Summary and Analysis The Wisdom Literature: Overview


The Book of Jeremiah makes reference to three distinct groups of people: priests, prophets, and sages. Of these three, the prophets are responsible for the largest portion of Old Testament writings. They produced not only the books that bear their names but the historical writings that include a record of the specific laws and requirements that pertained to the priests' work. Three books in the Old Testament represent the work of Israel's teachers, the sages or so-called wise men: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. In contrast with the prophetic writings, the writers of these three books do not preface their remarks with a "thus says the Lord" but instead appeal to reason and common sense to support what they say. Their writings are characterized by a broad and universal appeal that avoids the nationalistic spirit so prevalent in many of the prophetic writings. Because the sages address themselves to the problems that arise in everyday living, their counsel and advice are applicable to non-Jews just as much as to the people of Israel. They speak to individuals rather than to the nation, and they consider problems that have nothing to do with race or nationality. If the religion of the Old Testament can be said to have reached its greatest heights in the teachings of the prophets, then in the sages' work it reached its greatest breadth.