The Character of Wisdom in Proverbs 8

I am confused about the person of Wisdom in Proverbs 8.  Is this a reference to God?  Someone else?

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Wisdom is a way of speaking of God in God's relationship with humankind


The person of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is the personification, portrayal in personal form, of God's way of interacting with human beings. " How can we know God and what God wills?" is an ancient question indeed.  Christians believe that God's Holy Spirit helps them to know God, as does Jesus.  Some believe (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) that study of God's word in Scripture also allows them to know and be known by God.  Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a way of speaking of God that shows how deeply and eagerly God wishes to be known and tended to.  So, I agree that Wisdom is a  way of speaking of God in Gods' relationship with humankind, very much as Logos is a way of speaking of God in god's relationship with humankind in other Jewish writings and in John 1.


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Author: Sarah S. Henrich
God's attribute of wisdom

FOr the author of Proverbs, "Lady" Wisdom seems to have been a strong personification of God's attribute of wisdom.  It's quasi-poetic, God's wisdom likened to his heavenly consort almost (perhaps adapting imagery from the ancient near eastern setting).

The imagery seems to have been adapted further in "Wisdom of Solomon" (OT "apocrypha"), 7:22--11:14, esp. 7:22--8:1.  Again, I think nowadays most scholars see this too as vivid personification.  Likewise in "Sirach" (aka, "Ecclesiasticus") 24, the same motif appears of "lady" wisdom appealing to people to come and learn God's ways from her. In Sirach 24:23ff, the author identifies this "wisdom" with "the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law that Moses commanded us".  So, clearly this author took the references to "lady wisdom" as poetic references to Torah.

In any case, we aren't dealing with some sort of "intermediary being".


Author: Larry W. Hurtado
Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8

From Carole Fontaine, Taylor Professor of Biblical Theology and History, Andover Newton Theological School

I have written a whole book on Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8!  It is called, Smooth Words: Women, Proverbs and Performance in Biblical Wisdom; a book review will probably summarize all of the options.  But briefly, here are the relevant options:

Simply put, Lady Wisdom is someone who existed BEFORE creation, to whom God gave birth (in a female way, not a 'begotten' way), who both plays in creation, delighting in humanity, but also served as a 'master craftswoman' assisting the Hebrew God with the actual 'floorplan' of creation (R.B.Y. Scott).  She has antecedants in Egypt (Isis, Hathor, Ma'at; B. Lang), some connections to Sumerian goddesses (where the figurations there cause her to be divided into Savior/Slayer or Madonna/Whore in the passages about her and Woman Stranger (C. Fontaine), and according to Gerhard von Rad, was the personified outreach of creation to humanity in order to teach them the ways of God and earth.  R. Clifford relates Prov 8 to Mesopotamian traditions of the antediluvian sages who taught humanity how to be civilized.  For ecotheologians like Normal Habel, she is the voice of Earth, the main theologian of the interdependent web of creation who teaches us Deep Ecology, and the real hidden subject of Job 28.  She morphs into some aspects of the Holy Spirit for Christians, the Shekinah for Jews, and doesn't seem to get much play in Islam, due to their concepts of monotheism.  She is first Mother who is made manifest by Jesus of Nazareth who is her child, and also the Sender for whom he is the Prophet par excellence in the earliest Jesus-movement (E. Schuessler Fiorenza). Some scholars have located her 'geneaology' in the upper class women household managers of the Persian Home Rule period in Yehud (cf. Prov 31, 'Woman of Worth') (C. Meier, C. Yoder); others see her as an amalgam of all female roles of the Second Temple period when neither prophet nor king any longer provide direct link between the people and the divine (C. Camp), and yet others see her as a 'scribal goddess' who is patron to the intelligentsia of the Second Temple period (Lang).  Taking all this together, for many she is the 'literary survival' of an original Hebrew goddess who was disappeared by orthodoxy (J. Hadley, D. Penchansky). 

Given the difficulty of her origins and duties in Prov. 8, it is easy to see why some Church Fathers suppressed her per-existent origins; others did not, and those who most rely on the Hebrew language have done a much more fair job of relating her story (St. Jerome, Theodotian).  Certainly, for her ancient authors, She is a 'Tree of Life' to those who hold on to her, which might lead to discussions of the outlawed tree goddess of Israel, Asherah (legal at first, but debased by Deuteronomists' attempts to link her to Ba'al; S. Olyan, M. Smith).  By full NT times in Paul's writings, Jesus Christ is now the 'Sophia' of God, in a way that both nods to the Hebrew tradition, but also normalizes the tricky issue of a pre-existent female figure.  Some scholars of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels see her as the Speaker in the disturbing little treatise, "Thunder, the Perfect Mind" (G. McCrae; A. Bach).

Wisdom: can't make theology with Her; can't make theology without Her! (and THAT'S not even touching the Apocrypha!) A classic patriarchal conundrum! She is like the Queen on the chessboard of Renaissance Europe: she moves in every direction and is the most powerful player that protects and connects to the king--but neglected in every 'official' description of the power-players of Bishop, Knight, and Domain (castle).

Rediscovery of Woman Wisdom by the 'Re-imagining' feminist Christian movement in the 1980s gave rise to the 'Christ as King' backlash, and She just hasn't been the same since, no matter what Her scholars say..

Probably more than you wanted, but there it is: its a complex topic, to be sure!

Click here for Professor Fontaine's book, Smooth Words.


The Confusing Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8

In response to Lloyd's question.

You should be confused about the identity and role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, because it is confusing. 

Let's start with this: monotheism was never monochromatic; the Biblical view is that God is One, but it is a complex unity that reveals a spectrum of Divinity.

Proverbs 8 refers to a feminine character, named "Wisdom," who was present and collaborated with God in creation. This character is best understood as a metaphor for certain aspects of God that are not conveyed in some of the more prevalent Old Testament images of God as Father or King. God is finally none and all of these; each metaphor opens a different door into the divine palace, the houses of the holy.

Author: Gregory Mobley




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