THE WISDOM TRADITION: WHAT IS IT? part 2 of 2

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

WisdomIn the previous post, the first in this series on opening up the wisdom tradition, I explained why we may have settled for far too thin an understanding of the wisdom tradition, like playing the song of wisdom on only one note. And I promised to share some of my homework with you, my discoveries about the “much more” of the tradition. That will begin here, where I thought it might be helpful just to list some significant but little known facts about the historic wisdom tradition.

To me, these are some of the songs the ancient sages played and want us to hear today. I’ll attempt to play these “songs” in the following posts. Do let me know if any of these surprise you, and why. Or just ponder them and try to hear how they might be speaking to you in fresh, practical ways today.

The wisdom tradition and its literature:

  • Is not partisan, sectarian, doctrinaire, or dictatorial; rather, it is for all people everywhere;
  • Is not nationalistic but intercultural and international;
  • Is fundamentally about peace; in particular, it shows reasonable and responsible ways for building cooperation and peace among diverse peoples;
  • Is not about religious instruction; instead, it focuses on practical, everyday issues and concerns, on what today is often called “secular” life and activity;
  • Does not present wisdom as an abstract entity, or as ideological, or as any sort of -ism but as personal and relational;
  • Reveals wisdom as a highly respected legal arbiter in places of authority in the old-world Middle East;
  • Was essential in the education that political advisers of ancient kings received;
  • Played a huge role in international relations, foreign policy, and diplomacy;
  • Accepts the order and regularity of life, its certainties and its predictability, while not denying disorder and irregularity – the dysfunction, brokenness, and sometimes hard cruelties, tragedies, and meaninglessness of life;
  • Shows that we learn wisdom from one another;
  • Presents wisdom as a way toward cooperative and peaceable relationships and activities;
  • Was central to the teaching of Jesus in Roman occupied Palestine.

This series of posts seeks to help us to hear such “songs” of wisdom. For the sages who gave us the tradition seek to involve us in much more than memorizing pithy adages and clever maxims or in simply knowing the content of the wisdom texts. As classic as those songs are, the sages played many others.

The heart of the matter, as I see it, is that the sages who gave us the tradition have a particular way of a way of reasoning about life in the world, about relationships and activities. And that way of reasoning is one of peace. But not just any peace. As the book of Proverbs puts it, the paths of wisdom are paths of shalom. That means something special, and we’ll pick this up in the next post.

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