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  • Rıdvan Demir

WISDOM LITERATURE




Throughout history, many scholars have attempted to interpret the Holy Scriptures. Interpreting these scriptures is very difficult, indeed. These particularly scriptures are dramatically different in style and content from generally accepted perspectives of Holy Scriptures. Wisdom literature, especially the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are examples of Scriptures that are seemingly impenetrable to systematic analytical concepts. I will demonstrate that I have read both books carefully, by trying to explain the imagery of wisdom, according to both books. In this particular instance, the initiation of the fear of God, and the created-creation relationship is immensely pronounced.


My paper will be directed at uncovering some of the fundamental elements of the Hebrew Bible. When I categorize the general wisdom literature, I will focus on the Hebrew Bible and the characteristically defined books of wisdom. These common and different forms, contents, perspectives, themes and literary characteristics will permit us to thoroughly evaluate the veracity of wisdom imagery. Firstly, wisdom is the qualitative component which is defined in these religious texts through instruction about life’s many encounters. Secondly, women who are wise and sagacious versus foolish and sinful – according to several modern scholars who understand that period of ancient Israel will be under our lens of examination. Thirdly, indolence or laziness in work will also inform our conversation, especially as it concerns notions of self-fulfillment and attainment of sanctity. By the culmination of these particular elements, I will touch on the efficacy of wisdom literature and its relationship to other literature of the ancient world and Egypt written in the same period. For example, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have more differences than substantive parallels.


Wisdom literature is used to determine God’s power and purpose, both of which limits and permits the degree of vitality that exist amongst the religious believer. In the Hebrew Bible, the wisdom literature is represented by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), and Job, and by some Psalms, such as Psalms 1. The Deuteronomical books, or Apocrypha, include two major wisdom books, that of Ben Sira and the wisdom of Solomon. There is also a hymn in recognition and veneration of the idea of wisdom. We see this idea fully expressed in the book of Baruch.


While the book of Proverbs is introduced as “the Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel” it also operates as a venue of substantive wisdom narratives. Barely any scholar, who would accept Solomonic authorship for any part of Proverbs, would necessarily have to confirm the exegetical concomitants which address the issue of wisdom. We shall find later that the book of Qoheleth, which is definitely postexilic and probably Hellenistic in date, also adopts the persona of Solomon, even though it does not use his name. The wisdom of Solomon, which invokes his name explicitly, was written in Greek around the turn of the era.[1] Here we might be concerned with the potential for theological narrative and socio-psychological realities to create opportunities for wisdom modalities.


The category of wisdom is that there are five different shapes of this literature that happen again and are characteristic of the category of wisdom and believer expression. Below are a few of the elements interpreted as systematically covering an enlargement of translucent themes indicative of wisdom modalities and narrative schematics.


1. “Wisdom literature is a reflection upon lived experience from daily life.


2. Wisdom literature refers the ethical significance and ethical outcomes.



3. Wisdom activity is the activities of speech which are reflections and interpretations of experience that are crafted into artistic speech. Generally, these kinds of verses are addressed to young people.


4. Wisdom reflection is indeed an intellectual enterprise. Those who undertake it have a deep, trusting curiosity about how things work and a patience to observe outcomes that matches their curiosity.



5. Wisdom teaching is theological literature; that is, it witnesses to Yahweh and Yahweh’s larger purposes for the world.” [2]


There is a general parallelism among the imagery of Israel and Egypt. The thought and form that both of these historical spaces, confounded simply as historical places of serious influence, and the thought and form that both of these historical spaces codify simply as spiritual places for wisdom, even more enlarges on the essentiality of wisdom to create form. To have an affair that advises of amen-em opet. Nevertheless, there is a close relation among its advisers and the book of proverbs.[3] The instruction of amen mope is especially noteworthy for its reverence for “the lord of all” and for the protection of close parallels between this work and Proverbs 22:17-23:11, and to the conclusion that the Hebrew composition was modeled on the Egyptian. [4]


