JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 4 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

widsom traditionIt is becoming clear that when we think about Jesus as teacher of wisdom, this is not about someone who went around quoting the book of Proverbs. Something else was taking place. Jesus was teaching from a way of reasoning about life, relationships, and decision making. It was a peaceable way of reasoning that was wisdom-based, and it had strong similarities to the ancient Hebrew sages’ peaceable way of reasoning. We have been exploring some vital and often overlooked aspects of this wisdom – this way of seeing life and living in it – since the first post in this series.

To quickly recall one of those aspects, the Hebrew sages had a way of reasoning in which shalom played a vital role in cooperative human activity and decision making across the spectrum of life. In ancient Israel this provided a morally responsible means for peoples of different faiths and cultures not only to meet and greet but to negotiate peaceable initiatives and agreements across all sorts of perhaps otherwise unnegotiable boundaries.

However, as an authoritative form or mode of knowledge and instruction, Christianity today, whatever the reasons, has in some ways clipped this way of reasoning from its Bible. That is, we are big on the Law (Torah) and the prophets as authoritative. But wisdom? We see a clue to the problem in the book of Jeremiah. Some conspirators (they are not identified) are plotting against the prophet, and while doing that they summarize three sources of authoritative knowledge for ancient Israel: the teaching of the law by the priest, the counsel from the wise, and the word from the prophet (Jeremiah 18:18).

I like Walter Brueggemann’s treatment of this triad (The Creative Word, chapter 1). “Torah,” “counsel,” and “word” are three shapes of “Israelite authoritative knowledge,” and “the priest,” “the wise,” and “the prophet” are the three agents of that knowledge and instruction. Each form of knowledge, he argues, “has a special substance and a distinct mode in the life of Israel. And a faithful community must attend to all three, not selecting one to the neglect of the others” (p. 8, his emphases).

In all four Gospels, Jesus can be seen as the archetypal agent of all three of these forms of authoritative knowledge and instruction. What I am hoping for in these posts on Jesus as a teacher of wisdom is to help us think about the form that we have neglected for far too long.

Jesus’ way of reasoning squares with that of the Hebrew sages and their wisdom tradition, with its emphases on shalom as vital to cooperative and peaceable human relations amid their diversity (see the earlier posts). But in Jesus, the sages’ peaceable way of wisdom gets taken up in the love of God and transformed into the gospel-shaped wisdom for loving not only one’s neighbors but also one’s adversaries.

In the previous post, we looked briefly at some ways in which Jesus taught this peaceable wisdom in ancient Palestine amid that roiling diversity with its conflicting ethnic, social, political, and religious interests. But Jesus did not just teach it. He also personally modeled it. This we will see in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

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