Wisdom literature is a genre of literature that consists of statements by sages and wise men that teach about life, virtue, and the nature of God. Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece produced some well-known works such as Instructions of Kagemni, Maxims of Ptahhotep, Works and Days by Hesiod, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. However, the most famous examples of wisdom literature are found in the Bible.
What is wisdom literature?
The books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and parts of Psalms all belong to the genre of wisdom literature. Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches also include Ben Sira (also called Sirach or Ecclesiasticus) and the Wisdom of Solomon (also called the Book of Wisdom) in the Apocrypha.
Wisdom literature differs from other books in the Old Testament in that the authors were sages rather than prophets or priests. Priests and prophets typically dealt with religious and moral concerns whereas sages generally focused on the practical aspects of how to live and the intellectual challenges that arise when contemplating the human experience.
Sages often used their observations of the natural world as well as their lived experience to share common sense thinking and practical solutions. Solomon, the principal writer of Proverbs, states in Proverbs 1:2–4 his purpose in writing the book. His purpose was "to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth." The wisdom these sages shared was meant to have practical applications for how all people lived their daily lives. It was not to be reserved for only the intellectuals or well-taught adults, but was also for the "simple" and the "youth." The wisdom shared was meant to produce a society filled with righteousness, justice, and equity.
Solomon goes on to state that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). In the New Testament, James states that "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). Here we see that wisdom comes from God and that He desires His people to have it. God has graciously given us His words in the Bible, and that includes the wisdom literature books therein. Readers who turn to God for wisdom and spend time studying the wisdom literature of the Bible will certainly gain more wisdom than readers who don't.
What are the various forms of biblical literature?
What is a proverb? What makes a saying in the Bible a proverb?
Were there different authors of the books of the Bible? Who were the authors?
Is the Bible still relevant today?
Why should we study the Bible?
Truth about the Bible