SOCIOLOGICAL-STRUCTURAL CONSTRAINTS UPON
WISDOM: THE SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL MATRIX OF
Brian Watson Kovacs
VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY, PH.D., 1978
© Brian Watson Kovacs, 1978
Used with permission
Digitized by Dr. Ted Hildebrandt and Dr. Perry Phillips,
Gordon College, 2007
This dissertation represents an attempt at
synthesis—and closure—to an intellectual odyssey that
has lasted nearly fifteen years. It combines disparate
elements, which may ultimately prove incommensurable. Its
conclusion has been much delayed, causing pain and frus-
tratin not only to me but to those who thought they saw
something of value in it and in the lines of inquiry sug-
gested by it. Time has made it a more thorough and mature
document, especially the analysis of Proverbs IIb itself,
though at the cost of some inconsistency and, loss of
clarity. Parts of this work were written at various times
over an eight-year period. Ideas change. Approaches
change. The writer who finished this work is far different
from the one who started it. From it, however, has de-
veloped a conception of interdisciplinary research and
teaching that may justify its deferral. Such integration
means that much impinges on what is actually said here that
cannot be dealt with adequately or at length. I have
faced the difficult choice of whether or not to cite my
other work. For one whose career and research are less
integrative, the choice is easy. Humility usually wins out.
I doubt the humility, however, of failing to mention what
is an inherent part of the formulative process. So, I
choose to cite myself, at the risk of seeming arrogant,
to clarify the synthesis which this work represents.
I wish that I could do justice to the encourage-
ment and support that I have received over so many years
in producing this dissertation. To mention some people is
to do injustice to others by leaving them out. I am
fortunate to have such good and caring friends, whose coun-
sel and whose friendship I value above all else in the
world. Jim Crenshaw has been friend, colleague and teacher.
I know that I am a mystery to him and that that mystery is
more grief than glory. His guidance and influence pervade
this work and the life that is represented through it.
Phil Hyatt ordered me to create a synthesis in my disserta-
tion.1 hope some measure of what he sought can be found
here. John Gammie offered insight and encouragement when
the vision seemed to have been lost. Norman Gottwald pro-
vided a superb critique of the theses underlying the chapter
on Proverbs IIb. The Dempster Graduate Fellowship under-
wrote travel and research for some of the work on this
dissertation. To my Committee, working under duress—
Walter Harrelson, Dan Patte, Doug Knight, Howard Harrod—
I offer my thanks and condolences. Gene Floyd made sense
of the senseless and converted it into typed manuscript, for
which thanks are hardly adequate recognition. Many other
people should see themselves and their influence among
these pages; that friendship is beyond value or mere men-
tion. For all of them, this work at last is finished.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES vii
1. INTRODUCTION 1
II. THE DEFINITION OF WISDOM 31
III. A WISDOM TYPOLOGY 105
IV. HE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS 246
V. THE SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL MATRIX OF
PROVERBS 15:28-22:16 317
VI. CONCLUSION 516
SELECTEb BIBLIOGRAPHY 580
LIST OF TABLES
1. Terms for "Wisdom," "Understanding,"
"Knowledge" . 520
2. Terms Relating to Folly or Ignorance 521
3. Additional Technical Wisdom Terms 522
4. Additional Technical Wisdom Terms
Peculiar to Proverbs 10 ff 523
5. The Semantic Field of Wisdom (Adapted
from Fohrer's Analysis) 524
6. Characteristics of Wisdom, Late Wisdom
and Myth (Adapted from H. H. Schmid) 527
7. Antithesis 534
8. Sayings Dealing with Yahweh 535
9. Architecture of Proverbs 15:28-22:16 538
10. Royal Sayings 540
11. Twb-mn Sayings 540
12. Twb Sayings (Word "Twb" Appears, Irrespec-
tive of Form) 541
13. Admonition or Vetitive Form 541
14. Propriety Sayings 542
15. Wisdom Terms 543
16. Elements of Wisdom 546
17. Lb Sayings 549
18. Ignorance 549
19. Folly 550
20. Discipline 550
21. 'Instruction' Sayings: Mwsr 551
22. Speech 551
23. Irony 552
24. Friend/Neighbor Sayings 552
25. Law Courts 553
26. Elements of Evil and Folly 554
27. Simple Retribution: Without Yahweh's
28. Gulf Between Wisdom and Folly 558
29. Adversity Sayings 559
30. Altruism 559
31. Noblesse Oblige 560
32. Wealth 560
33. The Powerful 561
34. Poverty 561
35. Hisd Sayings 561
36. Wisdom Standard of Values: Implied "Higher
37. Status Quo 562
38. Slave Sayings 563
39. Intentionality 563
40. Miscellaneous Special Concepts 540
41. Familistic Sayings 564
42. Contagion 565
43. Vulnerability 567
44. 'Way' Sayings: Drk 568
45. Observation (Form) 568
46. Descriptions 569
47. Pragmatic Sayings 569
48. Teaching 570
49. The Righteous 570
50. Purpose/End of the Wicked 571
51. Weights-Measures-Scales 571
52. 'Abomination' Sayings: Twcbh 572
53. Naturalistic Savings [Or, Neo-
54. Animals 573
55. War Sayings 573
56. (Rhetorical) Questions 573
57. Attitude 574
58. Light/Lamp Sayings 574
59. 'Spirit' Sayings: Rwhi 575
60. Correction, Admonition 575
61. Tradition 576
62. Npš: Sayings 576
63. Yr't-yhwh Sayings 577
64. Life Sayings 577
65. Death Sayings 578
66. Sayings Involving "Fate" 578
67. Future 579
68. Sickness 579
As both literature and philosophy of life, the
Hebrew mashal holds a powerful elective affinity for the
Modern reader. Its seeming assurance about the means and
ends of 1ife is tempered with a certain irony. It often
exhibits a humanistic concern. Together, the sayings en-
capsulate and hold up to view features of human experience
that transcend a separation of considerable physical,
temporal, social and cultural space. Superficially, their
settings and their objectives seem to require no elaborate
translation. Literatures and philosophies arising from
entirely different social and historical settings may have
a special saliency, as it were an "elective affinity," for
a particular group at some specific time in its social
history.1 Such is the case, I suggest, in our (hermeneutic)
1Max Weber originally coined the term Wahlver-
wandtschaften--"elective affinities"--as sociological term-
inus technicus in the articulation of his theoretical
approach to the study of religion's development as social
ideology. He appropriated the word from the title of a
lesser-known novel of Goethe's. In his usage, it refers to
the dialectic relationship that exists between social
re-discovery of wisdom and wisdom literature.
Because the original setting is no longer relevant
in such affinities and because the new social application
invests these works and ideas with quite different meanings
and emphases, the literary historian must be scrupulous to
avoid anachronism which arises from attributing historical
validity to saliences that are in fact creatures of his
own time. The biblical scholar of this wisdom finds him-
self or herself today operating under just such prudential
admonitions. Certainly, intellectual understanding is
hermeneutic, indeed it may even be normative.1 The scholar
structure and its legitimating ideology: each alters the
other in systematic, if not determined, ways. The explana-
tions that groups develop to interpret their social reality,
which are often derived through historical processes from
the cultural stuff of other peoples at other times and
places, have a basic compatibility with the social organiza-
tion which values, preserves and transmits them. This com-
patibility increases with time. Ideas change social struc-
ture; social organization alters its legitimating interpre-
tive system over time. Thus, all ideology is hermeneutic.
Elective affinities--the interactions between groups and
their interpretive realities--become powerful but creative
social forces. Weber's archetypal case is laid out in his
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans.
Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958);
and his "The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism,"
in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans., ed. and
with an introduction by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 129-56. See
also his Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive
Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittig, trans.
Ephraim Fischoff et al., 3 vols. (New York: Bedminster Press,
1968), 2:447-529, 583-90.
1Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation
Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer,
must somehow strive to manipulate this tool of our under-
standing without being in turn controlled or manipulated by
it more than some hermeneutically essential minimum.
Literary historical research is a cumulative and approxi-
mative science. As all our scholarly implements become
more sophisticated, as our application of them is refined,
issues we believe to have settled must be raised, debated
and answered again. We observe this kind of flux in current
studies of wisdom in general and of the mashal collections
of Proverbs in particular.1
Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existen-
tial Philosophy, ed. John Wild. (Evanston: Northwestern Uni-
versity Press, 1969), pp. 12-32. See also Hans-Georg
Gadamer, Truth and Method, A Continuum Book (New York: Sea-
bury Press 1975); and Karl Löwith, Nature, History and
Existentialism, and Other Essays in the Philosophy of History,
ed. with a Critical Introduction by Arnold Levison, Northwestern
University Studies in Phenomenology and Existen-
tial Philosophy, ed. John Wild (Evanston: Northwestern Uni-
versity Press, 1966).
1James L. Crenshaw surveys this development in his
introduction to an important collection of essays reflect-
ing research into wisdom and the directions it has taken in
the last generation or so of scholarship, "Prolegomenon,"
in Studies in Ancient Israelite Wisdom, The Library of Bib-
lical Studies, ed. Harry M. Orlinsky (New York: KTAV Pub-
lishing House, 1976), pp. 1-60. See also his article
"Wisdom in the Old Testament," in The Interpreter's Dic-
tionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1976), pp. 952-56. In the same volume, see
Ronald J. Williams, "Wisdom in the Ancient Near East," pp.
949-52; and Hans G. Conzelmann, "Wisdom in the New Testa-
ment," pp. 956-60. Also, James L. Crenshaw, "Wisdom," in
Old Testament Form Criticism, ed. John H. Hayes, Trinity
University Monograph Series in Religion, vol. 2, ed. John H.
Hayes (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1974), pp.
225-64; Gerhard von Rad, Weisheit in Israel (Neukirchen-
All historical criticism of literature requires the
operating assumption that a work somehow, in form or con-
tent or motif, betrays and conveys the setting within which
it was constructed into its present form, however composite.
In a complex work, if we can isolate the earlier constituent
elements, we may be able to discern important aspects of
its socio-historical development, as well as the lineaments
of its literary history. Individual works may resist such
analysis, perhaps because they are too brief, their lan-
guage too ambiguous, or the effects of later redaction too
gross; but, to reject this working assumption is ultimately
to deny the possibility of doing meaningful study of lit-
erary works as the stuff of social and intellectual history.
How we retrieve this history is a question, of methodology.
If we accept, albeit with some generosity the implications
of affinities as hermeneutic, we may admit that different
methodologies will be effective with different elements or
aspects of this history. There is a congeniality--affinity
--of methodology and material, as well as of social struc-
ture and ideology. Indeed, we may need to be methodologi-
cally eclectic if we are to deal adequately with this
Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1970): On this concept of in-
terpretation as it applies to the development of exegesis,
see Georg Fohrer, et al., Exegese des Alten Testaments:
Einführung in die Methodik, Uni-Taschenbücher, vol. 267
(Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer, 1973), pp. 9-30.
history at all.1
The problem of setting resembles in its implica-
tions the aesthetic issue of intention, though the Biblical
scholar seldom has the opportunity to raise the latter, and
often then only by indirection. What may at first seem to
be a marginal change in setting can have considerable in-
fluence on the interpretation to be given to a work. The
"what-it-meant" side of hermeneutic's dialectic of analysis
includes not only the bare meaning of the words used, but
who communicated through them (i.e., their social location)
and how they were used. We can be frustrated by knowing
what the words say without knowing what they said: what
they meant in that social and historical context.2 The
phenomenologically-informed researcher sees the problem of
setting divided into two poles of investigation.
First, within what objective social order did this
literature arise and acquire its meaning? We seek a his-
tory of the society’s institutions with their system and
1Fohrer, et al., pp. 9-30, 148-71.
2Hans-Georg Gadamer, "On the Scope and Function of
Hermeneutic Reflection," trans. G. B. Hess and R. E. Palmer,
Continuum 8 (1970):77-95; and his Philosophical Hermeneutics,
trans. and ed. David E. Linge (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1976). See also, Paul Ricoeur, History
and Truth, trans. with an Introduction by Charles A.
Kelbley, Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology
and Existential Philosophy, ed. John Wild (Evanston: North-
western University Press, 1965).
order projected against the comparative background of the
histories and institutions of neighboring societies. This
aspect of meaning also includes the question what standing
the works and their authors both held and acquired within
the community. Thus, the question of canon finally is
relevant to the objective meaning of a work.1
Second, how did the writer(s) perceive and struc-
ture the experiential world to achieve that understanding
which he attempted to communicate in his work? Here we are
concerned with the subjective pole of meaning. A work be-
speaks the worldviews of its authors and editors. Where
the literary history is convoluted and the internal con-
struction of the work has become complex and interwoven,
the search for consistent and intelligible world-views can
become quite demanding. Here again, the danger is that the
researcher's ideas of "intelligible" or "consistent" which
are his cultural and personal perceptions of rationality
may be imposed on the work. Since the wise seem to have
been attempting to organize and interpret the realm of
1Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Intro-
duction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorothy Cairns (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1960), cp. 56-88; Alfred Schutz, The
Phenomenology of the Social World, trans. George Walsh and
Frederick Lehnert, Northwestern Studies in Phenomenology
and Existential Philosophy, ed. John Wild (Evanston: North-
western University Press, 1967), pp. 1-44; Peter L. Berger
and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality:
A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday & Co., 1966), pp. 45-85.
experience in order to cope with it more intelligently and
successfully, the danger of anachronistic rationality is
far more immediate than its opposite: accepting any con-
tradiction or inconsistency, even to the controversion of
common sense, on the appeal to cultural difference or even
the oriental mind soi-disant.1
This second pole of analysis is especially important.
In order to comprehend a work adequately, we need to under-
stand it as itself a hermeneutic act: an attempt to give
coherent meaning to experience. A literary work reflects
both subjectivity and objectivity. It results from the in-
teraction of the author(s)'s subjectivity and "objective"
experience perceived through traditionally-defined. objec-
tive social reality given an objective literary form. For
a time, biblical criticism attempted to deal with the sub-
jective dimension of hermeneutic by psychologizing biblical
writers as they were then historically understood. As
authors became schools, as biblical works unveiled their
complex composite character to researchers, psychological
1Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, pp. 89-151; and
his Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy: Philosophy
as Rigorous Science and Philosophy and the Crisis of Euro-
pean Man, trans. and with an introduction by Quentin Lauer,
Academy Library of Harper Torchbooks (New York: Harper &
Row, 1965), pp. 188-89; Schutz, Phenomenology of the Social
World, pp. 102-7, 144-76; Berger and Luckmann, Social Con-
struction of Reality, pp. 135-73; Peter L. Berger and Thomas
Luckmann, "Sociology of Religion and Sociology of Knowledge,"
Sociology and Social Research: An International Journal 47
(July 1963): 417-27.
analysis of biblical literature became untenable in most
cases. Subjective analysis, however, was often discarded
Literature is virtually the only historical arti-
fact which provides the scholar access to the subjectivity,
the mind or minds, of people in their historical matrix.
What it meant to be a person of such-and-such an ancient
social world is accessible, if at all, only through litera-
ture. Moreover, the only vehicle we have to accomplish
that reconstruction is our own individual subjectivities as
literary and social historians. The objective literary
artifact becomes the tool through which to project that co-
herent understanding which a particular layer or segment of
the work reflects. The objective document is the con-
ceptual product of a subjectivity.
Since we can approach the work only through our in-
dividual consciousnesses, unnormed by access to any other,
our interpretation of the document and our projection of its
meanings are biased by our own hermeneutic of our own
reality, however much it may be the informed and structured
product of a process of social learning. The phenomenolo-
gist argues that certain standardized procedures can con-
trol, but not eliminate, this bias. To omit any attempt to
project the subjective hermeneutic pole is to omit one of
the most important social, historical and theological con-
tributions of this literature. Socially accepted
interpretations of the world arise from the interactions
of individual consciousnesses, socially in-formed, with
socially-defined experiences. Meaning is both subjective
We are both the beneficiaries and the slaves of
the western distinction between faith and reason. We
recognize the need to ask how dedication to understanding
relates to the religious faith of a people, while we are
therefore compelled to investigate an issue that people, or
lEdmund Husserl clearly states the problem in The
Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy:
An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. and
an introduction by David Carr, Northwestern University
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, ed.
John Wild (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970).
He develops a subjective analytic in The Phenomenology of
Internal Time-Consciousness, ed. Martin Heidegger, trans.
James S. Churchill (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1964). Another approach can be found Alfred Schutz and
Thomas Luckmann, The Structures of the Life-World, trans.
Richard M. Zaner and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., North-
western University Studies in Phenomenology and Existen-
tial Philosophy, ed. John Wild (Evanston: Northwestern Uni-
versity, 1973). Cf. Hans-Joachim Kraus, Geschichte der
Historisch-Kritischen Erforschung des Alten Testaments, 2d
rev. and enlarged ed. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Ver-
lag, 1956, 1969). A variety of methodological essays deal-
ing with such a program may be found in Maurice Natanson,
ed., Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Northwestern
University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philoso-
phy, ed. John. Wild (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1973); Karl-Otto Apel et al., Hermeneutik und Ideologie-
kritik, Theorie-Diskussion. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1971); James M. Edie, Francis H. Parker, and Calvin
O. Schrag, eds., Patterns of the Life-World:. Essays in
Honor of John Wild, Northwestern University Studies in
Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, ed. John Wild
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970).
at least the intellectual classes of that people, would not
have granted validity. In consequence, we may tend to take
silence on cultic or formal religious matters as dis-
valuation or outright rejection, rather than take it as a
result of the focusing of their attention. We speak here
not merely of the notorious argument from silence; it is
admittedly quite difficult to establish the givens of a
society. Whatever some group takes for granted is not open
to discussion, except either when it is no longer a uni-
versal social given or when it is confronted by a direct
challenge from within or without. The most important ele-
ments in the foundation of a people's understanding and in-
terpretation of the world are taken-for-granted.1 They are
so basic that they need not be expressed. Rationalizing
objective reconstruction may overlook this taken-for-granted
1Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The
Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan
Company, 1961); Schutz, Phenomenology of the Social World,
pp. 86-96, 144-63; Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, vol. 1:
The Problem of Social Reality, ed. Maurice Natanson, 2d ed.
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967); vol. 2: Studies in
Social Theory, ed. Arvid Broderson (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1964); vol. 3: Studies in Phenomenological Philoso-
phy, ed. Ilse Schutz (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff„ 1966);
1:15-19, 224-31; 2:12-19, 53-63; 3:116-32. Cf. Norman K.
Gottwald, "Biblical Theology or Biblical Sociology: On
Affirming and Defining the 'Uniqueness' of Israel," in The
Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics,
a Radical Religion Reader. (Berkeley: Community for Religious
Research and Education, 1976), pp. 42-57; and in the same
place, Norman K. Gottwald and Frank S. Frick, "The Social
World of Ancient Israel," pp. 110-19.
dimension since it is never stated within the work. Sub-
jective analysis may reveal it to us as we attempt to pro-
ject a coherent and meaning-full perspective on the world.
The demands of our subjectivity for coherence may reveal
what objective analysis must omit. Silence is a legiti-
mate tool of the literary historian, though it is among
the most difficult to wield.
While great progress has been made in understand-
ing wisdom during the past decade, the interest in wisdom
studies has not carried as far as some of us might have
wished. Considerable debate has been devoted to the prob-
lem of definition: identifying what it is which distin-
guishes this phenomenon wisdom from other understandings of
the world.1 The issue remains undecided.2 While the ap-
parent secularism of wisdom has been called into question,
its rationality has endured.3 Still, the literature
1Crenshaw, "Prolegomena," pp. 1-60; James L. Cren-
shaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence upon 'His-
torical Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 88
2 Crenshaw, "Wisdom in the Old Testament," p. 952.
Cf. John G. Gammie, "Notes on Israelite Pedagogy in the
Monarchic Period," paper prepared for the Consultation on
Wisdom, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting,
St. Louis, Missouri, 28-31 October 1976; R. N. Whybray,
The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament, Beiheft
zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 135,
ed. Georg Fohrer (New. York: Walter de Gruyter, 1974).
3Walther Zimmerli, "The Place and Limit of the Wis-
dom in the Framework of the Old Testament Theology,”
fragments on examination. What seems to be a single
literature either atomizes under analysis into a wide
variety of literatures having little in common, or else
wisdom becomes so broadly defined that it threatens to
absorb materials and modes of thought and expression whose
distinctive character we hesitate to surrender.1 Either
wisdom as such hardly seems to exist at all, or everything
seems to be wisdom. We face a version of Moore's Paradox
of Analysis: every definition is either trivial or false.2
Every analysis of wisdom either does not adequately dif-
ferentiate wisdom from other material or it excludes from
wisdom what we obviously must include.
In the chapters which follow, we shall try to ac-
complish two objectives. First, we shall try to resolve
the methodological difficulty of differentiating wisdom.
That is, we shall attempt to show what has been misleading
Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (1964):146-58; cf. his
earlier "Zur Struktur der Alttestamentlichen Weisheit,"
Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, n.s.,
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
2G. E. Moore in his Principia Ethica (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1903); on which see Richard B.
Brandt, Ethical. Theory: The Problems of Normative and
Critical Ethics, Prentice-Hall Philosophy Series, ed.
Arthur E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall,
1959), pp. 164-66.
in existing efforts to resolve the problem of wisdom: that
these efforts operate from fundamentally incompatible
methodological presuppositions. We shall then argue that
one approach, the social-historical (sociological), has
certain elements which here make it a more analytically
powerful and useful definitional methodology for the lit-
erary historian. Second, we shall take an instance from
wisdom, Proverbs 16:1-22:16 (which we are calling Proverbs
IIb for simplicity's sake) and endeavor to show how sub-
jective analysis based on this methodology can help us re-
fine our understanding of this literature and its social,
historical, literary and theological character.
My research into wisdom began as a suitably modest
enterprise. I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible
to project a distinct, clearly delineated world-view from
the material contained within one of the major biblical
proverb collections, Proverbs IIb. If convincing, such a
demonstration would show that the material stemmed from an
identifiable social milieu which might provide us insight
into the nature of wisdom—social and theological—at that
time. It would serve as a benchmark for developmental
theories of wisdom such as those of Schmid, Skladny and even
von Rad. The project would be self-validating. If it
could be done and done convincingly, then a fortiori the
material used in that projection would have to constitute
something more than a loose editorial Gemisch. At the
least, it would demonstrate stringent selection criteria
at work in whatever earlier or outside material might have
been chosen for inclusion in the collection. At most, it
might help prove that the collection so—called should be
considered essentially a composition, however much it might
draw on traditional poetic conventions and stylistic or
—rhetorical techniques. Rhetorical analysis of the collec-
tion lends credence in fact to the latter position.
Gradually, however, I came to realize that the
argument. being developed concerning Proverbs IIb represented
the linch-pin of a much larger, more convoluted and more
far-reaching argument concerning the nature of wisdom and
the wisdom movement. The analysis of Proverbs IIb cannot
readily be separated from this larger argument. On the
other hand, the lineaments of this latter would not be
clear by implication from an examination of the passage
alone. There is, moreover, a methodological issue here.
I am making a plaidoyer for the applicability of a certain
methodology, and its operating presuppositions, to the prob-
lem of the nature and development of wisdom as a Hebrew and
early Jewish religious phenomenon. The discussion which
follows is not essentially a methodological treatise,
especially since it argues for the necessity, not merely
the utility, of methodological eclecticism, a point in-
creasingly being emphasized in biblical exegesis. Rather,
it is an attempt to restructure some of the debate con-
cerning the nature and development of wisdom by an appeal
to the evidence.
We begin by listing a number of different approaches
to the problem of definition that have been taken in wisdom
scholarship. Each has contributed to the refinement of our
understanding of wisdom as a socio-historical phenomenon
and has held significant sway in the scholarly debate. Each,
however, has been opposed by other persuasive approaches to
the problem of defining wisdom, and no one approach seems
to offer a clear and convincing superiority in its analysis.
The analytic paradox spoken of above remains: either we
exclude what common sense dictates including or include what
common sense dictates excluding, without decisively justi-
fying either alternative. The dilemma nay be insoluble.
Wisdom may be undefinable. Perhaps wisdom is a primitive
term whose definition ought never to be attempted as such.
Perhaps, as we shall argue, wisdom is not a single phenome-
non, but a variety of sometimes related phenomena which
must be distinguished from one another if our language is
not to betray us.1
In reviewing the various approaches to definition
we should be aware that this debate has made significant
progress. Even without definition, important elements of
wisdom's modes of perceiving and relating to the world have
been established. The theological underpinnings of wisdom
have begun to appear.2 The problem of wisdom's claim over
1Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 1-5; Crenshaw,
"Method in Determining Wisdom Influence," pp. 129-42;
Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon,” pp. 3-5.
2Berend Gemser, “The Spiritual Structure of Biblical
Aphoristic Wisdom," Adhuc Loquitur: Collected. Essays, ed.
A. van Selms and A. S. van der Woude, Pretoria Oriental
Series, vol. 7 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), pp. 138-49;
James L. Crenshaw, Prophetic Conflict: Its Effect upon
Israelite Religion, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alt-
testamentliche Wissenschaft, vol. 124 (New York: Walter
de Gruyte, 1971), pp. 116-23; von Rad, Weisheit in Israel,
pp. 75-148; Hartmut Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit in der
Alten Weisheit: Studien zu den Sprüchen Salomos und zu dem
Buche Hiob (Tübingen: J. C. 3.: Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1938),
pp. 29-50; Horst Dietrich Preuss, "Erwägungen zum Theo-
logischen Ort Alttestamentlicher Weisheitsliteratur,"
Evangelische Theologie 30 (1970): 393-417; Horst Dietrich
Preuss, "Das Gottesbild der älteren Weisheit Israels,"
in Vetus Testamentum Supplements; vol. 23 (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1972), pp. 117-43; Hans Heinrich Schmid, Wesen und
Geschichte der Weisheit: eine Untersuchung zur Alt-
orientalischen und Israelitischen Weisheitsliteratur,
Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissen-
schaft, vol. 101 (Berlin: Verlag Alfred Töpelmann, 1966);
Roland E. Murphy, "Wisdom—Theses and Hypotheses," in
Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor
of Samuel Terrien, ed. John G. Gammie, Walter A. Bruegge-
mann, W. Lee Humphreys and James M. Ward (Missoula, Mon-
tana: Scholars Press, 1978, forthcoming); and in the same
place, Hans-Jürgen Hermisson, "Observations on the Creation
Theology in Wisdom."
its adherents has shown its authoritative nature.1 On
the other hand, the flow and ebb of the tide of wisdom's
popularity in the past decade may be related to our in-
ability to make more progress than we have in developing
any decisive new in-roads in this research. Zimmerli's
reassessment of his position statement of 1933 gives ground
to modern critics but stakes out a territory not yet far
removed from that earlier one.2 The attempt to place wis-
dom at the center of Hebrew religious thought and practice
seems to have led to a proliferation of studies which
identified wisdom in virtually every strain of Hebrew re-
ligion.3 So much did this occur that hardly a biblical
book, hardly an era, hardly a literary form and hardly a
stratum of Hebrew religious thought, practice or society
remained free from wisdom involvement. This cannot be.
