Wisdom Literature – ‘Character in Crisis’ (Review)

March 27, 2008 at 9:46 pm (Uncategorized)

William P. Brown wrote Character in Crisis in order “to demonstrate that the idea of character constitutes the unifying theme or centre of the wisdom literature, whose raison d’etre is to profile ethical character” (p. 21). He begins his book with an overview of ethical thought and wisdom, from Aristotle to Hauerwas. He profiles the views of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes and how each one views wisdom.

In Proverbs, Brown attempts to show a journey of character growth from the implied “silent son” of chapters 1-9, who is receiving the father’s instructions (the implied reader), to an elder by chapter 31, who is now married to Lady Wisdom. Along the way, the movement is from hearth and home to facing individual temptations (conflicting values and worldviews) from Lady Folly and finally away from individuality to community, the end goal of wisdom. Questionable is the certainty Brown displays regarding the redaction of the book as one intended to show a central character always just “off camera,” who grows and learns and culminates in the adult male married to the ideal woman (interpreted as Lady Wisdom incarnate). This is as good a thread as any other discerned to tie together the Book of Proverbs, but remains, at best, an educated guess; there still remains a seemingly disjointed order to the moral teachings therein.

Both Job and Ecclesiastes are seen to challenge traditional wisdom. Examination is made of the character Job’s journey as a growth in character: from victim to audacious self-defender to courageous confronter of God, always holding onto integrity. Job hardly acts like the silent son and communal elder praised in Proverbs in the midst of his suffering. Rather, he argues against the wise in his community who seek his penance (because suffering doesn’t happen if you haven’t deserved it). Job is not silent, however, but defiant; he does not accept the wisdom of his “elders” (neither does Elihu). Job himself becomes the “stranger” who is dangerous to his friends’ worldview but who then is vindicated. Job’s faith could rightly be called a “defiant trust.” God shows that his rule is wild but good (out of our control), allowing good to happen where humanity is not central (in nature) and where humanity is central (in society; God allows good and ill to happen to both good and bad people – God is never under our control). This is a credible interpretation of the Book of Job.

In Ecclesiastes, the character is Qoheleth. He is the wisdom sage who does not believe in wisdom. His message – rejoice in your youth; eat, drink, and be merry – is decidedly untraditional. Qoheleth labels all striving after material goods as “absurd.” He failed to find peace in the community and found himself a stranger in an absurd world. He deconstructs the traditional connection between conduct and destiny, and he journeys toward a resigned acceptance of whatever gives simple joy in this life – eating, drinking, working without thought of reward, etc. Brown admits that Qoheleth accepts life on God’s terms and finds Qoheleth’s stance ultimately life-affirming. This is probably too optimistic, however, for emptiness and futility have placed question marks over everything Qoheleth observes about life, including the little pleasures one is able to seize while young enough to do so.

Brown concludes with a brief but insightful comment on the Epistle of James in order to show the church, even of today, that more attention needs to be given to biblical wisdom which goes beyond mere human understanding but on into acceptance beyond understanding of God’s ways. In other words, although Brown did not use this analogy, God is a river in which we need to let the current take us where it will.


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Wisdom – Lecture 1

February 26, 2008 at 10:13 pm (Uncategorized)

