©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

wisdom traditionIn the previous post I offered a thumbnail sketch of the domineering political and military presence and rule of the Roman Empire over ancient Palestine in Jesus’ day. The empire brooked no quarter whenever uprisings were considered threats to its national, regional, or local interests, which were believed to be under the protection of the Roman pantheon of gods, with “Jupiter Great and Blessed” as its head. The imperial system of the magistrates, with its diverse military forces, keep the people of Palestine in line with the Pax Romana.

I admitted in the previous post that it was not until researching the new book that I began to consider Jesus’ role as a teacher of wisdom in ancient Palestine. I also should admit that I had never grasped the region’s religious and social cosmopolitanism. I had been taught as a young Christian that the region was uniformly Jewish. Any diversity was Jewish diversity. There were Pharisees, Saducees, political zealots, rich and poor Jews, that sort of diversity. And of course the were “the Romans,” whom the Jews despised.

But think with me for a minute about what the religious and social chemistry of Palestine in Jesus’ day was really like. That land, it was crazily pluralist, not unlike ours today. Besides Pharisees, Saducees, or ordinary Jews, Jesus’ audiences could at any time have included any cluster of Jews, Romans, Greeks, non-Jewish religious figures, government officials, political zealots, a magistrate’s political spies, apostates, pagans, philosophers, fishermen, soldiers, tax collectors, lawyers, you name it. One only has to visit the opening scenes of the book of Acts chapter two to see that Palestine under Roman occupation was a land of great diversity.

Further, and significantly, just as today, any number of ethnic, social, religious, political, or other interests and agendas would have been daily in close contact with one another, vying with each other, contributing to every conceivable kind of relational problem in a community or town. It was into this disturbed, regional context, under Roman rule, that Jesus was born and raised. Discovering how Jesus handled this as a teacher of wisdom held many surprises for me.

As discussed in earlier posts, it was the ancient sages who developed the wisdom tradition. Sometime during the Second Temple period before the birth of Jesus, the word “sage” began to be displaced by the word “rabbi” in the Jewish community, although connotations of wisdom remained strong in the emergence of rabbinic Judaism. As a Jewish rabbi of his time, Jesus would have been skilled in the Hebrew wisdom tradition. Exploring what this meant allowed me to start seeing Jesus as a sage for the first time. I began to see his wisdom-based way of reasoning about life and decision making and how much it squared with that of the Hebrew wisdom tradition, with its emphases on shalom, relationships, human diversity, and mutuality. (See previous posts.)

Focusing on Jesus’ role as a teacher of wisdom amid the contentiously disturbed cosmopolitanism of ancient Palestine added a dimension to his life that became so obvious I wondered how I had ever missed it. But because I had missed it, I had missed just how much the wisdom tradition informed what Jesus taught his mixed audiences. And what the might mean in a very practical way for us today.

We will pick it up from here in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.


©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Carter Begin Sadat handshakeThese posts on wisdom and human mutuality have been raising urgent questions about why we tend to limit the reach of wisdom to some people but not to others. For we have been seeing what it means that wisdom, according to Scripture, delights in “all humanity.” As further evidence, the previous post looked at Lady Wisdom’s vital role for sustaining the unity-in-diversity of human life. She is, we concluded, a huge fan of human mutuality, not of uniformity or sameness. And she is an  agency of shalom amid that diversity.

That wisdom is for all humankind is affirmed centuries later by Jesus, in Roman-occupied Palestine, where diverse cultures abounded. Today, it is usually Jesus’ roles as a healer, miracle worker, and savior that are emphasized. Of course he is also known as a teacher but, to our loss, little emphasis has been placed on Jesus’ rather significant role as a teacher of wisdom. If you are a Christian reading this, stop and think about this for a minute. When was the last time, or the only time, that you heard a sermon on Jesus as a wisdom teacher? I sometimes ask this question to congregations and classes; it is  rare to see a hand go up. (Perhaps in some later posts we can spend some time looking at “Jesus the wisdom teacher.”)

Here, I just want to draw attention to a kind of riddle that Jesus makes about himself and John the Baptist. Jesus has been having a rather difficult time talking to a mixed audience that just doesn’t get John, and you can feel Jesus’ frustration building. He’s tried various ways to help them “get’ John, but to no avail.

To what shall I liken you, then? Jesus finally replies. You’re like silly children. We played dance music but you did not dance, so we played a funeral dirge but you did not mourn. John came fasting both wine and bread, like a holy, saintly man. But you say John has a demon. On the other hand, I’m eating and drinking and you say I’m a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

His frustration then boils over in a cryptic comment, which he leaves with the crowd to solve: “But wisdom is proved right [vindicated; justified] by all her children” (Luke 7:35).

If you want to know who can be seen responding wisely to wisdom, “Wisdom is proved right by her actions,” which is the way Matthew’s Gospel ends the riddle (11:19). Simply put, Jesus seems to be saying, look at what people do. This echoes a prominent teaching of Proverbs, that by their actions people will be known as being wise or foolish. One wonders if that crowd ever figured out that wisdom is available to all sorts of people, including sinners, apparently. As David Ford writes Christian Wisdom, an exceptionable book, wisdom has many children. To explain further, Ford notes that the little word “all” in Luke 7:35 stresses “the diversity of the children and how hard it can be to see the family likeness” (p. 15).

There is also this affirmation of wisdom in relation to human mutuality in the epistle of James, a letter attributed to a brother of Jesus: “If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask God for it, who gives with open hand to all men” (1:5; Weymouth New Testament). This epistle carries so many features of the Hebrew wisdom tradition that its author, says wisdom scholar Ben Witherington, “has a commitment to a typical Wisdom agenda” (Jesus the Sage; p. 237.)

I think I’ve said enough for now, to get some conversation started, about the wisdom norms of peaceableness and human mutuality. See “Leave a reply,” below.

So far in this series of posts on the wisdom tradition, we have seen that its literature reveals wisdom as an agency of shalom (well-being, wholeness, flourishing) and of human unity-in-diversity. This has helped me immensely to understand why reliance on wisdom is a vital means to enable Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others to work cooperatively and peaceably together in their communities, nations, and international relations.

In the next few posts, I would like to move this discussion from the realm of ancient ideas to the contemporary street in order to illustrate some of the challenges that will be faced in our day when trying to actually implement wisdom’s peaceable (shalomic?) way.