Formations 03.30.2014: Seeking Wisdom

Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4-6

af23_2_033014_smAlong with reading and math, students at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary School are studying philosophy. Recent grant money has allowed Jana Mohr Lone of the University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children to establish a year-round philosopher-in-residence at the school to help children try to answer some of life’s biggest questions. The Center is also involved in creating places for philosophical inquiry at other Seattle schools.

Why philosophy? Mohr Lone explains that children start asking all sorts of “why” questions even in preschool: “Why is the sky blue? Why are some things in color and some things aren’t? Can you be happy and sad at the same time?” What sometimes happens, she explains, is that parents get flustered because they don’t know quite how to answer such questions.

Every week, Mohr Lone leads second-graders in philosophical discussions about ethics or morality or epistemology—or the nature and scope of knowledge itself. They read stories together that are suggestive of philosophical themes. Examples include The Velveteen Rabbit, which explores what it means to be real, and Horton Hears a Who, which raises questions about belief versus knowledge and doubt.

What do these discussions do for the students? Teacher Claire DiJulio says she has noticed her students asking more questions. Even shy students or those whose first language is not English are developing reasoning and conversation skills.

The Center for Philosophy for Children hosts free workshops for teachers and leads classes at various Seattle schools. The center’s website also offers a range of classroom activities that help engage children philosophically.

It seems no matter our age, we are no strangers to the big and difficult questions of life. How do we know what we (think we) know? What is the best way to live? How can we tell the difference between right and wrong? In biblical terms, these questions revolve around the quest for wisdom.

Proverbs 8–9 praises wisdom. The biblical writer personifies wisdom as a woman calling out for people to hear what she has to say. Far from mere intelligence or craftiness, however, the wisdom Proverbs exalts involves prudence, nobility, honesty, righteousness, and maturity. Such wisdom gives us tools for living life to the fullest both in relationship with each other and under God.

Center for Philosophy for Children http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/index.html.

Florangela Davila, “At Seattle Elementary, Philosopher Helps Kids Explore the ‘Why’ Questions,” KPLU.org, 18 Feb 2014 http://www.kplu.org/post/seattle-elementary-philosopher-helps-kids-explore-why-questions.

Discussion

• What does wisdom look like in everyday life?
• Is wisdom limited to believers only, or is it something we can observe in those who do not embrace the faith? Explain.
• Is it possible to be “wise” without being “smart” or “educated”? Explain.
• How can believers can gain the sort of wisdom this passage describes?

Reference Shelf

Lady Wisdom

Wisdom eventually achieved poetic personification in the Bible. Depicted as a desirable woman, she addressed young people in the center of daily activity. This caring figure resembles a prophet, uttering threats and warnings, ultimately promising life and wealth (Prov 1). She prepares a feast and summons guests to celebrate a newly-built house (Prov 9). Her demands appear strenuous at first, but in the end her yoke becomes light. An ideal wife, she bestows honor on the lucky husband who claims her as bride. Moreover, she nurtures her children like a worthy mother….

The poetic personification of wisdom passes over into mythic symbolism as well. Drawing on the Egyptian figure of Maat, the goddess of order, justice, and righteousness, who holds the symbol for life in one hand and riches in the other, biblical hokmâ boasts of having been present at creation, which not even Job witnessed. She claims to be a source of divine pleasure and an instrument of creation, indeed one of God’s initial acts. As a witness of the primordial creation, she rejoiced in the world and its human inhabitants (Prov 8). Such a one boldly invites the untutored to “leave simpleness, and live,” which finds its closest approximation in Amos’ prophetic demand in God’s name, “Seek me, and live.”

James L. Crenshaw, “Wisdom in the Old Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 961–62.

Wisdom’s Feast

The concluding image of Woman Wisdom is that of her preparing a great feast. Readers have already encountered the imagery of the sacrificial meal in the instruction concerning the adulteress in 7:14. In this concluding poem it is Wisdom who prepares the sacrificial meal. The opening description of Wisdom as a “house-builder” has multiple connotations. On the one hand, the phrase brings to the fore the woman’s role as maintainer of the well-being of the home. This both anticipates the concluding poem in Proverbs 31:10-31 and forms an intertextual relationship with biblical traditions of other great women who nurtured and protected their homes. The word “house” also may refer to a temple or a shrine as in 2 Samuel 7:1-14 and 1 Kings 8:18. In this case, the metaphoric possibilities require the reader to reflect upon what a sacrificial feast in Woman Wisdom’s temple might possibly refer to…. The image of hewing “seven pillars” parallels house-building in v. 1 and is easily interpreted by readers as the associated task of providing the supports on which the house is to be constructed. Scholars have reflected extensively upon other possible significances for the “seven pillars” of Wisdom, but nothing is certain.

It is with this background in view that Wisdom makes her familiar call to the naive and those who lack insight. Verses 1-3 portray her preparation and vv. 4-6 her invitation to the banquet. Eating her bread and drinking her wine lead to life and to understanding. Again, readers are called upon to stretch their imaginations. The metaphor is intended to provoke thoughtful reflection. What is Wisdom’s bread upon which a diligent learner might feast? What is the bread and wine that leads to life and understanding? Clearly, the feast provokes the thought of some kind of union with this woman. Verse 4 identifies those to whom Wisdom calls: the simple and naive (petî); those who lack heart (leb). The tone changes from invitation to command in v. 5. Those who accept must eat and drink, for, as v. 6 clarifies, to eat and drink at Wisdom’s table is to begin travel on the path that leads to life and understanding. Despite the sexual overtones, however, it is not a sexual liaison to which these people are invited. Rather, Woman Wisdom invites the simple and naive to come and learn from her. The bread and wine Wisdom offers stands in opposition to that which is stolen and comes from the “other” woman (e.g., 9:17; see 4:17).

Milton P. Horne, Proverbs–Ecclesiastes, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2003) 133–35.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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