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Wisdom Literature

 

 A selection from the Old Testament wisdom books, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Songs of Solomon, and  Lamentations. The apocryphal books of Jesus ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon may also be read and studied in relation to canonical wisdom.


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Course Objectives

In this course we shall seek to:

 

REQUIREMENTS

1. Assigned syllabus readings.

2. Reading of selected commentaries covering each of the following biblical books:

Job; Ecclesiastes; Proverbs; Songs of Solomon, Lamentations, Jesus ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon.

    1. Proverbs Paper   Students will write an original 6-page paper from Proverbs alone (and without using secondary sources) on an approved topic   Other topics need individual approval from the professor.  The paper will synthesize the teaching of Proverbs on the topic (4-5 pages) and draw practical application for life today (1-2 pages). 

 

    1. Introduction to EITHER Job or Ecclesiastes   Write a 15-page introduction to either book, discussing the different contexts within which the book is interpreted.  (i.e., historical [e.g., author, date, audience, textual composition], social, religious, literary, theological).  DO NOT INCLUDE A SUMMARY OF THE BOOK.  Use extensive secondary sources, including commentary introductions and specialized studies.  Include a bibliography in correct style. 

c.    Reflection Paper: Wisdom and YOUR Reading of Scripture   Prepare a 4-page reflection on how, after this course, you understand wisdom literature relates to the message of the larger canon of scripture.  This reflection could take many approaches, such as: does wisdom literature speak with a different “voice” in the canon?  Does its voice contrast other canonical voices (how? how to reconcile?)?  How might you read the canon differently in light of wisdom literature?  What aspect of YOUR life has wisdom literature challenged that the rest of the canon has not (and in what way)?  What does this portion of the canon call you to that you have not experienced in the rest of the canon?  Etc.

 

 

III. TESTING AND GRADING

1. Reflection Paper  20%

2. Reading Material 20 %

3. Examination 20%

4. Research Paper 20%

 5. Introduction Paper 20%

100 %

1. Grading Scale: A 91-100

B 81-90

C 71-80

D 61-70

Email for class lectures

Required Reading

The Enjambing Line in Lamentations-A Taxonomy

Kugel - Idea of Biblical Parallelism

Cohen - Imagery

Berlin-Biblical Parallelism

Read books, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Songs of Solomon, and  Lamentations.

The apocryphal books of Jesus ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon

KJV Bible w/ Apocryphal

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on the Canonical books

Home Links

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Undergraduate Studies   

 

Introduction  Wisdom Literature

Poetic Literature

  1. Place in the Canon. In the main there is to be recognized a three fold division of the canon, Law, Prophets, Writings
    1. Hebrew Bible - lists in the  Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles.
    2. Septuagint -  has the same books but ordered differently.
    3. Josephus - Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
  2. The problem of recognizing or identifying Hebrew poetry is its lack of "any easily discernable meter, or any comparable feature that marks it as verse.
    1. Hill & Walton noted Hoftijzer's 1965 thesis (refined by Andersen and Freedman) separated Hebrew prose from poetry by looking at the "prose particle" density."Old Testament texts exhibiting prose-particle (את אשׁר  and the definite article) densities of 15 percent or more are considered prose in nature, while those demonstrating prose-particle densities of 5 percent or less are regarded as poetic. Old Testament prophetic literature yielding densities between 5 and 15 percent is labeled 'oracular prose,' connoting its poetic tendencies."
    2. The key to the identification of Hebrew poetry is the recognition of parallelisms (a correspondence of one thing with another). Generally, the parallelism of consecutive lines is a strong indicator. "Parallelism may involve semantics, grammar, and/or other linguistic features, and it may occur on the level of the word, line, couplet, or over a greater textual span." However, not all lines in Hebrew poetry are parallelistic or symmetrical, and not all parallelisms are poetry.
      1. There are varieties of parallelism. Some types found in the Bible are:
        1. Semantic Parallelism (based on word usage)
        2. Progressive Parallelism (based on logical sequence)
        3. Grammatical Parallelism (based on choice of grammatical forms)
        4. Complete Parallelism (where every single term or thought unit in one line is parallel to an equivalent term or unit in the other line).
          1. Synonymous parallelism - the same thought is repeated but using different words. Ps 105.23.
          2. Antithetical parallelism - here there is an opposition or contrast of thought. Ps 90.6
        5. Incomplete Parallelism (there is not a complete one for one correspondence of terms between units.
          1. With compensation - here there are the same number of terms but there is not a one to one correspondence. Ps 21.10
          2. Without compensation - here there are less terms between corresponding units. Ps 24.1
        6. Formal Parallelism - This differs from above in that the second part continues the thought in the first part. Ps 2.6

These are just a few of the many verities of parallelism found in Scripture. Parallelism involves the relationship of A to B where B carries the idea of A further by echoing, defining, narrowing, restating, contrasting, illustrating and a variety of other methods.

