Great Resource on Wisdom Literature

Product Details Here’s a fine resource you’ll want to get if you need a scholarly introduction to biblical and extra-biblical wisdom literature: Roland Murphy, The Tree of Life, 3rd edition, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).  In this book, Murphy discusses Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Solomon, Lady Wisdom, and other similar literature and wisdom themes.

Here are a few paragraphs from Murphy on wisdom and speech in Proverbs – some words I appreciated that will also give our readers a small window into the contents of Murphy’s book.

“The topic of speech [in wisdom literature] deserves special mention.  After all, words are the coin of the wisdom realm.  In a world without our mass media, the power of the word reigned supreme.  The concern in Proverbs is for both the proper and improper use of speech.  W. Buhlmann found in the Solomonic collections some 60 sayings dealing with proper speech; a study of improper speech (lies, calumny, prattling, etc.) would have been material for another book.”

“He found several judgments about proper speech: (1) it is precious, comparable to silver and gold (10:20; 20:15); (2) it is expressed graciously and eloquently (25:11; 15:2; 16:21, 23; 22:11); (3) it is beneficent (16:24; 15:26; 12:25); (4) it is gentle (15:1; 25:15); (5) it is ‘just’ or open, even to giving reprimand (16:13; 10:10; 25:12), (6) it is honest and reliable (12:19, 22; 15:5, 25); (7) it is appropriate to its time (15:23), (8) it brings good to others, as a fountain of life (10:11; 13:14) or as a means of deliverance (11:9).”

“By and large, words will be wise because they are few (almost imitating the terse style of the saying!) – because the fewer the words, presumably the more intelligent the observation, and the more the speaker is in control of thinking and less prone to error.  This mentality is reflected in many proverbs: be stingy with words for whatever reason (17:27; 10:19); think before you speak (15:28; 29:20); listen before you speak (18:13); watch your tongue (13:3; 21:23).  This all implies that one knows how to observe silence, again for whatever reason: you stand to gain more (12:16, 23), and you may even be considered wise (17:28)!  The importance of silence is underscored in the Egyptian teachings also, especially by Ptah-hotep…” (p. 22).

Again, put this on your list of resources when you study biblical wisdom literature: Roland Murphy, The Tree of Life.

shane lems