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The Wisdom Books Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes. The Character of OT Wisdom 1.Wisdom material is scattered through OT but concentrated in Proverbs, Job,

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Presentation on theme: "The Wisdom Books Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes. The Character of OT Wisdom 1.Wisdom material is scattered through OT but concentrated in Proverbs, Job,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Wisdom Books Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes

2 The Character of OT Wisdom 1.Wisdom material is scattered through OT but concentrated in Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes (Apocrypha: Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon). 2.Hokma (= wisdom) – generally means skill, ability, craftsmanship, cunning; in wisdom literature it means “skilled at living;” practical knowledge based on experience; ability to live a successful life (as defined by wisdom teachers). 3.Wisdom literature is distinctive in making no reference to covenant traditions, God’s saving deeds in Israel’s history, or the law revealed at Mt. Sinai. 4.Basis of wisdom is not special revelation but observation. a.God created world; instilled a certain “order” in how world operates. b.Wisdom is based on observation and experience of how the world is ordered, close observation of actions and their consequences: What works, what doesn’t? What leads to a successful life, what leads to ruin?

3 The Character of OT Wisdom 5.International character of wisdom literature – very similar material is found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. a.Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope is very similar to Prov. 22:17- 24:22. b.Mesopotamia – close parallels to Job and Ecclesiastes. 6.Social setting of wisdom: a.Family and village – collective wisdom of the culture passed down from parents to children. b.Formal education – schools that trained the elite in literacy; teachers would have collected, preserved, created wisdom material for use as teaching handbooks. c.Royal court – professional wisdom teachers employed to train royal sons and government officials; clearly seen in Egypt; Solomon may have brought this practice to Israel.

4 The Character of OT Wisdom 7.Solomon and wisdom a.Traditions of Solomon’s own fame for wisdom: 1)1 Kings 3:1-15 – Dream at Gibeon: asks for wisdom to rule well. 2)1 Kings 3:16-28 – Judgment between 2 harlots illustrates wisdom. 3)1 Kings 4:29-34 – Skill at composing proverbs (3000) and songs (1005). 4)1 Kings 10:1-13 – Queen of Sheba visits to test him with riddles. b.Traditionally regarded as author of: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. c.Probably employed wisdom teachers (perhaps imported from Egypt). 8.Types of wisdom thought: a.Practical / conventional / traditional wisdom 1)Practical advice for the art of successful living – wisdom leads to a good life; folly leads to ruin. 2)Best exemplified in Proverbs. b.Speculative / skeptical / critical wisdom 1)More scholarly, questioning enterprise; probes and tests the limits of wisdom; challenges assumptions of traditional wisdom. 2)Exemplified in Job and Ecclesiastes.

5 The Book of Proverbs 1.Complex collection of traditional wisdom material. a.Evidence of 8 earlier collections (see 1:1; 10:1; 22:17; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; 31:1; 31:10). b.Some attributed to Solomon; others to “the wise,” Agur, and Lemuel. 2.Basic unit of book is the mashal = “proverb,” “saying” (pl. meshalim is Hebrew title of book). a.Distilled wisdom of generations of observation/experience of life, boiled down and couched in form of terse, witty, pithy saying. b.Often strung together by catchword; sometimes more extended composition (Prov. 1-9). 3.Theme: practical advice for the art of successful living. a.Way of wisdom/righteousness leads to success/the good life. b.Way of folly/wickedness leads to ruin/misery/death. c.Success is defined in “this-worldly” terms: happiness, health, prosperity, longevity, good family/friends, respect in community, to be well remembered.

6 The Book of Proverbs 4.Wisdom’s advice on the way to success: hard work, discipline, study, piety, good manners, careful use of language, sexual propriety, etc. a.Prov. 2:20-22 – way of the upright vs. way of the wicked. b.Prov. 3:1-2 – wisdom’s reward: length of days and abundant welfare. c.Prov. 6:6-11 – lesson of the diligence of the ant vs. laziness of the slacker. d.Prov. 10:4, 26 – slack hand vs. diligence; laziness irritates one’s employer. e.Prov. 11:12-13 – belittling another vs. silence; gossiping vs. keeping confidence. f.Prov. 5:1-23 – sexual fidelity, avoiding adultery (the “strange” woman). g.Prov. 16:23; 18:7, 21 – mastering the tongue. h.Prov. 23:29-35 – avoiding drunkenness. i.Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33 – fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 5.Personification of Wisdom a.Prov. 9 – Lady Wisdom is depicted as a beautiful, alluring woman, inviting the simple ones to come eat her bread and drink her wine; contrasted with Dame Folly, depicted as “strange/foolish woman,” seducing them to taste her forbidden fruit (cf. Prov. 7). b.Prov. 8:22-36 – Personified Wisdom speaks; she is the first of God’s creation and the “master craftsman” by which God made heaven and earth; becomes background for Logos concept in John 1:1-18.