1.      A distinctive aspect of poetry is meter, or the regular rhythm of lines of poetry. This is an aspect of poetry that is closely tied to the language that the poem was written in and is pretty much difficult to repeat in a translation. This is made even more difficult in Hebrew as what we have of the original text is only the consonants. The vowels are vital to the true understanding of the meter of Hebrew and because what we have in the Masoretic text is conjecture (good as it is) we are left guessing at the existence of and extent of Biblical Hebrew meter. This has to be left to a Hebrew language class.

2.      The key to unlocking the meaning of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry is the recognition of the figures of speech. This is a substitution of one or more terms for another one or more terms.[9]

1.      Involving Comparison

1.      Simile - resemblance, two things of unlike nature that have something in common. Uses the terms "like" and "as."

2.      Metaphor: a representation, an implicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that have something in common. There is no use of like or as. Metaphors are usually couched in terms of "is" and "are."

2.                  The best work on figures of speech in the Bible (and elsewhere for that matter) is E. W. Bullinger Figures of Speech used in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968). Bullinger summarizes his classifications into Divisions

1.      First Division. figures involving Omission

1.      Affecting Words

2.      Affecting the sense

2.      Second Division. Figures involving Addition

1.      Affecting Words

2.      Affecting the sense, by way of

1.      Repetition

2.      Amplification

3.      Description

4.      Conclusion

5.      Interposition

6.      Reasoning

3.      Third Division. Figures involving Change.

1.      Affecting the meaning and usage of words

2.      Affecting the order and arrangement of words

3.      Affecting the application of words

1.      Sense

2.      Persons

3.      Subject Matter

4.      Time

5.      Feeling

6.      Reasoning

3.      Another aspect of Hebrew poetry (and poetry in general) is its terseness. Poetry, by and large, contains only the "nucleus of the thought" - unnecessary words are removed so that what remains is what is important and what is expressed with an economy of words. This is effectively achieved with the use of figures of speech.

Hebrew Poetry then is "characterized by a high incidence of terse, balanced parallelism" which is effectively achieved through the use of figures of speech.

The difference between (Hebrew) poetry and prose is seen in Judges 4.19-21 and 5.24-27.

1.      Wisdom Literature

2.      The wisdom literature of the Hebrews differs from what is considered wisdom in the west. The western tradition looks to philosophical speculation in the vein of the Greeks and Romans. Though there exists proverbial and advice sayings, in the main the west looks to Plato and the Sophists. Hebrew wisdom literature rather is revelatory, not speculatory. Questions of God's existence and man's place in the created universe is are answered by God himself through the writings of Moses, the prophets and the writers of the hagiographa. Speculation is not necessary as the answered to the questions are provided. Ecclesiastes and Job are the closest to speculative philosophy in the Bible, and even there answers are provided, by Solomon and by God.

 

Job

Job

  1. Name
    1. Hebrew - איוב
    2. LXX -  Ιωβ
    3. Vulgate - Iob
  2. Purpose/Theme - It addresses some aspects of theodicy (qeo" + dikh), an attempt to justify the ways of God to man. As such, one of the major quesitons addressed is the existance of evil in a creation of a Loving, Omnipotent God. If God is loving and all powerful, why does or how can evil exist. More to the point, why do good people suffer? The answer of Job is, God knows best and it is not up to man (morally or capably) to question the ways of God. It is up to man to realize or know that God has man's best interest at heart, no matter how bleak things may seem and that man should hang in there and wait on the time of God, be it in this life or in his direct presence.
  3. Author/Dating - The dating and authorship have been debated with no real consenus as to who wrote it and when. The language is different; not necessarily older but rather of a different dialect than classical Hebrew (the language of the other books). It could be the oldest book in the bible or it could be of the monarchial period. Job is mentioned with Daniel and Noah by Ezekiel as being noted for his righteousness (Ez. 14.14) so he is at least before Ezekiel, though it may in fact be shortly before him as Ez. mentions his contemporary, Daniel. It is best to leave it an open question.
  4. Key or main verse - 28.28 "Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." And 13.15 "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."
    1. Analysis
      1. Prologue (Prose) chapt 1-2 God, Satan, Job. This is the portion that sets the stage and is the counter argument to the arguments and discussions of Job and his friends. The reader knows the truth as to why Job suffers yet Job does not and he and his friends plumb the depth of human understanding of suffering and get it wrong.
      2. The dialogues (poetic cycles)
        1. Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar 3-26
        2. Job's speech 27-31
        3. Elihu's monologue (2 cents worth) 32-37
        4. YHVH Speaks and Job responds (humbly) 38-42.6)
      3. Epilogue (prose) 42.7-17 Job is blessed

