoped that the volume will make the new material more accessible to wisdom research in the fields of the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. It comprises the lectures presented to a research seminar dedicated to the same questions and organized by A. Lange and H. Lichtenberger (Tbingen, 22nd-24th May and 20th-21st June 1998). Additional articles on subjects which were not dealt with at the research seminar for various reasons have been contributed by A. Behringer, C. Bttrich, H.-J. Fabry, D. Harrington, A. Schoors, J. Strugnell, and L. Stuckenbruck.
Wisdom in Ancient Israel edited by John Day, Robert P. Gordon, and H.G.M. Williamson (Cambridge University Press) Despite frequent consideration of the wisdom tradition in the Hebrew scriptures in recent years, there is still a redoubtable incertitude about the nature of wisdom writings as they relate to the larger intellectual traditions of the ancient near east cultures in general and about their influence on the Hebrew scriptures as a whole. In this festschrift for noted ancient near east Wisdom literature specialist John Adney Emerton, these problems are methodically promoted, assessed and appraised by an international assortment of specialists. In addition to full coverage of the wisdom books and other literature most frequently considered to have been affected by them, thematic studies also introduce the principal comparative sources among Israel's neighbors and discuss the place of wisdom in Israelite religion, theology and society. Each essay contains a useful survey of relevant recent studies, and the many fresh insights offered by the contributors will make this volume necessary to students and scholars alike. The essays include:
Part I The ancient near eastern setting
Part 2: Old Testament and Apocryphal texts
Part 3 Themes
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