If everything is wisdom, then what is distinctive about
wisdom? The theological rehabilitation of wisdom almost
1Crenshaw, Prophetic Conflict, pp. 116-23; Gese,
Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 29-50; Hans Heinrich Schmid,
Gerechtigkeit als Weitordnung: Hintergrund und Geschichte
des Alttestamentlichen Gerechtigeitsbegriffes, Beiträge
zur Historischen Theologie, vol. 40 (Tübingen: J. C. B.
Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1968); cf. von Rad, Weisheit in
Israel, pp. 102-30.
2Zimmerli, "Place and Limit of Wisdom," pp. 146-
58; Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 177-204.
3Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
p. 129, n. 1; Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, p. 1, n. 1.
created a monster that seemed poised to invade and devour
the rest of Hebrew religious thought.1 This apparent ex-
cess revealed a methodological weakness--in the sense of a
lack of precise and controlled research technique--which I
would suspect has also discouraged many wisdom enthusiasts.
Do we really know what we are talking about? Are our
methodologies and perspectives sufficiently conformable
with one another that we can engage in coordinated and
systematic research? While I submit that the answer is an
unequivocal “yes,” I also Imagine that some people have not
waited around for the answer.
Thus, enumerating definitions becomes increasingly
unsatisfactory, not because it does not further the wisdom
debate, but because everything else seems to hinge on a
dilemma we have been slow to resolve. I propose, then, that
we work around the issue by recognizing the inherent multi-
vocality of 'wisdom.' I suggest a typology of wisdom con-
sistent with the ways in which wisdom seems to appear for
us historically. We ought to be able to talk far more pre-
cisely and cogently with respect to a specific type of
wisdom than we can to "wisdom in general"--whatever that
might be. Again, perhaps part of our difficulty is that
we have been trying to compass too much: incompatible
1Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon," pp. 3-6.
types of wisdom that, because of the methodologies or con-
texts out of which they appear, cannot be conformed to one
another, even for definition's sake, without producing in-
superable problems at the present stage of our knowledge.
The problem of wisdom, however, goes far beyond
epistemological or linguistic clarification. Fundamental
historical issues will not be solved by stipulation. Some
of these types of wisdom are trivial; others are arbitrary;
many are secondary or derivative. The question becomes:
what provides the fundamental conceptual power inherent in
the use of the term 'wisdom' that enables us to apply it to
find historical unity or coherence in what seems to be a
diverse variety of literarily-expressed historical phenomena.
If we must, we may ultimately trace the term to an in-
ference made by the historian. In other words, we may find
ourselves forced to argue that the Hebrews never explicitly
conceived of wisdom as a distinct social or religious or
intellectual phenomenon.1 We would then see relationships
that people in that milieu never explicitly saw nor identi-
fied. Such a conclusion would be very costly. It would
gravely undermine arguments for the historical development
--evolution--of wisdom in any form. Combined with the
atomization inherent in some theories of wisdom, it would
1Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, p. 54.
threaten to leave us without a phenomenon as such to study
at all.1 Thus, we potentially face precisely the opposite
threat to the current direction in wisdom studies. In-
stead of finding wisdom diffusing itself throughout Hebrew
life and thought, we might find the concept breaking down
as a powerful historical conceptual tool. It would be less
than edifying to be left with little more than a loose col-
lection of literary forms, perhaps an elite but diffuse and
undistinctive social milieu, or a semiotic of 'wisdom' and
related terms held together by little more than their
semantic field. What is at stake is the conceptual and ex-
planatory power of 'wisdom' for the literary historian.
Evolutionary theories of wisdom, which predominate
in the field, force both the methodological and the his-
torical issues. Most of these approaches depart from some
explicit or implicit philosophy of history which postulates
a series of compatible historical processes that can be
discerned behind the literature and its formal expression.
These theories represent an attempt to unify wisdom. One
type evolves into another as a result of historical
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influ-
ence," p. 131.
2I develop this point in my "Evidence for the De-
velopment of a World-View in Proverbs: An Assessment,"
paper presented to the Southeastern regional meeting of
the Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 17-19 March
processes whose effects can be discerned elsewhere in
Hebrew society at that time, as well as at other points
in time and places in history.1 A few of these positions
rely on pan-historic principles: the same fundamental
processes of change underlie the entire sweep of human his-
tory regardless of the scale of the analysis, the time-
period or the culture under study.2 Evolutionary ap-
proaches raise the question what provides the coherence or
1Typical, though by no means exhaustive, of such
approaches and methodologies are Otto Eissfeldt, Der
Maschal im Alten Testament: eine Wortgeschichtliche
Untersuchung nebst einer Literargeschicntlichen Unter-
suchung der mšl Genannten Gattungen "Volksprichwort" und
Spottlied," Beiheft zur Zeitscnrift für die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft, vol. 24 (Giessen: A. Töpelmann [vormals
J. Ricker], 1913); Udo Skiadny, Die Ältesten Spruchsammlungen
in Israel (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962);
William McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach, Old Testament
Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970) ; Schmid,
Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit.
2Formalism derived from the work of Andre Jolles
seems to have had a significant impact on the theories of
Schmid and von Rad. Andre Jolles, Einfache Formen: Legende,
Sage, Mythe, Rätsel, Spruch, Kasus, Memorabile, Märchen,
Witz, ed. Alfred Schossig, 2d ed. (Haile [Saale]: Veb) Max
Niemeyer Verlag, 1956); cf.. Hermann Bausinger, Formen der
Volkspoesie, Grundlagen der Germanistik, no. 6 (Berlin:
E. Schmidt, 1968). While Jollesian formalism is by no
means the dominant theory in Germanistic studies, nor has
it been, its influence seems to have been pervasive in Old
Testament form criticism, if the nuances of vocabulary and
methodology are any guide; proving such influence, however,
is often difficult. Alternatively, Hegelian evolutionism
often seems to underlie exegetical methodologies. The.
argument for such an implicit historical philosophy goes
far beyond the scope of the present discussion, but it has
at least been sketched out in my paper, "Development of a
continuity that underlies and unifies such seemingly di-
verse or diffuse phenomena. What entitles us to postulate
of them such transformations? Obviously, we cannot appeal
back to the processes of change grounded in our philosophy
of history: the argument would be circular. The unity is
surely not self-evident: why should one form or type of
wisdom evolve at all, let alone develop into another specific
kind of wisdom? What does it mean to label these 'wisdom'
at all? The coherence cannot be an inference of the his-
torical researcher without being circular. Something about
wisdom, from the data, must justify bringing together ma-
terials that differ in type. The problem becomes more
poignant when one wants to begin talking about wisdom
evolving into rabbinic-legal or apocalyptic thought, or
literature, or social movements.1 What can such a hy-
pothesis possibly mean?
If the ground for such arguments is that there is
1Jean-Paul Audet, "Origines Comparées de la Double
Tradition de la Loi et de la Sagesse dans le Proche-Orient
Ancien," in Trudy 25. Mezduradnego Kongressa Vostckovedov:
Moskva 9-16 Avgusta 1960, vol. 1 (Moscow: Izdatelystvo
Vostocnoj Literatury, 1962), pp. 352-57; Gerhard von Rad,
Old Testament Theology, vol. 1: The Theology of Israel's
Historical Traditions; vol. 2: The Theology of Israel's
Prophetic Traditions; trans. D. M. G. Stalker, 2 vols.
(New York: Harper and Row, 1962, 1965), 2: 300-15; cf.
Gunter Wied, "Der Auferstehungsglaube des Späten Israels
in seiner Bedeutung für das Verhältnis von Apokalyptik und
Weisheit," unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Bonn, 1967; cf.
Peter von der Osten-Sacken, Die Apokalyptik in ihren
Verhältnis zu Prophetie und Weisheit, Theoiogie Existenz
Heute, vol. 157 (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1969).
formal unity, it would obviously be invalid. The same can
be said for perceiving some coherence or continuity of
world-view. Indeed, the problem is to find unity in what
is superficially diverse. To argue that wisdom and rab-
binism or apocalyptic represent essentially equivalent or
related thought-worlds would be patently absurd. While the
evolutionary argument is sometimes stated in terms of form
or thought, ethic or context, none of these is sufficient
for a valid and convincing argument, especially in light of
our epistemological (definitional) and linguistic (typolog-
ical) analysis. Implicitly or explicitly, such theories re-
quire, and are appealing to, another ground. Only if there
is a continuously-existing, identifiable and self-identi-
fied social group who seek, develop, preserve and transmit
'wisdom' can evolutionary theories have a convincing—
and valid—argument concerning this literature. If
the continuity is not sociological, then the very
diversity of the phenomenon undercuts the validity of de-
velopmental or evolutionary arguments, except as the
otherwise ungrounded expressions of a particular philoso-
phy of history. On the other hand, if some specific group
can be identified as the carrier of 'wisdom,' then its
typological diversity is secondary to a sociological and
socio-historical continuity. If there are no wise as a
specific historical group, whatever they may have called
themselves and however they might have derived their
identity, then 'wisdom' as a category of historical analy-
sis threatens to fall apart. Such divers forms, theologies,
and social milieux do not provide their own unity; the
scholar's inference of unity or coherence must rest on
something beyond his methodology per se.
The assumption that such a group existed is, on
the basis of present methodology, no less tenuous than the
assumption that 'wisdom' has a clear pre-analytic meaning.
Whybray has shown that the assumption is not clearly
grounded in the historical evidence.1 The literature
does not explicitly refer to such a group, and references
elsewhere scarcely require such a hypothesis. Indeed, the
absence of an overt Standesethik is an often-noted pe-
culiarity of the Hebrew wisdom literature.2 The fact that
such a group is methodologically necessary unfortunately
does not mean that it actually existed. To resolve this
problem, we need a new approach.
1Intellectual Tradition, pp. 6-54.
2Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 6-54; von
Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 39-148; von Rad, Old Testa-
ment Theology, 1:418-41; "Struktur," pp. 177-
204; Zimmerli, "Place and Limit of Wisdom," pp. 146-58;
cf. Hans-Jürgen Hermisson, Studien zur Israelitischen
Spruchweisheit, Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten
and Neuen Testament, vol. 28 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neu-
kirchener Verlag, 1968), pp. 94-96; Ephraim E. Urbach,
Class-Status and Leadership in the World of the Palestinian
Sages, Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and
Humanities, vol. 2, no. 4 (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of
Sciences and Humanities, 1966); cf. Brian W. Kovacs, "Is
There a Class-Ethic in Proverbs?" in Essays in Old Testa-
ment Ethics: (J. Philip Hyatt, in Memoriam), ed. James L.
Crenshaw and John T. Willis (New York: KTAV Publishing
House, 1974), pp. 173-87; Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon," pp.
The analysis of Proverbs IIb, therefore, turns out
to have direct relevance to the problem of establishing
historical continuity to wisdom and therefore of being able
to speak meaningfully of 'wisdom' at all. An inquiry into
one work will not resolve these problems, but it may point
the way to a means of resolving them; or, it may show that
no resolution is possible at all. Here, the wide-spread
assumption that the Proverb material reflects a process of
collection becomes pivotal to the argument.1 What we are
trying to do is address the problem of wisdom in a method-
ologically minimal way.2 Clearly, if we can speak
lEissfeldt, Maschal, pp. 45-52; McKane, Proverbs,
pp. 10-22; Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Com-
mentary of the Book of Proverbs, Internatonal Critical
Commentary, vol. 16 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
1899), pp. vi-viii; Helmer Ringgren, "Sprüche," in Sprüche;
Prediger; das Hohe Lied; Klagelieder; das Buch Esther,
trans. and ed. Helmer Ringgren, Artur Weiser, and Walther
Zimmerli, Das Alte Testament Deutsche: Neues Göttinger
Bibelwerk, vol..16, 2d rev. ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and
Ruprecht, 1967), pp. 7-10; Berend Gemser, Sprüche Salomos,
Handbuch zum Alten Testament, 1st series, vol. 16, 2d rev.
and expanded ed. (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck],
1963) , pp. 10-11; R. B. Y. Scott, The Way of Wisdom in the
Old Testament (New York: Macmillan Company, 1971), pp. 51-
59; Otto Plöger, "Zur Auslegung der Sentenzensammlungen des
Proverbienbuches," in Probleme Biblischer Theologie:
Gerhard von Rad zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Hans Walter Wolff
(Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1971), pp. 402-16; cf. Skladny,
Spruchsammlungen; cf. Hermisson, Spruchweisheit.
2Norman K. Gottwald helped clarify the logic and
methodology at this point in his "Response" in the same
session to my "Social Considerations in Locating the Wise
of the Mashal Literature," paper presented to the Section
on the Social World of Ancient Israel, Society of Biblical
meaningfully of wisdom at all, and if any literature re-
flects the existence of an identifiable social group in a
clear and unambiguous social milieu, it has to be the four
mashal "collections" in Proverbs: Skladny's A, B, C, D.1
If these do not pass such a test, then the presumption
would be against any work passing such a test. If we can-
not ground our inferences, at least for Hebrews, here, then
it is unlikely that we can ground them socio-historically
at all. On the other hand, if we can demonstrate socio-
historical coherence within this material, then the weight
of the argument swings the other way. We are thereby en-
titled to infer such grounding for similar or related
materials--by form, context or world-view. Can we project
enough of the taken-for-granted world from this literature
to decide the question? I submit that we can, and that it
supports the postulation of an identifiable social group as
its source and matrix.
To show such a group, we have to show three things.
First, we must show that they perceived themselves to be a
group, that they had a sense of self-identity. Second, we
would have to show that they formed a network of trans-
Literature-American Academy of Religion annual meeting,
San Francisco, 28-31 December 1977.
1Spruchsalmmlungen, p. 6.
mission whereby that sense of identity was preserved well
beyond the lifetimes of individual members of the group
through certain identity-giving symbols (here, religious
and linguistic, at least in their expression). Third, we
have to show that there is a 'grammar' underlying their
world-view. That grammar represents a consistent set of
assumptions or symbolic interpretations of the world that
gives structure to what they say about it. The grammar is
not the world-view; it is a higher-order consistency from
which coherence of world-views derives.
We argue, in effect, that for Proverbs IIb all
three criteria can be met. To do this, we have to under-
take the subjective analytic proposed above. We seek to
project the taken-for-granted world out of the material
using certain norming parameters--space, time and in a
sense word. These are ineluctable phenomenological struc-
tures. They ground and are expressed through the grammar.
How do these people locate themselves within space and time
as they perceive them; how does word become the expression
of that location? If no group provides the matrix, if the
material is atomic and derived from a variety of diverse
social milieux as some suggest, then the attempt to pro-
ject should fail. Coherence should be lacking. Behind the
obvious inconsistencies and rhetorical peculiarities of the
material would lie nothing more specific than the general
Hebrew cultural grammar.1
Can we find a subjective interpretation of space
and time which makes objective sense? We argue yes. If
so, then evolutionary hypotheses make sense on that basis,
but are also subject to critique on that basis. In other
words, while the world-view may change, the grammar must be
preserved. To change the grammar of the message is to ob-
literate the message. Its forms of expression, its prac-
tical presentation may change, but the grammar on me-
thodological grounds cannot. From a Structuralist point
of view, structure must be preserved (i.e., the grammar),
because only in terms of such a continuous synchrony is any
communication (here, historical coherence, continuity and
unity of expression and interpretation) possible at all.
In effect, to allow the grammar to change is to undermine
the possibility of sociality beyond any hope of restoration
on some other ground. Thus, what we are undertaking is a
species of sociological and phenomenological Structuralism,
though linguistic Structuralists may balk at the use of the
1Erhardt Güttgemanns, "Generative Poetics," ed.
Norman R. Petersen, trans. William G. Doty, Semeia 6
(1976), pp. 181-213; Brian W. Kovacs, "Philosophical Founda-
tions for Structuralism: Grounding the Generative Poetics
of Erhardt Güttgemanns," paper presented to the Consulta-
tion on Structuralism of the American Academy of Religion
and the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, 28-
31 December 1977.
We contend that the outcome of the analysis, a
clear grounding of wisdom and certain hypotheses concern-
ing wisdom, is self-justifying and -validating. The up-
shot for evolutionary theories is that those which do not
preserve the structure, the grammar, are ruled out of
court. This happens to the von Rad hypothesis: we submit
that it is grammatically untenable because it does not pre-
serve socio-structural synchrony in the subjectively struc-
tured world of space and time. The evolutionary theories
1Güttgemanns, pp. 198-213; Kovacs, "Philosophical
Foundations for Structuralism"; Schutz and Luckmann, Struc-
tures of the Life-World; Gottwald, "Biblical Theology or
Biblical Sociology?" pp. 42-57; Gottwald and Frick, pp.
110-19; Paul Ricoeur, "Biblical' Hermeneutics," Introduction
by Loretta Dornisch, ed. John Dominic Crossan, Semeia 4
(1975); Daniel Patte, What is Structuralist Exegesis?
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976); Daniel Fatte, "Universal
Narrative Structures and Semantic Frameworks: A Review of
Erhardt Güttgemanns "Generative Poetics,'" paper presented
to the Consultation on Structuralism of the American Academy
of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, San
Francisco, 28-31 December 1977. The sociological side of
this methodology was detailed in my paper "Contributions of
Sociology to the Study of the Development of Apocalyptic:
A Theoretical Study," paper presented to the Consultation
on the Social World of Ancient Israel of the American
Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature,
St. Louis, October 1976; also my "Toward a Phenomenology of
History in Sociological Theory," paper presented to the
Mid-South Sociological Association meeting, Monroe,
Louisiana, 3-5 November 1977. A theoretically important
exegetical word-study that deals with spatio-temporal issues
in wisdom is John R. Wilch, Time and Event: An Exegetical
Study of the Use of ceth in the Old Testament in Comparison
to Other Temporal Expressions in Clarification of the Con-
cept of Time (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969).
of Skladny and Schmid are not ruled out, but require fur-
ther proof. The phenomena they point to, to show develop-
ment are intrinsic to the grammar in a number of cases,
and therefore are invariant. The remaining evidence tends
to be insufficient to prove the case except as a philosoph-
We begin with a minimal enterprise: to show that
certain structurally norming dimensions of experience,
phenomenologically understood, can be inferred from what
must incontrovertibly be regarded as wisdom if anything is.
We infer only what emerges through this socio-structural
approach. Our conclusion is hardly earth-shattering, for
we do not drastically revise the postulated social matrix
for this literature. We do show its compositional co-
herence, at least in terms of its structural grammar. That
coherence, however, has direct application to the problem
of how we are to speak of wisdom at all. From such minimal
analysis comes the possibility of a ground—group with
identity, continuous existence, grammar—for talking mean-
ingfully about the continuity and development of what are
otherwise apparently diverse and incommensurable phenomena.
If the sociological argument stands, then we have a com-
paratively powerful, historically-evidenced basis for making
valid and clear statements about 'wisdom.'
THE DEFINITION OF WISDOM
So far, we have spoken uncritically of 'the wise,'
'wisdom' and 'wisdom literature.' We have not yet at-
tempted to specify the relationship which might obtain
between the wise person and his wisdom, whether it be as
a system of thought or a body of literature. What sorts
of meanings lie behind these terms? Here we need to be
careful for we should not resolve critical issues in wis-
dom research by definition. We do not wish to assume
what we should only conclude after thorough study. Still,
cursory examination or simple reflection will show that
'wise' and 'wisdom' are by no means univocal. Not only
can they refer to entirely different classes of people or
entities (when indeed they may be said to refer at all),
but they can be used as quite different analytical cate-
'Wise' can mean whatever the equivalent Hebrew
term hākâm meant. The meaning of the English term becomes
a function of the historical analysis of language, in-
corporating the vagaries, ambiguities and multiplicities,
even contradictions, of the Hebrew. 'Wise' may refer to
one system of thought, or another. It may refer to one
or more groups of people in the ancient world, or it may
designate their writings. It may serve as a term of con-
venience within the discipline to identify a discrete
group of writings which otherwise defy ready categoriza-
tion. It may designate a broad social force whose inter-
play with other forces helps explain the general dynamic
patterns of Hebrew history. 'Wisdom' may stand for a
particular intellectual ideal, or style of life, which
some group of writings may be deemed to reflect. The
evidence educed to establish the meaning of 'wise' in one
of these senses may be entirely irrelevant in deciding
While a meticulous author may successfully manipu-
late the same word in several different senses without
material ambiguity, at least for himself, certainly we
need to clarify the alternatives in such a broad and dis-
perate realm of discourse. We should locate our position
clearly within it both to be intelligible and to be valid.
Two basic questions provide the basis for our
terminological and typological discussions. (1) When we
refer to Proverbs IIb as 'wisdom' and its author-editor as
'wise,' what do we mean? (2) What justifies our regarding
Proverbs IIb, not to mention the other mashal collections,
as wisdom? First, we shall ask how 'wisdom' may function
as a defined theoretical category. We shall list
alternatives, some albeit quite obvious. Under certain
rubrics, we shall need to consider the scholarly contri-
butions which represent or summarize the options under
that mode of approach. In the next chapter, we shall turn
to a wisdom typology. A number of these categories re-
flect distinctively different settings, literary forms,
and patterns of life and thought within "wisdom." Rather
than treat them either as a function of particular me-
thodologies or presenting them in the form of a history of
scholarship, we shall treat them systematically. These
distinctions will be used to differentiate types of wisdom.
This discussion should help us decide what meanings and
types of wisdom are, or could reasonably be, relevant to
the study of aphoristic wisdom and the mashal literature.
We recognize that the distinction between definition and
type is somewhat arbitrary. Still, it may prove to be
useful for analytical clarity and intelligibility.
As a scholarly term, 'wisdom' serves a number of
theoretical and practical ends. The list which follows is
intended to incorporate or represent the most important
of these. Important uses will require some discussion and
develop at the risk of digression. Given the present
stage in the development of wisdom studies, we have to
show how it is possible to talk about wisdom in this ma-
terial before we can begin to talk about wisdom there.
1. Wisdom is a field of study. In this view,
whatever wisdom is, it is a distinct phenomenon in Hebrew
history and religious experience, as well as in Hebrew
literature. Therefore, one can distinguish it as an as-
pect of Hebrew life and culture to be studied and reported
upon. This sense of wisdom is obvious; its presupposi-
tions, less so. It assumes that wisdom is sufficiently
distinct yet internally coherent that one can study it as
a subdisciplinary specialty. Setting boundaries in a
discipline is rarely easy, especially in recent studies of
wisdom which find evidence of it in prophecy, myth, his-
tory and priestly-legal material.1 Wisdom used in this
sense tells us something about the self-identification of
scholars, a legitimate concern, but not about wisdom as a
2. Wisdom is a body of literature. The tern may
function either as a description--to relate works with
affinities of form and content--or as a convenient term, a
name, to associate works with certain traditional relation-
ships. Thus, Canticles is sometimes included as wisdom
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influ-
ence," p. 129, n. 1; Whybray, Intellectual Tradition,
p. 1, n. 1; Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon," pp. 1-13.
2Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 226-27.
literature because of its traditional attribution to
Solomon, its apparent secularism, and its lack of fit with
any other category of Hebrew scripture. As a description,
wisdom entails that there is something common to these
works which transcends the obvious diversity.1
3. Wisdom is a system of thought. Whether this
system is a theology, sacrally founded and ordered, or a
“philosophy,” in the non-anachronistic sense of secular
and ordered, systematic and consistent, remains to be
demonstrated. Most attempts to define wisdom fall some-
where within this rubric. This sense is potentially one
of the most restrictive. It may exclude those writers and
works which adopt wisdom motifs but employ them in the
service of their own theological ends.2 On the other
hand, it is potentially the most powerful way of using
“A coherent system of thought” closely accords with
some commonsense definitions of wisdom. Since our sources
are principally literary, we would expect them to express
1Roland E. Murphy, Introduction to the Wisdom
Literature of the Old Testament, Old Testament Reading
Guide, vol. 22 (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical
Press, 1965); Scott, Way of Wisdom, pp. 19-22.
2Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influ-
ence," p. 133; Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon," pp. 1-13; Cren-
shaw, "Wisdom in the Old Testament," pp. 954-55.
an orientation toward life which can be readily and sys-
tematically understood (i.e., learned) and intelligibly
communicated (taught).1 We might, without undue violence,
subsume much of the history of wisdom study under this
rubric. We shall find, however, that there is often some
ambiguity between wisdom in this sense and wisdom in the
sense of one of the categories following below: e.g.,
between wisdom as conceptual system and wisdom as a pattern
of behavior. Wisdom seen as conceptual system--system of
thought--is the sense which follows most naturally from
our attempt to project a world-view from the literature,
though we shall have to deal with other approaches to
wisdom as well.
We should consider the alternative kinds of defi-
nitions offered when wisdom is taken as a conceptual system
and pay some attention to the scholarship underlying each
of these alternatives. Among the terms which recur in
such discussions are "knowledge," "understanding" and "ex-
perience."2 The wise man recognizes the patterns that
develop in his experience. He objectifies these patterns
1Ernst Würthwein, Die Weisheit Ägyptens und das
Alte Testament: Rede zur Rektoratsübergabe am 29. Novem-
ber 1958, Schriften der Philipps-Universität Marburg, no.
6 (Marburg: N. G. Elwert Verlag, 1960).
2Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon," pp. 3-9, 36-37;
Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 6-14.
into a more encompassing description.1 He "knows how" to
apply this description to interpret and respond to novel
situations. Consider the interesting double-entendre in
the English word "experience." To undergo something is to
experience it: it is the occurrence of a single event.
