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

The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Five

Part five of a pretty long essay. Here are parts one, two, three, and four.

Case Study: the Acts-Consequences Nexus and the nations

The so called “acts-consequences nexus” is central to theories of protest within the wisdom corpus. The premise that Proverbs asserts such a worldview, or perhaps that a calcified misinterpretation of Proverbs gave birth to a retributive theology in Israel, while Job and Ecclesiastes protest against it, has found significant scholarly support. [1] However, this retributive view of the world was not limited to Israel, it was a fundamental assumption underpinning the beliefs of many ANE nations, and a motivation in the pursuit of wisdom.[2]

Internal Protest

Von Rad (1972) suggests Jewish wisdom presupposed Yahweh as the order underpinning creation who would only act at last resort.[3] In order to reach this view he inexplicably dismisses Proverbs that call for trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5; 14:26; 16:3, 20; 18:10; 19:23; 28:25; 29:25; 30:1-14). The extreme version of this view reduces God to a deistic first-cause with a hands-off approach to creation,[4] and in this view the Yahweh of Proverbs functions the same way as the gods of the ANE.[5]

A retributive “reap-what-you-sow” theology is bound to result in disappointment in a broken world. Seemingly good people suffer, protest literature exploring this disappointment is common in the ANE.[6] Whybray suggests Israel’s protest literature was not unique, nor dependant on foreign works.[7]

This view of protest within the canon has become popular in modern wisdom scholarship,[8] and some have tried to identify retributive theology in the ethics of the prophets, suggesting it played an important role in Jewish theology.[9] Any concept of retributive theology legitimately found in the Old Testament is carefully grounded in the will of Yahweh,[10] and is usually the fruit of a promise.[11] I would suggest this view actually describes the purposes of the wisdom authors in addressing ANE conceptions of reality.

Ecclesiastes and Wisdom

If Ecclesiastes is understood as a protest against the mindless pursuit of wisdom characterised by the “wisdom movement” typified by the statement in 8:16-17, then this has been interpreted as a critique of Proverbs’ embracing of wisdom “Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7).[12]

However, it is possible that both statements reflect two sides of the same coin if they are read in the light of the “Fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:6, Ecclesiastes 12:13). Qoheleth’s objection to the wisdom movement must then be understood as a rejection of the wisdom movement as it exists in the ANE.[13]

Job and Retribution

Job maintains his blamelessness in the face of his friends, who clearly advocate a doctrine of retribution (for example Elihu’s words in Job 34:4-9).[14] His words in 9:22 speak out against such a doctrine, and his views on Yahweh’s rule of the world, and his own righteousness, are vindicated when Yahweh rebukes the friends because they have “not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7,8), dismissing any possible inkling of an acts-consequences nexus.

A major theological purpose of Job seems to be to overturn retributive theology,[15] theology that is commonplace in the ANE,[16] and not as clearly advocated in Proverbs as some suggest.[17]

The Problem with the proverbial Acts-Consequences Nexus

Waltke (1996) rejects what he perceives as three common aspects of the internal protest theory:

  1. Solomon was a dullard who failed to understand reality
  2. Proverbs contains promises that are not true
  3. The aphorisms within Proverbs present “probabilities not promises.[18]

Treating the book as a cohesive unit, rather than treating its aphorisms as axioms, radically countermands all three of these positions. This approach produces a balanced view of the world without an absolute law of cause and effect.[19] It is possible that Proverbs dealt with the “ends of life” rather than the means, and further that it dealt with the eternal consequences of temporal decisions (Proverbs 12:28).[20]

There are several proverbs (Proverbs 15:16-17; 16:8, 19; 17:1; 19:22b; 22:1; 28:6) that explicitly link righteous acts with poverty, and criminal acts with wealth, and others focus on failures of justice (Proverbs 10:2; 11:16; 13:23; 14:31; 15:25; 18:23; 21:6, 7,13; 19:10; 22:8, 22; 23:17; 28:15-16, 27).[21] These fly in the face of this acts-consequences concept,[22] most importantly, is the notion in Proverbs 15:16, that the “Fear of the Lord” can be coupled with having little, and that this is better than wealth.

Suggestions of an acts-consequences nexus may result from an under-realised eschatology. Proverbs suggests the consequences of righteous or wicked decisions may not come until the end of life (Proverbs 11:4,7, 18, 21, 23, 28; 12:7, 12; 14:32; 15:25; 17:5; 19:17; 20:2, 21; 21:6-7, 22:8-9, 16; 23:17-18; 24:20). The eschatological view point of Proverbs is best articulated in 24:14-16,[23] and 12:28, which Waltke suggests contains a promise of immortality.[24] The absence of such an undertone in Ecclesiastes and Job is a result of their more temporal concerns.[25]

This eschatological concern is uncommon in the Old Testament.[26] But securing a place in the afterlife was a primary concern of Egyptian wisdom. Egypt’s wisdom schools were called “Schools of Life,” for this reason.[27] Egyptian wisdom presented the gods of Egypt as subjects to the established order,[28] and the afterlife as tied to living life in accordance with ma’at.[29] Proverbs holds that Yahweh created, and controls this order,[30] and man’s hope is found in fearing him.[31]

The evidence for “protest” against conventional wisdom is strong in Job and Ecclesiastes,[32] but it is plausible to suggest Proverbs was not the target.[33] A simple reductionism of the works into a battle between optimism and pessimism will no longer suffice.[34]


[1] Shields, M.A, ‘The End of Wisdom,’ pp 238-239

[2] See note 6.

