Bible Review 13:4, August 1997

Wisdom Literature Makes A Comeback

Pursuing the good life

By Katharine J. Dell

For decades, the Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible has been the “poor relation,” living in the shadow of other supposedly more significant biblical genres, such as the Law and the Prophets, as well as the stories in Genesis. Wisdom literature (primarily the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job), we are told, is “secular,” intended mainly to educate courtiers and administrators. It has more in common with Egyptian and Mesopotamian Wisdom texts than with Israelite theology, and its concerns have little or nothing to do with the great events of Israel’s salvation history.

More recently, however, Wisdom literature—sapiential literature, scholars call it—is being reevaluated. The renewed interest in it is almost faddish, but well justified, as scholars find new depths to this old Wisdom.

Wisdom (Hebrew H|okhma; Greek Sophia) literature offers a way of looking at the world. This literature speaks to our own age in an especially profound way. For most people today, the starting point for understanding is personal experience rather than a set of religious beliefs—an outlook very much in agreement with the worldview of Wisdom literature.

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