Wisdom—you know it when
you see it
• Tôb šēm miššemen tôb—a good
reputation (name) is better than
precious ointment Ecc 7:1
• Do horses run on rocks, or does one
plow the sea with oxen? Am 6:12
• Those who restrain their words have
knowledge; those who have a cool
spirit have understanding. = A fool
who keeps silent is considered wise;
a fool with closed lips is considered
Wisdom in the OT and
• Egypt: Instructions offered by a
father to his son, teacher to pupil.
Life in accord with maat (justice,
order, truth) brings blessings—and
vice versa. Self-control a top virtue.
• Instructions of Amen-em-opet are
similar to Prov 22:17-24:22.
• Tale of the eloquent peasant—a
corrupt official robs a peasant; later
regrets his actions against such an
Wisdom in Mesopotamia
• “I will praise the Lord of Wisdom.” A
person loses social status and
health; values are reversed where
the gods are concerned. But he is
visited by deity and recovers
• Babylonian theodicy—remoteness of
gods and inscrutability of their ways.
• Dialogue of pessimism. Master and
slave. What is good—to have our
necks broken and be thrown into the
More wisdom in
• Do not sacrifice—it only makes your
god follow you about like a dog.
• Do not make love, master. A woman
is a pitfall, a ditch, a woman is a
sharp dagger that slits a man’s
• Ahiqar: three virtues: one who
drinks wine and gives it to others;
one who guards wisdom; and one
who hears a word and does not tell
Wisdom Books in the
• Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus)
• Wisdom of Solomon
• Psalms 1, 19, 37, 73, 119
• Elements of wisdom in Joseph,
Deuteronomy, even prophets
Definition of Wisdom
• How to accommodate one’s life to the
orderliness of the world, or what to do
when that order fails. Being wise meant a
search for and a maintenance of “order”
• God embedded truth within all of reality.
Humans are to seek for that insight and
live in harmony with the cosmos.
• In “wisdom” there is confidence in the
world and in human potential. “In
humanity we trust.” People do not need
and cannot expect divine assistance.
More definitions of
• Wisdom based on close observation and
careful reflection on the world. There is a
wisdom or order built right into the world
• Creation more prominent than saving
history in wisdom literature—no Exodus,
Davidic covenant, Mosaic legislation,
divine control of history. God created
universe and expected humans to figure it
out. Job 38-41; Proverbs 8
• Experience more important than revelation
• Much of early wisdom “secular”; but the
fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom
More definitions of
• Wisdom is the reasoned search for
specific ways to assure well-being
and the implementation of those
discoveries in daily existence.
• Israel did not keep faith and
• Is wisdom misogynist or a resource
for feminism? Better to live in a
desert than with a contentious wife.
But experience valued.
• The wisdom through which God
created the world is personified
• Is Practical—know how, judicial activity,
composition of proverbs and songs
• Has limits—Job refutes his friends but he
is refuted by God.
• Is a human task and a divine gift. Wisdom
is acquired through experience and
obedience and given by God.
• Is a reflection on wisdom. Wisdom is
hidden with God; wisdom is an attractive
woman who shares with her friends the life
she shares with God.
• What is the relationship
between nature and grace,
creation and saving history?
• Sirach 24—wisdom sought for a
home everywhere and finally
found it in Torah
• Sirach 44-48 “famous men”—
from Enoch to Hezekiah and
The Doctrine of
Retribution: Reward and
• Life in harmony with the principles of
the universe leads to health, wealth,
fame, honor, longevity, progeny.
• Evil deeds produce evil results
• Canonical wisdom contains
assertion of wisdom theology—and
its rebuttal (Job, Ecclesiastes)
• Job broke through a simplistic
understanding of divine justice, and
Ecclesiastes guarded the
Social Setting of
• Royal court: Solomon (“author”
of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and
Wisdom of Solomon—wealthy
and wise), men of Hezekiah
(Prov 25:1), international
connections of wisdom. An
elite phenomenon? Schools?
• Wisdom also among the clans
and the elders and among