Quartz Hill School of Theology

Wisdom Literatures

The Pseudepigraphal wisdom literature has its roots in the Biblical tradition. For that reason a brief review of Biblical Wisdom is necessary.

The Wisdom material of the Bible is both provocative and inspiring. I include the books of Daniel, Ruth, and Esther in this category as well. Why? Because Ruth is about a wise woman who unites herself to the Jews; Esther is about a wise Jew who protects her fellow Jews, and Daniel is a wise man who knows how to act in a foreign court. Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are wisdom literature because they speak about how one should live in the world. And of course the very excellent book of Ben Sira is perhaps the pinnacle of wisdom literature.

Thus, the one thing that makes a work a wisdom work is that it describes how one who is wise should (and does) behave in the world. Wisdom literature arose out of the need to train young Israelites for government service. If one keeps this in mind one is well on the way to correctly interpreting wisdom texts.

Wisdom is common in the Ancient Near East. There are numerous examples of wisdom in ancient documents from all of the societies around Israel. For this reason it is proper to say that Israel is like its neighbors in its desire to train people for right living. The Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians as well as the Egyptians all have collections of wisdom literature. All the peoples of the Ancient Near East strove to be wise. In all of this literature the Fear of God is shown to be the beginning of wisdom. That is, reverence for God helps people put their priorities in order. When a person's life is in order, then God is the center of that life.

On the flip side of the expectations of good which come from wise living, Wisdom sometimes applied still does not yield the expected results. Two of the most famous examples of this are Job and Ecclesiastes. When one reads Job one reads the story of a man who did all the right things, but who nonetheless suffered. And the Preacher is a book describing the ultimate despair and futility of life. Yet the wise person is much better able to cope with the ups and downs of life than the fool. And why? Because the wise person places his life in God's hands while the fool takes the reigns into his own hands. In summary one can and should say that wisdom literature has as its goal the training of people in correct behavio r in a world that is n

What is true of the biblical wisdom tradition is also true of the extra-biblical, pseudepigraphal material.


Read Charlesworth, vol 2, pp 477-606

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