[3] Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, p 191

[4] Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, pp 333-334 citing Huwiler, E.F, “Control of Reality in Israelite Wisdom” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1988), p 64

[5] Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ p 246, Blenkinsopp, J, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament, p 46 suggests the acts-consequence nexus is an unhelpful hangover from Israel’s adaptation of ‘old wisdom’.

[6] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1991), p 38

[7] Whybray, N, ‘Two Jewish Theologies,’ p 181

[8] See Morrow, W.S, Protest Against God, pp 129-146, Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, pp 35-56, Shaking A Fist At God: Insights from the Book of Job (Ligouri: Triumph Books, 1995), pp 37-66, Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation, pp 74-82

[9] Hubbard, ‘The Wisdom Movement,’ p 11 citing Gerstenberger, E. ‘The Woe-Oracles of the Prophets’, Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962) 249-263

[10] Lucas, E, ‘The Acts-Consequences Nexus,’ p 8 suggests any character-consequences nexus in Proverbs is not the result of an impersonal order, but rather the “will of Yahweh.”

[11] Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land was certainly linked to their righteousness – cf Deuteronomy 30.

[12] Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, p 78

[13] Crenshaw, J.L, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary, p 24 suggests Qoheleth’s rejection of observing signs is a rejection of Mesopotamian wisdom, and p 26 suggests his embrace of life as opposed to suicide contrasts with Egyptian and Mesopotamian skepticism.

[14] Some have suggested that Job’s friends are representatives of the wisdom movement, or that all the characters are sages, Perdue, L.G, Wisdom Literature: A Theological History, pp 90-91, Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, pp 16-19, When confronted with Job’s plight, Eliphaz calls on Job to return to God, Bildad links righteousness and hope, and Zophar demands Job turn to righteousness. For Zophar the question is straightforward, if Job’s fortunes are in tatters then his righteousness is in question (Job 11), that the friends’ understanding of the underlying order of things, Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, p 259 suggests the dialogues “explores the limits of traditional wisdom” before turning to an understanding of the world centred around Yahweh’s controlling interest.

[15] See Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, pp 35-56

[16] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, p 39, Blenkinsopp, J, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament,’ p 48 suggests retribution was a common theological belief of the ANE.

[17] For example, Dell, K.J, Shaking A Fist At God, p 40, Dell suggests Job’s friends draw their theological inspiration from Proverbs.

[18] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?, pp 322-325

[19] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 15

[20] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ pp 323-327, Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming, p 4

[21] Van Leeuwen, R.C, “Wealth and Poverty: System and Contradiction in Proverbs,” Hebrew Studies 33 (1992): p 29, Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming, p 7 suggests these “better than” Proverbs

[22] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 326

[23] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 326

[24] A position adopted by the NIV but not the ESV, Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much,’ pp 329-330

[25] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?’, p 327,  notes “they are concerned with events under the sun and focus on the righteous man flattened on the mat for the count of ten; they do not focus on his rising, though they do not rule that out.”

[26] So much so that questions are raised as to whether Israel had any concept of an afterlife. It is fair to say that the notion of a resurrection had developed by the time Paul used it to split the Pharisees and Sadducees – so it is not an idea completely foreign to Old Testament theology. A case could, perhaps, be made for Job’s apparent change of heart regarding “retribution” (Job 27) to be attributed to an eternal view of the world and judgment coming at death.

[27] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?’, p 328 citing Crosser, W “The Meaning of ‘Life’ (Hayyim) in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes,” Glasgow University Oriental Society Transactions, 15 (1955), pp 51-52

[28] Wright, G.E, The Old Testament Against Its Environment, Studies in Biblical Theology, (London: SCM Press, 1950), p 44

[29] Sinnott, A, ‘The Personification of Wisdom,’ p 41 – Ma’at is important for personal immorality and the “entire basis for the Egyptian understanding of the world”, however, Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ suggests Ma’at is not a cut and dried “retributive” system

[30] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 333

[31] Zimmerli, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ p 24

[32] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom, p 35 suggests that the “apparent distinctive thoughts of Qoheleth” have common ground with Ancient Near East wisdom well before the exile.

[33] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom, p 16 suggests the wisdom movement is Job’s target, and that the story of Job demonstrates that God is not subject to the retributive system that had been “established by the sage.”

[34] Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 323, Nonevangelical academics, tend to pit the optimism of the so-called older wisdom represented in the Book of Proverbs against the pessimism of the so-called younger, reflective wisdom represented in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.”

The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Three

Here is part three of my essay on the wisdom literature. Here’s part one, and part two.

An International Affair

The reference to Solomon’s wisdom “surpassing that of Egypt and the wisdom of all the men of the east “(1 Kings 4:30) invites us to compare Israel’s wisdom with the nations,[1] and it is therefore feasible to expect similar interactions between wisdom literature linked to Solomon and the wisdom literature of the ANE.

