Unity Or Diversity In Wisdom Theology? A Canonical And Covenantal Perspective -- By: Richard L. Schultz

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 48:2 (NA 1997)
Article: Unity Or Diversity In Wisdom Theology? A Canonical And Covenantal Perspective
Author: Richard L. Schultz

Unity Or Diversity In Wisdom Theology?
A Canonical And Covenantal Perspective1

Richard L. Schultz


Recent publications on Old Testament wisdom literature perpetuate the theory of a ‘crisis in wisdom’ and leave unresolved the question of its provenance within Old Testament theology. Despite considerable diversity within the wisdom corpus, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are in basic agreement regarding wisdom’s limitations and benefits, as well as regarding divine freedom and retribution. Thus a case can be made for unity in wisdom theology, a theology which is rooted in Israel’s covenant faith and in its creation traditions. The intertextual relationships between the wisdom corpus and the other Old Testament books indicate that this tradition has been consciously integrated into the larger Old Testament canon.

I. Introduction: The Nature Of The Problem

While in Germany, the following proverb caught my attention: ‘Lieber heimlich schlau als unheimlich blöd.’(Better privately clever than publicly stupid.) Such secular home-spun wisdom conceivably could be found in the Old Testament proverbial collections, for it is strikingly similar to Proverbs 12:23 or 17:28. However, it seems to have little in common with the law that thunders from Sinai or the prophetic voice that boldly proclaims: ‘Thus says the LORD…’

Some scholars claim that proverbial wisdom supports a theology which functions similarly to a vending machine: insert wise behaviour in the coin slot, pull the lever, and prosperity will tumble down into the tray for easy retrieval. Even if it is conceded that this theology is a distant cousin of the covenantal pattern of blessings and curses, this optimistic theology usually is presented as having been sent reeling by Job’s intense sufferings and Qoheleth’s cynical observations. Accordingly, most contemporary scholars consider it difficult to integrate Old Testament wisdom theology into Old Testament theology as a whole, viewing its traditions as too unique and too diverse to make this feasible.

This assessment has not caused the wisdom corpus to be neglected. Instead, ‘the rehabilitation of Israelite wisdom has been one of the more significant developments in Old Testament scholarship in the last third of the 20th century.’2 However, recent publications indicate that a consensus has yet to emerge regarding the theological provenance of Old Testament wisdom. On the one hand, Clements emphasizes wisdom’s role ...

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