Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9

by Michael V. Fox
Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9
Michael V. Fox
Journal of Biblical Literature
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University of \Visconsin, Madison, WI 53706

The book of Proverbs, read as a whole, presents a main topic amidst its numerous and divers maxims and observations. This topic, scarcely touched on elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature, is wisdom-not just wise behavior or wise teachings but wisdom itself, the human intellectual power, both as knowledge and as a faculty. The book of Proverbs is not only about doing; it is about knowing. This concern, even more than the specifics of the teachings, demands our attention if we wish to understand the special mes- sage and purpose of Israelite Wisdom Literature.

Concern for wisdom in this sense is to be found throughout the book; it is so pervasive that it often escapes notice. The most intensive reflection on wis- dom comes in chaps. 1-9, which is a hermeneutical preamble to the rest of the book. Within this unit, there are two ideas of wisdom, each conveyed in its own voice, and each (I will argue) belonging to a different literary stratum. Even in the text in its preserved form, the compositional history is not lost, for the two voices do not blend entirely but are heard in counterpoint.

To clarify these views of wisdom, I will first identify the two strata (section I), then ask about the idea of wisdom in each (sections 11-IV). This examination will, I believe, throw light on an important moment in Jewish intellectual history.

I. The Composition of Proverbs 1-9

For the purposes of the literary comparison to follow, it is sufficient to dis- tinguish the two major strata that enter into the dialectic. I will not attempt to trace the composition history of Proverbs 1-9 as a whole. The two main strata

I thank Professor Raymond Van Leeuwen for his insightful critique of this paper and his valuable suggestions. An earlier version of this paper was delivered as the Van Selms Meinorial Lecture, South African Society for Semitics, Durban, South Africa (May 1996).


of Proverb 1-9 are (in my terminology) the ten "lectures" and the five "inter- ludes," the latter interlaced among the lectures.

The ten lectures are as follows:

The lectures (also known as "discourses" or "instructions")~ are easily iden- tified.They are formulated as father-to-son instruction (a convention of the genre). Each develops a central topic in a tripartite structure:

(1) The exordium, itself tripartite, comprising


an address to the audience ("my son" or "sons");


an exhortation to hear and remember the teachings (e.g., "Listen . . . to your father's instruction; neglect not your mother's teach- ing" [1:8]); and


motivations, which support the exhortation by extolling the teach- ings' excellence and value to their possessor (e.g., "for these are a graceful garland for your head, and a necklace for your throat" [1:9]).

1 I call them "lectures" to give a more precise notion of their nature: a father lecturing his son or sons about morals. I reserve "instruction" for the name of the genre to which they belong. "cholars have described the historical composition of Proverbs 1-9 in a variety of ways, but many distinguish what I call the interludes from the lectures.

The ten major units in Proverbs 1-9 were identified by R. N. Whybray, Wisdom in Prooerhs (SBT 41; London: SCM, 1965) 33-52. Whybray, however, makes extensive deletions to recover what he considers their original form. He also identifies an intricate series of expansions, including "wisdom additions" in two stages, which comprise the wisdom personifications and more (ibid.). In The Composition of the Book of Prooerhs (JSOTSup 168; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994) 11-61, Whvbray describes Proverbs 1-9 as a diverse collection but still distinguishes ten

. .

instructions (originally much shorter). The rest of the material belongs to a series of redactional expansions, includmg 1:20-27,3233; 3:13-20; 6:l-19; 8:136; and 9:l-6, 13-18.

A. Meinhold identifies the components as ten Lehrreden (= the lectures), four Weisheitrgedichte (Interludes A, D, and the two passages of E), and three Zwi.~chenstiicke(3:13-20 [= Bl, 6:l-19 [= C],and 9:7-12) (Die Spriiche [Ziircher Bibelkommentar 16; Zurich: Theologischer Ver- lag, 19911 4346).

These components can be repeated within the exordium and recur later in the lesson.


The 1es.son (the teaching proper)


The conclu.sion (a summary statement generalizing the principle of the lesson).

There is considerable homogeneity in the structure and language of the lectures, particularly in the exhortations. To this we can add that they mostly tend toward long chains of reasoning, unlike anything elsewhere in Proverbs, and they all address the temptations confronting young men on the brink of adulthood. This homogeneity can be explained on two hypotheses.

Redaction. One possibility is that the lectures are by different authors and collected by a redactor. This hypothesis (preferred by most commentators3) requires the assumption that they belonged to a highly stereotyped genre.

There is, in fact, a well-recognized genre of "instruction" in ancient Near Eastern Wisdom that uses the elements described above, but it shows more flexibility and variation than do the lectures in Proverbs 1-9.4 In other Wisdom instructions, of which the Egyptian ones are the best examples, the three ele- ments are distributed differently. Typically (in Amenemope, for example), the definitive features belong to the work as a whole, which is much longer than any of Proverbs' lectures and which always contains discourses on a variety of topics. The shorter units (e.g., Amenemope's "stanzas") do not each display the complete structure.

Other passages in Proverbs belonging to the instruction genre are 22:17-

24:22 and 31:1-9.5 Except for a few extended maxims (23:l-8; 23:29-35; possi- bly 24:3-9; and 31:2-9), 22:17-24:22 and 31:l-9 are composed not of lessons with a single focus but of couplets and quatrains on a variety of topics, with few thematic connections among them. There are addresses to "my son" (23:15,19, 26; 24:13; 31:2), exhortations to hear and remember (2217; 23:12, 19, 22-23, 26; 24:13-14a), and motivations of exhortations (22:18, 20; 23:15b-16, 24, 25; 24:14b). There is, however, no clear rationale for the placement of these ele- ments, except for the major exordium of 22:17-21, which introduces the entirety of 22:17-24:22.

Hence, so far as we can determine, the instruction was not a highly uni- form genre. Thus if we ascribe their compilation in Proverbs 1-9 to redaction,

E.g., Whybray, Composition, 26-28; William McKane, Procerbs (OTL; London: SCM, 1970) 7.

The "instruction" genre is described by McKane, with an extensive survey of Egyptian and Mesopotamian instructions (Prooerbs, 6-10, 51-182). My formal description differs somewhat from Whybray's and McKane's, but the basic identifications agree.

'Thus McKane, Prooerbs, 7.

we must suppose that the redactor searched out and assembled poems that happened to express the same ideas in the same way, and the result is still a lit- erary unity, though produced by redaction rather than authorship.6

Authorship. Alternatively-and more simply-the ten lectures may all be the work of a single author and composed as a unit. The unit may have been either intended as an independent book or composed as an introduction to the rest of the book of Proverbs. The author (or the literary tradition behind him) took the definitive elements of the ancient genre of instruction and introduced them into each literary unit, so that each lecture is a complete instruction. This reformulation, which places repeated emphasis on the importance of hearken- ing to wisdom and on wisdom's benefits, reinforces the author's teaching about the nature of wisdom, which will be described below.