Parallels have been established between the wisdom of Israel and the wisdom of Babylon, Egypt,[2] and Sumer,[3] Canaan, [4] and the Akkadian empire.[5]

What about the language barrier?

Rumours of a language barrier seem greatly exaggerated. This oft-cited objection to comparisons, on the basis of language,[6] appears to have been turned over by the discovery of a multi-lingual library of wisdom literature at Ugarit.[7] This discovery of documents from geographically disparate locations in a city close to Israel, written in Akkadian, Sumerian, Hittite and Egyptian languages suggests this barrier may be an overstated obstacle and that ANE scribes were internationally conversant.[8]

In any case the biblical picture of Israel’s struggle with foreign idols, and interactions with neighbours, does not suggest this barrier posed significant communication problems.[9] Israel was clearly conversant in foreign theology, and only a brave “argument from silence” could suggest that this was not a two-way conversation.[10]

The writers of biblical texts are well known to have used forms and genres common elsewhere in the ANE.[11] Even the Solomonic historiography (1 Kings 3-11), which firmly establishes wisdom as a defining theme of Solomon’s reign,[12] is consistent with ANE royal propaganda.[13]

Same, Same, but Different

The Book of Proverbs shares much in common, even some content, with the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope,[14] other similarities between the structure and rhetorical devices[15] of Proverbs and other works from the ANE have been noted,[16] Ecclesiastes also embraces common ANE wisdom structures.[17]

Ruffle (1977) suggests an Egyptian scribe working in Solomon’s court may have reproduced the Amenemope passages citing “plenty of evidence” for cultural contact between nations,[18] and argues this view is consistent both with the context and biblical account.[19]

It may be possible to demonstrate that wisdom borrowing was a two-way street, if Proverbs existed in some form around the time of Solomon then it is possible that the Aramaic Wisdom of Ahiqar, dated between the 7th and 5th centuries BC,[20] may have borrowed from Proverbs.[21]

Several Mesopotamian documents have been strongly linked to Job.[22] The Baal sagas from the temple library of Ugarit shed further light on ANE theology corrected in Job, where Yahweh is presented as being in control of the chaos of creation.[23]

Hurowitz (2006), in a survey of the theological content of a Babylonian wisdom piece The Wisdom of Supe-Ameli concluded that the critique of wisdom contained in Ecclesiastes “criticises accepted and widely held didactic wisdom” from the ANE.[24] Similar connections have been made between Ecclesiastes and the Gilgamesh Epic,[25] a specific example of dependency comes in the form of the cord of three strands motif employed in Ecclesiastes (Ecc 4:9-12) and Gilgamesh (lines 106-110) “Two men will not die; the towed rope will not sink, a towrope of three strands cannot be cut. You help me and I will help you, (and) what of ours can anyone carry off?”[26] Other similarities have been noted with the Babylonian The Dialogue of Pessimism,[27] and several of the texts also compared to Job, and Egyptian texts The Songs of the Harper, The Dispute of a Man with His Ba, and the Instruction of Ptah-hotep.[28]

Such comparisons often fall into the same trap experienced by the proverbial pair of hunters who encounter a fresh pile of manure in the woods.[29] Some deny any grounds for comparison,[30] others note significant similarities but see divergent theological views as evidence of little or no influence,[31] and minimalists raise questions about the nature of revelation,[32] and see an opportunity for source criticism.[33] All agree that Hebrew wisdom deliberately creates a monotheistic distinction from conventional ANE thought.[34] This deliberate distinction, not the similarities, should provide the most fruit for understanding the relationship between similar works.[35]

Wright suggests Israel’s wisdom thinkers and writers took part in an international dialogue “with an openness to discern the wisdom of God in cultures other than their own,”[36] and that such comparisons lead to the conclusion that there was “a lot of contact between Israel’s wisdom thinkers and writers and those of surrounding nations.[37]


[1] Longman III, T, How To Read Proverbs, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002)p 62 agrees.

[2] Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ p 242 suggests Israelite wisdom literature constantly received influence from Egypt, and elsewhere in the ANE, and suggests Israel was never totally isolated from the mainstream of ANE culture.

[3] Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, p 13, “We know too that it [Old Testament wisdom] stands in international relationship to equivalents in Egypt as well as in Babylonia, and before that in ancient Sumer.” for more on comparisons with Egyptian wisdom see Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ p 8,

[4] Ruffle, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), p 35, citing Albright, W. F. Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East, Leiden (V. T. Stipp. 3) (1960), pp 1-15.

[5] See, for example, Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ pp 3-19, Bruce, F.F, “The Wisdom Literature of the Bible: Introduction,” The Bible Student ns 22.1 (Jan. 1951), p 7, on the comparison with Babylonian wisdom see Hurowitz, V.A, ‘The Wisdom of Supe-Ameli,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, SBL: Atlanta, 2006, pp 44-45, Ruffle, op. cit, 36

[6] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom, p 40, suggests the Hebrew literature uses a vocabulary unparalleled in similar texts in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but he cedes that the parallels between the literature suggests some common ground.

