From Empirical Knowledge to Critical Wisdom: The Composition and Intention of the Book of Proverbs

Bernd U. Schipper (Berlin)

 

Whereas previous research regarded the so-called “Solomonic proverbs” as a collection of individual proverbs, recent research has shown that Proverbs 10:1–22:16 is masterfully composed, similar to other parts of the book of Proverbs. The unit is shaped by a train of thought in which a concept of wisdom, grounded in life experience, is gradually questioned and contrasted with a theological wisdom.

The presentation demonstrates that the book of Proverbs is more than the sum of its parts. The whole book is guided by a critical perspective leading to a new understanding of sapiential thought. While older wisdom is determined by a knowledge based on life experience, the book of Proverbs unfolds a critical discourse about possibilities and limits of wisdom itself. It is not empirical knowledge and its systematization as “natural theology” that lead to a good life before YHWH but rather the recognition of YHWH and his divine word as the foundations of all wisdom. Thus, the book of Proverbs opens a critical conversation about different concepts of wisdom that is continued in the books of Job and Qoheleth and finds its goal in the combination of wisdom and Torah in the book of Sirach.