The five interludes are as follows:

Interlude C is a miscellany with little direct bearing on the lectures and may be set aside for present purposes. The other four (the "wisdom interludes") praise wisdom and share an unusual idea of its nature. Three of these-A, D, and E (the "personification interludes")-depict wisdom as a woman.

The interludes, in my view, are a later stratum inserted in the series of lec- tures. To identify historical strata in a literary work, we must first form a pro- file-conceptual, literary, and linguistic-of material that clearly belongs to one strata. Then we ask whether the other material fits this profile. To be sure, a single author can introduce variety in a unified work, but at some point the differences become prominent enough to indicate diverse origins, and that is the case here. The interludes and the lectures differ in their conceptual and lit- erary characteristics. Linguistic differences (other than those determined by theme) are not evident.

1. Concepts. The most striking difference is in the concept of wisdom. The lectures understand wisdom as residing within people's words and

fi This is hieinhold's view (Spriiche,4346). He regards the first nine chapters as a redacted collection, but one shaped accordng to a careful and intricate design.

7 Most commentators regard 9:7-12 as a group of later adhtions. In my view, 9:7-10 is one insertion, v. 12 another, while v. 11 is the original continuation of v. 6 (observe how v. 11 motivates the injunction in v. 6)and is the conclusion of Lady Wisdom's speech.

thoughts. In the wisdom interludes, it transcends the individual mind. The ide- ologies of wisdom (described below in sections I1 and 111) consistently rein- force the separation of the two strata.

2. Literay features. The lectures alone present themselves as addressed by father to son. The Wisdom Interludes either address people generally (B)or men identified in the text (A, D, E).

The lectures are constructed on a careful schema, as described above. The tripartite structure is carried through, with only slight variations, in ten lec- tures. It would be highly unlike an author concerned for schematic design to disturb a neat set of ten similar units by introducing five dissimilar passages in various places in his composition. Their placement has its own logic, but it is not an extension of the logic of the lectures.8

3. Diversity in the interludes. Further confirmation of the hypothesis that the interludes were not written by the same author as the lectures is the evi- dence that the interludes themselves do not have a single author.

There are various inconsistencies among the interludes. In Interlude A, Lady Wisdom condemns fools for ignoring her call, but such a call is issued only in D and E. An additional deviation from logical sequence is implied in E, where Wisdom builds her house (9:1),although this is already presupposed in D (8:34). The temporal sequence of the interludes, which a single author would likely have followed, is E-D-A, not A-D-E.

To the factual inconsistencies, I would add a consideration based on an aesthetic judgment: The author of D would be unlikely to append E. Interlude D comes to a grand climax in Wisdom's tale of eminent origins, which leads into her blessing of her followers ("Happy is the man who listens to me," v. 34) and her warning against those who spurn her ("all those who hate me love death,"

v. 36). The proclamation in 8:34-36 would provide a grand finale to this unit and a regal prelude to the proverb collections. But between the call to seek wis- dom and the wise proverbs themselves (starting in chap. lo), Interlude E intrudes, making the unit conclude with the invitation of the slattern Folly. This invitation, though memorable in itself, comes as an interruption and a letdown after Wisdom's proclamation and invitation in chap. 8.Therefore (and this is my

8 Interlude A adds mockery to the threats of Lecture I. Interlude B, with its spirited encour- agement to study wisdom, nicely complements Lecture 111, which extols piety alone and even inti- mates a certain caution about independent human intelligence (3:5).This suggests a later author backing away somewhat from the lecture's intellectual emphasis. In Interlude D, the public, legiti- mate invitation of Lady Wisdom contrasts with the furtive, illicit invitation of the Strange Woman (7:9-10). Interlude E picks up the motif of U'isdom's invitation (8:34),as well as earlier references to the foolish woman's house (7:27),and elaborates them into the conceit of two contrary invita- tions.

only concern at present), Interlude E is unlikely to have been written by the author of D. And if the interludes have different authors, they cannot all be ascribed to the author of the lectures.

  1. Cohesiveness among the interludes. To be a "stratum," a series of liter- ary units must also cohere among themselves. The interludes do so not only in their unique concept of personified wisdom, but also in some unusual motifs, such as the location of Wisdom's proclamation in the gates and busy streets (120-21; 82-3; 9:3b), the characterization of her audience (122; 8:4-5; 9:4), and, of course, the personification of wisdom as a woman. These features belong mainly to A, D, and E, but they are prefigured in the encomium to ~vis- dom in B, ~vithits incidental personification in 3:16-18. Even if they were com- posed and inserted by various scribes, the interludes cohere as a group, probably because they all respond to ideas and motifs found in the lectures.

  2. Continuity with the lectures. The interludes do not appear to have orig- inated as independent essays; they are outgrowths of the lectures. Several motifs from the lectures are echoed (or, when applied to the fool, reversed) in the interludes. Some notable cases (with the related interlude passages indi- cated in brackets) are the obligations to seek wisdom (24 [1:28]), to listen to it (22;420; 51;etc. [1:24; 8:32]), and to call to it (23 [1:28; the complementary motif is wisdom's call: 121; 8:1]); finding wisdom (422 [1:28; 3:13; 8:17, 351); the evil consequences of hatingwisdom and reproof (5:12-14 [1:29-321). In the lectures, the personification of wisdom is found in incidental or inchoate form, as one metaphor alongside others, in 234; 43-9; 622; and 7:4. Lady Folly is abstracted from the features of the Strange Woman of the lectures. Her house must be avoided (5:8; 725 [9:13-18]), for the path to it leads to death (218-19; 5:5; 7:27 [9:18]).

Given the diverse authorship of at least some of the interludes, along with the continuity of the interludes with the lectures, we can picture the process of growth as a series of insertions by scribes learning from and building on the lec- tures rather than as a compilation and reorganization of unrelated texts by a redactor. The connections among the wisdom interludes can be explained not from their having a single author but from a process of organic growth, with each successive author reading the earlier text and elaborating on it. From the idea of wisdom in the lectures they extrapolated a different, more abstract con- cept of wisdom, then conveyed the theory by a personification. The result is a cohesive portrait of Lady Wisdom's history, status, personality, and powers.