Job is a book of wisdom based on discourse, he suffers and talks to his friends about it. They reach erroneuos conclusions (Job et al; though Job recognizes the error of his friends' arguments) and Job is made to know that there are things that he may never know, he is to let God be God and trust him to make things right. YHVH never answered Job directly concerning his suffering, his point was that it was perfectly within his perview to do what he wants and man is not able (morally or otherwise) to question God.

Lamentations

Lamentations

  1. Name
    1. Hebrew -  אֵיכָה 'ekah How, "how" or "alas"
    2. Lamentations, from Vulgate Threni
  2. Authorship - Text says nothing, H&W calls the discussions a stalemate, tradition ascribes it to Jeremiah, some say based erroneously on 2 Chronicles 35.25.
  3. Occassion - The fall of Jerusalem. As such it is read in the Megilloth (festival scrolls) and is scheduled to be read on the 9th of Ab, the day of the destruction of the Temple by the Babyonians in 587/586 B.C. and by the Romans in A.D. 70.
  4. Outline (Hill & Walton).
    1. Lamentation for Jerusalem's misery and desertion
    2. Lamentation for the Daughter of Zion cut down in YHWH's wrath
    3. Poet's grief and hope
    4. Horror of the seige (esp. 4.10. cf. Lev 26.29, Deut 28.57)
    5. Zion's disgrace remembered; a petition for restoration
  5. Poetic structure (H&W 336) has an alphabetic acrostic structure for poems 1-3. Poems 1 and 2 are 22 three line verses - a - - b - - c - - whereas poem three is 66 three line verses with the acrostic going a a a b b b c c c . . .

 

Proverbs

Proverbs

  1. Name
    1. Hebrew - mishley shelomoh מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה rule, proverb
    2. LXX – παροιμιαι Proverb
    3. Vulgate - Proverbia
  2. Purpose - The book of Proverbs provides pragmatic lessons in life. It displays the practical side of wisdom.
  3. Author - Solomon, Agur, King Lemuel (H&W2 note that these two are of the sons of Ishmael and Arabian lending universality to the wisdom found in Proverbs)
  4. Dating
    1. Time of Author - Beginning of tenth century to the time of Hezekiah - 729-686 BC
  5. Key or main verse - Prov. 1.7 The fear of YHVH is the beginning of Knowledge
  6. Analysis
    1. The Proverbs of Solomon: Instruction for youth
      1. Lessons in Wisdom: the prelude to true happiness
      2. Discussions of Folly: the prelude to Sin
    2. The Proverbs of Solomon: Wisdom Versus Folly
    3. The Sayings of the Wise
    4. The Proverbs of Solomon collected by Hezekiah's men
    5. The Words of Agur
    6. The Words of Lemuel
    7. The Virtuous Wife

Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes

  1. Name
    1. Hebrew – Qoheleth קהלת  Preacher
    2. LXX -   Εκκλησιαστης Assembly
    3. Vulgate - Ecclesiastes
  2. Purpose - To show forth the futility and vanity of worldly acheivement and the peace and happiness in Godly contentment.
  3. Author - Solomon
  4. Dating - Tenth Century BC
  5. Key or main verse - Fear God and keep his commandments 12.13
  6. Analysis -
    1. Prologue
    2. The Preacher's testimony
      1. The futility of human achievement
        1. The uselessness of human Wisdom and Philosophy
        2. The emptiness of pleasure and wealth
        3. The certainty of death
      2. The futility of human labor
        1. The inequity of work
        2. Contentment with God's providence
        3. The reality of life and death
        4. The frustration and disappointment of earthly life
        5. The futility of the self seeking life
        6. The contentment of gratitude
        7. The futility of death
      3. The Preacher's advice from experience
        1. Man's ignorance of the plan of God
        2. Righteousness and wickedness in the plan of God
        3. Justice in the plan of God
      4. Man's ignorance of the future
        1. Certainty of death versus the uncertainty of life
        2. Proof from experience
      5. Man's response to the uncertainties of life
        1. the importance of labor
        2. the reasonableness of rejoicing
        3. The necessity of remmebering the Lord
      6. Epilogue
        1. Summary
        2. The Preacher's qualifications
        3. The Preacher's purpose and source
        4. Conclusion; Fear God and Obey his commmandments

