Lady Wisdom

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My beautiful and brilliant niece with hair the color of summer strawberries was five years old the first time I heard her recount the story of Lydia, “the lady with the purple cloths.” Blue eyes dancing, freckles sprinkled across her nose, she knew, she was aware that women were part of the story of God and she knew the story was her own. “Wise beyond her years , this one” we always said of her.

I was thinking of my niece Lylah, dreaming of home while in a summer intensive on Wisdom Literature at the University of Notre Dame; it was then and there that I first began to see her take form. I caught a glimpse of her silhouette as I read through the apocryphal books, those early writings that informed the evangelists as they wrote the gospels, undergirded Paul as he shepherded the fledgling congregations, and inspired the early church for centuries until they were removed in 1790 at the formation of the Protestant Canon. Books of poetry and prose, ancient literature, windows into the world of theocentric faith prior to the revelation of Jesus, in many instances the missing pieces of the so called “four hundred years of silence” that literally thundered with Persians and Greeks and Romans.

Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created;
she delivered him from his transgression,
and gave him strength to rule all things.
But when an unrighteous man departed from her in his anger,
he perished because in rage he killed his brother.
When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it,
steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood…

There it was, staring back at me, the stories of the beginning, tales of the patriarchs but this time Wisdom saved, healed, rescued. Here Wisdom personified as in Proverbs, “she.”

She gave to holy people the reward of their labors;
she guided them along a marvelous way,
and became a shelter to them by day,
and a starry flame through the night.
She brought them over the Red Sea,
and led them through deep waters;
but she drowned their enemies,
and cast them up from the depths of the sea (Wisdom of Solomon10).

The word for wisdom in both Hebrew hokmah and Greek sophia are feminine such that the ancients then wrote of the Wisdom of God as a female. This is the Wisdom that emanates from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, the Wisdom that is Paul’s banner and proclamation in Corinthians, it is this Wisdom in John’s prologue that is God come to us in Jesus.

As you trace the lines, follow the grace filled pathways to discover Lady Wisdom you will find God is not always nor completely “He” rather there is a long biblical tradition that stretches from Old Testament to New, wherein the Wisdom of God is female, you will begin to see our story written right into the text.

Our little wisdom teacher turns 15 in a few days and for all the gift she has been to us, I thank God for the gift of the Wisdom Lady standing tall and serene guiding us, reminding us we are God’s own.

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Melito of Sardis and the Book of Wisdom

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion about Melito’s canon. As we know, he was the first among the early Church (that we know of) to publicly advocate for a Hebrew canon for the Old Testament. It wasn’t until Jerome that the West moved in this general direction, two hundred years later.

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Wisdom of Solomon is Against Carrier’s Eschatological Isaiah 53

Before I was invested so heavily with Mark, I was a huge fan of the Wisdom of Solomon. Reading through Thom’s article, I noticed something that I wanted to pay more attention too:

We have no reason to believe that they read the Suffering Servant song as eschatological at all. The Suffering Servant doesn’t feature here or anywhere else in the Qumran corpus. Perhaps they saw themselves as a Suffering Servant, their own suffering cleansing them as in Wisdom of Solomon 2-3, where the righteous ones’ suffering and death is “like a sacrificial burnt offering” for their own individual sins. Or perhaps they read it historically as the suffering of Israel. Anything we posit will be merely speculative, since nowhere in the Qumran corpus do they discuss the Suffering Servant. I’ll repeat: nowhere.

via It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah: Part 2 | Religion at the Margins.

A couple of things. First, I don’t want to call Wisdom (of Solomon) a midrash on Isaiah, but it is more than intertextuality and may fall into the realm of rewritten Scripture.

Now, what does Wisdom have to do with Isaiah? The first part of Wisdom is rewriting the Servant’s Song in Isaiah 52-53 to once again represent Israel during an oppressive stage in their history. Israel is the righteous man. It is not about eschatological hopes but about vindication. Luke recognized these terms when he worked to expand Matthew’s Gospel by including several references to the book of Wisdom as a contextualizing force throughout Luke-Acts. There is no notion of atonement in Wisdom, except for individual purging, much as we see in the Psalms of Solomon, another pre-Jesus textual tradition that does not expect a dying and atoning messiah.

In Matthew 8.17, the one time a post-Jesus author could have really elaborated on the connection between Isaiah 52-53 and Jesus, the author chose not to and instead once again proof-texted his contextualization of the ministry of Jesus as one that brought to completion the Jewish Scriptures. This is really no different than what many do today with various leaders from Europe whom they claim to be the mythical anti-christ. Acts makes a connection with the Eunach, but this is after much theological reflection.  I have to laugh at the use the Old Testament or other writings to prove the historical Jesus – given that these things were used to contextual the memory of the Historical Jesus.

Now, about the idea of a dying and raising messiah… Nope. What about a heavenly messiah, the so-called mythical Jesus. Nope. One of the central issues with this is that Carrier and others seem to be missing one huge part when they argue for heavenly beings rather than early ones.

I find it rather odd that Carrier sees Isaiah 53 like contemporary evangelicals, but I digress.

I tend to agree with Casey regarding the ransom motif in Mark, and more, the idea that a ransom/sacrifice can be identified with a people, object or city is not uncommon and should be paid more attention too. Israel, however, is the righteous man of Wisdom and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. It was only after a generation of reflection and an impetus of crisis that the original community began to explore the teachings of Jesus and the being of Jesus in a different light. There is a rather huge difference in the use of Scripture in Mark and Matthew, which should signal to us the leap forward in contextualizing Jesus that happened between the two authors.

Anyway… read Thom’s article.

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True faith: has room for doubt and pessimism!