What is wisdom?
Ecclesiastes raises the ultimate question facing the wise man: What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (1:3). The Teacher (Qoholeth), there, never finds a real answer to this question, as he foreshadows in his despairing cry: Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! (1:2). All the pleasures that men desire fail to give meaning to man’s existence (1:12, 2:1 ff.). Even his own wisdom he judges finally to be but a striving after wind. (1:17). The tragedy of man’s life, which the wise man discovers and faces, is the ultimate destination of death. No matter what goods he may enjoy now, death will rob him of them all: How the wise man dies just like the fool! (2:16-17). Because of death, faith seeking understanding fails; all that is left is faith: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. (12:13). The wise man knows he must resign himself to God, accepting what comes from Him even though he has no hope of finding satisfaction in it.
Job is in anguish for much the same reason as the Teacher is tempted to despair: What good is man’s life? The difficulty Job faces in answering that question is not the fact of death, but the fact of suffering. Why does the good man suffer? For seven days he sat silent in the ashes pondering that question in the agony of his soul and proclaiming his failure in a heart-wrenching cry: Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ (3:3).
The wisdom Job seeks is to understand the plan of God in the suffering of the innocent, and conversely, in the success of the wicked. But like the Teacher, he knows he is doomed to failure. The wise man would be the one who understands the plan of God in allowing, even bringing about, the suffering of the innocent. He must be content with faith: Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. (28:28).
Wisdom in Proverbs and Sirach
If human wisdom is fearing God and keeping His commandments, a part of it must be knowing how to keep His commandments. God therefore offers us the books of Proverbs and Sirach, which offer hope: “To fear the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” Sirach (1:14). Wisdom is not unattainable. Proverbs and Sirach present wisdom to us under the figure of a woman who entreats us to seek her and promises she will come when we turn away from the earthly city and pursue her: If you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding . . . then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom . . . he stores up sound wisdom for the upright. (Prov. 2:3-6; Sir. 4:16-18; 6:19-22).
Both books present wisdom as one present from the foundation of the earth: When he established the heavens, I was there . . . when he marked out the foundation of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman. (Prov. 8:27-31). Alone I have made the circuit of the vault of heaven and have walked in the depths of the abyss. (Sirach 24:5).
Wisdom was with God in creating, but what is it? Both Proverbs and Sirach seems to state that wisdom is not God, but a creature. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. (Prov. 8:22). From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist. (Sirach 24:9).
The portrayal of wisdom in these books is strange. How can wisdom be eternal and yet a creature? If it is not God, how could God create through a creature? Didn’t He create all things from nothing?
The Wisdom of Solomon
The book of Wisdom, written in the person of Solomon, summarizes many points we have seen so far. But on the question, What is wisdom?, he takes a different approach. He says it is, above all, knowledge of the goodness of God and of his power: But thou, our God, art kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy . . . To know thee is complete righteousness, and to know thy power is the root of immortality. (15:1-3).
But wisdom is more than the wise man’s knowledge of God; it is also the very Providence of God at work since the fall of man to save all men from ultimate disaster. Wisdom is that which God gives to men so that they might know His plan for them. Finally, wisdom dwells with God – it is something of or intimately from God Himself: For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty . . . She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. (7:25-26). Wisdom is then some sort of procession (a “breath,” an “emanation”) and a reflection (a “mirror,” an “image”). She comes forth from the power of God and images His goodness.
To summarize what we know about wisdom in the Old Testament, we know this much: All the works agree in presenting wisdom as an understanding of the providential plan of God in creation. This is what Job and Ecclesiastes seek but cannot find, while it is what Proverbs, Sirach and Wisdom promise will be given to those who seek. Moreover, we see that wisdom is variously presented as with God from eternity, as at work in the creation of the world and the salvation of man, and as dwelling in individuals as a gift from God. The book of Wisdom goes further and identifies wisdom with the knowledge of God’s power and goodness, so that we see His plan for creation as a manifestation of His own divine attributes.
Wisdom in the New Testament
St. Paul speaks of wisdom more than any other New Testament author. Under the New Testament, God has now revealed his plan for creation and he has chosen Paul to bring all men to understand it. For this reason, Paul sees that the conversion of his hearers is only the beginning of his labour. He cannot rest until he has brought his newborn sons into the full understanding of the mystery that Jesus has revealed to him: And so, from the day we heard of [your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . increasing in the knowledge of God. (1:9-10).
A little later in the letter, Paul speaks of his great labour in bringing them to Christian adulthood: [Christ] we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me. (1:28).
So it is natural for the Christian to become wise; spiritual maturity is closely connected to growth in wisdom. Christians are essentially contemplatives. The mystery of God’s plan has been revealed to us and, if we have a living heart, we long with the angels to gaze upon it. But what are we to contemplate? [W]e preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24). What a wonder – that the great and mighty wisdom of God should be found in two words: “Christ crucified.”
Paul tells the Colossians that Christ is the beginning and the end of creation: In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth . . . all things were created through him and for him . . . He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col. 1:16-18).
So “Christ crucified” epitomizes the plan of God for creation. The idea of “Christ crucified” existed with the Father from all eternity and was the driving force behind the creation of the world. Moreover, “Christ crucified” comes to dwell in the hearts of men so that they might understand the wisdom of God: To [His saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27).
Paul says we must strive to become wise. Thus, we must strive to understand “Christ crucified”: Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:20-21). The wisdom of God is this: That He would make Himself fully known through His act of saving those who believe in the folly of Christ crucified.
How then do we become wise? Paul refers us to the one person who, like wisdom in the Old Testament, can say “I was there” at the Creation: The Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9-12). Since we have received this same Spirit, we too can come to understand the love that God has bestowed on us. The Spirit gives us a share in the resurrected life that Christ now enjoys. (Rom. 8:9-11). If we allow Him, He will continue to develop that life in us, transforming our sinful natures so that we become images and likenesses of God. (Eph. 4:22-24).
The essential element in our transformation into the likeness of God is found in love: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:5). As the Holy Spirit transforms us according to that love, we can begin to comprehend the love that God has revealed through the cross of Christ: I bow my knees before the Father that . . . he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19).
Christian wisdom is above all the understanding of the plan of God to reveal His merciful love through the death of Christ. But His love surpasses all possibility of human understanding. Only through the transformation of our hearts by the love poured into them by the Holy Spirit can we begin to comprehend its unsearchable riches. As we grow in love, or rather as love grows in us, extending its roots into the deepest, darkest corners of our hearts, we taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

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Wisdom – Lecture 2

February 26, 2008 at 10:12 pm (Uncategorized)

