wisdom teaching, in the book of Proverbs as elsewhere, completely lacks the primary marks of Israel's history or of Israel's covenantal tradition. As a consequence in this teaching, Israel stands alongside its non-Yahwistic neighbours in pondering the inscrutible mystery of life, even as that mystery permeates the most concrete and mundane dimensions of daily existence [*]The following is a thought experiment in relation to this. Assuming a single theological pattern, in which God creates a material universe for the purpose of giving it to humanity to enjoy, yet making that enjoyment conditional upon obedience to will, I came up with the following parallels:
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Theological parallels between Israel's wisdom traditions and salvation-historical traditions
It's often said that Israel's wisdom traditions are devoid of the kind of theology one finds elsewhere in the Old Testament. Brueggemann represents the majority opinion:
i) The ultimate telos of wisdom is "salvation," understood in the "this worldly" sense of a long happy life in the land.
ii) The means of achieving this is through 1) discovering and then 2) implementing the insights of wisdom.
iii) The place where one goes in order to acquire this salvific information is the created order, in both its "natural" and "social" dimensions (i.e. through the observation of natural and sociological patterns and the development of codes of conduct).
iv) The epistemological condition for comprehending this reality is "the fear of the Lord." There is no neutral starting point.
v) The source of this information is the Lord. I.e. God himself, through revelation of himself, creates the epistemological conditions by which we can perceive his will in creation.
vi) The reason why this reality (wisdom) does what it does (i.e. give life) lies within the will of the Lord. It's what he wants.
vii) Identifying this reality (wisdom) is equivalent to identifying the Lord's will/purpose (i.e. to offer us salvation in a material paradise).
viii) Wisdom reveals the Lord to the degree that it reveals his will, which is for a healthy created order (Garden-of-Eden-style).
This seems to correspond to the theological logic found in the Pentateuch:
i) The ultimate telos of history is "salvation," understood in the "this worldly" sense of a long happy life in the land.
ii) The means of achieving this is through 1) discovering and then 2) implementing God's revealed will (Torah).
iii) The place where one goes for this salvific information is the Lord's history with his people, in both its experienced and then narrated/liturgically re-enacted dimensions (i.e. tradition and Scripture).
iv) The epistemological condition for comprehending this reality (i.e. truly understanding the spirit of the law, its purpose) is thankfulness to the Lord for what he has done prior to the revelation of his will (e.g. I.e. redemption from Egypt; this experience provides the categories for understanding how to treat ones own slaves).
v) The source of this information is the Lord.
vi) The reason that this reality (his will in Torah) does what it does (i.e. give life) lies within the will of the Lord. It's what he wants.
vii) Identifying this reality is equivalent to identifying the Lord's will/purpose (i.e. salvation).
viii) History (as narrated in the Pentateuch) reveals the Lord to the degree that it reveals his will, which is a healthy created order (i.e. saved from Egypt for Canaan).
Given these parallels, you can see how the Bible exerted a certain "co-ercion" on early Jewish interpreters (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon) to collapse wisdom and torah into one reality. This wasn't an attempt to impress the Greeks, it was a response to the total witness of Scripture, a response consistent with the Bible's own logic.
To make the parallels more explicit, you get the following pairings:
Law / Wisdom (object to be sought)
Thankfulness for historical preservation / Fear of the Lord (epistemological condition for perceiving this)
land of milk and honey / a good long life (goal of seeking)
obedience / obedience (means of implementation)
the Lord / the Lord (source)
instruction from priests, parents, Scripture etc. / instruction from wise men, parents, Scripture etc. (vehicle for source)
history / creation (location)
[*] Brueggeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 306.