To have undergone a wide range of diverse occurrences is
also called experience. To know how to deal with a wide
variety of often-novel situations is experience. Com-
petence can be experience.
a) Wisdom as Geistesbeschäftigung. Jolles'
work with basic literary forms could certainly be classi-
fied with wisdom as form below. On the other hand, his
work provides the theoretical foundation for many subse-
quent theological studies in biblical wisdom. These build,
implicitly or explicitly, from the assumption that there is
a pattern of human conceptualization that corresponds
uniquely to each basic form. Wisdom represents a particu-
lar use of man's capacity to create his reality through
Jolles' three terms for the basic functions of
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 13-27; Schmid,
Wesen and Geschichte der Weisheit, pp. 79-84.
2Jolles, Einfache Formen, pp. 218-19.
language are erzeugend, schaffend and deutend.1 These
correspond to archetypal social roles: Bauer, Handar-
beiter and Priester.2 To give a word to something, a
thing or an event occurring in nature, is to create. It
becomes an independent existent through the word. The
word not only names by direct reference to a specific
situation, but it creates new applications beyond the an-
ticipation and power of the word's user. Superstition
reflects our attempts to do something effective about the
power of the word. Not only is the word potent, but it
organizes and structures the world of experience: not
erfüllen now but dichten. The reality which language
creates not only gives us direct access to history--what
we might call objectified experience--but it virtually
builds a separate reality, poetically. We can summon it
to mind, understand it and use it as understanding. The
world of poetry is independent of the existence of the
factitious world of experience. Finally, language gives
meaning. It is recognition and thought (erkennen and
denken). It structures life's patterns, helping one to
interpret new aspects of existence. Analogies and simi-
larities are perceived through language. Understanding,
1Jolles, Einfache Formen, pp. 9, 15.
2Jolles, Einfache Formen, pp. 9-15.
then, is a linguistic process.1
Each spiritual task in human life (as Geistes-
beschäftigung) calls up a corresponding elementary form
of speech event: legend, saga, myth, riddle, saying,
"Kasus,"2 memoire, fable and joke.3 While fable and
riddle are regarded as also being characteristic forms in
the study of Hebrew and ancient Near Eastern wisdom,4
Jolles' analysis of the saying or Spruch form in particular
seems to have had the greatest influence on scholarly
studies in wisdom especially those which treat wisdom as
somehow related to "experience."5
Suffice to say that Jolles regards the saying as a
popular high-order abstraction from experience which so
tersely objectifies repeatedly experienced situations that
1Jolles Einfache Formen, pp. 13-18.
2Case-in-point, legal case, situation--the novel
falls under this rubric.
3Jolles, Einfache Formen, pp. 218-22, passim.
4Hans Meinhold, Die Weisheit Israels in Spruch,
Sage und Dichtung (Leipzig: Verlag von Quelle und Meyer,
1908), pp. 13-21; Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 239-47; Brian W.
Kovacs, "Reflections on Ancient Hebrew Riddles, Fables and
Allegories," paper presented to the Seminar on the Form
Critical Study of Wisdom, Society of Biblical Literature
annual meeting, Chicago, 30 October-2 November 1975,
5Von Rad, certainly in his Old Testament Theology,
1:355-459, and probably in Weisheit in Israel; perhaps
Schmid in his Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit; cf.
Hermisson, Sprüchweisheit, pp. 29-34.
it is instantly intelligible. Its truth and application
to one's situation is immediately obvious. It recreates
the situation that led to its first utterance.1 Since his
influence in Germanistic and linguistic studies is so
great, though perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic, we may sus-
pect other emphases to owe something to his work as well
wisdom as pragmatic and worldly-wise (the concern for ob-
jectified experience over systematic speculation; applica-
tion to life), wisdom as popular in use and form of ex-
pression, wisdom as secular (experience is general and re-
created; opposed to myth), wisdom as universal (the Spruch
is not culture bound), wisdom as immediate intuition (Jolles
in accord with Grimm), wisdom as knowledge objectified by
and expressed in language.2
Since Jolles recognizes that a saying must origi-
nate with a specific individual and a particular situation
1Jolles, Einfache Formes, pp. 128-29.
2Walter Baumgartner, Israelitische und Alt-
orientalische Weisheit, Sammlung Gemeinverständlicher
Vorträge und Schriften aus dem Gebiet der Theologie and
Religionsgeschichte, vol. 166 (Tubingen: Verlag von J. C. B.
Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1933); Johannes Fichtner, Die Alt-
orientalische Weisheit in ihrer Israelitisch-Jüdischen
Ausprägung: eine Studie zur Nationalisierung der Weisheit
In Israel, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft, vol. 62 (Giessen: Verlag von Alfred
Töpelmann, 1933); Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 177-204; Gese,
Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 7-11, 42-50; von Rad, Weisheit
in Israel, pp. 13-27; Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp.
6-14, 75-76; Gemser, "Spiritual Structure," pp. 138-49.
before it can be re-formed and re-formulated in popular ap-
plication, his influence cannot be dismissed because a
scholar also recognizes the theological nationalism of ben
Sirah, the Wisdom of Solomon and IV Maccabbees through a
theory of the theologizing of wisdom. On the contrary,
Jolles' interpretation of the saying readily lends itself,
in fact invites, treatment in terms of an evolutionary
theory of history, especially one with elements drawn from
Hegelian dialectic. Thus, secular and practical wisdom
based on international models is re-formed and re-formu-
lated gradually to suit its new Israelite setting--re-
applied to experience a la Schmid—acquiring an appropri-
ate theological cast.1
b) Wisdom as know-how, savoir-faire. Fichtner
Weisheit ist die Kunst, das Leben in jeder Beziehung
und in alien Lagen wie ein Meister zu führen. Das
setzt voraus, dass überall eine von Menschen zu
erfassende Gesetzmässigkeit herrscht, nach der dem
jeweiligen Verhalten ein bestimmtes Ergebnis ent-
spricht. Diese Gesetzmässigkeit.meint der Weise im
praktischen Leben des Tages, im Beruf, ira Verkehr
mit den Menschen, überall beobachten zu können:
mit einer Regelmässigkeit, die dem Beobachter als
Gesetzmässigkeit erscheint. . . . Aus seinen
Beobachtungen formt der Weise Ratschläge allgemeiner
Lebenserfahrung und Weltklugheit. --Weiter sieht er,
dass das Gemeinschaftsleben von dem einzelnen die
1Schmid, Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, pp.
Anerkennung der in der Gemeinschaft geltenden
sittlichen Norm fordert. Von ihren Geltungsrecht
innerlich erfasst erklärt er Unglück und Verderben
als Folge der Übertretung der Norm, Glück und
Gelingen als Folge normgemässen Handelns.1
The wise so often saw this retribution which social norms
demanded that they conceived of it as a governing order.
Fichtner postulates a theologizing of wisdom in time,
"ohne freilich ihren Zusammenhang mit der übrigen alt-
orientalischen Weisheit völlig zu verleugnen."2
Baumgartner points out that the Hebrew wise did
not develop systematic philosophy like the Greeks' but
“praktische Lebensweisheit. Weise ist, wer seine Leben
so einrichtet, dass es zu einem guten Ende führt."3 He
Freilich was wir sonst im Alten Testament als
spezifisch israelitisch kennen, tritt hier auffallend
zurück: Sinai-Offenbarung und Gottesbund, Israels
Erwählung und heilige Geschichte. Ja, von Israel als
Volk ist überhaupt kaum die Rede. Die Chokma wendet
sich an den Einzelnen, nicht ans Volk. Sie unter-
scheidet nicht Israel und die Heiden, sondern Weise
und Toren; und diese Unterscheidung geht mitten durch
das eigene Volk hindurch.4
c) Wisdom as anthropocentric counsel, erfahrungs-
gemäss. Zimmerli followed on the work of Fichtner and
1Fichtner, Altorientalische Weisheit, p. 12.
2Fichtner, Altorientalische Weisheit, p. 59.
3Baumgartner, Weisheit, p. 1.
4Baumgartner, Weisheit, p. 2.
Baumgartner with his classic study,'"Zur Struktur der alt-
testamentlichen Weisheit"1 Taking Proverbs as a starting
point, he finds that the archetypes of the wise man and the
fool represent alternative total patterns or styles of life
(Gesamtlebenshaltung), which resolve the question of life,
rightly and wrongly respectively. Neither the answer nor
the question are in themselves interesting for purposes of
our interpretive understanding. Rather, we are concerned
with the kind of prior understanding, presupposition
(Vorverständnis) or preconception (Vorentscheidung) which
everywhere runs throughout and informs the wise' total
pattern of life.2
Zimmerli does not present a simple definition of
wisdom's preconception of life. He does, however, set out
a number of characteristics that together typify wisdom.
First, it is anthropocentric; it is concerned with human
possibilities.3 "Sie behält ihren Schwerpunckt im ein-
zelnen, ungeschichtlichen Menschen, nach dessen Glück sie
fragt.”4 Second, though man is autonomous, he is a creature
1His revision of this 1933 position falls under a
slightly different classification below.
2Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 177.
3Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 178.
4Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 178.
and bound to the order of the creator.1 Third, in Israel,
wisdom tends to depart from its aristocratic international
origins and become democratized. It becomes the property
of the people.2 Fourth, the admonitions of wisdom carry
authority, and they guide man through the "profane world."
This “authority” is not that of law or command; it is im-
personal while authority in the strict sense is personal.
The power of wisdom lies in its counsel (Rat, cēsāh).3
Fifth, wisdom is a summation of experience upon which the
advisee is to reflect, and from that reflection to act:
'grundliche Überiegung der 'erfahrungsgemäss' sich ein-
Der Schwerpunkt liegt also hinter dem Wortlaut der
Anweisung in der Begründung, in den Erfahrungssatz,
der von dem Menschen einkalkuliert werden soll, den
er überlegen, aus dessen Überlegung heraus er
handeln soll. Das konkrete Handeln ist im Grunde
Thus, Zimmerli calls attention to the existence of
two characteristic wisdom forms side by side, the simple
saying (Aussage) and the motivated admonition (Mahnspruch,
Mahnung). The first is obviously counsel. The second
1Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 179-80.
2Zimmerli, "Struktur,” p, 181.
3Zimmerli, "Struktur,” pp. 181-88.
4Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 188-89.
5Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 188.
acquires its power through its assessment of consequences
on the basis of experience. That is its authority.1
Es ist überhaupt kein Gehorsam von Wille zu Wille,
sondern ein freies Verfügen des Hörenden auf Grund
der ihm aufgewiesenen Zusammenhänge und Gesetz-
Sixth, even in religious matters, wisdom thought
begins with man's possibilities and his interests. Yahweh
does not appear as the imponderable authoritarian creator.
He is viewed from man's context in terms of his effect on
human activities.3 Thus,
Auch die Begründungssatze der Mahnungen . . .
lassen eine letztgültige Berufung auf gesetzte
Ordnung vermissen und orientieren sich am ein-
zelnen Ich und seinen Vortei1.4
Seventh, Zimmerli finds the "better"-sayings (tôb-
min) quite significant. The wise did not hold a view of
absolute good in spite of the paired opposites (Zwillinge
--wise and fool, rich and poor, good and evil) so common
to the literature. Absolute good would imply clear-cut
duties for the wise. Rather, they compared possible values
and calculated outcomes. They considered advantages and
disadvantages. Zimmerli, therefore, takes over Fichtner's ,
1Zimmerli, “Struktur,” pp. 188-92.
2Zimmerli, “Struktur,” p. 188.
3Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 192.
4Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 192.
term "eudaimonistic" to describe this calculation and self-
determination (selbst-verfügen).1 The naively optimistic
attitude of Proverbs reflects the perspective of normative
(international) wisdom, which asks the question, "Wie
steigere ich mein Dasein durch Glück, und Leben?”2
Job and Ecclesiastes, however, call the mēden agan
of normative wisdom into question when they pose the ques-
tion how man secures his existence in its negative form,
"Wie bewähre ich mich vor Unglück, vor all vor vorzeitigen
Tod?"3 They concern themselves with the limits of man's
control over his destiny. Divine retributive justice still
acts in areas of life where man is powerless. They do not
reject the wisdom question. They do not curse God and die.
Nor do they see these limits as a direct conflict between
divine justice and human possibility, thereby negating the
wisdom hierarchy of values:4
Der Weiseempfindet keinen Bruch zwischen seiner
Einstellung und der Gottbedingtheit der Welt. Die
Ansprüche Gottes und der Menschen brauchen nicht in
Konflict zu geraten. Sein Glaube ist es vielmehr,
dass in der göttlichen Weltordnung für des Menschen
Lebensverlangen aufs beste gesorgt ist, dass der
eigentliche Glücksanspruch des Menschen im bereit-
willigen Einflügen in die göttliche Weltordnung voll
1Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 192-94, 203.
2Zimmerli, "Struktur," p, 198.
3Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 198-99.
4Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 194-204.
befriedigt wird. Auch Gott kommt zu seinem Recht,
wenn der Mensch (auf dem richtigen Wege) sein
Glück sucht. Und ebenso umgekehrt: Auch der
Mensch kommt am allerbesten und sichersten zu
seinem Glück, wenn er Gott fürchtet.1
Last, the fundamental orientation of wisdom is
a-historical because its fundamental concern is to under-
stand all of reality rationally, in its diversity and com-
plexity ("der naive Optimismus und die Geschichtlosigkeit
des Lebens als notwendige Ausstrahlung dieser rational-
As developed by Zimmerli and later summarized by
Schmid, this perspective on wisdom could be characterized
as rationalism, which could therefore well be sub-category
d). Schmid summarizes this view succinctly:
Utilitarisch, eudämonistisch, rational, ursprünglich
profan, später religiös, geschichtlos, überzeitlich:
das sind die Attribute, welche die Weisheit während
der letzten dreissig Jahre zu tragen hatte.3
What intellectual debt--if any--Baumgartner, Fichtner and
Zimmerli might owe to the work of Jolles would be difficult
to establish. They continue to see wisdom as founded on
common human experience and oriented toward “secular” ends.
Wisdom is knowledge; it is learned by and communicated as
language. For them, the archetype of wisdom seems to be
1Zimmerli, “Struktur,” p. 203.
2Zimmerli, “Struktur," p. 204.
3Schmid, Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, p. 3.
the saying. Von Rad's work proceeds from this view. He
himself expressly acknowledges Jolles' contribution to his
e) Wisdom as gnomic apperception. In his earlier
studies, predating Weisheit in Israel, von Rad speaks thus
Wie alle Völker, so verstand auch Israel unter
"Weisheit" ein ganz praktisches, auf Erfahrung
gegründetes Wissen von den Gesetzen des Lebens
und der Welt. . . . Dieses Ausgehen von ele-
mentaren Erfahrungen ist das Charakteristische
fast für alle ihre Lebensäusseruncen. In alien
Kulturstufen steht ja der Mensch vor der Aufgabe,
das Leben zu bewältigen. Zu diesem Zweck muss er
es kennen und darf nicht ablassen, zu beobachten
und zu lauschen, ob sich in der Wirrnis der Gescheh-
nisse nicht doch da und dort etwas wie eine Gesetz-
mässigkeit, eine Ordnung erkennen lässt.2
. . . The means of laying hold of and objectifying
such orders when once perceived is language. . .
Undoubtedly [the Pairs of Opposites] are to be
understood as primitive attempts to mark off certain
orders and tie them down in words.3
Here we find unmistakable parallels with Jolles.
Remembering that sayings represent normative wisdom, we
may continue with von Rad:
Now, when we bear in mind that every people expended
a great deal of trouble and artistry in the formation
1Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:421-22.
2"Die Ältere Weisheit Israels," Kerygma und Dogma:
Zeitschrift für Theologische und Kirchliche Lehre 2
(1956) :54-72; cf. his Old Testament Theology 1:418.
3Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:418.
of this kind of Wisdom literature, and that gnomic
apperception is in fact one of the most elegant
forms of human thinking and a weapon in the
struggle for spiritual content in life, it will
be apparent that there are two completely dif-
ferent forms of the apperception of truth for
mankind--one systematic (philosophical and theo-
logical) and one empirical and gnomic. Each re-
quires the other. Where the one employed by the
Wisdom literature is wanting, men are in danger
of reducing everything to dogma, and indeed of
runing off into ideological fantasy. Empirical
and gnomic wisdom starts from the unyielding pre-
supposition that there is a hidden order in things
and events--only, it has to be discerned in them,
with great patience and at the cost of all kinds
of painful experience. And this order is kindly
and righteous. But, characteristically, it is
not understood systematically--and therefore not
in such a way as to reduce all the variety ex-
perienced and perceived to a general principle of
order. . . . As Jolles says, conceptual thinking
cannot possibly apprehend the world to which
gnomic thinking applies itself. Wisdom examines
the phenomenal world to discern its secrets, but
allows whatever it finds to stand in its own
particular character absolutely.1
To von Rad, the growing scepticism of Job and
Qoheleth does not represent a repudiation of wisdom.
Their conflict is only intelligible from wisdom's pre-
suppositions about the world. Thus in this respect, he
f) Wisdom as humanism. One finds quite a
different approach from the fore-going definitions and
1Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:421-22,
2Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:441-59;
Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 198-204.
descriptions of wisdom in this section when one turns to
the work of Rankin. His basic operating concept is
The Wisdom literature may be called the documents
of Israel's humanism, not in the sense of a re-
jection of the supernatural, or even as intending
a concern chiefly with man's welfare, but because
its general characteristic is the recognition of
man's moral responsibility, his religious indi-
viduality and of God's interest in the individual
All wisdom writings concern themselves with the
ordinary individual--even when wisdom becomes hypostasized
into an intermediary being between God and man.
Because the interest of the Wisdom books is of
this nature, they yield not merely a vast body of
moral teaching but complete the foundation of
thought upon which a theology could be built.
. . . They [the wise] are the rationalists of
Hebrew thought and religion.3
While prophetic and priestly thought took only
the community into account, the wise looked at a person's
peace, welfare and happiness in the context of family
and community. In wisdom thought, attention is paid to
the basic motives behind human conduct: "gratitude,
1O. S. Rankin, Israel's Wisdom Literature: Its
Bearing on Theology and the History of Religion; the Kerr
Lectures Delivered in Trinity College, Glasgow, 1933-36
(Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, n.d.), pp. 1-9.
2Rankin, p. 3.
3Rankin, p. 3.
friendship, love, hate, wealth, reputation."1 "Wisdom is
the ability to assess truly the values of life."2
Weinfeld, in his studies of the relationship be-
tween Deuteronomy and wisdom, takes over the term
"humanism" from Rankin, following in the tradition of
S. R. Driver, Delitzsch and Cheyne.3
The humanistic ideology which characterizes
sapiential teaching scrutinizes all matters
from the human point of view and consequently
seeks those ends which will prove to be for
. . . The conventional sapiential view identi-
fies wisdom with the knowledge and understand-
ing of nature's laws. . . 5
Weinfeld approves Rankin's view that "the social
ideas of Proverbs are, properly speaking, distinctly
sapiential ideas, based on the concept of the 'equality
of men,' which in turn derives from the sapiential concept
1Rankin, p. 4.
2Rankin, p. 4.
3Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic
School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); Moshe Weinfeld,
“The Orgin of the Humanism in Deuteronomy," Journal of
Biblical Literature 80 (September 1961): 241-47; Moshe
Weinfeld, "Deuteronomy--the Present State of the Inquiry,"
Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (September 1967): 249-62;
C. M. Carmichael, "Deuteronomic Laws, Wisdom, and His-
torical Traditions," Journal of Semitic Studies 12 (1967):
198-206; Jean. Malfroy, "Sagesse et Loi dans le Deuteronome:
Études," Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965): 49-65.
4Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, pp. 308-9.
5Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, p. 257.
of the 'Creator of man' predominating in wisdom litera-
ture."1 In this respect, scholars in this tradition
approach a view which we shall not discuss, wisdom as
creation theology g). Continuing, Weinfeld contends that
this humanistic ideology is international. Still, he
argues that a special kind of theologizing process in
Israel led to deuteronomic thinking. The yir’at yahweh
upon which wisdom is then said to be grounded reflects a
growing conflict with the conventional sapiential view
that wisdom is universal knowledge:
The sapiential authors of these dicta apparently
wished to say . . . that man's wisdom lies in his
moral behaviour. They realized that the human
mind could neither fathom the mysteries of creation
nor acquire universal knowledge . . . and that the
only wisdom man could aspire to was that which per-
tained to human affairs, i.e. Lebensweisheit and
The ideology upon which the humanistic ethic is founded is
thus theologized and circumscribed. The deuteronomists
combined this new humanism with Torah.3
The application of the term "humanism" to wisdom
tends to shade together several different conceptual
1Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, p. 295.
2Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, p. 258.
3Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, pp. 158-319; Weinfeld,
"Humanism in Deuteronomy," pp. 241-47.
categories. "Rationalism" (Rankin) and "ideology"
(Weinfeld) suggest a system or body of thought which
unites all of wisdom, as we have discussed above.1 But,
“moral responsibility” and "moral behaviour" reflect wis-
dom as ethos: that wisdom distinguished by a certain
pattern of action.2 The more, since there seem to be
severe limitations to the wise' ability to know. Wein-
feld also seems to use “wisdom,” "sapiential," and
"humanism" as theological categories to unite common
strands out of seemingly diverse intellectual movements
and divers social groups.3
h) Wisdom as the perception of a divine or supra-
mundane universal order. This approach to understanding
wisdom takes its point of intellectual departure from
Egyptian wisdom and its doctrine of maat. Gese quotes
Frankfort's dismissal of eudaimonistic-pragmatic explana-
tions of wisdom:
The usual comment on this type of advice is
totally inadequate. It is neither a rule of
1Rankin, p. 25; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, p. 189;
cf. Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 1-14.
2We shall deal with wisdom as behavior or ethos
below. Of course, one can only infer what behavior was
historically from evidence, generally literary what. has
been said about the supposed behavior.
3Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, pp. 158-89.
good conduct, nor a plan for making a man popu-
lar and likely to gain advancement--in fact,
can think of no behavior more likely to get one
Here, Frankfort refers to Kagemni's counsel not to eat
until a greedy man is sated nor drink until the drunkard
has taken his fill. His and Gese's remarks reflect a
general dissatisfaction with the rational-pragmatic inter-
Frankfort argues that we have read a modern con-
trast back into history. We distinguish worldly savoir-
faire from religiously motivated ethical behavior. The
Egyptian perceived no distinction. He lived in a world
suffused by a single order that was at once social, ethi-
cal and cosmological:
The Egyptians recognized a divine order, estab-
lished at the time of creation; this order is
manifest in nature in the normalcy of phenomena;
it is manifest in society as justice; and it is
manifest in an individual's life as truth. Maat
is this order, the essence of existence, whether
we recognize it or not.
The conception of Maat expresses the Egyptian
belief that the universe is changeless and that
all apparent opposites must, therefore, hold each
other in equilibrium. Such a belief has definite
consequences in the field of moral philosophy. It
puts a premium on whatever exists with a semblance
1Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion: An
Interpretation, Cloister Library of Harper Torchbooks
(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948), p. 71; Gese, Lehre
und Wirklichkeit, p. 9.
2Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 7-11.
of permanence. It excludes ideals of progress,
utopias of any kind, revolutions, or any other
radical changes in existing conditions. It al-
lows a man "to strive after every excellence
until there be no fault in his nature," but im-
plies, as we have seen, harmony with the estab-
lished order, the latter not taken in any vague
and general way but quite specifically as that
which exists with seeming permanence.1
Order, maat, is no impersonal force. That would
be a modern concept. But, deviation from order is also no
act of rebellion. Disharmony brings about the inevitable
intervention of some deity in an act of retributive jus-
tice, but the operation of act and consequence is not
automatic. The world is permeated by a profound religious
order. It is man's religious and ethical responsibility
to recognize this order and to put himself in harmony with
it. Thus, authority becomes significant.2
Gese expressly applies the analogy of maat to
wisdam in Israel. There, he finds the notion of order,
Wir müssen uns auch hier im Alten Testament vor
der eudämonistischen Interpretation hüten, wenn
wir nicht auf Grund der uns eigentümlichen
Scheidung von innen and ausseren Erfolg, Mass-
stäbe an die Weisheitslehre herantragen wollen,
die ihr--zumindest in ihrem Ursprung--wesentlich
fremd sind. Vielmehr wird hier in der Weisheit
1Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, p. 64.
2Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, pp. 64-71,
auf Grund der Erkenntnis einer der Welt inne-
wohnenden Ordnung gesagt, lass der Fleissige
durch sein Tun reich, der Faule arm wird; und
ebenso wird der Gerezhte Erfolg, der Ungerechte
Misserfolg davontragen. Wir könnten fast von
einer naturgesetzlichen Weise sprechen, in der
sich die Folge aus der Tat ergibt.1
Gese notes the Unverfügbarkeit of this order in
both Egypt and Israel. Man is inescapably bound to the
fundamental order that gcverns the world. Act and result
are inextricably bound together (Tat-Ergehen-Zusammenhang)
in human action. Man is utterly incapable of interposing
himself in this complex.2
Israel differs from Egypt. It breaks through the
fateful working out of this process (schicksalwirkende
Tatsphäre). Yahweh is independent of this order. We do
find royal ideology in wisdom; the king is the guarantor
of order. But, in the same way that Yahweh can act freely
with respect to the king, so Yahweh is completely free from
the order's jurisdiction. Israelite wisdom is not rigidly
determinist. Job emphasizes Yahweh's freedom with respect
to his created order, and strengthens the implicit double
standard in Hebrew wisdom: that wisdom is nothing with
respect to Yahweh. Job however accepts the fundamental
premise of order which typifies Hebrew wisdom. Its
1Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 34-35.
2Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 44-45.
solution leads us again into wisdom thinking.1 Gese's
concluding sentence reflects the paradox of Hebrew wisdom:
Die grossartige und tief religiöse altori-
entalische Weisheit ist in Israel aufgenommen
und bewältigt worden, die Bindung an meta-
physische Ordnungqn wurde durch den Glauben an
. . . The wisdom literature of Israel--like that
of Egypt--seeks above all to discover the order
that is inherent in the world and human life,
making it possible for man to accommodate himself
reasonably to this order. This inherent order,
however, is righteousness. That is to say, the
Hebrew sedaqâ corresponds in function to the
Egyptian concept of m3ct, "truth," or better
"righteousness," "orderly management."3
i) Wisdom as the knowledge of authoritative
divine will. Gese's view of wisdom, in terms of order,
the relationship of act and result, and the freedom of
Yahweh, over against the anthropocentric-eudaimonistic
definitions, has steadily gained ground in wisdom studies.
