Introducing Wisdom Literature

FRESH READ will be taking a sabbatical – a short one – this summer.  It will be great to take a break from the usual routines of summer, and to have some time for reading.  I plan to do some reading and thinking along with the Wisdom Literature. 

This is a title for a section of the Old Testament which has a different tone from the Law and the Prophets.  The Priests provided instruction (torah), the Prophets provided the divine word (dabar) but the Sages provided counsel (esa), according to one scholar.  (James Crenshaw, Introduction to Wisdom Literature, p. 20)

Hence we have a new category – Wisdom Literature.  Strictly speaking this is sections of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Job.  I prefer to take a broad view of the category and include as wisdom influenced writings such disparate passages as the parables of Jesus, the book of James, and other passages that share some of wisdom’s qualities.

In Wisdom Literature, the bible engagesin a way of thinking and writing that was international.  Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and other ancient near eastern cultures produced similar works.  However, the literature of the Hebrew Bible is distinct – particularly in that all the wisdom – be it fresh composition or collections of proverbial sayings – were sifted though the filter of faith.

Here is why Fresh Read is interested:  The Law (torah) is the instruction for the covenant people and the Prophets are a voice to the people of God to return to the keeping of the Law.  However, the Wisdom literature speaks of God and his instructions in  another kind of language.  It is international – so it does not assume the covenant language of law and obedience.  It is creation-centered, so it corresponds to the book of general revelation – the concept that God shows himself and his truth through his world.  It loves literary forms and beautiful language.  It asks questions that are universal.  It might just be a way to speak to those who have closed their ears to the Law, the Prophets and the Church as well.

So, watch and….it is hoped….learn.


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