Proverbs 1-9 presents two ideas of wisdom, each in its own stratum. I will ask what these ideas are and how they are conveyed. The what and the hou: can be discussed separately, but in reality they are almost inseparable, for the nature of wisdom is to a large degree determined by the personae who speak it, their rhetoric, and their relations to their auditors. This is especially true in the personification interludes, where the persona is wisdom, but it pertains in the lectures as well, where the father is the conduit of wisdom. The authors chose to communicate with us by means of personae instead of directly in the autho- rial voice, and we must study these personae to understand the ideas of which they are the vehicle. The creation of effective personae is necessary for infusing in the readers not only knowledge but attitudes and perspectives that will guide their behavior.

II. Wisdom in the Lectures

What is Wisdom?

Just why is the wisdom taught in the lectures supposed to be so difficult to learn? In the exordia of the lectures, the teacher (who in this case is the father), regularly demands that the listener, his son, strive for wisdom with all his might. The effort required is described as arduous and prolonged. The exhortations encourage the son in this task:

My son, if you take in my words,
store up my precepts within you,
making your ear attend to wisdom,
directing your heart to good sense . . . . (2:l-2)

From one viewpoint, "wisdom" is the father's teachings, the words we read in these chapters. But these in themselves are not enough, and the father is aim- ing at a higher goal, wisdom of a different sort.

Even while absorbing the father's wisdom, his precepts, the son must pur- sue wisdom tenaciously. Even then, wisdom is attained only with God's help, "For the Lord grants wisdom, at his behest come knowledge and good sense" (2:6).So difficult is the task that the author unfolds a theory of learning whose


practical purpose is to encourage the neophyte to persevere in the task."

Yet the teachings do not seem all that difficult. Their message is plain and unambiguous, the precepts nothing that anyone would admit to being ignorant of: don't rob, don't kill, don't commit adultery, be honest, trust God. As great as


these principles are, Wisdom must mean something more than simply knowing them. The wisdom the teacher is seeking to impart is not reducible to his own


precepts. It is a power: Once achieved, it resides in the learner as a potential and must be activated by God in order to become the faculty of wisdom, the inner light that guides a person through life. The function of this wisdom is explicitly defined in sentences dependent on the exhortations: protection from

See M. V. Fox, "The Pedagogyof Proverbs 2,"IBL 113 (1994) 23343.

sinful men and women-not from the harm they may cause directly but from the temptations they pose:

Shrewdness will watch over you,
good sense protect you,
to save you from the way of the evildoer,
from the Inan who speaks distortions; (2:ll-12)

and also

to save you from the woman not your own, the stranger who speaks slippery words. (2:16;cf. 7:5)

Seduction is the main (indeed, almost the only) peril warned against in the lectures. The wisdom that can withstand it is not the aptitude for discovering new truths. It is not erudition, sapience, or unusual intellect. It does entail (according to 4:23-25) the purity of heart, tongue, and eyes, representing respectively thought, speech, and desire. This wisdom is identified with (though not identical to) the fear of God, which is both the starting point of the quest for wisdom (1:'i)and its culmination (2:5). Such wisdom is the ability to discern right from wrong and also the desire to pursue the right, because inert wisdom would not provide protection.

Wisdom has an attitudinal or emotional as well as an intellectual compo- nent. That is why the son is urged not only to learn wisdom but to love and desire it (4:6-8). Wisdom is a configuration of soul; it is moral character: And fostering moral character, it is no overstatement to say, is at all times the great- est goal of education. It is also the greatest challenge, for moral character comes down to desiring the right things, and how can we teach desire? The author of the lectures tries to do so, in part, by delivering his thoughts through an effective rhetorical persona, that of the father.

Persona and Haetoric

The dramatic situation in the lectures is of a father instructing his son.10 As in almost all instructional wisdom, the father is the speaker. There is no justifi- cation for the common assumption that the speaker is a schoolteacher. Even if these chapters were used in schools (which is merely a conjecture), the persona is a father. He identifies his teaching (in essence, if not in wording) with that of his wife, who is certainly not a schoolmistress (Prov 1:B; 43; 6:20; and compare 31:26).11

loThis is the ostensible setting, probably fictional insofar as it is not written by an actual father for his actual son. (The persons are too generalized for that, and the fluctuating address to "son" and "sons" indicates that the author does not have his own son in mind.)

11 The common assumption that the speaker is a schoolmaster is based on the Egyptian anal- ogy, which, however, has been misunderstood. In Egyptian (and Mesopotamian) Wisdom, the

The father's pedagogical rhetoric aims at guiding desire: fostering the right ones, suppressing the wrong. Imparting information is not enough, for moral character cannot grow from static cognition. With the goal of moral character clearly in view, the author avoids amassing advice on most of the virtues pro- pounded elsewhere in Proverbs, such as interpersonal skills, diligence, and even social justice. He touches on these in only a few verses (3:9-10, 27-30; 4:23-24). He strips matters down to essentials and assigns to wisdom one pri- mary function: protection against temptation.

Leo Perdue has identified the social-psychological setting of Wisdom instructions as liminality, a stage transitional to a new and elevated status.12 Though Perdue does not discuss Proverbs 1-9, this concept applies well to the situations pictured here. The youth addressed in Proverbs has or is about to receive independence and adult responsibilities, yet he lacks maturity and good sense. His moral cast is not yet hardened. He stands at the crossroads where the two paths diverge, and he must now, immediately enter into the path of life.

The author knows that young men (represented by the "son" or "sons" within the text) are terribly vulnerable to peer pressure and their own raging libido, and he is aware that the longings for camaraderie and sexual relief tug at them with fearsome power and can easily overwhelm their still-precarious powers of reason. The lectures seek to help young men withstand these drives and channel them to proper uses, namely, concern for a good reputation and marital sex.

As we are painfully aware today, the surrender to the yearning for group approval, fast money, and casual sex can be literally deadly. In the lectures, the father must convince his son (and the author his readers) of this. The teacher seeks to connect deed with consequence deep in the son's mind. To this end, more is required than sententious maxims and somber warnings, or even a logi- cal demonstration of cause and effect, for by themselves these are abstract and detached from the listener's short experience. The author must fashion a per- sona who can reach its audience, the readers. The persona, for his part, has his own rhetoric in addressing his son. The main features of his rhetoric are the fol- lowing:

1. Authority. The father is authoritative. He intones exhortations and injunctions with magisterial authority demanding attention and obedience. He does not hold out options; the only alternative to his way is the road to death.

speaker is almost always to be understood as a father speaking to his son or sons. This is sometimes fictional, but it is sometimes clearly the actual situation. See my essay "The Social Location of the Book of Proverbs," in Ten-t.s,Temples, and Traditions (ed. M.V. Fox et al.; Winona Lake, IN: Eisen- brauns, 1996) 22739.

l2 Leo 6.Perdue, "Liminality as a Social Setting for Wisdom Instructions," ZAW 93 (1981) 11626.