The book of Proverbs generally includes topics which are concerned with daily life. The book begins: “the fear of the lord is the beginning of the knowledge. (1:7) Characteristically, Israel’s wisdom is practical and non-theoretical. Wisdom is the modality necessary to create informed change and fulfillment of various challenges concerning the individual’s habits and orientation in the world. In one instance, wisdom uses dramatic, practical methods with the feminine voice to ensure that supernatural transformation can occur for the believer. On the other hand, the imagery of wisdom found in these books not only touches on ethical rules, but it insists on common sense and simple attitudinal resolve. The shorter idioms warn the smart people of how they should behave in certain cases. Some of these concerns involve family while others concern business life. Some verses talk about manners while others refer to self-control in the face of evil things. Some other topics of the book include humility, patience, poverty, women (helpful or harmful) and, of course, wisdom. The nature of proverbial wisdom is that perhaps its most fundamental objective is simply to make observations. The wisdom literature of Israel is not close to Torah nor does it offer references to it. Furthermore, it is not easy to date the book. The book of Proverbs represents “normal” wisdom in ancient Israel, and thus significance of temporality or historical expression is severely nullified because of its transcendental potential.


The form of the book of Proverbs is characteristically one or two lines long and is the quintessential wisdom teaching in the Old Testament. Mostly, proverbial verses consist of meanings drawn from a pattern of ‘this is how it is; this is how we do it.’ There are two forms to these operative models. One form is didactic and usually negative, for instance it says to the young, “thou shalt not.” No reason, explanation, or explicit punishment is stated for cases of violation. No details are given; only a command, like: “Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.” The second form is more artistically voiced, and we may identify several rhetorical strategies for such sayings.[5]


As for content, the wisdom and opportunism of the wise in Proverbs is always limited by “the fear of the Lord.” Verse 1:7 might serve as a summary of the theology of Proverbs. Linked to this “fear of the Lord” is a similar deferential disposition toward parents and teachers: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching.” (1:8)Generally, in the book of Proverb, observations are close to life experiences reported from a father to son or teacher to students across generations. We can find that Qoheleth was exceptional in attempting to verify traditional wisdom for himself. The ethical teaching of Proverbs is highly pragmatic, designed to help students succeed in life. On the other hand, the purpose of the collection is expressed as follows: “…”[6]


The form of the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) is like that of Proverbs, both are collections of wisdom sayings that comment on life’s infinite subtleties, is really difficult with no obvious form or structure. While the form of the book is not unlike Proverbs’ form, the mood and theological understanding are really contrasted with Proverbs’. Interestingly, Proverbs affirms humans’ future and meaning of life while Ecclesiastes is the opposite of that. Ecclesiastes can hardly confirm the existence or reality of God. In 1:12–2:24, Qoheleth adopts the personality of a king leaving a record of his experiences. Note the frequency of the first person pronoun, “I”.[7] In Proverbs, the words of Agur are remarkable for their skepticism, which expects the more mature reflections we find in the book of Qoheleth. “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” Agur asks (Proverbs 30:4). The station of the king is a reification of the extensiveness of wisdom.


As for content, the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) talks about human life as really short, meaningless, and a contradiction leading to death and vanity. Sometimes, for some people, life is full of injustice and trouble. However, the preacher could not understand ways in which one would reach God through partaking in trouble. He (or they) advised humans against working so much and that happiness was possible as the means through which God graced them. Generally, this kind of thought interestingly seems really negative and upsetting. According to some scholars, this book proves that such kinds of verses console and comfort to some people who are really upset and hopeless. So this book gets rid of pessimistic ideas, especially when people are commanded to look to themselves in the mirror of this book. All of this proves that the Holy Bible really presents many dimensions of human life. On the other hand, it is very clear that this book stands against the traditional wisdom literature of ancient Israel. The skeptical questioning of tradition in the biblical collection reaches its high point in the book of Qoheleth, or Ecclesiastes. Jewish tradition recognizes that Solomon composed the book in his old age although the language of the book shows that it cannot have been written in the age of Solomon. This book was not likely written before the late third century b.c.e. Qoheleth also reminds scholars in the Epic of Gilgamesh that advised people to enjoy life; perhaps, we see the imagery wisdom existing within a different framework.

