Worship & Music class on biblical dialogue, dissonance and debate has a look at Wisdom literature
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
MONTREAT, North Carolina — Wisdom, as found in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes — and in other places too — is all about the human condition, Creation and nature, moral character, navigating life and experience.
It is, Dr. Bill Brown said Thursday during his class on Dialogue, Dissonance and Debate and affirmed by a class member who worked for years in the food service industry, not the same as knowledge.
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit,” Brown said. “Wisdom is knowing that a tomato does not belong in a fruit salad.”
Or, as another class member said, it’s the distinction between information and formation.
Brown, who teaches Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, is teaching this week at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference being held at Montreat Conference Center. The first week concludes Friday, with week 2 commencing on Sunday.
“My powerful definition of wisdom is circular: Wisdom imparts wisdom!” Brown said. “Wisdom kept to oneself is a secret.”
In Jeremiah 8 and 9, the prophet condemns the wise, imploring them not to boast in their wisdom. “It’s the cardinal sin of wisdom — self pride,” Brown said. “Their wisdom prevents them from knowing God.”
According to Proverbs, wisdom comes from home, as indicated twice in Chapter 1 and twice again in Chapter 23.
But it also comes from other sources. Proverbs 22:17 through 24:22 borrows heavily from Egyptian wisdom found in the Instructions to Amenemope, which are dated 1200-1075 BCE, centuries before the Book of Proverbs was written. That source “was so well known, we might say today [that section of Proverbs] was plagiarized,” Brown said.
Scribes and sages “reached beyond their culture to borrow from others,” Brown said. “Wisdom is not confined to any one culture.”
Proverbs introduces itself — in a way that’s akin to a course syllabus — in 1:2-7, Brown said. Righteousness, justice and equity are the moral virtues the wise seek.
The proverbs themselves are mostly oriented to the young. Brown asked: How do wise elders fit into the scheme? “Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,” Proverbs 1:5 says. “It never ends. Something new will always come about,” Brown said. “The wise are not given a graduation ceremony when it comes to wisdom. When you think you are quintessentially wise, maybe that’s the sin of seeing yourself wise in your own eyes.”
Wisdom is described in Proverbs 4:1-8 as a possession and in 4:11-12 as a pathway that never ends. The wise can fail, but according to 24:16, they “rise back up and keep on truckin’,” Brown said. “They learn from their mistakes.”
Proverbs 9:7-9 talks about not rebuking the scoffer, but instead rebuking the wise, who will love you for it.
“Rebuke is a harsh term. Nobody wants to be rebuked,” Brown said. “Grad students get rebuked. I have felt that, and I am all the wiser for it. The wise welcome rebuke. Being corrected, they know they will become wiser still.”
“Challenge” or “critique” can be substituted for “rebuke,” he said, making the process “a brave dialogue for the sake of the other’s growth. Moral growth is often a painful growth. The wise love to know better, do better and be better.”
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