Both von Rad and Zimmerli have substantially revised their
positions to respond to this line of reasoning
1Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 42, 45-78.
2Gese, Lehre und Wi.rklichkeit, p. 78.
3Helmer Ringgren, Israelite Religion, trans.
David E. Green (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), pp.
4Von Rad in his Weisheit in Israel compared to the
views expressed in his Old Testament Theology and "Ältere
Gemser was one of the first to recognize the im-
plications in Gese's proposals. His article on the
"Spiritual Structure of Biblical Aphoristic Wisdom" did
not propound a drastically new definition of wisdom so
much as pose certain problems that implied redefinition.1
First, he asked, with what authority does wisdom
teaching confront its hearers? For Gemser, as for
de Boer,2 cēsah is not discussible advice:
The counsels of the wise are not advice offered
without obligation to the free discussion and de-
cision of the addressed, they claim to be listened
to and followed up and put into practice.3
Second, from what does this teaching derive its
authority? If Gese be right, authority derives from
divine order, permeating and interpenetrating the struc-
ture of the world.4 Von Rad points out that the search
for order is inherent in language itself:
Weisheit Israels"; Zimmerli in "Place and Limit" as op-
posed to his earlier "Struktur."
2P. A. H. de Boer, “The Counsellor,” in Wisdom in
Israel and in the Ancient Near East: Presented to Pro-
fessor Harold Henry Rowley, ed. Martin Noth and D. Winton
Thomas, Vetus Testamentum Supplements, vol. 3 (Leiden:
E. J. Brill, 1955), pp. 42-71.
3Gemser, "Spiritual Structure," p. 146..
4Gese, Lehre and Wirklichkeit, pp. 33-45; Gemser,
"Spiritual Structure," p. 142.
Parallel and intertwined with this universal
ancient belief in an impersonal, yet authoritative
world-order was the conviction that wisdom was a
prerogative and gift of the gods; wisdom and word,
intelligence and speech were even, in Egypt as well
as in Babylonia and Ugarit, thought of as personal
divine beings. No wonder that in ancient Israel
with its fundamental belief in a personal, even one
personal Deity wisdom was seen as one of the most
essential qualities of God, and the teachings of
wisdom as the expressions of his will.1
Third, if all have equal authority, how does the
counsel of the wise differ from the words of prophets or
the torah of priests? The fact that these groups are dis-
tinct implies a clear difference in the types of authority
appropriate to and held by each. Gemser quotes himself in
reply, analyzing the semantic role of the motivating
"The motive clauses with their appeal to the common
sense and to the conscience of the people disclose
the truly democratic character of their laws, just
as those (the motivations) of the religious kind
testify the deep religious sense and concentrated
theological thinking of their formulators."2
Motivations are a pedagogic device. “They are appropriate
to what is being taught; they are not an appeal to ex-
perience, nor evidence of one. We wonder, however, whether
Gemser has replied to precisely the question he set
1Gemser, “Spiritual Structure,” p. 147.
2Gemser, “Spiritual Structure,” p. 148 quoting
from his "The Importance of Motive Clauses in Old Testa-
ment Law," in Copenhagen Congress Volume, Vetus Testa-
mentum Supplements, vol. 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1953),
himself. This distinction must derive from didactic in-
tent and from setting, suggesting some unstated assump-
tions about the nature and objective of wisdom. Still,
Gemser clearly stated his intent to pose questions, not
necessarily to answer them, except perhaps by implica-
j) Wisdom as artful life-mastery in the context
of a divinely created and ordered world. In response to
the growing emphasis on authority, theology, and divine
order, Zimmerli has modified some of his views on wisdom
thought, though not so much perhaps as Gemser has sug-
gested. Zimmerli continues to emphasize wisdom's anthro-
pocentrism. He points out, as Baumgartner had long
before, that "Wisdom has no relation to the history between
God and Israel."2 While people and king appear as socio-
logical elements in wisdom, one misses there even a
theologizing of the obvious Solomonic connection with a
possible covenant theology.3
1Gemser, "Motive Clauses," pp. 50-66; Gemser,
"Spiritual Structure," pp. 138-49.
2Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 147; Baumgartner,
Weisheit, pp. 1-2.
3 Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 147; Crenshaw,
"Prolegomenon," p. 2.
Zimmerli raises to central importance a point he
had made in his earlier article. "Wisdom thinks resolutely
within the framework of a theology of creation.”1 This
theology, however, is not based on an immutable order or
an instruction to trust in Yahweh.
Wisdom is per definitionem tahbūlôth, ‘the art
of steering,’ knowledge of how to do in life, and
thus it has a fundamental alignment to man and
his preparing to master human life.2
Zimmerli repeats the importance of history as he
finds it in the mashal. The saying (Aussagewort) appre-
hends the elements of experience, defining and delimiting
them ("establishing them").3 The admonition applies what
is thereby understood to man's life-situation. It tells
him how to behave. It shows him how to gain his life
"with respect for the surrounding world of order, even the
order of the divine world.”4 “Wisdom shows man as a being
1Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 148; cf. Gerhard
von Rad, "Das Theologische Problem des Alttestamentlichen
Schöpfungsglaubens," in Werden und Wesen des Alten Testa-
ments: Vorträge Gehalten auf der Interhationalen Tagung
Alttestamentlicher Forscher zu Gottingen vom 4.-10.
September 1935, ea. Johannes Hempel, Friedrich Stummer, and
Paul Volz, Beihiefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft, vol. 66 (Berlin: Alfred Töpelmann,
1936), pp. 138-47.
2Zimmerli, "Place and Limit, p. 149; Gese, Lehre
and Wirklichkeit, p. 47.
3Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," pp. 150-51.
4Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 151.
who goes out, who apprehends through his knowledge, who es-
tablishes, who orders the world."1 "Wisdom seeks to be a
human art of life in the sense of mastering life in the
framework of a given order in this life."2
Its theology of creation emphasizes the subordina-
tion of the order of the world to the will of Yahweh.
Even Qoheleth operates from the presuppositions of wisdom,
and sets the bounds of wisdom before its creator. The
attempt to master life can turn into utter foolishness
Through his sapiential encounter with the reality of
the world Ecclesiastes caught sight of the freedom of
God, who acts and never reacts. He feels this free-
dom of God as a painful limitation of his own impulse
to go out into the world by wisdom and to master the
world. Nevertheless he holds unswervingly fast to
the creator, who alone has power to allot and to
dispose of the times.3
Qoheleth sharpens the creation theology and sets the
bounds of anthropocentric wisdom; he accepts what is pos-
sible within those limits.
Zimmerli rejects any attempt to equate wisdom's
authority with that of apodictic law or prophetic word. A
tension remains between creation theology and the anthro-
1Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 150.
2Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 155.
3Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 157.
pocentric mastery of life; Qoheleth puts this tension in
sharp relief. Wisdom is counsel. The sage convinces the
hearer through argumentative persuasion and by evidence.1
Counsel affords a certain margin of liberty and of
proper decision. Certainly we cannot say that
counsel has no authority. It has the authority of
insight. But that is quite different from the
authority of the Lord, who decrees.
So the weighing of the different possibilities
always belongs to the behaviour of the wise man.2
Zimmerli seems to reject much of the Egyptian analogy.
In doing so, he restates, with important modifications,
the position he set out earlier. Life-mastery is now
k) Wisdom as self-understanding in relation-
ship. Like Zimmerli, Crenshaw is suspicious of the at-
tempt to define or redefine wisdom as a system of thought
on the basis of the Egyptian analogy. He argues that,
while the same motifs may appear, the entire context of
any proposed wisdom statement determines the "nuances" of
its meaning. Meaning is inseparable from context. "Wis-
dom" may serve different analytical purposes, referring to
a literature, a tradition that could be called paideia, or
a system of thought as hiokmāh. Here, Crenshaw moves
1Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," pp. 155-58.
2Zimmerli, "Place and Limit," p. 153.
toward a typology which he makes part of his definition.1
Crenshaw stresses the disparate character of wis-
dom thought. It has many settings and serves many objec-
tives. The conflict we observe over definition may
reflect attempts to bring too much together within the
confines of too narrow an intellectual space. He pro-
Wisdom, then, may be defined as the quest for
self-understanding in terms of relationships with
things, people, and the Creator. This search for
meaning moves on three levels: (1) nature wisdom
which is an attempt to master things for human
survival and well-being, and which includes the
drawing up of onomastica and study of natural
phenomena as they relate to man and the universe;
(2) juridical and Erfahrungsweisheit (practical
wisdom), with the focus upon human relationships
in an ordered society or state; and (3) theo-
logical wisdom, which moves in the realm of the-
odicy, and in so doing affirms God as ultimate
meaning. . . .2
1) Wisdom as a demythicized will to knowl-
edge. Responding to recent directions in wisdom study,
von Rad presents a revised statement of his views in
Weisheit in Israel. Like Crenshaw, von Rad emphasizes
the secondary position of the term wisdom. It is "ja in
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influ-
ence," p. 130, cf. n. 4.
2Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influ-
ence," p. 132.
den Quellen keineswegs verankert."1 Rather, it is a
category which has been derived through research and is
subject to revision and redefinition. From Proverbs
1:1-5, he points out the large vocabulary used by the
Hebrews to get at the idea or approach to life which we
have subsumed under a single concept. Von Rad also recog-
nizes that the construction of a social reality, implied
in Jolles' approach to language, cannot be limited to
wisdom. Any social group defines a reality for itself.
Typically, in fact, one is confronted with the demands of
alternative but competing world-views for his allegiance.
While such perspectives have been tested by time for their
stability and their validity, they necessarily simplify
and generalize in their portrayal of "reality" or "what is
A certain self-knowledge, a certain ordering and
interpretation of prior experience, a certain perspective
on the world stands behind every experience of reality.
"Voraussetzungslose Erfahrungen gibt es ja nicht.”3 Since
the experience of counter-realities is a threatening one,
Weltanschauungen alternately struggle against one another
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 19.
2Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 26, 384.
3Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 13.
and seek to encompass conceptually what they do not yet
adequately include. Certainly, "wisdom" is found in the
attempt to order and comprehend experience, and do this
within some literary form. This effort can be found in
virtually every culture. Our dilemma is that we must
either find what commonalities of thought--not just social
methodology--bind together the phenomena we call in the
abstract "wisdom," or we must abandon the term altogether
as some scholars would have us do.1
We should recognize that we perceive these phe-
nomena, and our own reality, through highly abstract con-
cepts which the Hebrew did not employ. His real and im-
mediate world grasped him in a way and with a directness
and intimacy we can only begin to appreciate if we use the
:most meticulous methodology. Von Rad believes that he can
identify elements of thought which unite wisdom and justify
our use of the term.
We search in vain for some method or some faculty
of the human mind which constituted wisdom for the Hebrew.
Wisdom is a charismatic gift of openness, receptivity,
active awareness of the evidences of a truth inherent in
the created order of the world. It is not some technical
means of manipulated dead matter; that view is strictly
1 Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 13-20.
modern. The wise trust creation and believe it worthy of
that trust. Nevertheless, "Der Weg, wie der Weise zu
seinem Wissen gelangt, bleibt in Dunkeln, aber in einem
verheissungsvollen Dunkel."1 Without a commitment of
trust, nothing worthwhile can be accomplished. The cre-
ated order, however, rewards trust. He is the fool who
misplaces his trust or withholds it entirely.
Der "Tor" war doch nicht einfach ein Schwachkopf,
sondern ein Mensch, der sich gegen eine Wahrheit
stellte, die ihm in der Schöpfung entgegentrat,
der sei es aus welchen Gründen, sich einer Ordnung
nicht anvertraute, die für ihn heilsam wäre, die
sich aber nun gegen ihn wendet.2
The basic human search for knowledge and pattern
in the world (Erkenntniswille) has been cut free of that
spirituality which perceives the world in terms of myth-
ology and immanent powers. For the Hebrew,
Es handelt sich um einen Erkenntniswillen, der
eine hellwache Ratio auf entmythisierte Welt
richtete. Aber, nur scheinbar kam Israel mit dieser
Entmythisierung der Welt dem modernen Weltver-
ständnis nahe, denn dieser radikalen Verweltlichung
der Welt entsprach die Vorstellung von einem ebenso
radikalen Durchwaltetsein dieser Welt von Jahwe.
also die Vorstellung von der Welt als einer
Von Rad argues that wisdom is discursive and
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 377.
2Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 379.
3Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 378.
dialectic. As wisdom thought developed, it became clear
that the impediments and defeats of human life would have
to be reconsidered. Thus, we find a "theologizing of
wisdom." All the old questions are re-ordered in terms of
a new theological groundwork. For the act-consequence-
relationship or synergistic view of life, other wise came
to emphasize the creation, in which Yahweh was hidden from
man and the divine will remained at times only a secret.
Both sides of this discussion agreed that the creation was
the field of divine action within which Yahweh revealed
or concealed himself, his will and his law. The discussion
centered on how to explain an order in which the ordering
will might remain hidden and how to explain a relationship
with Yahweh, who might conceal himself in his creation.
The will to knowledge is common to both.1
Wisdom is dialectic in its emphasis on man's re-
Der Mensch--iminer sing es um den Einzelnen--sah
sich wie eingebunden in einen Kreis der mannig-
fachsten Bezugsverhältnisse nach draussen hin, in
denen er einmal Subjekt, einmal Objekt war.
Sprachen wie gelegentlich von den Aufbruch des
Erkenntniswillens Israels auf die Gegenstände seiner
Umwelt hin, so war das eben dock nur die eine Seite
der Sache. Ebensogut könnte man sagen, dass sein
Erkenntniswille einer Provokation gegenüber erst
antwortete, dass er also erst nachzog, indem er
sich in der Zwangslage sah, sich auf Verhältnisse,
1Von Rad, WeisheöOpfungsglaubens," pp. 138-47.
ja Bewegungen seiner Umwelt einzustellen, die
mächtiger waren als der Mensch. . . . Aber diese
Bewegungen der Umwelt . . . . liefen nicht in
einem beziehungslosen Draussen nach einem fremden
Gesetz ab; nein, sie waren dem Menschen in un-
endlicher Beweglichkeit ganz persönlich zu-
gekehrt. . .1
Ohne zu einer Gesamtschaudurchstossen zu können,
kreiste das Denken der Weisen doch immer um das
Problem einer Phänomenologie des Menschen.
Freilich nicht des Menschen an sich, sondern um
eine Phänomenologie des in seine Umwelt einge-
bundenen Menschen, in der er sich inner zugleich
als Subjekt und als Objekt, als aktiv und passiv
verfand. Ohne diese Umwelt, der er zugekehrt ist,
und die ihm zugekehrt ist, war in Israel ein
Menschenverständnis überhaupt nicht möglich.
Israel kannte nur einen bezogenen Menschen;
bezogen auf Menschen, auf seine Umwelt, und nicht
zuletzt auf Gott. Auch die Lehre von der Selbst-
bezeugung der Schöpfung ist durchaus als ein unge-
bunden Welt zu verstehen.2
If man is related to a personally perceived world,
even "nature," this world is not torn by a confrontation
between Yahweh and some personalized evil. Herein lies
Job's problem. He must account for life's evils and
hiddenness within a monistic view that Yahweh stands
within creation. This belief in a related and personal-
ized creation becomes wisdom as it is given verbal and
literary expression on the basis of experience. The
office of the wise man is to formulate his experience and
to communicate it. Thus, in restating his position,
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 383.
2Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 400.
von Rad takes cognizance of new emphases on order and the
personal nature of creation. He also stresses the role
of subjectivity in the interpretation of experience, a
point important to understanding the relationship between
the wise man and his wisdom.1
m) Wisdom as an existential understanding.
Würthwein has detailed the implications of order in the
Egyptian setting that could be applied with qualifications
to Israel.2 Wisdom seeks to comprehend the world of ex-
perience as orderly and intelligible. The existential
understanding or preconception includes:
1. Das Leben verläuft nach einer bestimmten Ordnung.
2. Diese Ordnung ist lehr- und lernbar.
3. Dadurch ist dem Menschen ein Instrument in die
Hand gegeben, seinen Lebensweg zu bestimmen und
zu sichern. Denn
4. Gott selber muss sich nach dieser Ordnung,
diesem Gesetz richten.3
The last point raises a central issue for Hebrew wisdom:
what is the relationship of Yahweh to the orderliness the
wise seem to have found within their experience?
In sum, there are clearly many different ways in
which one may take wisdom to be a system of thought. This
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 364-405.
2Weisheit, Weisheit Ägyptens.
3Würthwein, Weisheit Ägyptens, p. 8.
approach to defining wisdom has been a dominant theme in
wisdom research. In spite of differences in emphasis,
and some significant developments in the history of
scholarship, certain themes recur, though with greater or
Wisdom presupposes the orderliness and intel-
ligibility of experience, when it is taken to be a system
of thought. As a creation of Yahweh and as the field of
his action and his interaction with men, the experiential
world is on balance worthy of religious trust--this,
despite all its disappointments. Wisdom is open and hope-
ful, though not necessarily naively so. The wise do not
accept the synthetic view of life uncritically. They are
fundamentally concerned with stating exactly what sort of
relationship might obtain between act and consequence
that would reflect the basic justice of the world, in
terms of the context of action. Most scholars argue that
the wise increasingly emphasize the freedom of Yahweh
within his creation and the limits of human knowledge in
the face of divine wisdom to resolve this problem. The
dilemma of theodicy is unavoidable.1
The wise are principally concerned with the world
1Skladny, Spruchsammlungen; Schmid, Wesen and
Geschichte der Weisheit, pp. 144-201.
of their experience. Wisdom does not mean systematic
reflection or abstract system-building for the Hebrews.
They live in a world of relationships; the wise seek to
give coherent expression to them. Wisdom is anthropo-
centric or phenomenological because it is concerned with
man's interrelatedness and because it has and must have
an intense subjective (i.e., conscious, personal) com-
ponent. Wisdom amounts to the mastery of life. The sage
does not necessarily seek the happy life, but he does seek
to understand life's patterns and structures. He intends
to act coherently, masterfully and "artfully" with respect
to them. Because these patterns derive from Yahweh as
creator, they are neither impersonal nor mechanical. In
what way they are personal, especially apart from Yahweh,
remains to be seen.
The wise are in-the-world. Their knowledge is
derived from and specifically applicable to experience.
Schmid carefully points out that their “worldliness” says
nothing by itself about their view of history.1 The ex-
isting Hebrew wisdom literature, for whatever reason,
shows remarkably little evidence of Heilsgeschichte or
institutional theology, including nationalism, in its
1Schmid, Wesen and Geschichte der Weisheit, pp.
early and middle periods. The wise believed that their
wisdom could be taught. The records of the wise therefore
contain an inevitable didactic element. The wise taught
with the authority of their experience in pursuit of har-
mony with the created order. While on-going discussions
among the wise seem demonstrable, their teachings had at
least quasi-religious authority.1
The applicability of such a general description
to Proverbs IIb remains one of the objectives of our re-
search. It should already be apparent that "world-view"
as we use it here has particularly close affinities with
wisdom perceived as a system of thought or conceptual
system. It ties in as well with Zimmerli's notion of pre-
conceptions (Vorverständnisse) and with von Rad's "world-
view" and "phenomenology."2 Other notions of wisdom as
well, however, may prove to have relevance.
4. Wisdom is disciplined action or a pattern of
behavior. In this sense, wisdom may be either a) an
ethic or a moral code, or b) an etiquette. In either
sense, this category, except by way of emphasis, is more
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 399; Gese, Lehre
und Wirklichkeit, p. 35.
2Zimmerli, "Struktur," p. 177; von Rad, Weisheit
in Israel, p. 400.
ideal than actual. Whatever we may know about the actions
of the wise has been learned indirectly through what they
say about action. We have their ethic implicit in their
admonitions. We infer judgments and patterns of conduct
from their descriptions of experience. We also have cer-
tain portraits of the ideal wise man. What relationship
these values bear to the actual actions of the wise is
virtually impossible to say, and only then as the product
of a theoretical and interpretive reconstruction based on
their apparent thought system and social location. Evi-
dence from other types of literature, whether prophetic or
priestly or other, is sparse, sometimes polemical, and
rather too general to establish a clear pattern of behavior
among the wise. Precisely because our sources are lit-
erary, it is both easier and more logical to seek common
ground in a body of thought than in action. This is true
even if what actually were to have distinguished the wise
in their socio-historical context were a pattern of con-
duct, ethic or etiquette.1
In the wisdom literatures of Israel and Egypt,
there is a distinct tradition of courtly and social eti-
quette. The wise man is reserved, cool of temperament,
1Rankin, pp. 1-76; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, pp.
deliberate in his actions. He avoids open conflict,
especially with superiors. While he knows how to manipu-
late wrath when necessary, even that of the king, he
avoids surrendering to his own passions. He is eloquent
when it is needed; he is learned in the ways of the royal
court. He knows how to express his opinion at the most
opportune moment. He does not submit himself to the con-
trol of others, particularly financially, except in his
calling. He is committed to learning. He is judicial in
thought and temperament, suggesting that his vocation is
more administrative than purely scribal. Within his pro-
fession, he observes his responsibilities carefully. In
Egypt, it is expressly said that he pay proper respect to
the instruments of his calling, the tools of the scribe.
He recognizes a certain obligation, which we shall call
noblesse oblige, toward those less fortunate them he, ex-
cept where their misfortune results from folly. Finally,
he delights in his mental agility within his chosen pro-
fession.1 We should therefore consider the possibility
1Hilaire Duesberg and Paul Auvray, trans. [and
ed.], Le Livre de Proverbes, La Sainte Bible: Traduite en
Français sous la (Direction de l’École Biblique de Jérusalem,
2d ed. rev. (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1957); Willam McKane,
Prophets and Wise Men, Studies in Biblical Theology, vol.
44 (Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1965), pp. 15-47;
Ronald J. Williams, "Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt,"
Journal of the American Oriental Society 92 (1972): 214-21;
Hellmut Brunner, Altägyptiscne Erziehung (Wiesbaden: Otto
that the wise recognized one another, not by thought nor
by social or occupational affiliation, but by some common
5. Wisdom is an attitude toward life, a disposi-
tion.or intention. Elements of a quasi-psychological
understanding cf wisdom can already be seen in the opti-
mistic viewpoint with which it is credited. Further, we
have Rylaarsdam's distinction between optimistic and pessi-
mistic wisdom. The former is that of Lebensweisheit; the
latter is found in reflective and theodically oriented
Pedersen has attempted to understand wisdom in
attitudinal terms. It is a form of consciousness, a
faculty of the mind:2
Harrassowitz, 1957), pp. 32-48, 65-80; Lorenz Dürr, Das
Erziehungswesen im Alten Testament und in Antiken Orient,
Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatisch-Agyptiscnen Gesellschaft,
vol. 32, no. 2 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrich'sche, 1932), pp. 20-
22, cf. 5-14, 58-66, 71-73; cf. Les Sagesses du Proche-
Orient Ancien: Colloque de Strasbourg, 17-19 Mai 1962,
Bibliotheque des Centres d'Études supérieures specialisés:
Travaux du Centre d'Études Supérieures Specialisé d'Histoire
des Religions de Strasbourg (Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France, 1963); William F. Albright, “A Teacher to a Man
of Schechem about 1400 B.C.,” Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research, no. 86 (April 1942), pp. 28-31.
1J. Coert Rylaarsdam, Revelation in the Jewish
Wisdom Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture,
Wisdom is a property of the soul or, rather, a
faculty, an ability to produce, a skill in shap-
ing the very thought which yields the right
result. . . . Wisdom is essential in the making
of a soul. If a man lacks wisdom, then he has
no heart. . . . Wisdom is the faculty of the
whole of the soul, just as the will is the direc-
tion of the whole of the soul.1
While European psychology regards action as ex-
ternal to the soul--the end product of ideation, feeling,
volition and resolution--the Hebrew emphasis on the unity
of the soul entails that mental processes are unified.
Actions are implicit in mental activity. There is no
dualism of thought and action. Actions trace the soul's
movements, hence the Hebrew notion of "ways."
The action and its accomplishment are a matter
of course, once the thought is there. . . . As
soon as the thought is fixed, the action is at
once a matter of course. This kind of fixed
thought the Israelite calls cēsā, counsel.2
. . . Wisdom . . consists in the very possession
of the "insight" out of which one creates the
power to make counsels that persist. . . . The
wisdom of God consists in his irresistible fulfill-
ment of what he has in his mind. Wisdom is the
same as blessing: the power to work to succeed.3
. . . Characteristic is such a word as hiśkīl,
which at the sane time signifies to have under-
trans. A. Møller and A. I. Fausbell in collaboration with
the Author, 4 parts (London: Oxford University Press, 1926-
1940; reprint 1959), pp. 127 f., 198.
1Pedersen, Israel, p. 127.
2Pedersen, Israel, p. 128.
3Pedersen, Israel, p. 198.
standing, insight, energy and the production of
good results. Sometimes stress may be laid so
strongly on the inner activity that the thought
of outward action is eclipsed (e.g. Deut. 32, 29).
But as a rule the idea of the totality prevails
so strongly that it means to be wise and happy,
and we are not able to say where the emphasis is
Rather than speak of attitude, we could perhaps
more accurately say that for Pedersen wisdom is a form of
consciousness or subjectivity. It is a type of inten-
tionality or disposition without which the entire personality
is irremediably distorted.2 Thus aspects of von Rad's posi-
tion in Weisheit in Israel fit within this analytical cate-
gory: specifically, his phenomenology of wisdom.3
Without doing great violence to the concept, one
might also amend the notion of order from a sought-for
structure in the world of experience to a type or dimension
of consciousness. If it be too much to say that the wise
are systematic in their approach to comprehending reality,
their drive toward understanding (Erkenntniswille) is at
least structured and orderly. One might also find a psy-
chological equivalent of the mythic confrontation between
order and chaos: the conflict between the will to deal
coherently with experience (wisdom) and the passionate
1Pedersen, Israel, p. 198.
2Pedersen, Israel, pp. 198 ff.