Though his teachings may be considered counsels (though not called ;i~

in these chaptersl3), obedience to them is not optional. The teachings are nlira, which are commandments or authoritative precepts, not elective counsels.1" The authority is not that of law or divine command, and it has no sanctions to enforce it. It is the authority of ethos, the credibility of the projected character of the speaker and his relation to the audience. This authority derives from his paternal position and his role as transmitter of ancient teachings.

  1. Promise and warning This is the most obvious tactic in the speaker's rhetoric. He heaps up promises of rewards for obedience-long life, health, prosperity, honor, favor, happiness, and protection, especially against tempta- tion. And he warns of great punishments for defiance-death, disaster. humili- ation. He rarely explains how these consequences come about, for to do so would limit the applicability of the principle of retribution to a certain sequence of events. The principle is that just rewards and punishments are a certainty, and they may come about in limitless ways.

  2. Intirnacy. In order to make a lasting impression, the father must not only command; he must persuade. To this end he chooses an intimate, paternal intonation. He tells his son how his own father gave him instruction, not so much adding new information thereby as aligning himself with his son, letting him know that he went through the same experience himself. He speaks to the budding adult in a confidential tone, man-to-man, alerting him to the pull of greed, conformity, and, above all, lust with a vividness that reveals his own nag- ging susceptibility to their call. The wise man is not devoid of such desires, and he does not demand that his son be. Wisdom does not mean purity of that sort, a childlike innocence that knows not good or evil. The fruit of the tree of knowl- edge has already beerr eaten, and wisdom now lies in knowing: in knowing what

Iiady\5isdorn, however, speaks ofher 73sin 125, 30 and 9:14, so the term could presum- ably apply td the father's too.

14 Prov 2:l; 3:l; 620, 23; T:l, 2. A 7iSE is al\vays given by a supelior in status or power. It is usually given by God (always, in the Pentateuch), a king (e.g., 2 Kgs 18:36; Esth 3:3), or a recog- nized leader (e.g., Moses, in Josh 22:5).

\Y, Zimlnerli believes that wisdom is only counsel, not command. "Ein Gebot tritt kategorisch auf, ein Rat is diskutabel. Er sol1 iiberlegt und abgewogen sein, er sol1 einleuchten, bevor er in Tat umgesetzt wird" ("Zur Struktur der alttestamentlichen Weisheit," ZA\V 51 [1933] 17'7-204, at 183). But this creates a dchotomy that is mislealng, at least for Proverbs 1-9. (The tone is less authoritar- ian in the older proverb collections.) The coiinsel of Proverbs is not "arguable." The reflection and weighing the) mean to inspire pertain only to the way and circ~~mstances

oftheir application (which is true of law as well). not to their validity. B. Gemser responded to Zimmerli by arguing that Jru often entails authority ("The Spiritual Structure of Biblical Aphoristic \f?sdom." in Adhuc Loquitur [ed.A. Van Selms and A. S. \,an der \T-oude; Leiden: Brill, 19681 13849, at 14.C16).

dangers will confront a man, how great their sway, and how horrendous their effects. And wisdom means knowing oneself, for the most insidious dangers ultimately lie within, and only an internal power can withstand them. This is wisdom, a power of intellect and character, founded on fear of God.

4. Viuidness. To bring the youngster to an awareness of what he will con- front, the father conjures up memorable scenes that both tantalize and repulse. He paints the enticements in vivid, even lurid, colors, quoting the woman in words bordering on lewdness, as in 7: 18:

Come, let's slake our thirst on love till dawn, take our delight in lovemaking!

The sexuality is explicit. nvrefers to physical, sexual lovemaking, including coitus. C'2;TH means sex, not necessarily with emotional involvement (Hos 8:9). Why does the father veil the vice in such allure?

The vividness is meant to make appearances clear and palpable, so that the son will be aware of their power. He shows the seductive woman's allure to all the senses, her titillating promise of stolen pleasures, her apparent attentive- ness to her victim (7:15). He likewise recounts the gang's promise of wealth, power, and fellowship. The impact is all the greater, then, when he tears away the veil and lays bare the foul and fatal realities behind the fa~ades. The would- be buddies, he informs his son, are fraudulent, and they are out to trap you. Behind her sensuous looks and honeyed words, the sexy seductress is shabby, exploitative, and treacherous. The sweetness of her mouth leaves a bitter after- taste. Her fragrant house is a grave where her victims rot (2:18-19; 7:27).

5. Irony. The father revels in ironies. An ironic sensibility reminds us that we can control our actions but not their consequences. If a man digs a pit, he will fall in it (26:27). Worse, the irony of retribution shows the sinner to be ludi- crous, a thought that may sting him worse than fear of physical harm.

The ironic voice mocks the sinner. If he is wise in his own eyes, he is a fool in others'. The greedy youth who succumbs to the invitation of the gang is really their dupe, a silly bird taking the bait (this is one of the several points of the ambiguous 1:17). The oversexed young man who follows a loose woman to her bed squanders, ironically, his own powers of generation (59, 16). He sins in secret and is humiliated in public (5:14). He embraces a sylph in silky bed- clothes only to be scorched by the burning coals of her husband's wrath (6:27, 34-35). The sinner indulges his cravings out of self-love, but down deep he hates himself, and he is his own destroyer (1:19; 522; 6:32b). He is not just wicked; he is a fool.

The supple and multifaceted rhetoric of the wisdom teacher seeks to for- tify the youngster's soul against its own fierce passions. Then the other skills and virtues, such as diligence, prudence, skilled speech, and social grace, will have sheltered ground on which to flourish, and to them much of the rest of the book of Proverbs will be devoted.

III. Wisdom in the Interludes

The four wisdom interludes-A, B, D, and E-reflect on wisdom and share the same basic idea of this faculty. It is an idea that grows from the con- cept of wisdom in the lectures but goes far beyond it.

What Is Wisdom?

The idea of wisdom in the interludes is conveyed by means of the figure of Lady IVisdom. She is a strange being, a personification of a mental power who claims to have preceded creation and to exist in a daughterlike relationship to God. She transcends mundane reality and human minds, individually and col- lectively, yet she is active in the busiest spheres of human existence. This figure is not simply a cipher for ordinary human wisdom, yet she is in some way iden- tified with it.

Wisdom's Models

Lady Wisdom surely did not arise full-grown out of the author's head but, like all strange visions, took its shape from realities and images familiar to the author and his readers. Determining the figure's models can help in recreating something of the mind-set the original audience was expected to have in pictur- ing the Wisdom figure and thus in discovering its nature.

