There are times when I feel the urge to dig into what can easily be labeled as a “nerdy” book and there are some theological subjects that arguably deserve such an in-depth treatment. Exploring the wisdom literature of Scripture, as well as the extra-biblical writings that impacted Jewish and early Christian thought is one of those topics deserving of such a deep dive. Ben Witherington, in his book Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, walks the reader through the grand and important history of wisdom literature, how it flows throughout Scripture, and most importantly, why it is necessary for believers to spend time studying this subject matter.
Let me first state this is a very scholarly book. If you are looking for a quick overview of biblical and extra-biblical wisdom literature, you should look elsewhere. Conversely, if you desire to take the time to work through this topic and are looking for a book that digs very deep into the various elements of wisdom literature, then this book is one you will want to explore. Those not familiar with all the various aspects of wisdom literature and thought will, again if they take the time to digest the material Witherington presents, will find upon completing this book they have gained a great deal of important knowledge. Ultimately, this is not a quick read but it is well worth the read.
Witherington notes in the Preface that “This book…is not only about the pilgrimage of Wisdom but also about Jesus the sage as one who contributed to the growth and development of Jewish Wisdom and, for the community of his own followers, charted a course that they would follow in further developing Wisdom ideas and forms.” As such, Witherington efforts to trace for the reader not just wisdom literature itself, but more importantly, how Jesus continued this wisdom tradition.
Reading, understanding, and identifying wisdom literature is a pursuit that demands a great deal of effort. Witherington reminds the reader of that important fact at the outset of this book. With that said, those who take the time to grasp what wisdom is all about and what it means to be wise, will find their efforts rewarded. In an effort to break down this journey through wisdom literature, Witherington divides this book into two parts with the first part examining this genre from the period of Solomon to the time of Jesus and with part two looking at how wisdom literature was shaped from the time of Jesus to the period of the early church.
For myself, the most interesting chapter was “Wisdom in Person: Jesus the Sage”. Of particular interest was Witherington’s engagement of Jesus’ parables and aphorisms. Jesus used the form of the parable to relay important theological truths to those who listened to his words. As Witherington notes, this approach is indicative of how a sage would have chosen to instruct his followers. He also suggests “It is also quite likely that Jesus was perceived to be some sort of sage by the part of his audience that was conversant with the world of Jewish Wisdom traditions.” Witherington presents some very interesting thoughts on the manner by which Jesus presented his teaching, parables, and speeches, asserting they take the form of Jewish wisdom traditions, thoughts that will certainly require further examination given the sheer volume and specificity of information Witherington provides all throughout this book.
Anyone desiring to further their breadth of understanding of Jewish wisdom literature and how it presents itself throughout Scripture to include the words of Jesus, should give this book a read. As noted earlier, this is a very scholarly book and will take the reader time and patience to dig into all the information Witherington provides. This is a book, I will be returning to this book in the very near future to examine various individual elements discussed throughout as I continue my studies of wisdom literature.
This book is available for purchase from Fortress Press by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Fortress Press for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”