3Esp. pp. 39-41, 400.
devotion (read: surrender) to forces within experience,
subjectively and objectively (folly).1
In a sense, terms like "rational," "pragmatic,"
and "eudaimonistic" are far more satisfactory as attitudinal
or psychological categories than as descriptions of wisdom
thought, especially because of the danger of anachronism or
cultural misinterpretation. Again, with von Rad and
Pedersen, we should pay attention to the subjective and
intentional dimensions of wisdom. The notion of world-
view implies a perspective toward and (dialectic) rela-
tionship with the world.
6. Wisdom is a social or transsocial ideal. Under
our subsequent rubric, wisdom typology, we shall briefly
note the portraits of the ideal wise man offered in Tobit,
ben Sirah, Ahiikar and elsewhere. At least part of our
problem specifying what wisdom really is comes from the
fact that wisdom often takes on an idealistic character
which is difficult to compass under thought, attitude or
The ideal wise man is not superhuman, though such
a concatenation of virtues in any one person is highly im-
probable. The wise person enjoys a divine charism which
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 364-405.
is attributable to his virtue, not to any specific good
deed or deeds. If von Rad is right that the Joseph story
is wisdom, then these figures assume epic proportions. The
postulated doctrine of retributive justice figures prom-
inently here. The importance of the wisdom equation of
good with wise and evil with folly can hardly be over-
stated. Exactly what is it about the act which calls forth
the appropriate consequence? The disharmony between the
act and the established order of the world, it is often
asserted, leads inevitably to harsh results, even ruin.
The wise are not depicted as faultless paragons of im-
peccable morality, however, nor is the fateful choice among
evils unknown to them. Retribution seems to be tied to what
we shall come to call "character" or "disposition" and in-
clude under the rubric of intentionality. Still, the in-
choate idealistic dimension to wisdom cannot be ignored.
Wisdom as a social ideal--reflecting the aspirations and
ideology of a class or caste--stands in constant tension with
wisdom as a realized intentionality, a formal system of
thought, and a disciplined pattern of conduct.1
1Gerhard von Rad, "Josephsgeschichte and Ältere
Chokma," in Congress Volume [of the International Organi-
zation for the Study of the Old Testament]: Copenhagen,
1953, Vetus Testamentum Supplements, vol. 1 (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1953), pp. 120-27; von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp.
355-63; von Rad, Old Testament Theology 2:301-15; Crenshaw,
"Wisdom," pp. 135-37; George W. Coats, "The Joseph Story
and Ancient Wisdom: A Reappraisal," Catholic Biblical
7. Wisdom is the distinctive property of a
specific social group. Something of this category is al-
ready present in the attempts of Zimmerli, Gese and others
to reduce the conflicts between optimistic and pessimistic
wisdom to family disputes.1
. . . Gegenüber dieser Annahme einer Zweigesichtig-
keit der Weisheit ist es wohl verständnisvoller,
in dieser Gegensätzlichkeit eine Auseinandersetzung
innerhalb der Lehre der Weisheit zu suchen, die
beiden Gruppen historisch aufeinander zu beziehen
und im Prediger eine späte Ausbildung der
ursprünglich "optimistischen" Weisheit zu finden.2
Gese expressly rejects any thought of Standesethik
in either Egyptian or Hebrew wisdom. They are "eine Lehre
für die Erziehung eines jeden im Volke,"3 not the instruc-
tions of a restricted social group. Gese seeks for the
origins of Israelite sayings within popular or folk wisdom.4
If this view should prevail, then any relationship between
Quarterly 35 (July 1973):285-97; George W. Coats, From
Canaan to Egypt: Structural and Theological Context for the
Joseph Story, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series,
vol. 4, ed. Bruce Vawter (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Bibli-
cal Association of America, 1976).
1Zimmerli, "Struktur," pp. 177-204; Zimmerli,
"Place and Limit," pp. 146-58; Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit,
pp. 21-45; Robert Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages: Es-
says in Biblical Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1971), pp. 160-97.
2Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 1-2.
3Gese, Lehre and Wirklichkeit, p. 30.
4Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 29-31.
the wisdom literature and a particular social class be-
comes purely adventitious. That a literature, especially
an oral one, requires literature-preservers to transmit it
on is a historical and social necessity, not a statement
The last point may be an untenable distinction.
Are we not only permitted but entitled to draw conclusions
or inferences about the relationship between a literature
and the identifiable social group which worked to preserve
it and transmit it on? Do groups, with any significant
frequency, involve themselves in preserving works that lack
some salience or affinity for them? Moreover, the evidence
educed by much modern scholarship seems to support a rela-
tionship. First, the popular origin of even some of the
wisdom writings, e.g., the sayings collections, can easily
be denied. Formal, rhetorical and theological considera-
tions seem to bar folk origin for virtually all of the
wisdom literature, even that long regarded as popular or
as Sippenweisheit.1 Second, even apart from the question
1Roland E. Murphy, "The Interpretation of Old Testa-
ment Wisdom Literature," Interpretation 23 (July 1969):
289-301; R. B. Y. Scott, "Priesthood, Prophecy, Wisdom, and
Knowledge of God," Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (March
1961):1-15; Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, pp. 15-52; Gordis,
Poets, Prophets, and Sages, pp. 160-97; von Rad, Weisheit
in Israel, pp. 39-53. See Erhard Gerstenberger, Wesen und
Herkunft des "Apodiktischen Rechts," Wissenschaftliche
Monographien zum Alten and Neuen Testament, vol. 20
of absolute origin, the wisdom material was adopted, used
and preserved by a fairly restricted social group.1 Appli-
cation seems a legitimate basis for inference. Third,
McKane and others find a distinct social group, the
“hiakamîm," for whom these writings would have had peculiarly
appropriate relevance. Whether this group is identical with
or directly related to the scribal class remains to be
Once popular origin and application are called into
question, resolving the social location of wisdom becomes
all-important to understanding it. For McKane, wisdom is
clearly the product of a restricted social class.
(Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1965) , pp. 117-30.
Cf. William F. Albright, "Some Canaanite-Phoenician Sources
of Hebrew Wisdom," in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient Near
East, pp. 1-15; Christa Bauer-Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien
1-9: Eine Form- und Motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung unter
Einbeziehung Agyptischen Vergleichsmaterials, Wissenschatt-
liche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament, vol. 22
(Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1966); Christa
Bauer-Kayatz, Einführung in die Alttestainentliche Weisheit,
Biblische Studien, vol. 55 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener
Verlag, 1969), pp. 13-21; Henri Cazelles, "Les Debuts de la
Sagesse en Israel," in Sagesses du Proche-Orient Ancien,
1McKane, Prophets and Wise Men; Wolfgang
Richter, Recht und Ethos: Versuch einer Ortung des
Weisheitlichen Mannspruches, Etudien zum Alten und Neuen
Testament, vol. 15 (Munich: Kösel-Verlag, 1966) , pp. 183-
92; Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, pp. 15-52.
2McKane, Prophets and Wise Men; McKane, Proverbs,
[Wisdom] is empirical in its spirit, with an
emphasis on intellectual rather than ethical
values and so well adapted to the hard realities
of statecraft and government. Its practitioners
were therefore pre-eminently an elite who were
in the higher echelons of government and adminis-
tration and . . . the literature of this wisdom
was directed particularly towards the training
of statesmen, diplomats and administrators in the
schools whose educational discipline was shaped
to this end.1
The wisdom literature is, for the most part,
a product not of full-time men of letters and
academics, but of men of affairs in high places
of state, and the literature in some of its forms
bears the marks of its close association with
those who exercise the skills of statecraft.2
Their posture in life, the intellectual position
whereby they conduct. the business of state, is best de-
scribed as humanism, according to McKane. They are edu-
cated and disciplined to “attain to such a mental grasp
and delicacy of judgment as to be consistently clear
thinkers, perceptive policy-makers and incisive men of
action, poised between the extremes of impetuousity.and
Interestingly, McKane expressly disagrees with
von Rad, holding that the wise are well aware of a possible
conflict between wise counsel and the Word of Yahweh.
Their world was not amenable to religious assumptions or
1McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, p. 17.
2McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, p. 44.
3McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, p. 46.
In their professional capacity they thought it
right to challenge the encroachment of religious
authority on their sphere of responsibility, for
they argued that they had to reckon realistically
with the world as it was and not as it ought to
Gordis, too, locates wisdom within a social elite.
He shares Gese's view that, behind apparent disagreements
within wisdom, lie highly significant shared understand-
. . . Wisdom Literature . . . was fundamentally
the product of the upper classes in society, who
lived principally in the capital, Jerusalem. Some
were engaged in large-scale foreign trade, or were
tax-farmers. . . . Most of them were supported by
the income of their country estates. . . . This
patrician group was allied by marriage with the
high-priestly families and the higher government
officials. . . .
. . . The upper classes were conservative in
their outlook, basically satisfied with the status
quo and opposed to change. Their conservatism ex-
tended to every sphere of life and permeated
their religious ideas as well as their social,
economic and political attitudes. What is most
striking is that this basic conservatism is to be
found among the unconventional Wisdom teachers as
well. Though they were independent spirits who
found themselves unable to accept the convenient
assumptions of their class that all was right
with the world, they reflect even in their revolt
the social stratum from which the had sprung
or with which they had identified themselves.4
1McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, pp. 53-54.
2McKane, Prophets and. Wise Men, p. 47.
3Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, pp. 160-63.
4Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, pp. 162-63.
In Gordis' view, the wise are pre-eminently
teachers in the academies in the larger cities. They seek
to educate the scions of the wealthy, those with the
leisure and resources to enjoy learning. Their aim is
selective, even if they coopted some gifted few from the
poor, for they trained their students for the exigencies
of upper class life. Their ethic reflects that objective.
They retained retributionism, having no strong motive for
rejecting it, but their leisure offered them the oppor-
tunity to develop a sceptical literature. Despair is a
peculiar vice of the well-to-do. The presence of scepti-
cism in wisdom merely reinforces the likelihood of its
location among the social elite. The summum bonum of life
is achieving practical success and economic prosperity.
The utilitarian and prudential wisdom ethic offers the
best means to attain that goal.1
Hermisson also sets wisdom within the school. He re-
gards the skills of reading and writing as far more widely
distributed than Gordis or some other scholars, though not
universal. He notes the presence of works like Sinuhe and
the Succession Narrative in the literatures of the ancient
Near East. They could hardly have been intended for a few
select readers, let alone deposition in musty archives,
1Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, pp. 160-97.
While advanced training might have been restricted to high
administrators and public officials, skilled artisans and
argicultural supervisors doubtless required some minimal
literacy to carry out their duties effectively.1
Hermisson thinks that an academic setting for wis-
dom is indisputable. Wisdom is didactic and pedagogic,
though non-wisdom works like romances and travelogues may
have emanated from the same group. Some sort of
Standesethik seems unavoidable. Hebrew wisdom is intended
to be broad and general in its application. It is not
aimed at some particular favored group.2
If the wisdom writings strictly understood are
centered within a delimitable social group and if they
constitute merely one aspect of their social life, perhaps
even relatively unimportant in historical context, then our
understanding of wisdom changes materially.3
1Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, Fp. 113-36.
2Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, pp. 94-96; Richter,
Recht und Ethos, pp. 183-92; Kovacs, "Class Ethic?'
3As we examine the world-view underlying and im-
plicit in Proverbs IIb, we shall have to evaluate its
social location carefully. The disagreements here are
astounding: from popular to elite; from common oral tra-
dition, later codified, to the artistic product of indi-
vidual reflection; from reflection to didactic material
for academic reflection.
8. Wisdom is a social force. We mentioned earlier
von Rad's view that 'wisdom' is a unifying analytical ab-
straction. It brings together what was far less unified
in historical context and what the Hebrews perceived far
more concretely as well.1 Going beyond von Rad, we might
argue that wisdom is to be distinguished neither by some
specific sets of views nor by location in some determin-
able social setting. Rather, wisdom represents a broad
social movement of successively different groups with a
variety of views, all attempting to achieve a common
series of social goals, some explicit and some implicit.
What justifies calling something wisdom is the scholar's
subsequent determination that this writing, idea or group
contributed to a broad attempt to reach certain social and
intellectual objectives within the context of Hebrew his-
When wisdom is understood as humanism or as the
quest for a certain kind of knowledge, this analytic cate-
gory may come into play. There are certainly sound philo-
sophical reasons for arguing that one may be able to name
what he cannot define. Some perceived patterns have no
universally common elements. Wittgenstein proponed the
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 19.
2Scott, "Knowledge of God," p. 11; Rankin, pp. 1-4;
Weinfeld, Deuteronomy, pp. 162-64.
notion of 'game' as a classic case in point.1 Perhaps the
search for a specific social group or some determinable
point of view violates Whitehead's Fallacy of Misplaced
Concretion.2 Because we can discern a pattern and have
given it a name for analytical purposes, we incorrectly
assume that the concept has or stands for some reality
beyond that pattern. The pattern exists only as an in-
ference, a hermeneutic interpretation, of the researcher.
We search for more reality in the term than is justifiably
there. In a sense, we approach Moore's Paradox of Analysis
from another direction here. Perhaps we can classify as a
scholarly interpretation what we cannot define independent
of that interpretation.
We are not saying, however, that we cannot clearly
and unambiguously determine, let alone state, the position
of a particular group or individual at a particular time.
That task is potentially independent of the other. His-
torical evidence can be sorted. Conclusions can be drawn,
apart from inferring that certain works or movements have
a socio-historical affinity which we may attribute to them.
1Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations,
trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, 3d ed.; New York: Macmillan
Company, 1958), pp. 67, 77, 108.
2Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An
Essay in Cosmology, Academic Library of Harper Torchbooks
(New York: Harper & Row, 1957), p. 11.
Two points follow, if this category is not to be
reduced to one of the others. First, wisdom may be dis-
tinguishable as a succession of individuals, schools or
groups whose overlapping views developed and changed
through time, even radically. "Social force" may be un-
derstood as historical movement. Second, the relationship
which sustains this movement is a role in the intellectual,
political and social economy of the time. Its identifica-
tion and its implications are what the historian qua his-
torian must state fully. This category and the next are
9. Wisdom is a theological concept or theological
movement. The two senses are related. In the former,
wisdom is one aspect of the total divine revelation to
Israel. Wisdom thought and wisdom movement are the means
of its revelation. What is important however is the theo-
logical significance of wisdom for the Hebrews understand-
ing of their relationship to Yahweh.1 In the latter sense,
what unites wisdom is its place within God's progressive
revelation of himself to his people. The views of the
wise constitute one aspect of an adequate theology. The
wise are united by their quest to comprehend what is in
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
pp. 129-42; Crenshaw, “Prolegomenon,” pp. 1-45; Schmid,
Wesen and Geschichte der Weisheit, pp. 1-7.
fact only one aspect of the divine revelation.1
Both senses generally entail that wisdom is being
understood in terms of a theology of the Hebrew scriptures.
Wisdom, and the revelation received through the wisdom
movement, thereby play a part in some kind of theologizing
by the investigating scholar. The historical research
functions as theological interpretation, hermeneutic. We
cannot properly raise nor hope to deal with the issue of
the validity of Old Testament theology. We find these
approaches in both Jacob and Eichrodt, who each discuss
the wisdom movement under the rubric “the wisdom of God.”2
For Jacob, wisdom as a concept expresses "the
universality of [God's] knowledge and the omnipotence of
his deeds."3 In practical terms, “the wisdom of God
shines in his works and mainly in the creation whose order
and harmony are a clear witness to it.”4 Wisdom is closely
related to discernment of good and evil, discrimination and
1Edmond Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, trans.
Arthur W. Heathcote and Philip J. Allcock (New York: Harper
& Row, 1958) , pp. 118-20, 251-53; Walther Eichrodt, Theology
of the Old Testament, trans. J. A. 3aker, Old Testament
Library, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961,
1967), 2:80-92, 490-95.
2Jacob, p. 118; Eichrodt, Theology of the Old
3Jacob, p. 118.
4Jacob, p. 118.
the art of success. Personified, this wisdom which "reigns
in nature should also preside over God's directing of human
This wisdom movement also has theological signifi-
cance for Jacob:
By regarding man independently of all national
attachment, as a creature governed by certain
elementary laws quite well summarized by the
term righteousness, the wisdom movement affirms
the universality of God in opposition to the
restrictions which the covenant and the law,
manifestations of a jealous God, ran the risk
of introducing. However, . . . it is the
legalist current which ended by absorbing the
wisdom current. . . . 2
Eichrodt argues that wisdom functions to enable
Israel to assimilate what it has learned from other nations
to the needs of its own special revelation. At its best,
wisdom provides a link between all men's quest for truth
1Jacob,. p. 119.
2Jacob, p. 119. Elsewhere.(p. 253), Jacob continues:
“. . . Moses never succeeded in ousting Solomon com-
pletely; by deliberately taking the great syncretist
king as their patron, the wisdom writers set out to
strike a universalist note which will allow Judaism
to become, despite the barrier of the torah, a
The wise, as dispensers of knowledge under its
cognitive aspect, but especially under its practical
aspect, are one of the channels through which God's
presence is communicated to men, and even though
their person itself lacks the religious prestige at-
taching to the king, to the priest and to the prophet,
they are none the less a sign, in view of the time
when all men will be taught by the author of all
wisdom (Jer. 31.34; Is. 54.13)."
and the Old Testament understanding of God.
Yet this assimilation to alien truth did in-
deed conceal dangers. The more important the
divine Wisdom discernible in Nature became, the
easier it was to suppose that from that starting-
point one could arrive at a rational understand-
ing of God accessible even to the heathen. And
the greater the confidence that wisdom could
achieve this goal, the more quickly were men
ready to expect from her a solution to the rest
of life's riddles as well.1
Early wisdom was unprejudiced in its borrowing;
the Hebrews awoke to the realization that other nations had
a share in the deposit of truth. This awareness challenged
chauvinism and "ossification" of the intellect.2 Yet, this
assimilation ignored "the necessary differences between
the basis in morals in Israel and other nations."3 Later
wisdom, rising when Israel was a theocracy under Persia,
was selective, choosing those elements in keeping with
Israel's own nature and refusing to surrender their cul-
tural heritage. This "new flowering of wisdom" includes
Proverbs 1-9, Job, Qoheleth, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and
the Wisdom of Solomon. Eichrodt is most interested in
this later, specifically hebraized, wisdom, in which "the
concept of wisdom has been radically expanded."4
lEichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:87.
2Eichrodt, Theology of the Old' Testament, 2:82.
3Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:82.
4Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:83.
Wisdom has become either hypostasized or extended
to "the purposes and order discernible in the cosmos."1
As a vehicle of revelation, this wisdom ran many of the
same risks as the earlier. The impetus for it, Eichrodt
believes, may have come from the artistic exaggeration of
wisdom diction and from the search of the wise for an
authority to rank with the prophetic Word and the Spirit
This literature does criticize its own potential
excesses Job 28 counters the belief that one can attain
total comprehension of Wisdom from creation.
. . . . God's wisdom is not placed in its entirety
within Man's grasp for him to read off from the
works of creation alone. Because Man can discover
only traces of Wisdom, but never Wisdom herself,
therefore there remain riddles in the course of
the universe which Man cannot plumb, but can only
accept in awe and adoration before the all-wise
Equation of the fear of God with the beginning of
wisdom, the yr't-yhwh, means not simply beginning but "its
chief ingredient, its essence, its germ.4 Strictly speak-
ing, wisdom belongs only to Yahweh. In its most developed
hypostasis, Wisdom becomes indistinguishable from Spirit.
1Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:83.
2Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:86.
3Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:88.
4Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:89.
They "easily combine to form a homogeneous concept," which
gets in the way of clear explication.1 These writers never
developed a systematic organization of hypostases.
10. Wisdom is a mythos. Like Jolles, Schmid sets
forth the view that wisdom is something quite different
from myth.2 It has a different view of history and another
perspective on man's relationship to the world. Certainly
this position is consistent with the widely accepted posi-
tion that at the least wisdom and myth have nothing to do
with one another; they may even be perceived as somewhat
antagonistic modes of thinking. Hypostatic wisdom suggests,
and personified wisdom virtually requires, some sort of
mythos to explain its relation to Yahweh, to creation and
Ringgren carefully distinguishes hypostasis from
personification. Hypostasis means attributing some sort of
independent existence to the attributes, elements or char-
acteristics of a divine being. Personification goes beyond
hypostasis by giving those entities personal characteristics.
A hypostasis is not necessarily a personification. An
lEichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:91.
2Jolles, pp. 75-103, 124-40; Schmid; Wesen und
Geschichte der Weisheit, pp. 3-5.
3Schmid, Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, pp.
example of the kind of personification that might derive
from an unknown mythos is I Enoch 42:1-3. Wisdom searched
the earth for a hospitable place to dwell among men. She
found none, and returned to heaven where a special seat was
made for her. Unrighteousness, on the other hand, found
satisfactory lodging on the earth.1 We should remember,
though, that I Enoch is late, dating sometime after 94 BCE.
Rankin typifies the dominant view that such personifica-
tions derive from Persian, Greek and other foreign influ-
ence (the Iranian Amisha Spentas?), and are prima facie
evidence of lateness.2
Recently, Christa Bauer-Kayatz' study of Proverbs
1-9 has called this position into question. She argues
that at least Proverbs 8 is clearly dependent on Egyptian
influences. Maat exists hypostasized much earlier in
Egypt than the proposed Greek or Persian forebears of
hypostasized or personified Hebrew Wisdom. Further,
Egyptian scribal influences go back in Israel to early
times. Scribes presumably brought both Egyptian patterns
of scribal training and the international classics with
them to their new posts in Israel. Their literacy,
1Helmer Ringgren, Word and Wisdom: Studies in the
Hypostatization of Divine Qualities and Functions in the
Ancient Near East (Lund: Håkan Ohlssons Boktryckeri, 1947),
pp. 133 ff.
2Rankin, pp. 222-64.
administrative duties and linguistic fluency would have
given them access to wide-ranging foreign intellectual and
theological developments. To restrict the hypostasizing
and personification of wisdom to post-Exilic times lacks
sound historical foundation. Such figures could appear
quite early among the Hebrews. If Kayatz' analogy with
Maat is valid, then we must include in it as well the pos-
sibility of some Hebrew analogue to the Egyptian mythos
that incorporates Maat.1
Albright and Cazelles both look to Canaanite pre-
cursors of Hebrew Wisdom. Albright opines that Proverbs
"teems with isolated Canaanitisms.2 The rare "hikmt,"
which appears three times in Proverbs 1-9, may be analogous
to the Phoenician Milkot, "Queen," and therefore the name
of a deity.3 The seven-pillared house resembles a third-
millennium structure that was very late dedicated to
Cyprian Aphrodite. The precursor of the Wisdom figure in
Proverbs 1-9 may well be a Canaanite goddess, according to
1Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien 1-9; Kayatz,
Einführung, pp. 70-92.
2Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," p. 9.
3Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," pp. 8-9;
cf. Cazelles, "Sagesse en Israel," p. 37.
4Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," p. 9;
Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom,
Both Albright and Cazelles point out the Ugaritic
application of "hikm" to El. "Thy command; O El, is wise,
Thy Wisdom lasts for ever, A life of good fortune is thy
command."1 Proverbs 8:22-24 may reflect Canaanite imagery:
El created Wisdom before conquering the dragon or estab-
lishing his house.2 Such an analysis, if valid, clearly
requires an underlying mythos.
While the evidence for Canaanite influence is not
great, the Egyptian parallels cannot easily be dismissed.
Both Gese and Schmid have emphasized the analogy of maat
to the Hebrew sidqh, righteousness.3 The opposition of
divine order and primeval chaos in and of itself suggests
mythic motifs. We cannot quickly dismiss the notion of
The next two analytical categories are closely re-
lated to methodology. The two are distinct in about the
same way form and content are. In practice, the distinction
Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, vol, 1
(Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America,
1971), pp. 9-14.
1Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," pp. 7-9;
Cazelles, "Sagesse en Israel," pp. 35-39.
2Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," p. 7-
3Gese, Lehre und Wirklichkeit, pp. 11-21, 29-50;
Schmid, Gerechtigkeit, p. 68.
4Schmid, Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, pp.
tends to be less obvious. Obviously an adequate discus-
sion of either would involve us in a lengthy methodological
discussion. We must instead be brief.
11. Wisdom is a series of motifs. In this sense,
we may speak of the priestly and prophetic adoption of
wisdom imagery. The metaphor, image or phrase may be
typical of wisdom writings; the nuance remains unswervingly
prophetic, priestly or historical. The spread of motifs
seems to show intellectual influence, but only to the ex-
tent that the image can still be considered wisdom in
nature if not origin.1 The generally unresolved question
of motif study in wisdom is, what relationship obtains
between a motif and its borrower? Was the image still
identifiably part of a larger wisdom mode of thought and
perception, or had it become so much a part of the in-
herited conglomerate that its wisdom origins were no longer
discernible to nor intended by its users?
Even a partial list of such motifs would have to
include the Zwillingformen (Antitheses), the passionate
versus the cool man, the reserved and silent man, the Wis-
dom-figure, the ‘yšh zrh or foreign woman, the sagacious
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
pp. 133-34; McKane, Proverbs, pp. 5-6; cf. Hermisson,
Spruchweisheit, pp. 88 n. 3, 43; Whybray, Intellectual
Tradition, pp. 71-72.
king, the charismatic interpreter of dreams, the grateful
dead, the angel-companion, the conflict of evils, the
divine wager (God and the Advocate), the ryb or Joban
(i.e., theodical) lawsuit, the suffering innocent, the
scribal Standesethik, father and son/teacher and pupil,
the satire of occupations, Weltschmerz, the resigned man,
the wise courtier, the man of low estate shown favor be-
cause of his virtue, the debate or Streitgespräch concern-
ing good and evil, "deus disponit," the callow youth, and
what we shall call below the “proprieties.”1
12. Wisdom is a collection of forms. Essentially
the same questions apply here as for motifs. Granted that
some forms seem to have indisputable wisdom settings and
applications, however defined, what does it mean when a
form has both wisdom and overtly non-wisdom applications?
