The Wisdom Books
By: Colin Mitchell, Alex Morris, Michael Newell, Jenna O’Toole, Michael Pascarella, and Ashley Pidhajny
The Wisdom Books
Were composed after the Babylonian exile.
They are Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, wisdom, and the Song of Songs.
The goal of the biblical teachers of wisdom was to inspire moral integrity of a good life, and show the personal collapse caused by sin.
Proverbs is intended to instruct the young especially. The topics covered are:
Manners in Court
It is concerned about living a good life and practical advice such as:
Relationships with neighbors
Job: Why do the good suffer?
Proverbs’ image of God is a woman.
Mary is called the seat of wisdom in some prayers.
The Problem of Evil – The problem of why the good suffer and wicked are prosperous.
In this book a man named Job looses everything including wealth, family, and health.
He bears his suffering patiently by trusting in, not questioning god. Eventually he calls out “why” and curses the day he was born.
God reminds Job, that God is the creator of the universe who sustains everything in the existence.
Job admits that the mystery of life is too great for him to understand
At last Job believes his truth and accepts what happened.
The story leaves Job with a sense of humility in the face of a mystery: some things are simply beyond the grasp of the human mind.
The author of the Book of Job does not fully understand why good people suffer.
The author dismisses the answers from Job’s friends-that suffering is a punishment from God and prosperity is a sign of God’s approval.
Christians believe that all suffering, even the suffering caused by natural events is caused by original sin.
The message of the book of Job is that even in the darkest moments, God is in charge, loving and caring for us through it all.
Another sage reflected on the meaning of life during the time the Jews were under Greek rule, about 250 B.C.
He questioned the common notion that virtue leads to good fortune and wickedness to misfortune.
His response was the Book of Ecclesiastes, a Greek word for the name Qoheleth, which is Hebrew for teacher.
The book is known for what appears to be a pessimistic outlook on life.
In his book, Qoheleth says that “Nothing makes a difference---people are born, die, and are forgotten, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
Then he reverses this comment with his famous poem: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
Qoheleth worried about injustice and wickedness and about their victims, who were doomed, he believed, to a dead end in earthly life.
Life was a mystery he could not solve.
The sensible thing, he says in his book, is to accept it from the hand of God and enjoy it as well as one can.
The author of the Book of wisdom (often called the wisdom of Solomon) was a scholarly Jew who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime after 100 B.C.
This sage struggled with the problem of evil
He refused to accept the conventional wisdom that God rewards goodness and punishes sin in this life
The answer for this sage was that rewards & punishments will not necessarily come in this life.
Beyond this life lies the soul’s destiny.
Final Destiny Continued
Death is not the end of us, our destiny is life forever with God.
At the final judgment, the wicked will see that their wealth and success are not rewardable in the arithmetic of eternal life
They will remember their mockery of the just ones and see that they themselves were actually the fools
Final Destiny Continued
This concept of the soul as capable of life separate from the body indicates the author’s exposure to Greek thought.
Generally the Jews saw the person as a whole, inseparable being.
When physical life ended, there was no way for a person to live on except in people’s memories but the Greeks introduced the concepts of body and soul to Judaism.
Final Destiny Continued
The Jewish sages could see the possibility of life beyond death.
Up to this time, any Jewish conception of life after death had more to do with the rare event of restoring people to earthly life—as in the miracle by Elisha.
The book of Sirach depicts wisdom as a woman who was with God at creation.
Sirach is concerned with the history of Israel, its heroes, and institution.
Wisdom is found especially in the teachings of Israel as given by God, and keeping the commandments.
Sirach says that wisdom came fourth from the mouth of God to make her dwelling with Jacob’s people.
God’s wisdom is far above the wisdom of the world.
Wisdom tests us with the difficulties which makes us better.
The Song of Songs
The song of songs is one of the wisdom books, but differs from the others in theme and concern.
Rather than a book of teachings, it is a books of wisdom.
It is a collection of love poems written by unknown authors.
It is a dialogue between a bride and groom who speak of their love and longing for each other with occasional asides from their friends.
Stories of Encouragement: Faith and Goodness
The later stories that are covered in the remainder of this chapter were tales told during the centuries after the Babylonian Exile.
They were meant to inspire courage and faith in times of trial.
The stories reminded the people over and over that goodness and faithfulness will triumph in the end.
Tobit: The Faithful Jew
The book of Tobit was written by an unknown author about 200 B.C. to encourage faithful Jews to be righteous and patient during the difficult period of the Greek Oppression.
The story is set around 500 years earlier, in Nineveh after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.
It is about a good and faithful Jew, Tobit, and his family.
Tobit’s love for fellow Israelites extended to buying corpses in a time of Assyrian persecution, even at a great risk to his own life.
Tobit eventually goes blind with cataracts.
In a far away city, Sarah also grieves the fact that all of the men she has married (7) have died on their wedding night, killed by a demon.
Both Tobit and Sarah pray to God to end their life at the same moment.
God weaves their lives together through the intervention of an angel, Raphael, who appears as a man named Azariah.
Tobias (Tobit’s son) is matched up with Sarah by the angel.
They are related and Tobias knows of how her husbands mysteriously die but trusts all will be well with the help of God.
The husband killing demon is banished by the angel.
Tobit’s blindness is later cured by Raphael, who reveals himself to Tobit as God’s messenger and then disappears.
The book of Tobit reminds us that in the end, faithfulness, goodness, and trust in God are rewarded with blessings.
