The Human Truth Foundation

The 'Wisdom' Books of the Bible

http://www.humanreligions.info/bible_wisdom_books.html

By Vexen Crabtree 2022

The 'Wisdom' books in the Bible include Job, Psalms, Prayer of Manasseh, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), although some of those were rejected by Protestant bibles. Together, they are sometimes dramatic, sometimes obscure, often meandering and occasionally involving moral or light philosophical deliberations.


Iyyōbh, in the Jewish Book of Truth - Known to Christians as the Book of Job

#christianity

Apart from the introduction and ending, the book of Job is a poem about a holy man who is severely tested by God and suffers misery, loss and physical problems, and the debates between Job and his friends. God in the end restores Job's worldly wealth and health.

The two introductory chapters both repeat slightly different versions of how God and Satan conspire together to destroy the life of Job, who is described by both God and Satan as a particularly upstanding and holy man, who also has a successful life and beloved family. These things are all taken away from Job violently and suddenly. The majority of this book is made up of Job's friends attempting to counsel and help him, and his retorts against them based on the facts of the seemingly endless pain and misery that God has placed upon Job. Job completely stops responding at the end of Job 31, and some chapters are devoted to his friends' commentary. From Job 38, God responds with an amoral argument that as God is so amazingly powerful, it can do whatever it wants and no-one can question it.

There are serious theological and moral problems with the entire affair. Firstly, God is omniscient (all-knowing), meaning that it would have known completely confidently that Job was going to pass the test. Given that knowledge, the actual suffering caused (including the death of children) need not have happened. There was no reason for God to do what Satan asked. Also, God itself is said to have delivered the evil upon Job (42:11), meaning that God itself is responsible for creating evil, which causes problems for Christians who hold that God is perfectly good. God falls into the role of the violent father-figure: it punishes and abuses Job, and then feels guilty about it afterwards so gives gifts and re-assurance: In 42:10, 12-17 God gives an abundance of gifts to Job, including a long life.

Aside from the theological confusion, there are seemingly no moral lessons to be learnt except that we should surrender to circumstance. The Book of Job therefore portrays God itself in a very poor light, and it is probably best to consider this very long poem to be non-divine (secular) in origin.

The Book of Job was written by an unknown author in the 4th century BC1.

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Tehillim (Book of Truth) / Psalms

Psalms is a collection of 150 poems2 and songs, each with their own individual authors. The word psalms means a "song accompanied by string plucking"3. Hence, a hymnbook. Much of Psalms was written between 1050-600 BCE and after the Babylonian period4, with minor edits continuing into the 2nd century CE. Multiple collections of Hebrew songs had been made for various purposes, and the Book of Psalms is a compilation of 5 of those collections. 73 Psalms are attributed to King David2 although modern scholars (and many theologians) know that most of them were not written by him3, and perhaps, none of them were. But this attribution was popular in ancient times, and multiple New Testament verses also say (wrongly) that some Psalms were 'by David'. The psalms use lots of symbolism (much of which is now obscure) and are very open to subjective interpretation. Because of the varied authorship and vague text, it is not appropriate to use Psalms in doctrinal arguments.

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Prayer of Manasseh

#judaism

Jewish in origin, this purports to be the prayer of Judah's king, Manasseh, whilst he was in captivity5, although exactly how it came to be in this written form is unreported, and there is no history of this prayer in Judaism6; in some versions of the Bible based on the Septuagint, it is appended to the end of Psalms whereas in others it comes at the end of 2 Chronicles6. Most traditions do not accept this text as a legitimate part of the Bible6. The content of the prayer is, "most probably, the attempt of some pious Jew of later times to reproduce it"6

Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, ruled Judah, and this reign is described in 2 Chronicles 13. "He was a worshipper of Baal and other idols, and heavily involved in occult practices. He was captured by the Assyrians and in his affliction prayed to the God of his fathers for release. God heard him and Manasseh was released, subsequently restoring the worship of God to Judah"5.

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Mishlei (Book of Truth) / Proverbs

#christianity #solomon

Christians were once adamant that the Book of Proverbs was composed by Solomon7, but, the various parts of Proverbs date from such a range of dates, and, other historical evidence has led academics almost universally away from the belief that Solomon was the author. The book of proverbs is a collection of sayings, stories and poems written by multiple authors over a period of hundreds of years7,8, reaching its finished editions around the 5th century BCE7

The first nine chapters are philosophical in nature7, and the last twelve chapters are a long series of sayings drawn from Jewish and Mesopotamian culture. Some of the proverbs are moral, but many are simply revengeful, and most simply relate to the local circumstances of the Jewish people at the time they were written8.

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Qoheleth / Ecclesiastes

#bible #solomon

Another book that was said to be written by Solomon9, but is now known to be written by someone before 168BCE10,11. The text is vaguely philosophical although its ideas are undeveloped, and includes some discussions on wisdom, wealth and death but is in general completely different to other Hebrew writings in its concerns10 except perhaps Proverbs. The text contains the personal whingings of a pessimistic and cynical thinker ("all is vanity!"), and it is not a religious text. It was disputed heavily by scholars who were trying to decide whether to consider this book part of the Bible10.

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Shir Hashirim / Solomon's Song of Songs / Canticle of Canticles / Aisma Aismaton

This is a collection of love poems2,11, often erotic, and it is often hard to see how it is has religious value11,12. There is no mention of God in the text12 and there are historical signs that the Song is actually a result of the worship of a pagan God, Tammuz, and his lover, Ishtar Shalmith ('the Shulamite')13, which makes sense given that Ezek. 8:14 warns that Tammuz is worshipped in Jerusalem13.

The author(s) of the poems are unknown14, and the Song is not referenced at all in the New Testament12. As with all songs, it is possible to attach emotions in various ways and attain a range of meanings from the lyrics and as such many apologists explain that the "love" is not physical but is about God´s love for humankind (etc), but, this does not account for many of the directly vulgar and consistently base writing in the Song. Jewish leaders said young people should not read this book until they were thirty because of its unspiritual nature12

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Wisdom / Book of Wisdom / Wisdom of Solomon

The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, sometimes just called Wisdom, was written in Greek. "There is evidence of Greek philosophical thought, and Platonic terminology is used. The book praises wisdom and exhorts followers to seek after it.15

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Ecclesiasticus / Sirach

Known more fully in the Greek as Sophia Iesou uiou Seirach (Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach). The text was authored in the 2nd century BCE5 and became respected and mentioned by Jews and early Christians alike. It is apparently an edited collection of sayings translated by the author's grandson. "The final chapters are devoted to the praise of the patriarchs and heroes of the Old Testament, and of Simon the high priest, who lived about 200 BC"5.

Although this book is included in both Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, Protestant versions of the Bible omit it because when the Protestant Bible was formalized, it was deemed to be fake. However, a Hebrew version was later found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, although Protestants have never restored it to their Bible. There are several references to its text in the New Testament, Ecclesiasticus 5:11 in James 1:19, Ecclesiasticus 10:14 in Luke 1:52, Ecclesiasticus 27:6 by Jesus in Matthew 7:16,20 and Ecclesiasticus 40:15 in Mark 4:5.

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