Biblia Hebraica’s “Wisdom and Reality”

Douglas Mangum has an interesting exposition up at Biblia Hebraica on the didactic rhetoric of wisdom literature. The post stems from a question he asked in an earlier random verse, Sirach 33:1:

No evil will befall the one who fears the Lord, but in trials such a one will be rescued again and again.

Here’s the question:

I don’t think this verse is true-to-life. It’s not realistic and could give someone a false hope. There are plenty of examples of evil befalling those who fear the Lord with no rescue in sight. . . . What should we do with these types of statements in wisdom literature? Obviously they shouldn’t be taken as absolute truths, so what’s the point?

My first thought was that this type of wisdom literature was meant as hyperbolic idealism. Douglas points out in the more recent post that this posits a rather absolute “retribution formula,” but he wonders if this was really the norm. The more I think about it, though, the more I think it probably was a prevalent perspective through much of Second Temple Judaism and after. John 9 seems to point to a similar ideology, and the book of Job, as Douglas points out, mitigates that ideology, which may indicate it was commonly espoused. During this time period indivualized soteriology was still developing (as opposed to the corporate responsibility of Deuteronomy), and the problem of evil and human suffering hadn’t been fully unpacked (thus the exploratory nature of Job).

Thanks for the great question, Douglas. Thoughts anyone?


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