It was Socrates who first said,”Wisdom begins in wonder.” Let me begin by acknowledging that there are differences among the world’s religions as to which particular canon, or certain pieces of what is called “wisdom literature,” belong in the Old Testament of the Bible. I consider the wisdom books of the Old Testament to be Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach and he Book of Wisdom. One could also consider sections of the Book of Psalms, Song of Songs and Baruch as incorporating some of the wisdom literature, as well.
Some books are considered canonical by some religions and what is called “deutero canonical” or “apocryphal” by others. That is not a subject I really wish to discuss, so I will simply try to steer clear of it, navigate between the shoals and let the scriptural scholars discuss the fine points of canonicity. I would like to attempt to focus on the “person of wisdom,” which arises from the broad body of Old Testament wisdom literature.
In the Old Testament, wisdom is called by the Hebrew word, “hokmah.” In the earlier books of the Old Testament, wisdom, at its broadest level, implies skill or expertise. It was seen as something utilitarian that is used to teach people how to lead happy lives. In the early Old Testament books, it is seen much more as belonging on the human level than that of the divine level as an attribute of God. The reason for this is thought to be some undesirable connotations attached to wisdom that eventually disappeared in ancient times.
Those ancients who were seen to cultivate wisdom were called sages, and at the time of the writing of the wisdom literature, beginning sometime around the time the Book of Job was written in 500 B.C., the characteristics of wisdom take on a more religious and ethical nature. At this time, what might be called “theology of wisdom” begins, where the transcendence of wisdom, like the transcendence of God, becomes far more prevalent (as seen in Job 28, for example).
The associating of God with divine wisdom is seen as one of the characteristics inherent in God’s creative activity. It is during the time of the writing of the wisdom literature that the personification of wisdom also begins. Here, wisdom would be portrayed as a pre-existent person; God’s first person, with prophetic, divine and messianic traits, who would stand apart from God Himself. She would be seen to have an intermediate role in creation and the government and ordering of the universe.
The wisdom literature of the Old Testament is a blend of revelation, theology, philosophy, poetry and the handing on of ancestral experiences and observations. Reading the Old Testament wisdom literature will lead one to believe that there is a “person of wisdom” seen in the Old Testament and that this person has a personality, participates and has a place with God and with us.
From the fourth century B.C. onward, as a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great, Hellenism, with its cultural effects of Greek language, lifestyle, education, philosophy, technology, religion and poetry, would greatly affect Judaism. And then, ultimately in the Old Testament wisdom literature, wisdom became identified only with The Law. This will change somewhat, going forward, as hokmah becomes more familiar with “sophia” (Greek for wisdom).
The New Testament identified Jesus Christ with “Logos” (Greek for “the Word”), this intended meaning being not only “wisdom, in person,”(Hockmah and Sophia) but with so much more of a pregnant meaning. Logos implies that, in addition to Jesus being wisdom in person, that he also had a role in creation in the beginning, is pre-existant and is essentially the summation of all intelligible reality.
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com, or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.
by Michael Hickey
“Wisdom begins in wonder”
“ Thaumazein”, Said Socrates;
Feeding fodder to fondly ponder,
Or windy words, whistling in breeze.
Without wonder heard in the heart,
Can wisdom come to be caught?
For if stricken at the start,
It’s tending not to be taught.
Wonder is wisdom’s seed,
Wisdom is wonder’s flower,
Sans wisdom, knowledge is weed,
And love won’t know it’s hour.