PROVERBS 15:28-22:16






                                   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



PREFACE                                                                                                      iiii

LIST OF TABLES                                                                                          vii



            1.         INTRODUCTION                                                                  1

                        Background                                                                            1

                        Procedure                                                                              13

            II.         THE DEFINITION OF WISDOM                                        31

            III.       A WISDOM TYPOLOGY                                                    105

            IV.       HE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS          246


                        PROVERBS 15:28-22:16                                                    317

                        Introduction                                                                           317

                        Space                                                                                      322

                        Time                                                                                       475

            VI.       CONCLUSION                                                                      516

APPENDIX                                                                                                    519

SELECTEb BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                      580

                                       LIST OF TABLES

Table                                                                                                               Page

            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




Table                                                                                                               Page

            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

                        Agency                                                                                   558

            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

                        Standard                                                                                  562

            37.       Status Quo                                                                              562

            38.       Slave Sayings                                                             563

            39.       Intentionality                                                                         563

            40.       Miscellaneous Special Concepts                                         540

            41.       Familistic Sayings                                                                 564

            42.       Contagion                                                                               565                            



Table                                                                                                               Page

            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-  

                        Naturalistic]                                                                           572

            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




Table                                                                                                               Page

            66. Sayings Involving "Fate"                                                             578

            67. Future                                                                                           579

            68. Sickness                                                                                       579




























                                          CHAPTER I






            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

with psychologizing.

            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

and objective.1

            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.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

(June 1969):129-42.

            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.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.,

10 (1933):177-204.

            1Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"

pp. 129-42.

            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.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.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.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-

ical assumption.

            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.'




                                 CHAPTER II




            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

historical phenomenon.2

            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.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).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.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

defines wisdom:

            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-

stellenden Folgen."4

            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-

istischen Grundhaltung").2

            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

of wisdom:

            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

follows Zimmerli.2

            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

            "man's good."4

            . . . 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."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

            not Naturweisheit.2

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

            into trouble.1

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,

not pragmatism:

            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

            Jahwä überwunden.2

In sum,

            . . . 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."

            1pp. 138-49.

            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),

p. 63.


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."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.""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

before Yahweh.

            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

divinely conditioned.

            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

            Schöpfung Jahwes.3

            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

lesser stress. 

            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."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.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

of affinity.

            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,

pp. 27-40.

            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,

pp. 1-208.


            [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.


black-and-white analysis.1

            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.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.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

closely associated.

            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

Testament, 2:80.

            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

missionary religion.

            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.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

of God.2         

            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

to man.3

            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

wisdom mythos.4

            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.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.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

            bringen kann.1

            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.




                            CHAPTER III


                   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.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.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

(January 1974):8-14.


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.

            4P. 194.

            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-

dactor himself.

            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  

7 (1954):180-81.

            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;  

Eissfeldt, Maschal.


"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.

Samson rejoins,

            "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.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,”

p. 235.

            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

setting together.1


            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

received, tradition.4


            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.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

            royal patronage.2

            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

with Solomon:

            (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."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" (!).



            Scott concludes:

            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

legendary material.

            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."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,"

p. 132.

            2Crenshaw, "Method in Determining Wisdom Influence,"

pp. 130-35.

            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.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