[7] 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), pp 191-194

[8] Clifford, R.J, The Wisdom Literature, p 38

[9] Certainly not when it came to Israel adopting the gods, or women, of  neighbouring nations.

[10] Rahab’s testimony would be one notable example of a foreigner coming to Yahweh having heard stories of his greatness.

[11] Clifford, R.J, The Wisdom Literature, p 24

[12] The vast majority of occurances of הכם in the so called Deuteronomic History occur in this passage – see Lemaire, A, ‘Wisdom in Solomonic Historiography,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 107

[13] Lemaire, A, ‘Wisdom in Solomonic Historiography,’ p 113, Crenshaw, J.L, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 2010 Edition, pp 44-46

[14]Especially chapters 22:17-24:22 which fall within a “Solomonic” section, Early academic discussion surrounding the issue is summarised at length in Ruffle, J, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), pp 29-68, Crenshaw, J.L, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, pp 252-260

[15] The two rhetorical devices in the introduction (Proverbs 1-9) a father instructing his son, and the personification of wisdom and folly, were common ANE frameworks for wisdom instruction, see Day, J, ‘Foreign Semitic Influence on the wisdom of Israel and its appropriation in the book of Proverbs, On the personification of wisdom as a Semitic, and Egyptian, tradition see pp 60-69, and on the instruction from a father to son see the treatment of the Wisdom of Ahiqar, pp 65-66, on both see Sinnott, A, The Personification of Wisdom,(Ashgate Publishing: Aldershot, 2005), pp 44-45, Longman III, T, How To Read Proverbs, p 70-77

[16] Ruffle, op. cit, 36

[17] Crenshaw, J.L, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), pp 28-31

[18] Though he ultimately plays down the significance of similarities between Proverbs and Amenemope, Ruffle, J, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), pp 65-66, the idea of Egyptian sages being employed in Israel’s court also surfaces in Hubbard, ‘The Wisdom Movement,’ p 6

[19] Ruffle, op. cit, p 66, his evidence includes specific mentions of foreigners holding senior positions at the Israelite court, and the suggestion that some of Solomon’s officials have Egyptian names

[20] Millard, A, ‘In Praise of Ancient Scribes,’ Bible And Spade, 2 (Spring-Summer-Autumn 1982) pp 33-46 p 40

[21] Day, J, ‘Foreign Semitic influence on the wisdom of Israel and its appropriation in the book of Proverbs,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P, & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp 55-71 – Day establishes a comparison, and the presence of a direct quote in Proverbs 23:13-14, but suggests Ahiqar has priority, arguing for a later than 1000BC composition of that passage in Proverbs, Steinmann, A.E, ‘Proverbs 1-9 as A Solomonic Composition,’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43/4 December 2000, pp 659-674 at p 666 suggests a dating around that time is feasible, however, Whybray, N, ‘Thoughts on the Composition of Proverbs 10-29,’ p 71 suggests Ahiqar was an Assyrian document contemporary with the Israelite monarchy.

[22] Clifford, The Wisdom Literature, pp 70-72 identifies three Mesopotamian comparisons – the “Sumerian Job” A Man and His God, “I will Praise the Lord of Wisdom” or Ludlul bel nemeqi, and The Babylonian Theodicy – which Clifford argues directly influenced Job, Andersen, F.I, Job: An Introduction and Commentary,  (Leicester: IVP, 1974) pp 24-27, identifies a Ugaritic story called Keret, and an older Sumerian poem, as grounds for comparison, Blenkinsopp, J, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p 69, mentions those works and the Dialogue of Pessimism as possible comparisons, Kidner, D, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, (Leicester: IVP-Academic, 1985), pp 125-141 also mentions the aforementioned documents. Von Rad, G, ‘Job 38 and Egyptian Wisdom,’ The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965), pp 281-291 suggests a comparison between Job and the Onomasticon of Amenemope, and the Papyrus Anastasi I, suggesting structural similarities between the two, Perdue, L.G, Wisdom Literature: A Theological History, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), pp 85-89

[23] 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), pp 191-194

[24] Hurowitz, V.A, ‘The Wisdom of Supe-Ameli,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, SBL: Atlanta, 2006, p 45

[25] Bruce, op. cit, p 8, Kaiser, W, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979) pp 38-41 discusses ANE parallels to Ecclesiastes

[26] For a more detailed comparison see Day, ‘Foreign Semetic influence,’ pp 59-62

[27] Greenstein, E.L, ‘Sages With a Sense of Humor: The Babylonian Dialogue Between a Master and His Servant and the Book of Qohelet,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, (Atlanta, SBL, 2006), originally published in Beth Mikra, 44 (1999), pp 97-106

[28] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), pp 29-31 draws comparisons with the Babylonian Theology, Ludlul bel nemeqi, and the Instructions of Ahiqar, also Kidner, D, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, (Leicester: IVP-Academic, 1985), pp 138-139, also Crenshaw, J.L, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), pp 51-52

[29] One says to the other, “what’s that?” the other answers “it looks like deer droppings,” and leans down to smell it,“it smells like deer droppings,” the other tastes it “it tastes like deer droppings!” “Oh,” they both say, “it’s a good thing we didn’t step in it.”

