Seers, Sibyls, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism

By John J. Collins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINETEEN
COSMOS AND SALVATION: JEWISH WISDOM AND
APOCALYPTICISM IN THE HELLENISTIC AGE

“Wisdom” and “apocalyptic” have traditionally been regarded in biblical studies as two quite distinct types of literature and thought. Recently the distinction has been put in question by the thesis of Gerhard von Rad that apocalypticism is rooted in wisdom.1 Von Rad realized that the Hebrew wisdom books lack the interest in eschatology which he himself considered the “sicherste Spezifikum” of apocalypticism, but argued that the encyclopedic interests of wisdom could have been expanded to include the “last things.”2 His argument betrays a certain ambiguity as to what is meant by “wisdom”—whether it is defined in terms of the books which are usually classified as wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Qpheleth, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon) or in terms of the supposed interests of a scribal class. The most fruitful subsequent studies which have related wisdom and apocalypticism have in fact looked outside the conventional wisdom literature for their evidence. H.P. Müller has convincingly argued that “mantic wisdom” of the type represented in Daniel 1–6 plays an important part in apocalyptic literature but this type of “wisdom” has no necessary relation to what we find in Proverbs or Sirach.3 J.Z. Smith has argued that “wisdom and apocalyptic are related in that both are essentially scribal phenomena” and “the paradigmatic thought of the scribe” has given rise to both.4 This conclusion is certainly justified but its significance is

1 G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testaments (4th ed.; Munich: Kaiser, 1965) 2:315–30: “die apokalyptischen Schriften sowohl hinsichdich ihrer Stoffe wie hinsichtlich ihrer Fragestellungen wie hinsichtlich ihrer Argumentation in den überlieferungen der Weisheit wurzeln” (p. 327). See also his Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972) 263–83. A connection between wisdom and apocalypticism was proposed as early as 1857 by L. Noack (see J.M. Schmidt, Die jüdische Apokalyptik [Neukirchen Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlng des Erziehungsvereins, 1969] 13–14).

2 Von Rad, Theologie 2.328.

3 H.-P. Müller, “Mantische Weisheit und Apokalyptik,” Congress Volume Uppsala, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 22 (Leiden: Brill 1972) 268–93. See also J.J. Collins, “The Court Tales in Daniel and the Development of Apocalyptic,” JBL 94 (1975) 218–34.

4 J.Z. Smith, “Wisdom and Apocalyptic,” in B. Pearson, ed., Religious Syncretism in Antiquity: Essays in Conversation with Geo Widengren (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975)140.

-317-

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