In Proverbs, Wisdom is found in speech as: “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you”.[8] Later in 8:17, Wisdom says, “I love those who love me.” She repeatedly promises prosperity to those who listen to her but has little sympathy for fools. Ecclesiastes will later notice that the Lord “has no pleasure in fools.”[9] The role of Wisdom in creation is addressed most explicitly in 8:22–31. Here we are told: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” Wisdom, we are told, is created, or acquired, before the creation of the world. Wisdom thus forms a bridge between the creation and the created. Wisdom literature thus tries to explain the relations between God and life in the universe.


According to Tillich, wisdom was the floor of God before everything. After creation, wisdom spread throughout the entire universe. Wisdom is in everything in the universe, including in humankind. If there is not wisdom and meaning then knowledge itself would be vanity. Nevertheless, wisdom hides from the eyes of man although it is in everything. Neither intelligence nor logic means wisdom. Wisdom means to see wisdom in even the misery and contradictions of life. Wisdom says in Proverbs that” he who finds me finds life…but all who hate me love death.” The ideal fear is not to fear God as the beginning of wisdom because man should not fear God. However, man should fear breaking the limits which God gives them. Wisdom means to hold to these limits or measures of a normal life. Wisdom means to not be extreme but to hold to the straight path during life. You can reach wisdom when you discover the contradiction between the path of good deeds and the path of evil and sins. Wisdom notices the limits of life and accepts these limits. Wisdom acquired through suffering from our mistakes never separates the person from God.[10]


The first two verses of Ecclesiastes[11] introduce two of the basic themes of the book. This Hebrew word translated as “vanity” here (hebel) literally means “vapor” or according to some interpreters “absurd.” The sense of this term, hebel, is that it is transitory. As is well known, this concept is repeated many times in Ecclesiastes. Many people dissolve their life into a vapor by spending time on vanities.


The second basic theme has the form of a question: “What profit do people have from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?”[12] The Hebrew term yitrôn, means “that which is left over” namely, a sense of impermanence. In 1:2–11 we read that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Wisdom books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes have no sense of a goal in history. Perhaps the most moving part of Ecclesiastes is the poem on old age at the end of the book. This poem balances the opening poem in 1:1–11 and shares the same theme that all is vanity or vapor. In the conclusion, all things pass, and all is vapor.

Through the grace of God you have been taught well enough by the words of Ecclesiastes to know and despise the vanity of this world. Nevertheless proverbs teaching have to amended and directed your life and conduct sufficiently.[13]


The Wisdom understanding set out in Proverbs contrasts with Ecclesiastes’ “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”[14] The passage carries on to list fourteen pairs of opposites: to be born and to die, to kill and to heal, to love and to hate, and so on. Ecclesiastes really is different from the rest of the biblical tradition for in Proverbs right choices distinguish the wise person from the fool while Ecclesiastes presents a more relative sense that life is about timing. To understand Ecclesiastes’ mentality is really difficult. Say that: “the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same…who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?”[15] Personal experience never means traditional belief in this case. In every case, the philosophy of this author was the exact opposite of general biblical texts. What is the meaning of life for him? How could he explain his worldview being so different? Is life really vain? Why is Ecclesiastes so different and even opposite from other biblical texts? I believe that this author(s) was really bored in life and suffered so much because this kind of man has satisfied all his or her desires in life. Proverbs 24:14 talks about the meaning of life differently…really opposite from many verses of Ecclesiastes. For example, 6:1-12 states that life is vanity and this periscope is really pessimistic towards to human life. The second example for the meaningless of life is 9:9-12, which expresses clearly that everything is vanity except the joys of life under the sun. Interestingly, Proverbs refers to this issue in 30:21-23 as: “…”. So we can say from this verse that books are parallel although both of them are completely different in form and content, particularly on the subject of the meaning of human life.


