Practical intelligence; the mental grasp which observes and penetrates into the nature of things, and also the ability skilfully to perform difficult tasks. The former faculty is intuitive, the latter creative. Hence the word connotes both deep understanding and artistic skill. Wisdom is at once a human and a divine property.
Wisdom in the Bible.
All human wisdom and skill come from God. The spirit of God made Joseph discreet and wise (Gen. xli. 38-39), inspired and prepared Bezaleel and other artists for the work of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxxi. 3-6), and was also the source of the wisdom of Joshua (Deut. xxxiv. 9) and Solomon (I Kings iii. 12, 28). “The Lord giveth wisdom” (Prov. ii. 6; comp. Job xxxviii. 36; Ps. li. 8 [A. V. 6]; Dan. ii. 21), and He annuls the wisdom of the wise (Isa. xxix. 14). Great blame, therefore, attaches to those who disregard the divine source of their wisdom and become conceited and sinful (Isa. v. 21, xxix. 14; Jer. iv. 22, viii. 8-9, ix. 22). Wisdom is acquired, moreover, by the observation of nature (Prov. vi. 6; Job xxxv. 11) and of history (Deut. xxxii. 29; Hos. xiv. 10 [A. V. 9]; Prov. viii. 33, xix. 20), as well as by study and by association with the wise (Prov. ix. 9, xiii. 20; Job xxxii. 7).The wise were sought out for their counsel (Deut. i. 13, 15; II Sam. xiv. 20, xvi. 23; Prov. xii. 18, xiii. 14), so that, like the priest with his Torah and the prophet with his revealed word of God, they formed a special class (Jer. xviii. 18). In more primitive times “wise women” were consulted (II Sam. xiv. 2; xx. 16, 22), and at a later period females who were skilled in the art of music and song were called “wise women” (Jer. ix. 17).
The Ḥokmah Literature.
As contrasted with the Law and the Prophets, which were intended for the people of Israel exclusively, wisdom was less restricted. “The children of the east country,” as well as of Egypt and the south, were regarded as the possessors of wisdom from of old (comp. I Kings v. 10-11 [A. V. iv. 30-31]; Jer. xlix. 7), and Daniel was considered a representative of them (Ezek. xxviii. 3). This spirit of universal wisdom was also typified by King Solomon (I Kings v. 9-14 [A. V. iv. 29-34], x. 1-24; Eccl. i. 13, 16); and to him, accordingly, was ascribed the entire Wisdom-literature preserved in the form of proverbs, secular songs (Song of Solomon), philosophic thought (Ecclesiastes), and, later, the Wisdom of Solomon. As soon as monotheism was firmly established as a result of the labors of the Prophets, the wisdom of the East could be consulted by Israel’s sages, and questions concerning the origin of all things could be answered, in both poetry and prose, far more intelligently than had been possible for the ancient Babylonians. This was done occasionally by the Deutero-Isaiah (xl. and elsewhere), by the interpolator of Amos iv. 13 and v. 8, by the authors of Proverbs (viii. 22-31), of Job (xxviii. and elsewhere), and of Ps. civ., and, most authoritatively of all, by the composers of Gen. i.-x. Wisdom, which dwelt, according to the Babylonian cosmology, in the depths of the sea with Ea, the creative deity, became in Biblical literature the all-encompassing intelligence of God, the helper of the Creator, the foundation of the world (comp. Jeremias, “Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients,” 1904, pp. 29, 80). In exact proportion as Israel’s God was believed to be the God of the universe, wisdom was regarded as the cosmic power, God’s master workman (Prov. viii. 30), the first of His works (ib. viii. 22), and His designer (ib. iii. 19; Ps. civ. 24), while at the same time wisdom became the law of life and the divine guide and ruler of man. Virtue, or the fear of God which is the avoidance of evil, was developed into the dominant teaching of the Proverbs and Job. The ceremonial laws are scarcely mentioned, and only the ethical side of religion is considered. At times the ethics assumes too worldly an aspect and becomes commonplace morality (Prov. vi. 34, xiv. 22, xxiv. 17-18, xxix. 3), although other passages point to high ideals (Job xxix. 15-16, xxxi.; Prov. x. 12).
The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by some Sadducean pessimist under the influence of Greek Epicureanism and skepticism, reflects the impressions made by a worldly wisdom no longer permeated by the spirit of the Torah, so that the Solomonic wisdom, which had lost sight of the ethical ideal, was mocked and shown to be a failure.
Wisdom in the Apocrypha.