Judith: Courage and Piety
The author of the book of Judith was probably a Palestinian Jew who wrote sometime after 150 B.C.
It is set in Persia after the Babylonian Exile.
The first sentence contains a mistake. The author says Nebuchadnezzar is king of Assyria when really he is the king of Babylon.
This shows that the author is teaching a lesson, not a history.
The story tells of how a young Israelite woman, Judith, saves her people from destruction at the hands of Holofernes, Nebuchadnezzar’s cruel general.
Judith was a model of faith and courage.
The Assyrians needed control over the mountain passes located near Judith’s town, Bethulia, to take over all of Israel.
Holofernes has control of Bethulia’s water supply, so he decides that rather than attack the town, risking soldiers, he can simply let Bethulia run out of water and wait for the people to die of thirst.
When people start giving up, Judith comes up with a plan.
She will get inside Holofernes’ camp and with God to make her strong, she will crush the enemy.
She charms her way in along with her maid. They act like they are fleeing Bethulia before it falls and say that they have information about the mountain passes that Holofernes can use for when he attacks.
Holofernes is astonished by Judith’s beauty and is easily deceived by her plan.
Judith tells him that for her to help him, she must leave the camp every night to pray to her God. She and her maid must also carry their own kosher food in their sacks.
By the 4th night, Holofernes is beside himself with desire for Judith so he invites her to a banquet, after which he plans to seduce her.
He ends up getting drunk though and falls asleep.
Alone with him, Judith prays for strength and then cuts off his head and puts it in her sack. She and her maid go straight to Bethulia, pull out the head, and rejoice.
The next day the Israelites attack, and without a general, the Assyrians flee.
The author wanted to remind the people that, in the past, Israel had trusted its own schemes and had fallen, but when they trusted God, they were victorious.
Esther: A Timid but Heroic Queen
When the Book of Esther was written is unknown, but we do know that it serves two purposes: (1) To praise the goodness of God and (2) To explain the origin of the feast called Purim.
The festival celebrates the triumph of the lovely Queen Esther over the villain Haman, who plotted to slay all the Jews in Persia.
The story and it’s characters are fictional.
The story takes place during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes, around 485 to 464 BC in Susa, a Persian city where many Jews of the Dispersion settled.
King Artaxerxes orders his queen to step down from the throne after he feels like she has humiliated him.
He searches the kingdom for someone to replace her.
Esther, a Jew, is encouraged by her cousin to “try out” for the role of queen without revealing she is Jewish.
Her loveliness and simplicity immediately win the king’s heart.
As queen, she gains knowledge of a plot by the prime minister, Haman, to slaughter all the Jews in the land.
Haman has a grudge against Mordecai because he refuses to bow down to him, and therefore wishes to punish not only Mordecai, but all the Jewish peoples.
Haman manages to convince the king to go along with his plan.
Mordecai, however, urges Esther to plead for the Jewish People before the king.
Esther appears before the king, and faints from her nervousness.
Finally, she invites the king and Haman to be her guests at dinner, but is too timid to tell the king what is on her mind and instead invites the two men to dine with her again the following night.
That night however, the king learns that Mordecai once uncovered a plot in the court to kill him, but was never rewarded for his good deed.
The king orders Haman to honor Mordecai for his acts, much to to Haman’s displeasure.
The next night, Esther tells the king that one of his nobles wants the queen and her people dead.
When the king asks who, Esther points to Haman.
Haman grovel at Esther’s feet but in the end is put to death.
As previously stated, the feast of Purim honors the courage of Esther who overcame her fears to save her people.
It gets its name from the lot-the pur--that Haman drew to determine the date the Jews would be killed.
Purim is one of the feasts that Jesus must have celebrated in the synagogue as a child.
Jonah: A parable of Mercy
The book of Jonah is short and uses satire to prove its point: God’s mercy exceeds to all.
The book and main character are fictional.
Jonah is not like other prophets. He is portrayed as a scatter brained, self-serving man who does not like when God is merciful to sinners.
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn the people that their wickedness is known and they are about to be punished.
Jonah dislikes the Ninevites and instead of doing Gods will, he flees on a ship bound for a distant land.
Jonah gets blamed for a bad storm and gets thrown overboard.
Jonah is swallowed by a fish and remains there for 3 days and 3 nights until the fish belches him on shore.
God finds Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh a second time and deliver the message.
Jonah tells the people and they repent and God saves them.
Jonah is upset and says he would rather die than loose his credibility as a prophet because his warning of doom did not come true.
God tells Jonah he has no reason to be angry and says shouldn’t he be more worried about the people “Who do not known their right hand from their left.”
The book ends with Jonah never answering the question.
We are all “insiders”
The book of Jonah was probably written to argue against the narrow-minded spirit.
The author wanted to remind people that God called Israel to be a light to the rest of the world and not assume people were out of reach of God’s love.
At times we may think we are better than others but we forget that the worst people are still loved by God.
Wisdom and Virtue for Then and Now
The Wisdom Books involve issues facing Judaism in those late centuries.
They speak to Christians today who are trying to live faithful lives in a society that is often in tension with Christian values.
God inspired those stories, and the ancient conversations that produced them, as gifts for all eras and times.
The song we picked is Trust in God by Gary Rea. We picked this song because it’s message is similar to that of the stories in the Wisdom Books. It shows that you must trust in God, and that he will never steer you down the wrong path.