Ecclesiastes 7:1–14 differs from all that precedes it, in that it is primarily a collection of proverbial sayings, such as we might find in Proverbs. Ecclesiastes 7:1 reads: “better is a good name than precious ointment” contains a wordplay in Hebrew, and echoes the sentiment of Proverb 22:1 which is “…” on the other hand, many verses of proverbs talk about the significance of wisdom[16] while many verses of Ecclesiastes discuss issues in contrast.[17] General understanding of Proverbs is that the life has significance and meaning[18] while Ecclesiastes has opposite understanding.[19]


The primary image of women in the wisdom literature of Israel is one of seduction. “The strange woman,” as come to be known, is riddling phrase that helps in defining the reach of concepts of wisdom in codifying the complex. This figure is first introduced in Proverbs 2:16–19 as: “You will be saved from the strange woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the partner of her youth, and forgets her sacred covenant.” Again in 5:3–4, we are told that “the lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” The most elaborate description is in chapter 7, especially 7:5-27, where the author claims to see “a young man without sense” accosted by a woman “decked out like a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home.” She seduces the young man, who goes with her like an ox to slaughter. The chapter ends on a somber note: “her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (7:27). Each of the passages dealing with strange women similarly ends with a warning that her ways lead to death (cf. 2:18–19, 5:5). According to many scholars, the use of the adjective strange in this instance means foreign. All the time, young Jewish men are warned about sins that are not legal. Probably, the warnings include intermarriage and particularly the wife of another. This is explicitly the case in chapter 7, which says that her husband went on a journey. The Hebrew text reads “an evil woman” the Greek “a married woman.” Chapter 6 warns clearly about adultery. In Proverbs, the strange woman figure takes on symbolic significance, so she represents all deviations from the way of wisdom. One other noted feature of the figure is that wisdom claims to give life, just as the “strange woman” leads to death. Proverbs 1–9 concludes by juxtaposing the contrasting figures of Wisdom and “the foolish woman.”


Two important interpretations have been made of “the wise woman” figure and its “foolish” counterpoint. According to Claudia Camp, the woman of folly – the strange woman – is accepted as a risk in Israeli social life. According to Christine Yoder, the prudent woman is an economic one in Proverb 31:10-31. Yoder moves from 31:10-31 to the “wise woman” in Proverb 1-9 to show how this concern for a good life makes a connection between wisdom and economics (Prov. 4:7-9; 5:1-14; 7:10-27; 9:13-18).[20] Thus, Proverbs ends with a remarkable poem on the wise and business-minded “capable wife” that serves as a valuable counterbalance to the picture of the “strange woman” in Proverbs 1–9. Some female behavior is criticized, but not women as such. As a parallel idea, Ecclesiastes 7:26-29 talks about sinful women who are worse than death. These verses address the desire by many people to seek fulfillment in sin, though the idea that God created humans as good-natured is derelict here.


Laziness or idleness is another important topic which leads to poverty.[21] Proverbs warns frequently against oppressing the poor, though some sayings seem to condone bribery. For in this moment is the reach of wisdom as overt and crucial? “A gift in secret averts anger; and a concealed bribe in the bosom’s strong wrath” (21:14). Yet we are told that “the wicked accept a concealed bribe to pervert the ways of justice” (17:23). Probably, not all bribes pervert justice, but even more the concept of wisdom is expressed here. However, the essence of the Wisdom literature is advice that may be right for one situation but wrong for another. As Qoheleth will say, there is a time for everything.[22]

In Proverbs 10:4-5, laziness and sluggish are very clearly criticized: “ ”. In 20:4, the lazy one is recognized as being like one who cannot be found at harvest when he/she is needed. Again, in 24:30-34, it is stated that laziness leads to poverty. On the contrary, the general understanding of the Ecclesiastes is that laziness and hard work both lead to the same end under the sun.” According to the author, hard work is not necessary for people because they will leave everything to the next generation which is ultimately vanity.[23] One can find only tiredness or jealousness when he/she works so much in Eccl 3:9-10. [24] Again, in Eccl 5:13-16, hard work is criticized for this world because nobody takes something from here to hereafter. Hence, everything is vanity, particularly to work for a worldly life.