Some wisdom forms would be fables, riddles, numerical and
alphabetical sayings, rhetorical questions, admonitions,
instructions, ironic sayings, disputations over injustice
1The elaboration of these motifs complements the
theological and form-critical analyses of von Rad in
Weisheit in Israel and Schmid in Wesen and Geschichte der
Weisheit; see also Preuss, "Weisheitsliteratur," pp. 393-
417: Michael V. Fox, “Aspects of the Religion of the Book
of Proverbs,” Hebrew College Annual, vol. 39 (Cin-
cinnati: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion,
“Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in Ancient Near Eastern Legal
and Wisdom Literature,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 21
(1962) :129-39; Schmid, Gerechtigkeit.
or Streitgespräche and the ryb, the mashal, apothegms,
maxims, proverbs, by-words, blasons populaires, "wellerisms,"
perhaps romances and novellas, perhaps summary-appraisals,
certain types of drama, tiwb-mn sayings, 'šry sayings, bny
sayings, Wisdom mythoi and satires.1
13. 'Wisdom' is the English equivalent of the
Hebrew root *hikm. Suffice it to say that terms in dif-
ferent languages seldom if ever have the same semantic
field--cover the same range of meanings--or serve the same
syntactic functions. The equation is one of convenience.
Other terms both in Hebrew and English share important ele-
ments of the same semantic field. In the wisdom litera-
ture, some terms appear with striking frequency; others
have undeniable technical applications. Von Rad points
out, however, the virtual impossibility of adequately com-
prehending the common intellectual ground of the wise
through a study of their vocabulary.
Zweifellos liesse sich eine Reihe von Begriffen
zusammenstellen, deren Verwendung in den Lehrüber-
lieferungen besonders auffällt; aber es wäre u. E.
ein aussichtloses Unterfangen, über eine Analyse
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 41-73; Johannes
Schmidt, Studien zur Stilistik der Alttestamentlichen
Spruchliteratur, Alttestamentliche Abhandlungen, vol. 13,
no. I (Münster: Aschendorffschen Buchhandlung, 1936);
Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 229-62; A. Taylor, The Proverb
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931).
ihrer spezifischen Inhalte and über die Art ihrer
Verwendung zu einigermassen tragfähigen Erkenntnissen
zu gelangen. Die überlieferungsgeschichtliche
Betrachtung alttestamentlicher Texte hat uns gezeigt,
wie innerhalb gewisser Traditionsströme kultischer,
rechtlicher oder didaktischer Art gewisse Begriffe
zwar in grosser Zähigkeit durchgegeben werden, weil
sie terminologisch konstitutiv waren, dass sie aber
damit eine grosse Beweglichkeit ihrer Bedeutung
Both Barr and Nida have raised serious questions
about the validity of Begriffsgeschichten for this kind of
historical study. It is extremely doubtful that the person
using the term even knew the historical background of the
term he used, much less its scientifically accurate lin-
guistic history. Consider, for example, the Cratylus.
Further, people do not consider the entire semantic field
of a term when they use it for a specific purpose. Ex-
traneous non-functional meanings are not prima facie rele-
vant, except perhaps in a certain psychological sense which
has doubtful historical application. People select a term
on the basis of its functional meanings: the way people
are actually using the word at that time. They seldom
consider the peculiarities of its intellectual, conceptual
or linguistic history, even when these are known.2
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 25.
2James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961); James Barr, "Hy-
postatization of Linguistic Phenomena in Modern Theological
To counter these objections, some scholars have
turned to semasiology. They argue that the relevant
semantic field should be regarded as that used in a par-
ticular body of literature, usually the Old Testament.
For biblical study, the pertinent senses of a word are
those actually used by biblical writers in the language.1
This approach is valid if one accepts one of two proposi-
tions. Either there is a common determinable religious
history and tradition in which a given word had a particu-
lar intended special application, or there is a common the-
ology uniting disparate works for which this term is rele-
vant. At least for wisdom, we do not see how the former
can be asserted with confidence. Fohrer, for example, has
shown how the technical terminology of wisdom varies among
different works.2 The second proposition reflects the
Interpretation," Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962):85-
94; Eugene A. Nida, "Implications of Contemporary Linguis-
tics for Biblical Scholarship," Journal of Biblical Litera-
ture 91 (March 1972):73-89.
1Cf. James Barr, "Semantics and Biblical Theology--
A Contribution to the Discussion," Congress Volume: Uppsala
1971, International Organization for Old Testament Study,
Vetus Testamentum Supplements, vol- 22 (Leiden: E. J. Brill,
1972), pp. 11-19; Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 74-76.
2Georg Fohrer, "Die Weisheit im Alten Testament,"
Studien zur Alttestamentlichen Theologie and Geschichte
(1949-1966), Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft, vol. 115 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter and
Company, 1969), pp. 243-74.
issue of Old Testament theology, stated in another form.
Von Rad adds another important objection that also
applies to this discussion of semasiology.
Es ist eine Tatsache, dass Israel auch in seinen
theoretischen Reflexionen keineswegs nit einem
einigermassen präzisen Begriffsapparat arbeitet.
Es war an der Herausarbeitung ordentlich definierter
Begriffe erstaunlich wenig interessiert, denn es
verfügte über andere Möglichkeiten, eine Aussage zu
präzisieren, z. B. den Parallelismus membrorum, der
jeden redlichen Begriffsanalytiker zur Verzweiflung
Still, if we cannot expect Begriffsgeschichten to
give us an adequate understanding of wisdom thought, an
understanding of the technical terminology of wisdom and
the semantic field of *hikm orients us within the linguistic
setting of the wisdom writers, perhaps locating some neces-
sary uncertainties as well. Table 1 in the Appendix pre-
sents a summary of this semantic data.2.
1Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, p. 25. Von Rad of-
fers Proverbs 8:12 as an example. The roots are *hikm,
*crm, *ydc and *zmm.
2Tables 2-6 in the Appendix present related
semantic data and interpretations; see Fohrer, "Weisheit
im Alten Testament," pp. 243-74; von Rad, Weisheit in
Israel, p. 75.
A WISDOM TYPOLOGY
The proverb collections, if that is what they are,
constitute only one of a number of different wisdom forms
that have been proposed or identified. Their postulated
location within the scribal schools or, alternatively,
within the professional literature of government officials
stands alongside a variety of possible settings for wisdom
thought and forms of expression. The-historical develop-
ment from individual mashal to general collection is hardly
less difficult to establish than the history of wisdom
Gese, Gemser, Schmid and others have challenged
accepted theories of wisdom's origins. They raise ques-
tions about such accepted concepts as folk origins for
wisdom, scribal mediation, theologization, democratization
and nationalism.1 Albright, Ringgren, Cazelles, and Bauer-
Kayatz raise doubts about the accepted criteria for dis-
tinguishing early wisdom from late. They have suggested
alternative scenarios for the historical development of wisdom
1Gemser, "Spiritual Structure," pp. 138-49; Schmid,
Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, pp. 1-7; Gese, Lehre
und Wirklichkeit, pp. 7-11.
which make relating different kinds of wisdom in terms of
some postulated historical process an often precarious
affair.1 It would, therefore, be helpful to have some
idea of the other kinds of wisdom, as well as the social
settings that seem appropriate to them.
Such a typology provides us with a standard of com-
parison. Some kinds of wisdom seem so drastically unlike
the mashal literature that it is difficult to know what the
common ground might be, except in the most general of terms.
Such a situation might develop, for example, if wisdom were
in fact not a single body or system of thought but a group
of historically-related or similarly-oriented social groups.
From the linguistic analysis above, we might have to con-
cede instead that the Hebrews applied the terms 'wisdom'
and 'wise' to a variety of distinct social-phenomena. Still,
we should allow for the possibility that other types of wis-
dom may have close affinities to the mashal, though they
may lack the specific two-line mashal form.
The typology may also establish limits to the al-
ternatives we may plausibly propose for the mashal litera-
ture. Barr's objection to certain kinds of linguistic
1Albright, "Canaanite-Phoenician Sources," pp. 1-15;
Ringgren, Word and Wisdom, p. 49; Helmer Ringgren, Israelite
Religion, trans. David E. Green (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1966), pp. 126-50, passim; Cazelles, "Sagesse en
Israel," pp. 27-40; Bauer-Kayatz, Proverbien 1-9.
conjecture applies to wisdom study in some important
respects. He argues that some scholars are too hasty in
postulating new meanings for known terms on the basis of
comparative linguistics and Begriffsgeschichten. We look
for unknown meanings of perfectly acceptable words, rather
than attempting to construe a syntax whose awkwardness may
be a reflection of the inadequacy of our grammatical un-
derstanding. As a result, if some Hebrew words bore any-
thing like the possible range of meanings that scholars
have seriously proposed for them at one time or another,
they would have been incomprehensible and semantically use-
less to the speakers of the language. Hebrew would have
been hopelessly inefficient as a means of communication.
Mutual understanding would have been an impossibility.1
Similarly, there is a practical limit to the
varieties of wisdom that could have existed historically.
Israel could have supported only a limited number of com-
peting wisdom groups or parties, for economic, social, re-
ligious and intellectual reasons.2 Equally, 'wisdom' can
1Barr, "Linguistic Phenomena," pp. 85-94; Barr,
"Semantics and Biblical Theology," pp. 11-19; Barr, Se-
mantics of Biblical Language; Nida, "Implications," pp.
2Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, pp. 160-97;
Dürr, Erziehungswesen; Brunner, Altägyptische Erziehung;
Albright, "Teacher to a Man of Shechem" (!) ; Williams,
"Scribal Training," pp. 214-21; Urbach; Scott, "Priesthood,"
pp. 1-15; Gerstenberger, Wesen and Herkunft, pp. 117-30;
compass only so large a semantic field before, as Barr
contends, it becomes effectively vacuous.1
One cannot make sense of the mashal literature
apart from other kinds of wisdom. Together, they must
make social—as well as intellectual and theological—
The following list of types is intended to sketch
the range of wisdom and its possible settings. Certain of
these types—scribal, folk and royal wisdom--are especially
important for understanding and locating the proverb litera-
ture. The proverb could have originated in the popular
aphorism. The king's wisdom may have formed its archetype;
the royal court may have been its patron. It may have been
put together into collections, to be preserved as the in-
tellectual or didactic property of scribes. Priests,
Richter; Recht and Ethos, pp. 183-92; Hermisson, Spruch-
weisheit, pp. 15-52; McKane, Prophets. and Wise Men; McKane,
Proverbs, pp. 10-22; see Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restora-
tion: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C.,
Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press,
1968); Anson F. Rainey, The Scribe at Ugarit: His Position
and Influence, Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences
and Humanities, vol. 3, no. 4 (Jerusalem: Israel. Academy
of Sciences and Humanities, 1968); Morton Smith, Palestinian
Parties and Politics That Shaped the Old Testament (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1971); compare also the
notion of partisanship within a socially restricted milieu
developed in Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Phila-
delphia: Fortress Press, 1975); also, Duesberg and Fransen,
Scribes Inspirés; Gammie, "Pedagogy."
1Barr, "Linguistic Phenomena," pp. 85-94; Barr,
"Semantics and Biblical Theology," pp. 11-19.
prophets and government administrators may all have shared
the training of the academy. They may all have shared its
heritage and traditions, if not its theology.
Precisely because of the difficulties in trying to
relate different kinds of wisdom to one another historically,
our list is not ordered by any assumptions about historical
sequence or some process of evolution. Some types share
many characteristics; we shall try to place them as near
one another as practical.
Our list, however, is neither a history nor a sur-
vey of contemporaneous types. In some cases, we could
properly debate whether those types are wisdom, or whether
in fact they ever existed at all, e.g. apocalyptic wisdom.
Types differ in importance and in the level of confidence
we may assert on their behalf. Finally, this list cannot
be exhaustive; we hope that it is reasonably comprehensive.
With these caveats in mind, we offer the following list of
possible wisdom types.
1. Isolated entities. Here, we refer to wise
animals or plants, not in the context of fables, that ap-
pear within works that otherwise lack any overt wisdom
character. The classic instance of this type is the tree
of knowledge csi hdct tiwb wrc in the J creation story.
If the account does not derive from wisdom historiography,
then the nature of the image and its relation to the story
remain obscure. If tiwb wrc refers to discernment rather
than being a meristic reference to "everything,"1 it would
support von Rad and Stoebe, who give the paradise account
a decided Promethean character. 'Man takes upon himself
the "former" divine authority and the responsibility for
1Elsewhere, tiwb wrc may be taken for hendyadis. It
simply means "everything" or "anything"--the totality of
elements or aspects. Best support for this interpretation
comes from Deuteronomy 1:39, II Samuel 13:22, Genesis 31:
24 and 29, and Genesis 24:50. The expression has no special
technical meaning. It is a merism: the essence is ex-
pressed through its extremes. While the term's association
with the mn-cd form supports this line of argument, other
uses weigh against it. While the tree of life may be a
doublet or theological reinterpretation, in the present
redaction it stands as counterpart to the tree of knowl-
edge; the former is a common wisdom image. Among the
other occurrences, I Kings 3:9 is embedded in a royal wis-
dom context; II Samuel 14:17 is the wisdom of the wise
woman. II Samuel 13:22 and Genesis 31:24, 29 would leave
their protagonists speechless if taken meristically; they
call for the interpretation of non-judgmental or neutral
behavior. The same consideration applies in Genesis 24:50,
where Laban avoids passing any judgment on a word stated to
have come from Yahweh. Isaiah 5:20, 23 clearly refers to
ethical or legal judgment; II Samuel 19:36, the powers of
judgment and discernment. Leviticus 27:12 involves the
decision of a priest. For Stoebe, the term is neither ex-
pressly ethical nor intellectual. It reflects a charac-
teristically J image for the power of self-decision and
self-determination. Von Rad on the other hand amplifies
the element of hubris, while emphasizing the noetic dimen-
sion of the tale. Note also the obvious paronomasia of
crwmym (Genesis 2:25, *cwr, naked) and crm (Genesis 3:1,
*crm, crafty, cunning). Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp.
189, 205, 379-86; von Rad, Old Testament Theology 1:141;
Hans Joachim Stoebe, "Gut and Böse in der Jahwistischen
Quelle des Pentateuch," Zeitschrift für die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft 65 (1954):188-204; Luis Alonzo-Schökel,
“Motivos Sapienciales y de Allianza en Gn 2-3," Biblica 43
(1962):295-316; D. J. A. Clines, "The Tree of Knowledge and
the Law of Yahweh (Psalm XIX)," Vetus Testamentum 24
determining whether something is good for himself or not.
Man's knowledge is not at issue; rather, man decides him-
self what is good.1 The snake makes a dangerous sly in-
terlocutor; note the charism of speech. He obviously
knows enough about the tree (trees?) and about Yahweh to
use that information to his own cunning ends. He exceeds
all other creatures in his slyness. The J writer has
united a mythic, cultic figure with the notion of practical
cunning.2 These two motifs seem isolated in the account.
Still, they may contribute to a wisdom or wisdom influenced
historiography or epic/royal wisdom tale.3 We might also
mention in passing, since it appears in an overt wisdom
context, the enigmatic figure of Tobias' dog, Tobit 5:16.
1Gerhard van Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Old
Testament Library (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961),
p. 94; cf. Ivan Engnell, "'Knowledge' and 'Life' in the
Creation Story," in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient Near East,
pp. 110-17; Susumu Jozaki, “The Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil: Its Theological Implications,” in Kwansei Gakuin
University Annual Studies, vol. 8 (October 1959), pp. 1-18;
E. A.. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and
Notes, Anchor Bible, vol. 1 (Garden City: Doubleday &
Company, 1964), pp. 21-28.
2Von Rad, Genesis, pp. 85-91; von Rad, “Alt-
testamentlichen Schöpfungsglaubens,” pp. 138-47; Odil
Hannes Steck, “Genesis 12:1-3 and die Urgeschichte des
Jahwisten,” Probleme Biblischer Theologie, pp. 525-54;
John A. Bailey, "Initiation and the Primal Doman in
Gilgamesh and Genesis 2-3," Journal of Biblical Literature
89 (June 1970):137-50.
3Engnell, "Creation Story," pp. 102-19.
2. Wise women. Twice in II Samuel--each time in
connection with Joab--we come across references to wise
women. They are competent in speech; they can analyze a
situation and achieve some sort of intelligent compromise
that had formerly appeared unattainable. The first is the
wise woman of Tekoa. She presents David with a parabolic
legal case in order to show him the political consequences
of banishing his son. Though she appears at Joab's be-
hest, she herself artfully arranges a succession of pleas
that wheedle a self-condemnatory judgment from David.1
The wise woman of Abel beth-Maacah saves her city from
Joab's troops. The city has offered sanctuary to Sheba
in his attempt to resist Judah's domination of Israel.
Joab has the city under siege; ramparts against the walls
bode swift victory. The wise woman offers compromise:
not Sheba, but Sheba's head cast over the wall. She ap-
parently convinces the city to accept the agreement through
her wise counsel.2 In both cases, Joab's identification
1The account is interrupted by the woman's paean of
the king's insight—“the king is like the angel of God to
discern good and evil” (14:17)--and concluded by her
panegyric of his royal wisdom--"my, lord has wisdom like the
wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on
the earth" (14:20).
2Significantly, in appealing to Joab, the woman
quotes a popular aphorism, "let them but ask counsel at
Abel” (20:18). Thus, the community is a by-word for its
sagacity, but also for its pragmatic insight: "and so
with or participation in the events is evident.
In the context of II Samuel, the figure of the
wise woman may be a motif of the Deuteronomic historian,
or it may be a motif deriving from his source at this
point. The latter seems the more likely. Whichever, the
image itself appears to be a folk figure. The wise woman
comes from the country. She possesses native shrewdness
and rhetorical ability. She uses her "wisdom" or her
counsel or skillful "wisdom techniques."1 No association
with any organized wisdom movement can or should really be
inferred from such a figure.
One can readily search for other such women, though
their association with the image of the wise woman has to
be inferred. One thinks of the "cunning" of Naomi or
Rebekah, though neither is an anonymous figure. There is
a reference in Jeremiah to women skilled (*hikm) at mourn-
ing:2 this passage probably belongs with skilled artisans
below. In Judges 5:29, the women of the Court are referred
to as wise women who can intuit the meaning of ominous
events.3 The context is obscure and isolated; perhaps the
they settled a matter" (20:18). "Then the woman went to
all the people in her wisdom" (20:22).
1De Boer, p. 60.
29:17 ET, hhikmt.
3“Her wisest ladies make answer, nay, she gives
answer to herself.” De Boer, p. 59.
reference should be classed with royal wisdom. Other re-
mote candidates for the rubric of wise woman might be
Abigail, Judith, Esther (!) and Huldah.
3. Skilled artisan or competent ritualist. Es-
pecially in the later chapters of Exodus, the P writer
consistently predicates "wisdom" in speaking of the skill
of artisans.1 Ezekiel has a reference to wise/skilled
sailors and repairers of leaks.2 On the other hand, both
II Isaiah and the interpolator in Jeremiah describe idols
that have been made by clever (wise) craftsmen.3 Isaiah
3:3 also has a cultic tinge, although Lindblom has doubts.4
Jeremiah's skilled mourners may belong here.5 Except lin-
guistically, wisdom in this sense is wisdom by courtesy,
since it seems to have no association with either a form
of wisdom thinking or some social movement.
4. Folk or popular wisdom. If wisdom be a funda-
mental psychological or spiritual propensity of man (a
1Fohrer, "Weisheit;" pp. 254-55.
2Johannes Lindblom, "Wisdom in the Old Testament
Prophets," in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient Near East, p.
194. Ezekiel 27:8, 9.
3Lindblom, pp. 193-95. Isaiah 40:20; Jeremiah 10:9.
Cf. Fohrer, "Weisheit," pp. 254-55.
5Lindblom, p. 194. Jeremiah 9:16.
Geistesbeschäftigung) insofar as he is human, so that he
formulates insights derived from experience into concise,
expressive and highly metaphorical statements which give
the world a semblance of system and order, then wisdom is
by definition essentially a folk or popular phenomenon.1
Apart from such an argument, however, some wisdom forms
seem to reflect a popular Sitz-im-Leben even though they
may later have been modified to serve other purposes.
Certain sayings—some “proverbial phrases,”
rhetorical questions and metaphors—are either expressly
cited from popular usage or have such striking imagery and
refinement of phraseology that folk origins must be as-
sumed. The latter criterion, as Eissfeldt has noted, rests
on the somewhat shaky ground of subjective judgment and
individual sensitivity, particularly to differences in
tone and style between the passage and the larger work
within which it is embedded. Eissfeldt develops a list of
thirteen sayings which are introduced by formulae that
seem to attest to their popular currency.2 Four are ex-
pressly designated a mashal.3 The others begin with such
phrases as cl-kn y’mrw, dbr ydbrw br'šh l'mr, and ky
1Jolles, pp. 124-40. Cf. von Rad, Weisheit in
Israel, pp. 13-27.
2Eissfeldt, Maschal, pp. 45-52.
3I Samuel 10:12; 24:14; Ezekiel 12:22; 18:2 f.
'mrw.1 Such formulae constitute no absolute guarantee, of
course, that the author or redactor did not originate the say-
ing and set it in a formulaic context for his own purposes.
Indeed, the saying may well have acquired its proverbial
currency through such, or other, use by the author or re-
In addition, Eissfeldt finds some sixteen other
sayings that seem to be proverbial.2 He also believes
that a number of one-line popular aphorisms were expanded
whether by parallelismus membrorum, constructive expan-
sion, or the addition of an illustrative image--to fit the
later and more literary two-line mashal form. Such ex-
panded sayings may then have found their way into the dis-
courses of wisdom thinkers. If nothing else, the very fact
that so many of these collected sayings could have become
proverbial, popular, attests to the probability that some
or many came from the folk milieu and not the later
1Genesis 10:9; II Samuel 5:8; 20:18; Ezekiel 9:9
(“Man kann freilich mit Grund bezweifeln, ob alle von den
Propheten als sprichwörtliche Redensarten des Volkes
angeführten Worte esauch wirklich sind: diese Formeln
haben die Propheten vielleicht selbst geprägt.” [Eissfeldt,
Maschal, p. 45 n. 8]); 18:25, 29; 33:17; 33:10; 37:11;
Zephaniah 1:12; Isaiah 40:27. cf. Jeremiah 33:24; Ezekiel
8:12; 11:3, 15; so Eissfeldt, Maschal, p. 46 n. 2.
2P. 46. Genesis 16:12; Judges 8:2, 21; 14:18;
I Samuel 16:7; II Samuel 24:15 (see 9:8; 16:9; I Kings 18:
21; 20:11; Isaiah 22:13 (see I Corinthians 15:32); 37:3
(see Hosea 13:3; Isaiah 66:90; Jeremiah 8:22, 20; 12:13;
23:28; 51:58 (see Habakkuk 2:13); Hosea 8:7 (see Proverbs
22:8); Qoheleth 9:4.
writer's artistic imagination.1 Whether Eissfeldt is con-
vincing when he argues that the simpler one-line saying
antedates the refined two-line mashal form remains to be
seen. While attractive, the contention that literary forms
become expanded and more baroque with use both suggests a
potentially anachronistic analogy out of European Ro-
manticism and a suspiciously simple evolutionary hypothesis.
Distinguishing originally popular material within
wisdom collections seems a precarious activity. Without a
continuous running literary context, judgments made about
tone and style appear too subtly aesthetic to be reliable.
Readily identifiable popular aphorisms share cer-
tain characteristics. They tend to be terse, usually a
single line, sometimes without internal balance between
their parts. Thus, the bounds of folk wisdom are in-
timately tied up with the question, what is a mashal?
Such folk sayings are brief and pointed comments on
human behavior and recurrent situations. They make
frequent use of metaphor and comparison. Sometimes
they take the form of rhetorical questions to show
that something is absurd or impossible. A large
proportion of Old Testament colloquial proverbs
have a distinctly scornful tone, implying a devia-
tion from social norms.2
lEissfeldt, Mashal, pp. 45-52.
2R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes: Introduc-
tion, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Bible, vol. 18 (Garden
City: Doubleday & Company, 1965), p. xxvi.
The term 'mashal' appears not only in the context
of scornful by-words (the discouraging prospect of becoming
the proverbial victim of some disaster) and blasons popu-
laires,1 it is also used to refer to Spottlieder, prophetic
oracles and even ecstatic visions.2 Though the latter are
not wisdom in any conventional sense, some scholars argue
for a root meaning of *mšl which would encompass both the
proverb and the oracle. Thus, the mashal can reflect the
attempt to establish a rule or order to existence, a
theourgic ritual or spell which has later become metaphori-
cal, a basic sense of "to be like" (resulting in both
theourgy and metaphor), or a fundamental sense of "parable"
or "metaphor" which led to such diverse use and meanings.3
We should be mindful of Barr's caveat. Even if
1Taylor, pp. 97-109; A. S. Herbert, The 'Parable'
māšāl in the Old Testament," Scottish Journal of Theology
2J. Schmidt, Stylistik; Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp.
229-39; A. R. Johnson, "Māšāl," in Wisdom in Israel and
Ancient Near East, pp. 162-69; Allen Howard Godbey, "The
Hebrew Māšāl," American Journal of Semitic Languages and
Literatures 39 (November 1922 through July 1923): 89-108.
3Johnson, pp. 162-69; Hans-Peter Müller, "Mantische
Weisheit und Apokalyptik," in Congress Volume: Uppsala
1971, pp. 268-93; McKane, Proverbs, pp. 1-10. Claus
Westermann makes an important methodological and biblical
theological contribution in his "Weisheit in Sprichwort,"
in Schalom: Studien zu Glaube und Geschichte Israels;
Alfred Jepsen zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Karl-Heinz Bernhardt,
Arbeiten zur Theologie, 1st. s., vol. 46 (Stuttgart: Calwer
Verlag, 1971), pp. 71-85.
linguistic history should ultimately support the inference
that a common meaning of the term 'mashal' serves to unite
early folk wisdom with a folk or cultic theourgy, that
fact alone would not prove that the two were regarded as the
same or as closely related by those who used the term. We
may exclude the Spottlied, oracle and theourgic spell from
folk wisdom (1) because folk wisdom in the strict sense is
readily distinguishable from them on the basis of both form
and content without significant overlap or ambiguity, (2)
since these forms are neither typically nor commonly as-
sociated with wisdom elsewhere, (3) since 'mashal' is used
to refer specifically to proverbs in a narrower sense (in-
cluding, however, extended poetic compositions in meta-
phoric or parabolic style) in superscriptions to Proverbs,
and (4) because the distinction between proverb and oracle/
spell is so compelling on common-sense conceptual grounds
in the absence of conclusive evidence to the contrary.1
For those who argue that proverbs concisely sum-
marize experience, the aphorism at I Samuel 10:12 is a
parade example. Saul's (unfortunate?) ecstatic experience
among the band of prophets at Gibeah becomes proverbial:
1McKane, Proverbs, pp. 1-33; Scott, Proverbs;
Ecclesiastes, pp. 3-9; cf. Fohrer, “Weisheit,” pp. 254-62;
cf. Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 229-39; see J. Schmidt, Stylistik;
"Is Saul also among the prophets?" Hgm š'w1 bnb'ym?1 In
Genesis 10:9, we find what Taylor would call a proverbial
phrase, a partial saying that can be adjusted to suit the
situation, with a historical allusion.2 Scott finds a
number of proverbs of consequence, proverbs of analogy and
colloquial sayings among the prophets. He would include
Amos' rhetorical questions under the rubric of folk wisdom.3
Folk wisdom can also be found as riddles and fables,
not just proverbs. In Judges 14:14, a riddle, a counter-
riddle, and their solution form the basis of a tale about
Samson.4 According to Scott, the Samson riddle is
1"And who is their father?" implies that the proverb
is complimentary neither to Saul nor the prophetic band and
suggests the ostensive folly of incongruous associations
(or, demeaning) and misperceived metiers. We might also
include I Kings 20:11 and I Samuel 24:13 ET.