Scholars have proposed various hypotheses about the models-human and divine, real and mythological-underlying the portrayal of Lady Wisdom as she appears in one or more of the interludes. The mythological models pro- posed include a Canaanite wisdom goddess,Jj the goddess Macat,16 and the Hellenistic Isis." Even if these are in the background of the figure, it is unclear to what degree the audience would have recognized them in the por-

'5 Bernhard Lang, Wisdom and the Book of Prooerbs (Newv York: Pilgrim, 1986) 57-70. No such goddess is known.

'Whrista Kayatz, Studien zu Prooerbien 1-9 (WMANT 22; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirch- ener Verlag, 1966) 93-119. I criticize this hypothesis in "World Order and Macat: A Crooked Parallel," IANES 23 (1995) 37-48, at 44-46. In brief, none of the features that Kayatz finds common to ~isdomand Macat are exclusive to Ma'at. Moreover, Ma'at nowhere gives a speech such as Lady Wisdom does here; in fact, she never seems to speak at all.

"I advance this hypothesis, with resen~ations, in "World Order," 4648. The similarities are strong but the earliest extant Isis aretalogies are rather late, from the first century BCE.

trayal of IVisdom. Possible models from the real world include: a teacher,l8 a prophet19 a herald,20 an angel,21 and various types of women (the wise wife, the lover, the pro\;ider,22 and the scorned lover23).

Undoubtedly several models lie behind this complex literary figure. There is no single human type or role with all the characteristics of Lady Wisdom. Components of her portrayal must come from known types of persons (real or mythological), but these need not coalesce into a single human type.24 One model, however, dominates the portrayal and provides the grid which holds together the component features, and that is the teacher: The teacher, which role the father fulfills in Proverbs 1-9, is the type whose rhetoric and personal- ity have come to the fore in the lectures in which the interludes are embedded. Especially in Interlude D, Wisdom speaks in forms similar to those the father has been using in the ten lectures preceding.

Interlude D is an extended exordium, comprising (a) an address to the audience (8:4), (b) an exhortation to listen (w.5-6,8-10, renewed in 32-36, cf. 5:7; 7:24), and (c) an extensive motivation of the exhortation in two parts (w.12-21 and 22-31). The purpose of the motivation is not to teach theology or mythology, but to get people to hearken to wisdom. The exaltation of wis- dom's benefits and eminence, which is the substance of the motivations in the exordia,25 is here elaborated into a long oration in the self-praise pattern. This

lRLang, Wisdom, 5639. Lang unnecessarily identifies teachers with schoolmasters.

'9 This is manifest particularly in the chastisement in Interlude A. \X7ith regard to the rever- berations of prophecy in Lt'isdom's words, see AndrC Robert, "Les Attaches 1ittCraires bibliques de Prov. I-IX," RB 43 (1934) 42-68, 172-204, 374-84, at 172-81; Berend Gemser, Spriiche Salomos (HAT V16; 2d ed.; Tiibingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1963) 23; Kayatz, Studien, 122-29; and, most care- fully, Scott Hanis, Proverb? 1-9: A Study of lnner-Biblical Interpretation (SBLDS; Atlanta: Schol- ars Press, 1995) 87-109.

"Zerahiah b. Shealtiel makes the interesting connection between the puzzling verb 7:in in Prov 8:3 and 1 Kgs 22:36: "and the 7:; [fem.] [masc.!] through the camp." Zerahiah says "this is the herald who proclaims matters of state" (nu7 ';I?% [13th century, Barcelona; edited by I. Schwartz: Vienna: Hafferburg & Mann, 18711 ad loc.).

2' Lady Wisdom is not an angel-a member of the &vine court and God's messenger. Never- theless, in Proverbs her mode of existence has a certain similarity to an angel's. She is a heavenly creature, residing in angelic proximity to God. She exists outside the mundane sphere, yet traverses it and speaks to man. Ben Sira gives her this status, when he says that "She opens her mouth in the assembly ofthe Most High" (24:2).

22 Claudia Camp identifies these three roles as implicit in Wisdom's behavior (Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Prooerbs [Sheffield: Almond, 19851 chaps. 3,7, and 9).

"I would add that Lady Wisdom acts like a spumed lover nursing a grudge in 1:2P31.

24 As Camp observes, "personification makes generalizations from the multiplicity of human experience. . . . Personification . . . is unitary because of its generality, the level not of particularity but of abstractness that it brings to a given set of phenomena" (Wisdom, 215-16). Thus Lady Wis- dom can gather a variety of phenomena from the mundane and literary domains without herself representing any single known reality.

2.j It is absent only in the brief exordium to Lecture VIII, 5:l-2. But the transition between

pattern is well known from numerous divine and royal speeches.26 Since moth-

ers too are teachers and their message is identified with the father's (1:s; 43;

6:20; cf. 31:1), this role is quite compatible with a female persona.

The model of the teacher is clearest in Interlude D but is recognizable also in A, where LiTisdom chides and mocks the nayve and the foolish. For chastise- ment (;rn~in)is part of the wisdom teacher's activity, and often in the lectures the teacher pours ironic scorn on fools. Also in Interlude E, Wisdom's invoca- tion (9:4-6 + 11)resembles the exordia of the lectures. Furthermore, it is likely that \Visdom's banquet in E is to be imagined as a .symposium in which the learned discourse on wisdom.27

In the lectures, the exordia, which call the son to attention and praise wis- dom, are prefatory to the lessons, wherein lies the main message. The authors of the interludes recognized the potential of the exordia to bear a message of their own. The paean to wisdom in Interlude B may be the transitional stage to the full personification in Interludes A, D, and E.

The use of the teacher as Lady Wisdom's primary model strengthens her bonds with the lectures in which wisdom is praised and exemplified. In some way, she is both the teacher-the source of wisdom-and the wisdom taught. To determine the nature of personified wisdom we must inquire into the reali- ties on which she was modeled and the reality she represents.

Wisdom's Mythos

Whatever Lady Wisdom's models may be, that is not what she is now, in our text. Lady Wisdom is a figure representing a reality besides herself, and her story is a mythos. I use the Greek form inythos to recall the way Plato used the word: a narratival trope that serves as an explanatory paradigm in areas where literal discourse must be supplemented by poetic imagination. This mysterious mzjthos requires decoding. Indeed, it may be a 77-17of the sort the ~rologue says we will find in the book (1:6).

One ancient decoding identifies Lady Wisdom as Torah. Much in her por- trayal, however, does not fit the concept of Torah in the sense of God's verbal revelation to Israel. "All the judges of the earth" (8:16) do not govern by Torah,

5:2 and 3 is awkward, and v. 2 may have originally held a promise of protection along the lines of 216; 634; and 7:s. ?"he self-praise or self-revelation form was widely used in hy~nnology and cultic drama; see mv "World Order," 4546. In using this form, Lady \Visdom does resemble divinities and royalty.

