At Christchurch, Clarendon Park, for the sixth session in the course, "Mindfulness & Wisdom", offered by Christians Aware as part of their Faith Awareness programme. The eight-week course has been devised by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons from the Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group.
Our topic this evening: "The Place of Wisdom in the Judeo-Christian Tradition", presented by Revd Marcus Braybrooke. Marcus Braybrooke is President of the World Congress of Faiths and is the author of many books on religion and spirituality in its many forms. His specialist interest is in relations between Christians and Jews. The copy below is almost entirely adapted from the handout we’re given this evening.
Wisdom literature was commonplace in the Ancient world. Here are a few examples of Ptahotep's advice:
"Do not gossip in your neighbourhood, because people love the silent."
"Only speak when you have something worth saying."
"Love your wife with passion."
"Do not blame those who are childless, do not criticise them for not having any, and do not boast about having them yourself."
Wisdom literature in the Bible
The Wisdom literature includes books such as Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon and perhaps the Psalms and (in the Apocrypha) The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, which is the Greek translation of Ben Sirah who wrote the book in Hebrew c. 190/180 BCE and it was then translated into Greek for his grandson in 132 BCE. Wisdom literature in the Bible is of two types: instruction and reflection.
Are you good at getting up in the morning? If not, here's one for you: "As the door turns upon its hinges, so doth the slothful turn upon his bed." (Prov 26:13). Again, "The bickerings of a wife are like the ever-dripping gutter." (Prov 19:13). But lest we be accused of sexism, Proverbs also says of a virtuous woman, "her price is above rubies." (Prov 31:10). Sometimes there are parallels with New Testament passages: "The tongue that soothes is a tree of live; the perverse tongue a breaker of hearts." (Prov 15:4) and "With the tongue we praise Our Lord and Father with the tongue we curse man, who hath been made in God's likeness." (James 3:9). There is quite often a suggestion that God will reward the righteous: "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord will not let the upright go hungry. He thwarts the greed of the wicked." (Prov 10:23). Also, "The righteous man 'shall be like a tree planted by the waterside, but the ungodly are like chaff, which the wind scattereth away from the face of the earth." (Psalm 1)
Wisdom literature ponders the injustice of life: "God has delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked. Know now that God hath overthrown me, and has caught me in a net. Behold I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud but there is no judgement." (Job 19:6-7) The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity".
The personification of Wisdom (who is female)
Wisdom says in "The Lord brought me forth or created me as the first of his works ... I was appointed from eternity, before the world began." (Prov 8:22)
"wisdom pervades and permeates all things. She is the breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty ... She is the reflection of the eternal Light, untarnished mirror of God's active power, and image of his goodness." (Book of Wisdom 7:25-26) Wisdom gives understanding and teaches the secret of a good lire, which is obey the Torah. Solomon says: "I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me ... I loved her above health and beauty ... She is a treasure unto men that never fails." (Wis 7:7)
"Thy word is a lantern unto my feet: and a light unto my paths." (Psalm 119:105) "Thy testimonies are wonderful: there fore doth my soul keep them." (Psalm 119:129)
Wisdom in the New Testament - Parallels in the Gospels
Wisdom says: "Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction: she is hard to find." (Ecclesiasticus 51:26) Jesus says: "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me." (Matthew 11:25) Testing, and the mocking of a servant of God's claim to be protected by God: Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries." (Wis 2:17-18). "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (??)
The wisdom of God is foolishness to men (1 Cor 1:17ff)
Wisdom is a challenge to human conceit and to a knowledge-based pattern of education.
Jesus as the Wisdom or Word of God
Several New Testament writers identify Jesus with the figure of Wisdom who was with God from the beginning but how close is the parallel?
Paul actually speaks about Christ as "the power of god and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor 1:24) and says that his message was "of the mystery of the wisdom of God - even the hidden wisdom, which God orddainedCor 2:7) "Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness." (Wis 7:26) The author of Hebrews says of Christ: "He reflects the glory of God and hears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power." (Prologue to John's Gospel)
Rabbinic Judaism said little about Wisdom, but she reappears in Kabbala or mystical Judaism.
"How should we speak of Jesus?"
Some translations of the New Testament avoid "Father" and "Son".
"Stories of the Prophets", and Arabic Bible that uses "Lord" instead of "Father" and "Messiah" instead of "Son".
"True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ", an Arabic translation which removes "Father" in reference to God and removes or redefines "Son".
A Turkish translation of Matthew that uses "guardian" for "Father" and "representative" or "proxy" for "Son".
The Bengali Infil Sharif, which translated "Son" as "Messiah" and "Son of God" as "God's Uniquely Intimate Beloved Chosen One"
We're given an exercise for our small group work that seems a little odd, given that not everyone in the room is Christian (we have at least two Secular Humanists, two Buddhists and a Bahá'í). We're asked to discuss the most helpful way to speak of God's presence in Jesus:
- Jesus is God
- Jesus is the Image of God
- God was in Jesus Christ
- Very God of Very God
- The Wisdom or Word of God was present in Jesus and also in Buddha and Zoroaster and Krishna
- Jesus as a window into God (which is how he is described in Honest to God)