2Taylor, pp. 184-200.
3Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, pp. xxvii-xxviii.
Compare Hans Walter Wolff, Amos’ Geistige Heimat, Wissen-
Schaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament,
Vol. 18 (NeukirchenVluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1954);
Lindblom, pp. 192-204. Jeremiah 31:29; Ezekiel 18:2;
Hosea 4:9; Jeremiah 23:23. Scott also notes the parallel
between Isaiah 10:15 and Ahikar vii.
4Samson proposes a riddle to the thirty companions
at his wedding, thinking of a swarm of bees that he found
in a lion he had killed. The Timnahites must answer this
virtually unsolvable riddle:
"Out of the eater came something to eat,
Out of the strong came something sweet." (v. 14)
Extracting the solution from Samson's wife, the guests are
able to counter with
"What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?" (v. 18)
improbably difficult for the guests to decipher without
aid. Their counter-riddle, however, seems singularly ap-
propriate to the setting. The account is set in "humble
surroundings" suitable to folk wisdom. The difficulty of
the first riddle and the missing answer to the second
suggest that the riddles may have been adapted to this
context, strengthening the argument in favor of their folk
origins. Later, the riddle clearly also becomes a form for
Court entertainment, e.g., Solomon and Sheba, the tale of
Darius' three body-guards.1
The riddle is not automatically a popular form. It
implies that the proponent of the riddle have some symbolic,
parabolic or metaphorical understanding of a situation that
the solver is trying to discover. The world has meanings
which are not immediately apparent in experience but which
the agile and attuned mind may uncover. Thus, the world of
experience consists of layers, of-which the everyday
Presumably, they mean "love between the sexes" in what is
by contrast with the fore-going a rather transparent riddle.
"If you had not plowed with my heifer,
You would not have found out my riddle." (v. 18)
Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, p. xxix; see James L. Cren-
shaw, "The Samson Saga: Filial Devotion or Erotic Attach-
ment?" Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
86 (Fall 1974):470-504: J. Sturdy, “The Original Meaning
of ‘Is Saul Also Among the Prophets?’ (I Samuel X:11, 12;
XIX:24)," Vetus Testamentum 20 (April 1970): 206-13.
1Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 239-45.
meaning or interpretation is only the first and most super-
ficial. Where the riddle can be solved through reflection,
the solver is reaching for an attainable insight for which
experience ought to have prepared him. The riddle is a
vehicle which suggests a radical reinterpretation of the
meaning of things. The solver gains new insight into the
deeper significance of his experience by solving the
The riddle, however, may be beyond easy solution.
It may be the means of communicating arcane insight or
interpretation. From the riddle alone, the solver, really
an initiate, learns only his inability to discern the true
or basic significance of things. As proponed, the riddle
confronts one with his ignorance. When the initiate is
given the key to solving the riddle, the plain meaning of
things is transformed. The symbolic understanding of the
world transcends its apparent meaning. The solution of
the riddle provides the initiate entree to an elite group
of cognoscendi. They possess a secret knowledge which is
only made available to those who prove themselves worthy.
Insight is the key. The riddle distinguishes the elite
few who have insight from that mass which does not. Thus,
the riddle may function to preserve secrets rather than
reveal them. When it does, it represents the establishment
of an intellectual or "gnostic" elite. The wisdom form is
the technical means for differentiating members from non-
In analyzing the fable, Scott contends:
The fable combines features of the riddle and the
parable. A "fable" in the strict sense is an
imaginative tale in which the actors are animals
or inanimate objects such as trees (which may seem
to be alive because of movement and sound when a
wind is blowing) endowed with human speech. Often,
as in Aesop's fables, the story conveys a message
or carries a moral for human behavior.2
The requirement of speech over parabolic intent appears
rather strict. The tree of knowledge seems scarcely less
fabulous than the serpent, though neither would be folk
wisdom. Further, we question the animistic motivation im-
plied by Scott's parenthesis. Balaam's ass seems to be a
legitimate fable, incorporated into a more elaborate tale,
which points up Balaam's bullheadedness.3 Jotham's Fable,
1 Kovacs, "Reflections"; Hans-Peter Müller, "Der
Begriff 'Rätsel' im Alten Testament," Vetus Testamentum 20
(October 1970): 465-89; Elli Köngäs Maranda, "Theory and
Practice of Riddle Analysis," Journal of American Folklore
84 (January-March 1971): 51-61; Elli Köngäs Maranda and
Pierre Maranda, Structural Models in Folklore and Trans-
formational Essays, Approaches to Semiotics, vol. 10, ed.
Thomas A. Sebeck (The Hague: Mouton, 1971); Benjamin R.
Foster, "Humor and Cuneiform Literature," Journal of the
Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University 6
(1974): 78; compare L. Makarius, "Ritual Clowns and Sym-
bolic Behavior," Diogenes 69 (1970): 44-73.
2Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, p. xxix.
3When his poor, but fabulous (!), beast is re-
peatedly struck for thrice discomfiting Balaam on account
of the angel of Yahweh whom Balaam either fails to notice
in Judges 9:7-15, is a fable which is clearly used
polemically, though it has perhaps been adapted to the
occasion.1 Jehoash's Fable depicts the self-puffery of a
thistle that seeks for its son the hand (branch?) of the
daughter of a cedar of Lebanon; it is trampled by a wild
beast.2 Ezekiel is a goldmine of fabulous entities, ex-
tended metaphors and "allegories."3 Scott notes in
particular the fabulous creatures which appear in Ezekiel
17:1-10. It seems to be a fable or allegory of Exile that
has been expanded and explicated, if not written, by the
prophet. It is expressly termed a 'mashal."4
or more likely is not meant to see, the animal must speak
out to call his master's attention to this most out-of-
character behavior. "Was I ever accustomed to do so to
you?" Balaam's answer is a profoundly brief, "No," a
concession which makes a parabolic point. The angel in-
cidentallyis 1śtin lw, for his adversary. Numbers 22:21-35.
1It trades on the irony of a bramble asked to reign
as king over the trees; the tree which has no special gift
that it finds more rewarding than the offer of rulership
not only cannot offer the other trees security and protec-
tion, it is itself a dangerous source of potential fire.
"If in good faith you are appointing me king over you, then
come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come
out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon" (v.
15). Abimelech poses such a danger to Israel.
2II Kings 14:9. Since the application to Amaziah
in respect of his conquest of Edom and desire to meet with
Jehoash (presumably to demand fealty or tribute) is quite
inexact, the fable may be in origin folk, applied later
and derivatively to the case at hand.
3Meinhold, pp. 13-21, q.v.
4Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, pp. xxix-xxx
Unlike the riddle, the fable reveals its own in-
terpretation. Defined strictly, the fable requires a
final parabolic interpretation which gains poignance from
its application to the life-situation of the hearer. While
the hearer may initially miss the application, by the end
of the story, he should not be in doubt. In fact, this
sort of fable makes emotionally charged situations ac-
cessible by interpreting them in a more emotionally distant
and objective way. Having made sense of an objective, even
humorously preposterous situation, the hearer can make the
same interpretation of an experience with which he is in-
tensely involved. The fable permits one to say by indirec-
tion what cannot often be said fully and coolly directly.
It can, therefore, be polemical, since it is intended to
change one's understanding of a situation.
On the other hand, because it is self-revealing, it is
not the property of some gnostic elite. There is no secret
(v. 1); see Crenshaw, "Wisdom," pp. 245-47; Ronald J.
Williams, "The Fable in the Ancient Near East," in A
Stubborn Faith: Papers on Old Testament and Related Sub-
jects Presented to Honor William Andrew Irwin, ed. Edward C.
Hobbs (Dallas: .SMU Press, 1956), pp. 3-26; Erwin Leibfried,
Fabel (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1967); Hugo Gressmann, Israels
Spruchweisheit im Zusammenhang der Weltliteratur, Kunst and
Altertum: Alte Kulturen im Lichte Neuer Forschung, vol. 6
(Berlin: Verlag Karl Curtius, (1927)); Edmund I. Gordon,
“Animals as Presented in the Sumerian Proverbs and Fables:
A Preliminary Study,” Drevnij Mir (Moscow: n.p., 1962),
pp. 226-49; W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. 150-212.
noesis; no special key is required. All who hear the
fable understand. The story is accessible to everyone;
it is open.1
Less strictly understood, the fable shades into
a variety of other forms which have in common an extended
metaphor which reinterprets the situation of the hearer.
It may, in particular, lack a parabolic resolution. Re-
interpretation may appear solely through the appropriation
of the fabulous in the story. The fabulous stands for,
and reinterprets, what is mundane. Still, the meaning is
readily intelligible to all who listen; it reveals, it
does not conceal. The fable in all its forms is a rein-
terpretation--a wisdom--that is potentially close to the
people. The riddle, by virtue of its implicit inaccessi-
bility, anticipates the development of a social elite or
in-group to whom and to whom only this noesis is available.
In that sense, the fable stands closer to popular wisdom
than the riddle. Whether, however, these Hebrew riddles
and fables are folk and not literary contrivances is less
certain. In their present context, most have been adapted
to serve literary, and sometimes polemical, ends. The
accessibility of a wisdom form to popular comprehension
does not assure that popular instances of such forms have
1Leibfried; Meinhold, pp. 13-21.
been preserved. In fact, the trend of present scholarship
is to question systematically whether any preserved wisdom
material can be popular or folk.
5. Royal wisdom. One way to establish a relation-
ship among the divers types of wisdom thinking and
materials is to postulate a historical process of democ-
ratization. For such theories, royal wisdom is the first,
and key, link. One who is wise knows how to govern: an
essential part of wisdom is the capacity to execute the
tasks of imperial justice, administration and governance
well. The king seeks to pass on his wisdom and experience
to his heir.
In practice, wisdom cannot be so confined. Life
is unpredictable. The king is not the only person with
administrative responsibilities. All possible successors
to the throne and the sons of high courtiers must be
trained to rule the land and serve the king. That many
documents drawn from international wisdom, especially
those from Egypt, apparently deal with courtly training
and advice ostensibly conferred by the grand vizier or
even the king himself supports this view. In Israel,
Solomon is the first and foremost of wisdom's patrons,
himself sage in ruling and in administering justice.1
1R. B. Y. Scott, "Solomon and the Beginnings of
Samson, the riddle-maker, judged Israel. The woman of
Tekoa offers paeans to David's wisdom; she compares it to
that of a divine emissary in knowledge and judicial dis-
cernment. Hezekiah's men collect proverbs.1 Court offi-
cials have duties that could be connected with wisdom be-
ginning with the time of David and Solomon.2 Ahithophel's
counsel ranks with consulting the divine oracle.3 Yahweh
works through the conflict of counsels to separate Israel
and Judah. Yahweh himself the source and archetype of
royal wisdom finds wisdom in his Council.4 Royal and
near-royal epic heroes possess wisdom: Danel, Adam, Noah,
Joseph, Moses, Solomon aid Daniel.5 Whatever the actual
historical location and development of Hebrew wisdom,
Wisdom in Israel,” in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient Near
East, pp. 262-79; in the same place, Martin Noth, "Die
Bewahrung von Salomos GöttlicherWeisheit," pp. 225-37;
Albrecht Alt, "Israels Gaue unter Salomo," Kleine Schriften
Geschichte des Volkes Israel, vol. 2 Munich: C. H.
Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1953). pp. 76-89; Norman W.
Porteous, "Royal Wisdom," in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient
Near East, pp. 247-61; cf. Margaret Pamment, "The Succession
of Solomon: A Reply to Edmund Leach's Essay 'The Legitimacy
of Solomon,'" Man 7 (December 1972): 635-43.
1Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, pp. xxx-xxxv.
2Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, p. xxxi; Noth,
"Bewahrung," p. 226; McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, pp.
15-47; Scott, “Beginnings,” pp. 262-79.
3McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, pp. 55-62.
4De Boer, pp. 4.271; cf. Noth, “Bewährung,”
5See Ezekiel 14:14, 20.
effective governance, sound administration and judicial
discernment have traditionally been deemed wisdom. Im-
portant royal and court figures are therefore adjudged to
have possessed such wisdom, though that judgment may be
that of a much later writer or historian; in the case of
Solomon, for example, of the deuteronomic historians.1
If Solomon greatly expanded the Hebrew monarchy
in pomp, power and hegemony, especially at a time when its
expansion could not readily be checked by powerful and
jealous neighbors, then the need for an elaborate court
bureaucracy would be evident. Trade and economic records
would have to be kept. Imperial correspondence in all the
official languages must be attended to. Ambassadors,
emissaries, tradesmen, officials, all must report and be
instructed, and those instructions carefully and politi-
cally orchestrated. Since the king has chosen to marry
into the good graces of the Egyptians, the niceties of
court etiquette must be emulated and observed. The con-
quered territories must be governed. Levies must be
supervised so that submission is assured. The corvee
requires detailed administration.2
The social and situational incentives to expand
1Scott, "Beginnings," pp. 262-79.
2McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, pp. 15-47; Porteous,
pp. 247-51; Scott, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, pp. xxx-xxxiii.
royal wisdom from the confines of a favored few to a
rather large administrative class would support the democ-
ratization process. This is true however much the glories
of early Hebrew history may have been exaggerated to serve
later political purposes. The basic exigencies still re-
main. Didactic materials must be produced. Writing,
therefore scribal training at no less than an elementary
level, is the sine qua non of competent administration.
The administrator must be in harmony with the royal order;
he must be just and competent in his discernment and in
distinguishing cases.1 Later, with the Exile or perhaps
even before it, would come the weakening of royal influ-
ence. Disillusionment follows. Speculative wisdom de-
velops, and the wisdom movement moves away from the court
and the aristocracy to locate in independent schools.
These serve the needs of a more complex and de-centralized
society in which the middle-class plays an important social
Especially for Egypt, this scenario is very attrac-
tive. The major impetus for democratization would come
during the Middle Kingdom. Our reading of Egyptian sources,
1McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, pp. 23-45.
2Von Rad, Weisheit in Israel, pp. 84, 133; Walter
Brueggemann, In Man We Trust (Richmond: John Knox Press,
1972), pp. 64-103.
however, may be too credulous, weakening the foundation of
the analogy. Where the material attributed to the early
wise viziers even exists--much does not and much of the
rest is fragmentary--the attributions should be regarded
as at best traditional. The "Instruction for King Meri-
kare" reveals striking blunders on the part of his pharaonic
teacher. It seems rather out of character--and culture--
for pharaoh himself to admit mistakes so baldly. The
possibility that this text is polemical or apologetic,
therefore pseudonymous, cannot be dismissed.1 The "Instruc-
tion of Amenemhet" raises undeniable difficulties. It is
the purported teaching of a dead pharaoh to his son and
heir to the throne. The attribution must be pseudonymous.2
1James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts
Relating to the Old Testament, 2d corrected and enlarged
ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), pp. 414-
18. John A. Wilson edited and translated the Egyptian
material presented here., Cf. James B. Pritchard, ed., The
Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Re-
lating to the Old Testament, Consisting of Supplementary
Materials for "The Ancient Near East in Pictures" and
"Ancient Near Eastern Texts" (Princeton: Princeton Univers-
ity Press, 1969), Section VI. The Egyptian material was
not revised for the third edition, which revisions are the
substance of the Supplement.
2Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 418-
19. Note Wilson's introductory remarks: "The specific
historicity of the text has been challenged, on the grounds
that a dead king is offering the advice. . . . [B]ut the
text is historical in its applicability to the times"
(p. 418). The question, however, is the difference be-
tween the literal activity of the pharaoh and his figura-
tive activity and what such a difference might mean in
The later sebayit, Egyptian instructions, come generally
from obscure officials.1 Thus, the evidence for royal
wisdom and for a democratization process in Egypt are in-
tensely problematical. Analogy with Egypt forms the basis
for postulating a democratization process in Israel.
We may add the general observation that any in-
struction committed to writing would seem to be aimed at
some kind of preservation and at an audience significantly
larger than one. While it is not altogether implausible
that a father should communicate his experience and ex-
pertise in government to his heir in written form, the
fact of the writing plus its preservation in scribal
circles would suggest that the original intent was far
broader, and the setting therefore an artifice. Two
aspects of content further support this observation.
First, there are references to a scribal Standesethik, to
humility and circumspection in the face of superiors (and
who is superior to the pharaoh?), and to conventional wis-
dom imagery.2 In the "Prophecy of Nefer-rohu," we find a
literary-historical interpretation and socio-structural
1See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp.
420-25; cf. McKane, Proverbs, pp. 90-150.
2Kovacs, "Class-Ethic"; Crenshaw, "Prolegomenon,"
pp. 20-22; Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, pp. 94-96.
pharaoh learned in the scribal arts.1 Nevertheless, the
paeans to scribal learning and its preservation, to ad-
ministrative shrewdness, and to reading and learning from
the fathers are singularly important to the scribal school.
Conventional wisdom imagery appears: the distinction be-
tween the wise man and the fool, noblesse oblige, the son-
father relationship for that of pupil and teacher2 (the
paradigm for the pharaoh and his son, rather than vice
Second, many scholars have remarked about the al-
most "Macchievellian" tone to many of the instructions.
Yet, some scholars have argued that these wily calculations
are far more appropriate to distanced intellectual reflec-
tion about how rulers act than they are pragmatically
1Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 444-46.
2Cf. J. W. McKay, "Man's Love for God in Deu-
teronomy and the Father/Teacher-Son/Pupil Relationship,"
Vetus Testamentum 22 (October 1972): 426-35.
3See Jean Leclant, "Documents Nouveaux et Points
de Vue Récents sur les Sagesses de L'Égypte Ancienne,"
in Sagesses du Proche-Orient Ancien, pp. 5-26; in the same
work, Baudoin van de Walle, "Problemes Relatifs aux
Methodes d'Enseignement dans l'Égypte Ancienne," pp. 191-
207; Duesberg and Fransen; McKane Prophets and Wise Men,
pp. 13-54. E.g., Ptah-hotep 510 ff., 575 ff.; Merikare
35 ff., 45 ff., 50 ff.; Ani iii 5 ff., 13 ff. (foreign
woman!), vii 20 ff.; Amenemopet chs. 6, 9, 11, 13 (!),
17, 20; Onchsheshonqy col. 7; 8:2-10. For Onchsheshoqy,
see S. R. K. Glanville, Catalogue of Demotic Papyri in
the British Museum, vol. 2: The Instructions of
cOnchsheshonqy (British Museum Papyrus 10508), pt. 1:
useful advice on how to proceed as a ruler:
Fill not thy heart with a brother, nor know a
friend. Create not for thyself intimates--there
is no fulfillment thereby. [Even] when thou
sleepest, guard thy heart thyself, because no
man has adherents on the day of distress.1
He who is rich does not show partiality in his
[own) house. He is a possessor of property who
has no wants. . . . Great is a great man when his
great men are great. Valiant is the king posessed
of courtiers; august is he who is rich in his
Note the following excerpt from Ptah-hotep:
If thou hearest this which I have said to thee,
thy every project will be [better] than [those of]
the ancestors. As for what is left over of their
truth, it is their treasure—[though] the memory
of them may escape from the mouth of men--because
of the goodness of their sayings. Every word is
carried on, without perishing in this land forever.
It makes for expressing well, the speech of the
very officials. It is what teaches a man to speak
to the future, so that it may hear it, what pro-
duces a craftsman, who has heard what is good and
who speaks to the future--and it hears. . . .3
Those whose profession requires them to work in the
presence of the powerful, and be subject to their whims and
fancies, want to understand the principles which govern the
Introduction, Transliteration, Translation, Notes, and
Plates (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1955).
1Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 418
2 Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 415
3Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 414.
exercise of great power so that they may conform their
lives and their decisions to that pattern, minimizing
though not eliminating the chance of misstep. The ruler
possesses free discretion: he has little need to under-
stand its principles and structure. The royal bureaucracy,
what we may loosely call the bourgeoisie, have a great
stake in that structure and those principles. Moreover,
their vulnerability, hence alienation, may be reflected
in what they write as a kind of amorality. One who cannot
escape the influence of absolute power must submit to it;
whether it be just, and how it might be so, is quite be-
side the point.1
On the basis of these considerations, we can apply
Egyptian analogies to Israel only with great caution, re-
gardless of how direct the path of Egyptian-Hebrew influ-
ence may seem to be, since the relationship between royal
wisdom and the Sitze-im-Leben of its ostensive texts remains
The Egyptian materials do, however, suggest
1 Niccolo Macchiavelli, The Prince, trans. Luigi
Ricci, rev. by E. R. P. Vincent, The World's Classics,
vol. 43 (London: Oxford University Press, 1968); Baldesar
Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Charles S.
Singleton, Anchor Books (Garden City: Doubleday & Company,
1959). See W. Lee Humphreys, "The Motif of the Wise
Courtier in the Old Testament," unpublished Th.D. disserta-
tion, Union Theological Seminary, 1970; and Susan Niditch
and Robert Doran, "The Success Story of the Wise Courtier:
A Formal Approach," Journal of Biblical Literature 96
(June 1977): 179-93.
important themes in royal wisdom.1 The king's wisdom con-
sists of formal scribal training, judicial discernment
between right and wrong, successful administration, ency-
clopedic or encompassing knowledge, and concord with the
harmonizing order of maat. In Egypt, the king functions
as the guarantor of order, maat (or, as a goddess Maat),
in his capacity of law-giver. He not only vanquishes the
chaotic force of isf.t, but he establishes a reliable and
fruitful natural order:2
I was the one who made barley, the beloved of the
grain-god. The Nile honored me on every broad ex-
panse. No one hungered in my years; no one thirsted
therein. . . . Everything which I had commanded was
1Hellmut Brunner, "Die Weisheitsliteratur" in
Handbuch der Orientalistik, ed., Bertold Spuler, vol. 1:
Ägyptologie, pt. 2: Literatur (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952);
Georges Posener, De la Divinité du Pharaon, Cahiers de la
Société Asiatique, vol. 15 (Paris: Imprimérie Nationale,
1960); Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of
Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society
and Nature, Oriental Institute Essay (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1948); Georges Posener, Littérature et
Politique dans l'Égypte de la XIIe Dynastie, Bibliothéque
de l'École des Hauces Études, no. 307 (Paris: Librairie
Ancienne-Honoré Champion, Éditeur, 1956); Rudolf Antes,
Lebensregeln und Lebensweisheit der Alten Ägypter, Der
Leipzig Alte Orient, vol. 32, no. 2 (LelPzig: J. C. Hinrich'sche
Buchhandlung, 1933); Friederich Wilhelm, Freiherr von
Bissing, Altägyptische Lebensweisheit, Die Bibliothek der
Alten Welt: Reihe der Alte Orient (Zurich: Artemis Verlag,
1955). Compare also Henri-Irénée Marrou, Histoire de
l'Éducation dans l'Antiquité, 6th rev. and expanded ed.
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1965); Siegfried Morenz,
Ägyptische Religion, Die Religionen der Menschheit, vol.
8 (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1960).
2 Morenz, Ägyptische Religion, pp. 117-43.
in the proper place.1
About Maat, Schmid comments:
Die Weisheit setzt nicht eine ewige, ideale,
metaphysische Ordnung voraus, der sich der Mensch
nur zu unterziehen hätte, sondetn behauptet, dass
durch weises Verhalten Weltordnung überhaupt erst
konstitutiert and realisiert wird. Weisheitlichem
Verhalten wohnt eine sehr zentrale, Kosmos
schaffende Funktion inne, es hat teil an der
Eteblierung der (einen) Weltordnung.2
We do not find Mesopotamian materials which sig-
nificantly clarify the issue of royal wisdom. Although a
number of proverbs have been found in Sumerian and
Akkadian collections, their place in royal or scribal wis-
dom is less clearly established, especially since the
attributions have frequently been lost. One instruction
purports to relate the counsel Sharuppak, survivor of the
flood, gave his son Ziusudra: clearly the setting of a
legend.3 Lambert labels some proverb collections "popu-
lar.”4 We question whether any collection can in the
strict sense be considered popular, particularly at this
1Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 419
2Schmid, Gerechtigkeit, p. 51. "Die Weisheit zielt
auf Maat, auf die Eingliederung des menschlichen Verhaltens
in die alles umfassende Weltordnung: wer recht lebt,
steht in Einklang mit der Weltordnung" (p. 50).
3Pritchard, Ancient Near East, pp. 158-59. Robert
D. Biggs, editor and translator.
4Lambert, pp. 216-82, passim.
historical remove. The same difficulty applies to fables.
As against either popular or royal wisdom, the
Mesopotamian evidence best fits the scribal and specula-
tive categories which follow. Certainly in Mesopotamia,
as in Ugarit and elsewhere, one can establish the royal
ideology of order: the king serves as the earthly vice-
roy of that "gray Eminence" who has laid out a cosmic
order that confines and restrains the powers of chaos.
