The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Six

The sixth, and final, part of a pretty long essay. Here are parts one, two, three, four, and five.

The Wisdom Literature as an international theological dialogue

The people of Israel had a predilection for harnessing themselves to the international theological zeitgeist, a propensity typified by their well-documented struggle with idolatry, and their geographical position as a political football between Assyria and Egypt meant they experienced a socio-political identity crisis, so it is likely that the primary function of any critique of foreign theology was internal.[1]

I propose that the wisdom literature adopted and critiqued the wisdom conventions of surrounding nations in the same way that Israel’s historians adopted and critiqued stories of creation and the flood from the ANE and contrasted them with an account grounded in the actions of Yahweh.[2] A true understanding of wisdom, like a true understanding of history, is grounded in understanding Yahweh’s involvement in the world, not in its ANE equivalents. If the wisdom literature is an apologetic for Yahweh as the author of life, in a deliberate comparison with other ANE gods,[3] and if this apologetic occurs in the context of an international wisdom conversation, then it was both didactic for the people of Yahweh, and a declaration to the nations.

Many have commented on the present day use of wisdom literature for apologetics and evangelism because they present universal truths unrestricted by culture.[4] But only some seem prepared to push this purpose back into Old Testament times seeing biblical wisdom apologetically engaging with ANE culture.[5]

Clements (1995) suggests a “lack of covenantal presuppositions enabled [the wisdom literature] to serve as an internal apologetic to Jews and as a non-national basis for religiously motivated moral teaching of a high order” which in turn linked the fear of the Lord with the way of wisdom.[6]

While this apologetic may not have been a direct pointer to the mechanism of salvation, it was a pointer to its author, couched in the international language of the day.[7]

An apologetic critique of the best of contemporary philosophy is strikingly similar in approach to Paul’s criticism of Greek wisdom in Acts 17[8] – and as Qoheleth reminds us time and time again, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

[1] Which is one of the great ironies of a link to Solomon.

[2] For a discussion of this process see Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, pp 49-56.

[3] Wright, op. cit, p 444, suggests wisdom literature warns against foreign gods as seriously as the law and the prophets.

[4] Hubbard, ‘The Wisdom Movement,’ pp 30-31, Wright, op. cit, pp 442-455

[5] Fyall, R.S, ‘Job and the Canaanite myth,’ Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, New Studies in Biblical Theology 12, (Downers Grove: IVP), p 194, Kaiser, W, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, pp 32-33 suggests an international audience for Ecclesiastes is a possibility

[6] Clements, R.E, Wisdom and Old Testament Theology, p 273

[7] Wright, op. cit, p 448, “Wisdom points us to Yahweh, the God who is the only hope of that salvation and indirectly to the story of Yahweh’s revealing and redeeming acts in which the world’s salvation is to be found.”

[8] See Winter, B.W, ‘Introducing the Athenians to God: Paul’s failed apologetic in Acts 17?,’ in edd Chia, R, and Chan, M A Graced Horizon: Essays in Gospel, Culture