LECTURE 2: Introducing Proverbs
The Book of Proverbs is one of the books of the Ketuvim of the Tanakh and of the Writings of the Old Testament.The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is “Míshlê Shlomoh” (“Proverbs of Solomon”). When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) the title became “paroimai paroimiae” (“Proverbs”). In the Latin vulgate the title was “proverbial”, from which the English title of Proverbs is derived.
The authorship of Proverbs has not been easy to determine. Solomon’s name appears in Proverbs 1:1, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, King of Israel”, although this does not necessarily mean that he was the author. It was often the custom to place the name of the King or someone of prominence in writings in order to honour them, or to give those writings more prestige. However, Solomon is often mentioned as someone who has extensive wisdom in the Bible as well as in extra-biblical literature. In 1 Kings 4:29-34, 3000 proverbs and over 1000 songs are said to have come from Solomon. It is also said that people came from all over to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The general assumption is that Solomon was a part of the authorship to some extent, but that the book was not solely his work. There are also names linked to other sections of the book, as well as elements of disunity within the book that suggest more than one author. Some of the authorship is attributed to “Men of Hezekiah”, though it is stated that they simply transcribed the proverbs rather than writing them of their own accord.
In terms of the text itself there are at least eight specific instances where authorship is mentioned:

Proverbs Authors/Collectors
1:1 Solomon

10:1 Solomon

25:1 Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men)

30:1 Agur son of Jakeh

31:1 Lemuel (or his mother)
31:10-31? unknown author?

As for the eighth section there are many scholars who consider the poem at the end of the book vs. 10-31 as written by an unknown author. The attributions of authorship are as follows in accordance with the scriptures above; Solomon, Solomon, Wise Men, Wise Men, Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men), Agur son of Jakeh, Lemuel (or his mother), and the unknown author. With this possibility it is speculated that the sections written by the Wise Men were studied by Solomon and added in and that they influenced his writing. With this possibility it is likely that there would be similarities in the section written by Solomon as well as the sections by the Wise Men. Studies of word usage have indicated that the highest percentage of commonalities are between the three Solomon sections. The next most common are the Wise Men sections, showing that they could have influenced Solomon’s writing, and the least commonalities were with the Agur, Lemuel, and the unknown author. A majority of scholars, such as Crenshaw, Murphy and Perdue, hold to the belief that much of Proverbs was brought together from a time well after Solomon.
3. Date of writing
Dates for the writing of the book are also unclear. Due to the suggested authorship of Solomon and the collaboration of Hezekiah’s men there are some dates that can be worked with. However there are not enough to give specific timing to the completion of the book though it could have been as late as third century BC
4. Influences
There have been suggestions that there is a crossover of some Egyptian nature in the proverbs from The Instructions of Amenemopet. We have considered the international wisdom tradition last session.
5. Setting
It is difficult to pin the provenance of Proverbs down. Several suggestions have been made.
• Family
In the society of ancient Israel, the family played an important role in the upbringing and education of children. Some internal evidence hints to the use of Proverbs in a family setting: The phrase “my Son” appears some 20 times throughout the book. The role of the mother is also listed some 10 times.
• Court
The name of Solomon stands in the title of the book, thus suggesting a royal setting. Throughout the Old Testament is wisdom connected with the court.
• School
It is possible practical and reflective wisdom was transmitted in a house of learning or instruction.
6. What is the central theme of the book?
• .
The central theme to the book of Proverbs can be linked to Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This theme of centrality of the knowledge of God runs through the entirety of the book. The instructions that are given, although they are for everyday circumstances, allude to humankind’s uprightness before God. The thought pattern that the reverence and respect for God in all circumstances brings true knowledge is encouraged in this book. The book centers on the willingness to learn as important.

God’s people were brought into the belief that God’s law is something that is part of life and is a duty, and this required obedience. Proverbs calls this kind of obedience the fear of the Lord. This obligation, which is similar to the knowledge of God that they had from the prophetic books, involves reverence, gratitude, and commitment to do the will of God in every circumstance. The main goal of Proverbs is to define clearly what it means to be fully devoted to God’s will and seeing his will accomplished in this world

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Wisdom Literature Books

February 7, 2008 at 8:55 pm (Uncategorized)

Introduction to Old Testament Wisdom: A Sp… by Anthony R. Ceresko

Israel’s Wisdom Literature (Liberation-Cri… by Dianne Bergant

Extreme Virtues: Living on the Prophetic Edge by David Fillingim

The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblic… by Roland Edmund Murphy

Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction by James L. Crenshaw

The Wisdom Literature (Interpreting Biblic… by Richard J. Clifford

Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to t… by William P. Brown

Invitation to the Apocrypha by Daniel, J. Harrington

The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter

Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, a… by William Sanford LA Sor

The Wisdom Literature (Message of Biblical Spirituality) by Kathleen M. O’Connor

Bible Class Book On Job, by David Padfield

Bible Class Book On The Psalms Of David, by Jeff Asher.

Bible Class Book On Proverbs, by Rob Harbison.

Pondering Proverbs, by Earl Lanning and Jeff Asher.

Bible Class Book On Ecclesiastes, by David Padfield.

Wisdom Literature, by Alastair Hunter

Psalms, by Alastair G. Hunter

Introduction to the Psalms, An by Alastair G. Hunter

Wisdom Literature : A Theological History
by Leo G. Perdue – Paperback (Presbyterian Pub Corp; Jun 28 2007)

The Wisdom-literature of the Old Testament
by W. T. Davison – Paperback (Kessinger Pub Co; Jul 31 2006)

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