The king's law-giving word supports that order, harmonizes
his land and his people with it, and thereby guarantees
both justice and an auspicious Nature which is reliable
in its cycles and bountiful in its harvests. The applica-
tion of this ideology to wisdom specifically becomes con-
vincing only when, as in Egypt, we find wisdom and a royal
1Schmid, Gerechtigkeit, pp. 24-65; Frankfort,
Kingship, p. 6; Humphreys, pp. 58-60. On these issues more
generally see also Edmund I. Gordon,,"A New Look at the
Wisdom of Sumer and Akkad," Bibliotheca Sacra 17 (1960):
122-52; Edmund I. Gordon and Thorkild Jacobsen, Sumerian
Proverbs: Glimpses of Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia,
Museum Monographs (Philadelphia: University Museum of the
University of Pennsylvania, 1959); J. J. A. van Dijk, La
Sagesse Suméro-Accadienne: Recherches sur les Genres
Littéraires des Textes Sapientiaux, avec Choix de Textes,
Commentaires Orientales, vol. 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill,
1953); F. R. Kraus, "Altmesopotamisches Lebensgefühl,"
Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19 (1960): 117-32; Samuel
Noah Kramer, “Sumerian Wisdom Literature: A Preliminary
Survey," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental
Research, no. 122 (April 1951): 28-31; Samuel Noah Kramer,
"Sumerian Similes: A Panoramic View of Some of Man's
Oldest Literary Images," Journal of the American Oriental
There is more to this discussion than the obvious
hazards of an analogy. Ultimately, one is compelled to
ask how wisdom came into Israel. If wisdom is to be as-
sociated with the royal court in social location and de-
velopment, then what is its relationship to the royal
ideology? Theses of divine order, maat/sidqh, and democ-
ratization strongly support the argument that wisdom en-
tered Israel through high scribal officials brought in
under an internationalist king to organize a highly
literate and relatively non-parochial administrative elite.
The theories also establish a convenient relationship among
three kinds of wisdom: royal, scribal and speculative.
On the other hand, we can question what may be in-
ferred about royal wisdom from our Egyptian and Hebrew
sources. Further, the proximity between royal ideology
and scribal wisdom depends on both snowing that scribes
Society 89 (January-March 1969): 1-9; S. Langdon, "Babyl-
onian Proverbs," American Journal of Semitic Languages and
Literatures 28 (1912): 217-43; S. Langdon, Babylonian Wis-
dom: Containing the Poem of the Righteous Sufferer, the
Dialogue of Pessimism, the Books of Proverbs and the Sup-
posed Rules of Monthly Diet (London: Luzac and Company,
1923); T. Eric Peet, A Comparative Study of the Litera-
tures of Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia: Egypt's Con-
tribution to the Literature of the Ancient World, Schweich
Lectures of the British Academy, 1929 (London: Humphrey
Milford at the Oxford University Press for the British
Academy, 1931); Åke W. Sjöberg, "In Praise of Scribal Art,"
Journal of Cuneiform Studies 24 (1972): 127-31; Benjamin R.
Foster, "Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,"
Orientalis 43 (1974): 344-54.
adopted the ideology as an explanation of their own ac-
tivities and that the order-chaos motif correctly repre-
sents this ideology in its royal and scribal forms.
To the former: in both Egypt and Israel, we
suspect that later writers elaborated received traditions
about royal wisdom in order to serve the needs of their
social class and their academies. Thus, wisdom motifs may
well have been read back into a royal mythos and its im-
plicit ideology. Both may thus have been quite inde-
pendent of scribal wisdom, except as a later coloration.
Cosmic elements of the mythos would shade over into the
postulated creation or cosmic order emphasis of wisdom,
suggesting more affinity between royal myth/ideology and
wisdom than should be considered the case.
To the second: the order-chaos mythos is common
throughout the ancient Near East. It is typically as-
sociated with the king as the guarantor of order. That
administrative classes would give due service to this view
should be expected. Whether the view can be invoked to
explain their ethos and Weltanschauung is another matter.
Here, we must distinguish between manifest and latent
world-views. One may say out of social necessity--with
entire conviction--what one's actual pattern of living
and acting belies. The distinction between wisdom as a
form of thought and wisdom as a form of conduct is by no
means idle, especially in arguing this hypothesis.
Finally, we recognize that different models of
royalty functioned in the ancient Near East. In Egypt,
the pharaoh is divine or potentially divine; he is the
guarantor of Maat. He participates in and confirms the
interpenetrating cosmic order. Strong value is placed
on the status quo, although the stability of the political
system and the Egyptian social economy can easily be
exaggerated. The scribal ideal predominates. Later,
eternal life becomes an important focus of all Egyptian
thought, wisdom included. It is both an objective of one's
life and an important ethical consideration.
For the Mesopotamian, eternal life is that unat-
tainable characteristic which distinguishes a god from a
mere mortal. The king is not regarded as divine. Porteous
argues that the executive responsibilities of the
Mesopotamian monarch are far greater. He has a more de-
tailed responsibility for the day-to-day matters of gov-
ernmental administration. The king maintains order by
right administration, which thereby assures nature's
In Israel, Porteous contends, the king is charged
with maintaining a covenant relationship between the people
and Yahweh, a relationship which antedates the institution
of the monarchy itself. As in Mesopotamia the king is not
perceived as divine. Eternal life does not figure into
the ethical equation. It does distinguish man from god,
though that is perhaps not the primary difference. Since
the institution of the Hebrew monarchy is, in many re-
spects, closer to that of Mesopotamia than Egypt, adopting
Egyptian royal wisdom as the paradigm for the introduction
of wisdom into Israel, for its social location and for
its pattern of subsequent development, would seem a
perilous enterprise except where specific supportive
evidence can be found.1 A brief examination of the tra-
ditional association of Hebrew wisdom with the monarchy
seems to be in order at this point.
Studying the Davidic history, Noth finds two
strands to traditions about government. In one, David is
led by oracles. He continually inquires of Yahweh what he
should do. In the other, his wisdom is almost divine;
note the paean of the wise woman from Tekoa. David acts
on the basis of his own understanding. Significantly, his
counsellor Ahithophel speaks with oracular wisdom.
Divinely founded wisdom takes the place of the oracle
per se. To receive Ahithophel's counsel is as if one had
consulted the oracle of Yahweh.2
1Porteous, "Royal Wisdom," pp. 247-61.
2Noth, "Bewährung," pp. 225-37.
Solomon, however, becomes the Hebrew paradigm of
the wise king:
In alledem spürt man die geistige Luft der
salomonischen Zeit. Es ist nicht wahrscheinlich,
dass erst eine späte Überlieferung diese im
einzelnen verschiedenen and in mehreren lit-
erarischen Quellen auftretenden, aber in der
Grundlage übereinstimmenden Züge zusammengetragen
habe für die Erzählungen über die spätdavidisch-
salomonisch-nachsalomonische Zeit. Vielmehr
haben wir es offenbar zu tun mit der Atmosphäre
dieser Zeit, wie sie wirklich war.1
Noth's view is that of many scholars. Solomon's
association with wisdom represents the working together
of a number of different strands of tradition, as well as
free-floating legend, principally by the deuteronomic
historians. The material they use does not appear to
derive from annals. It is not contemporary with the
events it reports. What has already become tradition has
been expanded and developed to serve the historians'
literary, historical and theological purposes. Yet, so
many consonant strands of tradition cannot be without any
historical foundation: there must be a basis for Solomon's
special relationship to the development of wisdom. The
accounts cannot spring alone from Solomon's administrative
competence, discernment and adroit leadership. He would
seem to have been the patron of some sort of wisdom,
1 Noth, "Bewährung," p. 237.
whether royal counsellors, scribal schools or court wisdom
I Kings 3:3-15 bases Solomon's wisdom on a Re-
quest Theophany at Gibeon.2 The king pleads his ignorance,
like that of a child who does not know how to go out or
come in. "Give thy servant therefore an understanding
mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between
good and evil."3 Pleased with this request (framed in
persuasive speech!), Yahweh also confers on Solomon the
riches, power and longevity which he did not request.
Wisdom derives therefore from a theophanic experience.
Over against this Request Theophany at Gibeon stands the
clearly deuteronomic theophany of 9:1-9. Noth argues that
it was written to set off the other, therefore older and
1Scott, "Solomon," pp. 262-79; McKane Prophets
and Wise Men, pp. 15-62.
2"Ask what I shall give you" (v. 5).
3Note the tiwb-rc of administration, the power of
command, v. 9.
4Noth, "Bewährung," pp. 226-28; Scott, .
"Beginnings," pp. 264-65. Noth identifies two strands
to traditions about governance. In one, David is led
by oracles. In the other, his wisdom is almost divine,
a charism. He acts out of his own 'charismatic' un-
derstanding. Ahithophel speaks with oracular wisdom.
The charism of divinely-founded wisdom comes to
The Gibeon Theophany serves to introduce a tale
of Solomon's judicial insight, the Two Harlots.1 In their
present form, the two belong together, particularly be-
cause of the inclusio of 3:28. The Gibeonite setting of
the theophany, however, suggests that each has an inde-
pendent history. The second part, the Tale of the Two
Harlots, can be found in a number of other cultures, though
always later and with a. somewhat different situation. The
most notable version comes from India. Originally, two
wives may have been fighting over preference in the eyes
of their husband or over inheritance rights. Gressmann
argues that the tale has been recast to give both women
the same external appearance--rather than one virtuous and
one evil and grasping wife--in order to make the decision
more difficult, and therefore more perspicacious.2
substitute for the oracle. Solomon, in his dream, selects
the latter, charismatic, wisdom through a direct theophany.
The oracular word thus becomes the word of command founded
on insight and discernment. Yahweh directs human judgment
to attain his ends. Hence, Absalom neglects Ahithophel's
sound counsel (!) and Rehoboam rejects the advice of the
elders for his younger advisors. (Pp. 231-37.)
1Noth, “Bewährung," pp. 228-29.
2"Im Alten Testament wäre also mit Rücksicht auf
das üble Verhalten der einen der beiden Frauen die
Geschichte aus dem Milieu des Hauses eines Mannes
mit mehreren rechtmässigen Gemahlinnen in das Milieu
eines Dirnenhauses verlegt worden, and zwar
beide Frauen, da ja die Erzählung notwendig das
gleiche aussere Erscheinungsbild für beide Frauen
voraussetzte, das die Entscheidung des Streitfalles
so schwer machte." (Noth, "Bewährung," p. 229)
Noth remarks that the customary procedures of Hebrew law
and Near Eastern legal practice are ignored. A formal
oath is not sworn to seek resolve contradictory testimony;
divine judgment is therefore not invoked, not even by
oracle, lot or other means. Instead, the king's wisdom
becomes a divine charism whereby he stands above estab-
lished legal practice. He possesses the insight to re-
solve the case decisively:1
Zwar ist diese Weisheit eine "göttliche Weisheit",
d.h. ein Geschenk Gottes, wie alles, was ein Mensch
hat; von Gott gegeben ist; aber sie ist doch nun
“in” Salomo, sie ist rein Besitz, mit dem er wirken
kann, and sie erübrigt ein "Befragen" Gottes in
Einzelfällen der Rechtsfindung.2
According to Scott, a common theme underlies this passage:
“Wisdom as the insight to distinguish right from wrong,
with the resulting ability of a judge to render true
Under the rubric of "wisdom as intellectual
brilliance and encyclopedic knowledge, especially of the
world of nature other than man," Scott includes both the
summary of Solomonic wisdom in 5:9-14 and the account of
the visit of the Queen of Sheba.4 The passages, he argues,
1Noth, "Bewährung," pp. 230-32.
2Noth, "Bewährung," p. 232.
3Scott, "Beginnings," p. 270; italics deleted.
4Scott, "Beginnings," p. 271. Sheba: ch. 10.
are post-deuteronomic.1 While the deuteronomic material
does not glorify Solomon beyond his building of the Temple
and his judicial sagacity--it presages his defection from
Yahweh-worship, glorification is the sign of a separate
and, here, later source. For the Queen of Sheba, wisdom
obviously encompasses courtly magnificence and ritual
majesty. Riddles and interrogations form a vital part of
the meeting, reminding one of the Three Young Guardsmen
as well as the tasks Pharaoh posed for Sennacherib and
Ahiikar. An actual practice of royal or court wisdom would
appear to underlie such accounts.2
I Kings 4:29-34 (ET) sets forth a paean to
Solomon's wisdom which makes specific reference to a
variety of types of wisdom, including encyclopedic knowl-
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding
beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand
on the seashore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed
the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all
the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all
other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman,
Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame
was in all the nations round about. He also uttered
three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a
thousand and five. He spoke of trees, from the cedar
that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of
the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and
of reptiles, and of fish. And men came from all
1Scott, "Beginnings," p. 271.
2Scott, "Beginnings," pp. 271-72.
peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from
all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his
This, as we have already implied, is grandiose language
indeed. Significantly, Scott argues, this description of
courtly magnificence can be matched only in Esther,
Daniel 1-6, and Chronicles. The first two he regards as
midrashic tales, prominently treating wise men at court.
The last gives the Davidic court equally extravagant
The quantity of proverbs and songs should be re-
garded simply as large round numbers (like the "Thousand
and One Nights"). The term wydbr, "uttered," should not
be construed as meaning that Solomon is merely a collector;
Noth contends that Solomon himself invents and composes
innumerable songs and proverbs.2 The plants and animals
are synechdochic. Presumably, Solomon compiles onomastica
along the lines of the Egyptian Ordnungswissenschaft. He
exceeded the bounds of the conventional list-wisdom form
by treating the materials poetically. This late and
rather legendary glorification of Solomon lets us conclude
little about its actual historical character.3
1Scott, 'Beginnings," p. 267.
2Noth, "Bewährung," pp. 225-29.
3Noth, Bewährung," pp. 225-37; Scott, "Beginnings,"
Scott's third and final rubric in this discussion
is "Wisdom as the ability of the successful ruler," a
wisdom which is hardly unique to Solomon. When moribund
King David charges his son to deal with the father's
friends and enemies and appeals to Solomon's wisdom, the
account basically serves as a pre-deuteronomic introduction
to the account of the summary executions.1 While the ac-
counts of Solomon's dealings with Hiram of Tyre contain
two references to Solomon's wisdom, one may belong to
deuteronomic editorial material thematically derived from
the Gibeon Theophany while the other may go back to the
pre-deuteronomic material.2 This sort of royal wisdom,
however, is a far cry from proverbs.
The superscriptions to Proverbs are evidence of a
sort. Scott notes that the references in 1:1 and 10:1 are
vague and indeterminable: they could refer to a literary
style or convention. Claims for authorship only gain
credibility from the passage in I Kings cited above,
which is basically late folklore. Since Proverbs 25:1
already looks to Hezekiah ascriptions to Solomon may not
pp. 271-72; Gerhard von Rad, "Hiob XXXVIII and die Alt-
ägyptische Weisheit," in Wisdom in Israel and Ancient Near
East, pp. 293-301.
1Scott, "Beginnings," pp. 270-71.
2Scott, "Beginnings," pp. 270-72.
be a particularly early convention. The allusion to the
"men of Hezekiah" is important, however, because it would
seem to lack ulterior motive.1
. . . this is first-rate evidence that an organized
literary wisdom movement existed at Hezekiah's
court and under his patronage. The king's men
transcribed, published, or carried forward from
tradition a collection of maxims which, in this
later editorial title, are designated "proverbs of
Solomon." There is a double ambiguity: just as
the phrase may or may not indicate-authorship, so
it may or may not imply that the association of
proverbs with the name of Solomon existed before
Hezekiah's time. The significant point is that
such an association did exist at that time, when
a literary wisdom movement and a court scribal
establishment were to be found at Jerusalem under
The appearance of the wise as a distinct social
class coincides with Isaiah and Hezekiah, in this view.
Notably, Hezekiah was the first post-Solomonic king to be
sole ruler of Israel. He appears to have set in motion a
national revival, following the lines of his legendary
predecessor. The Chronicler credits Hezekiah with cleans-
ing the Temple and restoring the grandeur of its worship,
an excellent comparison with Solomon. The writer expands
on the military prowess with which the writer of Kings
already credits him, pointing up the peace, admiration,
1Scott, “Beginnings,” pp. 272-74.
2Scott, "Beginnings," p. 273.
tribute, riches and honor which graced his reign.1
Far more important, by any standard, are the
pictures of the Hezekian monarchy found in Isaiah. They
are contemporaneous for one thing. More important, they
are entirely incidental to Isaiah's own interests. From
this material, Scott elicits three important parallels
(i) intercourse with Egypt, with resulting strong
Egyptian political and cultural influence on the
Jerusalem court; (ii) unusual prominence in the
scene of horses and chariots as the basic military
arm, and as a symbol of glory; (iii) the power and
influence at court of organized "Wisdom"; in this
case not so much in the person of the king as in
"the wise" as a professional group. . .2
Not only does Isaiah speak of the wise as an or-
ganized group, but his recorded sayings include clear uses
of wisdom forms (parables, rhetorical questions), re-
flecting his occasional adoption of the role of wisdom
teacher. Scott speculates that Proverbs 25:1 reflects a
literary renaissance in Israel. After the fall of the
North, Judah becomes the repository of Hebrew thought.
Traditions are recorded and reshaped so that they will
not be lost; the fall of Israel has made people conscious
of the potential fragility of their traditions. Note also
1Scott, "Beginnings," p. 275.
2Scott, "Beginnings,' p. 276.
the attribution of a psalm to Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:9-20.
After Solomon, Hezekiah is the only king to have literary
associations, both with psalms and with wisdom.1
Scott asks why Deuteronomy 17:14-20 has been
written. "It is a well-known principle of law that a
practice is not forbidden by law unless the situation
demands it."2 Manasseh, he argues, surpassed Solomon only
in cruelty and oppression. Hezekiah seems the obvious
alternative object: subsequently, kings are to be forbidden
to pattern themselves after Solomon. Though the latter is
never mentioned in the passage, the allusion is transparent.
Further, while Solomon had the misfortune not to have a
copy of the law to study(!), hereafter kings must be well-
read in the law. They are commanded to be literate: by
implication Solomon was not! If such a tradition existed,
it would support the lateness of I Kings 4:29-34 (ET) as
well as the late development of a wisdom class associated
with the royal court and its patronage. Since the deutero-
nomic code likely post-dates Hezekiah, the application is
1Scott, “Beginnings,” pp. 276-79; Johannes Fichtner,
Gottes Weisheit: Gesammelte Studien zum Alten Testament,
ed. Klaus Dietrich Fricke, Arbeiten zur Theologie, 2d
series, vol. 3 (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1965), pp. 18-26;
see Whybray, Intellectual Tradition, pp. 18-21 e.s.
2Scott, "Beginnings," p. 279. In studies of
scientific methodology, T. H. White is often credited for
"What is not forbidden is compulsory" (!).
though general historical considerations do not
preclude, but rather favour, the connection with
Solomon of the origins of literary wisdom in
Israel, the ostensible biblical evidence for this
in the first Book of Kings is post-exilic in date
and legendary in character. . . . The first real
impact of Egyptian wisdom on Israel, with evident
results in Hebrew literary production, seems to
belong to the reign of Hezekiah. . . . If "proverbs
of Solomon" were so called before this time, there
is no substantial evidence to show when and how
this came about. . . . The tradition seems to have
been cultivated deliberately by Hezekiah as part
of his grandiose plans to restore the vanished
glories of Solomon's kingdom, for in Hezekiah's
reign appear the first clear evidences of Hebrew
Wisdom as a significant literary phenomenon.2
If proverbs were not the actual products of royal
wisdom, it is safe to say that they must have received
royal patronage. In them, therefore, we may expect to
find evidence of royal ideology, though not to the ex-
clusion of the authors' own views of the world. For that
ideology at least wisdom had several meanings other than
Lebensklugheit. More, if the interest in proverbs and
proverb-collections belongs to a comparatively late period
in the Hebrew monarchies, perhaps to the time of Hezekiah,
then the somewhat more expansive views of wisdom, including
even legend, may well have formed part of the authors'
1Scott, "Beginnings," pp. 272-79.
2Scott, "Beginnings," p. 279.
intellectual milieu. Finally, on the basis of the chaos-
order mythos, one would expect wisdom to be predicated of
the king by analogy to the wisdom of Yahweh and his
divine council. Noth contends, however, that this is not
the case.1 The Solomon stories are the earliest that deal
even indirectly with Yahweh's wisdom. There, the orienta-
tion is strictly toward man's sphere of existence. Yahweh
teaches, he gives wisdom, he makes one wise in the same
way that he is said to make one rich or confer prosperity.
Only in relatively late materials do writers speak of wis-
dom as the gift per se of Yahweh. When the reference is
to God himself, and to his wisdom, the sources tend to be
rather late. Most often, then, they speak of Yahweh as
he who created everything "with wisdom." Only in Daniel
do we finally encounter wisdom as the possession of God in
the most general sense. A few older passages do mention
wisdom in the vicinity of' Yahweh, (Umgebung) without
predicating it of him directly--the divine analogy of the
wise woman of Tekoa, the “spirit of wisdom and understand-
ing” which enlightens the messianic king, and the wisdom
of the divine council.2
1Noth, Bewährung," p. 235.
2Isaiah 11:2; "Ratsversammlung Gottes" in Job 15:
8 and Proverbs 30:3. Noth, "Bewährung," pp. 234-35.
Es ist ganz deutlich, dass man im Alten Testament
nur sehr zögernd das Prädikat der "Weisheit" Gott
zugesprochen hat, dass man abgesehen von ganz späten
Stellen gelegentlich die Schöpferweisheit Gottes
ausgesagt, in übrigen aber an einer Reihe von
Stellen die Weisheit nur so zu Gott in Beziehung
gesetzt hat, dass sie als eine Gabe Gottes
gepriesen wurde wie andere Gaben Gottes auch, die
von Menschen empfangen werden; auch dies letztere
vorwiegend in späten Stücken der alttestamentlichen
In sum, the king, his court, and the royal
ideology provide a setting which serves, at least poten-
tially, to bring together a number of subtypes of wisdom.
Royal wisdom is not whole cloth. The evidence even raises
questions about the royal setting of certain forms or sub-
types. Traditionally, the royal court appears as the
cradle and then patron of wisdom. Royal wisdom is crucial
to the democratization theory, which holds that wisdom
began in the king's search for the principles of effective
and reliable governance in which he educated his heir.
The needs of an expanding empire made administrative edu-
cation of the aristocracy necessary. Increasing social
complexity both forced the issue of merit, opening educa-
tion and administrative rank up to a "middle class," and
led to further expansion of education. It could no longer
remain the exclusive property of the elite. Wisdom repre-
sents the Standesethik of the school; it becomes less
1Noth, "Bewährung," p. 235.
imperial and elitist as its social milieu changes from
the royal house to the decentralized school. Royal wisdom
evolves into democratic wisdom. For democratization,
Egypt is the model.
Such a thesis would be compatible with wisdom's
origination or early association with the divine council.
Noth finds it lacking in Israel.1 Moreover, the analogy
between Israel and Egypt is weak. The evidence for a
personal wisdom of administration that formed the basis
of the king's education of his heir is doubtful. Early
royal wisdom in Israel becomes an inference from late and
Finally, royal wisdom encompasses subtypes whose
relationship with one another is obscure. Which of these
subtypes do we mean? How do thy relate to one another
historically? We have seen how problematic these issues
A list of subtypes, drawn from our discussion,
would have to include:
a) Royal oracular wisdom
b) Judicial discernment, the wisdom of the wise judge
c) Effective governance, sound administration
d) Royal ideology
1Noth, “Bewährung,” pp. 232-35.
e) Imperial guarantor of maat/order
f) Imperial bureaucracy, international scribalism
in royal service, bureaucratic Standesethik
g) Ordnungsweisheit, the wisdom of lists
h) Wisdom of the royal council
i) Wisdom forms of court etiquette (e.g., riddling
exchanges between monarchs or their emissaries)
j) Insight of a royal counsellor
k) Patron of the school and its forms and ethos
1) Patron of wisdom forms, literature, aesthesis
m) Royal stylistic conventions of poetry and speech
6. Epic Wisdom. The epic wisdom category holds
importance for our discussion because it forms an essential
part of the bridge von Rad builds between wisdom and
apocalyptic. If we are interested in locating any wisdom
Weltanschauung within theories of wisdom's evolution, the
von Rad hypothesis implies significant elements are to be
derived from the "structure" of wisdom. The term "epic"
should be taken in its broadest sense, as "heroic" or even
"ideal." There now rages a dispute within wisdom studies
whether what we would include in this wisdom type should
properly be considered wisdom at all.
Crenshaw, in his article on the problem of deter-
mining wisdom's influence on historical literature, sets
out five criteria that should be met before asserting the
presence of some kind of wisdom. First, there is con-
formity with definition, a problem we have already dis-
cussed. Second, the material must display "a stylistic
or ideological peculiarity found primarily in wisdom
literature."1 Common cultural expression or experience
does not count. Third, one must explain the nuance: how
are the wisdom elements actually used in the literary and
historical context of the work. Fourth, one must be con-
tinually aware of the predominant negative attitude toward
wisdom evidenced in much of Hebrew literature. Last, the
usage should make sense in terms of what we know of wis-
dom's historical development.2
While Hermisson dismisses Crenshaw's argument,
calling it "superficial" on the basis of an entirely off-
hand reference to I Kings 13,3 he actually takes a more
moderate position than his disagreement would suggest.
Setting out from von Rad's work relating history and wis-
dom to various Geistesbeschäftigungen à la Jolles,
1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
2Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"
3Hermisson, Spruchweisheit, pp. 88 n. 3, 46; Hans-
Jürgen Hermisson, "Weisheit and Geschichte," in Probleme
Biblischer Theologie, p. 148 n. 17. Yet, compare Noth,
"Bewährung," p. 237 (!).
Hermisson concedes that a basic consideration in wisdom
study is where to draw bounds.1 In fact, his discussion
of the Succession Narrative and Isaianic wisdom argues
for an integration of wisdom motifs and its presupposi-
tions quite consistent with an appreciation of the
problems of nuance and history, though he weighs them
differently from Crenshaw in the end.2
At the risk of over-simplification, these criteria
might well be summarized in terms of the problem of nuance.
Though a writer may draw on motifs, language and ideas
that otherwise seem related to one or another type of wis-
dom, the ultimate criterion is how he adapts these ma-
terials to serve his own artistic and intellectual objec-
tives. Wisdom imagery is not per se wisdom thought, let
alone wisdom as a social class, force or movement. Further,
that so-called "wisdom" which consistently appears in a