[30] Andersen, F.I, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, (Leicester, IVP, 1974), p 24 identifies, two extremes to avoid when examining comparisons between Job and ANE literature. The first is to contend enthusiastically for the uniqueness of revelation, the second is to suggest that Israel invented nothing themselves.

[31] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 33, after a lengthy list of comparable documents Shields concludes that the similarities are vague enough to rule out dependency, though they place the books in an ANE context. Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ p 246 quotes McKane (1970) suggesting the theological correctives (specifically mentions of Yahweh) in Proverbs 10-29 are embellishments of “old wisdom” that was secular in nature, Ruffle, op. cit, pp 63-66 suggests that the pursuit of wisdom was so common that such similarities were inevitable.

[32] Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), p 39 – while not advocating the position, Enns suggests that foreign influence on scripture raises questions about the nature of revelation.

[33] A question articulated by Ogden, G.S, Qoheleth, (Sheffield:Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), pp 236-237

[34] Bruce, F.F, op cit, p 8, “These distinctive features belong to the unique revelatory character of Hebrew religion, with its emphasis on the one living and true God…” Wright, The Mission of God, p 446 “They approached the wisdom of other nations with the religious and moral disinfectant provided by Yahwistic monotheism.” Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 152-153 describes the ‘Yahweh-isation’ of ANE wisdom ideas, Longman III, T, How To Read Proverbs, p 77 calls it a process of “adaptation of ideas” into a broader Jewish understanding of the world. Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs, pp 24-25 suggests that the presence of Yahweh in Hebrew literature isn’t enough to show that the wisdom teachings are religious in nature, but that this is consistent with borrowing from ANE wisdom – he calls references to Yahweh “superficial.”

[35] Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation, p 39 makes a similar case – criticising the assumption that the more a biblical text looks like its ANE equivalents the less inspired it is.

[36] Wright, C, The Mission of God,’ p 441

[37] Wright, C, ibid, p 444, Hubbard, ‘The Wisdom Movement,’ p 6 also comments on a dialogue between Israel and Egypt as part of an international wisdom movement.

The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Two

This is part two of my essay on the function of the wisdom literature. Feel free to disagree, it’s a pretty minority position (I can only find two people who vaguely agree with me). Here’s part one.

A Solomonic Rubric

Solomon is indelibly linked to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Whether or not he was the actual author,[1] or this is simply a royal fiction,[2] this is an interpretive key,[3] placing the books alongside the Biblical account of his reign (1 Kings 3-11). In the broader ANE world, especially Egypt, wisdom and royalty went hand in hand.[4]

Solomonic Dating

It is plausible that a deliberate pursuit of wisdom, and collation of wisdom literature, began during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 4:32),[5] and possibly that it served an educational purpose.[6] Those arguing for a late dating of Proverbs assume that Jewish wisdom evolved from short and incoherent to long and integrated,[7] a study of the structure of comparable wisdom literature from the ANE in around 1,000 BC established similarities, in length and form, to Proverbs 1-9,[8] further examinations established stylistic and linguistic parallels with Canaanite and Ugaritic literature,[9] chapters 10-29 were also found to be of the same ANE vintage as the rest of the book,[10] and a lexical study suggests a common author of the passages in Proverbs attributed to Solomon.[11] Ecclesiastes is often dated late because it is said to contain Persian loan words, Kitchen (1977) demonstrates that these loan words had their roots in ancient Semitic languages that pre-existed Hebrew.[12] Job can also plausibly be dated in this time.[13]

A pre-exilic dating is not necessary in order for the books to be engaging with ANE wisdom, or for a Solomonic rubric to be valid. The question of Solomon’s actual involvement with these works is ultimately interpretively irrelevant. They are, whether actually, or fictively (or both), tied to the account of his reign (1 Kings 3-11, and especially 1 Kings 4:29-34).[14]

Waltke (1979) suggests the comparison between Solomon’s wisdom and that of surrounding nations (1 Kings 4:30-31) implies “that his proverbs were a part of an international, pan-oriental, wisdom literature.”[15]

Wright (2006) suggests “any wisdom that is associated with Solomon must be connected with the Solomonic tradition that God should bless the nations in their interaction with Israel.”[16]

Solomon participates in an international wisdom dialogue with foreign leaders, judges justly, and blesses the ANE world in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 12:3), in the manner envisaged by the Psalm 72. His international focus is evident in his prayer dedicating the temple contains an international injunction (1 Kings 8:41-43). It is also feasible to assume that the description of Solomon’s collection of wisdom crossed national boundaries.[17]

The aspects of his reign that I would suggest have bearing on our interpretation of biblical wisdom are as follows:

  1. An interaction with the ideas of the nations and their rulers and wisdom, and thus with the religious beliefs of the nations (1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 10:23-24)
  2. A theological focus, and corrective of international wisdom, based on the “fear of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:43).
  3. A desire to see the nations come before Yahweh, recognising his rightful position as creator of the world and the basis of wisdom and righteousness (1 Kings 8:41-43, 59-61, 1 Kings 10:9, Psalm 72).