7 Book of Job 1.Story of the protests of a suffering righteous man – challenges traditional wisdom assumptions that suffering results from wickedness. 2.Authorship and date of writing a.Gives impression of great antiquity (most folk literature does), but also shows points of contact in language and theme with post-exilic period. b.No way to identify author; no reference within the book. c.Structure of book shows signs of having been edited – composition by stages. 1)Prologue (Job 1-2) and epilogue (42:7-17) are prose; central section is poetic. 2)Prose – patient Job; poetic – impatient/demanding Job. 3)Prose – traditional wisdom; poetic – speculative/questioning wisdom. 4)Postexilic author/editor may have taken ancient folk story and inserted dialogue material into it.

8 Book of Job 3.Structure and content of the book a.Prose prologue1-2 b.Job’s lament3

9 Book of Job 3.Structure and content of the book a.Prose prologue1-2 b.Job’s lament3 c.Conversation with 3 friends4-31 (3 cycles, the last incomplete) i.Friends – espouse traditional wisdom: Job suffers because he sinned. ii.Job – protests his innocence; demands audience with God so he can plead his case. d.Elihu speeches32-37 (breaks pattern, probably added)

10 Book of Job 3.Structure and content of the book a.Prose prologue1-2 b.Job’s lament3 c.Conversation with 3 friends4-31 (3 cycles, the last incomplete) d.Elihu speeches32-37 (breaks pattern, probably added) e.Dialogue with God38:1-42:6 i.God parades mystery of creation before Job: takes humans out of center; there is no simple cause and effect humans can understand. ii.Job repents and acknowledges his finitude. f.Prose epilogue42:7-14 i.God declares the friends wrong and Job right. ii.Restores Job’s fortunes twofold.

11 Book of Job 4.What is the message of Job? a.Does anyone serve God for nothing? b.Does God rule justly? c.Is there such a thing as innocent suffering? d.Why is there suffering? (theodicy = study of the problem of evil) 1)Traditional wisdom: because you made bad choices. 2)Deuteronomist: because you sinned. 3)Job: challenges these traditional theories but offers no alternative. a)For some inscrutable divine purpose. b)For no discernable reason whatsoever. e.How do I react to suffering? 1)Prologue – patient Job of calm acceptance. 2)Poetry – impatient, angry, demanding Job.

12 Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind” 1.A wisdom teacher’s quest for the meaning of life a.Finds little of lasting worth (all is vanity). b.Like Job, this is speculative/skeptical/critical wisdom – challenges simplistic assumptions of conventional wisdom. 2.Title of the book a.Hebrew: Koheleth = lit., “one who gathers / assembles” (information or students), i. e. “a teacher.” b.Septuagint: Ecclesiastes = “one who gathers / assembles.” c.Luther: Der Prediger = “the Preacher” (followed by KJV). 3.Author a.Traditionally attributed to Solomon (1:1, 12; 2:9). b.Calls himself Koheleth, “the Teacher” (1:1, 2, 12; 2:9; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10) – anonymous wisdom teacher who assumes role of Solomon to conduct “royal experiment.” 4.Date of writing – late Persian or early Hellenistic period (350-250 BCE ).

13 Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind” 5.Thesis: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (1:2; 12:8). a.Vanity = hebel – lit., “vapor,” “breath,” “puff of air.” b.Becomes metaphor meaning fleeting, temporary, ephemeral, transient. c.Or, futile, absurd, meaningless. d.“Vanity of vanities” is superlative: the most vain thing of all; everything is “utter vanity.” 6.Preface states thesis (1:2-11) a.“What do people gain from all their toil?” Koheleth is searching for meaning of life, something of permanent value. b.Finds nothing: Life is in perpetual motion, yet there is nothing to show for it, no profit, no net gain. c.Rest of book demonstrates this conclusion.

14 Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind” 7.A “royal experiment” (1:12-2:26). a.Posing as “Solomon,” Koheleth claims to have tried everything and found nothing that satisfies (1:12-18). b.The testing of pleasure, work, wealth, and fame (2:1-11). c.The testing of wisdom (2:12-17). Same fate befalls wise and foolish. d.Conclusion: despair – there is no gain from all one’s efforts (2:18- 23). e.Consolation: The best one can do is simply to “eat, drink, and find enjoyment in their toil” – enjoy life and toil as God gives it (2:24-26; cf. 3:13; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7)

15 Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind” 8.Five main themes in Ecclesiastes a.Wisdom cannot achieve its goal. b.God is remote. c.The world is crooked. d.Death cancels everything. e.Pleasure commends itself.

16 Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind” 9.Epilogue (12:9-14) a.Perhaps added by a pupil of “the Teacher.” b.Pays tribute to Koheleth’s wisdom: his words are like goads – sharp, hard to take, but ultimately useful. c.V. 13-14 tend to soften Koheleth’s skepticism and make book more acceptable.


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