2; Symposia were essentially ceremonial drinking parties, but the ideal of a symposium as an occasion for displaying erudition and discoursing on wisdom flourished, especially, in the fourth century BCE and beyond. Ben Sira describes such a banquet in the Jewish world (Sir 32[35]:1-13). The Letter of Aristem (lines 186-294) depicts a symposium in which Jewish sages dscoursed on wisdom (the term is used in line 236). Symposia could also be occasions of folly. For a description of Greek symposia, see Osy Murray, "The Greek Symposion in History," in Tria Cordn: Essays in Honorofdrnnkdo Momiglinno (ed. E. Gabba; Como: New Press, 1983) 257-72.

and the Torah cannot be reconciled with the scornful woman of Interlude A.2R Another classic interpretation is that she is a hypostasis of God's wisdom-not the wisdom he bestows but the wisdom in his own mind.29 Running counter to this identification, however, is the fact that Lady Wisdom was created by God (8:22-23)30 and exists outside him (v. 30). And God's own wisdom is mysterious and infinite, not accessible to all. Wisdom, as described in this chapter, serves humanity, not God.

The most influential modern interpretation of this mythos was proposed by Gerhard von Rad.3' Von Rad identifies wisdom in Proverbs 8 and related texts as the primeval order itself, or as the order-mystery (Ordnungsgeheiinnis), or as the order-producing force (0rdnung.smacht) with which God informs the world. This force speaks to man, influences him, and corrects him. It is a means of revelation alongside priesthood and prophecy.32

In my view, in Wisdom's speech we hear neither the voice of the primeval order nor God's words. All that Wisdom does is to summon people, praise her own excellence, and react to people with emotions corresponding to the way they respond to her. She says nothing about the world apart from the fact that she saw it being formed, and she reveals no "mystery of order." Nevertheless, von Rad offers an important insight in understanding Lady Wisdom as repre- senting a real power in the world, an entity independent of divine and human minds.

Wisdom's Attributes

An interpretation of Lady Wisdom must account for these facts within the mythos:

1. The wisdom that Lady Wisdom signifies must correspond to the actual teachings of human sages, such as are found in the book of Proverbs. Lady Wis-

28 The identification I propose below allows Torah as one application of the symbol, but not the symbol's referent. . .

"See, e.g., Wilhelm Schencke, Die Chokrna (Sophia) in clerjudbchen Hypostavenspekuln- tion (Kristiania: Jacob Dybwad, 1913) 15-25; Helmer Ringgren, Word and Wisdom: Studies in the Hypostatizntion of Ditiine Qualities and Functions in the Ancient Near East (Lund: H. Ohlsson, 1947) 89 ff.; Whybray, LVisdom, 78-94. Gerhard Pfeifer, Ursprung und Weren der Hypostasen- tiorstellungen imludentum (Arbeiten zur Theologie 1/31; Stuttgart: Calwer, 1967) 25-27. (Pfeifer defines hypostasis as "eine Grosse, die teilhat am Wesen einer Gottheit, die durch sie handelnd in die Welt eingreift, ohne dass sich ihr Wesen im bt'irken dieser Hypostase erschopft" [p. 151). See also Ralph Marcus, "On Biblical Hypostases of Wisdom," HUCA 25 (1950-51) 157-71.

30 The issue does not depend on the crux 717 in Prov 822. The parallel verbs in w. 23-25, which indicate the production of something new, show that wisdom came into existence at a certain point (the starting point of creation) and is not coeval with God. ;r:p almost always, perhaps always, means "acquire," but creation is one means of acquisition.

9 Gerhard von Rad, Weisheit in Israel (Neukirchen: Neukirchner Verlag, 1970) 189-228.

32 Ibid., 213.

dom is designated by the same terms as they: ;in>n, 7:-2,and ;rjl3n. If these words had an idiosyncratic meaning in the mythos (such as "world order" or "mystery of order"), the personification passages would be disconnected from the rest of the book. The myth would be depicting an entirely different wisdom under the pretense of speaking of the same thing. But strong ties of phraseol- ogy, structure, and motifs indicate an intention to bind the interludes to their context. Nevertheless, and paradoxically:

  1. The wisdom of the mythos exists independently of the human mind, since, in the mythos, Lady Wisdom preceded all creation.

  2. This wisdom was not an active agent in creation. Lady Wisdom was not an assistant, an advisor, or a demiurge. Nor does the poem show her acting as an artisan or conveyor of the arts to humanity. In fact, the notion that she was an artisan, an jDK (which is one of the most ancient interpretations33) seems to be deliberately repudiated in 8:30-31, which reiterates that Wisdom played while God worked.31 God alone (as in Genesis 1and Job 38)brings order into chaos.

  3. The image of Wisdom playing before God implies that wisdom was an object of divine contemplation. Wisdom's role in relation to God is intellectual and aesthetic.35

3.1 The book of Wisdom (721; 8:6) speaks of wisdom as the re~virq ("artificer") of the world. This interpretation is implicit in Gen. Rab. $1.2, which states simply, inlK ]inn, "'amon means arti- san." The midrash, however, goes on to describe wisdom not as an artisan but as the tool ('53 in~ni~)

of God, who used the Torah (believed to be ree existent) as a blueprint when constructing the universe. God himself is the ;Dl*. Soon after ($l.4), the midrash insists that God had no "part- ner'' (yniai in creation, but did the work entirely on his own.

?"n ">AmonAgain" (]BL115 [1996] 699-T02), I argue that ;ir?K is an infinitive absolute and that the line is to be translated, "And I was near him, growing up" (or "being raised").

The following should be added to the bibliography mentioned there: Jonas Greenfield, "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Prov 9:l)-a Mistranslation,"]QR 76 (1985) 13-20, at 17-18; Henri Cazelles, ..Ahiqar, Cmdn and Amun, and Biblical bt'isdom Texts," in Solcing Rirlrl1e.s and Untying knot,^: Essays in Honor ofJonas Greenfield (ed.Z. Zevit, S. Gitin, and Sf. Sokoloff; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995) 45-55.

Greenfield identified IlEK with the umtminu and the latter with the apknllu, the antedeluvian sages that brought cixilization to mankind. The concept of ummcinu, he says, covers a broad spec- trum of activities includine scribe, scholar. master craftsman, officer (p. 171. Greenfield and Cazelles note the identification of Ahiqar as an ummn in a text from the~eleucid period (J. van Dijk, L'n~k:Vorliitrfiger Bericht [ed. H. J. Lenzen; Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 19621 18.45, rev. 19-20). Cazelles says that Wisdom (like Ahiqar) is a steward (cf. 8:15-16) or high-ranking scribe, appearing as architect only in 9:l. But LadY\.Visdom is shown in none of these roles during creation, in which setting alone she is called ;lr?H. It would be different if \.Visdom said she was an ilnK "with" (53~) kings and princes.