Each of these elements is present in Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, and while each book has a distinct “wisdom” theme, they are internally theologically consistent when viewed through this rubric.


[1] Kaiser, W.C, ‘True Marital Love in Proverbs 5:15-23,’ The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K Waltke, ed J.I Packer and S. K Soderlund, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, 2000, p 111, and Kaiser, W, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), pp 25-29 advocates for Solomonic authorship of  Ecclesiastes – a very minority position.

[2] Kaiser, O, ‘Qoheleth,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 83, Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ Wisdom: The Collected Works of Norman Whybray, ed. Whybray, R.N, Dell, K.J, Barker, M, (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005) p 238 puts Ecclesiastes in the Hellenistic Age, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 19

[3] The final form of Proverbs even pays homage to Solomon with a numeric link – it contains 375 lines, the numeric value of his name. Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 2nd Edition, p 263

[4] Burdett, D, ‘Wisdom Literature and the Promise Doctrine,’ Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) p 3, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 104-109 on the royal nature of wisdom in Israel and the ANE, Brueggemann, W, Solomon: Israel’s ironic icon of human achievement, (Columbia: University of Southern Carolina Press, 2005), pp 116-117  follows Von Rad in describing a “Solomonic enlightenment,” though where Von Rad thought it was actual, Brueggemann sees fiction, Wilson, L, ‘The Place of Wisdom in Old Testament Theology,’ The Reformed Theological Review, vol 49, 1990, pp 60-69, at p 62

[5] Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 18, Ruffle, J, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), p 35, Ruffle dates Proverbs in the reign of Solomon, suggesting the scribes and counselors mentioned throughout Samuel and Kings (2 Sa. 8:17; 15:37 20:25; 1 Ki. 4:3; 2 Ki. 22:8-10) were more than capable of producing the work, Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs, p 20 suggest the wisdom movement may have originated under Solomon even if the claims of 1 Kings are hyperbolic.

[6] See Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs, pp 19-21

[7] Steinmann, A.E, op. cit, at p 660, Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p 334, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 24 describes the process of evolution with Ecclesiastes posited as a third century BC product, and a post-exilic date for Job and Proverbs 1-9.

[8] Kitchen, K.A, ‘Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form,’ Tyndale Bulletin, 28, 1977, pp 69-114, This study also found that wisdom literature from the period often included an epilogue.

[9] Ruffle, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), p 35, citing Albright, W. F. Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East, Leiden (V. T. Stipp. 3) (1960), pp 1-15.

[10] Whybray, N, ‘Thoughts on the Composition of Proverbs 10-29,’ The Collected Articles of Norman Whybray, p 71

[11] Steinmann, op cit. pp 662-673

[12] Kitchen, K.A, ‘Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East’, pp 106-107, Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, p 284 argues for an early dating of Ecclesiastes on the absence of certain Hebrew constructions that developed later.

[13] Kidner, D, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, (Leicester: IVP-Academic, 1985) pp 74-75

[14]Again, for the purpose of theological interpretation whether or not that account is historiographic propaganda or accurate history is largely irrelevant, Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), pp 24-25 suggests that the allusions to Solomon can not be used for dating the work in a pre-exilic setting, but served to legitimise the works, at pp 26-27 he argues for such a dating on the basis of Qoheleth providing advice on life in a royal court.

[15] Waltke, B.K, ‘The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (July-Sept. 1979), pp 211-238, see also Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 37, Fox suggests Proverbs borrowing from Amenemope “proves communication was open for this most international of genres.”

[16] Wright, C.J.H, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Inter-Varsity Press: Nottingham, 2006, p 448

[17] Ruffle, op. cit, p 66

The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part One

I’ve mentioned my theory on the wisdom literature a couple of times, in passing. I’ve decided researching and writing just for my lecturer is pretty boring. So I’m going to post my thinking (in the form of my essay) here for you to critique. It’s long. So I’ll do it in parts. Here’s the intro:

Where wisdom fits

The wisdom literature has been described as the “embarrassing step-child of Old Testament theology,”[1] because of both the clear influence of other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) wisdom, and because there was no obvious synergy with “redemptive history” frameworks.[2] Some consider the wisdom corpus as natural theology due to an absence of direct redemptive action from God, rather than direct revelation.[3]

Difficult waters were muddied further by suggestions that Job and Ecclesiastes were so theologically divergent from the Old Testament, they must be considered “protest literature,”[4] produced to directly refute the so called “acts-consequences nexus” supposedly identified in Proverbs.[5] This system of retribution was a common ANE belief,[6] and it has been demonstrated that elements of Israel’s community had adopted such a position.[7] Such a reading of Job and Ecclesiastes is possible. But I suggest such retributive theology was a syncretism with foreign beliefs, that Proverbs itself sought to redress, and more broadly that biblical wisdom is partly a theological corrective of ANE wisdom, which was inherently religious.[8]

The pursuit of wisdom, and the production of wisdom literature, was an important intellectual and theological pursuit in the ANE,[9] it crossed international borders.[10] Examinations of the relationship between the biblical wisdom corpus and the wisdom of surrounding nations have arrived at varying conclusions, though all acknowledge cross-pollination of wisdom ideas. Many have rightly rejected the notion that Israel imported ideas from surrounding nations to develop their own cult,[11] but few have suggested that Israel deliberately interacted with these foreign ideas in order to push people towards a life appropriately geared to the Fear of Yahweh.

