Wisdom and the Mysteries of Creation, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Among the vital contributions that ancient Near Eastern culture made to the history of Judaism was the tradition of wisdom thought and literature. Virtually every ancient Near Eastern civilization participated in a common tradition based in what modern scholars call wisdom schools, many apparently for the training of scribes. The schools emphasized practical wisdom, often unrelated or only minimally related to the specific religious traditions of the local region and culture.

In Israel, that tradition entered the Bible through such books as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and through certain Psalms. Some scholars also include Job in this category. Even though the interconfessional, cross-cultural nature of much of this material remains in the Hebrew version, the wisdom expresses a distinctly Jewish tone. It is clear that the biblical tradition oriented Israelite wisdom toward a distinctly Jewish religious consciousness.

That development continued into Second Temple times. We have already seen how the Aramaic Levi Document praised the sage, a figure of increasing importance in Israel. The wisdom sage may in fact have marked a phase in the development of the Pharisaic-rabbinic sage—the religious leader par excellence of the Jewish people—a role not fully realized until after the Destruction of the Temple. Second Temple wisdom texts show the strong influence of the biblical wisdom texts that some of them seek to imitate.

Further, the living wisdom tradition continued to progress in the Second Temple period. For example, the Book of Ben Sira emerges in the second century B.C.E. out of an actual wisdom school. At the same time, the Dead Sea Scrolls have opened up to us, particularly in the newly released documents, an entire corpus of wisdom literature, known as Sapiential Works, never known before. Taken together with the Mysteries texts from the Qumran corpus, these fascinating new texts illuminate the ways this literature developed in ancient times. Research on the newly released scrolls will eventually recast our understanding of this literary genre totally, as we uncover the influence of the Second Temple period wisdom tradition on both the New Testament and the rabbinic corpus.

Pages 197-198

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