The form is not compatible with Akkadian umnuinu; the Hebrew equivalent is ]pp. The analog) with ummrinu requires an emendation, but the only justification for the emendation is the analogy, which is not a close one. In any case, the MT makes good sense.

3' Von Rad says that in Proverbs 8, "uird diese der IVelt immanente IVeisheit weniger unter

  1. Wisdom (paradoxically, in view of her all-important role in human cre- ativity) does not seem to directly affect the course of events. Though she is everywhere at once, she somehow remains aloof, preaching and observing rather than affecting and shaping events. Her doings are largely confined to feelings and words. She loves and she hates. She calls, and those who respond gain her love, whereupon they prosper (8:34-35). She does not herself execute punishment; fools do that to themselves (8:36; cf. 1:31-32; 9:12). She does build herself a house, but that is to set the stage for her teaching. In the inter- ludes, Wisdom fills her role less by doing than by being. We may reflect that this is a common-sense view: wisdom (whether as knowledge or as intelligence) does not accomplish things on its own but must be activated and realized by its possessors.

  2. The wisdom of the mythos is atemporal, unbound by time and thus immutable. We cannot picture her growing or maturing as humans discover more truths or shrinking and withering if truths are forgotten or ignored. Her history is really ontology: She is at once a child to God and a patron to humans. The difference belongs to hierarchy, not development.

  3. Wisdom is unlocalized, unbound by space. She says, "When he estab- lished the sky, there was I" (8:27). Where? It cannot be the heavens, for God did not carry out the creation of the heavens in the heavens. "There" is non- spatial; it refers to an event, the work of creation.36 Yet Wisdom is not simply outside space. At creation, she was "near" God and "before" him, playing on the stage he had just erected, the 5~Now she indwells in all creative, rational


human activity: in the marketplace, on the highways, and in every righteous decision in affairs of state.

These features combine into a portrait of Wisdom that remains with the readers and guides them in interpreting the wisdom of the proverbs to follow. But what exactly is this wisdom?

Wisdomas a UniuersaP7

The category that best accounts for Wisdom's features is that of a uniuer

dem rationalen Aspekt der okonomischen Ordnung als unter einem asthetischen Aspekt gesehen"


3ei Compare Isa 4831613, "From the time it came to pass, 'IN ED, there was I," meaning that God was present in the events. It is doubtful that ever has a simple temporal sense, "at that time," "then."

37 My use of "universal" is based on the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1967) 8.194-206. In philosophical terms, the concept described here is comparable to the "realist" theory of universals, which supposes them to exist independently of the human mind. This is simi- lar to the Platonic concept of universals ("ideas"). I mention this by way of analogy, but loose dependence is not out of the question. The interludes may well be Hellenistic in origin.

sal Whether or not the author would have recognized the concept, it corre- sponds well to the entity epitomized by Lady Wisdom.

Lady Wisdom symbolizes the perfect and transcendent universal of which the particulars of human wisdom are imperfect images or realizations. Like a Platonic i6&a,the wisdom-universal exists objectively and not only as an abstraction or mental construct. It dwells in special proximity to God-"before him," present to his mind-while maintaining a distinct existence. As a univer- sal, it exists in both the supernal realm (universal, atemporal, extramundane) and the human (time-bound, worldly, belonging to particular peoples, realized in specific words). This transcendent wisdom now and ever presents itself to humanity, meaning that the wisdom that people can learn, such as the wise teachings of Proverbs, are manifestations or precipitates of a universal, unitary wisdom.

The great principle of the wisdom interludes is that all knowledge pro- ceeds from a single source beyond time and locale, communicating itself to human sages and through them. The personification interludes convey this idea through the mythos of a woman: Wisdom speaking wisdom. To use an analogy from modern linguistics, we might say that the limitless teachings that humans can shape, learn, and transmit are generated from the transcendent wisdom in the same way as an infinity of possible utterances can be "generated from the deep structure of language.

The wisdom of the mythos is an objective reality alongside God and man. It is the transcendent wisdom that is the universal of the infinity of wise things that humans can know and use. In this sense, she is a hypostasis or projection not of God's wisdom, which is far beyond human grasp, but of humanity's.

Persona and Rhetoric

The personality of Lady Wisdom is central to the rhetoric of the inter- hides, for in them persona and message intersect, and both are called wisdom.

Out of the lectures' exhortations to embrace wisdom and their exaltations of its benefits, Wisdom emerges as a character in her own right and is given female form. What the father says about wisdom in the lectures, Wisdom says about herself in the interludes. Even the way the father derides sinners and fools is echoed in Wisdom's mockery of the arrogant in Interlude A. This is not just a datum of literary origin. It belongs to the present pxperience of reading and the rhetorical strategy of personification: incidental motifs in the father's words emerge as the leading themes in the interludes. The two voices, though heard distinctly, are now entwined. Wisdom's words are overtones of the father's wisdom. The interludes make the overtones the primary key.

The demeanor of Wisdom differs from one interlude to another. In A, she displays a certain petulance alongside her majestic declarations of moral princi- ples. There is even a whiff of Schadenfreude in her glee in the impending

calamity of those who spurned her call. In D, she is majestic, lofty, and serene. She declaims in forms usually reserved for deities Bnd monarchs, as she expresses pride in her lofty history and station. In E, she is an energetic and lib- eral hostess.

Common to all three pictures is a surprising facet of Wisdom's personality: she wants human attention. That is why she is furious when men ignore her (1:23-27) and why she excoriates fools not exactly for their folly or sins but rather for their mulish resistance to her call. In her eagerness to attract adher- ents, she both sends out her maidservants and goes herself to the busiest quar- ters of the city (93). There she invites all men, including some rather unsavoy sorts, to her symposium (94). Most of D is Wisdom's self-praise, whose real point becomes clear in her renewed call: "And now, my sons, listen to me" (8:32a). The conjunction "and now" (;rnui)often serves to mark a present fact as a consequence or implication of past events and to state the message in clear language.3b

Wisdom needs humanity. Or, we may say, before people came on the scene, she could only frolic before God, waiting for her real mission to start. In the absence of humans, wisdom is, after all, static. Ladv Wisdom continues to "play," but she also roams about in search of man. Wisdom realizes her poten- tial only through human activity. Her desire for love shows that human minds- from the callow juvenile's to the educated sage's-fill a role in the intellectual economy of the universe. Wisdom is not an inert body of knowledge, a mass of facts and rules. It is certainly not an esoteric corpus of truths resistant to human penetration. Wisdom is like a living, sentient organism, requiring interaction with other minds for its own vitality and realization.

