31. Torah = Wisdom

Discuss the identification of the Mosaic Torah with Wisdom, examined diachronically, with reference at least to Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Ecclesiasticus. 

Summary: In the work of Ben Sira, Mosaic Tradition and Wisdom come to be identified with each other. In his famous discussion of wisdom in Sira 24, he reaches his point in v. 23 when, in reference to wisdom, he exclaims: “All this is the book of the covenant.” In other words, for ben Sira, Torah is Wisdom. Diachronic study of the relationship between Torah and wisdom, however, indicates that these two traditions were not always identified with each other, but were distinct one from the other. Notwithstanding this, even in early traditions where they are separate, hints already appear where their relationship begins to draw closer and closer to each other. Hints of a connections between the two are seen in Deut/DH, Proverbs, Psalms 119, Ben Sira, and Job.

I. Introductory Comments

*Most scholars do not think wisdom and law converged until Ben Sira 

*J. Crenshaw considers Mosaic Law absent from the wisdom corpus.

*Blenkinsopp notes that there are interesting formal similarities b/t: case law and proverbial sayings apodictic sentences and instruction

*These similarities suggest that at its earliest stages Israelite law could be seen as a specialization of clan wisdom; note that law collections contain more than legal enactments

II. Deuteronomy / DtrH

*Deuteronomy a watershed in which legal and sapiential traditions flow together (Blenkinsopp, Levenson)

*Scribal character and likeness to a state document; Moses presented as a teacher and scribe; Elucidates law and provides motivation for its observance, “that you may live long in land”

•Both law and wisdom appear

•Sounds like Proverbial: Dt calls people to obey God (Dt 5; 27–28) in order to live long in land; cause for keeping law (to live long life Prov 3:2)

*Tone reminiscent of the style of the sages in Proverbs and other sapiential compositions

*Deuteronomy 4:6  “Observe them [the law] carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, 'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.'”

*Exhortations to take heed, to recall experiences of past, to acknowledge truth of what is being said

*Insistence that the laws be studied, explained, and taught (1:5; 4:1, 10, 36; 5:1) as a God-given discipline (4:36; 8:5; 11:2) and that their study and observance is the way to wisdom (4:6)

*Thus, Obeying the Torah is a sign of wisdom.

•Dt tells Israel to teach it to their sons (Dt 4:9; 6:4ff); Prov calls children to listen to their parents (Prov 3:1) 

*‘Sapientializing’ of the law suggests that it is to be internalized by an activity which unites learning and piety in the pursuit of a goal freely chosen; Combination of sapiential and legal modifies sense of the law as a purely objective and extrinsic reality

•Dtr and DtrH seems to blend these two, but not as explicitly as Ben Sira. 


(1 Kings 1–11: Solomon is archetype of wisdom; Ch. 3 Solomon asks God for wisdom (wisdom comes from God who gave Torah)

III. Proverbs

*Proverbs 8 – Wisdom personified. A creation of God closely associated with God, just as the Torah is a creation of God closely associated with him.

*J. Levenson contends that Proverbs reflects a “strictly sapiential [i.e., prudential] concept of commandments, which pays no attention to a covenant…a significant deviation from Deut, which blends the two theologies" (i.e. 1. covenantal; 2. sapiential). Thus, there is no references to Abraham, to Exodus, to building of Temple, etc. his position is upheld by Richard Clifford.

Note that Clifford claims that the terms Torah, תורה, and Command, מצוה, exhibit a wide semantic range, namely anything that suggests “judicial or cultic norms”, yet somehow excludes jurisprudence in Proverbs, an integral component of the Mosaic torah, suggesting the law in Proverbs is both nonspecific and restrictive

*William Brown claims that Clifford makes an unnecessarily rigid distinction between the familial/prudent and the cultic/judicial and that sapiential “law” cannot be limited to either familial teaching or prudent advice

• In support of Brown, in Prov 3:1-11, the scope of Torah includes a collage of specifically covenantal themes:  “loyalty and faithfulness” (3:3); “the fear of YHWH” (3:7), observance of the first-fruits offering (3:9); and “YHWH’s discipline” (3:11)

IV. Psalm 119 (argument's from Levenson’s article):

*Wisdom Psalms has strong connection to Deuteronomic conception of wisdom and Torah (Levenson);

*Psalm 119:98 “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies”

*Torah is here most likely general maxims rather than the covenant stipulations of the Pentateuchal codes; it is evident from the psalm that the author knows the Pentateuch, but he doesn’t seem to limit the Torah to it (this is similar to Ben Sira, who seemed to see the Pentateuch as the Jewish particularization and supreme exemplification of something larger, Wisdom, but did not seek to limit wisdom to the Pentateuch or the HB)

*The psalmist does not mention specific Pentateuchal laws such as the Sabbath, love of one’s neighbor, dietary laws, the pursuit of justice; instead, the miswa of Psalm 119 is close to that of Proverbs, where it indicates the council of a sage rather than juridical or cultic norms, cf. Prov 13:13-15

V. Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirah; Sirach)

*In the work of Ben Sira, Torah and Wisdom come to be identified with each other. In his famous discussion of wisdom in Sira 24, he reaches his point in v. 23 when, in reference to wisdom, he exclaims: “All this is the book of the covenant.” In other words, for ben Sira, Torah is Wisdom. 

*in the intro to the work, he connects wisdom with the “fear of the Lord”, a phrase in good Deut fashion meaning “religion”, i.e. observing the commandments; showing he thinks the two are equivalent, cf. 1:20

*Ecc 15:1 “he who fears the Lord will do this; he who is practiced in the law will come to wisdom”

•Proverbial vs. Pentateuch tradition becomes Proverbial = Pentateuchal tradition (sira 24:23)

•In Sira, Wisdom is a heavenly figure; in God’s divine counsel; yet it seeks to find a place to dwell on earth; 24:8–God says: yes you’re universal, but I want you to dwell among the Jews

*many have noted ben Sira’s equation of the Mosaic Torah with wisdom (Cohen summarizes these); yet even when he gives specific practical advice he doesn’t cite the torah but rather wisdom

*Ben Sira nowhere cites a commandment/Decalogue in discourse on proper treatment of parents (ch 3)

*Ben Sira’s reliance on the Torah simply assumes that it supports his traditional sapiential morality

*If wisdom and torah were competing camps, then Ben Sira neutralizes this opposition by absorbing much torah, although he still maintains the wisdom tradition

VI. Job 28 

•Job 28 doesn’t reach this stage in the diachronic development of wisdom tradition; as in Sira, in Job wisdom dwells with God; but in Sira it comes to dwell on earth, while in Job wisdom remains inaccessible to mankind; wisdom in Job is simply “to fear God” 

•“Only God knows the location of wisdom; humans do not. And when Job 28 talks about human association with wisdom, it is equated with "fear of the Lord," defined as "departing from evil."” 

•Job 28:28: הֵ֤ן יִרְאַ֣ת אֲ֭דֹנָי הִ֣יא חָכְמָ֑ה וְס֖וּר מֵרָ֣ע בִּינָֽה


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