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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Apocryphal Wisdom Literature

Ecclesiasticus (second century BCE) takes the vital step of identifying wisdom and law. Once this is done, wisdom loses the universalism that had characterized it up until this point, for instead of wisdom being on offer to all, wisdom is then primarily on offer to those who keep the law, and that refers specifically to Israelite law in all its post-exilic fullness. This book resembles Proverbs in its coverage of many aspects of human experience and its use of proverbial material. Subjects include the duties of sons (e.g. Sir. 3: 1–16), attitudes towards women (which are not always favourable) (e.g. Sir. 9: 1–9), sayings on the art of government (e.g. Sir. 9: 7–10: 18), and even on table manners (e.g. Sir. 31: 12–32: 13). It also includes historical references—notably the hymn in praise of famous men in Sir. 44–50 in which wisdom is closely linked to salvation history and to the heroes of that history. In fact, allusions to the saving history are a new feature of this work, a feature curiously absent from earlier wisdom literature. It links up with more pious and prayerful genres of the Old Testament in its use of poems, prayers with a strong emphasis on the fear of God, and hymns, notably in praise of Wisdom herself. Von Rad (1972) and Crenshaw (1982) disagree over the priority of the fear of God in the thought of this author, von Rad believing it to be subordinate to the theme of wisdom, and Crenshaw seeing it as surpassing the wisdom theme and as incorporating an emphasis on the law. There are reflections on the nature of the wise man's role (see Roth 1980), not only as teacher and scribe, but also as advisor to the powerful (Sir. 39: 4), and the widening net of genres reflected in the book suggests that barriers between different groups of priests, prophets, and sages were less marked at this stage than they were earlier on (Whybray 1974). Having said that, this book is still identifiably in the genre of wisdom, even if this requires defining the genre fairly broadly.

In the first century BCE production, The Wisdom of Solomon, the personification of wisdom is taken to a higher level, with Wisdom becoming a hypostasis, a divine attribute through which creation was performed (e.g. Wisd. 7: 25: ‘For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty’). She is thus more closely identified with the godhead, her relationship with God being of prime interest, and her portrayal as the mediator figure between God-given wisdom and human experience, as found in Proverbs 8, is quite changed. Here we find an even more eclectic work than Ecclesiasticus, in which wisdom thought is combined with historical concerns regarding the election of the chosen people and interest in salvation history as well as religious concerns such as polemic against idols. There are few proverbial sayings in this book. There is a list in Wisd. 7: 1–7 of the curriculum of the wise man, and it is clear that this includes the kind of cosmic astronomical and astrological elements that are to be found in mantic wisdom. There are genres of prayers and psalms, and the hymn to Wisdom form is highly developed. There are links with Persian dualistic ideas and with Greek thought (although the extent of its Jewishness and Greekness has been much discussed; see Winston 1979; Grabbe 1997). The links with Israelite prophecy, notably in the polemic against idols (von Rad 1972), and with salvation history mean that the book's distinctiveness as an Israelite wisdom book is much watered down. However, it is still recognizable, in particular through its interest in Woman Wisdom, as a wisdom book written in Greek, but probably composed in Egypt amongst the Jewish population there.

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