Ecclesiastes is the world's greatest exposition on how one should approach life. It comes from Solomon, the one given the gift of wisdom and who used it to explore the bounds of human wisdom and experience in the quest for satisfaction and happiness. The end of it all is that the quest for fame, glory, money and power is vanity and acheives no more than sitting back and enjoying the fruits that God sends. Solomon comes to realize in this great exposition that the end of all is death and money, fame, and power gain you no more at death than that which is alloted a dog (3.19-21). His conclusion is that "nothing is better than that man should be happy in his acitivities" and that he should "Fear God and keep his commandments."

Solomon, in all of his wisdom, wealth, splendor and power is recommending a simple life lived honestly before God.

Elwood P. Dowd expressed Solomon's sentiments in Harvey when he said "My mother told me that to get along in life you have to be either ever so smart or ever so pleasant. For years I have been smart, I recommend pleasant."

A contemporary song also expressed Solomon's sentiments. It was entitled, Don't Worry, Be Happy!!

Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon

Said Rabbi Akiba: Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.
--Mishnah Yadayim 3:5 (second century C.E.
)

. . . the holy love that is the subject of the entire Song cannot be expressed by words or language, but only in deed and truth. Here love speaks everywhere! If anyone desires to grasp these writings, let him love! For anyone who does not love, it is vain to listen to this song of love--or to read it, for a cold heart cannot catch fire from its eloquence. The language of love will be meaningless jangle, like sounding brass or tinkling cymbal, to anyone who does not love.
--Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Sermon 79.1

[The Song is] not allegorical but sacramental. Human passion . . . gives us a hint of God's passion for us. We are most like God's love for us when we are aroused in the presence of our beloved. And we best experience a hint of God's love when our beloved pursues us.
--Andrew M. Greeley, Love Song (1989)

  1. Name
    1. Hebrew - Song of Songs  שׁיר השׁירי 
    2. LXX - Asma Song
    3. Vulgate - Canticum
  2. Purpose -
    1. On the literal level; to show forth and extol the pleasures of marital sexual itimacy.
    2. On the typological/allegorical level, to show the love of God for Israel and similarily the love of Christ for the church through the love of Solomon for the Shunnamite maiden. But, as in every bride and groom, just as there is a wedding day so too there is a wedding night with all of its intimacy and passion and pleasure. A marriage is not complete, one without the other and one is not holier than the other nor one less holy than the other. The Song of Solomon reminds us that God's love for Israel/Christ's love for the church reaches the depths of intimacy, passion, and pleasure as much as the metaphor presented here. If this were not so then there would be no need for the extremes of the language of Exekiel 16 and 23. Israel's sharing of her self with the other nations is put on the same level as a woman who shares her body in the most intimate way with lovers other than her husband. She was not just holding hands with the nations. So too, God and Christ in their relationship with Israel and the Church are involved on a level far beyond holding hands. This books shows the beauty, joy, pleasure, and absolute delight that shows forth in such a passionate and intimate relationship.
  3. Author - Solomon
  4. Dating - Tenth century BC
  5. Key or main verse - 8.6-7

“Put me like a seal over your heart,

Like a seal on your arm.

For love is as strong as death,

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

The [very] flame of the Lord.

7 "Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers overflow it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.”

What is found in the Song of Solomon is the expression is clear and intimate terms the love of a man and a woman for each other. It is an intimate mutual physical love that is described in beautiful terms. Figures of speech rule the text as is true, and no doubt has been copied by a myriad of writers of love poetry since Solomon penned these words. The subject of the metaphorical language is clearly the intense, intimate, physical relationship of the man and woman.

Note Gen 2.24 - There is no mention of procreation here, what is mentioned is intimacy. Also this is before the fall so that there is no reason to equate sex and sin.

Shall we ask if the church’s love for her God, Creator, and Lover is ever as intense, passionate, desirous, and as deep as that of a man and a woman in their deepest passions? What of the individual child of Abraham? How active and intense is that one’s relationship with the Lord God of the Universe?

Note also Proverbs 5.15-19.

1 Kings 1.3, 1 Kings 2.16-25 Song 6.13 - Spelling points to two different women. Shunammite שׁוּנַמּית  in 1 Kings, Shulammiteשׁוּלַמּית    in Song.

 

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