Where Can Iliisdom Be Heard?

How, then, are the readers to hear Wisdom's voice in their own lives, and what does it sound like? When Lady Wisdom declares, "Happy is the man who listens to me" (8:34), where should we turn our attention? In abstract terms, how does the transcendent wisdom manifest itself in the mundane sphere?3Y

38 In his typology of the uses of this conjunction, H. A. Brongers includes among passages where it has a temporal sense those which "auf ein Ereignis in der Vergangenheit zuriickgreifen and daraus schlussfolgernd die ~onse~uenz

fiir das Handeln im Heute oder in der Zukunft ziehen mochten." In such cases, mu1may be translated as a causal conjunction, such as "deshalb or "fol- glich" (H. A. Brongers, "Bemerkungen zum Gebrauch des adverbielen we'attdh im Alten Testa- ment," VT 15 [1965] 289-99, at 293-94).

39 The distinction between the transcendent wisdom and the mundane wisdom is not equiva- lent to Philo's dichotomy between "heavenly" (or "divine") and "earthly" (or "human" aveponivq) wisdom. The heavenly wisdom belongs to the sphere that is apprehensible to the mind (KOISPO~ voqroq); it is pure and remains on high, "loving solitude"; it remains beyond man's grasp. The earthly wisdom is impure ("mixed); it belongs to the sphere apprehensible to the senses (~oopoq

The scope of the hearable, that is to say, perceptible, wisdom that the interludes describe cannot embrace the entirety of wisdom, which includes technical skills, magic, and esoteric knowledge, for these arts do not "call to" people in the sense of demanding attention or obedience. The phrase -5 unm (as in 1:33 and 8:34) always implies obedience or conformity to another's will, not simply hearing or absorbing information. On the other hand, Wisdom can- not be demanding attention only to the words quoted in the personification passages, for these are essentially self-praise and do not make demands other than that we listen to wisdom, which leaves us still wondering what wisdom.

Like the motivations in the exordia throughout Proverbs 1-9, Proverbs 8 directs our attention not to itself but to other utterances. When Lady \h7isdom demands that we listen to wisdom, she is first of all telling us to give attention to the proverbs in the subsequent chapters of Proverbs. But wisdom is not con- fined to those chapters, for the world's princes cannot be expected to study the book of Proverbs. nor were the proverbs of Solomon present at creation.

The wisdom that the personification passages would have us hear and heed can only be the teachings of the kind taught in the book of Proverbs. This does not mean the literary genre we call "wisdom literature," which does not set itself apart from other genres. The wisdom that Wisdom speaks is 13iD (8:33), which refers to all admonitions bearing an ethical and religious message.

The book of Proverbs is one precipitate of the primeval, universal wisdom, as this is transmitted by and filtered through individual sages, such as Solomon and all fathers and mothers. Though not mentioned in Proverbs, the sacred books of Israel would belong to this wisdom, like all intelligent thoughts and ideas that conform to wisdom's principles.

But Israel does not have a monopoly on wisdom. The transcendental wis- dom pervades God's "habitable world," and the learning of the nations, insofar as it conforms to the ethical standards of Proverbs, is genuine wisdom or, we might say, Wisdom's voice. This viewpoint is shared by 1Kgs 5:lO-11, for the comparison of Solomon's wisdom to the wisdom of renowned foreigners pre- supposes the validity of the latter.

Wisdom, in its essence rather than in its infinite particulars, is God's gift to humanity, and Israel partakes in this cosmopolitan wisdom. Israel's portion (as the ascription of Proverbs to Solomon implies) is greater. Wisdom (in Sira's image) lodged in Israel.40 But it is not confined there.

aioeqroq)and is found among men; it is transitory and thus "not good" (Legum Allegoriae 1.43,


1 1-78; Quis Rerum 127,182-83; see Burton Mack, Logos und Sophia [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 19731 111-18). Proverbs emphatically assigns the transcendental wisdom to the mun- dane as well as the divine realm and does not distinguish degrees of purity or excellence. What is said about the transcendent wisdom applies to the "ordinaly" wisdom that humans know and that is accessible even to the nave.

40 There is thus no radical innovation in Ben Sira's claim that wisdom found its home in Israel

The subtext of Proverbs' universalism is not the commendation of foreign wisdom but rather the assurance to Jews that they need not look elsewhere to find the sort of wisdom that is so admired by the peoples. Israel has its own


IV. The Personae Together

The voice of Wisdom and the voice of the teacher do not blend; they are heard in counterpoint. The teacher, in this case a father, offers wise and life- saving teachings. Lady Wisdom tells us that wisdom embraces such teachings but is greater than their sum total. The teacher is wise, but wisdom itself tran- scends any human wisdom. It is a single principle that comprehends all saga- cious teachings and astute thoughts. Personified as a woman, it is a heavenly creature, residing in angelic proximity to God. At the same time (again like an angel), it is ubiquitous in everyday life, traversing the streets and speaking to all men. We carry this image of Lady Wisdom with us as we enter the proverb col- lections that hold the wisdom of Solomon and other ancient sages. The image informs us that the sundry, often homely, proverbs of the father-teacher, of Israel's anonymous sages, even of Solomon himself, speak with a single voice: wisdom's own.

From this counterpoint we learn that the intimate, down-to-earth teach- ing of the home, which strives to imbue the growing child with the hard but simple lesson of moral character and fear of God, is an instance, perhaps the most important, of the grand and sublime power that pervades all creation. As an introduction to the collections of ancient proverbs, the fusion of the two voices tells us that in the adages and observations of Israel's sages we hear at once the echo of transcendental wisdom and the reverberations of the wisdom taught in the home.

(24.1-22), where it took the form of Torah (2423-29). Ben Sira does say that "all wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and in all wisdom is the doing of Torah" (19:20), yet he does not deny that wisdom can exist elsewhere. The first man had some wisdom (24:28), and wisdom reigns over all the peoples (24:6). Ben Sira's point is that wisdom resides permanently and securely in Israel, because the "covenant-book of the Most High" is the book of wisdom par excellence. It is "as full as the Pishon with wisdom" (2425). Wisdom itself encompasses or somehow extends beyond Torah, for m9in 7:Sll' ;mn, "He who holds it [Torah] will reach it [wisdom]" (15:l). In spite of Ben Sira's "nation- alizing" of wisdom (as it is often termed), he regards Torah as an instance-the premier one, of course-of a universal wisdom.

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