I am currently studying Wisdom Literature – Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and even  Sirach and been loving it. We often do these books and therefore the information within a disservice when we try and read bits from them here and there. In reality to grasp hold of the wisdom that it offers, we need to read them as a whole.

Not only do we need to read them; we need to live it out. For the Wisdom books teach us that the information revealed within them is God’s ways worked out in and through life…and to keep and live a balanced life we need to read the books together.

With the Song of Songs we learn the language of love. Psalms teach us about relationship and how to pray. Job, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs teach us how to live… Proverbs that rightful living should produce certain blessings…Job though counteracts this by saying…”Crap happens” and Ecclesiastes provides the frame work, and balances this out for us to have and express our doubts and pessimism about life; while maintaining an integrity in the way we live.

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ἐξιλασμὸν and the Aaronic Anti-type of Christ is Wisdom 18.20-25

Several things that I will restate for you: The Wisdom Corpus holds a wealth of contextual information for the New Testament Thought World, more especially of Paul the former Pharisee. Further, for Church Theologians, it provided fodder for the ancient Christological Debates, and could possibly do so today. Rightly or wrongly, they have been used to varying degrees to justify views of Christ and the Godhead

I want to discuss a portion of Wisdom which I believe contains a thought echoed by Paul and may have helped to shape a viewpoint on the Christ-event.

New Revised Standard VersionOld Greek
20 The experience of death touched also the righteous, and a plague came upon the multitude in the desert, but the wrath did not long continue.

21 For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was your servant.

22 He conquered the wrath not by strength of body, not by force of arms, but by his word he subdued the avenger, appealing to the oaths and covenants given to our ancestors.

23 For when the dead had already fallen on one another in heaps, he intervened and held back the wrath, and cut off its way to the living.

24 For on his long robe the whole world was depicted, and the glories of the ancestors were engraved on the four rows of stones, and your majesty was on the diadem upon his head.

25 To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared; for merely to test the wrath was enough.

21 σπεύσας γὰρ ἀνὴρ ἄμεμπτος προεμάχησεν τὸ τῆς ἰδίας λειτουργίας ὅπλον προσευχὴν καὶ θυμιάματος ἐξιλασμὸν κομίσας ἀντέστη τῷ θυμῷ καὶ πέρας ἐπέθηκε τῇ συμφορᾷ δεικνὺς ὅτι σός ἐστιν θεράπων

22 ἐνίκησεν δὲ τὸν χόλον οὐκ ἰσχύι τοῦ σώματος οὐχ ὅπλων ἐνεργείᾳ ἀλλὰ λόγῳ τὸν κολάζοντα ὑπέταξεν ὅρκους πατέρων καὶ διαθήκας ὑπομνήσας

23 σωρηδὸν γὰρ ἤδη πεπτωκότων ἐπ᾽ ἀλλήλων νεκρῶν μεταξὺ στὰς ἀνέκοψε τὴν ὀργὴν καὶ διέσχισεν τὴν πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας ὁδόν

24 ἐπὶ γὰρ ποδήρους ἐνδύματος ἦν ὅλος ὁ κόσμος καὶ πατέρων δόξαι ἐπὶ τετραστίχου λίθων γλυφῆς καὶ μεγαλωσύνη σου ἐπὶ διαδήματος κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ

25 τούτοις εἶξεν ὁ ὀλεθρεύων ταῦτα δὲ ἐφοβήθη ἦν γὰρ μόνη ἡ πεῖρα τῆς ὀργῆς ἱκανή

This story is a theological expansion on Numbers 16.41-50. This passage is important because it shows Aaron as the one standing between Life and Death for the people is Israel, and thus the entire priesthood (Numbers 16.48). The High Priest is pictured placating the wrath of God, standing in front of the coming wrath, protecting the still Living using the fires of atonement.

In Wisdom, the unnamed blameless Savior steps forth into the middle of the plague with the shield/weapon of his divine service bringing with him prayer and propitiation by the burning of incense. He took upon himself the anger of God and ended the plague. The word used is ἐξιλασμὸν, meaning atonement or in Protestant-speak, propitiation.We find the same idea and related word in 1st John:

This is real love– not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1Jo 4:10 NLT)

ἐν τούτῳ ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐχ ὅτι ἡμεῖς ἠγαπήκαμεν τὸν θεὸν ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι αὐτὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἱλασμὸν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν.

There are several comparisons here between the speculative Aaron and the interpreted Christ. First, in his selfless love, both proved themselves as qualified servants of God. Further, they didn’t defeat the wrath with strength, but by appealing to the compassion of God (Romans 2.23-26). Further, there is that bit about ‘cut off.’

To me, anyway, this is a picture of atonement which could have easily been used of Christ by the primitive Church, informing them of the meaning of the sacrifice of a Crucified Messiah who stood between the dead and the living, life and death, and ended the wrath of God.

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Wisdom’s Righteous Man as James’ Example of Suffering and Vindication

This conversation started on Rodney’s post, here. I thought that I might give a fuller explanation of my thoughts here.

As many of you know, I believe in Wisdom Christology, finding in it the most able and biblical understanding of the nature of Christ. It is historical and historically associated with primitive Christianity. Through this lens, I admit, I generally read the New Testament documents. One of the earliest is the Epistle of James. Contrary to popular and wrong opinion, it is written by a real brother of Jesus – not a cousin or step-brother. James is writing in the Wisdom Tradition, much like that which his Brother stood in earlier.

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Isaiah 54.9, Wisdom 14: Which ἀντίτυπον of Baptism in 1st Peter 3.20-21?

In the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin writes:

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Paul’s use of Wisdom and Aristeas on Idols

I am researching something unrelated to this, however, as I was reading the Letter to Aristeas, I came across a familiar refrain:

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