The foreign influence in the wisdom literature is apparent on the surface, Proverbs lists two foreign kings as authors, and none of the characters in Job are presented as Hebrew,[12] below the surface the wisdom corpus reveals a deep familiarity with contemporary ANE wisdom.[13]

This piece synergises the international influence, and the theological “protest” undergirding the text, by adopting an interpretive rubric that places the wisdom literature within Israel’s redemptive narrative. The wisdom corpus provides a Yahweh-centric approach to the same eternal questions as ANE wisdom, with the “fear of the Lord” offered as a theological corrective.[14]

Scholarly consensus is that wisdom literature describes Yahweh as the “guarantor of order that makes life in the world possible,[15] most ANE wisdom concerned itself with understanding that order,[16] Egyptian wisdom placed the order in the hands of the king, who controlled Ma’at, while Israel’s king sought to place the control rightly in the hands of Yahweh.[17]


[1] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, (Fortress Press: Mieapolis), 1997, p 334, or “errant child” Clement, R. E, ‘Wisdom and Old Testament Theology,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 271

[2] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament, p 334, a summary of the “redemptive history” understanding and its synchronisation with the wisdom literature can be found in Hubbard, D.A, ‘The Wisdom Movement and Israel’s Covenant Faith,’ Tyndale Bulletin 17 (1966) pp 3-33, on wisdom’s international origins and lack of covenantal features being interpretively problematic see Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, pp 20-22

[3] Burdett, D, ‘Wisdom Literature and the Promise Doctrine,’ Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) p 2

[4] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1991), Morrow, W.S, Protest Against God: The Eclipse of a Biblical Tradition, (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2007), pp 129-146

[5] Essentially the idea that righteousness automatically produced material reward, and wickedness produced punishment, for a discussion regarding how appropriate it is to find such a nexus in Proverbs see Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, pp 333-334 and Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming

[6] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, SBL: Atlanta, 2006, p 7 suggests that “every important Mesopotamian text” presupposes that individual misfortune flows from failure to meet the prescribed actions of the gods, Whybray, N, ‘Two Jewish Theologies: Job and Ecclesiastes.’ Wisdom: The Collected Works of Norman Whybray, ed. Whybray, R.N, Dell, K.J, Barker, M, () p 180 – suggests the Old Testament shares the “naïve assumption that virtue brings its own reward” with the ANE world. Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48 urges caution with applying the Egyptian concept of Ma’at to this notion or a retributive order.

[7] Some argue that Israel developed a calcified reading of Proverbs and a notion of Deuteronomic blessings and curses being applied to the individual. Many have suggested that this is the underlying philosophy of Job’s three friends as they seek to explain his suffering. Their assumption that he is suffering as the result of this retributive theology leads them to place the blame for his circumstances wrongly on his head see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, pp 16-19, Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 15

[8] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ pp 6-7 a survey of Mesopotamian wisdom literature summarised the concerns of the “traditionally defined” wisdom books as “the rejection of hubris, the acceptance of human mortality, and ultimately on the submission to fate and to the order created by the gods.”

[9] Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, p 17, Ruffle, op. cit, p 36, Clifford, R.J, The Wisdom Literature, (Nashville, Abington Press), 1998, p 40 “Biblical wisdom literature is thus truly international, being found in the great empires that dominated Israel’s world as well as in the geographically closer cities of the Levant.”

[10] See, for example, Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs: The Concept of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, (London: SCM Press, 1965), pp 15-16 on the international conversation taking place between scribes and sages across international borders.

[11] For example, Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 48

[12] On the link this implies with ANE wisdom see Day, J, ‘Foreign Semitic Influence on the wisdom of Israel and its appropriation in the book of Proverbs, Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, pp 55-56, Day suggests this international flavour means Israel’s “wise men” were more internationally minded than others within Israel.

[13] Wisdom that Von Rad points out is under the subject of divine judgment (Wisdom that is the subject of divine judgment (Isaiah 19:11; 44:25; Ezekiel 28:12ff; and Obadiah 1:8), Von Rad, G, Wisdom in Israel, p 319

[14] Williams, J.G, Those Who Ponder Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), p 53, as an analogous point – scholars have long considered the Genesis account of creation as a corrective of creation narratives from surrounding cultures including the Enuma Elish a view that has reached broad acceptance with varying nuance. Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), pp 26-27 notes the comparisons with the Enuma Elish and suggests the contrast in theology was a deliberate contrast with the reigning Babylonian authority.

[15] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p 336

[16] This search for order has oft been conflated with the Egyptian concept of Ma’at, which has been traditionally understood as the personification of the truth or order underpinning creation – even the gods were subject to this order. Many have commented on its link with the presuppositions of Biblical wisdom – see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, p 15, however Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48, at p 38 suggests the scholarly depiction of Ma’at as relating to order is wrong and that it almost exclusively means “truth and justice,” he suggests that the concept of a fundamental order of creation was foreign to both Israel and Egypt (p 41) and that Ma’at, like Yahweh, was understood as the “creator of order.” Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 45-46 suggest wisdom attempted to grasp the natural order of society, creation and the realm of human conduct.