In the main, wisdom was greatly valued and eagerly sought during the Second Temple, and the wise became the teachers of the young and the models of the old. An extensive Wisdom-literature, of which large portions may have been lost, sprang up in continuation of the Proverbs of Solomon. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) proves, on analysis, to be a compilation of writings which belong in part to an older generation; and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which recent research has reclaimed for Jewish literature, may also be classed among these Wisdom-books. Concerning the Book of Wisdom see Wisdom, Book of. The table-talk of the wise men of Jerusalem at the court of King Ptolemy of Egypt in the Letterof Aristeas, §§ 187-300, as well as the answer of Zerubbabel, the page of King Darius (I Esdras ii.-iii.), indicates the Jewish longing to appear as wise men like Daniel and Joseph before the kings of the world.In all these books wisdom is extolled and invested with divine attributes (Ecclus. [Sirach] i. 1-26, iv. 11-29, li. 13-30, and especially xxiv. 1-29, where it is identified with the law of Moses; Test. Patr., Levi, 13; Enoch, xlii. 1-2). The book on astronomy and cosmography in the writings of Enoch is described as celestial wisdom (Enoch, xxxvii. 2, xlix. 1-3, lxxxii. 2-3; comp. Book of Jubilees, iv. 17, xxi. 10), and Noah’s book on healing (Book of Jubilees, x. 13) belongs to the same class.
Traces in Post-Biblical Literature.
Under the influence of Greek philosophy wisdom became a divine agency of a personal character (Wisdom vii. 22-30), so that Philo terms it the daughter of God, “the mother of the creative Word” (“De Profugis,” §§ 9, 20), while as the creative principle of the world, wisdom occurs in Targ. Yer. to Gen. i. 1 (comp. Ḥag. 11b; Gen. R. i., where the Torah takes the place of wisdom; see also the midrash on Prov. iii. 19 in Jellinek, “B. H.” ii. 23-39, v. 63-69). In Christian and Gentile Gnosticism, wisdom became the center of speculation (see Gnosticism). The so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, a philosophical sermon on self-control with reference to the seven martyred sons of the Maccabean heroine, is another contribution to the Hellenistic Wisdom-literature.
“The wise man” was the title of the early master of the Law (Ab. i. 4, ii. 15), but at a later period the masters bore the epithet of “rabbi,” and only those who had died retained the name of “the wise,” while the learned were called “disciples of the wise” (see Levy, “Neuhebr. Wörterb.” s.v. ). In general, “wisdom” (“ḥokmah”) connotes universal or worldly wisdom, and is thus contrasted with the Torah (Ḳid. 49b; Niddah 69b Sanh. 104b; Yer. Mak. ii. 31d). There are records of disputations between Jewish masters and Gentile sages, such as the one between R. Joshua b. Hananiah and the men of Athens (Bek. 8-9; Lam. R. i. 4 et seq. [comp. Athenians]; Tamid 32a, b). In Pes. 94b (comp. R. H. 12a) the opinion of the wise men of the Gentiles is preferred to that of the Jewish sages. At the sight of Gentile sages one should recite the benediction: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast imparted of Thy wisdom to flesh and blood” (Ber. 58b). “Ten measures of wisdom came down from heaven, and nine of them fell to the lot of the Holy Land” (Ḳid. 49b). “Since the destruction of the Temple the wise have taken the place of the Prophets” (B. B. 12a). “Who is wise? He who learneth from every one” (Ab. iv. 1). “The Shekinah rests only upon the wise, the strong, the rich, and the tall” (Shab. 92b); but the members of the Sanhedrin must possess universal wisdom (Sanh. 17a). Among the masters of the Mishnah, R. Johanan b. Zakkai and R. Akiba were considered the paragons of universal wisdom (Soṭah ix. 15, 49b). “Greek wisdom” was fostered in the house of Gamaliel, but was forbidden elsewhere after the Hasmonean war (B. Ḳ. 82b-83a; Soṭah 49b). The sciences of music (R. H. 29b) and astronomy (Shab. 75a) are called “wisdom,” and the midwife is termed the “wise woman” (Shab. xviii. 3), while the fourth benediction in the “Shemoneh ‘Esreh” is called the “Benediction of Wisdom” (Ber. 33a).
In rabbinical and philosophical literature the various sciences are termed “ḥokmot”; and as the seven sciences of the medieval university (“trivia” and “quadrivia”) were based on Prov. ix. 1, “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars,” so Jewish writers allude to the seven branches of wisdom (see Joseph Ḳimḥi on Prov. ix. 1; Steinschneider, “Jüdische Literatur,” in Ersch and Gruber, “Encyc.” section ii., part 27, pp. 424, 434-435, where the various “ḥokmot” are enumerated).
By: Kaufmann Kohler