In conclusion, the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are generally so different in many verses, which I showed several times above. Interestingly, Ecclesiastes is really different from the remainder of all Hebrew Scriptures except Job, which is different as well. In many places, Ecclesiastes declares that life is vanity and meaningless for us. Of course there exist contradictions in this text. Sometimes, the author(s) says that wisdom and foolishness are the same while at other times states that they are completely different. Although we try to explain how these kinds of problems originate from a book written by more than one author, in every case, the problem is that the collector/redactor was not successful, or at least his workshop was not very healthy. On the other side, the book of Proverbs is much more harmonious with itself than either Ecclesiastes or other wisdom literature of ancient Israel. According to Proverbs, work is necessary for life and good conditions. Proverbs and other wisdom literature often seem parallel to each other. Indeed, it is very clear that the interpretation of Ecclesiastes is really difficult and a big issue, particularly, when justifying it with other wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible. The book of Proverbs seems clearly close to other wisdom books. Between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, there are many more differences than parallels, and Ecclesiastes is much more different than other wisdom literature of Judaism. Nonetheless, to which extent should we attempt to measure wisdom as an unswerving dimension?


PROVERBS:


Wisdom and its significance: 1:7, 2:1-6, 2:16-17, 3:13, 3:18-20, 4:5-12, 8:1-36, 16:16, 20:15, 23:23-25, 24:3-5, 28:26.

Dangerous weaknesses for women: 5:3-11, 5:20-23, 6:20-35, 7:5-27, 9:13-18, 23:27-28, 29:3.

Dangerous and negative sides of laziness: 6:6-11, 10:4-5, 12:24, 27, 13:4, 15:19, 19:15, 19:24, 20:4, 20:13, 22:13, 24:30-34, 26:12-16.

Meaning of wisdom: 11:9.

Divine justice: 11:31, 12:1, 7, 13:21, 16:3-7, 17:13, 21:13.

Meaning of life: 15:8, 24:14, 28:6.

Meaningless/Vanity of life: 30:21-23.

Wise women: 31:9-31.


ECCLESIASTES:


Insignificance of working: 1:3.

Meaningless and vanity of wisdom: 1:12-18, 8:16-17.

Transitory/vain nature of enjoyments: 2:1, 10-11.

Superiority and significance of wisdom: 2:13, 7:11-12, 7:19, 8:1, 5, 9:13-18, 10:1-2, 10:10, 12.

Lack of difference between wisdom and foolish: 2:14-16.

Vanity of working and labor: 2:18-23, 3:9-10, 4:4, 5:13-16.

Lack of difference between man and animal: 3:18-21.

Meaningless of rising in life: 4:13-16.

Vanity of richness: 5:10-12.

Meaningless of life: 6:1-12, 9:9-12.

Level of wisdom, to keep away from evil and foolish: 7:16-17.

Difficulty of wisdom: 7:24.

Dangerous weaknesses for woman: 7:26, 28.

Distortedness in divine justice: 8:14, 9:2-3, 10:6-7.

Badness of laziness: 10:18.

Significance and responsibility of realizing the orders of God: 12:13.

[1] 487-488. [2] [3] p. 424. [4] 489. [5] See for details, 15:17; 25:11-14, 18-20; 30:15b-16, 18-19, 21-23. [6] See, Prov 1:2–6, besides see, for similarities that we may compare the introduction to the Instruction of Amen mope, p. [7] 416. [8] Prov 1:26 [9] Eccl 5:4. [10] Paul Tillich, the Eternal Now, New York, p. 163-170. [11] Eccl 1:2-3. [12] Eccl 1:2. [13] Bernard of Clairvaux, selected sermons on the Song of Songs, trs. G. Evans, Selected Works, Handout, p. 210. [14] Prov 3:1-9. [15] Prov 3:19–21. [16] See Proverbs 1:7, 2:1-6, 2:16-17, 3:13, 3:18-20, 4:5-12, 8:1-36, 16:16, 20:15, 23:23-25, 24:3-5, 28:26. [17] See Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, 8:16-17, 2:14-16. [18] See Proverbs 15:8, 24:14, 28:6. [19] See Ecclesiastes 6:1-12, 9:9-12. [20] p. 397. [21] Prov 24:30–34. [22] See Eccl 3:1-8. [23] Eccl 2:18-23. [24] See Eccl 4:4.

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