[17] Fox, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 41

The bones of my Wisdom Literature = cultural evangelism argument

I’m getting closer to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my Old Testament essay that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I still haven’t found many scholars who take the line I’m taking – and those that do come from a particular “missional” bent when interpreting scripture.

But here’s the flow of my logic – feel free to critique…

  1. God, from the very beginning, has been Lord of the whole world
  2. He selected Israel to be his chosen people.
  3. His promises to Abraham, involving Israel’s choseness included a promise that Israel would be a blessing to the nations – 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  4. Israel’s laws included laws for dealing with sojourners – those foreigners who chose to become Israelites.
    • Exodus 12: 48 An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. 49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”
    • Leviticus 17 suggests that these converts are “his people”: “8 “Say to them: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD -that man must be cut off from his people.”
    • Numbers 15: “For the generations to come, whenever an alien or anyone else living among you presents an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, he must do exactly as you do. 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD : 16 The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.'”
  5. We see examples of foreigners coming into citizenship of Israel, and testifying to YHWH’s rightful position because they’ve heard of God’s greatness. For example, Rahab, as Israel occupy the land of Canaan: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
  6. The nations are most blessed, throughout the Biblical narrative – including in the Old Testament – when they recognise YHWH’s position via Israel’s faithful example.
    • Deuteronomy 4:5-8: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
      Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
      For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
    • Micah 4:2 seems to me to hark back to the glory days of Solomonic rule (at least as it’s reported in 1 Kings – and I’ll get to that soon) – 2 Many nations will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,  to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
  7. On this basis I think it’s fair to assume that Israel was to have some sort of interaction with the surrounding nations where they would notice this difference.
  8. The wisdom literature borrows content and ideas pretty heavily from surrounding, contemporary philosophies – and corrects them, offering “the fear of the Lord” as the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom.
  9. It seems that in the era in which the wisdom literature was produced sages and wise people were popular, schools of philosophical thought may have been operating around the traps, and ideas were flowing across national boundaries.
  10. It follows, in my mind, that these works from Israel’s wise people may have been a contribution to this international conversation – offering the fear of YHWH as this basis for wisdom.
  11. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (and the Song of Solomon) are linked to Solomon – whether he actually wrote them or this is a fictive link is irrelevant. I think we’re meant to read them in the light of Solomon’s reign, as documented in the Bible. I’d also suggest that the accounts of foreign dignitaries and thinkers flocking to hear Solomon’s ministry of wisdom confirms both points 9 and 10 above.

    • Solomon’s dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 is a starting point: “ 41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name…59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. 61 But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”
    • 1 Kings 10 provides a picture of Israel’s Golden Age under the reign of Solomon – where the Abrahamic promises of Genesis 12 appear to be fulfilled – somewhat temporarily. The Queen of Sheba, on the basis of Solomon’s wisdom (and his relationship to YHWH) makes the following declaration: 9 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.””
    • Towards the end of the chapter the description of Solomon’s reign focuses on his global impact (his blessing of the nations): 23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”
  12. Psalm 72 appears to link Genesis 12 with Solomon’s reign…

    15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
    May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.

    16 Let grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
    Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon;
    let it thrive like the grass of the field.

    17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.
    All nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

    18 Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does marvelous deeds.

    19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

  13. The fear of the Lord is an important idea developed throughout the Old Testament – and often linked to the nations. It’s essential for Israel (see Deuteronomy 6), and Israel’s kings (1 Samuel 12). But it’s also the appropriate and expected response from the nations. For example, Egypt’s problem in the Exodus is that their officials do not fear the Lord. Joshua 4 links Israel’s conquest of the land with God’s desire for the nations to “fear the Lord.” Leviticus 19, quoted earlier, also contains instructions to “fear the Lord” (this link is tenuous – but it’s in a passage about “loving your neighbour” which deals with how to treat sojourners and converts). It’s what happens when Israel’s kings do the right thing (1 Chronicles 14, and their calling when Israel does the right thing in 1 Chronicles 16 – “tremble before him, all the earth“). There are other passages that link “the fear of the LORD” with the nations not taking certain actions against Israel (2 Chronicles 17). It’s also the particular focus of Proverbs (Proverbs 1, and then about a million other verses), a bunch of Psalms (eg Psalm 19, Psalm 22) the reason Job is held up as righteous (Job 1:8, 2:3), and the theological turning point in the book (Job 28:28), and the closing words (and “duty of Man”) in Ecclesiastes (Ecc 12:13-14).

So, my theory, is that rather than being riddled with inconsistent “acts-consequences” (eg you reap what you sow) theology (Proverbs) and the suffering of the innocent (Ecclesiastes, Job) – the wisdom books serve a unified, dual purpose. Firstly, they’re didactic for Israel – encouraging them to live out their obligations as a testimony to the nations of true wisdom, and a participation in an international “wisdom dialogue” advocating the fear of Israel’s Lord as the beginning of knowledge. And they’re to be read in the light of Solomon’s legendary reign and ministry of wisdom to the whole world.

What do you reckon?