Wisdom literature

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Textbooks or wisdom books of
the Old Testament

Names after the ÖVBE . Pseudepigraphs of
the Septuagint are in italics .

The so-called wisdom literature includes the biblical books of Job , Ecclesiastes , Proverbs , the Song of Songs , the Book of Wisdom and some psalms . An example of the Egyptian wisdom literature is the collection of sayings of Ptahhotep (approx. 2450 BC), for the Nordic wisdom literature the poem Hávamál from the Edda . In addition to Egypt, Edom can be seen as another center of ancient oriental wisdom.

A distinction is made between proverb wisdom ( Proverbs) and speculative wisdom (Kohelet, Job). Proverb wisdom consciously generalizes - speculative wisdom is more about the individual person, their confrontation with the question of meaning , suffering and the relationship with God .

Especially in the second half of the second millennium BC we find wisdom poetry in Ugarit , Emar and other western Syrian cultural centers, although this genre in Syria is likely to be significantly older and can be dated to the beginning of the second millennium. However, the lack of text sources does not yet allow a review.

Intentions and goals

It is about a kind of school-like instruction for the "sons" learners addressed as being addressed. This refers to adults who are aiming for a higher profession (e.g. royal civil servant). The knowledge to be conveyed was meant in a comprehensive sense and includes what we would today separate as natural science and ethics. It's not just about abstract intellectual knowledge, but about how to live a happy, meaningful and successful life. For this, certain knowledge in the sense of a life science is necessary. These truths were not posited absolutely, but can in principle be corrected. This also goes hand in hand with paradoxical formulations that one had particular pleasure in (e.g. Prov 11:24). Overall, it was less about instructions and more about the search for the laws of life.

Cognitive process

The cognitive process can be divided into four phases or aspects:

  1. Orders of experiences of nature and the world
  2. Causal relationships
  3. Do-do-connection
  4. God as Lord of the orders of life

Regarding 1) Orders of experiences of nature and the world

The wise collected everyday phenomena in order to assign similar things to one another. As an example one can cite the Egyptian list science, which put together animals , plants , geography etc. in lists. A biblical parallel to this would be the description of the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 5: 10-13). Another example is the staggered number verses, such as in Prov 6: 16-19.

To 2) causal relationships

The principle of cause and effect was observed both in flora and fauna (Hi 8,11f) and in relation to God the people discovered (Hi 8,13). This principle has also been applied explicitly to the question of a successful life (Prov 11: 2; 25:15).

To 3) doing-doing-connection

From the individual observations regarding cause and effect one asks back about the order behind it. The doing-doing-connection represents this order and describes the idea that good and bad deeds develop automatic consequential effects (Prov. 11:11, 19). To bear guilt means to bear the unwholesome effects of guilt - not in the sense of a judicial punishment , but an automatic consequence, such as a bad conscience or loneliness. The doing-doing-connection should not explain every human experience, but only a divine basic order should be identified, which could be canceled by him in individual cases. The relationship between doing and doing has pastoral significance insofar as it promises those who have striven for a sincere life that emergency situations are only temporary phases, from which God will deliver them again. This is intended to convey hope in suffering .

To 4) God as Lord of the orders of life

While 1–3 belong to the circle of recognizable life orders, it is now about the hidden order behind all orders. God himself is greater than the orders that he has instituted. Therefore, despite all the accumulation of wisdom, life remains somewhat unavailable (Prov. 21: 1). Too great self-confidence with regard to one's own knowledge would also be opposed to a wisdom way of life. The wise man is aware that he is not the master of his life. He is humble and reserved. In the orientation to God he finds confidence, because planning without God is not particularly successful (Prov 21:31; 16,9). God's plans are greater than human purposes (Gen 50:20). Therefore one can also speak of a deep piety of the wise, which is shown above all in the fact that trust in YHWH and the fear of YHWH become the most important prerequisite for all knowledge (Prov 1: 7). This fear knows about the superior possibilities of God, which also frees the idea of ​​the doing-doing-connection from dogmatization attempts, since God, as the giver of all orders, is also able to temporarily override them.


  • Kurt Rudolph, Melanie Köhlmoos , John J. Collins and others: Art. Wisdom / Wisdom literature I. Religious history II. Old Testament III. Judaism IV. New Testament V. Systematic-theological V / 1. Dogmatic V / 2. Ethical VI. Practically theological. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 35 (2003), pp. 478-522 (helpful introduction).
  • Charlotte Hempel, A. Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger (Eds.): The Wisdom Texts from Qumran and the Development of Sapiential Thought. BEThL 159. Univ. Press, Leuven et al. 2002, ISBN 90-429-1010-0 .
  • Karl Löning (Ed.): Rescue knowledge: Studies on the progress of wisdom in early Judaism and early Christianity. AOAT 300. Ugarit-Verlag, Münster 2002, ISBN 3-934628-28-1
  • Florentino García Martínez (Ed.): Wisdom and Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Biblical Tradition. BEThL 168. Univ. Press, Leuven et al. 2003 ISBN 90-5867-337-5
  • Otto Kaiser : Instructions for a successful, blessed and eternal life. An introduction to the late biblical books of wisdom. Theological Literature Newspaper, Forum 9. Evang. Verl.-Anst., Leipzig 2003, ISBN 3-374-02067-4
  • Jan Assmann : Theology and wisdom in ancient Egypt. Fink, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7705-4069-7
  • Johannes Marböck: Wisdom and Piety. Studies of the Old Testament Literature of the Late Period. Austrian Biblical Studies 29. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2006 ISBN 3-631-54298-4
  • Ilse Müllner: The hearing heart: wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-17-018287-0
  • Thomas Richard Kämmerer : Sima milka: Induction and Reception of Middle Babylonian Poetry by Ugarit, Emar and Tell el-Amarna , Münster 1998, ISBN 3-927120-47-2 .
  • Gert Scobel: Wisdom: about what we lack . ISBN 978-3-8321-6156-9

Individual evidence

  1. Jörg Jeremias: Theology of the OT . 2017, p. 46 .
  2. Jörg Jeremias: Theology of the OT . 2017, p. 42-46 .
  3. Jörg Jeremias: Theology of the OT . 2017, p. 44-54 .